Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 12th, 2020

The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

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The subtitle is “Our best universities have forgotten that the reason they exist is to make minds, not careers,” but that’s certainly not true of my alma mater, St. John’s College (Annapolis MD and Santa Fe NM). William Deresiewicz wrote this piece in June of 2008, but it’s still interesting:

It didn’t dawn on me that there might be a few holes in my education until I was about 35. I’d just bought a house, the pipes needed fixing, and the plumber was standing in my kitchen. There he was, a short, beefy guy with a goatee and a Red Sox cap and a thick Boston accent, and I suddenly learned that I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was his experience to me, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that I couldn’t succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work. Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League degrees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness. “Ivy retardation,” a friend of mine calls this. I could carry on conversations with people from other countries, in other languages, but I couldn’t talk to the man who was standing in my own house.

It’s not surprising that it took me so long to discover the extent of my miseducation, because the last thing an elite education will teach you is its own inadequacy. As two dozen years at Yale and Columbia have shown me, elite colleges relentlessly encourage their students to flatter themselves for being there, and for what being there can do for them. The advantages of an elite education are indeed undeniable. You learn to think, at least in certain ways, and you make the contacts needed to launch yourself into a life rich in all of society’s most cherished rewards. To consider that while some opportunities are being created, others are being cancelled and that while some abilities are being developed, others are being crippled is, within this context, not only outrageous, but inconceivable.

I’m not talking about curricula or the culture wars, the closing or opening of the American mind, political correctness, canon formation, or what have you. I’m talking about the whole system in which these skirmishes play out. Not just the Ivy League and its peer institutions, but also the mechanisms that get you there in the first place: the private and affluent public “feeder” schools, the ever-growing parastructure of tutors and test-prep courses and enrichment programs, the whole admissions frenzy and everything that leads up to and away from it. The message, as always, is the medium. Before, after, and around the elite college classroom, a constellation of values is ceaselessly inculcated. As globalization sharpens economic insecurity, we are increasingly committing ourselves—as students, as parents, as a society—to a vast apparatus of educational advantage. With so many resources devoted to the business of elite academics and so many people scrambling for the limited space at the top of the ladder, it is worth asking what exactly it is you get in the end—what it is we all get, because the elite students of today, as their institutions never tire of reminding them, are the leaders of tomorrow.


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The first disadvantage of an elite education, as I learned in my kitchen that day, is that it makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you. Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely—indeed increasingly—homogeneous. Visit any elite campus in our great nation and you can thrill to the heartwarming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. At the same time, because these schools tend to cultivate liberal attitudes, they leave their students in the paradoxical position of wanting to advocate on behalf of the working class while being unable to hold a simple conversation with anyone in it. Witness the last two Democratic presidential nominees, Al Gore and John Kerry: one each from Harvard and Yale, both earnest, decent, intelligent men, both utterly incapable of communicating with the larger electorate.

But it isn’t just a matter of class. My education taught me to believe that people who didn’t go to an Ivy League or equivalent school weren’t worth talking to, regardless of their class. I was given the unmistakable message that such people were beneath me. We were “the best and the brightest,” as these places love to say, and everyone else was, well, something else: less good, less bright. I learned to give that little nod of understanding, that slightly sympathetic “Oh,” when people told me they went to a less prestigious college. (If I’d gone to Harvard, I would have learned to say “in Boston” when I was asked where I went to school—the Cambridge version of noblesse oblige.) I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to elite colleges, often precisely for reasons of class. I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to college at all.

I also never learned that there are smart people who aren’t “smart.” The existence of multiple forms of intelligence has become a commonplace, but however much elite universities like to sprinkle their incoming classes with a few actors or violinists, they select for and develop one form of intelligence: the analytic. While this is broadly true of all universities, elite schools, precisely because their students (and faculty, and administrators) possess this one form of intelligence to such a high degree, are more apt to ignore the value of others. One naturally prizes what one most possesses and what most makes for one’s advantages. But social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite. The “best” are the brightest only in one narrow sense. One needs to wander away from the educational elite to begin to discover this.

What about people who aren’t bright in any sense? I have a friend who . . .

Continue reading. Audio at the link, plus much more in the article.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2020 at 8:43 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education, Memes

A treasure from yesteryear: Gerald McBoing Boing

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The backstory is quite interesting and worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2020 at 8:27 pm

Posted in Movies & TV, Video

Philosophical counseling

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Well, I never, as people once said. Reasonio offers an unusual service:

As an APPA-certified philosophical counselor, I engage in 1-on-1 coaching and philosophical counseling work with clients.  My clients come from a variety of life situations and professions, but what they have in common is a desire to work through issues that are holding them back or presenting problems in their lives, relationships, or careers.

