Later On

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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Why doesn’t rationality seem to matter anymore?

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The Harvard Gazette has an excerpt from Rationality: Why It Seems Scarce and Why It Matters,by Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology. It begins:

Rationality ought to be the lodestar for everything we think and do. (If you disagree, are your objections rational?) Yet in an era blessed with unprecedented resources for reasoning, the public sphere is infested with fake news, quack cures, conspiracy theories, and “post-truth” rhetoric. We face deadly threats to our health, our democracy, and the livability of our planet. Though the problems are daunting, solutions exist, and our species has the intellectual wherewithal to find them. Yet among our fiercest problems today is convincing people to accept the solutions when we do find them.

How should we think of human rationality? The cognitive wherewithal to understand the world and bend it to our advantage is not a trophy of Western civilization; it’s the patrimony of our species. The San of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa are one of the world’s oldest peoples, and their foraging lifestyle, maintained until recently, offers a glimpse of the ways in which humans spent most of their existence. Hunter-gatherers don’t just chuck spears at passing animals or help themselves to fruit and nuts growing around them. The tracking scientist Louis Liebenberg, who has worked with the San for decades, has described how they owe their survival to a scientific mindset. They reason their way from fragmentary data to remote conclusions with an intuitive grasp of logic, critical thinking, statistical reasoning, correlation and causation, and game theory.

The San track fleeing animals from their hoofprints, effluvia, and other spoor. They distinguish dozens of species by the shapes and spacing of their tracks, aided by their grasp of cause and effect. They may infer that a pointed track comes from an agile springbok, which needs a good grip, whereas a flat-footed track comes from a heavy kudu, which has to support its weight. They then make syllogistic deductions: Steenbok and duiker can be run down in the rainy season because the wet sand forces open their hooves and stiffens their joints; kudu and eland can be run down in the dry season because they tire easily in loose sand.

The San also engage in critical thinking. They know not to trust first impressions and appreciate the dangers of seeing what they want to see. Nor will they accept arguments from authority: Anyone, including a young upstart, may shoot down a conjecture or come up with his own until a consensus emerges from the disputation.

Another critical faculty exercised by the San is distinguishing causation from correlation. Liebenberg recalls: “One tracker, Boroh// xao, told me that when the [lark] sings, it dries out the soil, making the roots good to eat. Afterwards, !Nate and /Uase told me that Boroh// xao was wrong — it is not the bird that dries out the soil, it is the sun that dries out the soil. The bird is only telling them that the soil will dry out in the coming months and that it is the time of the year when the roots are good to eat.”

Yet for all the deadly effectiveness of the San’s technology, they have survived in an unforgiving desert for more than a hundred thousand years without exterminating the animals they depend on. During a drought, they think ahead to what would happen if they killed the last plant or animal of its kind, and they spare members of the threatened species. They tailor conservation plans to the vulnerabilities of plants, which cannot migrate but recover quickly when the rains return, and animals, which can survive a drought but build back numbers slowly.

The sapience of the San makes the puzzle of human rationality acute. Despite our ancient capacity for reason, today we are flooded with reminders of the fallacies and follies of our fellows. Three quarters of Americans believe in at least one phenomenon that defies the laws of science, including psychic healing (55 percent), extrasensory perception (41 percent), haunted houses (37 percent), and ghosts (32 percent) — which also means that people believe in houses haunted by ghosts without believing in ghosts. In social media, fake news (such as Joe Biden Calls Trump Supporters “Dregs of Society” and Florida Man Arrested for Tranquilizing and Raping Alligators in the Everglades) is diffused farther and faster than the truth, and humans are more likely to spread it than bots.

How, then, can we understand this thing called rationality, which would appear to be our birthright yet is so frequently and flagrantly flouted? The starting point is  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 11:49 am

File Not Found; or, Ignorance Not Always Bliss.

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Monica Chin writes in the Verge:

Catherine Garland, an astrophysicist, started seeing the problem in 2017. She was teaching an engineering course, and her students were using simulation software to model turbines for jet engines. She’d laid out the assignment clearly, but student after student was calling her over for help. They were all getting the same error message: The program couldn’t find their files.

Garland thought it would be an easy fix. She asked each student where they’d saved their project. Could they be on the desktop? Perhaps in the shared drive? But over and over, she was met with confusion. “What are you talking about?” multiple students inquired. Not only did they not know where their files were saved — they didn’t understand the question.

Gradually, Garland came to the same realization that many of her fellow educators have reached in the past four years: the concept of file folders and directories, essential to previous generations’ understanding of computers, is gibberish to many modern students.

Professors have varied recollections of when they first saw the disconnect. But their estimates (even the most tentative ones) are surprisingly similar. It’s been an issue for four years or so, starting — for many educators — around the fall of 2017.

That’s approximately when Lincoln Colling, a lecturer in the psychology department at the University of Sussex, told a class full of research students to pull a file out of a specific directory and was met with blank stares. It was the same semester that Nicolás Guarín-Zapata, an applied physicist and lecturer at Colombia’s Universidad EAFIT, noticed that students in his classes were having trouble finding their documents. It’s the same year that posts began to pop up on STEM-educator forums asking for help explaining the concept of a file.

Guarín-Zapata is an organizer. He has an intricate hierarchy of file folders on his computer, and he sorts the photos on his smartphone by category. He was in college in the very early 2000s — he grew up needing to keep papers organized. Now, he thinks of his hard drives like filing cabinets. “I open a drawer, and inside that drawer, I have another cabinet with more drawers,” he told The Verge. “Like a nested structure. At the very end, I have a folder or a piece of paper I can access.”

Guarín-Zapata’s mental model is commonly known as directory structure, the hierarchical system of folders that modern computer operating systems use to arrange files. It’s the idea that a modern computer doesn’t just save a file in an infinite expanse; it saves it in the “Downloads” folder, the “Desktop” folder, or the “Documents” folder, all of which live within “This PC,” and each of which might have folders nested within them, too. It’s an idea that’s likely intuitive to any computer user who remembers the floppy disk.

More broadly, directory structure connotes physical placement — the idea that a file stored on a computer is located somewhere on that computer, in a specific and discrete location. That’s a concept that’s always felt obvious to Garland but seems completely alien to her students. “I tend to think an item lives in a particular folder. It lives in one place, and I have to go to that folder to find it,” Garland says. “They see it like one bucket, and everything’s in the bucket.”

That tracks with how Joshua Drossman, a senior at Princeton, has understood computer systems for as long as he can remember. “The most intuitive thing would be the laundry basket where you have everything kind of together, and you’re just kind of pulling out what you need at any given time,” he says, attempting to describe his mental model.

As an operations research and financial engineering major, Drossman knows how to program — he’s been trained to navigate directories and folders throughout his undergraduate years, and he understands their importance in his field. But it’s still not entirely natural, and he sometimes slips. About halfway through a recent nine-month research project, he’d built up so many files that he gave up on keeping them all structured. “I try to be organized, but there’s a certain point where there are so many files that it kind of just became a hot mess,” Drossman says. Many of his items ended up in one massive folder.

Peter Plavchan, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at George Mason University, has seen similar behavior from his students and can’t quite wrap his head around it. “Students have had these computers in my lab; they’ll have a thousand files on their desktop completely unorganized,” he told The Verge, somewhat incredulously. “I’m kind of an obsessive organizer … but they have no problem having 1,000 files in the same directory. And I think that is fundamentally because of a shift in how we access files.”

Aubrey Vogel, a journalism major at Texas A&M, has had similar experiences to Drossman. She’s encountered directory structure before; she shared a computer with her grandfather, who showed her how to save items in folders, as a child. But as she’s grown up, she’s moved away from that system — she now keeps one massive directory for schoolwork and one for her job. Documents she’s not sure about go in a third folder called “Sort.”

