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The seemingly unassailable rise of the MOOC – the Massive Open On-Line Course – has many universities worried. Offering access to millions of potential students, it seems like the solution to so many of the problems that beset higher education. Fees are low, or even non-existent; anyone can sign up; staff time is strictly limited as even grading is done by peers or automated multiple-choice questionnaires. In an era of ever-rising tuition fees and of concerns about the barriers that stop the less well-off from applying to good universities, the MOOC can seem like a panacea.
The 20th century has been called ‘the century of psychiatry’, and in many ways one could read that as ‘the century of psychotherapy’. A hundred years ago, at the onset of World War I, psychotherapy had touched the lives of only a tiny number of people, and most of the population had simply never heard of it. Since then it has reached into almost every aspect of our lives—how we treat the mentally ill, how we understand our relationships, our appreciation of art and artists, and even how we manage our schools, prisons, and workplaces.
Between the measles outbreak that began at Disneyland a few weeks ago and it recently being entered into my medical records that I am moderately allergic to the tetanus vaccine (fever, body aches, fatigue and injection site pain far above and beyond a mere sore arm), I was primed to On Immunity by Eula Biss. I fully believe in the importance of vaccinations and have a hard time understanding the whole anti-vaccination movement. I mean, small pox no longer exists because of vaccination and polio is nonexistent in the United States and very close to being wiped out in the rest of the world. Yes, there is always a small risk — allergy, severe illness, death — but the risk is so small in comparison to the benefit that it seems more than worth it. Yet, so many are eager to believe that the measles vaccine causes autism (it doesn’t), or that the government and/or pharmaceutical companies are purposely poisoning children (they aren’t), or any other number of strange reasons having to do with government control, conspiracies, science experiments and invasion of privacy.
Biss is pro-vaccination. She is well-educated and her father is a doctor. Yet, when she became a mother even she had qualms about vaccinating her son. It is through this lens that she examines the fears and beliefs of those who refuse to have their children vaccinated. Along the way we get a cultural and scientific history of vaccination.
We fear a good many things these days and if you have children, the fear is intensified because it is your job to keep them safe. What do you do when you hear about all the chemicals in food and BPA in plastics? Or toxins in the air and water? It is hard to enough to protect a child from the threats you can see, how can you keep them safe from the ones you can’t see, and worse, don’t even know about? We hear that a particular vaccine might have mercury in it used as a preservative. We know mercury is poisonous, therefore the vaccine is poisonous too. We blow the tiny risk factors far out of proportion because here is something we can do to protect our children.
The thing is, the human body is already “contaminated.” We are porous creatures and our defenses from outside organisms were breached long ago. We have pieces of virus DNA in our genes. And here is a fascinating bit of information:
The cells that form the outer layer of the placenta for a human fetus bind to each other using a gene that originated, long ago, from a virus. Though many viruses could not reproduce without us, we ourselves could not reproduce without what we have taken from them.
Some might wonder then what the big deal about not vaccinating is if viruses are so important to our very being. Besides being useful in some circumstances, viruses also kill and disable and it is those viruses we vaccinate against.
Those who do not vaccinate rely on the protection of all the people who do. You can only have children who are not vaccinated against measles never get the disease because the child is surrounded by people who have been vaccinated. Biss points out over and over that we think vaccination is an individual choice that has no effects on anyone else, but we are wrong. Because in order for vaccinations to be most effective, most people in the population need to be vaccinated. Immunity to disease is a communal undertaking.
Here I have to admit that in spite of believing whole-heartedly in vaccines, I have never gotten a flu vaccination. My reasoning has always been that I don’t get the flu. And truly, it has been so long since I have had the flu I can’t remember when it was — fifteen years at least. But Bookman dutifully gets a flu shot every year. He has to because he has multiple sclerosis and therefore his immune system is compromised. Now after reading Biss’s argument about vaccination being a communal thing I realize that perhaps one reason I have not gotten the flu is because nearly everyone I know gets a flu shot. In addition, it is possible for me to get the flu and then give it to someone who, for whatever reason, could not be vaccinated and then they could get really sick or possibly die. Because people do die from the flu. Did I ever get a big dose of guilt realizing that. So now next year when the email goes out at the University where I work that free flu shots are being given, I will go an roll up my sleeve.
It was easy to get me to change my mind about flu vaccination, but what about all those people who refuse more important vaccinations for their children? Studies show that forcing science down the throats of anti-vaxxers does no good whatsoever. Biss is unable to offer any suggestions other than insisting on the communal nature of vaccination. It worked for me but it won’t work for all those parents who still believe vaccines cause autism or that the HPV vaccine will make girls more likely to have sex. Clearly for those parents there are many factors that need to be addressed. It is a complex issue and sadly, government is not very good at solving those sorts of things.
