R and R (or as Bostonians would put it, “Ahh and Ahh”)

Probably not much blogging this week, as we’re on our annual pilgrimage to Monhegan Island, ME, for vacation. Putting down the computer, and fortunately neither the camera nor the telescope has a browser built in (yet).

Still, won’t be able to resist putting up a few pics:

Day 1: View of the town harbor as we walked off the boat from Port Clyde… Here’s to figuring out how to use my DSLR and processing software sometime this week.


Not happening yet, unfortunately.

Poetic Words: Poems about Learning and Teaching

ImagePoetry Foundation has a nice feature on poetry about teachers and students. A little arch (PF mostly is), but still full of nice things, including an opening Frost quote:

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.


a good bit from another poet: 


 “Ars Poetica #100: I Believe” by Elizabeth Alexander


Poetry (and now my voice is rising)
is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.


You can use the links as a kind of poetry play list to check out the poems.



Social Science Words: IQ debate Switcharoo

The Globe’s interesting and opinionated Brainiac blog tipped me off to more yet more ink being spilled (should that be ‘pixels being pushed?’) on the debate about whether IQ is an intrinsic characteristic, from which economic, and other kinds of success follow. Generally this whole area of controversy leaves me cold–it’s worse than the unceasing, yet ever less edifying, fights about teaching Huck Finn in U.S. high schools.

Still a couple of interesting points come out. Brainiac links to the piece by the editor of “The American Conservative” who slogged through data exhaustively. (How skillfully is uncertain, anybody from my social science posse up for an analysis?) He came to the conclusion that the independent and dependent variables are switched. IQ depends on economic and other factors, not the other way around. It’s not “genetically determined” (a fairly meaningless term when it comes to social traits but that’s a soapbox for another day). He cites the issue of American and Israeli Jews with strong shared genetic heritage, yet marked differences in IQ (American Jews have high IQ’s relative to other groups, significantly higher than Israeli Jews). Another example: if economic status is the independent variable, as it improves, so should IQ. This is what has happened to the IQs of Latinos in the U.S. whose socioeconomic status has increased.

Fair warning: the piece is overly long (who edits the editor?). Lots of shaky points: the cross cultural stuff, including various biases, makes these head to head comparisons dubious, identical twin studies are a methodological mess with very small N’s, the multiple intelligences concept is ignored (whether it’s unwelcome in the halls of The American Conservative or just too messy, I don’t know.) And there are oodles of measurement and instrument problems. (He’s doing ‘meta-meta analysis’ so actual instruments and data are pretty far upstream.) Still, worth scanning if this is one of your hobby horses. The comments are lively.

Advice to the Writer

Found in Ian Frazier’s Humor Me: An Anthology of Funny Writing, the opening of Michael O’Donoghue’s How to Write Good:

A long time ago, when I was just starting out, I had the good fortune to meet the great Willa Cather. With all the audacity of youth, I asked her what advice she would give the would-be-writer and she replied:

“My advice to the would-be-writer is that he start slowly, writing short undemanding things, things such as telegrams, flip-books, crank letters, signature scarves, spot quizzes, capsule summaries, fortune cookies, and errata. Then, when he feels he’s ready, move up to the more challenging items such as mandates, objective correlatives, passion plans, pointless diatribes, minor classics, manifestos, mezzotints, oxymora, exposés, broadsides, and papal bulls.

And above all, never forget that the pen is mightier than the plowshare. By this I mean that writing, all in all, is a hell of a lot more fun than farming. For one thing, writers seldom, if ever, have to get up a five o’clock in the morning and shovel manure. As far as I’m concerned, that gives them the edge right there.”

She went on to tell me many things, both wonderful and wise, probing the secret of her craft, showing how to weave a net of words and capture the fleeting stuff of life.

Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten every bit of it.

It peters out after that great opening… now off to work on my signature scarf, accompanied by my delight in the new found fact that the plural of oxymoron is really oxymora!

Poetic Words: Unlikely Subjects

Harold Bloom, explicator of so much of literature, gets a starring role in a droll poem by Joel Lewis. The 1,000 pages a day must be true, and given his bibliography, he must write 50 a day too. How on earth is it even possible to do that and follow the Yankees?

How Harold Bloom Chills Out

Right after
Professor Harold Bloom of Yale
explained his
1,000 pages-a-day
reading habit as
“perhaps a neo-Lamarckian
inheritance from an unknown
Talmudic sage ancestor”
the C-Span interviewer asked:
“I’ve heard you are
a baseball fan”

Bloom’s Jabba the Hutt-meets-Falstaff face lit up.
“Oh yes, I’ve supported the Yankees since 1936,
when an uncle took me to a game.

In fact, when this interview is concluded, I shall
turn on this television set to see
‘how the Yankees are doing.'”

