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The Tech Elite’s Favorite Pop Intellectual: Julia Galef on bringing the rationalist movement to the mainstream.

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Benjamin Wallace writes in New York:

n 2012, Julia Galef, the host of a podcast called Rationally Speaking, moved from New York to Berkeley to help found a nonprofit called the Center for Applied Rationality. It was the early days of the rationalist movement: a community formed on the internet whose adherents strove to strip their minds of cognitive biases and subject all spheres of life to the glare of scientific thought and probabilistic reasoning. Galef and her CFAR co-founders — mathematician Anna Salamon, research scientist Andrew Critch, and math and science educator Michael Smith — wanted to translate these principles to everyday life. They did this through multiday workshops, where participants could learn to make better decisions using techniques like “goal factoring” (breaking a goal into smaller pieces) and “paired debugging” (in which two people help identify each other’s blind spots and distortions).

Over the next several years, as rationalism became not only the de facto brand of self-help in Silicon Valley but also an intellectual movement followed by pundits and executives alike, CFAR’s profile grew; soon, the nonprofit was running workshops across the country and teaching classes at Facebook and the Thiel Fellowship. But for CFAR’s founders, it was the empirical confirmation of their work that mattered most. Early on, they began conducting a controlled study to determine whether the workshops were demonstrably helpful. They surveyed 40 participants, assessing their before-and-after answers to questions like “How together is your life?” and “How successful do you feel in your social life?” The study found that, one year after the workshop ended, participants showed decreased neuroticism and increased self-efficacy, but to Galef, the results weren’t sufficiently rigorous. “What was it about the workshop?” she says. “Was it the classes or hanging out with like-minded people that makes the difference?” Conducting more tests would have been too expensive. “My vision was we’d come up with hypotheses about techniques, keep the ones that work, and discard the ones that don’t. It turned out to be much harder than I’d realized.”

In 2016, Galef left CFAR, unsatisfied with what she had been able to accomplish there. Instead, she began working on her first book, which, after five years, will be published by Penguin on April 13. The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t is a fitting debut for someone who has considered herself a “populizer” of the rationalist movement. “I take these ideas I think are great and try to explain them to a wider audience,” she says.

When we speak over Zoom, Galef is in Franklin, North Carolina, her face evenly lit by the ring lamp she travels with. Since she and her fiancé left their San Francisco studio this past July, they’ve been doing the digital-nomad thing. Right now, they are near Great Smoky Mountains National Park in a golf-course Airbnb. Galef holds her laptop camera up to the window, revealing a burbling creek outside. “It suits our personalities and lifestyle,” she says. “We both work remotely” — he’s a program officer focused on artificial intelligence at the effective-altruism organization Open Philanthropy — “we’re both introverts, we’re both minimalists, and we both like novelty.”

To the extent that the rationalist movement has been written about, its eccentricities have tended to get outsize attention: Some rationalists live in group houses with names like Event Horizon and Godric’s Hollow; polyamory and a preoccupation with the existential risk posed by AI are both overrepresented. In opposition to mainstream online culture, which believes that certain arguments should be off-limits, the rationalsphere wants to be able to talk about anything. Slate Star Codex — recently renamed Astral Codex Ten — the most prominent rationalist blog, has caused controversy by countenancing free-flowing discussion of topics such as race science and female harassment of men. And because of their devotion to hyperanalysis, some members of the community can present as arrogant and lacking in EQ.

Galef, however, is an amiable ambassador for the movement, adept at distilling its concepts in an accessible and plainspoken manner. The speech of rationalists is heavy on the vernacular, often derived from programming language: “updating your priors” (keeping an open mind), “steel-manning” (arguing with the strongest version of whatever point your opponent is making), “double-cruxing” (trying to get to the root of a disagreement). But . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2021 at 3:11 pm

The case of Norman Douglas: When pederasts are accepted and even lionized

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Rachel Hope Cleves, a historian and professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, has an interesting and lengthy extract from her book Unspeakable: A Life Beyond Sexual Morality (2020) in Aeon. Let me quote the conclusion:

. . . Popular toleration of pederasty, in Italy and elsewhere, took the form of wilful ignorance. As the American literary theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick pointed out in Epistemology of the Closet (1990), ignorance is not a singular ‘maw of darkness’ but a multiple phenomenon. Ignorance can entail intentional not-knowing, making the closet a performance of silence as a speech act. The Australian anthropologist Michael Taussig called communal expressions of wilful ignorance ‘public secrets’ that rested on ‘active not-knowing’. The experiences of the German photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden demonstrates how such a public secret, or active not-knowing, operated. Gloeden lived in Taormina, in Sicily, from 1878 to his death in 1931. During his decades of residence, he photographed generations of boys, frequently posing them naked in Hellenic ruins, adorned with laurel crowns and other symbols of ancient Greece. Gloeden’s photographs were popular with many early gay activists, including Symonds. The people of Taormina, who benefitted from the tourist trade that Gloeden’s photography brought to their town, also liked him. Gloeden and other foreign men often paid local youths for sexual encounters, an open secret in the community. Locals silenced any journalists, priests and politicians who attempted to criticise Gloeden, since they felt that these criticisms dishonoured the community and threatened their economic wellbeing. As Mario Bolognari, a historian of Taormina, concluded in 2017: ‘having chosen not to see does not imply being blind. It only means having decided that it was preferable not to notice certain things.’

Active not-knowing happens at the intimate level as well as the communal level. Families engage in active not-knowing about sexual wrongdoing in the home. This applies not only to child sexual abuse, but to all sorts of misbehaviours, including adultery, sibling incest and domestic violence. The motivations for active not-knowing are various, ranging from love and loyalty for the offender, to fear of retribution, to a desire to shield the family from public shame. Active not-knowing applies to more than sexual misbehaviour, and extends beyond the family. Friends exercise active not-knowing on behalf of friends, not wanting to risk meaningful relationships. Fans of artists engage in active not-knowing about their idols, motivated by awe and admiration, or by a desire to protect a favourite artwork from scrutiny and rejection. And disempowered people engage in active not-knowing about the powerful, from fear of the consequences that might result from confronting the truth, or from appreciation for the benefits that accrue from maintaining ignorance. Lastly, everyone benefits from silence by avoiding being implicated themselves in the bad thing that they know about.

Many of these ways of not-knowing helped Douglas escape condemnation. Some members of his extended family disowned him because of the abusive way he treated his wife, who was his first cousin and thus their relation as well. But his sons, who witnessed firsthand his sexual encounters with children (and might even, in the case of his older son, have experienced abuse) maintained loyalty to their father and defended him from posthumous accusations. Some writer friends wrote off Douglas after his arrests, but many loved his books and maintained a deliberate ignorance about what actually happened between Douglas and the boys and girls he recounted meeting in the pages of his travel books. The children themselves knew the most about Douglas’s sexual predations, but they had the most to gain financially – and often emotionally – from keeping close to him. There’s almost no evidence of children speaking out against Douglas either during their connections or afterwards, as adults. One exception is a 16-year-old whose complaint led to Douglas’s initial arrest in London in 1916.

The lack of panic about paedophilia during Douglas’s lifetime made it easier for all these people to look the other way, even when he flaunted his predilections. Douglas went so far as to write about how he’d purchased children for sex in his memoir, Looking Back (1933). Very few reviewers took issue with the material, at least until after Douglas’s death, when, freed from the fear of a libel suit, they pointed out how unseemly it was for Douglas to have admitted to such behaviour. The author and former politician Harold Nicolson complained that he was ‘shocked by people who, when past the age of 70, openly avow indulgences which they ought to conceal’. In the eyes of reviewers who wanted to maintain the pretence of active not-knowing, Douglas’s admission might have been a worse crime than the acts themselves, since they implicated the readers by forcing them into a state of knowing.

If Douglas escaped condemnation during his lifetime, he couldn’t escape the assault on his reputation following the intensification of anti-paedophilic sentiment after his death. The shift in public mores during the 1980s towards viewing paedophiles as monsters made it impossible to defend Douglas. He disappeared from literary memory, except as an example of historical villainy – the role he plays in two novels published after the 1980s, Francis King’s The Ant Colony (1991) and Alex Preston’s In Love and War (2014). Most readers would consider that a salutary change and welcome the expulsion of paedophiles from acceptable society. However, the rise of the ‘monster’ discourse doesn’t seem to have made people much more willing to speak out against child sexual abuse in the present.

Looking at the example of Epstein, one can see the same old dynamics of active not-knowing operating among the leadership of the MIT Media Lab (who accepted donations from Epstein) and the scholars who turned a blind eye to his abuse, even after his conviction. The Media Lab didn’t want to lose Epstein’s financial patronage or be shamed by association. Individual scholars might have enjoyed his company (and the company of the girls and young women Epstein surrounded himself with), or they might have wanted funding from him, or feared the consequences to their careers if they spoke out against him. In an even more striking parallel to Douglas, Matzneff wrote and spoke openly about his paedophilia without censure, protected by fellow writers’ and publishers’ unwillingness to disturb the dense network of literary connections in which they all played a role, until one of his victims of abuse, the French publisher Vanessa Springora, broke the silence in 2019.