On Immunity is a well-written, non-judgmental look at the issues in the vaccination debates. It could not have been more timely if it tried. If you’d like a little insight into the anti-vaccination movement, then I highly recommend this book.
With China’s continued emergence as an economic and political superpower, there is a growing need for those in the West to understand the distinct way in which the Chinese people view the mind and its study. Although Chinese philosophy is steeped in considerations of the nature of the mind, psychology as it is understood in the West was not a discipline practiced in China until its introduction in the 19th Century.
Among this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Picture were two films with drum scores: Whiplash, in which a highly regarded but abusive conductor molds an aspiring young jazz musician into the genius he was meant to be, and Birdman, in which an aging film actor who was never a genius at all stars in a play and possibly flies. In spite of their innovative soundtracks, neither film received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score.
Considerable variation in quality exists among residency programs in the United States, even among those in the same specialty, such as surgery, pediatrics, or internal medicine. Some are nationally and internationally renowned, others are known regionally, and still others are known only locally.
Today, there are countless ways to identify as trans, with new ways being created all the time, mostly by younger trans people. Gender was never a binary, and that has become especially evident in recent years.
What are the strange undercurrents to fairy tales like 'Hansel and Gretel' or 'Little Red Riding Hood'? In November 2014, we launched a #fairytalesexplainedbadly hashtag campaign that tied in to the release of Marina Warner’s Once Upon a Time: A Short History of the Fairy Tale. Hundreds of people engaged with the #fairytalesexplainedbadly hashtag on Twitter, sparking a fun conversation on the different ways in which fairy tale stories could be perceived.
The previous post dealt with the uneasy history of the word threshold, and throughout the text I wrote thresh~ thrash, as though those were two variants of the same word. Yet today they are two different words, and their relation poses a few questions. Old English had the strong verb þerscan (þ = th in Engl. thresh), with cognates everywhere in Germanic.
I love it when I open a book and I fall in love with the words and the character.
I’m currently working on the opening of my current Work-In-Progress (WIP). After this revision, it will probably change. But that’s okay. For inspiration, I tend to go back to some of my favorite books and relish over the opening.
One summer night I fell asleep, hoping the world would be different when I woke. In the morning, when I opened my eyes, the world was the same. I threw off the sheets and lay there as the heat poured in through my open window.
The pastor is saying something about how Charlie was a free spirit. He was and he wasn’t. He was free because on the inside he was tied up in knots. He lived hard because inside he was dying. Charlie made inner conflict look delicious.
Her satellite made one full orbit around planet Earth every sixteen hours. It was a prison that came with an endlessly breathtaking view — vast oceans and swirling clouds that set half the world on fire.
The city used to be something once. I’ve seen pictures of the way it gleamed – sun so bright off the windows it could burn your eyes. At night, lights shouted from steel like catcalls, loud and lewd, while all day long white-gloved men rushed to open doors for women who tottered about on skyscraper heels.
What are some of your favorite novel openings? I would love to hear about them.
A news release on 6 February 2015 from the Federal Reserve Board, together with a selection of dense numerical tables, showed once again that consumer credit in use has increased over the course of a year. This is the fourth year in a row and the 67th yearly increase in the 69 years since 1945. But does this mean that credit growth is a meaningful worry? Total consumer sector income and total assets have also increased in 67 of the 69 years since World War II.
Recently I was feeling like my credentials as a reader of science fiction weren’t up to snuff. There are certain books and authors that are classics in the genre that I haven’t read and sometimes, especially being a female who likes to read a genre that has been dominated by males for a very long time, I feel like I’m not quite legit. My latest feelings of insecurity did not come from anywhere specific, they just sort of bubbled up from who knows where. But I think they are feelings we can all relate to as readers because no matter what we read there are always going to be books we have not read, big gaping holes even, that will leave us insecure about whether or not we can consider ourselves well read. It’s like saying you love Victorian literature but you’ve never read Wilkie Collins, that sort of thing.
From insecurity and curiosity, I decided it was about time I read Isaac Asimov’s first Foundation book. I’ve read one Asimov book before, Fantastic Voyage, and quite liked it. So with Foundation I was expecting something adventure-y. I was also expecting a novel. The book is neither. It is a collection of short stories. Okay, I can adjust to that. But instead of adventure we get politics and the collapse of an empire and lifting up of science into a religion.
The political maneuverings are really the only thing keeping me going. The book was published in 1951 and the stories had appeared in a magazine at various times before making it into a book. The science is amusingly dated. Psychology has been elevated to the heights of being able to predict the future. Nuclear power is considered clean energy. And this group of scientists have been tasked with writing an encyclopedia and a good deal of their research is done using microfiche which is supposed to be the gold standard for reading and research technology. And back in the day it was. But this book takes place so far into the future that humans have spread out to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and Earth either no longer exists or is uninhabitable and has become a mythical place lost in time and history.