“As much as I want them to be organized and try for them to be organized, it’s just a big hot mess,” Vogel says of her files. She adds, “My family always gives me a hard time when they see my computer screen, and it has like 50 thousand icons.”

Why have mental models changed?  . . ..

Continue reading. There’s more.

I am surprised that this is a problem. I had no idea that people using computers would not understand directories, folders, and files. That seems so weird, but (as one student pointed out above) these are people who keep all their clothes in one big pile and rummage through it to find socks, underwear, shirts, and so on: no organization at all. I wonder whether their minds work the same way: disorganized and muddled.

My own mental model might be: a file is a book; the shelf on which it rests is a folder, and that is contained in another folder (the bookcase), which holds multiple folders (its various shelves). There’s a bigger folder — the room — which contains multiple bookcases (each a folder).

A shelf might contain a single book, or several books, or many books. And so on.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2021 at 11:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Software

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Free Resource for Evidence-Based Nutrition

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Dr. Michael Greger blogs at

Are you a medical professional interested in sharing resources on healthy eating with your patients or clients? To support your important efforts, we invite you to apply to receive free copies of our Evidence-Based Eating Guide by completing this form.

The Evidence-Based Eating Guide: A Healthy Living Resource from Dr. Greger & is a tool designed to help make the switch to a healthier lifestyle even more simple. It’s easy to understand and filled with information on eating healthier, including a breakdown of Dr. Greger’s Traffic Light Eating, tips for using his Daily Dozen checklist, sample menus, and more.

We hope the guide will help you help your patients or clients improve the length and quality of their lives. (Note: This application is open to health professionals and organizations, but individuals can get the guide for free here.)

Continue reading. There’s more. Emphasis added to note that non-professionals can get a free copy of the guide from this page.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2021 at 9:54 am

Google Translate doesn’t know Latin

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A newsletter from Antigone:

The biggest news this week was that the silicon-addled wonks over at Google Translate had finally improved the algorithmical, alchemical wizardry that powered their jaw-droppingly inaccurate ‘Latin translation’ tool. Time-pressed students, brow-mopping professors and tattoo-hungry footballers rushed over en masse to see whether Google had indeed managed to do the seemingly impossible – master the automated translation of Latin.

It’s not for us at Antigone to tell you what to make of the results. Instead, we paste below five random phrases that bubbled up in our minds, followed by the magic that Google Translate wrought upon them. Faced with results such as these, we’ll be surprised if you can keep both eyebrows unraised.

Phrase One: Our favourite dog has run off on a wild goose chase!
Google Translate: nostri ventus canem fugit in fera anser!
Google Translate Translated: Our wind flees the dog – a goose inside the beast!
A haunting image.

Phrase Two: Get your act together, we could be just fine.
Google Translate: adepto vestri actus simul essemus esse sicut bysso.
Google Translate Translated: Had someone acquired your role, we would be together to be just like with cotton.
Hear, hear.

Phrase Three: Are these the best tales I can spin? A boy waiting to begin – a man of no memoirs?
Google Translate: tales sunt optimae<.> nere possum[?] puerum exspectans incipere – quis non commentariis?
Google Translate Translated: Such women are the best. Can I weave while waiting to start on a boy? Who can’t with notebooks?
They make all the difference.

Phrase Four: I enjoy buffets – I wouldn’t say love buffets – but it’s a very reasonable way to eat out.
Google Translate: plaga fruor – colaphos non dicam amores – sed edendi ratio admodum est.
Google Translate Translated: I enjoy a blow – I wouldn’t call fisticuffs my ‘darling’ – but it’s very much a method of eating.
[Appraisal redacted.]

Phrase Five: Back to the drawing board, I reckon.
Google Translate: in tabula extractionem revolvo.
Google Translate Translated: I roll back the extraction on a tablet.
Fair play.

Written by Leisureguy

12 September 2021 at 1:09 pm

Why Was the Discovery of the Jet Stream Mostly Ignored?

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Rebecca Maksel wrote in Air & Space Magazine in April 2018:

Had Japanese meteorologist Wasaburo Ooishi not been an Esperantist, U.S. scientists during World War II might have been more aware of a national vulnerability. Between 1923 and 1925, Ooishi completed almost 1,300 observations of fierce high-altitude winds, later named the jetstream. The somewhat eccentric Ooishi was not only the director of Japan’s Tateno atmospheric observatory but also the head of the Japan Esperanto Society, proponents of the artificially constructed language, created in the 1870s as a means of international communication. Ooishi announced his discovery of the swift, high-altitude river of air in the Tateno observatory’s annual reports, which he published in Esperanto. Not surprisingly, his research was ignored, and the U.S. military was caught off guard by two consequences of the invisible jetstream.

The first surprise came in 1944 when B-29 pilots flying toward targets in Japan discovered at their cruising altitudes winds as high as 230 mph. The winds caused bombs to miss targets and, as headwinds, required bombers to use far more fuel than expected—so much more that they sometimes ran out on the return trip.

The second surprise, more famous and more tragic, was the bomb that killed Elsie Mitchell and five Sunday school students in May 1945 when they came upon it during an outing near Bly, Oregon. The bomb had been carried by a balloon designed by the Imperial Japanese Army, one of almost 9,000 silken, hydrogen-filled balloons laden with explosives that Japan launched toward North America over a period of eight months, starting in late 1944. They were carried by the west-to-east winds that had been the subject of Ooishi’s research, and about 300 made landfall, according to reports of pieces found. After the 1942 Doolittle Raid shocked the Japanese by striking the home islands, the Ninth Military Technical Research Institute was tasked with finding a means of retaliation. Weapons designers at the institute created the balloons but needed to know how far across the Pacific they could travel. They turned to Hidetoshi Arakawa at Tokyo’s Central Meteorological Observatory, who drew on the work of Wasaburo Ooishi.

When balloon bombs started landing on North America, the idea that they’d been launched from Japan was inconceivable; how could they travel that far? They must have been launched from Japanese submarines near the U.S. west coast, reasoned U.S. Navy investigators. In fact, that was the first strategy Japan considered. On September 9, 1942, a small floatplane dropped incendiaries on Siskiyou National Forest in Oregon to spark a fire, but the Oregon forest was a poor choice: It had just rained there. Eventually, all submarines were needed to battle the U.S. Navy, and the concept was dropped.

Although most of the balloon bombs are thought to have gone down in the Pacific Ocean, a few remain in remote areas of the Pacific Northwest. Two forestry workers discovered one near Lumby, British Columbia, in 2014. A Canadian navy bomb disposal unit arrived and blew it to bits. Use caution when hiking.

Written by Leisureguy

11 September 2021 at 7:00 pm

The Problem With “Doing Your Own Research”

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Tim Wise writes on Medium:

The internet is a wonderful thing, and also the absolute worst thing ever.

On the one hand, it allows people to access information at the push of a button and then connect with others worldwide, even sharing that information if they’d like to do so.

On the other hand, it allows people to access information at the push of a button and then connect with others worldwide, even sharing that information if they’d like to do so.

Yes, the relative democratization of communication — compared to the days when gatekeepers more tightly limited the voices to which we might be exposed — is a welcome step in the direction of a more open society.

But at the same time, with more information also comes more noise. And with the ability to spread noise like never in human history, cacophony becomes the default position.

It seems wistful to remember the days of antiquity (also known as the 1990s), when getting your opinion heard required writing a letter to the editor of this thing called a newspaper and then waiting several days to see if it would be published. Or perhaps, if you were really ambitious, sending an entire essay or article to a magazine and then waiting for several weeks to discover the same.

