Video Killed the Classroom Star

Here’s a half-hour interview with me on Radio Felician University, on the pros and cons of online learning during the coronavirus crisis. I’m interviewed by two of my applied ethics students at Felician, Kiera Benson and Nicole Cacciatore (“Nicole Catch”). The interview aired  in late April.

I find it ironic that after about a decade of industry-wide hype about the imperative to switch all of our classes to a fully online format, now that we are fully online, people are crying crocodile tears about the pedagogical inadequacies of online learning. In other words, online teaching was a panacea before the pandemic; now that there’s a pandemic raging, the imperative is to return to the physical classroom. Continue reading

Sabahat Zakariya: BBC Urdu in New Jersey

Back in 2016, I mentioned the work of my talented cousin, Sabahat Zakariya, at the time a graduate student in journalism and Near East Studies at NYU. Since then, she’s gotten her degree, and moved–of all places–to New Jersey. In fact, she now lives a mere half hour away from me, which would be rather convenient for both of us if we weren’t currently in the middle of a pandemic.

In any case, I’m happy to mention that Sabahat is now reporting on and from New Jersey for BBC Urdu.  Obviously, she reports for them in Urdu–or the mixture of English and Urdu that passes for Urdu nowadays–but you might be able to follow at least some of what she’s saying even if you don’t know the language. Give it a try, anyway.

She’s reporting from Middlesex County, around Edison, New Jersey, a well-known South Asian enclave. Her commentary on life in Jersey is perhaps a little more diplomatic and civilized than my blogging on some of the same subjects--straight factual reporting without editoralization or profanity-laced ranting. But give it time. To quote Prospero in The Tempest, “’tis new to thee.”

Coronavirus Diary (56): Parks and Privilege in New Jersey

About two weeks ago, we had a discussion here about New Jersey’s decision (Executive Order 118) to close its state and county parks, leaving municipalities the discretion to keep their parks open. The rationale for the order was that given the option to use the parks, some people will, but many people will not, observe physical distancing norms. Continue reading

Two Necessities

A square tablecloth spread on a rectangular table will hang from the table edges same as before if the cloth is rotated ninety degrees lying on the table. A rectangular cloth not square—a cloth made longer in one length, shorter in the other—will require two rotations of ninety degrees to hang from the table edges same as before. We can open our geometry books and find that such facts are aspects of the rotational isometries of quadrilaterals.

Facts of pure geometry can have explanatory value to us for some facts about table cloths. I should distinguish two sorts of necessities in pure geometries. One sort is the plain necessity of geometric facts, such as one-hundred-eighty degrees being the sum of the angles in any triangle in the Euclidean plane or such as any square’s diagonal being not of any integer-ratio to the length of its sides. The other sort is the necessity between if and then in the inferences one makes in proving such results. Continue reading

Only in Dreams

If you need a break from the Coronavirus Diary for some comic absurdity, then you probably want to hear about this dream I had last night. It featured Irfan Khawaja.

In the dream, Irfan lived in a small but comfortable one bedroom apartment somewhere in urban New Jersey. I happened to be in the neighborhood, so I was headed to his place, but some kids stopped me on the way. They figured I looked like the sort of middle aged guy who wandered through their neighborhood looking to buy drugs, and they told me that this dude Irfan had good drugs to sell. Knowing Irfan, I had two thoughts: first, he is probably not selling drugs out of his apartment (but maybe he’s that desperate?); second, with his history of interaction with the police, the rumor that he’s selling drugs out of his apartment might get him into some serious trouble. So I thanked the boys and proceeded to Irfan’s apartment to ask him about this rumor. I figured that he’d want to know that his neighbor kids were telling random strangers that he sells drugs, whether it was true or not.

When I got there, Irfan wasn’t home. The situation seemed pretty urgent, though, so I thought I had to act fast. I knew that the lock on his door wasn’t particularly strong, and that if I just leaned into it pretty heavily at the right spot, it’d pop open without breaking anything. So I bumped into the door, and sure enough, it opened up. I found some paper and a pencil to write him a note, but I figured I shouldn’t leave any evidence that would incriminate him, whether the charges were true or not. So I wrote the note in Latin. That way only he’d know what I’d written.

Before I left, though, Irfan returned. He was furious to find me in his apartment and proceeded to lecture me on property rights and boundary transgressions. Soon enough, more serious matters arose. I didn’t even have time to tell him about the rumor that he was selling drugs, because he didn’t have time to listen to it. He was, he now revealed to me, leading a team that was fighting Michael Myers — yes, that Michael Myers:

In fact, he was surprised and a bit irritated that I hadn’t already figured out that he was part of the fight against Michael Myers. He had, after all, starred alongside Jamie Lee Curtis in the most recent installment of the Halloween franchise, so it wouldn’t have been hard for me to infer that he was in the process of a career shift. He gathered some weapons from his closet and told me to lock the door behind me and not to break into his place again.

I have vivid and strange dreams pretty regularly. Usually, though, they star people that I’ve interacted with personally in recent days. Maybe because school has moved entirely on-line with the Coronavirus lockdown, er, stay-at-home order, and I’m no longer interacting with the same few dozen teenagers for 40 hours a week, my mind has had to get more creative and work with more distant material. I haven’t even been keeping up with Policy of Truth, I’m sorry to say. So there’s really no apparent explanation for Irfan’s showing up in my dreams.

The rest of the elements in the dream make a great deal of sense to me, but explaining them all might get a bit too personal. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a bit sad that Irfan doesn’t actually have a side job hunting supernatural killers, though.

I hope this dream amuses you half as much as it’s amused me.

contagion requiem

wet market contagion

community spread

Li cries out

then silenced


empty streets in Wuhan

people inside

doors welded shut

how many died?

Xi lies

dictatorship and national pride

crematorium ash flies

the Devil is unbound

the world oblivious



priests consecrate the wine and bread

body and blood of Christ

only to be struck down, dead

the Horsemen have arrived

the job of Christ is no earthly saving

dead in the wards

dead in the hallways

bodies fill the churches

shipped to more-spacious churchyards nearer the Vatican

the conflagration spreads



oh, American decadence!

the stupid vanity of the trumped-up man

stupidly vain righteousness

impeach the man

impeach democracy

‘I win! I shine!’ — ‘You swine!’

a glorious circus all dressed up in right and wrong

interrupted by sweeping death

Emerald City sorrow, Gotham apocalypse

the dying comes and comes


machines breathing last breaths

saviors saving only to die

the big boss strips us naked

knocks us unconscious…

we awake in fits

to face reality and find solace as we can

but back to the circus we go

winning and losing, righting and wronging, shining and stinking up the joint 

what a show

death smiles

but the end is not yet written

Thoughts and Prayers for Donald Trump

It’s a federal offense to threaten or incite violence against the President of the United States. I would never do such a thing. Nor am I doing it now.

But one has a First Amendment right to pray to the deity of one’s choosing.

As it happens, there is a form of prayer in the Qur’an, used in daily (often public) prayer, which might be called the prayer of execration. In prayers of execration, one petitions God to smite or damn one’s own enemies, and/or His (it helps if they coincide). A famous example is Surah Lahab, aimed at one Abu Lahab, an enemy of the Prophet Muhammad. Continue reading