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The Spacing Effect: How to Improve Learning and Maximize Retention

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An interesting post in the FS blog. (The idea of spaced repetition is built into Anki’s (powerful, free) flashcard system.) The blog post begins:

We are not taught how to learn in school, we are taught how to pass tests. The spacing effect is a far more effective way to learn and retain information that works with our brain instead of against it. Find out how to use it here.

“Every perception is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.”

— Gerald Edelman, Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge

The most important metaskill you can learn is how to learn. Learning allows you to adapt. As Darwin hinted, it’s not the strongest who survives. It’s the one who easily adapts to a changing environment. Learning how to learn is a part of a “work smarter, not harder” approach to life—one that probabilistically helps you avoid becoming irrelevant. Your time is precious, and you don’t want to waste it on something which will just be forgotten.

During the school years, most of us got used to spending hours at a time memorizing facts, equations, the names of the elements, French verbs, dates of key historical events. We found ourselves frantically cramming the night before a test. We probably read through our notes over and over, a gallon of coffee in hand, in the hope that the information would somehow lodge in our brains. Once the test was over, we doubtless forgot everything straight away.1

Even outside of formal education, we have to learn large amounts of new information on a regular basis: foreign languages, technical terms, sale scripts, speeches, the names of coworkers. Learning through rote memorization is tedious and—more important—ineffective. If we want to remember something, we need to work with our brains, not against them. To do that, we need to understand cognitive constraints and find intelligent ways to get around them or use them to our advantage.

This is where the spacing effect comes in. It’s a wildly useful phenomenon: we are better able to recall information and concepts if we learn them in multiple, spread-out sessions. We can leverage this effect by using spaced repetition to slowly learn almost anything.

It works for words, numbers, images, and skills. It works for anyone of any age, from babies to elderly people. It works for animals, even species as simple as sea slugs. The effect cuts across disciplines and can be used to learn anything from artistic styles to mathematical equations.

Spaced repetition might not have the immediacy of cramming or the adrenaline rush of a manic all-nighter. But the information we learn from it can last a lifetime and tends to be effectively retained. In some ways, the spacing effect is a cognitive limitation, yet a useful one—if we are aware of it.

In Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language and Never Forget It, Gabriel Wyner writes:

Spaced repetition…[is] extraordinarily efficient. In a four-month period, practising for 30 minutes a day, you can expect to learn and retain 3600 flashcards with 90 to 95 percent accuracy. These flashcards can teach you an alphabet, vocabulary, grammar, and even pronunciation. And they can do it without becoming tedious because they’re always challenging enough to remain interesting and fun.

In Mindhacker, Ron and Marty Hale-Evans explore further:

Our memory is simultaneously magnificent and pathetic. It is capable of incredible feats, yet it never works quite like we wish it would. Ideally, we would be able to remember everything instantly, but we are not computers. We hack our memory with tools like memory palaces, but such techniques required effort and dedication. Most of us give up, and outsource our memory to smartphones, cloud enabled computers, or plain old pen and paper. There is a compromise…a learning technique called spaced repetition which efficiently organizes information or memorization and retention can be used to achieve near perfect recall.

“If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.”

— Edgar Allan Poe, Marginalia

The Discovery of The Spacing Effect

Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909), a German psychologist and pioneer of quantitative memory research, first identified the spacing effect. After earning his PhD in Germany, he traveled to London. Like so many people, he found his life forever changed by a book.

The work in question was

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 8:46 pm

Great books are still great

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Full disclosure: I am an alumnus of the Great Books Program at St. John’s College, Annapolis, MD, and in addition I was a faculty member and director of admissions there a decade later. I can talk at length about the benefits of the program (which to my mind focuses on the development of intellectual skills more than intellectual content), but I’ll save that for another time — but I will note that skills are practical knowledge and thus are acquired and developed through practice.

In Aeon Roosevelt Montás, senior lecturer in American studies and English at Columbia University and director of the Freedom and Citizenship program at the Center for American Studies, has an article on the Great Books, which I believe is an edited extract from his book Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation (2021). The article begins:

As a high-school student with still-shaky English proficiency, I found a collection of Plato’s dialogues in a garbage pile near my house in Corona, Queens. I had grown up in a mountain town in the Dominican Republic and emigrated to New York City just before my 12th birthday. My mother had left the Dominican Republic a few years earlier, secured the only job she could get, earning the minimum wage in a garment factory, and petitioned for my brother and I to join her. In 1985, we entered New York City’s overcrowded public school system, where the free lunches supplied a good portion of our sustenance. Like many immigrants, we were poor, exposed, and disoriented by our uprooting.

It was not an auspicious beginning for the career I would have as student, academic administrator and faculty member at an Ivy League university. But the jarring journey became, at some point, less of a handicap and more of a peculiar vantage point from which to reflect on the intellectual and social world I had entered. My development was nourished by an education in what some people call ‘the great books’. That same education has made me sensitive to a culturally influential critique of ‘the canon’ that insists that Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Montaigne, Cervantes, Goethe, Hegel, Dostoyevsky, Woolf, et al, are not for people like me, that they are for white people, or rich people, or people born with class privileges that I lacked.

In the collection of Plato’s dialogues that I rescued from the garbage pile on that winter night in Queens, I encountered an old man named Socrates in his final days. He was defending himself against accusations of corrupting the youth and of introducing new gods to the city. ‘Men of Athens,’ he protested,

I am grateful and I am your friend, but … as long as I draw breath and am able, I shall not cease to practise philosophy, to exhort you … [asking] are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honours as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth, or the best possible state of your soul?

By the end of the collection, we find him in prison on the day appointed for his execution, ‘calmly and easily’ drinking the poison, laying down, and dying: ‘Such was the end of our comrade,’ says the first-person narrator, ‘a man who, we would say, was of all those we have known the best, and also the wisest and the most upright.’ I did not need to be rich, privileged or cultured to find in those words something that spoke to the deepest sense of my own being. And I did not need to be white or European to be startled by the claim that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’.

Every summer since 2009, I have used these same Platonic dialogues to introduce low-income high-school students, who hope to be the first in their families to attend college, to the philosophic, ethical, and political tradition that Socrates inspired. Every year, I see my students roused to serious self-examination and, in many cases, to an earnest and lasting reorientation of their lives. They do not see Thucydides, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, and other texts we study, as alien objects belonging to others, but as thinkers who speak with a living voice to issues of urgency and relevance to their own experience. Again and again, I see these young people awaken to a source of self-worth and meaning that is not constrained by the material limitations that have otherwise hemmed in their lives.

The liberatory power of ‘the canon’ is easily lost in the theoretical haze of the academic humanities. At the same time, institutions of higher education have been all too ready to abandon the idea of liberal education – of learning for its own sake – in favour of professional and specialised studies. But the old classics still have the power to move and transform young people in ways that no technical education can. We don’t have to dilute the practical value of a higher education nor ignore the insights of the academic humanities to restore the vitality of liberal education in our colleges and universities.

In my last year of college, I . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 11:30 am

Ceramic Review: Masterclass with Stephen Murfitt

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Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 1:23 pm

The Billionaires Funding the Coup’s Brain Trust

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Andy Kroll reports in Rolling Stone:

The Claremont Institute, once a little-known think tank often confused with the liberal-arts college of the same name, has emerged as a driving force in the conservative movement’s crusade to use bogus fraud claims about the 2020 election to rewrite voting laws and remake the election system in time for the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential election. Most infamously, one of the group’s legal scholars crafted memos outlining a plan for how then-Vice President Mike Pence could potentially overturn the last election.

Conservative mega-donors like what they see.

The biggest right-wing megadonors in America made major contributions to Claremont in 2020 and 2021, according to foundation financial records obtained by Rolling Stone. The high-profile donors include several of the most influential families who fund conservative politics and policy: the DeVoses of West Michigan, the Bradleys of Milwaukee, and the Scaifes of Pittsburgh.

The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation donated $240,000 to Claremont in 2020 and approved another $400,000 to be paid out in the future, tax records show. The Bradley Foundation donated $100,000 to Claremont in 2020 and another $100,000 in 2021, according to tax records and a spokeswoman for the group. The Sarah Scaife Foundation, one of several charities tied to the late right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, supplied another $450,000 to Claremont in 2020, according to its latest tax filings.

Claremont’s own tax filings show that its revenue rose from 2019 to 2020 by a half-million dollars to $6.2 million, one of the highest sums since the organization was founded in 1979, according to the most recent available data. A Claremont spokesman said the group wouldn’t comment about its donors beyond publicly available data but estimated that Claremont’s revenue for the 2021 fiscal year had increased to $7.5 million.

