April 20, 2001
'Big Brother' Participant Draws Sparse Audience
| April 20, 2001
“As soon as I saw the commercial [for Big Brother] on TV I made it my mission for six weeks,” said Cassandra Waldon, the star of the CBS “reality” show, in a sparsely attended speech at Barnes Hall last night.
At that point in her life she said she needed something new and exciting. Her quest proved to be successful as she was chosen along with nine other people to live in a house constantly monitored by cameras, even in the most private situations. Waldon found ways to avoid being exposed to the cameras while getting dressed in the morning, in the bathroom and in the shower. “It was very important for me to preserve decorum,” she explained.
In her opinion the most memorable moment of the show was finally walking out the door. She described the atmosphere of the house as “very intense” and said that it was a relief to realize that she had a life outside the house once the program was over.
Waldon spent only a few minutes talking about the show and focused her speech on her professional experience. For Waldon, this life includes an impressive resume with non-profit organizations internationally, and currently employment at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Waldon spent two years in Central Africa working for the Africare anti-poverty program, where she underwent a harrowing experience as her home was robbed of all her valuables by twelve men yielding guns and machetes. Despite some thoughts about leaving Africa, Waldon said she refused to run away and abandon the million-dollar Africare project and the one hundred employees that looked up to her.
Persevering through difficulties like this paid off as Waldon received the job that to her was the “peak of ambitions,” a position at the UNDP. Through this job she has been a part of many projects such as managing Netaid.org, a website dedicated to connecting people who work to alleviate world poverty by linking then to volunteer opportunities, allowing them to donate funds and providing an online forum.
One audience member asked Waldon for her suggestions about pursuing a career on the international arena. “[At the United Nations] everywhere you turn is an American so you have to make yourself stand out,” Waldon advised. To accomplish this, she suggested focusing on a nation or culture not yet mastered by other Americans.
On Friday Waldon is flying out to Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, as a representative of the UNDP at an AIDS conference.
Archived article by Liz Novak
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April 23, 2001
Actor and writer John Cleese, A.D. White Professor-at-Large, spoke in Sage Chapel Sunday morning. He delivered what was aptly titled, “My First Sermon.” CHAPLAIN: Let us praise God. O Lord. CONGREGATION: O Lord, … CHAPLAIN: … ooh, You are so big, … CONGREGATION: … oh, You are so big. CHAPLAIN: … so absolutely huge. CONGREGATION: … so absolutely huge. CHAPLAIN: Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell You. CONGREGATION: Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell You… CHAPLAIN: … You are so strong and, well, just so super. CONGREGATION: Fantastic … Amen. This exchange, from “The Meaning of Life,” one of Cleese’s films, parodied Cleese’s memories of formal, institutionalized religious experience. Rather than resorting to this type of parody yesterday, Cleese emphasized his intellectual journey toward understanding religion as it plays a role in his life. He also implied the importance of humor in that understanding. He described his disappointing first encounters with religion, as he put it, “Church of England, 1950’s variety.” It was an unfulfilling experience that he went on to say “turned me away from religion for 20 years.” Cleese was critical of the mechanisms of organized religion, noting that within it, “there is always plenty of room for distortion [of religious ideas].” Citing the backlash against “Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” Cleese demonstrated the tendency to misinterpret ideas because of conflicting religious interests. The 1979 film was denounced by many religious groups as blasphemy and, according to Cleese, was considered a sin by the Catholic Church. “An idea is not responsible for the people who hold it,” he said. By means of illustration, Cleese suggested the formation of a hypothetical sect, “Psychopaths for Christ.” Although their lives would undoubtedly improve if they adopted some form of religion, they would nevertheless remain psychopaths and would act accordingly. “Let us not forget what’s been done in the name of religion … it does seem that holy behavior can be widely defined,” he said. Cleese cited destructive religious-based acts, from the Crusades to the destruction of art by the Taliban in Afghanistan. After discussing the aspects of religion that he found unattractive, Cleese spoke about the up side of having a relationship with God. The sermon took an introspective turn as Cleese began to tell the congregation about his cat. “If you were to ask Wednesday [the cat], what the purpose of my life is … it [would have] something to do with mice,” he said, referring to the cat’s inability to understand a higher level of thought. “I imagine that the gap in intelligence between me and God is … larger than that between me and my cat.” Therefore, Cleese reasoned, how can people know what God is thinking? The difficulty of understanding what one is expected to do combined with the distractions of everyday life leads to a confusing situation, he explained. Cleese noted how nearly impossible requests like “love thine enemy” seem. People may as well be told “thou shalt hover unsupported four feet off the ground,” he said. “I’d love to do it, if only I knew how.” Cleese remained “not negative” about finding a personal relationship with God. “I have a real hunch that if I could ever get quiet in today’s world and free for a moment [from] negativity … I might get a gift from God,” Cleese said. Cleese’s words fell on the ears of an unusually large audience for a Sunday morning service. Rev. Robert L. Johnson, director of Cornell United Religious Work, asked the congregation, “Where have you been?” Cleese’s remarkable ability to draw a crowd stems from his notoriety and success as a writer and actor over the past three decades, especially for his work with “Monty Python.” Cleese, who holds an M.A. in law from Cambridge University, has authored several books and will soon appeal to younger audiences with his role as Nearly Headless Nick in the upcoming Harry Potter film. This is Cleese’s second visit to Cornell this year as an A.D. White Professor-at-Large. He also spoke yesterday at the College of Veterinary Medicine on wildlife conservation. Tonight he will lecture on “The Human Face,” based on a show he did for BBC One in England. Archived article by Jennifer Gardner
