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Carl Sagan and a sliced apple

The concept of the fourth dimension seems beyond human comprehension. As three-dimensional beings, we are unable to see beyond a physical object's height, width and depth. What else could there be?

Enter Carl Sagan, revered as one of the greatest science communicators of his time. He possessed a unique gift for demystifying complex scientific concepts, making them accessible and thrilling for the general public. In 1980, on Episode 10 of the groundbreaking PBS show “Cosmos,” Sagan embarked on a mission to explain the seemingly impossible fourth dimension.


What’s excellent about Sagan’s explanation is that he uses simple and relatable objects: an apple and a Tesseract, or a hypercube.

Sagan began by discussing how a two-dimensional being living in a flat world would perceive a three-dimensional object like an apple.

“Imagine we live in this ‘flatland’/2-D plane with no concept of ‘up’ or ‘down.’ Then along comes a 3-D object like an apple. We do not even notice it until it crosses our plane of existence — and even then, we have no idea what the apple is,” Sagan explains. “We see only a fragment as it passes through our plane. There is no way we can comprehend the 3-D quality/dimension of the apple, because it is more than we can understand. We only have the evidence of what has passed through our plane.”

Sagan then related this two-dimensional experience of the third dimension to how we might try to understand the fourth. To do so, he used the Tesseract, a four-dimensional cube, to demonstrate how difficult it is for us to perceive or visualize dimensions beyond our own three. At this point, Sagan is asking the viewer to expand their minds to understand the fourth dimension metaphorically.

Sagan’s demonstration of the fourth dimension isn’t just a wonderful explanation of a scientific idea that many of us find difficult to comprehend; it’s also a great example of how to teach complex ideas by combining clear explanations with thought-provoking visuals.

After more than two decades of torturing parents and offering a horrible example for preschool-aged children, the era of Caillou has finally ended. The Canadian kids' show started in 1997, kept churning out new episodes until 2018, and now the will be taken off the air, finally.

As a huge fan and ardent defender of PBS—especially the network's generally excellent children's programming—it pains me to launch such a passionate criticism. But seriously, how on Al Gore's green Earth did this show last for this long?

My children were born during Caillou's early years. Having been raised myself on a steady diet of Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, I felt confident that PBS Kids' shows would be healthy, educational entertainment for my own children as they entered the preschool phase, and for the most part, PBS delivered. In addition to the awesomeness of Sesame Street, my kids got to explore the alphabet through Martha Speaks, dive into scientific questions with Sid the Science Kid, and build reading skills and curiosity with Super Why. My kids loved learning while being entertained, and I loved that they were learning while being entertained.

Then there was Caillou. I'm not sure if I have the words for my depth of loathing for that character, and I'm someone who loves all (real) children. I'm not the only one who feels this way. For years, Caillou has been a running joke in the parenting world, regularly taking first place in the "Most Annoying Kids' Show" category. Social media erupted in virtual celebration at the news of its demise.


Check out these moms sharing their undying hatred for Caillou:

Moms Share Their Undying Hatred For Caillouyoutu.be

The agony is real. The first time I watched an episode of Caillou, I was gobsmacked by how whiny, bratty, and tantrummy he was. He's four, which is a challenging age for sure. But in my opinion, all Caillou did for parents of young kids was make those years even more challenging.

First of all, the whining was absolutely incessant. And his voice made it worse. Like, I don't know how any parent could sit through an entire episode of Caillou "Waaaaahhh"ing without wanting to poke their ears out with a crochet hook.

Secondly, his behavior was atrocious half the time. The episode where he pinched his baby sister in her crib until she cried? That's not an idea I'd wanted to plant in my preschooler's head. The way he talked to other kids? Ugh. Just no.

And therein lies the major problem with Caillou. Preschool-aged kids imitate what they see. That's the developmental stage they are in. As a parent, I watched every kids' show through the lens of "Is this how I want my child to behave?" and when it came to Caillou, the answer to that question was "LORDY NO" nine times out of ten.

But honestly, the adults in the show were almost as bad. It would be one thing if the storylines showed parents helping kids how to work through their feelings or problem solve, but Caillou's mom was bafflingly hands-off. It seemed like there was never any real resolution to the issues, and preschool-aged kids don't have the capability of processing a character's emotional story arc to take a moral from the end anyway. Older kids, yes. But the age of kids who actually enjoy Caillou? Nope.

Check out these few clips and see if this is what you'd want your young child imitating:

Caillou Being a Brat Comp.www.youtube.com


I literally didn't allow my kids to watch Caillou because he was such whiny little douche nozzle, his parents were mostly useless, and I didn't feel like making parenting any harder than it needed to be.

(For the record, my 20-year-old has thanked me for banning Caillou from our house. She agrees that he would have served as a terrible example to follow and can't stand to hear his voice either.)

Goodbye and good riddance, Caillou.

Sarita Linda Rocco / Facebook

Americans are more interested in politics than ever these days. More voted in the 2020 election than in any other in the past 100 years. Over 65% of the voting-eligible cast a ballot in the contentious fight between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

"People are very excited and paying attention even though there are all this bad news and high 'wrong track' numbers in the country," Nancy Zdunkewicz, managing editor at Democracy Corps, told The Hill.