The DeVoses, Bradleys, and Scaifes are among the most prominent donor families in conservative politics. For Bradley and Scaife, the giving to Claremont tracks with a long history of funding right-wing causes and advocacy groups, from the American Enterprise Institute think tank and the “bill mill” American Legislative Exchange Council, to anti-immigration zealot David Horowitz’s Freedom Center and the climate-denying Heartland Institute.

Bradley in particular has given heavily to groups that traffic in misleading or baseless claims about “election integrity” or widespread “voter fraud.” Thanks to a $6.5 million infusion from the Bradley Impact Fund, a related nonprofit, the undercover-sting group Project Veritas nearly doubled its revenue in 2020 to $22 million, according to the group’s tax filing. Bradley is also a long-time funder of the Heritage Foundation, which helped architect the wave of voter suppression bills introduced in state legislatures this year, and True the Vote, a conservative group that trains poll watchers and stokes fears of rampant voter fraud in the past.

The Bradley Foundation was founded in 1942 by the Bradley family. Brothers Harry and Lynde Bradley co-founded the Allen-Bradley company, which would later provide much of the funding for the Bradley Foundation. The nonprofit, which has given out more than $1 billion in its history, no longer has any Bradley family members on its board.

But while the Bradley donations are to be expected, the contributions from the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation to Claremont are perhaps more surprising. Betsy DeVos, in one of her final acts as Trump’s education secretary, condemned the “angry mob” on January 6 and said “the law must be upheld and the work of the people must go on.”

A spokesman for the DeVoses, Nick Wasmiller, said Betsy DeVos’s letter “speaks for itself.” He added: “Claremont does work in many areas. It would be baseless to assert the Foundation’s support has any connection to the one item you cite.” While the foundation’s 2020 tax filing said its grants to Claremont were unrestricted, Wasmiller said the filing was wrong and the money had been earmarked. However, he declined to say what it was earmarked for.

The donations flowing into Claremont illustrate that although the group’s full-throated support for Trump and fixation on election crimes may be extreme, they’re not fringe views when they have the backing of influential conservative funders. “Were it not for the patronage of billionaire conservatives and their family foundations, the Claremont Institute would likely be relegated to screaming about its anti-government agenda on the street corner,” says Kyle Herrig, president of government watchdog group Accountable.US.

The Claremont spokesman responded to Herrig’s comment by saying . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2022 at 5:59 pm

Could Small Still Be Beautiful?

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Bryce T. Bauer writes in Craftsmanship:

1. “Economics as a Form of Brain Damage”
2. The Schumacher Center for a New Economics
3. The New Economics of Land Ownership
4. The New Economics of Business Financing
5. The New Economics of Currency
6. The New Economics of Entrepreneurship
7. Challenges to the New Economy

Four decades ago, just as some of the forces that have caused today’s problems with globalization and inequality began to take hold, a British economist by the name of E.F. Schumacher took America by storm with a set of contrary ideas about how an economy should work.

Schumacher aimed squarely at supporting everyday people and the communities where they lived. For a brief period in the mid-1970s, his name enjoyed headline status — and his book, “Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered,” joined a pantheon of powerful, call-to-action works of the time. Schumacher’s book was taken so seriously that, a few years after its publication, it was listed alongside such enduring critiques as Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Paul R. Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb.”

While “Small Is Beautiful” hasn’t endured with quite the same power those works have enjoyed, its ideas have still seeped into the thinking of some of the nation’s latter-day acolytes of social and environmental sustainability, including Wendell Berry, Jane Jacobs, and Bill McKibben. Schumacher’s work also inspired a small think-tank focused on turning the small towns and bucolic countryside of the Massachusetts Berkshires into a laboratory for further exploration of his theories.

Given how rarely Schumacher’s once-popular ideas are discussed today, one can’t help but wonder—were his perceptions all wrong? Or, as the director of the institute focused on sustaining his ideas, and as Schumacher himself also said, was their time yet to come? If the latter, might that time be now? Every day, it seems, more and more experts join the argument that the accelerating dominance of global companies — in a world struggling with income inequality, resource depletion, and the growing ravages of climate change — has put us on an unsustainable path. If that bleak outlook is correct, maybe it’s time to give Schumacher’s ideas a second look.


When “Small Is Beautiful” came out, in 1973, Schumacher had already worked for several decades as an economist. In the years after its publication, he toured the United States speaking to crowds across the country and meeting with political leaders, including an address before 50 members of Congress and a meeting with President Jimmy Carter. At the time, America was being wrenched by many of the ills he said modern economics would cause. The 1970s was a decade marked by oil and gas shocks, labor unrest and stagflation, a growing concern over the environment, and the discord of the Vietnam War. Schumacher was attuned to what it all portended. (In fact, the first use of the term “global warming” occurred just two years after Schumacher’s book was published.) Schumacher wrote “we do well to ask why it is that all these terms — pollution, environment, ecology, etc. — have so suddenly come into prominence…is this a sudden fad, a silly fashion, or perhaps a sudden failure of nerve?”

Born in Bonn, Germany, Schumacher had fled Nazi Germany to England in 1937. During the Second World War, when Great Britain began interning Germans, including Jewish refugees, Schumacher and his family moved to the countryside, where he worked on a farm until his writing caught the notice of John Maynard Keynes, the British economist who launched the 20th century’s activist alternative to unfettered, free-market economics.

The core of Schumacher’s argument lay in his book’s subtitle: “Economics as if People Mattered.” For far too long, economists had approached the problem of development in a way that focused too much on goods over people, emphasizing the elimination of labor instead of job creation. He accused these experts of treating consumption as the end itself, always to be maximized.

In Schumacher’s view, the economy would not benefit from the standard methods of stimulation; if anything, it should be de-intensified. If this could be managed, Schumacher believed, it would allow time “for any piece of work — enough to make a really good job of it, to enjoy oneself, to produce real equality, even to make things beautiful.”

The opportunity to work this way — which is central to any artisan or tradesman, and to his or her ability to produce top-notch, innovative work — clearly has only declined further in the years since Schumacher made this observation. And if anything, his critique might be even more timely today. In a new book, “Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope,” veteran New York Times journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn argue that the growing scarcity of jobs that offer such visceral satisfactions is part of what’s plunged America’s working class into unprecedented levels of despair, drug addiction, and suicide.

To be truly helpful, Schumacher argued, development funds in poor areas should be spent on “intermediate technology” — that is, technology that’s cheap, resilient, and simple enough to be used by workers in areas that lack access to education, ready capital, and sophisticated infrastructure. Technology that’s too expensive, and too complex to be readily used in developing economies, he said, destroys “the possibilities of self-reliance.”

Whenever he traveled to speak about these ideas in the U.S., crowds met his stops — 2,000 in Chicago, 500 in Minneapolis, 200 at the Colorado School of the Mines in Golden, 600 in an overflow crowd at the Helena, Montana Civic Center — and his book was, at one point, reportedly selling 30,000 copies a month. His ideas also inspired a government “Office of Appropriate Technology” in California, where then-governor Jerry Brown introduced Schumacher during a 1977 tour of America. (That organization is still in existence, in slightly altered form in Montana, as the National Center for Appropriate Technology.) During Gov. Brown’s more idealistic days, he once said, “if you want to understand my philosophy, read this,” as he brandished a copy of “Small Is Beautiful.”

“The 60s was a generation that wanted to do things different…and there was Schumacher saying I was a conventional economist and I was mistaken,” says Susan Witt, who became the executive director and co-founder of what’s now called the E.F. Schumacher Center for a New Economics. “I didn’t take into account human beings. I didn’t take into account their spiritual lives. I didn’t take into account concern for the earth and I’ve had to re-think my economics. Those essays in ‘Small Is Beautiful’ touched a generation.”

One of those touched by Schumacher’s ideas was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 January 2022 at 12:07 pm

To Hell and Back: Allison Cornish on the Divine Comedy

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I believe that anyone who has reached (say) middle age — and many at other junctures in their lives — will feel a thrill of recognition on reading the opening lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy:

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself again in a dark forest,
for I had lost the pathway straight and right.

Ah how hard it is to describe, this forest
savage and rough and overwhelming, for
to think of it renews my fear before it! …

How I got there, I cannot rightly say,
I was so full of sleep at that point still
at which I had abandoned the true way.