Is it possible that elevating the paedophile to the status of a monster has in fact, rather than making it easier to speak out against child abuse, made it more imperative for friends, family members and fans to engage in active not-knowing? Who wants to expose someone they love as a monster? More than that, people are inclined to disbelieve tales of extraordinary monstrosity. Who wants to disturb their own situation by making such explosive allegations? The stakes are too high to risk getting it wrong. Maybe it would be easier to counter the problem of child sexual abuse if we were able to acknowledge it as both bad and ordinary. In Douglas’s day, such sex was seen as questionable but mundane. Today, it’s seen as terrible but exceptional. If we could create a world where people agreed that sex between adults and children was not healthy for children, and that many ordinary adults engaged in such behaviour nonetheless, maybe more people would feel empowered to witness and speak out against everyday abuse.

This sort of wilful ignorance that accompanies acceptance is (as I fairly frequently mention) discussed in Daniel Goleman’s interesting book Vital Lies, Simple Truths.

This is also related to what is happening in France, where the acceptability of sexual harassment and rape, particularly by men in positions of power, is losing ground fairly rapidly. See Norimitsu Onishu’s NY Times article “Powerful Men Fall, One After Another, in France’s Delayed #MeToo.” (And the articles to which that report links are worth reading as well.) From the report:

. . . Since the beginning of the year, a series of powerful men from some of France’s most prominent fields — politics, sports, the news media, academia and the arts — have faced direct and public accusations of sexual abuse in a reversal from mostly years of silence. At the same time, confronted with these high-profile cases and a shift in public opinion, French lawmakers are hurrying to set 15 as the age of sexual consent — only three years after rejecting such a law.

The recent accusations have not only led to official investigations, the loss of positions for some men and outright banishment from public life for others. They have also resulted in a rethinking of French masculinity and of the archetype of Frenchmen as irresistible seducers — as part of a broader questioning of many aspects of French society and amid a conservative backlash against ideas on gender, race and postcolonialism supposedly imported from American universities.

. . . Ms. Haas said that France was going through a delayed reaction to #MeToo after a “maturation” period during which many French began to understand the social dimensions behind sexual violence and the concept of consent.

That was especially so, Ms. Haas said, after the testimony in the past year of Adèle Haenel, the first high-profile actress to speak out over abuse, and of Vanessa Springora, whose memoir, “Consent,” documented her abuse by the pedophile writer Gabriel Matzneff.

“The start of 2021 has been a sort of aftershock,” Ms. Haas said. “What’s very clear is that, today in France, we don’t at all have the same reaction that we did four, five years ago to testimonies of sexual violence against well-known people.”

Last month, Pierre Ménès, one of France’s most famous television sports journalists, was suspended indefinitely by his employer after the release of a documentary that exposed sexism in sports journalism, “I’m Not a Slut, I’m a Journalist.”

Just a few years ago, few criticized him for behavior that they now don’t dare defend in public, including forcibly kissing women on the mouth on television and, in front of a studio audience in 2016, lifting the skirt of a female journalist — Marie Portolano, the producer of the documentary.

“The world’s changed, it’s #MeToo, you can’t do anything anymore, you can’t say anything anymore,” Mr. Ménès said in a television interview after the documentary’s release. He said he didn’t remember the skirt incident, adding that he hadn’t been feeling like himself at the time because of a physical illness. . .

There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2021 at 12:12 pm

The case against Shakespeare in secondary schools

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In The Walrus Allan Stratton explains why Shakespeare should have a much smaller role in the secondary school curriculum:

WE’VE CANCELLED six Dr. Seuss titles. Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird appear to be on the block. But, if we’re on a bend to reform our approach to teaching the English language, there are bigger fish to fry. Shakespeare is the curriculum’s Moby Dick. We need a harpoon. More than any other experience, the yearly dissection of Shakespeare turns kids off literature.

I speak as a writer, teacher, and lifelong fan. My mom took me to see Twelfth Night when I was five. It was 1956, the last year that the Stratford Festival performed in a tent; Christopher Plummer played Sir Andrew Aguecheek. I went every year after that, my forehead tingling every time I heard the preshow trumpet fanfare. Before age twelve, I’d read and reread Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare (1807) a million times. And summer jobs variously included festival usher, dresser, and spear carrier.

So, no, I’m not saying Shakespeare should be beached in his entirety. But, at the moment, as Cassius says in Julius Caesar, “He doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus,” taking up a quarter to a third of each year’s high school English course. You’d think no other playwright existed—why, barely another author.

This has serious consequences for what ought to be the primary function of high school study: developing a love of reading that will last a lifetime. This is next to impossible when your major contact with literature is a guy from the 1500s who wrote with a quill in what might as well be a second language. And when your teachers aren’t theatre people who can bring the works from page to stage, for which they were intended and where they shine.

Shakespeare began to be studied in high schools in 1870. The language still required translation, but at least the Victorians were used to long sentences. They were also steeped in the Bible and the Greek and Roman literatures necessary to understand Shakespeare’s allusions. Even in my day, we’d been taught the ancients’ myths.

Today’s students aren’t so much studying Shakespeare as learning to do linguistic and cultural archaeology. Or autopsies. Shakespeare is used for purposes of literary “dissection” and “analysis.” That means spotting metaphors and similes, like those kindergarten puzzle games where you find the bananas hiding in the picture. It’s like pulling the wings off flies to see how they work. Or studying a joke to understand why it’s funny.

Sure, it’s good for students to learn those literary terms and others, like iambic pentameter. General knowledge is useful if you don’t want to look like a dummy; it also helps connect ideas from disparate sources. But the truth is, terms in a subject area matter only for the people in that field. I drive a car, but damned if I can remember the physics that make it run.

Besides, literature doesn’t exist for its symbols and imagery, nor are they the reason authors write. What’s important is character and story and the discussions around the meanings that grow out of them. In that respect, Shakespeare is singularly unfit for purpose. There’s too much baggage.

For purposes of analysis, it would be far better to teach one of his sonnets. For instance, “Sonnet 18”—“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”—is perfect for demonstrating metaphor, symbol, iambic pentameter, and a major, if now rarely used, poetic structure. For those of you with gauzy memories, read those fourteen lines and imagine you’re a teenager today. Bright students will be excited, which is terrific. For those who are lost, it’s an hour, not a month, in the dentist’s chair.

That said, although I think Shakespeare’s plays should be curtailed, students shouldn’t totally miss out. Managing a work is something they can be proud of, and it gives them a taste of one of the finest writers in the language. But I’d save it for their senior year, when they have more under their belts. And I’d present it as performance rather than as text.

I’d start with a film version to get . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2021 at 3:08 pm

A Tale of Two Tongues: English and Esperanto

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Stephanie Tam writes in The Believer:

I. THE ISLANDER 

Ever since Orlando Raola was a boy, he harbored a curiosity that stretched across the seas. Growing up in Havana, Cuba, in the 1960s, he perused the encyclopedia sets of his elementary school and pressed his ear to his shortwave radio to listen to programs on Radio Sweden. Always, he wondered what lay beyond the horizon.

“Having been born on an island, and being an islander by nature, I always had this great curiosity: What is beyond the sea?” Orlando told me. “What is the world out there? I understood early that the only way to communicate with humans is through language, and I was interested in many different cultures.”

Of all the cultures out there, he developed a special fascination with those of the European Nordic countries, compelled by exotic visions of snow-capped mountains and blue-eyed Swedes. In 1981 he joined the Swedish Institute, a public agency devoted to promoting interest in Sweden around the world. Eventually, he decided to learn the language, and the institute shipped him a package containing dictionaries, cassette tapes, reading material, and textbooks.

As he sifted through the contents of the box, he felt overwhelmed. His heart sank as he realized the magnitude of time and effort it would require for him to master Swedish. He would study for years and years—and then what? He would be able to speak to a small sliver of the world. True, he found Swedish culture fascinating. But he was also curious about the cultures of Japan, Hungary, and China.

“Do I have time to learn all of these languages?” he asked himself. “No, there won’t be time.” Sitting amid the piles of books and cassettes, he realized something. What he longed for was not just any language, but a universal language: one that would connect him not just to one people, but to the whole of humanity.

“That day,” he recounted with a slight smile, “that’s the day I became an Esperantist.”

II. THE DREAM OF A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE

The dream of a universal language traces back millennia. One of our oldest stories about the origins of linguistic difference, the tale of Babel, is recounted in Genesis, the first book of the Torah. In it, men seek to build a tower that reaches the heavens: a rebellion of cosmic dimensions. To stop them, God scatters them into many nations and tongues across the earth. At its heart, Babel is an origin story about human miscommunication—language as a symbol for that which divides us. [1]

The history of universal languages tracks what its inventors believed divided humanity throughout the centuries. In the thirteenth century, the Catalan mystic and poet Ramon Llull developed a language that he believed would convert “infidels” to God’s truth. In his book Ars Magna, he designed a system of disks that could be rotated to combine theological concepts and generate 1,680 logical propositions by which the enterprising missionary might transcend linguistic barriers. (His eventual death at the hands of the Saracens suggests that the infidels felt otherwise.)

During the Enlightenment, the German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz also attempted to create a logical language that transcended words. He planned to create a universal language out of symbols and equations that could not only perfectly mirror the mechanics of human intelligence but also calculate new knowledge and resolve disputes, which has led some to believe that his philosophy of mind and language anticipated artificial intelligence. “This language will be the greatest instrument of reason,” he wrote in The Art of Discovery in 1685. “….When there are disputes among persons, we can simply say: Let us calculate, without further ado, and see who is right.”

Each effort to create a language intelligible to the whole of humanity was informed by its creator’s understanding of what could allow or impair communication—conversion, heathenism; rationality, irrationality—and a desire to solve the problems that proliferated among our “natural” languages. In other words, language has always evolved as both a bridge and a barrier.