As much as we complained about the difficulty of breaking through these mainstream media filters, I’m not sure if what replaced them is better.

Perhaps it would be fine had we even the most rudimentary skills at discerning truth from falsehood. But humans are not much on critical thinking, Americans least of all. We are a nation of image-crazed consumers and wanna-be “influencers,” actively hostile to critical thought and allergic to teaching such skills in school, lest we usurp the authority of parents to brainwash our children the way we see fit.

And so instead of developing the media literacy necessary to separate the factual wheat from the fictional chaff, millions just “do their own research,” by which they mean to tell you they:

1. Own a Google machine;
2. Have a lot of extra time on their hands; and,
3. Don’t actually know what research is.

Pro tip: research is not just a matter of looking stuff up.

It is not what you’re doing when conversing with anonymous people on Reddit, soaking in whatever StarShine77 has decided to offer up that morning.

It is not what you’re doing when scrolling through YouTube videos fed to you by an algorithm that is intentionally programmed to show you more of the same shit you were already watching and absolutely nothing that might contradict it.

It’s not what you’re doing when you pass around memes, with citations at the bottom like “U.S. Research Center,” which is not a real thing, and even if it were, that’s not a fucking citation, Grandpa.

But sadly, this is part of what it means to be American in the 21st century: to confuse having a right to an opinion with having a right to be taken seriously for whatever ass-backward opinion you have.

You’ll hear it all the time: “Well, I have a right to believe whatever I want, and you do too, and I guess we’ll just agree to disagree.”

No, cousin Judy, that’s not the end of it.

You can believe whatever codswallop floats your inner-tube, to be sure, but when it’s utter and complete horseshit, we won’t simply agree to disagree.

Agreeing to disagree is what we do when we debate who was the greatest Major League pitcher of all time, and you say Bob Gibson and I say Sandy Koufax — and we both could be right.

What we’re doing now, Mr. “The COVID vaccine will change your DNA and allow the government to track you,” is not that. It’s me, buying a calming shade of yellow interior wall paint with which to coat your bedroom and Googling “doctors near you that specialize in helping people with delusions.”

The idea that your opinion on a subject is equal to someone else’s, when that someone else has spent years studying and researching it (using more complex methods than refreshing their Facebook feed), is ridiculous.

Expertise is, in fact, a thing.

And yes, I know, sometimes experts disagree. Even physicians sometimes have different takes on the proper course of treatment for a given condition.

That’s why, when faced with such decisions, it’s good to get a second opinion.

But guess what? When you get that second opinion, from whom do you get it?

Another gotdamn doctor who went to a gotdamn medical school.

You do not get that second opinion about whether you need open-heart surgery to address your arterial blockage from KaleMomma420. Or rather, if you do, you deserve whatever happens to you.

Best of all is when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 September 2021 at 6:43 pm

How Educational Differences Are Widening America’s Political Rift

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Nat Cohn has an interesting article on America’s division along education lines. It’s in the NY Times, but the link here is a gift link that skirts the paywall. The article begins:

The front lines of America’s cultural clashes have shifted in recent years. A vigorous wave of progressive activism has helped push the country’s culture to the left, inspiring a conservative backlash against everything from “critical race theory” to the supposed cancellation of Dr. Seuss.

These skirmishes may be different in substance from those that preceded them, but in the broadest sense they are only the latest manifestation of a half-century trend: the realignment of American politics along cultural and educational lines, and away from the class and income divisions that defined the two parties for much of the 20th century.

As they’ve grown in numbers, college graduates have instilled increasingly liberal cultural norms while gaining the power to nudge the Democratic Party to the left. Partly as a result, large portions of the party’s traditional working-class base have defected to the Republicans.

Over the longer run, some Republicans even fantasize that the rise of educational polarization might begin to erode the Democratic advantage among voters of color without a college degree. Perhaps a similar phenomenon may help explain how Donald J. Trump, who mobilized racial animus for political gain, nonetheless fared better among voters of color than previous Republicans did, and fared worse among white voters.

President Biden won about 60 percent of college-educated voters in 2020, including an outright majority of white college graduates, helping him run up the score in affluent suburbs and putting him over the top in pivotal states.

This was a significant voting bloc: Overall, 41 percent of people who cast ballots last year were four-year college graduates, according to census estimates. By contrast, just 5 percent of voters in 1952 were college graduates, according to that year’s American National Elections Study.

Yet even as college graduates have surged in numbers and grown increasingly liberal, Democrats are no stronger than they were 10, 30 or even 50 years ago. Instead, rising Democratic strength among college graduates and voters of color has been counteracted by a nearly equal and opposite reaction among white voters without a degree.

When the Harvard-educated John F. Kennedy narrowly won the presidency in 1960, he won white voters without a degree but lost white college graduates by a two-to-one margin. The numbers were almost exactly reversed for Mr. Biden, who lost white voters without a degree by a two-to-one margin while winning white college graduates.

About 27 percent . . .

Continue reading — and no paywall for this article.

I’ve observed the Republicans increasingly seem ignorant, and it seems that observation is accurate.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 3:30 pm

Seth Godwin’s thoughts on a reformed curriculum

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One tension in curriculum design is how to balance knowledge and skills — or, more precisely, theoretical knowledge (the facts of history, grammar, logic, science, and so on) with practical knowledge (being able to read, write, pose and solve mathematical problems, analyze and explain things observed or read, speaking fluently a couple of languages, and so on). Both knowing and doing are valuable, and a good education includes both. For one thing, learning the touchstones of one’s culture — the philosophy, history, literature, political theory and political practice — provides a common foundation of shared knowledge that facilitates communication and understanding. OTOH, knowing things doesn’t mean that one can do things. Skills require practice and learning skills goes deeper and takes more time than learning facts — skills are retained after facts are forgotten.

Seth Godin points out that the educational interruption resulting from the pandemic, when many students were willy-nilly home-schooled, provides an opportunity to recast the curriculum. In a post on his blog, he sets forth a suggestion for discussion:

The basic foundation is student-centered, self-directed projects. In service of learning to solve interesting problems and how to lead as well as follow. And to support that, the “courses” are practical tools students can use on their projects.

Statistics–seeing the world around us clearly and understanding nuance, analog results and taxometrics (learning how to sort like with like). Realizing that everyone and everything doesn’t fit into a simple box. Learning to see the danger of false labels and propaganda, and the power of seeing how things are actually distributed.

Games–finite and infinite, poker, algorithms, business structures, interpersonal relationships, negotiation, why they work and when they don’t. We all play them, even when they’re not called games.

Communication–listening and speaking, reading and writing, presentations, critical examination and empathy. Can you read for content? Can you write to be understood? Can you stand up and express yourself, and sit still and listen to someone else who is working to be heard? What happens when we realize that no one is exactly like us?

History and propaganda–what happened and how we talk about it. More why than when. The fundamental currents of human events over time.

Citizenship–Participating, leading, asking and answering good questions. As a voter, but also as a participant in any organization.

Real skills–Hard to measure things like honesty, perseverance, empathy, keeping promises, trust, charisma, curiosity, problem solving and humor.

The scientific method–understanding what we know and figuring out how to discover the next thing. Learning to do the reading and show your work. There’s no point in memorizing the Krebs Cycle.

Programming–thinking in ways that a computer can help you with. From Excel and Photoshop to C++.

Art–expressing yourself with passion and consistency and a point of view. Not because it’s your job, but because you can and because it matters. Appreciating the art that has come before and creating your own, in whatever form that takes.

Decision-making–using the rest of the skills above to make better choices.