The Octavian Report interviews Allison Cornish:

Written some 700 years ago, Dante’s Divine Comedy remains one of the greatest works of world literature. Religion, politics, history, love, war, money: it has it all. The three-book epic plumbs the depths of hell and reaches for the highest clouds of paradise, while always remaining grounded in the here and now. In an interview with The Octavian Report, Allison Cornish—who’s an NYU professor, president of the Dante Society of America, and author of the book Vernacular Translation in Dante’s Italyexplains why The Divine Comedy has stood the test of time, what makes it so influential, and why its politics resonate today. . .

Octavian Report: What first got you interested in medieval Italian literature?

Allison Cornish: I was an English major at Berkeley, and toward the end of my time there, I had to take a class in medieval literature. So I studied Beowulf with Allan Renoir, who was the son of the filmmaker [Jean Renoir] and grandson of the artist [Pierre August Renoir]. He said, “you should go to graduate school,” so I went to Cornell. And I had already started studying Italian and French, so I guess I came to it through language first.

OR: Why did you zero in on Dante?

Cornish: The Divine Comedy is just a book like no other—it’s the book of books, in a certain way. Like the Bible, which of course it models itself on. It’s very conscious about the written word, and how we use it to get in touch with reality. The mega plot of Dante’s work is that we’re reading a book. And education is also stressed. Those two things are what Dante the narrator needs; he needs to be led out of the dark wood by a book. That book turns out to be Virgil’s—which, of course, is a book that’s not really from his culture.

So in many ways, the Divine Comedy is a book about books. When I talk about books these days with students, I try not to say the word “books,” because students today are… I hate to say less bookish, but they respond to and are active in so much other media. Yet Dante still speaks to them. Some of these students have told me they want to do a project about fame, fame and one’s legacy. Those used to seem like antiquated ideas. But they totally understand them because of social media. And Dante offers insights into their life online as a kind of legacy, a kind of afterlife.

OR: Was Dante the first person to make himself the main character in an epic?

Cornish: Of an epic, yes.

OR: What do we know about him and why he wrote the Divine Comedy?

Cornish: We don’t know that much about Dante that he doesn’t tell us himself. Independently known facts about him are very few. We do know that he existed, that he served in government, that he was sent into exile, when he died, and that he became a fairly famous figure later on. We don’t know that much else. We know he was married to a woman named Gemma Donati. Does he ever mention her? No. Do we actually know who the character Beatrice is based on? People think it could be a woman called Beatrice Portinari, who was the daughter of a banker and married another banker. But there’s no clear evidence that it’s her.

Dante crafted The Divine Comedy into autobiography of sorts. He took lyric poems, which everyone was writing—love poetry was the fashion and the sort of pop music of the time—and he compiled them into an autobiographical narrative, always emphasizing that life is like a book. But who was he, really? I don’t know. We would probably say upper middle class. Florentine. His father was probably some kind of banker. Dante himself got into government, and to be in government then you had to join a guild. In his case, it was a guild for pharmacists and painters, who had in common the fact that they both ground their minerals in a mortar and pestle. Was Dante an actual pharmacist? Or a painter? I don’t know. It was just something you had to do to get involved in government.

We also know that in 1301, he was sent to see the pope in Rome, and that later various shenanigans led to his being exiled. We know that he tried to get back into the city in various ways. Writing letters, maybe even plotting conspiracies. He was very hopeful that the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VII, would come down and take over Florence and bring him back in. But Dante finally gave up hope of all that and went from court to court and sought patronage from other lords before he died in Ravenna in 1321.

OR: But the book became really famous, right?

Cornish: Yes, it was an instant best seller and we have evidence that people knew about “The Inferno” before Dante died.

OR: How big was the original audience?

Cornish: I don’t know how to put a number on that. One of the things that’s always said about Dante is that he was the first to write in Italian, and that this fact was marvelous because it brought learning to the people. That has to be historicized a little bit. First of all, at the time, people were demanding access to literary culture in the language that they could read—Italian—without having gone to school, which was the only place you’d learn Latin. But a lot of other stuff was already being written in the vernacular; Dante arrived at a moment when lots of translations [into Italian] were being written.

But the thing is, to write an epic of this scope and ambition, and to do it in a language that’s really tied to a very local place—Florence and Tuscany, not even all of Italy—was remarkable. It really localized something that was universalist in its scope. That’s the paradox Dante embodied. On the one hand, he insisted on the local and the personal and the “I” and used phrases like “my girlfriend” and “my language.” On the other, his work also took us all the way to the stars and beyond.

OR: Why is it a comedy, given its brutality?

Cornish: That is actually the only part of the title that Dante himself gave the work. He called it “My Comedy.” The “divine” part was added later. As for why it’s called a comedy, part of it is that it has a happy ending. Dante seems to be juxtaposing it to The Aeneid, which he calls a tragedy.

The other thing that “comedy” suggested then was a low style, having to do with servants and lower-class people—cooks, stable boys, that kind of thing—as well as a lot of vulgarity. And remember, the vernacular in which Dante wrote was seen as the language of women. It was “the mother tongue,” something you’d learn from your nursemaid.

OR: Why is it that everyone knows “The Inferno” so much better than the other parts of The Divine Comedy?

Cornish: Well, “The Inferno”’s door is open. The gate to hell is wide, and it’s easy to get into it. There’s a lot of action, there’s a lot of horror, and there’s a lot of seductive people to root for, who seem to be rebelling against the order that they’ve been placed in. Meanwhile, “Purgatory” is a mountain and requires work, and “Paradiso” requires even more. Some people say that “Purgatory” is where the lectures begin. Of course, it’s not all lectures, you’re also meeting people. But it’s more difficult.

OR: Do you have a favorite section? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 January 2022 at 7:16 am

Interesting letter about Boris Johnson:

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Boris sometimes seems affronted when criticised for what amounts to a gross failure of responsibility (and surprised at the same time that he was not appointed Captain of the School for the next half). I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.

Martin Hammond, Eton College
Letter to Boris Johnson’s father
10th April 1982

The child is father to the man.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2022 at 11:38 am

The Police Will Never Change In America. My experience in police academy.

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Using a temporary username, a person posted the following on Reddit:

Throwaway for obvious reasons. If you feel If i’m just bitter due to my dismissal please call me out on it as I need a wake up call.

Over the fall semester I was a police recruit at a Community Colleges Police Academy in a midwestern liberal city. I have always wanted to be a police officer, and I felt like I could help kickstart a change of new wave cops. I am passionate about community oriented policing, making connections with the youth in policing, and changing lives on a individual level. I knew police academy would be mentally and physically challenging, but boy oh boy does policing need to change.

Instructors taught us to view citizens as enemy combatants, and told us we needed a warrior mindset and that we were going into battle everyday. It felt like i was joining a cult. Instructors told us supporting our fellow police officers were more important than serving citizens. Instructors told us that we were joining a big bad gang of police officers and that protecting the thin blue line was sacred. Instructors told us George Floyd wasn’t a problem and was just one bad officer. I tried to push back on some of these ideas and posed to an instructor that 4 other officers watched Chauvin pin Floyd to the ground and did nothing, and perhaps they did nothing because they were trained in academy to never speak against a senior officer. I was told to “shut my fucking face, and that i had no idea what i was talking about.”

Sadly, Instructors on several occasions, and most shockingly in the first week asked every person who supported Black Lives Matter to raise their hands. I and about a third of the class did. They told us that we should seriously consider not being police officers if we supported anti-cop organizations. They told us BLM was a terrible organization and to get out if we supported them. Instructors repeatedly made anti-LGBT comments and transphobic comments.

Admittedly I was the most progressive and put a target on my back for challenging instructor viewpoints. This got me disciplined, yelled at, and made me not want to be a cop. We had very little training on de-escalation and community policing. We had no diversity or ethics training.

Despite all this I made it to the final day. I thought if I could just get through this I could get hired and make a difference in the community as a cop and not be subject to academy paramilitary crap. The police academy dismissed me on the final day because I failed a PT test that I had passed multiple times easily in the academy leading up to this day. I asked why I failed and they said my push up form was bad and they were being more strict now it was the final. I responded saying if you counted my pushups in the entrance and midterm tests than they should count now. I was dismissed on the final day of police academy and have to take a whole academy over again. I have no plan to retake the whole academy and I feel like quality police officers are dismissed because they don’t fit the instructors’ cookie-cutter image of a warrior police officer and the instructors can get rid of them with saying their form doesn’t count on a subjective sit up or push up tests. I was beyond tears and bitterly disappointed. Maybe policing is just that fucked in America.