My work involves collaborating with clients to identify, understand, and address central problems and issues.  We also employ resources, insights, and models derived from philosophical sources.

My past and current clients include corporate executives, startup-CEOs, medical professionals, psychotherapists, consultants, retail employees, government workers, retirees, students, as well as many others.

The scope of my practice includes matters such as moral dilemmas, interpersonal relationships, existential crises and concerns, discordant or underdeveloped belief systems, emotional issues, work-life balance, career decisions and coaching, transition between life-stages, and realization of human potential. I also assist clients with engaging in self-reflection, productive decision-making, and realizing their own capacities for incorporating Philosophy to improve their lives, relationships, and careers.

The majority of my sessions are conducted virtually via Skype, but I also meet clients locally for face-to-face sessions in my local area.

My standard rate for a 50-minute session is US$120.00, but I offer a sliding scale fee for lower-income clients.  I work with a limited number of clients eligable for those rates in any given time period.

I also suggest perusing my Scope of Practice,which discusses the discipline and practice of philosophical counseling.  It also highlights areas of my particular expertise and concentration.

If you are interested in considering a course of Philosophical Counseling with me, I’m happy to work with you.  Email me at greg@reasonio.com, for more information or to schedule an initial session

What Is Philosophical Counseling?

As far back as the great philosophical schools in antiquity, philosophers have been been enrolled in practical roles as counselors and advisers, assisting people in making difficult decisions, improving their lives and relationships, and developing greater self-understanding.  Throughout history, practitioners have used philosophy in very practical ways, generating models for fulfilling and thoughtful ways of living.  During the last several centuries, however, philosophy became more and more restricted to an academic, largely theoretical discipline removed from the issues of everyday life.  In recent decades, many of its great practitioners deliberately steered philosophy solidly back to its practical roots and concerns.

This resulted in the emergence of philosophical counseling as a recognized discipline, community, and set of practices.  Philosophical counseling bears similarities to, but is distinct from other types of counseling, such as psychiatric,  psychological, or religious counseling.  Psychiatric and psychological counseling focus largely upon diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, while philosophical counseling works from a non-medical and non-clinical perspectives.  (It is worth noting that historically, great theorists and practitioners in psychiatry and psychology often had training in, and drew upon resources from philosophy).  Philosophical counseling also differs from religious counseling in drawing primarily upon philosophical resources and involving no religious or theological commitments.

Philosophical counseling is also similar to – and in some cases can overlap with – disciplines such as life coaching and professional coaching.  It differs, however, in the types of training and credentialing required for philosophical counseling, and in the more rigorous reliance upon philosophical models, resources, and perspectives in its practice.  An explicit philosophical framework situates the type of work carried out in coaching within broader horizons in philosophical counseling.

My Credentials, Practice, and Approaches.

My certification in philosophical counseling is granted by the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, and I have successfully assisted a number of clients over the years.  After earning a Ph.D in Philosophy from the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale in 2002, I have designed and taught philosophy courses, with particularly strong focus on Ethics, Critical Thinking, Practical Rationality, Philosophy of Emotion, and the History of Philosophy for over a decade and a half.

Positions I have held in recent years have involved me in . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2020 at 8:23 pm

Taking walks again and other health notes

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Background

Regular readers know that about 18 months ago I adopted a whole-food plant-only diet, which I’ve described in some detail. My motivation was primarily to improve my overall health and more specifically to help with my type 2 diabetes.

Whole-food” means no refined or highly processed foods, which eliminates refined sugar (and foods that contain it), refined salt (and foods that contain it), flour (and foods made from it), and foods made from refined ingredients using industrial processes and sold packaged with a brand name (and heavy marketing) — for example, Cheez Whiz, Diet Coke, and most “convenience” foods. 

Plant-only” means no meat, fish, dairy, or eggs (and no foods that contain those as ingredients — thus no mayonnaise, for example). 

To make sure that I cover the nutritional bases, I used Cronometer for a while. (It’s free, but I opted for Gold status, which provides some additional features for $35/year.) Using Cronometer did indeed reveal some deficiencies, which I mostly corrected through diet — for example, I wasn’t getting enough selenium, so I added 1 brazil nut per day to my diet; I was short of B5 (pantothenic acid), so I added mushrooms to my daily diet (since I like mushrooms). (The search term “foods high in…” is quite useful, though Cronometer itself can make suggestions).

A standard issue in plant-only diets is vitamin B12, and I took care of that by chewing (for faster absorption) a B12 tablet (cyanocobalamin) each morning (with the brazil nut, as it happens). I also take a vitamin D supplement (living as I do in a high latitude, thus with weaker sunlight). And as I posted yesterday, I am now adding a vitamin A supplement. In general, Cronometer showed that my diet was nutritionally sound.