III. THE OPHTHALMOLOGIST AND THE EDUCATOR

One hundred years before Orlando Raola despaired in front of his box from the Swedish Institute, a young ophthalmologist by the name of Ludovik Lazarus Zamenhof looked with anguish at the rampant anti-Semitism ravaging his hometown of Białystok. Born as a Jew in the Russian Empire in 1859, Zamenhof was acutely aware of the forces that threatened to tear apart the fabric of his society—rising nationalism, ethnic divisions, the formation of nation-states—and that would eventually draw Europe into the first of two world wars.

Zamenhof had grown up believing that all people were part of the same human family, but when he looked around his neighborhood he saw only tribes divided by language. “In Białystok the inhabitants were divided into four distinct elements: Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews; each of these spoke their own language and looked on all the others as enemies,” he recalled. “….the diversity of languages is the first, or at least the most influential, basis for the separation of the human family into groups of enemies.”

In his teens, Zamenhof began work on a language that could serve as a bridge for all cultures. His creation would eventually become known as Esperanto, the world’s most successful “constructed” language. Zamenhof wanted his international language to be easy to learn, so he created a simplified grammar consisting of sixteen rules. There are no gendered nouns—no feminine moon or masculine sun, as is the case in French. Each word ending indicates its part of speech: all adjectives end in a, all nouns in o, all adverbs in e. For instance, Eŭropo (Europe)is the noun; Eŭropa (European)is the adjective. To make a noun plural, one simply adds j to the end of the root; there is also an accusative case, in which words end in n (Eŭropon). That’s about all the rules when it comes to nouns.

Unlike in English, verbs do not change for person or number, and there is only one ending, -as, for verbs in the present indicative: for example, mi estas (I am), vi estas (you are), li/ŝi/ĝi estas (he/she/it is). Verbs do conjugate for present (-as), past (-is), and future (-os) tenses, unlike Chinese and Indonesian, which rely mostly on context. The spelling is phonetic, with each letter corresponding to a single sound—in contrast to many natural languages, which often disappear consonants from words as their pronunciation evolves, like poignant and Worcester in English.

As a universal language, Esperanto was intended to be unaffiliated with any particular nationality or ethnicity. Zamenhof compiled nine hundred root words primarily from Indo-European languages: German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian. These could in turn be used to create new words, in a compound structure similar to those of languages like Chinese and Turkish. The word for steamship, for example, is vaporŝipo = vapor (steam) + ŝip (ship) + (noun ending). In this way, vocabulary can be built up from the base of root words with suffixes and affixes: for instance, the verb manĝi (to eat) + the suffix –aĵo (a thing) = manĝaĵo (food). A truly “neutral” language was beyond this well-intentioned polyglot creator (Zamenhof learned nearly a dozen languages over the course of his life), given his European origins and influences; its phonology is essentially Slavic, and its vocabulary derives primarily from Romance languages. But Zamenhof succeeded in creating a language that was simple to pick up. [2] One study among Francophone children found Esperanto an average of ten times faster to learn than English, Italian, or German.

In 1887, Zamenhof published his language manifesto in a Russian-language pamphlet under the pseudonym DoktoroEsperanto(“Doctor Hopeful”). He referred to his creation simply as the “lingvo internacia” (“international language”). Eventually, though, it came to be known by the name—or, in this case, pseudonym—of its inventor: Esperanto.

Behind Esperanto’s humble linguistic LEGO blocks lay a vast vision. “La interna ideo de Esperanto…,” Zamenhof declared in 1912, “estas: sur neŭtrala lingva fundamento forigi la murojn inter la gentoj…” The core idea of the language was a neutral linguistic foundation to facilitate communication between peoples: in other words, it was intended to create world peace through mutual understanding. The idea was not for Esperanto to supplant natural languages, but to work alongside them as an auxiliary language to bridge nations. The global establishment of this “interna ideo” would be the “fina venko”—the final victory—and the undoing of Babel.

As for Doktoro Esperanto himself, he ceded its evolution to the public, inviting others to take the language into their own hands: “From this day the future of the international language is no longer more in my hands than in the hands of any other friend of this sacred idea. We must now work together in equality… Let us work and hope!”

Even before Zamenhof set to work on Esperanto, the foundation was being laid for a different sort of world language. In 1835, Thomas Babington Macaulay delivered a treatise on Indian education that would have lasting repercussions for the spread of the English language in the British Empire. Macaulay had witnessed the struggles of a small number of British administrators to govern a massive local population. As chairman of the East India Company’s Committee of Public Instruction, he emphasized the need for his fellow colonialists to “form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern—a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.” He supported his argument with glowing praise of the English language and an equally flamboyant savaging of Sanskrit literature:

It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit [sic] language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England. In every branch of physical or moral philosophy, the relative position of the two nations is nearly the same…. The claims of our own language it is hardly necessary to recapitulate. It stands pre-eminent even among the languages of the West.

For Macaulay, the English language was a way to inject Englishness into the minds and hearts of colonial subjects. Like Zamenhof, he had a vision for language, but it was not of bridging ethnic divisions; it was of building empire. In 1820, the Prussian philosopher and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt had articulated a view of language as the activity that shaped an individual’s and a nation’s Weltansichten: “The diversity of languages is not a diversity of sounds and signs but a diversity of the views of the world.” However, this was no diversity of equals. Humboldt, like most of his European contemporaries, believed . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

See also on this page the section “Language Learning with Esperanto” for more information on the language and resources for learning it.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2021 at 10:35 am

“I see no color” is not the goal.

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2021 at 7:11 pm

Bradley University’s Game Design Program Ranks Top 10 in the World Again

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Here’s the report. I’ll mention in passing that The Son is departmental chair.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2021 at 3:41 pm

The nurturing of children: Best practices in parenting

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Having three young grandsons and now a very young nephew, I am sensitive to findings on best how to encourage children to find and develop their strengths — thus my earlier posts: the Atlantic interview of Michaeleen Doucleff (author of Hunt, Gather, Parent) and her NPR article. This morning I came across two more articles, both of which seemed useful. The better of the two is (IMO) Lisa Feldman’s article in CNBC’s Make It. Rather than focus on the goal to be achieved, it lists specific things parents can do (which lead to achieving the goals). It begins:

A child’s brain is not a miniature adult brain. It is a brain born under construction that wires itself to the world. And it’s up to parents to create a world — both physical and social — that is rich with wiring instructions.

Based on years of research in neuroscience and psychology, here are seven parenting rules to help your kid build a brain that is flexible and therefore resilient.

1. Be a gardener, not a carpenter.

Carpenters carve wood into the shape they want. Gardeners help things to grow on their own by cultivating a fertile landscape.

Likewise, parents can sculpt their child into something specific, say, a concert violinist. Or they can provide an environment that encourages healthy growth in whatever direction the child takes.

You might want your kid to play violin in Symphony Hall someday, but forcing them to take lessons (the carpenter approach) might build a virtuoso, or a kid who views music as an unpleasant chore.

The gardener approach would be to sprinkle a variety of musical opportunities around the home and see which ones spark your child’s interest. Do they love to bang on pots and pans? Maybe your child is a budding heavy metal drummer.

Once you understand what kind of plant you’re growing, you can “adjust the soil” for it to take root and flourish.

2. Talk and read to your child. A lot.

Research shows that, even when children are just a few months old and don’t understand the meanings of words, their brains still make use of them.

This builds a neural foundation for later learning. So the more words they hear, the greater the effect. They’ll also have better vocabulary and reading comprehension.

Teaching them “emotion words” (i.e., sad, happy, frustrated) is especially beneficial. The more they know, the more flexibly they can act.

Put this advice into action by elaborating on the feelings of other people. Talk about what causes emotions and how they might affect someone: “See that crying boy? He is feeling pain from falling down and scraping his knee. He is sad and probably wants a hug from his parents.”

Think of yourself as your children’s tour guide through the mysterious world of humans and their movements and sounds.

3. Explain things.

It can be exhausting when . . .

Continue reading.

The second article is by Amy Morin, also in CNBC Make It. In her article, Morin focuses more on the outcome desired, though also offers some means to achieve that.

As a psychotherapist, one of the most common questions parents ask me is: What are the key strengths I should be teaching my kids?

There are several, but the type that will really help them become their best selves and get through life’s toughest challenges is mental strength.

Mental strength requires you to pay attention to three things: the way you think, feel and act. Thinking big, feeling good and acting brave helps us grow our mental muscles. Of course, it takes practice, patience and constant reinforcement to get to a point where you’ll do these things naturally.

But I’ve seen many young people successfully achieve it over time. Here are seven things mentally strong kids always do, and how to help your kids get there if they haven’t already:

1. They empower themselves

If your kid says, “My friend got a higher score on the quiz, which makes me feel bad about myself,” they’re essentially giving someone else power over their emotions.

But kids who feel empowered don’t depend on other people to feel good. They choose, for example, to be in a bright mood even when someone else is having a bad day or tries to take their anger out on them.

Create catchphrases: Work with your kid to come up with phrases that they can repeat to themselves. Use words that show they are in charge of how they think, feel and behave — regardless of how those around them are doing.

This will help drown out the negative voices in their head that try to convince them they lack the potential to succeed. The most effective catchphrases are short and easy to remember:

  • “All I can do is try my best.”
  • “Act confident.”
  • “I’m good enough.”
  • “I choose to be happy today.”