JOEL LEWIS, from Surrender When Leaving Coach

Reasonable Words: Maps and Models

Interesting example about maps as models from a NYker profile of Paul Krugman. Larger point concerns the making of models in economics. Despite the potential gain in explanatory or predictive power of a more formal model, there is a potential loss as well. Greater rigor can mean that useful–and correct–information that doesn’t meet the criteria for rigor is banished, for a couple of centuries in the cases of maps of Africa. Models giveth, and taketh away.

Again, as in his trade theory, it was not so much his idea that was significant as the translation of the idea into mathematical language. “I explained this basic idea”—of economic geography—“to a non-economist friend,” Krugman wrote, “who replied in some dismay, ‘Isn’t that pretty obvious?’ And of course it is.” Yet, because it had not been well modelled, the idea had been disregarded by economists for years. Krugman began to realize that in the previous few decades economic knowledge that had not been translated into models had been effectively lost, because economists didn’t know what to do with it. His friend Craig Murphy, a political scientist at Wellesley, had a collection of antique maps of Africa, and he told Krugman that a similar thing had happened in cartography. Sixteenth-century maps of Africa were misleading in all kinds of ways, but they contained quite a bit of information about the continent’s interior—the River Niger, Timbuktu. Two centuries later, mapmaking had become much more accurate, but the interior of Africa had become a blank. As standards for what counted as a mappable fact rose, knowledge that didn’t meet those standards—secondhand travellers’ reports, guesses hazarded without compasses or sextants—was discarded and lost. Eventually, the higher standards paid off—by the nineteenth century the maps were filled in again—but for a while the sharpening of technique caused loss as well as gain.

A Blog as a Daily Neighborhood Snapshot

The Sartorialist–through the usual web tunnel of distraction–led me to Spitalfields Life, a daily chronicle of life in that part of London’s East End.

From the site:

My Promise

Over the coming days, weeks, months and years, I am going to write every single day and tell you about life here in Spitalfields at the heart of London. How can I ever describe the exuberant richness and multiplicity of culture in this place to you? This is both my task and my delight.

Let me disclose to you the hare-brained ambition I am pursuing, which is to write at least ten thousand stories about Spitalfields life. At the rate of one a day, this will take approximately twenty-seven years and four months. Who knows what kind of life we shall be living in 2037 when I write my ten thousandth post?

I do not think there will be any shortage of material, though it may be difficult to choose what to write of because the possibilities are infinite. Truly all of human life is here in Spitalfields.

As promised, it’s varied and engrossing, and the kind of thing blogging was made for. I will not be doing Takoma Park Life, although I like the idea of Winter Hill life, which I now would have to make up…

From a recent Spitalfields Life post about Libby Hall, a collector of dog photography.

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There’s also a sweet “dogs of spring” post.

For me, at least, the whole project is an echo of a great anthropological book, The Comfort of Things, about a single block in London. The researchers lived on the street for a year and wrote profiles of the inhabitants and the possessions in their life.

Jenny Diski: Of Youth & Age

Still reading her book on The Sixties, cleared-eyed about her hippie youth (and youth in general):

“Our youthful cruelty was boundless. Youth does cruelty quite easily, not having the accretions of time to deal with, but I remember a glaring clarity as I looked at the bourgeois life and its compromises, the working life and its compliance, and what seemed the direct consequences of both, that may have demanded cruelty to reassure ourselves that we could stay clear of it. Some of the generation that had come to their young adulthood in the Fifties had seen it too and hit the road. It’s kind of a laser-guided vision, a pure beam of light in a crepuscular landscape, that is available to the young when they look at the world that has been made ready for them, which they are about to step out into. You see it in your children when they get that pitying, disdainful smile on their face and don’t bother to argue with you because you can’t possibly grasp what they know. Which is, simply, that they are new and you are old, and that what they see is being seen accurately for the first time ever. And they are right. The compromises that adults make cause much of the suffering in the world, or, at best, fail to deal with suffering. Acceptance of one’s lot–maintaining a silence about what can’t be said, lowering your expectations for your own life and for others, and understanding that nothing about the way the world works will ever change–is the very marrow of maturity, and no wonder the newly fledged children look at it with horror and know that it won’t happen to them–or turn their backs on it for fear it will. They know it’s too late for you to “get it,” so they smile and leave the room, away from your reasoning, well, actually, increasingly shrill voice. It’s unnerving–especially if you remember that same smile on your own face when you were young. Not everyone, of course not everyone, but that terrible clarity of vision is available to the young of every generation, and those who look become the trouble-makers, the difficult ones, that the elders complain about eternally.”

It is the eternal face off, but at least in The Sixties, the youth did hold on to the idea of change far longer and more tenaciously. (Although, I think when I get to the “Changing Our Minds” chapter that closes the book, I’ll see that Diski sees that same tenacity being the engine of the Thatcher/Reagan era.)

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