All that is just fine and kind of amusing. What is not amusing is that there are no women in the book. All the scientists are men, all the politicians are men, every single character is a man. Women aren’t mentioned as wives or mothers to sons or even buxom love interests. It’s like they don’t exist. As I am reading along and trying to not grind my teeth I am suddenly reminded, oh yeah, this is why I haven’t read a lot of the “classic” SF books! And this is why women have felt left out of the genre for so long.
I’m about halfway through the book and I can tell you right now that I won’t be reading the rest of the books in the series. I’m not going to let myself feel insecure about that either. Because really, it doesn’t matter whether I have read them or not. What matters is that I enjoy the books I read and not worry about what others might think.
If you can’t make it, but are still interested in ordering a signed, personalized copy, then you can do that right here. And if you are my nemesis, remember this: the more you order, the more my hand will cramp up.
Last month on Capitol Hill, a tedious slur on Henry Kissinger (“war criminal”) provoked an irate reaction (“low-life scum”). The clash between Senator McCain and the protesters of Code Pink garnered media coverage and YouTube clicks. The Senate’s hearings on national strategy not so much. This is unfortunate. For world-weary superpowers, opportunities for sustained strategic reflection are rare. The transfer of power in the Senate affords such an occasion, and John McCain has seized it. His committee hearings nonetheless illustrate both the many challenges facing American foreign policy and the limits of strategy as a guide to foreign-policy choice.
Making strategy is intellectual work. The strategist seeks to explain the patterns of world events, hopeful that comprehension will guide policy and permit policymakers to shape global trends. Requiring interpretation, making strategy is akin to writing history, but what the strategist explains is the present and future. Henry Kissinger once put it thus: “I think of myself as a historian… I have tried to understand the forces that are at work in this period.”
During the Cold War, the forces at work were clear — or so it now appears. The world was divided, and the United States stood for freedom and against the Soviet Union. Washington did not push the USSR too hard, for doing so risked war. Instead, policymakers adhered to a strategy of containment, the logic of which presumed that the USSR would crumble upon its inner contradictions. History vindicated this theory, and many now yearn for the coherence that containment presumably imparted to US foreign policy. The Cold War was dangerous, General Brent Scowcroft told the McCain hearings, but at least “we knew what the strategy was.”
Americans should not yearn for such clarity. Containment nostalgia distorts the actual adaptability of US foreign policy in the Cold War. The search for strategic coherence is, moreover, inappropriate to the needs of US foreign policy today, which requires not intellectual cohesion but tolerance for complexity, improvisation, and even contradiction.
Consider Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski — two of the sages who addressed McCain’s committee. They rank among America’s clearest strategic thinkers, but neither was in his own time a strategic dogmatist. Henry Kissinger began as an adept practitioner of Cold War geopolitics, but as new challenges mounted, he pirouetted to champion cooperation on issues, like energy, that had little to do with the Cold War. From these efforts, the International Energy Agency and the G-7 were born.
Brzezinski, with President Carter, worked to build a “framework of international cooperation” for a world that the Cold War no longer defined and brought human rights into the foreign-policy mainstream. Only as US-Soviet relations deteriorated in the late 1970s did the Carter administration adopt an invigorated anti-Soviet policy. Pragmatic adaptation to events, not devotion to strategic coherence, enabled policymakers to lead the United States through one of the hardest phases in its superpower career, prefiguring the Cold War’s resolution on American terms.
America today faces complex and discordant challenges. For John McCain, a revanchist Russia, a rising China, a truculent Iran, an implacable Islamism, and a rash of failing states make the world more dangerous than ever. McCain might have included (as Scowcroft did) global climate change, an existential challenge for industrial civilization. It is seductive to presume that a singular strategy could enable the United States to transcend, resolve, and master the myriad challenges it faces.
The hope is forlorn. Containment during the Cold War provided no roadmap for policy. At most, containment enjoined acceptance of the world’s division and optimism in the West’s prospects. Within this loose outlook, policymakers improvised and adapted, pursuing diverse agendas. The most effective, like Kissinger, understood that even superpowers do not determine the course of world events; instead, their leaders must react and respond. Presuming the reverse risks the kind of strategic hubris that embroiled the United States in the quagmire that President Obama has struggled for six years to resolve.
What role then for strategy? Strategic thinking, which weighs costs and benefits and contemplates long-range consequences, is a prerequisite for responsible foreign policy. Yet Americans should beware the notion that world affairs can be comprehended within coherent, meta-historical frameworks: the Cold War, globalization, the clash of civilizations, and so on. To be creative, strategy must acknowledge both the provisionality of its own conclusions and the validity of alternative perspectives on the world. Like history, it must remain a work in continual progress.
Heading image: Ford Kissinger Rockefeller by David Hume Kennerly. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Picture this. A legendary hotel concierge and serial womaniser seduces a rich, elderly widow who regularly stays in the hotel where he works. Just before her death, she has a new will prepared and leaves her vast fortune to him rather than her family.