The warrior-mindset (vs. the guardian-mindset) training is indeed prevalent, and specifically viewing every citizen as a potential hostile threat — see, for example, this article. And it is common for those who have power in a particular organizational culture will use that power to resist changes to the culture (which, they fear, will mean a reduction in their own power).

The comments to the post are worth reading — and see also this Harvard Law Review article on the problem of the warrior mindset and this article that advocates in favor of a warrior mindset.

BTW, I believe a warrior mindset is totally appropriate in soldiers in a shooting war, and totally inappropriate in an organization that is supposed to be a guardian of the public’s safety and Constitutional rights — and even the accused have rights, something many police disapprove of (because the public is the Enemy).

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2022 at 5:59 pm

To wake from a dream and embrace reality — if only

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In Jacobin magazine:

In an essay penned shortly before his death, David Graeber argued that post-pandemic, we can’t slip back into a reality where the way our society is organized — to serve every whim of a small handful of rich people while debasing and degrading the vast majority of us — is seen as sensible or reasonable.

And then they post this essay that David Graeber wrote:

At some point in the next few months, the crisis will be declared over, and we will be able to return to our “nonessential” jobs. For many, this will be like waking from a dream.

The media and political classes will definitely encourage us to think of it this way. This is what happened after the 2008 financial crash. There was a brief moment of questioning. (What is “finance,” anyway? Isn’t it just other people’s debts? What is money? Is it just debt, too? What’s debt? Isn’t it just a promise? a If money and debt are just a collection of promises we make to each other, then couldn’t we just as easily make different ones?) The window was almost instantly shut by those insisting we shut up, stop thinking, and get back to work, or at least start looking for it.

Last time, most of us fell for it. This time, it is critical that we do not.

Because, in reality, the crisis we just experienced was waking from a dream, a confrontation with the actual reality of human life, which is that we are a collection of fragile beings taking care of one another, and that those who do the lion’s share of this care work that keeps us alive are overtaxed, underpaid, and daily humiliated, and that a very large proportion of the population don’t do anything at all but spin fantasies, extract rents, and generally get in the way of those who are making, fixing, moving, and transporting things, or tending to the needs of other living beings. It is imperative that we not slip back into a reality where all this makes some sort of inexplicable sense, the way senseless things so often do in dreams.

How about this: Why don’t we stop treating it as entirely normal that the more obviously one’s work benefits others, the less one is likely to be paid for it; or insisting that financial markets are the best way to direct long-term investment even as they are propelling us to destroy most life on Earth?

Why not instead, once the current emergency is declared over, actually remember what we’ve learned: that if “the economy” means anything, it is the way we provide each other with what we need to be alive (in every sense of the term), that what we call “the market” is largely just a way of tabulating the aggregate desires of rich people, most of whom are at least slightly pathological, and the most powerful of whom were already completing the designs for the bunkers they plan to escape to if we continue to be foolish enough to believe their minions’ lectures that we were all, collectively, too lacking in basic common sense do anything about oncoming catastrophes.

This time around, can we please just ignore them?

Most of the work we’re currently doing is dream-work. It exists only for its own sake, or to make rich people feel good about themselves, or to make poor people feel bad about themselves. And if we simply stopped, it might be possible to make ourselves a much more reasonable set of promises: for instance, to create an “economy” that lets us actually take care of the people who are taking care of us.

And in this connection, see the next post.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2022 at 12:03 pm

Ivy League Cartel Sued for Price-Fixing

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Matt Stiller writes in Big:

Last April, Sam Haselby and I wrote a piece titled “Break up the Ivy League Cartel,’ offering a history of the elitism of top universities in America. For hundreds of years, these top schools have policed the moral, cultural, and economic boundaries of what forms the American elite, and in the post World War II era, the global elite. They are in many ways a cartel of institutions that share strategy on endowment funds, academic trends, cultural capital and student management.

But it’s not just this informal elite-production model that makes such universities a cartel; they are also an *actual cartel.* Today, a group of class action law firms sued 16 universities for price-fixing against low-income students in the admissions process, which is the key gatekeeping mechanism designed to enhance prestige. The defendants are the wealthiest and most powerful academic institutions in America: Brown, CalTech, the University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Emory, Georgetown, MIT, Northwestern, Notre Dame, the University of Pennsylvania, Rice, Vanderbilt, and Yale.

The specific charge is that these universities colluded to price-fix the terms of financial aid. Working together to provide scholarships isn’t necessarily illegal. A lot of universities give out scholarships based on income, under the premise that higher education should be an equalizing force in American society. Some schools even say they make admissions ‘need-blind,’ which means that they don’t take into account ability to pay when determining which students to accept. Instead, the admissions department accepts students based on merit, and then gives accepted students scholarships to make sure they can afford the schooling.

But what specifically makes someone ‘needy’ in a ‘need-blind’ system? The answer to that is an accounting question, so universities work together through an organization called the 568 President’s Group to set the terms for what makes someone needy. Now, if this also sounds like open price-fixing, that’s because it is. But done properly, it’s not necessarily illegal. The reason is universities have been caught before for price-fixing, and part of the settlement of that suit was that they were given an antitrust exemption so they could work together to price scholarships, within certain bounds.

In 1991, the Justice Department investigated 23 prestigious Northeastern universities – including Harvard, Yale, and MIT – for holding an annual meeting in which they “discussed the financial aid applications of 10,000 students who had been accepted to more than one institution in the group,” ultimately colluding to offer the same financial package to these students. The Attorney General called them a “collegiate cartel.” After the settlement, top universities agreed to stop the meetings, but it’s hard to watch the Ivy Leagues without concluding that they are watching each other and mimicking each other carefully.

This settlement was codified when Congress passed the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994. Universities were allowed to work together to establish standards for who is needy, and how much they would need. However, to qualify for the antitrust exemption, universities had to admit “all students” on a need-blind basis. If they aren’t need-blind for everyone, they can’t work with other universities to price admissions.

Do these universities have a need-blind policy for all students? Most of them say that they do. But as it turns out, admissions officers have a nasty habit of letting in the children of the wealthy and powerful, in return for donations and prestige. “At Dartmouth,” so goes the complaint, “development officers meet with admissions staff to review a list created by the development office. Each year, up to 50 applicants may be considered through this special process, most of whom are admitted, accounting for 4-5% of Dartmouth’s student body.” Selling admissions to the powerful is policy at many of these schools.

Sometimes the individual cases are jaw-dropping. For example, the CEO of Sony, Michal Lynton, was trying to get his daughter into college, and the private equity baron Leon Black, who had been on the board of Dartmouth, tried to recruit her to that school, because of the assumption that a large donation would accompany her to campus.

Alas, Black failed. Lynton went to Brown, as did her father’s $1 million donation.


It’s not always about money. At Georgetown, the dean of admissions said, “On the fundraising side, we also have a small number of ‘development potential’ candidates. If Bill Gates wants his kid to come to Georgetown, we’d be more than happy to have him come and talk to us.” But don’t worry, he added, “not all those special cases end up being people who give a lot of money. We have children of Supreme Court justices, senators, and so on apply. We may give extra consideration to them because of the opportunities that may bring.”

So these schools do not accept all students on a need-blind basis. And that creates a problem, because high-end universities restrict their incoming classes, which generates scarcity and prestige. Class size doesn’t increase with increasing population size, it is fixed, with the goal of these universities turning themselves into, as Scott Galloway notes, luxury brands. For instance, in 1940, the acceptance rate at Harvard was eighty-five percent. In 1970, it was twenty percent. For the class of 2025, it was 3.4 percent.

This zero sum situation means that if there are a preset number of slots that go to the wealthy, to alumni, or to the powerful, then that number of slots is not going to people who don’t have the money to attend. If you do favors for the wealthy in the admissions process, then you aren’t a need-blind admission system, and you don’t quality for the antitrust exemption. But the complaint also shows that, far from merely letting in the children of the wealthy while otherwise in all other areas being need-blind, many of these institutions actually discriminate against students who need scholarships. Vanderbilt, Penn, and Columbia don’t seem to be need-blind, with Penn and Vanderbilt officials conceding that who they accept off the waiting list depends in part on who needs financial aid. So they really don’t qualify for any antitrust exemption.

Is there really harm? Yes. The complaint shows that when universities move away from the consensus methodology for calculating the cost of college, the price they charge goes down. So there are financial costs at issue, and the 170,000 alumni who were overcharged when they went to these schools with underpowered financial aid packages deserve compensation.