Meta-cognition–thinking about thinking, creating habits with intention.

There are some odd omissions — for example, presumably because he is an American, he fails to include mastery of a second language (IMO a major oversight). OTOH, I applaud that he includes listening in the curriculum — too often listening skills are self-taught, which leads to common errors hardening into bad habits, errors that a reasonably good trained coach could easily correct.

He includes decision-making, an excellent idea, but omits negotiation, also a very useful skill too often self-taught (as indeed decision-making is often self-taught). My list of repeatedly recommended books includes books that address both of those.

I would include in “Citizenship” some time and training and practice in civic responsibility so that students would learn what is expected from them in their role as citizens: the obligations that they incur from living in a governed state.

I would also include instruction and practice both in planning and in executing plans. That was certainly something I had to learn on my own, and it would have been helpful to have had explicit instruction in those skills as much as in decision-making or negotiation. (Covey’s method is a good example of one approach.)

His “write to be understood” probably includes the skills of editing — reading what you have written from the viewpoint of some other person — the reader over your shoulder — and making changes to help that person understand. For example, a two-month daily effort along these lines would do it.

One seemingly minor skill that is now not taught at all is handwriting. The keyboard is certainly a helpful device, but for certain kinds of work and thought, handwriting works much better. The reason why handwriting works better is unclear — I have some guesses — but experience shows that fluent handwriting (handwriting learned so well it flows naturally and is not laborious) is a useful and productive skill to acquire. And of handwriting that uses the Latin alphabet (rather than, say, the Arabic or Cyrillic), I found italic handwriting (aka chancery cursive) to be the most practical — legible even when written at speed and also attractive (so that writing it is a pleasure).

Another odd omission is home economics — that is, the skills needed in living an independent life in a place of one’s own: the essentials of nutrition, how to select and prepare food (including things like knife skills and cooking methods and skills), the pluses and minuses of possessions per se, how to plan and follow a home budget, basic social practices and etiquette, and so on. Of course, some students learn such things at home — just as some students learn a second language at home or become practiced in art at home — but many students do not, and the idea Godin has, if I understand it, is to ensure that all students have a solid foundation in the skills and knowledge that will help them lead a full life.

Written by Leisureguy

9 September 2021 at 10:23 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

The sluggish response when a government is no longer focused on public service

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Stephen Engelberg, Editor-in-Chief of ProPublica, sends out a regular newsletter. This is from the one I received this morning:

More than a decade ago, a young reporter named Sasha Chavkin filed a story for ProPublica about the sort of bureaucratic indifference that makes people hate their government. Across the country, thousands of people who had suffered grievous injuries that prevented them from working were being hounded for student loans they had no chance of repaying. Many had been classified as disabled by the Social Security Administration and were already receiving government support. But the Department of Education, which handles loan forgiveness, insisted that borrowers jump through a separate set of hoops to prove they were unable to work. In some cases, the department was garnishing Social Security payments sent to people with disabilities who were in arrears on their loans.

We published Sasha’s story on Feb. 13, 2011. It introduced readers to Tina Brooks, a former police officer who fractured a vertebra in her back and damaged three others in her neck when she plunged 15 feet down a steep quarry while training for bicycle patrol. Although five doctors and a judge from Social Security all agreed that she was fully disabled, Education Department officials continued to insist she pay off $43,000 in loans.

It was one of those stories where each paragraph makes you madder.

“I’m a cop, and I know how to fill out paperwork,” Brooks told Sasha. “But when you’re trying to comply with people and they’re not telling you the rules, I might as well beat my head on the wall.”

ProPublica is unusual among news organizations in that we measure our success by the tangible impact our stories achieve. As editors and reporters, we are trained to try to make every story well-written, fair, solidly documented and maybe even prizeworthy. But Herb and Marion Sandler, the founders of ProPublica, said from the very beginning that they had a higher goal for ProPublica: that our stories should make a difference.

It’s a tough target to hit. Journalists, myself included, are notoriously poor at forecasting which stories will spur change. Sometimes, we reveal utterly outrageous abuses and the reaction

is muted. Other times, people explode with anger and change comes overnight. New reporters hired from other organizations frequently ask: What’s a ProPublica story? My answer is that readers should finish one of our investigative articles with a clear understanding of what’s gone wrong and to whom they should send a blistering letter (or email) demanding immediate action.

I expected our 2011 story on disabilities and student loans to prompt swift action. Congress had already demanded that the Department of Education improve its handling of disability cases. An internal audit, which we obtained, had found that the department was failing to follow its own rules. It seemed like a political no-brainer to intervene, both for members of Congress and for the Obama administration. They stood to earn kudos for adopting an approach that is both required by law and a gesture of human decency.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, little of that happened. The Education Department made some modest improvements but continued to insist that people fill out applications for relief. The process remained cumbersome, and the burden remained on the disabled person to prove they were entitled to relief. Few loans were forgiven.

It was only last month that the department announced that it was enacting a new policy in which people deemed severely disabled by the SSA would automatically have their loans forgiven. The technique? A simple computer search that would match the names of people receiving disability payments with names of student loan borrowers. Officials said they would be writing off a staggering $5.8 billion in loans. Clearly, the existing procedures had not worked for the vast majority of disabled borrowers.

I asked Sasha what finally made the difference. His answer, not surprisingly, was politics. The left wing of the Democratic Party, notably Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have been pressuring the Biden administration to launch a broad program of relief for 43 million Americans who owe nearly $1.6 trillion in student loans. President Joe Biden has never endorsed that idea. But as Sasha points out “this fix for disabled borrowers was something no one could reasonably oppose.” The no-brainer solution, he said, was always out there, but it “took a long time and a lot of unnecessary hardship” before it was politically beneficial to the people with the power to impose change.

It’s worth noting that this story is not yet over. The Department of Education continues to withhold debt relief from a substantial number of student loan borrowers who receive federal disability payments — people whose disabilities the SSA views as serious but that it believes have some chance of easing in the future.

Remarkably, one of the people we interviewed back in 2011, a carpenter and draftsman who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is among those who remain on the hook for his student loans. He has tried to return to work several times since 2011, but his medical problems made that impossible. SSA officials argue that his lung disease might someday improve enough to allow him to work.

“There’s no improving COPD,” the carpenter, Scott Creighton, said in our recent story. “Since I spoke to you last time I’ve had one pulmonary embolism and I’ve had one heart attack.”

Some have argued in recent years that we live in a post-shame era, that spotlighting outrageous wrongdoing no longer brings results. For those who feel that is true, I suggest you visit the page on which we list stories that have had an impact. I hope you’ll find it inspiring. I do.


Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2021 at 12:00 pm

Remembering the best

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Betty Byrum posted this on Facebook

One day a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a blank line after each name.

Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.

It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed in the papers.

That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual.

On Monday she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. ‘Really?’ she heard whispered. ‘I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!’ and, ‘I didn’t know others liked me so much,’ were most of the comments.

No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. She never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another. That group of students moved on.

Several years later, one of the students was killed in

Vietnam and his teacher attended the funeral of that special student. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. He looked so handsome, so mature.

The church was packed with his friends. One by one those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the coffin.

As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her. ‘Were you Mark’s math teacher?’ he asked. She nodded: ‘yes.’ Then he said: ‘Mark talked about you a lot.’

After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates went together to a luncheon. Mark’s mother and father were there, obviously waiting to speak with his teacher.

‘We want to show you something,’ his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket ‘They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.’

Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. The teacher knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said about him.

‘Thank you so much for doing that,’ Mark’s mother said. ‘As you can see, Mark treasured it.’