2. They adapt to change

Whether it’s moving to a new school or not being able to play with friends during the pandemic, change is tough. Your kid might miss the way things used to be or worry that what’s happening might make their life worse.

But mentally strong kids understand that change can help them grow into an even stronger person, even though it might not feel that way at first.

Name your emotions: Change feels uncomfortable. But just putting a name to your feelings can lessen the sting of these emotions.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t spend enough time thinking about how we feel. In fact, even as adults, we tend to put more energy into fighting our emotions.

So when your kid is faced with a major change, have them talk elaborately about how they’re feeling. More importantly, help them find — and define — the right words to describe it (e.g., sad, happy, frustrated, nervous, eager).

3. They know when to say no

Everyone struggles to speak up, say no, or express their feelings once in a while. But depending on the situation, choosing not to say yes makes you stronger.

Kids often struggle to say no because . . . [My guess is that she does not have a two-year-old, who in my experience readily and easily say “No.” – LG]

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2021 at 11:15 am

School-lunch decision triggers bedlam in France, including intemperate remarks

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Roger Cohen writes in the NY Times:

Grégory Doucet, the mild-mannered Green party mayor of Lyon, hardly seems a revolutionary. But he has upended France by announcing last month that elementary school lunch menus for 29,000 Lyonnais children would no longer include meat.

An outrage! An ecological diktat that could signal the end of French gastronomy, even French culture! Ministers in President Emmanuel Macron’s government clashed. If Lyon, the city of beef snouts and pigs’ ears, of saucisson and kidneys, could do such a thing, the apocalypse was surely imminent.

“The reaction has been quite astonishing,” Mr. Doucet, 47, said.

He is a slight man whose mischievous mien and goatee give him the air of one of Dumas’s three musketeers. A political neophyte elected last year, he clearly finds it a little ludicrous that he, an apostle of less, should end up with more, sitting beneath a 25-foot ceiling in a cavernous mayor’s office adorned with brocade and busts of his forbears. That tweaking a local school menu has split the nation leaves him incredulous.

“My decision was purely pragmatic,” he insisted, eyes twinkling — a means to speed up lunches in socially distanced times by offering a single menu rather than the traditional choice of two dishes.

Not so, thundered Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister. He tweeted that dropping meat was an “unacceptable insult to French farmers and butchers” that betrays “an elitist and moralist” attitude. Julien Denormandie, the agriculture minister, called the mayor’s embrace of the meatless lunch “shameful from a social point of view” and “aberrational from a nutritional point of view.”

All of which prompted Barbara Pompili, the minister of ecological transition, to speak of the “prehistoric” views, full of “hackneyed clichés,” of these men, in effect calling two of her cabinet colleagues Neanderthals.

This heated exchange over little illustrated several things. Mr. Macron’s government and party, La République en Marche, remain an uneasy marriage of right and left. The rising popularity of the Greens, who run not only Lyon but also Bordeaux and Grenoble, has sharpened a cultural clash between urban environmental crusaders and the defenders of French tradition in the countryside.

Not least, nothing gets the French quite as dyspeptic as disagreement over food.

The mayor, it must be said, made his move in a city with an intense gastronomic tradition. At the Boucherie François on the banks of the Rhône, a centennial establishment, Lyon’s culture of meat is on ample display. The veal liver and kidneys glistened; cuts of roast beef wrapped in pork fat abounded; the heads of yellow and white chickens lolled on a counter; the saucissons, some with pistachio, took every cylindrical form; the pastry-wrapped pâté showed off a core of foie gras; and pigs’ trotters and ears betrayed this city’s carnivorous inclinations.

“The mayor made a mistake,” said François Teixeira, a butcher who has worked at François for 19 years. “This is not good for Lyon’s image.”

Certainly, the mayor’s decision came at a sensitive moment. The right in France has expressed indignation that the country is being force-marched, through politically correct environmental dogmatism, toward a future of bicycles, electric cars, veganism, locavores, negative planet-saving growth and general joylessness — something at a very far cry from stuffing goose livers for personal delectation.

Last year, Pierre Hurmic, the Green party mayor of Bordeaux, touched a nerve when he rejected the city’s traditional Christmas tree because it’s “a dead tree.” Mr. Doucet’s culinary move was part of “an ideological agenda,” the right-wing weekly Valeurs Actuelles proclaimed in a cover story. “The canteens of Lyon were just a pretext.”

Mr. Doucet, who describes himself as a “flexitarian,” or someone who favors vegetables but also eats a little meat, argues that the Education Ministry forced his hand. By doubling social distancing at schools to two meters, or more than six feet, it obliged the mayor to accelerate lunch by offering just one dish.

“There’s a mathematical equation,” he said. “You have the same number of tables, but you have to put fewer children at them, and you can’t start the lunch break at 10 a.m.”

But why nix meat? The mayor, who has a 7-year-old in elementary school, rolled his eyes. “We have not gone to a vegetarian menu! Every day, the children can eat fish or eggs.” Because a significant number of students already did not eat meat, he said, “we just took the lowest common denominator.”

It was not, Mr. Doucet said, an ideological decision, even if he aims over his six-year term to adjust school menus toward “a greater share of vegetable proteins.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2021 at 4:47 pm

Get a degree and live longer.

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 March 2021 at 7:56 pm

Posted in Education, Medical, Science

Tips from neuroscience to keep you focused on hard tasks

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David Badre writes in Nature:

Some of scientists’ most rewarding moments come when we confront a hard problem or a difficult task. Solving a major methodological hurdle, designing an elegant experiment, making sense of a puzzling result, working on a new model or writing a paper or grant proposal are the intellectual challenges that make a career in science so exciting. But doing hard tasks is, in fact, hard. It can frustrate and weigh on us, and cause anxiety and stress. We can struggle to maintain focus on our hard tasks, including the ones we enjoy and eagerly wish to complete. We often postpone work on hard tasks, such as beginning to write a paper or do complex data analysis, in favour of quick wins from easier tasks, like fine-tuning a figure, organizing our calendars or making a dent in our e-mail correspondence.

In late 2020, I published a book, On Task, about the neuroscience of cognitive control: the mental function that allows us to connect our goals and plans with our actions. It is concerned with precisely this problem of how we get things done. It is ironic, therefore, that writing a book about how our brains do tasks was itself a difficult task to do. I enjoyed writing the book, and valued the goal. But there were moments when it was really difficult to find the words to convey a complex idea. And working on the book was never the most immediately urgent task in my day-to-day work, so it was challenging to carve out the time for the writing and thought it required.

You might not be writing a book, but everyone experiences the struggles of difficult tasks. They have been made all the worse with lockdowns, home-schooling and other lifestyle changes due to the pandemic. Everyone experiences bouts of procrastination or work-avoidance, and the guilt that comes with them. There is no avoiding these experiences entirely, but there are some strategies that can help us stay focused.

Make space

To solve hard problems, the brain needs ready access to the information, plans, procedures and knowledge it will be using. Cognitive scientists refer to this collective task knowledge as a task set. However, the task set is not always immediately available: we can’t hold it all active in our limited mental workspace, or ‘working memory’, all the time.

For example, when writing a scientific paper, we must bring to mind lots of information related to the background, logic, design and results of a study. If we have just been at a meeting on a different topic, and then sit down to write the paper, the necessary information might not be in the forefront of our minds. It must be mentally retrieved and organized in our working memory before we can start writing.

In practice, returning to a hard task in this way comes with a ‘restart’ cost: we must spend time and mental effort getting back into our task set, rather than making progress. For this reason, it is important to create time and space for hard tasks.

• Set aside large blocks of time. It is all too easy for working scientists to fill our days with meetings and other small tasks that leave only small gaps for the serious work. Long gaps are needed not only because of the intense thought and work required by hard tasks, but also because we need some time to re-establish our task set. Switching frequently between tasks makes producing quality work harder.

• Be consistent. We should try to reserve a consistent time and place for our hard work and be protective of it. Ideally, we should find this time and place every day. Even if we don’t make progress one day, that time should be spent on our hard task rather than other tasks, even if it’s just reviewing our work. Consistency can aid memory: memory retrieval is context dependent, in that it helps to have the same sights and sounds available when we learn something as when we will try to remember it. Thus, working on a task in the same context repeatedly might aid retrieval and help us to re-establish our task set when we restart.

Minimize distraction and never multitask

When we do two or more tasks at once, either at the same time or switching between them, our performance efficiency and quality will suffer. This happens partly because the tasks use shared cognitive resources, such as working memory. As a result, they will compete for that shared resource and interfere with one another. When doing a hard task, it is important to minimize this interference from multi-tasking.

• Remove cues to other tasks. It helps to put away e-mail and social media and their associated cues. Phone notifications or a badge that tells us how many unread messages we have are distractions that pull us to other tasks. These result in multitasking costs, whether we do the other tasks or not. Even cues that we simply associate with other tasks, such as seeing our phones on the table, can distract us. As much as possible, we should keep our space and time for hard work clear of other distracting tasks.

• Beware the allure of easy tasks. When we decide to perform a task, our brains do a cost–benefit analysis on the fly, weighing the value of the outcome against the projected mental investment required to be successful. As a result, we often avoid hard tasks in favour of smaller, easier tasks, particularly if we aren’t making immediate progress. That will affect our motivation. Sending some e-mails or doing administrative work or straightening up the desk might all be worthwhile tasks and feel productive, but they prevent us doing the task we need to do, while adding multitasking costs.