For a regular member of the public, these events could send alarm bells ringing. “She can’t have known what she was doing!” or “What a low life for preying on the old and vulnerable!” These are some of the more printable common reactions. However, for cinema audiences watching last year’s box office smash, The Grand Budapest Hotel directed by Wes Anderson, they may have laughed, even cheered, when it was Tilda Swinton (as Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis) leaving her estate to Ralph Fiennes (as Monsieur Gustave H) rather than her miffed relatives. Thus the rich, old lady disinherits her bizarre clan in what recently became 2015’s most BAFTA-awarded film, and is still up for nine Academy Awards in next week’s Oscars ceremony.
Wills have always provided the public with endless fascination, and are often the subject of great books and dramas. From Bleak House and The Quincunx to Melvin and Howard and The Grand Budapest Hotel, wills are often seen as fantastic plot devices that create difficulties for the protagonists. For a large part of the twentieth century, wills and the lives of dissolute heirs have been regular topics for Sunday journalism. The controversy around the estate of American actress and model, Anna Nicole Smith, is one such case that has since been turned into an opera, and there is little sign that interest in wills and testaments will diminish in the entertainment world in the coming years.
“[The Vegetarian Society v Scott] is probably the only case around testamentary capacity where the testator’s liking for a cooked breakfast has been offered as evidence against the validity of his will.”
Aside from the drama depicted around wills in films, books, and stage shows, there is also the drama of wills in real life. There are two sides to every story with disputed wills and the bitter, protracted, and expensive arguments that are generated often tear families apart. While in The Grand Budapest Hotel the family attempted to solve the battle by setting out to kill Gustave H, this is not an option families usually turn to (although undoubtedly many families have thought about it!).
Usually, the disappointed family members will claim that either the ‘seducer’ forced the relative into making the will, or the elderly relative lacked the mental capacity to make a will; this is known as ‘testamentary capacity’. Both these issues are highly technical legal areas, which are resolved dispassionately by judges trying to escape the vehemence and passion of the protagonists. Regrettably, these arguments are becoming far more common as the population ages and the incidence of dementia increases.
The diagnosis of mental illness is now far more advanced and nuanced than it was when courts were grappling with such issues in the nineteenth century. While the leading authority on testamentary capacity still dates from a three-part test laid out in the 1870 Banks v Goodfellow case, it is still a common law decision, and modern judges can (and do) adapt it to meet advancing medical views.
This can be seen in one particular case, The Vegetarian Society v Scott, in which modern diagnosis provided assistance when a question arose in relation to a chronic schizophrenic with logical thought disorder. He left his estate to The Vegetarian Society as opposed to his sister or nephews, for whom he had a known dislike. There was evidence provided by the solicitor who wrote the will that the deceased was capable of logical thought for some goal-directed activities, since the latter was able to instruct the former on his wishes. It was curious however that the individual should have left his estate to The Vegetarian Society, as he was in fact a meat eater. However unusual his choice of heir, the deceased’s carnivorous tendencies were not viewed as relevant to the issues raised in the court case.
As the judge put it, “The sanity or otherwise of the bequest turns not on [the testator’s] for food such as sausages, a full English breakfast or a traditional roast turkey at Christmas; nor does it turn on the fact that he was schizophrenic with severe thought disorder. It really turns on the rationality or otherwise of his instructions for his wills set in the context of his family relations and other relations at various times.”
This is probably the only case around testamentary capacity where the testator’s liking for a cooked breakfast has been offered as evidence against the validity of his will.
For lawyers, The Grand Budapest Hotel’s Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis is potentially a great client. Wealth, prestige, and large fees for the will are then followed by even bigger fees in the litigation. If we are to follow the advice of the judge overseeing The Vegetarian Society v Scott, Gustave H would have inherited all of Madame Céline’s money if she was seen to be wholly rational when making her will.
Will disputes will always remain unappealing and traumatic to the family members involved. However, as The Grand Budapest Hotel has shown us, they still hold a strong appeal for cinema audiences and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Feature image: Reflexiones by Serge Saint. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
In his famous statement about the perils of presidentialism, Juan Linz argued that newly emerging democracies ought to avoid adopting a presidential form of government. One of Linz’s reasons had to do with the winner-take-all-nature of presidential elections. By definition, such elections are zero-sum games where the losing candidates have little to no prospect of sharing in executive power. By having a single indivisible and powerful executive office, presidential elections amplify the gap between winning and losing, and can contribute to creating and deepening political divisions, which is precisely what a new democracy ought to minimize.