April 23, 2001
This month, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced that it will spend 10 years in order to offer lectures notes, syllabi, reading lists, assignments and other materials on the World Wide Web for every one of its classes. Anyone with access to the Internet will have access to all of these materials. MIT will encourage more “technically-oriented content,” according to its website. “We’re not trying to offer courses, we’re trying to offer the materials,” said Prof. Steven Lerman, civil and environmental engineering and faculty chair. “This is much more in the spirit of a textbook,” Lerman said. “There’s no interactivity expected,” said Cornell Prof. Charles Van Loan, chair of computer science. According to MIT professor Harold Abelson, who was involved in developing the OpenCourseWare (OCW) project, the decision to begin the OpenCourseWare initiative required widespread discourse among MIT faculty. The faculty decided that OCW would be the best way for the university to use the internet for its academic programs. “This is the most extensively [discussed] issue ever at MIT,” Abelson said. Cornell Prof. Kenneth Birman, computer science, agreed that taking a class differs from reading all of the materials on the Web. “There was a sort of false perception that there was a tremendous amount of value to those web pages, wondering if we should limit access to course websites,” he said. Both Birman and Van Loan said that Cornell would probably not embark on a project to post and systematize web pages for all of its classes. “Doing things in a fixed way becomes a bit ponderous,” Van Loan said. Birman stressed that interaction with professors, not access to materials, is the crucial part of taking any college class. “[By offering free access], MIT has shifted back the attention to the professors,” he said. To many, the move seemed completely logical. “[Professors are] making a lot of this stuff anyway,” Abelson said. “I couldn’t understand myself what the big deal was,” Van Loan said. MIT, as well as Cornell, already has websites for many, if not most of its courses. “Right now it’s random, some people put [materials] up [on the web and some don’t],” Abelson said. However, the difference with OCW is that the formatting and much of the content of each course’s site will be made uniform. “Computer science [at Cornell] has course websites which are open to the public,” Van Loan said. “What’s dramatic, I suppose, is the 100 percent part [of the OCW initiative].” Abelson made a clear distinction between offering course materials on the Web and offering classes. “We think that education is about interaction,” Abelson said. “Once you take the instructor out of the loop, you’ve really lost a large part of the learning experience,” Birman said. Justin Paluska, an engineering and computer science student at MIT agreed that posted course materials are not the same as participating in a course on campus. “MIT is about pressure and getting things done in a short amount of time, [which is] also why an MIT education is worth so much more than the mere material we learn,” Paluska said. “The phrase ‘Getting an education at MIT is like taking a drink from a firehose’ is more than accurate,” he added. MIT has also emphasized that making their materials available on the Web will allow for a greater amount of intellectual discussion among students and professors from universities around the world. “We see a lot of potential for use in developing countries,” Lerman said. “This will help them to get started.” According to Lerman, other universities and professors will be able to use these materials to improve their own courses and knowledge of a particular topic. “Many of us have experience situations where professors from other countries have wanted to use our materials,” Lerman added. OCW will allow students to look at materials from courses that they are not able to take. “I do think that it is a good idea to offer material on the web, because I know that I have been grateful that I could find material related to my classes at other universities,” Paluska said. MIT has stressed that OCW will be free and open to whomever logs on. “It’s making a statement, saying that everything is going to be open,” Van Loan said. “This can be used just as advertising for how good the courses are [at MIT],” Birman said. “MIT has been creating free things for ages,” Paluska said, citing the Kerberos system as an example. Kerberos is the security system that that authenticates NetID passwords and then issues the “electronic ticket” that is visible on the screen when using applications such as TravelersMail, WebEmail and other applications restricted to a particular group of users. This initiative is a different approach to using the Web. Many other universities, including Cornell, have chosen to use the Web to offer courses that users must pay for. “I have to tell you that we went into this expecting … frankly .. that it would be something based on a revenue-producing model,” said MIT President Charles M. Vest. Cornell introduced eCornell last year as a company which offers for-profit, non-credit professional courses in a number of fields. MIT has no equivalent to eCornell, although it does offer some online non-credit courses for profit. Online distance learning has had “much rougher sailing than expected” for universities that have undertaken the venture, the New York Times reported Vest as saying. “Something like that’s going to grow up at MIT in spaces,” Abelson said. “We want to be really careful about things that will divert MIT faculty from MIT students,” he added. Paluska also noted that, although many MIT classes already have web sites, requiring every class to have one will help him as an MIT student. “It’s helpful because I can just log into any computer and print out something that I missed,” he said. Archived article by Maggie Frank