Engage in good problem-solving habits

To find a solution to a hard problem or perform a hard task, we must structure the problem or task in a way that will allow us to succeed.

For example, . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2021 at 12:13 pm

A Mathematician’s Lament

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A 2002 essay by Paul Lockhart (PDF — the essay was later expanded into a short book):

A musician wakes from a terrible nightmare. In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory. “We are helping our students become more competitive in an increasingly sound-filled world.” Educators, school systems, and the state are put in charge of this vital project. Studies are commissioned, committees are formed, and decisions are made—all without the advice or participation of a single working musician or composer.

Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious black dots and lines must constitute the “language of music.” It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory. Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very advanced topics and are generally put off until college, and more often graduate school.

As for the primary and secondary schools, their mission is to train students to use this language—to jiggle symbols around according to a fixed set of rules: “Music class is where we take out our staff paper, our teacher puts some notes on the board, and we copy them or transpose them into a different key. We have to make sure to get the clefs and key signatures right, and our teacher is very picky about making sure we fill in our quarter-notes completely. One time we had a chromatic scale problem and I did it right, but the teacher gave me no credit because I had the stems pointing the wrong way.”

In their wisdom, educators soon realize that even very young children can be given this kind of musical instruction. In fact it is considered quite shameful if one’s third-grader hasn’t completely memorized his circle of fifths. “I’ll have to get my son a music tutor. He simply won’t apply himself to his music homework. He says it’s boring. He just sits there staring out the window, humming tunes to himself and making up silly songs.”

In the higher grades the pressure is really on. After all, the students must be prepared for the standardized tests and college admissions exams. Students must take courses in Scales and Modes, Meter, Harmony, and Counterpoint. “It’s a lot for them to learn, but later in college when they finally get to hear all this stuff, they’ll really appreciate all the work they did in high school.” Of course, not many students actually go on to concentrate in music, so only a few will ever get to hear the sounds that the black dots represent. Nevertheless, it is important that every member of society be able to recognize a modulation or a fugal passage, regardless of the fact that they will never hear one. “To tell you the truth, most students just aren’t very good at music. They are bored in class, their skills are terrible, and their homework is barely legible. Most of them couldn’t care less about how important music is in today’s world; they just want to take the minimum number of music courses and be done with it. I guess there are just music people and non-music people. I had this one kid, though, man was she sensational! Her sheets were impeccable—every note in the right place, perfect calligraphy, sharps, flats, just beautiful. She’s going to make one hell of a musician someday.”

Waking up in a cold sweat, the musician realizes, gratefully, that it was all just a crazy dream. “Of course!” he reassures himself, “No society would ever reduce such a beautiful and meaningful art form to something so mindless and trivial; no culture could be so cruel to its children as to deprive them of such a natural, satisfying means of human expression. How absurd!”

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, a painter has just awakened from a similar nightmare…

I was surprised to find myself in a regular school classroom—no easels, no tubes of paint. “Oh we don’t actually apply paint until high school,” I was told by the students. “In seventh grade we mostly study colors and applicators.” They showed me a worksheet. On one side were swatches of color with blank spaces next to them. They were told to write in the names. “I like painting,” one of them remarked, “they tell me what to do and I do it. It’s easy!”

After class I spoke with the teacher. “So your students don’t actually do any painting?” I asked. “Well, next year they take Pre-Paint-by-Numbers. That prepares them for the main Paint-by-Numbers sequence in high school. So they’ll get to use what they’ve learned here and apply it to real-life painting situations—dipping the brush into paint, wiping it off, stuff like that. Of course we track our students by ability. The really excellent painters—the ones who know their colors and brushes backwards and forwards—they get to the actual painting a little sooner, and some of them even take the Advanced Placement classes for college credit. But mostly we’re just trying to give these kids a good foundation in what painting is all about, so when they get out there in the real world and paint their kitchen they don’t make a total mess of it.”

“Um, these high school classes you mentioned…”

“You mean Paint-by-Numbers? We’re seeing much higher enrollments lately. I think it’s mostly coming from parents wanting to make sure their kid gets into a good college. Nothing looks better than Advanced Paint-by-Numbers on a high school transcript.”
“Why do colleges care if you can fill in numbered regions with the corresponding color?”

“Oh, well, you know, it shows clear-headed logical thinking. And of course if a student is planning to major in one of the visual sciences, like fashion or interior decorating, then it’s really a good idea to get your painting requirements out of the way in high school.”

“I see. And when do students get to paint freely, on a blank canvas?”

“You sound like one of my professors! They were always going on about expressing yourself and your feelings and things like that—really way-out-there abstract stuff. I’ve got a degree in Painting myself, but I’ve never really worked much with blank canvasses. I just use the Paint-by-Numbers kits supplied by the school board.”
Sadly, our present system of mathematics education is precisely this kind of nightmare. In fact, if I had to design a mechanism for the express purpose of destroying a child’s natural curiosity and love of pattern-making, I couldn’t possibly do as good a job as is currently being done—I simply wouldn’t have the imagination to come up with the kind of senseless, soul- crushing ideas that constitute contemporary mathematics education.

Everyone knows that something is wrong. The politicians say, “we need higher standards.” The schools say, “we need more money and equipment.” Educators say one thing, and teachers say another. They are all wrong. The only people who understand what is going on are the ones most often blamed and least often heard: the students. They say, “math class is stupid and boring,” and they are right.

Mathematics and Culture

The first thing to understand is that mathematics is an art. The difference between math and the other arts, such as music and painting, is that our culture does not recognize it as such. Everyone understands that poets, painters, and musicians create works of art, and are expressing themselves in word, image, and sound. In fact, our society is rather generous when it comes to creative expression; architects, chefs, and even television directors are considered to be working artists. So why not mathematicians?

Part of the problem is that nobody has . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2021 at 6:59 pm

Are We Raising Unhelpful, Bossy Kids? Here’s The Fix

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NPR has an article by Michaeleen Doucleff, who wrote Hunt, Gather, Parent. The article begins:

It was a simple experiment. Lucia Alcala, a psychologist, built a tiny model grocery store with aisles and different items that she could put on a family’s dining room table.

She and her colleagues brought the model store to 43 family’s homes along California’s Central Coast. Each family had a pair of siblings, ages 6 to 10.

She gave the siblings clear instructions: Find an efficient route through the store to pick up a list of grocery items and — this was made clear — “work together, collaborate and help each other,” says Alcala at California State University, Fullerton. “We gave them very specific instructions.”

Alcala and her colleagues logged what happened. Did the siblings help each other? Did they boss each other around? Did the older ones exclude the younger ones from the task?

For decades, scientists have documented a surprising phenomenon: In many cultures around the world, parents don’t struggle to raise helpful, kind kids. From ages 2 to 18, kids want to help their families. They wake up in the morning and voluntarily do the dishes. They hop off their bikes to help their dad carry groceries into the house. And when somebody hands them a muffin, they share it with a younger sibling before taking a bite themselves.

You can find kids like this in a huge range of cultures, scientists have documented: from hunter-gatherers in the Arctic to farmers in the Andes, from pastoralists in Kenya’s savanna to fisherfolk in the Philippines.

For the past four years, I’ve been on a mission to learn why. What are these parents doing to instill such helpfulness in their kids? I describe what I found in my new book Hunt, Gather, Parent. While researching for the book, I traveled to three of the world’s most revered cultures — the Maya, Inuit and Hadzabe — and talked with moms, dads, grandpas, grandmas, great-grandmas and grandpas about parenting. I also brought along my toddler, Rosy, so the parents could see just what I was up against.

When I returned home, I read more than a hundred studies on the topic. I realized there are two key practices that parents, all around the world, use to teach children to be helpful and cooperative. And yet many American parents (including the one writing this essay) often do just the opposite — a point Alcala and her colleagues have documented in several studies.

Key Practice #1: To Scramble Or Not To Scramble?

Say, for example, you’re scrambling eggs in the morning and your 4-year-old hops up on a stool and grabs the spatula from your hands. What do you do?

How you respond to a very young child who shows interest in helping is key to whether or not that child grows into a 12-year-old who wants to help around the house, or (and this will sound familiar to many of us) a kid who rolls their eyes when you ask, according to Alcala.

In several studies she conducted, many moms told Alcala that they don’t let young children and toddlers help around the house.

“What they say is that, ‘I know she’s not going to do a competent job, and she’s going to create more work for me,'” Alcala says. “So the parents exclude the child from helping because they’re not competent yet.” (That’s exactly what I was doing with Rosy.)

But Alcala and other psychologists say this shooing away — or excluding kids from helping — can have negative consequences. Over time, it may erode a child’s motivation to help and possibly extinguish their desire to cooperate.

That’s exactly what Alcala observed in the experiment with the model grocery store. Some of the older siblings excluded the younger ones while planning the route through the store. When the younger child suggested an idea or pointed to a grocery item, the older sibling shooed them away or even ignored them.

With one pair of siblings, a little brother tried to point to a grocery item, and his older brother literally pushed his hand out of the way (something I have actually done when my little girl has tried to help me in the kitchen). “The older brother completely ignored his little brother,” Alcala says. “He never acknowledges anything.”

Being excluded, ignored or even pushed away discouraged the younger children from helping, Alcala and her colleagues reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“After a younger sibling tried for a while, they kind of lost interest,” she says. “So in one case, the younger sibling just went under the table and kind of gave up. In another case, he went away and didn’t want to continue because there was no room for him to be part of the task.”

