Category Archives: Ideas

Will our schools go the way of taxis, hotels, and movie houses? I hope so.

I have a question for you. It only just occurred to me, probably provoked, as most things in my life now-a-days are by something I read, this time on FEE  (the Foundation of Economic Education). There a writer noticed that whereas we used to call a taxi, now we call Uber, whereas we used to reserve a room in a hotel, now we rent an apartment or house from AirB&B, and whereas we used to go to the local movie house or theater to see a particular movie (when was the last time you went? for me, now in my eighties and well passed movie going time, the last time was years ago) now in our own home on our big screen television we choose from thousands, tens of thousands of movies from a Netflix listing, alive as it were, always growing and always evolving for our viewing pleasure.

But here’s my question. I did have one. Why do we still say “go to school”? And why do we no longer say call a taxi? Where is the Uber, AirB&B, or Netflix that ought generations ago to have replaced school? In fact for most of us school is still pretty much in the same fixed, unchanging position that it has held for nearly two hundred years. The question is particularly biting and acute because it is generally admitted that of all the things that go on in school, what school was supposed to be most about, teaching and learning (while maybe still going on in tiny niches, perhaps even pockets of excellence) is rarely the principal activity of students and teachers.

School will be replaced. It’s already happening. In its present form it’s going to disappear because it’s failing its various constituencies, parents, teachers, kids. So what shall we call it, that which will eventually replace the “school” in going to school? For the moment the term homeschooling seems to be what we’re coming up with, but we ought to do better than that for home schools can end up with some of the same faults, some of the rigidity of the schools (those based on the dogma of a religion for example) they would replace.

We need to think of what we really mean by “schooling”? Of what we want for our kids from their time in “school?” We know that our segregating them into brick buildings and cement block school rooms for one hundred years or more has not worked in regard to our stated educational goals. While we have successfully separated kids from the people, from the community from which they might best have learned, we have not provided them with a real learning community in its place.

Isn’t what we want from schooling, not a building but rather a time and a place  (an atmosphere?) where kids are helped to hook up with older kids and adults who have the skills and knowledge that the kids want for themselves. That was probably something that would have happened naturally if they had somehow remained in the community, as in most earlier societies.

School now might be best thought of as a filter, or better, a clearing house where kids can go and discover the particular learning environment that corresponds best to who they are now and what they want one day to become. A place, one without too many permanent fixtures, where they would not be primarily burdened as now with what adults have decided they should know and learn, but are are rather helped to discover about themselves who they are and what they most want to learn. Taxis hotels and movie houses haven’t disappeared. Nor will schools entirely.  But if schools remain, it will be as taxis, for the few, not for everyone.

The argument above might just as well be made for health care. And that change, evolution is already happening. In fact medical services may be changing even faster than the schools. I no longer see a doctor after a long wait in his office or large hospital waiting room. My medical service today is different from what it was for some 50 years or more. Now I visit a local urgent care clinic or pharmacy in my neighborhood, and usually end up getting better care, and without the wait.

Hangdog look? Ashamed and cringing?

I am a follower, frequenter, fan of Quora, although I only rarely resubmit, reblog, retweet, reuse one of their submissions. But there are exceptions. Here’s one:

J.S. Melton

Deutsch, talking about Trump’s mental state, said: “I have known him for twenty years and I’ve spent hours and hours with him, everything from negotiating leases to at-school functions to hours and hours of interviewing him on my old show. He’s not the same guy. You can see it in his eyes and in his speech pattern and, most frighteningly, his behavior.”

Tr before and after

Consider the attached “before” and “later” photos. Then do a little research on “frontotemporal dementia.” The look in one’s eyes is one of the indicators of the condition. Two other indicators are (1) non-fluent, non-grammatical speech patterns and (2) anti-social behavior caused by nerve cell loss in areas that control conduct, judgment, empathy, and foresight — among other abilities). This guy could get our country into a LOT of trouble.

J.S. Melton: We all look that way when we awaken. (At least, I do.) Unfortunately, Trump carries that look with him all day long.

1.  Archaic,  a person considered fit only for hanging dogs, or to be hanged like a dog
2.  a contemptible, sneaking person
3.  contemptible; sneaking
4.  ashamed and cringing, a hangdog expression



The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen, Hannah Arendt, 1974.

Zimbabwe’s scientists dare to dream after Mugabe

Protesters at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. (AFP/Getty)

When will it be that America’s scientists dare to dream after Trump? And the rest of us, will we then dare to dream once again?

With the end of Donald Trump’s authoritarian regime, scientists throughout the land are hoping that research funding will be restored, and that the real problem of global warming will now be addressed. The political change taking place is inspiring the scientists who have left the country in order to live and work abroad to now seriously consider returning home.