At the same time, having the people elect the head of their state directly can strengthen the legitimacy of the democratic foundations of the new constitutional order. When conducted in a fair, free, and transparent manner observing the highest standards of electoral integrity, direct presidential elections can play an important role in aiding the development of civic and political values such as electoral participation, competitiveness, and accountability. If the population is not imbued by such values, the new democratic system may soon hollow out and become a procedural mechanism with no substantive values informing and guiding it.
An intermediate constitutional solution is the adoption of a semi-presidential system of government, which, according to scholars like Maurice Duverger and Robert Elgie, is characterized by a presidency that is elected directly by the people but that is also considerably weaker in power and authority than the chief executive of a presidential system of government. The relative weakness of the semi-presidential head of state is underscored by the fact that the office shares executive power with the prime minister who, as the head of government, is responsible to the legislature. Semi-presidentialism often becomes an attractive constitutional choice in new democracies precisely because it has the advantage of encouraging popular participation in the political system without concentrating too much power in a single executive office.
The experience of the ten post-communist democracies in Eastern and Central Europe is an excellent case in point. At the time of their transition to democracy in the early 1990s, only half of the ten states had a semi-presidential executive: Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, and Romania. The remaining five states (the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, and Slovakia) remained parliamentary systems with both the prime minister and the president elected by the legislature. By 2015 Hungary, Estonia, and Latvia have remained the only three cases with indirectly elected heads of state. At first Slovakia, in 1998, and then the Czech Republic, in 2012, enacted constitutional changes to move from indirect to direct presidential elections. In both of these cases, the adoption of direct presidential elections was the result of repeated failures by parliament to ensure a smooth and efficient process. In Slovakia, the National Council was unable to elect a president after several unsuccessful rounds of balloting in 1998, whereas in the Czech Republic both the 2003 and the 2008 elections were characterized by legislative tumult leading to renewed calls for delegating the choice of president to the people.
What can constitutional designers and engineers learn from the history of presidential elections in the post-communist region? Insofar as political stability and legitimacy are concerned, there are three important lessons:
The semi-presidential model is a reliable and good constitutional choice as long as the formal powers of the head of state are kept modest. Some of the most serious constitutional battles between a directly elected president and the legislature took place in the three states where the head of state had the greatest formal powers (Lithuania, Poland, and Romania). However, while subsequent constitutional changes in these states modified the term or the powers of the president, none of them did away with the directly elective nature of the office.
Indirect presidential elections can be a major source of political instability, and loss of public trust in the legislature, unless the rules of the game are kept efficient. The examples of Slovakia and the Czech Republic showed that inclusive and consensus-oriented rules do not work in the long run. In both cases, the constitution required that the winning candidate obtain a highly qualified majority of votes, which proved to be extremely difficult, or even impossible, in an already fragmented multi-party parliament.
Efficient rules for indirect presidential elections ought to combine a simple majority threshold for winning with a fixed number of rounds in which the election must be completed. As the cases of Hungary and Estonia show, efficient rules will typically favor the candidate of the incumbent governing coalition and as such will further concentrate executive power in its hands. However, this may be a small price to pay relative to the instability that can be caused by the failure of consensus-oriented inclusive rules.
In short, the post-communist cases suggest that the ideal form of choosing the president of a new democracy may be either direct election by the people or indirect election by parliament using efficient, result-oriented rules and procedures. While presidentialism as a constitutional system may be perilous for the stability of a new democracy, as Juan Linz argued, there is also a great danger in adopting parliamentary processes of presidential election which can themselves become the source of political instability.
Thinking of hosting a Día program at your library? While the ALA Building STEAM with Día grants deadline has passed, it’s never too late to set up your own program. Have questions about where to start, who to contact, and what kinds of things you should do? Well, look no further—we will answer your questions right here!
First thing you must do, is log onto http://dia.ala.org, read a bit about Día and what others have done in the past, then register your program. This registry creates a searchable database of Día programs of all sizes from across the county that highlight Diversity In Action. Not only is the database a resource for you to find ideas, and printables that may work for your community, but it’s also a great place for your library patrons to find programs they might be interested in attending.
Then you need to take a deep breath. For those who have not held a Día program before, it does not need to overwhelm you. This is Children’s Day/Book Day, a celebration of the importance of literacy for children of all backgrounds. So, do what you do best…invite the community to join you in celebrating literacy.
Who should you contact? Everyone! Start with the list on the dia.ala.org website under the Learn More – Partners and Supporters page. This list links you to great national organizations who have indicated interest in celebrating Día. From there, look to your communities. Other agencies who serve children are a natural fit, but restaurants, and ethnic grocery stores can also be great partners and add a completely different element.
What should you do? Host a Book Fest, each room of your library is a celebration of a book, culture, or language. If you have enough partners involved, have them each be responsible for a room. Then families can move through the library, experiencing and discovering a variety of new things. Hold a Books Alive Parade, encourage children to dress up as their favorite book character and march around the library. Hold a few sessions that offer tips and tricks to create a love a reading in every home. Start a book club, using books that are offered in both English and another language. Encourage the sharing of cultural and personal experiences. Offer a variety of extension activities that coordinate with a book, showing children that literacy is more than just reading a book, but also all the things you can do with what you’ve read and learned.