On the flipside, when the older sibling included the younger sibling — either by using their ideas or simply acknowledging the ideas — the younger child became more engaged in the task. The siblings began to cooperate, paid attention to what each was trying to accomplish and then built off each others’ ideas.

Alcala and other psychologists think a similar phenomenon happens when young kids try to help their parents. They start off with a great desire to work together with their family — to cooperate and work as a team. If parents purposefully do chores while the child is not there, tell the child to go play or watch TV, or overly manage the activity with many instructions and corrections, young children lose interest— not just in the chores but in helping their parents. At the same time, kids miss out on opportunities to learn how to collaborate and work together with their siblings and parents.

But in cultures that raise helpful children, parents welcome young children and toddlers into family chores and work — even if the child will make a bit of a mess or slow down the work. Anthropologist David Lancy documented this for decades.

In other words, if your 4-year-old grabs the spatula from your hand while you’re scrambling eggs, you could interpret that grabbiness as your child wanting to help. Your child just doesn’t know the best way to do it. And so you need to find a way to include them in the task.

How does a parent let a clumsy toddler help with a task they can’t actually do yet — especially a task that may be too dangerous for them?

They use the second key practice when teaching cooperativity.

Key Practice #2: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more. It occurs to me that the book would be a great gift for a new parent.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 March 2021 at 12:51 pm

Teaching Machiavelli through his letters

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Ex Urbe is a most interesting blog, wiith lengthy and scholarly posts. I pointed out one in a post last July (“Black Death, COVID, and Why We Keep Telling the Myth of a Renaissance Golden Age and Bad Middle Ages“). This is post is a recent one on Machiavelli, but note that there is a series of Machiavelli posts that begins with “Machiavelli I – S.P.Q.F. (Begins Machiavelli Series),” so if this post whets your interest, you may want to begin the series at the beginning.

The blog is the work of Ada Palmer. From the About page of the blog:

I am Ada Palmer, an historian, novelist, and composer, and a professor in the History Department at the University of Chicago.  (Contact by e-mail)  I study heterodoxy, heresy, freethought, censorship and information control, the recovery of classical thought after the Middle Ages, its impact on science, religion and atheism, and the history of the book and printing. My focus on the Renaissance frequently takes me to Rome, Florence and around Europe.  I often do research at rare books libraries like the Vatican.  My first academic book Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance treats the recovery of classical atomist physics in the 15th and 16th centuries how humanist reading practices protected and disseminated radical science (see it on Amazon).

I also write science fiction and fantasy.  My first novel . . .

Continue reading.

In this post,  Palmer describes an approach to Machiavelli:

Why I Teach Machiavelli Through His Letters
(excerpt from a lecture transcript, so this is how I explain this to students too)

Teaching Machiavelli through his letters is a separate thing from being an historian accessing Machiavelli through his letters. One of the reasons that I love teaching Machiavelli through his letters is that you get a very different view of the person from letters. You get unimportant details. You get the things that the person cared about that week, as opposed to the things that the person wanted to be discussed by many people in the context of that person’s name for a long time. You do get the serious political thought, but you get it mixed with “Where is my salary?” “Hello my friend,” “Here’s the party I was at,” “I have a cold,” all of these very human elements that don’t come to us when we just read a thesis.

Thanks to interdisciplinarity, both at University of Chicago and elsewhere, I move from department to department a lot–I spend some of my time with historians, and some with classicists, political science people, Italian literature or English literature people, and with philosophy people. Each of these disciplines has a different way of approaching text, but many of them approach the text perhaps not with the formal philosophical attitude of “death of the author, we care only about the text,” but all the same with the effective attitude of “we try to learn about this author only through the text,” and only through the formal polished text, the treatise.

When I’m trying to unpack not only Machiavelli but history in general to my students, it’s very easy for the history to seem like a sequence of marble busts on pedestals who handed us great books. It’s much harder to get at the fact that those people are also people who are like us: people who messed up, people who ran out of money, people who had anxieties, people who failed in things that they undertook. People who had friends, people who were nervous without their friends, and lonely. And that isn’t a version of history that we get shown very often. We get shown heroes, we get shown villains, and we get shown geniuses, as if there isn’t a person present as well. Machiavelli is a very valuable example, because we have such a great corpus of letters, but he’s also such a name. If you want to make a shortlist of people who are a marble bust on a pedestal in the way that they’re presented as we talk about the history of thought, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Cicero, Machiavelli, are major major figures in that way. So the letters humanize them and make them real.

I feel it’s important not to approach these works as if these people are somehow superhumanly excellent, as if these people are somehow perfect in what they undertake. I’ll often be at a conference where someone will talk about a passage in a work in isolation. I was recently at the Renaissance Society of America conference, and there was an interesting discussion of a passage in which Ficino had a really weird interpretation of this one passage of Lucretius. And there was a very nasty fight between two scholars over the interpretation, in which one of the scholars insisted he’s making this complicated subtle three-part reading of a thing that relates to another thing, diagram diagram diagram. The other person said “I think he translated the passage wrong. Because the passage was really hard. And his copy didn’t have a very clear script. And I think he didn’t read the sentence the way we read the sentence.” And the first person was adamant that it is inappropriate to question whether someone like Ficino might have had trouble reading a piece of Latin, that of course his Latin is immaculately better than our Latin. And his Latin was better than our Latin, because he spent more of his life doing it and I do believe he’s better than most classicists at this — but most classicists really struggle with that line. And when you read the commentaries on it there’s lots of ambiguity even now about what it means, and we have dictionaries, which he did not.

It was very interesting to me to see that battle between thinking of the figure as human, in which the question “Did he mess up?” is a valid question, as opposed to thinking of the person as someone who could never mess up. And a lot of the ways we approach historical figures, whether it’s Machiavelli, or Aristotle, or anyone, involve the idea that all of their works are fully intended, that they’re somehow in an a-temporal vacuum, that we should look at them all in sequence, that no one is ever going to change his mind about a thing unless the person themselves made changing their mind about a thing be a big deal. We create this idea of these geniuses where everything they wrote even from early on is exactly what they meant, which then all gets incorporated into material.

I want my students to come away from my courses not thinking about historical figures like that, but remembering that every historical figure had to pay for socks, or had to deal with laundry, or have a servant who dealt with laundry for them and then they had to deal with the servant. But they all had everyday practical existences, and they all mess up. Machiavelli’s letters give you access to somebody who feels like a real human being. Some of the things he’s doing are really weird. Some of the things he’s doing involve bizarre sexuality. Some of the things he’s doing involve uncomfortable politics. Some of the things he’s doing involve very astute politics. Some of them involve very terrifying moments like his wife saying: “I’m so glad you’re alive, we heard that Cesare Borgia massacred all of his people, I’m so glad you’re alive!” And others are very much “We’re trying to get my brother a job and no one will give him a job because it was corruptly given to the other person and we have to figure out how to get my brother a job,” which is not the sort of thing we imagine such people giving their hours to.

When you read Michelangelo’s autobiography there’s an interesting point in it where he stops talking about art for a while and starts talking about the lawsuit that went on between him and people associated with Giuliano della Rovere because he was contracted to build Giuliano della Rovere’s tomb, but then for a variety of complicated reasons the tomb did not materialise as it was supposed to have, largely because the plan for the tomb was the most insane ridiculous over-the-top impossible tomb that you could ever possibly conceive of. That was obviously never going to happen. But also there were lots of fights between him and della Rovere over who had to pay for the marble and whether the marble was delivered and he said the marble was delivered and Della Rovere said the marble wasn’t delivered and there was a crack in it… and all these lawsuits went back and forth, and also Guiliano della Rovere was starting a giant war and invading Ferrara. At one point Michelangelo ran away from Rome saying “I’m not going to work on this stupid tomb any more” and went to Florence, and then Giuliano della Rovere moved an army over to besiege Florence and started threatening them “Florence! I will besiege you and burn you down unless you give me back Michelangelo!” We have these great documents where Michelangelo is begging Signoria “Please don’t make me go back to Della Rovere! I hate him and he just torments me. I’ll build you really good defensive walls! Look at my engineering ideas for how to improve the walls!” and they had to say “No, I’m sorry Michelangelo, we’re not going to war with the Battle Pope just for you, go back to Rome, build the stupid thing.” And he did go back to Rome, and then Della Rovere made him paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling knowing Michelangelo hated painting, basically as punishment for trying to run away. I’m not exaggerating. And that’s why there are lots of angry figures in the Sistine Chapel ceiling. But the wonderful horrible flirtatious strange antagonism between Michelangelo and Giuliano della Rovere is magnificent.

And in his autobiography he’s talking about this lawsuit that arose because of the della Rovere tomb project, in great detail, and then there’s a line that says Michelangelo realized that, while dealing with a bunch of lawsuits and Pope Adrian and such, he’d been so stressed he hadn’t picked up a chisel in four years. Because he spent the entire time just dealing with the lawsuit. (Anyone feeling guilty about being overwhelmed by stress this year, you’re not alone!) And we have. . .

Continue reading.