Because of my diabetes, I had been following a low-carb high-fat diet. (“High” is somewhat misleading. It means only that you add enough fat to match the calories lost by cutting net carbs (total carbs minus dietary fiber). For example, if you reduce net carbs by 100g (which is 400 calories), you add 45g fat (405 calories).)

The low-carb diet, together with medication, did bring my blood glucose under control, but as I posted, the reason was that I was not eating any carbs to speak of — around 30g/day of net carbs. On the whole-food plant-only (WFPO) diet, I increased my intake of net carbs from around 30g/day to around 145g/day. However, my intake of dietary fiber also greatly increased (eating whole foods, avoiding refined foods, and eating only plants means you get a lot of fiber). On my new diet my intake of dietary fiber is around 60g/day. (Meat, fish, dairy, and eggs contain zero dietary fiber — and dietary fiber is essential for the health of the gut microbiome, which is essential for your own health.)

It took me a while to find my footing and develop new routines and patterns of eating, but through trial and error I developed an eating pattern based on Dr. Michael Greger’s Daily Dozen. The Daily Dozen provides a template and framework that made it easy to plan my daily food intake.

As a result of the change in diet, my diabetes significantly improved (as did my blood pressure), to the degree that my doctor told me to discontinue all the medications I had been taking. My HbA1c went to 5.2% (well within normal range) and my fasting blood glucose was around 5.5 mmol/L (99 mg/dl). 

And then…

Fast-forward a year. I was doing so well that I decided it would be okay to eat a piece of fish once every week or two — and I do like steelhead. The plot sequence at this point is a cliché: the piece of fish once every week or two became a piece of fish three or four times a week, and I decided eggs (cooked in butter) would be okay occasionally (and then frequently — I had to use the dozen before they went bad, after all). And then I ventured to eat a steak about once a month. Moreover, it seemed appropriate to have wine with my meals and an evening cocktail (I’m partial to rye Manhattans (redundant, but rye is not so commonly used) and gin Martinis (also redundant, but nowadays it’s wise to specify). 

My fasting blood-glucose readings gradually increased: I started seeing 6.0 fairly often, then 6.1, 6.3…. A doctor had told me that so long as the readings were below 7.0, all was well, but I was getting uneasy. My Contour Next blood glucose meter gives me averages, and I couldn’t help but notice that the averages also were slowly increasing (naturally enough). My morning readings started to include an occasional 6.5 and then an occasional 6.8. But the readings jumped around a lot, and I naturally focused on the “good” (lower) readings. Then I noticed an average of 6.5.

And one morning I saw a 7.0 reading. I got seriously worried and cut back right away…  but then things improved somewhat so I resumed the drift. I reassured myself by noting how much the readings varied day to day (and tried to ignore the increased averages).

Then I hit a rocky series of readings, starting 18 November: 6.5 (bad, so I was careful), 5.8 (that’s more like it) — and then 7.0, 6.7, 6.4, 6.5, 6.1, 7.0, 7.3 (!), 6.7, 6.8, 6.1, 6.5 — and I thought “Enough’s enough.” I decided I had to do hard reset. 

The hard reset

I knew, of course, exactly what I needed to do, but this time I wrote it down — putting things in writing makes them more concrete and, in effect, nails them to the wall. I wrote:

1. No alcohol (first day was 30 Nov 2020 and I’m still abstaining)
2. Daily walk with Sunday as a rest day (first day was 2 Dec 2020 (2000 steps), with a goal of 8000 steps/day)
3. No food after 5:00 (first day was 3 Dec 2020 — no eating in the evening helps with fasting blood glucose)

At the right you see my fasting blood-glucose averages two weeks into the hard reset. (And this result is without taking any medication at all.) One morning this week I even had a reading of 5.2 mmol/L. The 90-day average as of yesterday was 6.5, but today it dropped to 6.4. A fasting blood glucose of 5.5 mmol/L is the top of the “normal” range; 5.6 is the bottom of the “pre-diabetic” range. (“Diabetes” starts at 7.0.)

It’s clear that cutting out animal-based foods has made a quick and quite noticeable difference in my blood glucose levels. The reason is well understood: saturated fat spikes blood glucose. (The 7.0 reading was the day after I had a steak and the 7.3 followed a dinner of beef shank.)

By sticking with plant-only foods (and not eating any coconut), I avoid saturated fat, and that helps significantly with the blood glucose (as does eating whole rather than refined foods). Here’s why:

And the walking helps

Walking certainly helps physically, and I find it also helps with mood and morale. Getting out of the apartment into the open air and seeing interesting things in the neighborhood brightens the day and broadens the range of experience (beyond being in the apartment). For example, this shrub caught my eye: I like the fractal-like branches. Nothing like that in my apartment.