Best tip: invite organizations and agencies to join you, and let them create their own activities to share with your patrons.
I haven’t added any books to my library hold list in a month and a half but that has not kept the holds I had already placed from arriving. And, of course, as these things happen, they arrive in bunches. So now I am frantically reading On Immunity by Eula Biss. It is very good. And then I have to try and read Geek Sublime by Vikrma Chandra. I do not get to renew either of these because there are others waiting their turn for them. Well, only two books with hard deadlines but it seems like a lot for some reason. Probably because I have Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie that I am desperate to start reading. And that book at work that went AWOL — This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein — it finally found me! So I have that to read. Thankfully since it is from the university library I have it for a couple months instead of a couple weeks so I don’t have to rush through it which is good because damn, is it depressing and I can only take in small bites.
Also in the pile from the library are several chicken books. Yup, I am slowly wearing Bookman down when it comes to us having chickens. The urban farm supply store is offering another backyard chicken class on February 28th and I have signed up for it. I know I was going to wait until next year to take the class, but I decided sooner is better than later. The class will explain how to get the required city permits, the coop requirements, chicken care, the whole nine yards. After the class I will know for sure whether or not we will do the chicken thing. And if the answer is yes then over the summer I will enlist Bookman into preparing for chickens this time next year. This will be a bigger project than just chickens that will involve tearing down our crumbling detached garage so it will definitely be interesting.
Goodness, no wonder I’m feeling pressed for time books and chickens and garden planning. But also biking, indoors at the moment, taking up time. I think I’ve mentioned a couple of years now in September about Bookman and I doing a thirty-mile ride in the St Paul Bike Classic. Well, I decided I liked it so much that I want to go for longer rides. I’m ultimately aiming for a century — 100 miles. This year the goal is a half-century ride in Mankato in October. One of the rest stops has pie which makes it all worth it right there. So five nights a week I ride for an hour and Saturday afternoons I started doing a fast as I can 90 minutes. I managed 34.7 miles during my 90 minutes yesterday on a programmed course with hills. I think that’s good but I’m not sure since I have no one else to compare to. One thing I do know, thirty miles is now really easy and I look forward to getting outdoors and trying a long ride on the road on a new bike which I have not bought yet but will very likely go hunting for next weekend.
I’ve always enjoyed biking but I never expected to catch the biking bug. I think what did it was my first ever group ride this last October. It was a really short ride and at times unbearably slow, but I had a blast riding with other people. I’ll be joining a local bike club this spring, I have several to choose from so will be going on some test rides too see which group I like best.
So busy, busy around here. But it’s all good stuff. Now, if only it would warm up. It’s been below zero (-18C) the last several mornings and I am ready to be done with winter.
Tetralogue by Timothy Williamson is a philosophy book for the commuter age. In a tradition going back to Plato, Timothy Williamson uses a fictional conversation to explore questions about truth and falsity, knowledge and belief. Four people with radically different outlooks on the world meet on a train and start talking about what they believe. Their conversation varies from cool logical reasoning to heated personal confrontation. Each starts off convinced that he or she is right, but then doubts creep in. During February, we will be posting a series of extracts that cover the viewpoints of all four characters in Tetralogue. What follows is an extract exploring Roxanna’s perspective.
Roxanna is a heartless logician with an exotic background. She would much rather be right than be liked, and as a result she argues mercilessly with the other characters.
Roxana: You appear not to know much about logic.
Sarah: What did you say?
Roxana: I said that you appear not to know much about logic.
Sarah: And you appear not to know much about manners.
Roxana: If you want to understand truth and falsity, logic will be more useful than manners. Do any of you remember what Aristotle said about truth and falsity?
Bob: Sorry, I know nothing about Aristotle.
Zac: It’s on the tip of my tongue.
Sarah: Aristotelian science is two thousand years out of date.
Roxana: None of you knows. Aristotle said ‘To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, or of what is not that it is not, is true’. Those elementary principles are fundamental to the logic of truth. They remain central in contemporary research. They were endorsed by the greatest contributor to the logic of truth, the modern Polish logician Alfred Tarski.
Bob: Never heard of him. I’m sure Aristotle’s saying is very wise; I wish I knew what it meant.
Roxana: I see that I will have to begin right at the very beginning with these three.
Sarah: We can manage quite well without a lecture from you, thank you very much.
Roxana: It is quite obvious that you can’t.
Roxana: It is quite obvious that you can’t.
Zac: I’m afraid I didn’t catch your name.
Roxana: Of course you didn’t. I didn’t say it.
Zac: May I ask what it is?
Roxana: You may, but it is irrelevant.