All of Mark’s former classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, ‘I still have my list. It’s in the top drawer of my desk at home.’

Chuck’s wife said, ‘Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album.’

‘I have mine too,’ Marilyn said. ‘It’s in my diary’

Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. ‘I carry this with me at all times,’ Vicki said and without batting an eyelash, she continued: ‘I think we all saved our lists’

That’s when the teacher finally sat down and cried. She cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.

The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don’t know when that one day will be.

So please, tell the people you love and care for, that they are special and important. Tell them, before it is too late.

Remember, you reap what you sow. What you put into the lives of others comes back into your own.

I would guess this is apocryphal, but it’s a good story.

Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2021 at 10:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Tools for better thinking

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An excellent collection of various tools and approaches to thinking, both analytically and creatively, which you can filter by “systems thinking,” “decision making,” and “problem solving.”

And it includes a guide to help choose the right tool:

When you find yourself in front of a problem, decision or a system, you can ask yourself these prompt questions. They will point you to the right tool for you.

Written by Leisureguy

5 September 2021 at 10:16 am

Medical Students Practice Pelvic Exams on Anesthetized Women Without Their Consent

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I find this shocking, and I hope there are lawsuits to come.

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 2:44 pm

Why would anyone listen to those who know what they’re talking about when others are so fascinating?

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And click to tweet to read the thread.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 3:25 pm

Why people working with the public should be vaccinated

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Two news reports today:

1. A report in the Washington Post: “A Calif. elementary school teacher took off her mask for a read-aloud. Within days, half her class was positive for delta.

From the report:

The Marin County, Calif., elementary school had been conscientious about following covid-19 protocols. Masks were required indoors, desks were spaced six feet apart, and the students kept socially distant. But the delta variant found an opening anyway.

On May 19, one teacher, who was not vaccinated against the coronavirus, began feeling fatigued and had some nasal congestion. She dismissed it as allergies and powered through. While she was usually masked, she made an exception for story time so she could read to the class.

By the time she learned she was positive for the coronavirus two days later, half her class of 24 had been infected — nearly all of them in the two rows closest to her desk — and the outbreak had spread to other classes, siblings and parents, including some who were fully vaccinated.

“The mask was off only momentarily, not an entire day or hours. We want to make the point that this is not the teacher’s fault — everyone lets their guard down — but the thing is delta takes advantage of slippage from any kind of protective measures,” Tracy Lam-Hine, an epidemiologist for the county, said in an interview.

The case study, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and highlighted by CDC director Rochelle Walensky during a briefing on Friday, highlights the potential danger for children under the age of 12 — the only group in the United States ineligible for coronavirus vaccines as a hyper-infectious variant tears across the country. . .

There’s more.

2. A report in The Hill: “Unvaccinated employee sparked COVID-19 outbreak at Oregon assisted living facility.”

From the report:

An unvaccinated worker at an assisted living facility in Oregon prompted a COVID-19 outbreak that infected 64 people and killed five, the Register-Guard reported.

The outbreak at Gateway Living, which has 105 employees and 101 residents, began July 5 with an unvaccinated employee who reported to work while infectious, according to the Register-Guard. By July 30, there were deaths from the outbreak, most of which were recorded on Aug. 3, Aug. 12, Aug. 19 and Aug. 25, the local newspaper reported.

Staff at the assisted living facility is 63 percent fully vaccinated, and residents are 82 percent fully vaccinated, according to the newspaper.

Gateway Living has seen about 60 percent of breakthrough cases during the current surge, the Register-Guard noted. Seven people who were infected by the outbreak were hospitalized.

Lane County, where Gateway Living is located, was hit with a major surge in cases in August. In the past two weeks, the county has record 2,920 cases of COVID-19, according to the Register-Guard. . .

There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 August 2021 at 6:00 pm

Toddlers who want to help

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I’m listening to Hunt, Gather, Parent on my walks, and the author just raised an interesting point — or rather, the Mayan parent she was learning from did. A child learning to help is like a child learning to talk: at first it babbles, then it forms words and near-words, then makes attempts at sentences. Learning the language takes years.

And the same with is true with learning to help. The help a 1-year-old can offer is akin to babbling: it’s not really help (just as babbling’s not really language) but it’s an essential step and one to be encouraged. It’s important to let the toddler “help” even if the parent must later clean up a mess, because becoming fluent in help will take years of practice.

Many modern parents, in effect, teach their children NOT to help, by repeatedly rebuffing those early attempts to help. After a while the child learns the lesson: Don’t help.

One interesting comment she made on the helping: don’t praise the help, just accept it and continue the pattern — just first words and sentences are not praised but simply accepted and used. Praise turns out to have negative consequences (such as creating praise addiction). The idea of praise is to encourage self-esteem, but that comes from accomplishment, not from the words of others. She observed that Mayan parents very rarely praise their children.

Moreover, when a child does a task, that effort is with their locus of control: they don’t depend on others, but control the outcome themselves. Praise, in contrast, is not under the child’s control — it comes (or fails to come) from an external source, and a child conditioned to need praise has a source of anxiety: whether the praise will be forthcoming or not. The locus of control has moved outside the child, and that fosters insecurity.

It’s a very interesting book.

Written by Leisureguy

23 August 2021 at 9:32 am

Seneca and Nero: How (Not) to Give an Emperor Unwelcome Advice

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Catherine Edwards writes in Antigone:

The philosopher – and celebrated public speaker – Seneca the Younger, after eight years in exile on the island of Corsica, was summoned back to Rome in AD 49 (aged around 50) to take on what might at first sight look like an enviable job. Emperor Claudius’ new wife, Agrippina, had chosen Seneca to be tutor to her young son Nero (aged 12), who had become, with his mother’s glittering marriage, step-son to the emperor. This was quite a reversal of fortune for Seneca, who had been exiled in AD 41 on a charge (probably false) of adultery with another of Claudius’ relatives.

When Nero in turn became emperor, Seneca would go on to play a key role in the imperial government. Seneca’s position was in many respects an unprecedented one. Tacitus’ history of this period (the Annals, written in the 110s AD) gives us some sense of the dynamics of the relationship between Seneca and Nero; Seneca’s own extensive writings also cast light on how he sought to guide, indeed to manage, Nero as a young ruler.

As tutor to the adolescent Nero, Seneca was not given a free hand. Particularly in later centuries, Seneca has been admired as an exponent of Stoic philosophy; Agrippina made clear (according to Suetonius’ biography of Nero, written in the 120s AD) that philosophy was not to be on her son’s curriculum. Nero was apparently keen on poetry (Suetonius and Tacitus disagree on whether he was any good at writing verse). But a young man destined for a prominent role in public life needed above all to be a good public speaker; Seneca, known for his eloquence, was to instruct him in rhetoric. Agrippina’s ambitions for her son would be fulfilled in just a few years: by the time Claudius died (poisoned by Agrippina, it was widely believed), Nero, a little older than Claudius’ son Britannicus, had been adopted by the emperor. And it was Nero who succeeded in the year 54, becoming emperor at the unprecedented age of only 16.

For all Seneca’s tuition, Nero still needed some help with his public speaking. He was expected to give the eulogy at Claudius’ funeral and to address the Praetorian Guard, whose military presence in Rome protected the emperor – and whose support was crucial. Seneca found suitable words for his pupil to deliver and also composed Nero’s inaugural speech to the Senate. Senators were appreciative when Nero respectfully emphasised how keen he was to follow the example of Augustus, the principate’s founder. Later speeches, too, were widely believed to be Seneca’s compositions.