It’s a very clever suit, legally speaking. No one can reasonably dispute whether universities have colluded, or whether they maintain policies favoring potential donors. There’s no need to establish a secret conspiracy, as it’s out in the open. The only real question is whether what universities have done is illegal. It’s a simple question of law, with few disputes on the facts. It’s no surprise that the suit was brought by some of the savvier plaintiff firms (Roche Freedman, Berger Montague, FeganScott, and Gilbert Litigators & Counselors).

It’s also a profoundly embarrassing suit. Every university gets a little profile in the complaint, showing how basically the students are nearly all rich kids, and the endowments of these schools are ridiculousHere, for instance, is the profile of the University of Pennsylvania. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2022 at 7:14 pm

The Feynman Technique: The Best Way to Learn Abstract Knowledge

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The original title touted this technique as the best way to learn “anything,” but it obviously does not apply to skills (woodworking, cooking, fluency in a foreign language, dance, and so on). It applies to abstract knowledge: mathematics, physics, perceived flow of history, how biological systems work, programming, and such like.

Still, we deal a lot with abstract knowledge, and it’s good to know an effective technique for acquiring it. The article, in, begins:

The Feynman Technique is a method of learning that unleashes your potential and forces you to develop a deep understanding.

Richard Feynman was a Nobel prize-winning physicist. His real superpower, however, was his ability to explain complicated subjects to others in simple terms. He realized that jargon, vague words, and complexity reveal a lack of understanding.

There are four key steps to the Feynman Technique:

  1. Choose a concept you want to learn about
  2. Explain it to a 12 year old
  3. Reflect, Refine, and Simplify
  4. Organize and Review

Let’s explore these in more detail so you can put this to work today.

Two Types of Knowledge

Feynman understood the difference between understanding something and knowing the name of something, and it’s one of the most important reasons for his success. He was never content with just knowing the name of something. He wanted to understand it at a deeper level. [I view “two types of knowledge” as abstract and practical, aka theory and skill. “Knowing the name of something” is vocabulary — merely knowing facts but not how they work together. – LG]

The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks.  — Mortimer Adler

The Feynman Technique

Step 1: Choose a concept you want to learn about.

What topic are you curious about?

Once you identify a topic, take out a blank sheet of paper. Write out everything you know about the subject you want to understand as if you were teaching it to a child.

As you learn more about the topic, add it to your sheet. Often people find it helpful to use a different color pen so you can see your learning grow.

Once you think you understand the topic, move on to step 2.

Step 2: Explain it to a 12-year-old

Now that you think you understand a topic reasonably well, explain it to a 12-year-old.

Use your sheet as a reference and try to remove any jargon or complexity. Only use simple words. Only use words a child would understand. (If you want an example of how to do this, check out Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words. The book uses the 1,000 most common words to explain things.)

Anyone can make a subject complicated but only someone who understands can make it simple.

Jargon hides our lack of understanding. When forced to write out an idea from start to finish in simple language, you discover where you struggle … where it doesn’t quite make sense … where you get frustrated … where you don’t really understand as well as you thought. Only by identifying gaps in your knowledge can you fill them.

Step 3: Reflect, Refine, and Simplify

Only when you can . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2022 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Learning something as a language

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I have long found that the metaphor of “learning x as a language” to be useful. To me it means that you have learned so well all the essential rudiments of x and how those are used and combined, and what they mean alone and in combination, that you no longer think of them but instead focus on the thoughts you express through them. That is, in Timothy Wilson’s terms, the lessons have been learned by your adaptive unconscious.

Language: To learn a language as a language means that you have mastered vocabulary and grammar and idiom and convention and the common works of that language that those come to mind without effort when you want them, and even without coming to mind provide reliable guidance (as in grammatical rules and word choice — you don’t think of the rules but simply express the thought “naturally,” and you don’t think of the words but the ideas, and the words for those simply appear in your mind.

Fencing: To learn fencing as a language means that you have mastered stance and movement and the various guards (six in sabre fencing) and their use, strengths, and weaknesses, along with various sequences of guards and attacks, so that you simply are thinking the actions directly: you think, and your body moves to express the thought. Two skilled fencers are conversing.

Chess, cooking, playing a musical instrument — all those can be learned as a language, so that you no longer have to consciously think about the basics but instead can focus on your ideas and on expressing your ideas in that medium.

This came to mind on reading this passage which I highlighted in The Hand, by Frank R. Wilson:

While I was in San Diego in 1973 I ran into Ursula Bellugi, a psycholinguist whom I had met before. She took me to her lab, where there were some deaf people signing. While I watched, she translated into English what they were saying. It took me some time to absorb what she had shown me; Ursula explained that sign language is not a code on English—she said, “It seems to be a language. There are rules for making up words and rules for making sentences out of the words, but the rules have to do with space and shape—it’s an entirely different way of doing language.” I was really stunned. It was like being told there’s another ocean that you had never heard of. After a few days of looking into it and digesting it, I began to realize that this meant that language was not about speaking and hearing, which had always been my assumption. It meant that the brain had the capacity for language, and if you can’t put it out through the mouth, you put it out through the hands. (Location 3,555)

That highlighted passage was brought to my attention via an email from Highlights, a useful service for those who use a Kindle as an ebook reader. This is from The Ionian Mission, by Patrick O’Brian:

…his mind drifted back to the days when he too had belonged on the forecastle, when he too had danced to the fiddle and fife, his upper half grave and still, his lower flying – heel and toe, the double Harman, the cut-and-come-again, the Kentish knock, the Bob’s a-dying and its variations in quick succession and (if the weather was reasonably calm) in perfect time. To be sure there was a golden haze over those times and some of the gold was no doubt false, mere pinchbeck at the best; but even so they had an irreplaceable quality of their own – perfect, unthinking health, good company upon the whole, no responsibility apart from the immediate task in hand – and he was thinking of the rare, noisy, strenuous, good-natured fun they had had when hands were piped to mischief as he fell asleep, smiling still. (Location 2,411)

Learning something as a language means that the knowledge has become a part of the person and is used as an expression of the person, a part of the person’s identity.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2022 at 6:47 pm

The war on library books

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Judd Legum in Popular Information points out another sign of America’s downfall. From the post at the link:

. . . In Oklahoma, State Senator Rob Standridge (R) recently introduced legislation that would prohibit public school libraries from carrying “books that address the study of sex, sexual preferences, sexual activity, sexual perversion, sex-based classifications, sexual identity, gender identity, or books that contain content of a sexual nature that a reasonable parent or legal guardian would want to know about or approve of before their child is exposed to it.”

Under Standridge’s legislation, parents are the sole arbiter of what books violate this standard. The bill would require schools to remove any book within 30 days of a parent’s request. If the book is not removed, “the employee tasked with removing the book is to be dismissed…  and he or she cannot be employed by a public school district or public charter school for 2 years.” Parents could also sue the school for “monetary damages” which “shall include a minimum of $10,000.00 per day the book requested for removal is not removed.” . . .

There’s much more. Read the whole thing.

Fahrenheit 451, here we come.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2022 at 10:33 pm

The value of defining your self and following your interests

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Kurt Vonnegut:

When was 15, I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of “getting to know you” questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject? And told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.
And he went WOW. That’s amazing! And I said, “Oh no, but I’m not any good at ANY of them.”

And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”

And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that thought it was only worth doing things if you could “Win” at them.

Written by Leisureguy

25 December 2021 at 9:00 am

NY Times Responds to the Historians Who Critiqued The 1619 Project

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Jake Silverstein, Editor in Chief of the NY Times has a strong response to some historians who wrote in response to The 1619 Project. The link is a gift link, so no paywall.

The historians:

RE: The 1619 Project

We write as historians to express our strong reservations about important aspects of The 1619 Project. The project is intended to offer a new version of American history in which slavery and white supremacy become the dominant organizing themes. The Times has announced ambitious plans to make the project available to schools in the form of curriculums and related instructional material.

We applaud all efforts to address the enduring centrality of slavery and racism to our history. Some of us have devoted our entire professional lives to those efforts, and all of us have worked hard to advance them. Raising profound, unsettling questions about slavery and the nation’s past and present, as The 1619 Project does, is a praiseworthy and urgent public service. Nevertheless, we are dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed process behind it.

These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or “framing.” They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism. They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology. Dismissal of objections on racial grounds — that they are the objections of only “white historians” — has affirmed that displacement.