Bob: Well, don’t keep us all in suspense. What is it?
Roxana: It is ‘Roxana’.
Zac: Nice name, Roxana. Mine is ‘Zac’, by the way.
Bob: I hope our conversation wasn’t annoying you.
Roxana: Its lack of intellectual discipline was only slightly irritating.
Bob: Sorry, we got carried away. Just to complete the introductions, I’m Bob, and this is Sarah.
Roxana: That is enough time on trivialities. I will explain the error in what the woman called ‘Sarah’ said.
Sarah: Call me ‘Sarah’, not ‘the woman called “Sarah” ’, if you please.
Bob: ‘Sarah’ is shorter.
Sarah: Not only that. We’ve been introduced. It’s rude to describe me at arm’s length, as though we weren’t acquainted.
Roxana: If we must be on first name terms, so be it. Do not expect them to stop me from explaining your error. First, I will illustrate Aristotle’s observation about truth and falsity with an example so simple that even you should all be capable of understanding it. I will make an assertion.
Bob: Here goes.
Roxana: Do not interrupt.
Bob: I was always the one talking at the back of the class.
Zac: Don’t worry about Bob, Roxana. We’d all love to hear your assertion. Silence, please, everyone.
Roxana: Samarkand is in Uzbekistan.
Sarah: Is that it?
Roxana: That was the assertion.
Bob: So that’s where Samarkand is. I always wondered.
Roxana: Concentrate on the logic, not the geography. In making that assertion about Samarkand, I speak truly if, and only if, Samarkand is in Uzbekistan. I speak falsely if, and only if, Samarkand is not in Uzbekistan.
Zac: Is that all, Roxana?
Roxana: It is enough.
Bob: I think I see. Truth is telling it like it is. Falsity is telling it like it isn’t. Is that what Aristotle meant?
Roxana: That paraphrase is acceptable for the present.
Have you got something you want to say to Roxanna? Do you agree or disagree with her? Tetralogue author Timothy Williamson will be getting into character and answering questions from Roxanna’s perspective via @TetralogueBook on Friday 20th March from 2-3pm GMT. Tweet your questions to him and wait for Roxanna’s response!
Today I have two characterful properties for you to explore both are situated on a small bookshelf close to all amenities. The first property comprises a kitchen, sitting room, bedroom and bathroom. The second is a self-build in need of a little renovation.
This self-build property comprises a cardboard sleeve with five cardboard inserts, two of the inserts are made up of several figures to cut out. These including two children, a dog, a cat, a plant on a side table, a TV (showing Humpty Dumpty sitting on his wall!), a lamp, a stool and a waste bin. There is also a cardboard rug to place in front of the fire, a stand up sofa (one slot torn) and the inside wall of a house, with a fire place with five different size elephants standing on the mantelpiece, an old telephone, pictures and a standard lamp.
A Tower Press product Made in England No. 115, undated but I would guess 1950/60s.
A cosy room.
All the pieces waiting to be cut-out and played with.
Close up of children, dog, cat and furniture.
That concludes our tour. Thank you for visiting and please click on the links for full particulars.
What do we think education means? What do we believe are teaching’s purpose, status, and function in society? A useful way to reflect on our pre-conceptions and assumptions about anything is to step back and consider the metaphors we automatically apply when thinking or speaking of it. This is a particularly useful exercise for the trainee teacher, who, for obvious reasons, is likely to frame teaching primarily in terms of a performance – something that is observed, analysed, graded and, if all goes well, given the pedagogic equivalent of a five star review. For the experienced teacher, this same metaphor will re-emerge from time to time in the face of inspections, institutional self-evaluations, and peer observations; but it is likely to become obsolete as newer, more productive ideas about teaching develop over time.
A dominant metaphor can not only tell us about how the teacher positions herself in relation to her role, but also about how that role is regarded by society. We talk increasingly, for example, of a teacher ‘delivering’ the curriculum. The teacher is construed here as a delivery agent, a go-between whose role is to present to learners a curriculum which has been conceived, devised, and constructed elsewhere. The idea of delivery in itself suggests a one way process that discounts the possibility of dialogue, critical enquiry, and mutual learning. So could there be a potential contradiction here between this concept of the role and our wider understandings of what it means to be a professional? And if so, will the teacher who is encouraged to see their function primarily in terms of ‘delivery’ experience any less satisfaction in their work than the teacher who would describe their professional practice in terms of ‘nurture and nourishment’? These are interesting questions; and part of the answer, of course is that most experienced teachers will view their role differently over time and according to circumstance; some days it’s an endless postal round and on others it’s all the joy of conducting the Royal Philharmonic through Beethoven’s Ninth.