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2021 at 4:55 pm

Incompetence and Doomsday

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A reader pointed out this piece by Claire Berlinski in a comment (thanks, Damon), and I’m glad he did. It begins:

That was an edifying spectacle in Iowa, wasn’t it. David French wrote something I’ve been meaning to write for quite some time. There has been a broad breakdown in competence in the United States. No one quite understands why. But as he points out, American history, roughly since the turn of the century, has been a history of staggering incompetence, as an exercise in counterfactual imagination suggests:

What are the ripple effects if Palm Beach County election officials designed a less-confusing ballot for the 2000 election? How does America change if our intelligence agencies were more accurate in their assessment of Saddam Hussein’s chemical and nuclear weapons programs? Or, if we still failed on that front, how is our nation different if military and civilian leaders had not made profound mistakes at the start of the Iraq occupation?

We can do this all day. Let’s suppose for a moment that industry experts were better able to gauge the risks of an expanding number of subprime mortgage loans. . Would we be more trusting of government if it could properly launch a health care website, the most public-facing aspect of the most significant social reform in a generation? How can we accurately judge foreign threats if ISIS is dubbed a “jayvee team” the very year that it explodes upon the world stage and creates the largest jihadist state in modern history?

The United States was once known for extraordinary competence. Consider the D-Day invasion, the Manhattan Project, the Berlin Airlift, the moon landing: In example after example, the United States government—not the private sector, note—mobilized vast talent to overcome historically unprecedented military, economic, technological, and governance challenges. So widely-known was our government for competence that to this day, we’re the object of conspiracy theories worldwide. Whatever we do, however dumb and cack-handed, is presumed to be deliberate, because so mighty a superpower as the United States could not possibly be capable of screwing up in such stupid ways. Just yesterday I was assured that the CIA had unleashed the Wuhan coronavirus—cui bono, after all? How could I be so naive as to think it a mere coincidence that the virus just spontaneously emerged near a virus research facility?

This kind of thinking owes much to the belief that the United States’ government is greatly more competent than it is. That belief, in turn, is a function of our competence of yore. Nothing we’ve done in this century would warrant it.

The loss of competence is bipartisan. The GOP is gloating over the Iowa meltdown. They would, but they shouldn’t. The worst American mistakes of this century were made under the GOP’s watch. I don’t think this is significant, though. They could just as easily have been made with Democrats in power. As usual, partisanship is preventing us from thinking about problems that are bipartisan, national, and systemic.

What exactly has gone wrong?

The Software of American Public Problem Solving

The historian Philip Zelikow wrote one of the best analyses of this problem I’ve read—the best, in fact—in a little-remarked essay for the Texas National Security Review. “The “hardware” of policymaking,” he writes, “—the tools and structures of government that frame the possibilities for useful work”—are obviously important:

Less obvious is that policy performance in practice often rests more on the “software” of public problem-solving: the way people size up problems, design actions, and implement policy. In other words, the quality of the policymaking.

“Software,” he argues, includes organizational cultures for obtaining and evaluating information, doing analysis, and recording what has been done. It includes commonly understood habits that routinely highlight gaps in information or analysis.

These are the qualities, he argues, that made for competent policy in the mid-twentieth century—and they neither came out of the academy nor did they return to the academy. Rather, they came from the strong, decentralized problem-solving culture of American business, and from the military—in turn influenced by British staffing systems, which Americans envied and imitated.

the wartime and immediate postwar experience profoundly influenced organizational culture for another generation or so. A great many Americans had been drawn into the work of higher-level policy design on numerous topics. “One analyst referred to [the war] as the largest program in postdoctoral education for faculty in the nation’s history.”

The military and business cultures of the United States in this period, he notes, “were intensely oriented toward practical problem-solving.”

They emphasized meticulous written staff work: unending flows of information and estimates, habitual preparation of meeting records or minutes, constant and focused debates about priorities and tradeoffs, and guidance directives drafted with concise precision that a lawyer would envy.

The result, especially by 1943 and afterward, was marked in dozens of projects from the atom bomb to the Marshall Plan to the Berlin Airlift. Any close study of such efforts reveals superior construction of large-scale, complex multi-instrument policy packages, including frequent adjustments.

The point about constant adjustment and iteration is notable. Even in military technology, most of the key Allied innovations turned out to be second-generation innovations. In other words, they were not the airplanes or ships that were available or in production at the start of the war. Instead, they were new or improved models of every kind, several of which had not even been imagined before the war. They were developed with agility and on a massive scale by a number of agencies and scores of companies in response to ongoing lessons learned, lessons that were constantly, consciously being extracted and studied.

It is difficult for those who have not pored through the archives to appreciate the scale and scope of this work, ranging from economic statecraft to amphibious operations to science policy. The extraordinary sets of official history volumes from World War II, familiar to historians of the period, give a sense for the work. They are also a striking illustration of the organizational culture that would produce such meticulous and admirable historical analyses.

The organizational culture that accomplished so much during the war was passed along mainly through imitation and apprenticeship. But the best practices did not migrate into standardized training or academic degree programs. [my emphasis]

Naturally, as that generation aged and died, these skills atrophied. That generation knew a great deal about making effective policy. They could not figure out how to teach it to the next generation. They failed to put into place an appropriate educational system for training an equally competent policy-making class.

This is a powerful explanation. It fits the facts. It makes intuitive sense.

It explains, too, something else that has always puzzled me. Whenever  . . .

Continue reading. Damon provided a separate link to the piece from which Berlinski quotes extensively: “To Regain Policy Competence: The Software of American Public Problem-Solving,” by Philip Zelikow in the Texas National Security Review. (One hopes that a number of people in Texas will pay attention to his article following the catastrophic failure of the Texas power grid from problems repeatedly pointed out to the utility companies, the Texas government, and ERCOT (Electric “Reliability” Council of Texas).

The piece is about incompetence in government, but the private sector has proved equally if not more incompetent and with less reason: the mania for cutting taxes (the government’s only source of operating funds) have left the government grievously underfunded to carry out its tasks and responsibilities, to the point where the USDA has asked meat producers to take over the inspection of meat (can anyone detect the conflict of interest there), the FAA had Boeing do its own inspections and review in aircraft construction (do you recall the 737 MAX disasters (plural)?), the FDA is having pharmaceutical companies inspect their own products, and the IRS is too short-staffed to do any complex audits, so tax cheating is probably endemic now among those whose returns are complex. (Simple tax returns, like those filed by the lower middle class, are easy to audit, so they continue to be audited.) Worse, because the IRS is short-staffed and underfunded, it no longer does random audits, which provide statistical knowledge of how much tax cheating is being done and by what means.

In private industry, we have seen General Motors fail at building and selling cars, Wall Street fail spectacularly, bringing down the national economy through subprime mortgages and credit default swaps (and suddenly seeing that government assistance is a good thing), Purdue Pharma wrecking lives across the country.

In the private sector the root cause seems to me to be hypercapitalism, in which the sole goal is to increase profits, which leads to cutting costs and cutting corners. The shoddy results inevitably inch toward failure. That is the attitude that destroyed the Texas power grid, and that is the attitude that slashes taxes to underfund government so government services suffer.

And the root of that is manic individualism, the idea that a person is independent of community and so long as s/he gets what s/he wants, the rest can go to hell. Until individuals regain a sense of being a part of a community — not just an interest group — I doubt the situation will improve.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2021 at 12:34 pm

How a ‘beginners’ mindset’ can help you learn anything

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David Robson writes for BBC:

Tom Vanderbilt’s fascination with the process of life-long learning began with his daughter’s hobbies: piano, soccer, Tae Kwon Do. He wanted to encourage her new pursuits, and accompanied her to the lessons or tournaments. As she exercised her mind, he would answer emails, play with his phone or stare into space until his daughter had finished.

He soon recognised the hypocrisy of the situation. “I was impressing upon her the importance of having a broad education in all these different skills,” he says. “But she might have easily asked me, ‘Well, why don’t you do all these things then?’”

Starting with chess lessons, he decided to spend a year pursuing a range of new skills himself. He learnt to sing, draw, juggle and surf. At no point did he hope to fully master the abilities or to show off his prowess with an extraordinary feat, such as winning American Idol.

“As adults, we instantly put pressure on ourselves with goals,” he says. “We feel like we don’t have the luxury to engage in learning for learning’s sake.” Instead, he wanted to revel in the pleasure of the process.  [I generally do have a modest goal — e.g.,  to be the best on the block at doing x. – LG]

Vanderbilt details his journey in his January 2021 book Beginners, which combines his own personal revelations with the cutting-edge science of skill acquisition. Keen to find out more, we discussed the myths of adult learning, and the substantial benefits that the “beginner’s mindset” can bring to our lives.

How to learn well

Beginning the project in his late 40s, Vanderbilt knew that he would struggle to match the learning abilities of children like his daughter. Children are especially good at picking up patterns implicitly – understanding that certain actions will lead to certain kinds of events, without any explanation or description of what they are doing. After the age of 12, however, we lose some of that capacity to absorb new information.

We shouldn’t be too pessimistic about our own abilities, though. While adults may not absorb new skills as readily as a child, we still have “neuroplasticity” – the ability for the brain to rewire itself in response to new challenges. In his year of learning, Vanderbilt met many people, long past middle age, who were still exercising that “superpower”.

What’s more, Vanderbilt’s research revealed some basic principles of good learning that anyone can use to make our learning more effective. The first may seem obvious but is easily forgotten: we need to learn from our mistakes. So, rather than just mindlessly repeating the same actions over and over, we need to be more focused and analytical, thinking about what we did right and what we did wrong. (Psychologists call this “deliberate practice”.) Vanderbilt noted this with chess playing. You could put in the hours with hundreds of online games, but that was not going to be as effective as studying the strategies of professionals or discussing the reasons for your losses with a chess teacher.