On the American Revolution, pivotal to any account of our history, the project asserts that the founders declared the colonies’ independence of Britain “in order to ensure slavery would continue.” This is not true. If supportable, the allegation would be astounding — yet every statement offered by the project to validate it is false. Some of the other material in the project is distorted, including the claim that “for the most part,” black Americans have fought their freedom struggles “alone.”

Still other material is misleading. The project criticizes Abraham Lincoln’s views on racial equality but ignores his conviction that the Declaration of Independence proclaimed universal equality, for blacks as well as whites, a view he upheld repeatedly against powerful white supremacists who opposed him. The project also ignores Lincoln’s agreement with Frederick Douglass that the Constitution was, in Douglass’s words, “a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT.” Instead, the project asserts that the United States was founded on racial slavery, an argument rejected by a majority of abolitionists and proclaimed by champions of slavery like John C. Calhoun.

The 1619 Project has not been presented as the views of individual writers — views that in some cases, as on the supposed direct connections between slavery and modern corporate practices, have so far failed to establish any empirical veracity or reliability and have been seriously challenged by other historians. Instead, the project is offered as an authoritative account that bears the imprimatur and credibility of The New York Times. Those connected with the project have assured the public that its materials were shaped by a panel of historians and have been scrupulously fact-checked. Yet the process remains opaque. The names of only some of the historians involved have been released, and the extent of their involvement as “consultants” and fact checkers remains vague. The selective transparency deepens our concern.

We ask that The Times, according to its own high standards of accuracy and truth, issue prominent corrections of all the errors and distortions presented in The 1619 Project. We also ask for the removal of these mistakes from any materials destined for use in schools, as well as in all further publications, including books bearing the name of The New York Times. We ask finally that The Times reveal fully the process through which the historical materials were and continue to be assembled, checked and authenticated.


Victoria Bynum, distinguished emerita professor of history, Texas State University;
James M. McPherson, George Henry Davis 1886 emeritus professor of American history, Princeton University;
James Oakes, distinguished professor, the Graduate Center, the City University of New York;
Sean Wilentz, George Henry Davis 1886 professor of American history, Princeton University;
Gordon S. Wood, Alva O. Wade University emeritus professor and emeritus professor of history, Brown University.

Jake Silverstein’s response as Editor in Chief of the NY Times:

Editor’s response:

Since The 1619 Project was published in August, we have received a great deal of feedback from readers, many of them educators, academics and historians. A majority have reacted positively to the project, but there have also been criticisms. Some I would describe as constructive, noting episodes we might have overlooked; others have treated the work more harshly. We are happy to accept all of this input, as it helps us continue to think deeply about the subject of slavery and its legacy.

The letter from Professors Bynum, McPherson, Oakes, Wilentz and Wood differs from the previous critiques we have received in that it contains the first major request for correction. We are familiar with the objections of the letter writers, as four of them have been interviewed in recent months by the World Socialist Web Site. We’re glad for a chance to respond directly to some of their objections.

Though we respect the work of the signatories, appreciate that they are motivated by scholarly concern and applaud the efforts they have made in their own writings to illuminate the nation’s past, we disagree with their claim that our project contains significant factual errors and is driven by ideology rather than historical understanding. While we welcome criticism, we don’t believe that the request for corrections to The 1619 Project is warranted.

The project was intended to address the marginalization of African-American history in the telling of our national story and examine the legacy of slavery in contemporary American life. We are not ourselves historians, it is true. We are journalists, trained to look at current events and situations and ask the question: Why is this the way it is? In the case of the persistent racism and inequality that plague this country, the answer to that question led us inexorably into the past — and not just for this project. The project’s creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, a staff writer at the magazine, has consistently used history to inform her journalism, primarily in her work on educational segregation (work for which she has been recognized with numerous honors, including a MacArthur Fellowship).

Though we may not be historians, we take seriously the responsibility of accurately presenting history to readers of The New York Times. The letter writers express concern about a “closed process” and an opaque “panel of historians,” so I’d like to make clear the steps we took. We did not assemble a formal panel for this project. Instead, during the early stages of development, we consulted with numerous scholars of African-American history and related fields, in a group meeting at The Times as well as in a series of individual conversations. (Five of those who initially consulted with us — Mehrsa Baradaran of the University of California, Irvine; Matthew Desmond and Kevin M. Kruse, both of Princeton University; and Tiya Miles and Khalil G. Muhammad, both of Harvard University — went on to publish articles in the issue.) After those consultations, writers conducted their own research, reading widely, examining primary documents and artifacts and interviewing historians. Finally, during the fact-checking process, our researchers carefully reviewed all the articles in the issue with subject-area experts. This is no different from what we do on any article.

As the five letter writers well know, there are often debates, even among subject-area experts, about how to see the past. Historical understanding is not fixed; it is constantly being adjusted by new scholarship and new voices. Within the world of academic history, differing views exist, if not over what precisely happened, then about why it happened, who made it happen, how to interpret the motivations of historical actors and what it all means.

The passages cited in the letter, regarding the causes of the American Revolution and the attitudes toward black equality of Abraham Lincoln, are good examples of this. Both are found in the lead essay by Hannah-Jones. We can hardly claim to have studied the Revolutionary period as long as some of the signatories, nor do we presume to tell them anything they don’t already know, but I think it would be useful for readers to hear why we believe that Hannah-Jones’s claim that “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery” is grounded in the historical record.

The work of various historians, among them David Waldstreicher and Alfred W. and Ruth G. Blumrosen, supports the contention that uneasiness among slaveholders in the colonies about growing antislavery sentiment in Britain and increasing imperial regulation helped motivate the Revolution. One main episode that these and other historians refer to is the landmark 1772 decision of the British high court in Somerset v. Stewart. The case concerned a British customs agent named Charles Stewart who bought an enslaved man named Somerset and took him to England, where he briefly escaped. Stewart captured Somerset and planned to sell him and ship him to Jamaica, only for the chief justice, Lord Mansfield, to declare this unlawful, because chattel slavery was not supported by English common law.

It is true, as Professor Wilentz has noted elsewhere, that

Continue reading. Again: gift link = no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2021 at 7:57 pm

Richard Porson: Scholar of a Different Class

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Porson is best known to me from A.E. Housman’s remark at a dinner held in his honor when he took the Chair of Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge:

This great College, of this ancient University, has seen many strange sights. It has seen Wordsworth drunk and Porson sober. And here am I, a greater scholar than Wordsworth and a greater poet than Porson, neither drunk nor sober, but betwixt and between.

But Porson was a person in his own right, and in Antigone David Buttterfield writes of him:

What does it mean to be a “working-class” Classicist? In 2021, it’s easy enough to understand what it means to be a financially indigent scholar, or to be part of the first generation to enter into the world of higher education. But to pin down a “working class” identity that transcends time and space meaningfully is far easier said than done. And I certainly don’t seek to attempt that here. But tracing the life-course of individuals, and restoring colour to monochrome biographical sketches, can often reveal how socioeconomic circumstances inevitably impinge upon lives as lived.

To move from these vague abstractions to a concrete example, let’s look at the life of a man born on Christmas Day, whose wondrous abilities drew him from a quiet rural life into the bustling hubbub of urbane society, which keenly anticipated the revelation of his long-awaited promise – until it all ended in a disastrous, tragic, early death. For on 19 September, 1808, a figure found “senseless” on the streets of London was promptly turned into St Martin’s Workhouse. As to his person:

Image taken from the Star, 20 Sep. 1808.

Even in cosmopolitan London at the dawn of the Regency, this sketch could in fact describe only one person. One Porson, that is. Within the week this man was dead. But the life he had lived over the previous 48 years was truly astonishing: the tale, at least to this teller, is as inspiring as it is depressing.

Norfolk and Chance

Not a lot goes in East Ruston, a small village in a far-flung corner of Norfolk, England. But in 1759 the splendidly named Huggin Porson, a worsted-wool worker, and his wife Anne, a cobbler’s daughter, welcomed into the world on Christmas day a boy, Richard. It was Anne who taught the lad to read: although there were only six or seven books in their cottage (one of which volumes was salvaged from a nearby shipwreck), she had memorised reams of Shakespeare and Milton in the service of a vicar who noticed her voracious appetite for literature. But the family needs all its members to work; only when spinning yarn could the young Richard pursue his twin passions of reading and arithmetical sums.

“There was no path leading from a weaver’s cottage in Norfolk to the Regius Chair of Greek at Cambridge.” These words of Sir Denys Page – a man who had come to sit on that same chair by a rather less bumpy route – are something of an understatement. In actuality, the next decade of Porson’s life is so remarkable that it’s worth spending a moment piecing together what exactly happened.