Seneca was now in an extraordinarily influential position. He was tutor, or rather adviser, to the most powerful teenager in the history of the Roman world. But how was he to frame advice and guidance to a young man who seems to have become increasingly resistant to being told what to do? For the first few years of Nero’s reign, Seneca, together with Burrus, Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, appears to have been relatively successful in persuading Nero to attend to government business and to maintain good relations with the senatorial elite, who saw themselves as Rome’s governing class. We may speculate that Seneca’s relationship with Nero’s mother Agrippina, herself a smart political operator, was sometimes strained. Tacitus – a man very hostile to the idea that a woman should be involved in imperial government – tells how Seneca prompted Nero to intervene, when Agrippina tried to take part in the official welcome of envoys from Armenia (Annals 13.5).

Seneca’s treatise De clementia, “On mercy,” a work addressed to Nero and written very early in his reign (AD 55/6), shows the kind of strategies Seneca might use to persuade Nero to act as he ought. Seneca argues that, through exercising leniency against those who offend him, the Good Emperor does not put himself in danger but strengthens his own position. Seneca (in an approach termed “protreptic”) repeatedly praises the ways in which Nero already exemplifies the qualities of the ideal ruler.

Although the treatise On mercy is addressed to the emperor, Seneca was, we may imagine, very much aware of how others (particularly members of the Senate) would interpret the advice he was offering Nero. Many senators had, under Claudius, been subject to harsh punishments widely seen as unjustified; members of the Senate under Nero would surely be reassured that Nero’s most influential adviser counselled, on grounds both moral and pragmatic, against such cruelty. Seneca stressed that the Good Emperor relies on his subjects – and the subjects on their emperor.

Nero’s notorious appetite for partying, his taste for poetry, his enthusiasm for the circus races were perhaps viewed as forgivable in such a youthful ruler. Some were initially pleased when stories circulated that Nero had fallen out with his mother Agrippina over his choice of girl friend. But Nero’s move in AD 59 to have Agrippina killed was deeply shocking. Did Seneca and Burrus know what was planned? If so, they were faced with a dilemma. Should they risk opposing the emperor – and bringing his anger down on themselves – or should they collude with matricide?

Nero’s initial attempt to get rid of his mother in a staged boating accident failed. Instead, her messenger was framed as an assassin and Nero’s soldiers were despatched to kill his mother. Certainly, Seneca and Burrus seem to have been . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 12:56 pm

The American Heart Association looks at how little doctors know about nutrition

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This article is from a couple of years ago, but I doubt that much has changed. The article begins:

Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Cut down on sweets and processed foods. Increase consumption of fish, nuts and legumes.

This rudimentary advice has been dished out to the public for decades, yet soaring rates of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses linked to poor diet – and which increase risks for stroke and heart disease – fail to reverse.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that doctors don’t know how to provide information beyond the basics.

Inadequate instruction during medical school, residency and other additional training is a primary reason for this dearth of expertise, according to an American Heart Association science advisory published Monday in the journal Circulation that looked at gaps in nutrition education over the decades. [That link is worth clicking — the report is quite interesting. – LG]

“Any nutrition education gained is likely to be lost if not reinforced and translated into practical how-to knowledge,” the advisory authors write.

Dr. David Eisenberg, director of culinary nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, applauded the AHA report, saying it documents “the total lack of requirement” in most medical schools to understand the practical skills necessary to advise patients struggling with their weight, blood sugar, blood pressure or heart disease.

“It is a scandal that health professionals are not introduced to these facts above and beyond minimal information about nutritional deficiencies in biochemistry, and that these things do not appear on their examinations to become a practicing physician,” said Eisenberg, who was not part of the group that wrote the advisory. “Nor are they required on board certification, whether it’s to become an internist, cardiologist, endocrinologist – you name it.”

Gaps in nutrition education among medical school curricula go back decades, said Dr. Karen Aspry, the cardiologist who chaired the AHA advisory group.

She pointed out that after a 1985 survey of one-third of U.S. medical schools found “inadequate exposure to nutrition and health and disease,” the National Academy of Sciences recommended a minimum of 25 classroom hours.

Yet, various studies conducted between 2000 and 2013 found few schools were meeting that goal. The most recent survey, in 2013, found that 71 percent of medical schools provide less than the recommended 25 hours.

“The average number of hours has actually declined to 19 hours. That means this is not keeping up with the recognition that so much obesity and cardiovascular disease is linked to poor nutrition and poor diet quality,” Aspry said.

A poor diet was tied to nearly half of U.S. deaths from heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes in 2012, found a study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association(link opens in new window). “This is a huge problem,” Aspry said.

The new advisory found that schools which exceeded the minimum recommended hours of nutrition education did so by integrating the training across the medical school curriculum instead of containing it to a single course.

Several universities have tapped into innovative ways to teach future physicians about how to manage their own diet to build a set of personal tips they can eventually pass on to patients. Schools are incorporating lessons through online, open-access programs, or by turning commercial kitchens into interactive classrooms where students learn about healthy cooking.

Andrew Del Re is benefiting from that kind of innovation. A first-year student at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School in Rhode Island, he recently completed a “Food + Health” elective that pairs medical students with culinary arts students from nearby Johnson & Wales University. The course was part lecture – on topics such as healthy cooking on a budget – and part hands-on learning, such as cooking low-sodium meals inside an actual kitchen.

“Becoming a better communicator is also a really big part of the course,” he said. “You have to be able to transmit practical knowledge so the patient can leave the office saying, ‘OK, now I know exactly what I need to do to live a healthier lifestyle, and change my behavior for the better.’”

Del Re is now leading this semester’s Food + Health class with two other student assistants, adding more emphasis on nutrition and diet counseling, and possible ways to customize such lessons to the individual lifestyle of patients.

Other types of nutrition training can be found in medical school electives that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2021 at 1:06 pm

Losing a Language

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Charles Schifano writes in Desk Notes:

Toward the end of Vladimir Nabokov’s kaleidoscopic memoir, we see the young writer arrive in Cambridge, fresh from a lengthy trip across Europe—his aristocratic childhood now conclusively over, a mob of executioners having just missed him.

At a bookstall in the Market Place, I unexpectedly came upon a Russian work, a secondhand copy of Dahl’s Interpretative Dictionary of the Living Russian Language in four volumes. I bought it and resolved to read at least ten pages per day, jotting down such words and expressions as might especially please me, and I kept this up for a considerable time.

Already fluent in English, the language of his new country wasn’t a shock. The sounds of his birthplace, however, were receding behind him. Nabokov, now twenty years old, would never again set foot in Russia.

My fear of losing or corrupting, through alien influence, the only thing I had salvaged from Russia—her language—became positively morbid and considerably more harassing than the fear I was to experience two decades later of my never being able to bring my English prose anywhere close to my Russian.

You might recognize these undulations if you’ve ever struggled with a new language. An unwanted symbiotic relationship comes to your lips: the structure of your native tongue infects the new language, and, startlingly, the new language infects your native tongue.

I used to sit up far into the night, surrounded by an almost Quixotic accumulation of unwieldy volumes…It would have horrified me at the time to discover what I see so clearly now, the direct influence upon my Russian structures of various contemporaneous (“Georgian”) English verse patterns that were running about my room and all over me like tame mice.

Sentences do, in fact, have this rather unfortunate tendency to echo. What’s heard in your ear is soon transferred to your mouth. You see this best with children, who acquire those first birth-cries of language through a stuttered mimicry of what’s around them. But you can also catch it with your own speech. Where did that slogan come from? Why did I just repeat that cliché? And most people have a careless nature when it comes to picking up phrases along the way—mirroring the accents of friends, regurgitating the expressions they hear at lunch. Any sufficiently focused writer will realize that it takes determination to resist the speech patterns of those around you.