Almost all houses in this neighborhood boast flower gardens, in a wide variety of styles and designs. There is also a good variety of fences and gates, not to mention houses. You can see that people have devoted thought and effort to create their own little garden environment (cf. the movie Greenfingers, with Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, David Kelly, and Warren Clarke — check JustWatch.com for availability). 

Even though it’s very late in the fall — winter begins in 9 days — I see some bushes still valiantly blooming. There’s one at the left, but there are others. And bushes with white berries — I need to learn some botany.

Another unexpected pleasure: I encounter a variety of little free libraries — I’ve spotted three so far, and I bet I will find more. Perhaps soon I’ll borrow (or donate) a book. And I go by a couple of parks, and of course there’s the Salish Sea right across the road for part of my walk.

I’ve been walking rain or shine (so far but one day in the rain, when I found walking with an umbrella is not a problem). And I have found a time for the habit — before my (late) lunch. (Breakfast lately is tea and three pieces of fresh fruit.)

Resist entropy

I followed a common sequence. I started with good resolutions, good results, and good persistence, and that lasted for months. But then I started probing the boundaries, and then drifting across (or moving) the boundaries. And then there’s the shocked awakening: “What am I doing?! What have I done?!”

That was the moment that I decided I needed a hard reset. Because I’m familiar with what I needed to do — where, in effect, I needed to be — it has been easy enough to resume good practice (though I definitely think writing it down helped — there’s a reason we are advised to put our goals in writing. And the restrictions due to the pandemic help, since they eliminate restaurant meals and socializing over food and drink. 

Now all I need to do is to stay the course and fight the universal pressure to move from order to disorder. I must remind myself from time to time what happens when I cast caution to the winds — or even nudge it aside a little. Pushing the pebble over the ledge can lead to a landslide.

Update: My fasting blood glucose this morning (13 Dec 2020) is 5.1 mmol/L (93 mg/dL). That is excellent. Of course, I don’t want to venture into hypoglcemia (when blood glucose is too low): “A blood sugar level below 70 mg/dL (3.9 mmol/L) is low and can harm you. A blood sugar level below 54 mg/dL (3.0 mmol/L) is a cause for immediate action.” I’m well above the harmful level. The Mayo Clinic notes:

A fasting blood sugar level less than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) is normal. A fasting blood sugar level from 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L) is considered prediabetes. If it’s 126 mg/dL (7 mmol/L) or higher on two separate tests, you have diabetes.

I’ll note again that I am achieving these levels with no medication: only diet and, lately, exercise.

14 Dec: This morning my blood glucose was 5.4 mmol/L (97 mg/dL), which is in the normal range — but more important, my 7-day average (see at right) was 5.5 mmol/L, also within normal range (albeit at the top: 5.6 is where “pre-diabetic” begins).

I’m still surprised at the rapidity of recovery once I returned rigorously to a whole-food plant-only diet. And I’ve been enjoying a cranberry slushie as an afternoon treat (recipe at the link).

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2020 at 7:43 pm

High speed camera captures how different types of face masks work

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Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2020 at 4:13 pm

Dr. Jon’s Vol. 3 is a true shaving pleasure

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This completes the run through the ultra-premium soaps I own, so Monday I’ll return to my usual line-up — soaps that are excellent in their own right: premium soaps.

Dr. Jon’s new formulation is first rate (though the “Vol. 3” moniker strikes me as bit twee), and I like the Pan’s Pipe fragrance, one of quite a range of offerings. (Rose of Phrygia looks interesting: “Dark, sweet spices over vetiver and tobacco with top notes of two different rose accords.”) The ingredients:

Stearic Acid, Water, Castor Oil, Potassium Hydroxide, Shea Butter, Mango Butter, Babassu Oil, Sodium Lactate, Fragrance, Sodium Hydroxide, Vegetable Glycerin, Myristyl Myristate, Avocado Oil, Sunflower Oil, Evening Primrose Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Jojoba Oil, Meadowfoam Oil, Soy Wax, Cucumber Extract, Licorice Extract, Candelilla Extract, Sodium PCA, Sensolene, Squalane, Slippery Elm Bark, Aloe Vera Concentrate, Citric Acid.

My Rooney Victorian generated a fine lather using the technique I’ve now adopted: load damp brush heavily (perhaps with the assistance of a driblet of water, depending on the soap), coat stubble with what is more a paste than a lather, then add water to the brush and work up the lather to the consistency and volume you desire.

The stainless RazoRock Mamba is a wonderful razor for me, and it left my face totally smooth and never even hinted at a nick. A splash of Floïd to finish the job, and the weekend begins.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2020 at 10:32 am

Posted in Shaving

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