After his first spell at school ended within six weeks because of rough treatment, the ten-year-old Porson headed to a school at Happisburgh, newly set up by an enterprising young teacher, Robert Summers. Porson’s father had turned up with the simple request that his son be trained “to make his own name”: once he had the skill of writing he could head to the loom. Summers had rather different ideas: on seeing the boy’s promise in maths, literature and Latin, he raised the bar and made contact with his former teacher, the local vicar Thomas Hewitt.

In due course, at eleven, Porson was taken in, along with his younger brother Thomas, to be tutored gratis with Hewitt’s sons throughout the week.  . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2021 at 1:25 pm

Against translation

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Benjamin Moser writes in Liberties:

A couple of years ago we rented a beautiful apartment in London, a large flat where we must have stayed four or five times. It was perfectly comfortable and perfectly private, and the location, directly behind the British Museum, was ideal for visits to theaters and museums. It was decorated in the taste of a refined gay man of my parents’ generation. It had good Chinese porcelain, carefully chosen oriental rugs, witty French prints. It also contained the kind of photographs which, in that mysterious way, have grown dated without becoming quite old — gently pushed, by an accumulation of tiny changes, into the past. Some minute evolution in eyewear, some invisible reformulation of lipstick, some arcane improvement in cameras, betrayed their age. They did not look ancient. But though I couldn’t say exactly why, I knew that the pretty young bride was now middle-aged, and that a lot of the jolly middle-aged folks at Angkor Wat were now dead. 

I also knew, as soon as I walked inside, that the house belonged to an American. I saw this by the shapes and colors of the books on the hallway shelves. It had never occurred to me that American books from the middle part of the twentieth century had such a specific appearance. Few had dust jackets. Their bindings came in serious colors: rusted reds, navy blues, vomity greens. Some were bound in something that looked like floral wallpaper, and that must have looked lovely when fresh; but few made the strenuous effort to be attractive that later books would. Their type was generously spaced. Their paper was sturdy, made of crushed rags. 

I was unprepared for them to strike such a chord. Even before I saw the titles or the authors, I knew exactly what this library was. These were the books that my grandparents had on their shelves. In our world of painless communication and cheap travel, it was rare to see something that made my fatherland feel so distant. Here were the tastes and interests of Americans two generations removed from me, people I had known as a child: the people who came into the world around the turn of the twentieth century, and left it at its close. These were the books they had read at school, when they were young, and kept all their lives, even when moving across the ocean. They were too precious to give away — but not valuable enough to sell, not valuable enough for the kids, if there were kids, to keep. Most could be found for a few dollars in online bookstores. It was a miracle that such a collection had survived. 

During my first week in the flat, I foreswore friends in order to pick through it. There was something about it that I wanted to understand. As I went along shelf after shelf, I felt an upswelling of emotion, suddenly close to people I thought I had finished mourning years before. Perhaps for the last time, I was a boy spending the night in my grandmother’s house. I wanted to chronicle it, catalog it, before it disappeared forever. 


I noted its specifically national focus: overwhelmingly American. The only foreign country that was well represented was England, which was not, in literary terms, a foreign country. The American classics began with the great founders of our nationality: Travels and Works of Captain John Smith, Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation. There were some nineteenth-century books, including a Life and Character of Stephen Decatur, published in Middletown, Connecticut in 1821; and M. Sears’ The American Politician, published in Boston in 1842, containing portraits of all the presidents “from Washington to Tyler.” Most of the books were fairly common, or had been: two volumes of Bancroft’s History of the United States, and parts of a series called “American Statesmen,” which included Lincoln but also Lewis Cass and Thomas Hart Benton, this latter written by no one less than Theodore Roosevelt, who also wrote another volume about Oliver Cromwell. There were books about Charles Francis Adams and Seward and Sumner; Mark Twain at Your Fingertips; Mencken’s The American Language. There was a selection of books about California: Cable Car Days in San Francisco; Oscar Lewis’ The Big Four, about the railroad barons; and a book from the dawn of the twentieth century called The Wild Flowers of California by Mary Elizabeth Parsons. There were works by Stephen Crane and Walt Whitman, Melville’s White Jacket and Bret Harte’s Luck of Roaring CampOur Old Home by Hawthorne and Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres by Henry Adams; The Titan by Theodore Dreiser and Lorenzo in Taos by Mabel Dodge Luhan; Frank Norris’ The Pit and Edna Ferber’s Giant and Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again and Willa Cather’s A Lost Lady. There were seven volumes of the writings of John Greenleaf Whittier, and six of the Works of Edgar A. Poe. 

Of the British and the Irish, the usual authors were represented. George Eliot, Sterne, Defoe; several volumes of Evelyn Waugh, The Real Bernard Shaw, books by Virginia Woolf, The Gothic Revival by Kenneth Clark, Revolt in the Desert by T.E. Lawrence. There was Tinker’s Boswell beside an illustrated Life of Samuel Johnson in a couple of dusty boxes. There was a large multivolume set of Dickens, Morley’s Life of GladstoneTravels with a Donkey by Robert Louis Stevenson, Letters of James JoyceByron’s Poetical Works, Alec Waugh’s Hot Countries, Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, De Quincey’s WorksLady Chatterley’s LoverThe Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad, Sir Walter Scott’s Life of Napoleon Bonaparte. And there was a smattering of foreign books, mostly French, alongside some Russian classics and some books from and about antiquity, in translation. There was Napoleon’s Correspondence with King Joseph, Eve Curie’s Madame Curie, Balzac, Marmontel, Molière, Dumas, Hugo, Rabelais, and ten volumes of The Complete Writings of Alfred de Musset. 

I include this list as a record of something once so common that it would not have been noticed, much less documented: the library of the literate middle-class American, born around the turn of the twentieth century. The books themselves, individually, were not strange; it was the collection, representing the idea of a library shared by every educated person, that had disappeared as utterly as the readers of Bret Harte or Morley’s Life of Gladstone. The culture that connected people of my generation was popular television and music, and the consumeristic emphasis on newness meant that nothing lasted long. I noticed when I traveled that bookstores were as crammed with seasonal novelties as shoe stores; and used bookstores — this has been one of the saddest developments of my lifetime — had mostly disappeared. 

As I perused these books, the feeling of going back into a past — my own, my culture’s — filled me with a sense of reverence for an ancestral world. Even the kinds of books, like the multivolume sets, spoke of some other age.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2021 at 12:45 pm

Negotiating the irrational with Daniel Kahneman

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Caitlin McDermott-Murphy writes in The Harvard Gazette:

How do you convince someone to do something they don’t want to do? Like, for example, get vaccinated, reject prejudices, or accept your terms? “You begin by asking ‘Why not?’ instead of ‘Why?’” Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman said at a Harvard event last week. “It’s the best idea I’ve learned in psychology.”

That’s saying a lot. The behavioral economist pioneered new ways of thinking about human judgment, intuition, and decision-making, arguing that people are far more irrational than previously assumed. His work has influenced how psychologists, economists, philosophers, and health care providers think about their work. For many, his ideas may be some of the best they’ve learned in psychology.

Kahneman joined the Harvard Program on Negotiation’s Daniel Shapiro on Friday afternoon for an online discussion, “Negotiating, Fast and Slow” (a nod to Kahneman’s well-known book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”). President Larry Bacow introduced the conversation, which was designed to apply Kahneman’s insights on human behavior to yet another field: negotiation, whether in government, business, or family life.

Kahneman, 87, is a professor of psychology and public affairs emeritus at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University, and fellow of the Center for Rationality at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

As a teenager, Kahneman said, he was less interested in typical existential questions — like whether God exists — and more so about the people behind the questions, asking instead why people believe in him (“or her,” he added).

“I was interested in errors and illusions,” Kahneman said.

But his professional interest in human judgment and decision-making didn’t really take off until he met research collaborator Amos Tversky, Kahneman told Shapiro, the founder and director of the Harvard International Negotiation Program, an associate professor of psychology at the Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital, and an affiliate faculty member of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

A lot of Kahneman’s groundbreaking book was based on decades of research, much of which he did with Tversky, a cognitive psychologist and MacArthur Fellow who died in 1996. In it, Kahneman argues that humans use two primary systems of thinking. System one — thinking fast — is often driven by emotions, intuition, and impulses. System two — thinking slow — tends to be more rational, deliberate, and analytic. “Good negotiators,” Kahneman said, “are in control, meaning that their system two is at work.”