For Nabokov, however, the trouble pertained to the sentences already in his mind. Could he discriminate among his languages? Or would the ooze from one seep into another? Each of his languages (Russian, English, French) has its own cadence, each has a distinct sense of timing, and each leaves its own reverberations on the page. How could he possibly keep them separate?

Languages aren’t, it’s worth remembering, a mere collection of words and a few bits of grammar. Only the superficial aspects of a language land in a dictionary. All the undertones and nuances and lyricisms are hidden somewhere else. And if that weren’t true, then acquiring a language wouldn’t require anything more than a good memory.

A curious detail about Nabokov’s languages comes from those who met him in person. Many people were surprised to discover that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2021 at 12:02 pm

The Catholic Church siphoned away $30M paid to Native people for stolen land

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In some ways the Catholic Church seems like a criminal organization — for example, protecting the pedophile members and, when a community grows suspicious, transferring them to a new community where they can find new opportunities; and then when the organization is sued, transfer funds and/or declare bankruptcy so it does not have to pay settlements to victims; and — in this example — simply stealing money. And yet — oddly — the Catholic Church claims the right to lecture others about moral behavior. Matthew (7:5) comments on this attitude:

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Mary Annette Pember reports in Indian Country News:

The brittle wooden floors creak as we climb the stairs to the long room that served as a dormitory for Ojibwe girls at St. Mary’s Mission School on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota.

“My mother slept here,” says Kathryn “Jody” Beaulieu, 70, my guide and a Red Lake tribal citizen. She points to one end of the narrow room. A few white iron bed frames are still stacked in the corner. “Her sisters slept down at the other end, about 100 feet away.”

Beaulieu’s mother, Ruth Jourdain-Fevig, was 6 when she was sent away to the mission school in the early 1930s. “She said she was afraid and tried to crawl into bed with her older sisters, but the nun would scold her and drag her back to her bed,” Beaulieu says. “It was as though they had no compassion for the suffering of a child. Her sisters must have seemed so far away.”

It took decades for Ruth, who died in 2015, to tell Beaulieu about her experiences. Even then, it was only in brief. “I had no idea she’d gone to school here until we went on a tour of the mission buildings in the 1990s,” Beaulieu says. “I think she must have suppressed the memory of her days here until we walked up the stairs and she physically stood in this spot. I think it was just too painful for her.”

Indian boarding and day schools attempted, for decades, to forcibly assimilate Native children. The schools have a long, documented history of abuse and cultural debasement. Former students have recounted sexual abuse, corporal punishment and neglect at the hands of teachers and administrators. Students were prohibited from speaking Native languages and practicing Native traditions, often with the threat of violence. Abuse was reported at both government-run and religious institutions.

Of the approximately 400 Indian boarding and day schools in the United States (which started around 1830), the federal government operated more than half. Various Christian denominations operated the remaining schools, but the Catholic Church dominated the field with about 100. My mother attended one of these schools in the 1930s and 1940s: St. Mary’s Indian Boarding School on the Bad River Ojibwe Reservation in Wisconsin, about 250 miles from Red Lake. Like others, my mother carried the trauma and shame of that experience her entire life.

The economic violations committed at these schools, however, have not been widely reported. A yearlong effort from Type Investigations and In These Times has found that, for the greater part of the 20th century, the federal government routed funds—designated as direct payments for Native people—to Catholic mission schools, draining families of millions of dollars by today’s measures.

For many parents, some of whom were barely literate, the approval to send their children to these religious boarding schools took the form of thumbprints. Pressed on government forms, signed and witnessed by church and government officials, these thumbprints authorized the mission schools to take portions of treaty and trust funds—owed to Native families by the federal government in exchange for their land—to pay tuition.

Ostensibly, Native Americans chose to send their children to these mission schools rather than free, government-funded schools. But federal schools were rarely built on reservations in the early 20th century. With the distribution of rations and other goods also sometimes dependent on Native children attending school, Native Americans were often effectively coerced into paying for their own assimilation.

In 1920, Beaulieu’s grandfather, Joseph Jourdain, signed a petition allowing St. Mary’s to take portions of his treaty and trust funds to cover tuition. Although tuition costs varied, Jourdain agreed to pay approximately three shares of his treaty funds annually—more than $400 today.

“In those days on the reservation, people hunted and fished all year round, like subsistence living,” Beaulieu says. She surmises there was not much cash money available to pay for things.

The sight of her grandfather’s name on the petition offers Beaulieu an uncomfortable, tangible proof of her mother’s experience. “Not only was my mom separated from her sisters during nights, she was also separated from her parents during her time at the mission,” she reflects later.

“That must have been a terrible memory for her.”

The story of Indian treaties and subsequent federal Indian policies is a labyrinth of confusing and sometimes conflicting actions aimed at solving the “Indian problem.” Native Americans living on ancestral lands presented an obstacle to colonists’ occupation and settlement. From 1778 to 1871, hundreds of treaties, signed by the U.S. government, promised Native people not only cash and goods but often healthcare and education—in exchange for more than 1.5 billion acres. Subsequent policies, like the 1887 Dawes Act, appropriated even more land. Individual treaty and trust funds were established by the federal government to pay Native peoples for profits earned through the use of their ceded lands.

But the schools promised by the federal government were not built on every reservation. Meanwhile, the government gave Christian churches, including the Catholic Church, land for mission schools. Federal schools were also known to be particularly cruel to Native students, often forbidding contact between students and families. This led some parents to opt for religious boarding schools in the hope that their children would be treated marginally better.

In 1900, Catholic leadership introduced the idea of allowing Native Americans to authorize the federal government to divert individual Native treaty and trust funds to pay for tuition at Catholic schools. Shortly after, a group of three Sioux Indians from South Dakota sued the federal government, arguing the agreements amounted to theft. Schooling should have already been provided for free, the plaintiffs argued, through previous treaties. The case, Quick Bear v. Leupp, reached the Supreme Court in 1908. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2021 at 9:09 am

The World Is All That Is the Case

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Ed Simon writes in The Millions:

“Well, God has arrived. I met him on the 5:15 train. He has a plan to stay in Cambridge permanently.”
John Maynard Keynes in a letter to his wife describing Ludwig Wittgenstein (1929)

Somewhere along the crooked scar of the eastern front, during those acrid summer months of the Brusilov Offensive in 1916, when the Russian Empire pierced into the lines of the Central Powers and perhaps more than one million men would be killed from June to September, a howitzer commander stationed with the Austrian 7th Army would pen gnomic observations in a notebook, having written a year before that the “facts of the world are not the end of the matter.” Among the richest men in Europe, the 27-year-old had the option to defer military service, and yet an ascetic impulse compelled Ludwig Wittgenstein into the army, even though he lacked any patriotism for the Austro-Hungarian cause. Only five years before his trench ruminations would coalesce into 1921’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicusand the idiosyncratic contours of Wittgenstein’s thinking were already obvious, scribbling away as incendiary explosions echoed across the Polish countryside and mustard gas wafted over fields of corpses. “When my conscience upsets my equilibrium, then I am not in agreement with something. But is this? Is it the world?” he writes. Wittgenstein is celebrated and detested for this aphoristic quality, with pronouncements offered as if directly from the Sibylline grove. “Philosophy,” Wittgenstein argued in the posthumously published Culture and Value“ought really to be written only as poetic composition.” In keeping with its author’s sentiment, I’d claim that the Tractatus is less the greatest philosophical work of the 20th century than it is one of the most immaculate volumes of modernist poetry written in the past hundred years.

The entire first chapter is only seven sentences, and can easily be arranged as a stanza read for its prosody just as easily as a logician can analyze it for rigor:

The world is all that is the case.