This is not just a question of language; nor is it a roundabout way of posing the key question about the primary purpose of education: whether it is to serve the economy, or to nurture the potential of each individual, or – somehow – to do both. As Lakoff and Johnson (1980) point out, our entire conceptual system is in its very nature metaphorical. We think in metaphors and they play a large part in defining the way we perceive our everyday reality. When we talk of a teacher ‘conducting’ a lesson, therefore, we’re introducing a whole range of assumptions about role and function, and at the same time applying judgements about value, which are quite different to those we may infer when we hear of a lesson being ‘delivered’.
Metaphors can also succinctly encapsulate certain expectations or models of educational practice. A good example here is Paulo Freire’s description of the hierarchical and instrumental approach to teaching and learning as a ‘banking’ model. Here, the teacher is seen as the repository and dispenser of knowledge, and the learner as recipient; an unequal power relationship in which knowledge or skill is viewed as a commodity and which offers no potential for genuine development either of the learner or the teacher. We might contrast this with the metaphor of education as exploration, a joint enterprise and mutually fulfilling adventure undertaken by teacher and learners together. And then there is the metaphor of the farm or the garden in which the teacher nurtures successive ‘crops’ of learners; or even the image that sometimes surfaces of education as war, in which the teacher is pitted against the learners in a battle of wills to subdue, shape, and eventually socialise them. Indeed, the metaphors we find ourselves inhabiting can provide us with insight into just what it is we think education is for.
Image Credit: Orchestra by Hans Splinter. CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr
On 10 February 2015, the long awaited report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) was released regarding a new name — Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease — and case definition for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Because I was quoted regarding this report in a New York Times article, in part due to having worked on these issues for many years, hundreds of patients contacted me over the next few days.
The reaction from patients was mixed at best, and some of the critical comments include:
“This new name is an abomination!”
“Absolutely outrageous and intolerable!”
“I find it highly offensive and misleading.”
“It is pathetic, degrading and demeaning.”
“It is the equivalent of calling Parkinson’s Disease: Systemic Shaking Intolerance Disease.”
“(It) is a clear invitation to the prejudiced and ignorant to assume ‘wimps’ and ‘lazy bums.’”
“The word ‘exertion,’ to most people, means something substantial, like lifting something very heavy or running a marathon – not something trivial, like lifting a fork to your mouth or making your way across the hall to the bathroom. Since avoiding substantial exertion is not very difficult, the likelihood that people who are not already knowledgeable will underestimate the challenges of having this disease based on this name seems to me extremely high.”
Several individuals were even more critical in their reactions — suggesting that the Institute of Medicine-initiated name change effort represented another imperialistic US adventure, which began in 1988 when the Centers for Disease Control changed the illness name from myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) to chronic fatigue syndrome. Patients and advocacy groups from around the world perceived this latest effort to rename their illness as alienating, expansionistic, and exploitive. The IOM alleged that the term ME is not medically accurate, but the names of many other diseases have not required scientific accuracy (e.g., malaria means bad air). Regardless of how one feels about the term ME, many patients firmly support it. Our research group has found that a more medically-sounding term like ME is more likely to influence medical interns to attribute a physiological cause to the illness. In response to a past blog post that I wrote on the name change topic, Justin Reilly provided an insightful historical comment: for 25 years patients have experienced “malfeasance and nonfeasance” (also well described in Hillary Johnson’s Osler’s Web). This is key to understanding the patients’ outrage and anger to the IOM.
So how could this have happened? The Institute of Medicine is one of our nation’s most prestigious organizations, and the IOM panel members included some of the premier researchers and clinicians in the myalgic encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue syndrome arenas, many of whom are my friends and colleagues. Their review of the literature was overall comprehensive; their conclusions were well justified regarding the seriousness of the illness, identification of fundamental symptoms, and recommendations for the need for more funding. But these important contributions might be tarnished by patient reactions to the name change. The IOM solicited opinions from many patients as well as scientists, and I was invited to address the IOM in the spring regarding case definition issues. However, their process in making critical decisions was secretive, and whereas for most IOM initiatives this is understandable in order to be fair and unbiased in deliberations, in this area — due to patients being historically excluded and disempowered — there was a need for a more transparent, interactive, and open process.
So what might be done at this time? Support structural capacities to accomplish transformative change. Set up participatory mechanisms for ongoing data collection and interactive feedback, ones that are vetted by broad-based gatekeepers representing scientists, patients, and government groups. Either the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Advisory Committee (that makes recommendations to the Secretary of US Department of Health and Human Services) or the International Association of ME/CFS (the scientific organization) may appoint a name change working group with international membership to engage in a process of polling patients and scientists, sharing the names and results with large constituencies, and getting buy in — with a process that is collaborative, open, interactive, and inclusive. Different names might very well apply to different groups of patients, and there is empirical evidence for this type of differentiation. Key gatekeepers including the patients, scientists, clinicians, and government officials could work collaboratively and in a transparent way to build a consensus for change, and most critically, so that all parties are involved in the decision-making process.