But that doesn’t mean intuitions can never be trusted, he continued. “Our intuitions when we drive are excellent.” And with loved ones, “One word on the telephone, and you know their mood.” The reliability of fast thinking depends on three factors: how predictable the object or activity is, how much practice the actor has, and how much feedback they’ve received on the accuracy of their judgments.

Yet in most cases, people make decisions based on their first gut impression. For example, interviewers, Kahneman said, often judge their candidate in the first few minutes, and spend the rest of the interview justifying their decision. “Delay your intuition,” Kahneman advised. Slow down. Sleep on it. Break the problem into smaller parts.

“You should inform your gut and then trust it,” Kahneman said.

What about someone else’s gut? Can you influence theirs? Absolutely, according to Kahneman. The better question is: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2021 at 5:35 pm

Reference article for critical thinking

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I strongly doubt that teaching critical thinking skills will ever take hold in conservative school districts. The reason is simple: students who learn critical thinking skills will inevitably want to use them, and that involves questioning commonly accepted propositions, and many in positions of power intensely dislike such questions. The level of power can be modest — for example, some parents do not like it when their children question things the parents accept — but when accepted propositions are questioned, that power will be used to stifle the questions, particularly if those questioned lack good answers.

Generally speaking, liberal parents welcome questioning because that is the way they were raised, and they will be comfortable in a discussion of values and looking critically at accepted propositions. Conservative parents (again, generally speaking) are more comfortable with acceptance of authority (in this case, the parents’ authority) and dislike that authority to be questioned.

So when schools teach critical thinking skills and students start to use those skills, conservative parents become upset and demand that such courses be cut from the curriculum. The Texas Republican party, for example, explicitly stated in their platform some years back that the teaching of critical and higher-order thinking skills and values clarification should be excluded from the curriculum.

So, however valuable critical thinking skills are, they are unwelcome in conservative communities, particularly in school curricula, so I can’t see that they will ever be adopted there. Such skills are, however, often included in school curricula in liberal districts. The divergence in educational goals contributes the schizophrenic nature of American society.

A few years ago, an excellent article on Critical Thinking was added to the (invaluable) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It begins:

Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal. Conceptions differ with respect to the scope of such thinking, the type of goal, the criteria and norms for thinking carefully, and the thinking components on which they focus. Its adoption as an educational goal has been recommended on the basis of respect for students’ autonomy and preparing students for success in life and for democratic citizenship. “Critical thinkers” have the dispositions and abilities that lead them to think critically when appropriate. The abilities can be identified directly; the dispositions indirectly, by considering what factors contribute to or impede exercise of the abilities. Standardized tests have been developed to assess the degree to which a person possesses such dispositions and abilities. Educational intervention has been shown experimentally to improve them, particularly when it includes dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring. Controversies have arisen over the generalizability of critical thinking across domains, over alleged bias in critical thinking theories and instruction, and over the relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking.

1. History

Use of the term ‘critical thinking’ to describe an educational goal goes back to the American philosopher John Dewey (1910), who more commonly called it ‘reflective thinking’. He defined it as

active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends. (Dewey 1910: 6; 1933: 9)

and identified a habit of such consideration with a scientific attitude of mind. His lengthy quotations of Francis Bacon, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill indicate that he was not the first person to propose development of a scientific attitude of mind as an educational goal.

In the 1930s, many of the schools that participated in the Eight-Year Study of the Progressive Education Association (Aikin 1942) adopted critical thinking as an educational goal, for whose achievement the study’s Evaluation Staff developed tests (Smith, Tyler, & Evaluation Staff 1942). Glaser (1941) showed experimentally that it was possible to improve the critical thinking of high school students. Bloom’s influential taxonomy of cognitive educational objectives (Bloom et al. 1956) incorporated critical thinking abilities. Ennis (1962) proposed 12 aspects of critical thinking as a basis for research on the teaching and evaluation of critical thinking ability.

Since 1980, an annual international conference in California on critical thinking and educational reform has attracted tens of thousands of educators from all levels of education and from many parts of the world. Also since 1980, the state university system in California has required all undergraduate students to take a critical thinking course. Since 1983, the Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking has sponsored sessions in conjunction with the divisional meetings of the American Philosophical Association (APA). In 1987, the APA’s Committee on Pre-College Philosophy commissioned a consensus statement on critical thinking for purposes of educational assessment and instruction (Facione 1990a). Researchers have developed standardized tests of critical thinking abilities and dispositions; for details, see the Supplement on Assessment. Educational jurisdictions around the world now include critical thinking in guidelines for curriculum and assessment. Political and business leaders endorse its importance.

For details on this history, see the Supplement on History.

2. Examples and Non-Examples

Before considering the definition of critical thinking, it will be helpful to have in mind some examples of critical thinking, as well as some examples of kinds of thinking that would apparently not count as critical thinking.

Continue reading. There’s more.

Edward de Bono’s Cognitive Research Trust (CoRT) published a good set of materials to incorporative the teaching of creativity and critical thinking in the elementary school (or at home).

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2021 at 12:08 pm

To learn Klingon or Esperanto: What invented languages can teach us

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Thanks to The Eldest for pointing out Bob Haimes’s interview of Christine Schreyer in Knowable Magazine. The article begins:

Most languages develop through centuries of use among groups of people. But some have a different origin: They are invented, from scratch, from one individual’s mind. Familiar examples include the international language Esperanto, the Klingon language from “Star Trek” and the Elvish tongues from “The Lord of the Rings.”

The activity isn’t new — the earliest recorded invented language was by medieval nun Hildegard von Bingen — but the Internet now allows much wider sharing of such languages among the small communities of people who speak and create them.

Christine Schreyer, a linguistic anthropologist at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus in Kelowna, Canada, has studied invented languages and the people who speak them, a topic she writes about in the 2021 Annual Review of Anthropology. But Schreyer brings another skill to the table: She’s a language creator herself and has invented several languages for the movie industry: the Kryptonian language for “Man of Steel,” Eltarian for “Power Rangers,” Beama (Cro-Magnon) for “Alpha” and Atlantean for “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.”

Schreyer spoke with Knowable Magazine about her experience in this unusual world, and the practical lessons that it provides for people trying to revitalize endangered natural languages. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you come to study something as esoteric as invented languages?

I teach a course on linguistic anthropology, in which I give my students the task of creating new languages as they learn about the parts of languages. Around the time I started doing that, “Avatar” came out. The Na’vi language from that movie was very popular at the time and had made its way into many news stories about people learning the language — and doing it quickly.

My other academic research is on language revitalization, with indigenous or minority communities. One of the challenges we have is it takes people a long time to learn a language. I was interested to know what endangered-language communities could learn from these created-language fan communities, to learn languages faster. I wanted to discover who the speakers of Na’vi were, and why and how they were learning this particular created language.


When I surveyed Na’vi speakers, many said they joined because they were fans of the film and they stayed for the community. They’re very welcoming and inclusive communities. It doesn’t matter what your race is or what your gender is, though many of these fandoms tend to be more male.

But also, one of the things I saw in the Na’vi case was that individuals joined the fan community because “Avatar” was very tied to environmental rights and indigenous rights. These ideals of environmentalism are part of the language, and they picked up on that. That is part of the reason that some of them were learning the language.

What about other invented languages?

The ones that are learned most widely are those intended as an international auxiliary language, like Esperanto, meant to be shared by people around the world to promote unity and world peace. It’s supposed to be a neutral language, and it’s simplified and very easy to learn. It’s been learned by millions of people around the world. You can learn it on Duolingo!

The other ones are fan languages: Na’vi, Klingon from “Star Trek” and Dothraki from “Game of Thrones” are very popular. There were 300 Na’vi speakers when I surveyed them in 2011, everyone from beginners to very advanced — but they all considered themselves part of the community. Dothraki speakers were much fewer at the time, maybe 20. And studies have shown there are about 20 advanced Klingon speakers in the world as well. It depends on the popularity of the show at the time. If another season of “Star Trek: Discovery” comes out, you will have more people learning Klingon.

We definitely see that with Na’vi. It was very popular early on, and there are still those core members who are learning Na’vi. And with “Avatar 2,” which is supposed to be coming next year, we will likely see an increase in speakers.

How do you construct a language?

I personally always start with . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including this:

(I, of course, think he might have mentioned a well-established conlang with many speakers and a rich history stretching back to 1887, when Unua Libro (First Book) was published — more than 130 years ago.)

Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2021 at 1:46 pm

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