The world is the totality of facts, not of things.

The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts.

For the totality of facts determines what is the case, and also whatever is not the case.

The facts in logical space are the world.

The world divides into facts.

Each item can be the case or not the case while everything else remains the same.

Its repetition unmistakably evokes poetry. The use of anaphora with “The world” at the beginning of the first three lines (and then again at the start of the fifth). The way in which each sentence builds to a crescendo of increasing length, from starting with a simple independent clause to a trio of lines that are composed of independent and dependent clauses, hitting a peak in the exact middle of the stanza, and then returning to independent clauses, albeit the final line being the second longest sentence in the poem. Then there is the diction, the reiteration of certain abstract nouns in place of concrete images—”world,” ‘facts,” “things.” In Wittgenstein’s thought these have definite meanings, but in a general sense they’re also words that are pushed to an extreme of conceptual intensity. They are as vague as is possible, while still connotating a definite something. If Wittgenstein mentioned red wheelbarrows and black petals, it might more obviously read as poetry, but what he’s doing is unique; he’s building verse from the constituent atoms of meaning, using the simplest possible concepts that could be deployed. Finally, the inscrutable nature of Wittgenstein’s pronouncements is what gives him such an oracular aura. If the book is confusing, that’s partially the point. It’s not an argument, it’s a meditation, a book of poetry that exists to do away with philosophy.

Published a century ago this spring, the Tractatus is certainly one of the oddest books in the history of logic, structured in an unconventional outline of unspooling pronouncements offered without argument, as well as a demonstration of philosophy’s basic emptiness, and thus the unknowability of reality. All great philosophers claim that theirs is the work that demolishes philosophy, and Wittgenstein is only different in that the Tractatus actually achieves that goal. “Most of the propositions and questions to be found in philosophical works are not false but nonsensical,” writes Wittgenstein.  “Consequently, we cannot give any answer to questions of this kind,” where “of this kind” means all of Western philosophy. What results is either poetry transubstantiated into philosophy or philosophy converted into poetry, with the Tractatus itself a paradox, a testament to language that shows the limits of language, where “anyone who understands me eventually recognizes… [my propositions] as nonsensical…He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.” The Tractatus is a self-immolating book, a work that exists to demonstrate its own futility in existing. At its core are unanswerable questions of silence, meaninglessness, and unuttered poetry. The closest that Western philosophy has ever come to the Tao.

Of the Viennese Wittgensteins, Ludwig was raised in an atmosphere of unimaginable wealth. As a boy, the salons of the family mansions (there were 13 in the capital alone) were permeated with the music of Gustav Mahler and Johannes Brahms (performed by the composers themselves), the walls were lined with commissioned golden-shimmer paintings by Gustave Klimt, and the rocky bespoke sculptures of August Rodin punctuated their courtyards. “Each of the siblings was made exceedingly rich,” writes Alexander Waugh in The House of Wittgenstein (and he knows about difficult families), “but the money, to a family obsessed with social morality, brought with it many problems.” Committed to utmost seriousness, dedication, and genius, the Wittgensteins were a cold family, the children forced to live up to the exacting standards of their father Karl Otto Clemens Wittgenstein. Ludwig’s father was an iron man, the Austrian Carnegie, and the son was indulged with virtually every privilege imaginable in fin de siècle Vienna. His four brothers were to be trained for industry, and to be patrons of art, music, poetry, and philosophy, with absolutely no failure in any regard to be countenanced. Only a few generations from the shtetl, the Wittgensteins had assimilated into gentile society, most of them converting to Catholicism, along with the few odd Protestants; Ludwig’s grandfather even had the middle name “Christian” as if to underscore their new position. Wittgenstein had a life-long ambivalence about his own Jewishness—even though three of his four grandparents were raised in the faith—and he had an attraction to a type of post-theological mystical Christianity, while he also claimed that his iconoclastic philosophy was “Hebraic.”

Even more ironically, or perhaps uncannily, Wittgenstein was only the second most famous graduate of Vienna’s secondary Realschule; the other student was Adolph Hitler. There’s a class photograph from 1905 featuring both of them when they were 16. As James Klaage notes in Wittgenstein: Philosophy and Biography“an encounter with Wittgenstein’s mind would have created resentment and confusion in someone like Hitler,” while to great controversy (and thin evidence) Kimberly Cornish in The Jew of Linz claims that the philosopher had a profound influence on the future dictator, inadvertently inspiring the latter’s antisemitism. Strangely, like many assimilated and converted Jews within Viennese society, a casual antisemitism prevailed among the Wittgensteins. He would even be attracted to the writings of the pseudo-philosopher Otto Weininger, who in his book Sex and Character promulgated a notoriously self-hating antisemitic and misogynistic position, deploring modernity as the “most effeminate of all ages” (the author would ultimately commit suicide in the house where Beethoven had lived as an act of Völkisch sacrifice). When promoting the book, Wittgenstein maintained that he didn’t share in Weininger’s views, but rather found the way the writer was so obviously wrong interesting. Jewishness was certainly not to be discussed in front of the Wittgenstein paterfamilias, nor was anything that to their father reeked of softness, gentleness, or effeminacy, including Ludwig’s bisexuality, which he couldn’t express until decades later. And so at the risk of indulging an armchair version of that other great Viennese vocation of psychoanalysis, Wittgenstein made the impossibility of being able to say certain things the center of his philosophy. As Brahms had remembered, the family chillily acted “towards one another as if they were at court.” Of his four brothers—Rudi drank a mixture of cyanide and milk while in a Berlin cabaret in 1922, distraught over his homosexuality and his father’s rejection; Kurt shot himself in the dwindling days of the Great War after his troops defied him; and Hans, the oldest and a musical prodigy, presumably drowned himself in Chesapeake Bay while on an American sojourn in 1902—only Paul and Ludwig avoided suicide. There were economic benefits to being a Wittgenstein, but little else.

Austere Ludwig—a cinema-handsome man with a personality somehow both dispassionate and intense—tried to methodically shuffle off his wealth, which had hung from his neck along with the anchor of respectability. As it was, eventually the entire fortune would be commandeered by the Nazis, but before that Wittgenstein dispensed with his inheritance literally. When his father died in 1913, Wittgenstein began anonymously sending large sums of money to poets like Rainer Maria Rilke, whose observation in a 1909 lyric that “I am so afraid of people’s words./They describe so distinctly everything” reads almost as a gloss on the Tractatus. With his new independence, Wittgenstein moved to simple log cabin on a Norwegian fjord where he hoped to revolutionize logic. Attracted towards the austere, this was the same Wittgenstein whom in 1923, after the Tractatus had been published, lodged above a grocer in rural Austria and worked as a school teacher, with the visiting philosopher Frank Ramsey describing one of the richest men in Europe as living in “one tiny room, whitewashed, containing a bed, washstand, small table and one hard chair and that is all there is room for. His evening meal which I shared last night is rather unpleasant coarse bread, butter and cocoa.” Monasticism served Wittgenstein, because he’d actually accomplish that task of revolutionizing philosophy. From his trench meditations while facing down the Russians—where he ironically carried only two books—Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and Leo Tolstoy’s The Gospel in Brief —he birthed the Tractatus, holding to Zossima’s commandment that one should “Above all, avoid falsehood, every kind of falsehood.” The result would be a book whose conclusions were completely true without being real. Logic pushed to the extremes of prosody.

The Tractatus was the only complete book Wittgenstein published in his lifetime, and the slender volume is composed of a series of propositions arranged within one another like an onion. Its seven main propositions are . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2021 at 1:52 pm

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