It's wonderful to see that a greater number of Americans are standing up to be counted and demanding their voices be heard. But it's also the symptom of a deep level of discontent many people feel about their country.


Apathy is toxic to democracy, but it's also a sign that things are going well. In a healthier America, we'd spend a lot more time focusing on the innovations, people, and culture that make this country great rather than the daily circus being performed by its political class.

America's political reawakening has also led to deeper divides between liberals and conservatives. This chasm is more than just a political fight but window dressing for a growing distaste between fellow citizens rooted in geography, class, education, and race.

via jihervas / Flickr

Throughout the entire election cycle, talking heads have repeatedly claimed that a president Joe Biden would work to "unite" and to "heal" America. While his victory was definitely a signal that the majority of Americans want to return to a less abrasive version of politics, it will do little to heal the political divide.

A Biden presidency won't stop social media from dividing people up into bubbles or suddenly change half of the country's mind on abortion.

A 2019 poll from Pew Research found that nearly 80% of Americans think the division between Republicans and Democrats is getting worse.

However, there may be hope for America if, as individuals, we take a more holistic look at how we participate in our democracy. In a new "Brief But Spectacular" take for PBS, Citizen University CEO Eric Liu shared his inspiring new way forward.

"I think people have a misconception that democracy is about voting," Liu begins. "But I think the deeper thing is how do you exercise the full breadth of your power."

Liu uses the example of his immigrant parents to show a way of participating in a democracy that goes far beyond "owning the libs" on Twitter or canceling someone for having a conservative opinion.

"They joined things. They showed up for things," he said. "They knew that to live in society is not just to retreat to your tiniest bubble. But to try to be part of something greater than yourself."

"I think one of the best ways to teach children about civic engagement is to just weave it into a mindful approach of everyday life," Liu adds.

Their work obviously paid off. Liu has worked in both the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations and as the CEO of Citizen University, he creates programs on civic power and character that span age, race, region, and ideology.

via New America / Flickr

"Let's walk around our neighborhoods and let's ask questions about what we see," he continues. "Do you notice that there doesn't seem to be a bus stop where we live? Do you notice that there's only fast food stores in this neighborhood?"

"Everything we see is the external deposit of a whole bunch of internalized choices about power, about responsibility, and about what we are supposed to do to create a healthy, thriving community," Liu said.

Liu knows we have numerous problems whether it's how people of color are treated by police or the quality of our public health systems. However, instead of looking to leaders or parties, he believes we should take direct action by asking "how can I show up?"

Liu invites us to look deeper than the "visible game of partisan politics" and to investigate the "deeper game of our values" and "willingness to accept responsibility."

He calls out for a critical mass of Americans who want to change the tide of division to show up "over and over again" to "rekindle the belief that democracy can work for all of us."

As Liu illustrates, being part of a democracy is about a lot more than voting or cultivating a deeply-held set of political views that are never put into action.

In today's America, most people are paying attention to the national news and the big names from two political parties. But while most of our eyes have been affixed on Washington, there's probably a pothole at the end of the street or someone pitching a tent in the park to have somewhere to sleep.

If Americans cared a little less about their partisan identities and recast themselves and others as citizens, it'd go a long way towards cooling some of the partisan rancor. It'd probably result in a few more fixed potholes as well.

via Ted Eytan / Flickr

In a world gone mad, when war is endless and politics are chaos ... there's only one man who can reassure our troubled souls.

Photo via Everett Collection.

Unfortunately, he's no longer with us (RIP).


Fortunately, we've got a lot of Mister Rogers on tape — and for the next two weeks, you can binge him 24 hours a day.

Twitch, the online video streaming service, is currently marathoning all 866 episodes of "Mister Rogers Neighborhood" in chronological order.

Photo via Everett Collection.

That means you have until June 3 to relive the most soothing, gray sweaterful moments of your childhood.

It's an opportunity every American should be pretty grateful to seize right about now — and it's for a good cause.

The marathon is an effort to raise money for local PBS stations, many of which have trouble keeping their funding levels up.

As of this writing, over $14,000 has been donated.

Periodically, PBS has to fight to survive in the face of apathy and political calls to cut its funding. Now is one of those times.

Photo via HBO.

A budget proposed by the Trump administration in March 2017 would have eliminated funding for the network.

The initial version of the budget did not pass, and PBS remains in on the air for now, but the threat is real for the kind of enriching children's programming that Fred Rogers spent his life making and advocating for.

A 2015 study found that shows like "Mister Rogers Neighborhood" and "Sesame Street" — available to anyone with a TV set for decades — made low-income children who watched regularly 14% less likely to fall behind in school.

"These findings raise the exciting possibility that TV and electronic media more generally can be leveraged to address income and racial gaps in children's school readiness," study co-author Melissa Kearney said in a statement.

48 years ago, Rogers appeared before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications to convince skeptical elected officials to allocate $20 million for public television.

His heart-wrenching, six-minute testimony was key to convincing the lawmakers to provide the funding.

Though Rogers may no longer be with us, this two-week fundraising marathon allows his message of kindness and empathy — broadcast for over 30 years to millions of American children from all walks of life — to speak for itself.

You should check it out — and prepare yourself for a nostalgia-and-classic moment tsunami. In a just world, that would be enough to secure PBS the funding it needs.

Here's hoping.