A second principle is more counter-intuitive: we need to make sure that our practice is varied. When juggling, for example, it helped to switch the objects, or to change how high you throw them; he tried it sitting down, and while walking. As one scientist told Vanderbilt, this is “repetition without repetition” and it forces the brain’s learned patterns to become more flexible, allowing you to cope with the unpredictable difficulties – such as a mistake in one of your earlier movements that could lead you to lose control.

Even more intriguingly, Vanderbilt discovered that we often learn best when we know that we will have to teach others the same skill. It’s not clear why this is, but that expectation seems to increase people’s interest and curiosity, which primes the brain’s attention and helps ensure that it lays down stronger memory traces. (Vanderbilt had lots of opportunities to teach what he had learnt, since he often included his daughter in his projects.) So, whatever you are personally trying to master, consider sharing that skill with someone you know. And while you may find it helpful to observe true experts executing a skill, Vanderbilt found that it can also be useful to watch other novices, since you can more easily analyse what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong.

With this knowledge, Vanderbilt made good progress with each of the skills that he set out to learn. Singing, he says,

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.

At the end are the credits:

Tom Vanderbilt’s book Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning (Atlantic Books/Knopf) was published in January. 

David Robson is the is author of The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things (Hodder & Stoughton/WW Norton) – out now in paperback. He is @d_a_robson on Twitter.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2021 at 11:57 am

How to be an Atheist in Medieval Europe

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While it’s unlikely that you will encounter that situation, the lecture itself is quite interesting. For one thing, it shows how cultural memes tend to remain inchoate until the currents of cultural evolution move them into a definite shape/voice/role. Moreover, this is one of a collection of interesting lectures from Gresham College, which has offered free public lectures for over 400 years. From Wikipedia:

Gresham College is an institution of higher learning located at Barnard’s Inn Hall off Holborn in Central LondonEngland. It does not enroll students or award degrees. It was founded in 1597 under the will of Sir Thomas Gresham, and hosts over 140 free public lectures every year. Since 2001, all lectures have also been made available online. . .

The seven original Gresham College Professorships that date back to the origins of the college are as follows:

Astronomy  
Divinity  
Geometry 
Law
Music  
Physic 
Rhetoric 

These original endowed chairs reflect the curriculum of a medieval university (the trivium and quadrivium); but as a place for the public and frequent voicing of new ideas, the college played an important role in the Enlightenment and in the formation of the Royal Society. Early distinguished Gresham College professors included Christopher Wren, who lectured on astronomy in the 17th century and Robert Hooke, who was Professor of Geometry from 1665 until 1704.[6]

The professors received £50 a year, and the terms of their position were very precise, for example:

The geometrician is to read as followeth, every Trinity term arithmetique, in Michaelmas and Hilary terms theoretical geometry, in Easter term practical geometry. The astronomy reader is to read in his solemn lectures, first the principles of the sphere, and the theory of the planets, and the use of the astrolabe and the staff, and other common instruments for the capacity of mariners.[7]

Today three further Professorships have been added to take account of areas not otherwise covered by the original Professorships:

Commerce, established in 1985.[8]
Environment, established in 2014.[9]
Information Technology, established in 2015.[10]

The great seal of my alma mater, St. John’s College, Annapolis MD, shows seven books, which represent the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic — the language arts) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music — the mathematical arts), along with a balance (representing the sciences), with the device “Facio liberos ex liberis libris libraque.” (“I make free men from children by means of books and a balance,” though in fact the college has been co-ed since 1951.) The curriculum (which has no electives) centers on those disciplines, which students learn through reading closely and discussing the canonical works of the Western canon. (“Reading closely” becomes “listening thoughtfully” in the case of music, drama, the weekly Friday night lecture, and of course in the discussions.)

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2021 at 10:21 am

Arkansas School District Goes Solar, Boosts Teacher Pay

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A Batesville School District rooftop solar array. Entegrity

Diana Madson reports in EcoWatch:

In Batesville, Arkansas, teachers are getting raises – thanks, in part, to solar power.

Megan Renihan is communications coordinator for the Batesville School District. She says that four years ago, teacher salaries were below average for the state, and lower than other districts in the county.

“In order to attract and retain our staff, we wanted to increase the pay,” she says.

So the district started looking for ways to cut costs.

At the time, it was spending more than half a million dollars a year on utilities. To reduce its energy costs, the district installed thousands of LED lights, replaced windows and HVAC units, sealed leaks, and improved building insulation.

And it installed almost 1,500 solar panels that now generate about half of the district’s electricity.

“We were the first school district in the state of Arkansas to invest in solar panels,” Renihan says.

Together, the solar power and energy efficiency improvements are saving the district more than $300,000 a year. Along with other cost-cutting measures and state funding, those savings have helped raise teacher pay across the district.

“And that money is going to continue to go back into our teachers’ salaries. That’s the whole goal,” Renihan says. “We want to be the best in the area for teachers, because that means that our kids are getting the best.”

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2021 at 11:17 am

Here’s How Everyone In the Country Saved Democracy

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Kevin Drum has a good post on an article in Time magazine (and the article also is worth reading):

Molly Ball wrote a deeply reported piece in Time last week about the campaign to prevent Donald Trump from trying to steal the election. Her main character is Mike Podhorzer, a senior adviser to the president of the AFL-CIO, who figured out a year ahead of time that Trump was likely to yell fraud if the 2020 election was even remotely close. A few months later he was ready to put a counter-offensive in place:

On March 3, Podhorzer drafted a three-page confidential memo titled “Threats to the 2020 Election.” “Trump has made it clear that this will not be a fair election, and that he will reject anything but his own re-election as ‘fake’ and rigged,” he wrote. “On Nov. 3, should the media report otherwise, he will use the right-wing information system to establish his narrative and incite his supporters to protest.”

….In April, Podhorzer began hosting a weekly 2½-hour Zoom….The meetings became the galactic center for a constellation of operatives across the left who shared overlapping goals but didn’t usually work in concert…. “Pod played a critical behind-the-scenes role in keeping different pieces of the movement infrastructure in communication and aligned,” says Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party. “You have the litigation space, the organizing space, the political people just focused on the W, and their strategies aren’t always aligned. He allowed this ecosystem to work together.”

This is a good read all by itself, but the really important stuff comes later. Apologies for the length of the following excerpt, but I promise I have a point to make:

Laura Quinn, a veteran progressive operative who co-founded Catalist, began studying [online disinformation] a few years ago…. The solution, she concluded, was to pressure platforms to enforce their rules, both by removing content or accounts that spread disinformation and by more aggressively policing it in the first place…. In November 2019, Mark Zuckerberg invited nine civil rights leaders to dinner at his home…. “It took pushing, urging, conversations, brainstorming, all of that to get to a place where we ended up with more rigorous rules and enforcement,” says Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, who attended the dinner and also met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and others.

….Beyond battling bad information, there was a need to explain a rapidly changing election process…. Dick Gephardt, the Democratic former House leader turned high-powered lobbyist…worked his contacts in the private sector to put $20 million behind the effort.

….About a week before Election Day, Podhorzer received an unexpected message: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wanted to talk…. “With tensions running high, there was a lot of concern about unrest around the election, or a breakdown in our normal way we handle contentious elections,” says Neil Bradley, the Chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer. These worries had led the Chamber to release a pre-election statement with the Business Roundtable, a Washington-based CEOs’ group, as well as associations of manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers, calling for patience and confidence as votes were counted.

But Bradley wanted to send a broader, more bipartisan message…. Agreeing that their unlikely alliance would be powerful, they began to discuss a joint statement….As it was being finalized, Christian leaders signaled their interest in joining, further broadening its reach. The statement was released on Election Day, under the names of Chamber CEO Thomas Donohue, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, and the heads of the National Association of Evangelicals and the National African American Clergy Network.

There’s more, and Ball could have added that once the Trump disinformation campaign went into full swing after the election, every single person in charge of counting votes—county clerks, attorneys general, secretaries of state—opposed Trump’s effort. The same goes for judges in the several dozen lawsuits Trump launched. He lost them all, regardless of whether the judge had been appointed by a Democratic or Republican president.

Now, the normal takeaway from Ball’s piece is shock and dismay that it took a fight of this magnitude to overcome Trump’s anti-democracy jihad. But I take something different away: If you . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 February 2021 at 11:50 am

Cute commentary on teaching

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2021 at 4:33 pm

Posted in Education, Math, Video

New free ebooks from Standard Ebooks, in all ebook-reader formats

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“New” in the sense that they are newly available from Standard Ebooks. If they don’t have the format you want, you can download the book from StandardEbooks.org, add it to your ebook library in Calibre (a free app), convert the format, and the load it from Calibre to your device.

Here are all their ebooks sorted in order they published them, newest first. Let me point out a few titles:

For those watching Lupin on Netflix, Standard Eblooks has Maurice Leblanc’s Lupin series in translation.

If you read aloud to children, I highly recommend The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. And note:

When should you stop reading to your child? It isn’t until around the age of 13 that reading and listening skills level out. So, if you continue to read aloud books which are above your pre-teen’s reading level, the benefits are the same as reading to them when they’re little.

That’s from this post.

As I’ve mentioned, Rafael Sabatini’s Scaramouche is a great favorite of mine.

If you’re a reader, this is a (free) treasure trove.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2021 at 5:53 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

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