Is this guy for real?

Yes, according to Thomas L. Friedman in a Times Op ed piece, Arabia’s Arab Spring, at Last.


Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (M.R.S.) of Saudi Arabia. (Fayez Nureldine/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

We hope he’s for real!

“Because,” said M.B.S.,  —I fear that the day I die I am going to die without accomplishing what I have in my mind. Life is too short and a lot of things can happen, and I am really keen to see it with my own eyes — and that is why I am in a hurry.”

Western civilization? What happened?

Ratko Mladic, the ‘Butcher of Bosnia,’ guilty of genocide in last Balkan war crimes trial


Griff  Witte  in the Washington Post, November 22,  2017

A U.N. tribunal Nov. 22 convicted former Serb warlord Ratko Mladic of genocide and crimes against humanity for orchestrating massacres and ethnic cleansing during Bosnia’s war and sentenced him to life in prison.


— Ratko Mladic, a former Serb warlord who commanded forces that carried out some of the worst atrocities of the Balkan wars, was found guilty of genocide and other crimes against humanity by an international tribunal Wednesday.

Mladic, 74, was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bloodiest chapter of European history since World War II.

“Mladic is the epitome of evil, and the prosecution of Mladic is the epitome of what international justice is all about,” said U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-HusseinOrie said in reading the verdict that Mladic’s crimes “rank among the most heinous known to humankind.” The judgment came after a trial that lasted more than four years, and involved testimony from nearly 600 witnesses.

They recounted a litany of horrors carried out by forces under Mladic’s command during the war in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995, which claimed upward of 100,000 lives. The atrocities included sniper attacks, indiscriminate shelling, mass executions, and imprisonment in camps where people died of malnourishment and disease.

Perhaps most horrific was the Mladic-directed July 1995 massacre of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, a supposed U.N. safe haven. Mladic was also convicted of orchestrating the destruction of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, through a four-year siege punctuated by shelling and sniper fire.
“Burn their brains!” witnesses reported Mladic, a career military man, shouting as he watched his troops shell the city….

Mladic handed out sweets and offered reassuring words to the town’s Muslim children just hours before his forces executed thousands of men and boys there. Many of the victims were shot in the back of the head, their arms bound behind them.


  « Mladic is the epitome of evil. »

If you’re talking about a typical example of something, call it the epitome. The cartoon character Garfield is the epitome of the fat, lazy, food-obsessed cat, Président Trump the epitome of superficiality. There is no depth to this man.


Messaging threads

In our family more and more we use messaging, and when there’s an event or subject that concerns us all, such as Josée’s fall last year when she broke an arm and a leg, we will all contribute, and we’re excited and delighted by the exchange. And it may continue for a few days or more.

But then we will notice that the « event thread » is silent and we will wonder what happened.

Well then I got this note from Rokhaya, our middle daughter, —-

« Thanks. Let’s text more often! What happened to the Paris Tampa Gloucester thread? «  (A big event of which I speak, this one being a family business trip to Paris.)

Yes,I asked myself, what did happen to all the new contributions that we were accustomed to receiving and wrote Khaya:

Hi, and Bonne soirée,

« You asked, « What happened? »

Isn’t it what happens when most things end, the contributors stop contributing? But also the multiple member threads such as P-T-G are not religiously maintained and are inevitably broken up into what seem innumerable pieces. In my messages right now I count 70 odd threads, and mostly two people threads going back just one year to 11/19/16!

What to make of all that? I wish I knew. Actually aren’t our lives constantly broken up into mostly non-recoverable pieces. And very few of us, writers scientists… attempt to hold onto them. Marcel Proust for one did and we still marvel at his achievement.

Sent from my iPhone

Bigotry as giving an electoral advantage

“Early in Vladimir Putin’s first presidency I spoke to a Moscow banker… who said he detected no trace of anti-Semitism in Putin personally, but that Putin would encourage popular anti-Semitism in a second if he thought that doing so would serve his interests.”

Robert Cottrell, while reviewing for TNR, Masha Gessen’s The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia

Couldn’t you say much the same thing about Donald Trump? That we see no trace of anti-Semitism, no trace of anti-LGBTQ, no feelings of white supremacism, no labelling of Mexicans as racists, no anti-immigrant and anti-black policies and positions, etc., except in all those instances, and there have been innumerable numbers of such instances, when Trump thought that by giving only the appearance of being any one or more of the bigots mentioned, that this would serve his own electoral and personal interests.
And in fact his taking such positions did seem to pump start his candidacy (Obama wasn’t born here.) and eventually bring about his election as president of the United States.

Back from Chaos, Edward O. Wilson

Enlightenment thinkers knew a lot about everything, today’s specialists know a lot about a little, and postmodernists doubt that we can know anything at all. One of the century’s most important scientists argues, against fashion, that we can know what we need to know, and that we will discover underlying all forms of knowledge a fundamental unity.

IN contrast to widespread opinion, I believe that the Enlightenment thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries got it mostly right. The assumptions they made about a lawful material world, the intrinsic unity of knowledge, and the potential for indefinite human progress are the ones we still take most readily to heart, suffer without, and find maximally rewarding as we learn more and more about the circumstances of our lives. The greatest enterprise of the mind always has been and always will be the attempt to link the sciences and the humanities. The ongoing fragmentation of knowledge and the resulting chaos in philosophy are not reflections of the real world but artifacts of scholarship.

The key to unification is consilience. I prefer this word to “coherence,” because its rarity has preserved its precision, whereas “coherence” has several possible meanings. William Whewell, in his 1840 synthesis The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, was the first to speak of consilience — literally a “jumping together” of knowledge as a result of the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation. He wrote, “The Consilience of Inductions takes place when an Induction, obtained from one class of facts, coincides with an Induction, obtained from another different class. This Consilience is a test of the truth of the Theory in which it occurs.”

Consilience can be established or refuted only by methods developed in the natural sciences — in an effort, I hasten to add, not led by scientists, or frozen in mathematical abstraction, but consistent with the habits of thought that have worked so well in exploring the material universe.

The belief in the possibility of consilience beyond science and across the great branches of learning is a metaphysical world view, and a minority one at that, shared by only a few scientists and philosophers. Consilience cannot be proved with logic from first principles or grounded in any definitive set of empirical tests, at least not any yet conceived. Its best support is no more than an extrapolation from the consistent past success of the natural sciences. Its surest test will be its effectiveness in the social sciences and the humanities. The strongest appeal of consilience is in the prospect of intellectual adventure and, if even only modest success is achieved, a better understanding of the human condition.

To illustrate the claim just made, think of two intersecting perpendicular lines, and picture the quadrants thus created. Label one quadrant “environmental policy,” one “ethics,” one “biology,” and one “social science.”

We already think of these four domains as closely connected, so rational inquiry in one informs reasoning in the other three. Yet each undeniably stands apart in the contemporary academic mind. Each has its own practitioners, language, modes of analysis, and standards of validation. The result is confusion — and confusion was correctly identified by Francis Bacon, four centuries ago, as the direst of errors, which “occurs wherever argument or inference passes from one world of experience to another.”

Next imagine a series of concentric circles around the point of intersection.As we cross the circles inward toward the point at which the quadrants meet, we find ourselves in an increasingly unstable and disorienting region. The ring closest to the intersection, where most real-world problems exist, is the one in which fundamental analysis is most needed. Yet virtually no maps exist; few concepts and words serve to guide us. Only in imagination can we travel clockwise from the recognition of environmental problems and the need for soundly based policy to the selection of solutions based on moral reasoning to the biological foundations of that reasoning to a grasp of social institutions as the products of biology, environment, and history — and thence back to environmental policy.

Consider this example. Governments everywhere are at a loss regarding the best policy for regulating the dwindling forest reserves of the world. Few ethical guidelines have been established from which agreement might be reached, and those are based on an insufficient knowledge of ecology. Even if adequate scientific knowledge were available, we would have little basis for the long-term valuation of forests. The economics of sustainable yield is still a primitive art, and the psychological benefits of natural ecosystems are almost wholly unexplored.

The time has come to achieve the tour of such domains in reality. This is not an idle exercise for the delectation of intellectuals. The ease with which the educated public, not just intellectuals and political leaders, can think around these and similar circuits, starting at any point and moving in any direction, will determine how wisely public policy is chosen.

To ask if consilience can be gained in the domains of the innermost circles, such that sound judgment will flow easily from one discipline to another, is equivalent to asking whether, in the gathering of disciplines, specialists can ever reach agreement on a common body of abstract principles and evidential proof. I think they can. Trust in consilience is the foundation of the natural sciences. For the material world, at least, the momentum is overwhelmingly toward conceptual unity. Disciplinary boundaries within the natural sciences are disappearing, in favor of shifting hybrid disciplines in which consilience is implicit. They reach across many levels of complexity, from chemical physics and physical chemistry to molecular genetics, chemical ecology, and ecological genetics. None of the new specialties is considered more than a focus of research. Each is an industry of fresh ideas and advancing technology.

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