Kahn Academy


While googling “permutations” I happened upon a Khan Academy tutorial (PRECALCULUS > PROBABILITY AND COMBINATORICS). A guy named Sal explaining the permutation formula and how to use it. I have not given this topic a thought since high school and while familiar with Kahn Academy, I never watched one of their tutorials. Wow. This seems like a great way to learn. Math was really hard for me but if I had had access to these I think I would have done much better.

Illiteracy in America

“According to a study conducted in late April by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. That’s 14 percent of the population. 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read.[…] The current literacy rate isn’t any better than it was 10 years ago. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (completed most recently in 2003, and before that, in 1992), 14 percent of adult Americans demonstrated a “below basic” literacy level in 2003, and 29 percent exhibited a “basic” reading level.”

The Evangelical Brand

“A generation ago, the Republican Party realized that Evangelical Christianity could be a valuable acquisition. “Evangelical” had righteous, “family values” brand associations, the unassailable name of Jesus, the authority of the Bible, and the organizing infrastructure and social capital of Evangelical churches. Republican operatives courted Evangelical leaders and promised them power and money—the power to turn back the clock on equal rights for women and queers, and the glitter of government subsidies for church enterprises including religious education, real estate speculation, and marketing campaigns that pair social services with evangelism.”

“As in any story about selling your soul, Evangelical leaders largely got what they bargained for, but at a price that only the devil fully understood in advance. Internally, Evangelical communities can be wonderfully kind, generous and mutually supportive. But today, few people other than Evangelical Christians themselves associate the term “Evangelical” with words like generous and kind. In fact, a secular person is likely to see a kind, generous Evangelical neighbor as a decent person in spite of their Christian beliefs, not because of them.”

Evangelical Christianity destroyed its own brand »

We’re trained to need bosses

This post by David Cain looks at what it means to be your own boss. I’ve never been my own boss for many of the reasons mentioned by Mr. Cain. Looking back, I think that need to escape was there much of the time.

I wish somebody had pulled me aside and told me that the education system and working culture I’m going to be marched into are places that are ultimately going to need escaping from.

Parents (I’ve never been one) might bristle at Mr. Cain’s take on children but it seems a valid observation;

Many people deal with the vapidity of their jobs by having children, because parenting lends an immediate seriousness and purpose to one’s role on the planet. Providing for a child is an act that feels intrinsically meaningful to a human being, and so devotion to your job, even a dull one, can become an extension of devotion to your role as a parent, giving meaning to the hoops to be jumped through at work.

If you’ve ever thought of escaping the 9-to-5 life, the full post (below) is worth a read.

Steve Jobs Schools

Boy (4-5) and Girl (1) play with iPad and iPhone

“Some 1,000 children aged four to 12 will attend the schools, without notebooks, books or backpacks. Each of them, however, will have his or her own iPad. There will be no blackboards, chalk or classrooms, homeroom teachers, formal classes, lesson plans, seating charts, pens, teachers teaching from the front of the room, schedules, parent-teacher meetings, grades, recess bells, fixed school days and school vacations. If a child would rather play on his or her iPad instead of learning, it’ll be okay. And the children will choose what they wish to learn based on what they happen to be curious about.”

More at Spiegel Online

Afghanistan: Drawdown

“Removing the Taliban and wiping out Al Qaeda, emancipating women, education for all, and eradicating the poppy and heroin trade. These were some of the lofty ideals that were espoused earlier in the war. Now they lie abandoned on the Afghan battlefield and getting home is the only clear mission.”

Boy, I hope nobody who lost a loved one in Afghanistan sees this documentary by John D. McHugh. Because it will be damned hard to say it was in a worthy cause. If I lost a family member — or important parts of my body — in this effort, I’d have to find a way to convince myself it was for a good cause or I’d go mad.

If you can’t do the full 25 minutes, just watch a few minutes of our guys trying to train and motivate the locals.

The God Argument

the-god-argumentThe God Argument (The Case Against Religion and for Humanism) by A. C. Grayling was a bit of a slow read for me, compared to a few other books I’ve read on this topic. This was, I believe, my first brush with secular humanism and it’s nice to have a basic definition of the concepts.

“Secularism is the principle of maintaining a separation between religious interests and bodies, on the one hand, and the state, on the other hand, on the premise that religion has no greater claim than any other self-interest outlook in debates about matters of government and public policy.”

“The basis of humanism is that we are to answer the most fundamental of all questions, the question of how to live, by reflection on the facts of human experience in the real world, and not on the basis of religion. […] As a broad ethical outlook, humanism involves no sectarian divisions or strife, no supernaturalism, no taboos, no food and dress codes, no restrictive sexual morality other than what is implicit in the demand to treat others with respect, consideration and kindness.”

Humanism’s two fundamental premises: 1) “there are no supernatural agencies in the universe,” 2) “our ethics must be drawn from, and responsive to, the nature and circumstances of human experience.”

“A key requirement (of humanism) is that individuals should think for themselves about what they are and how they should live. […] It imposes no obligations on people other than to think for themselves.”

Same for stoicism which, at first glances, seems to share some ideas with Buddhism.

“Stoicism’s main doctrine was that one should cultivate two capacities: ‘indifference’, and self-control. They used the term ‘indifference’ in the strict sense of this term to men neutrality, detachment, as in not taking sides on a question, or being disengaged from a quarrel.”

A few more ideas that got some highlighter »
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What if that’s not how things work?

From an Ezra Klein interview with Chrystia Freeland, editor of Thomson Reuters Digital and author of “The Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.” The Q&A was packed with interesting insights. Take a moment to read the full piece at the link above.

“Yes, the people with merit and inventiveness should be at the top, but we want the natural outcome to be harmonious. And the scary thing is, what if that’s just not how the economy will work for the next 20 or 30 years? What if even if we get education and economic policy and all the rest of it right, that we’re not there? Do you say, okay, the way it’s working now is not consistent with how we imagine this democracy should work and therefore we believe the rich should be taxed more aggressively to support the middle class? That’s a very different way of thinking about the economy and the social contract. And after Romney’s loss, the scary thing for the super-rich becomes actually maybe they’re not going to be the ones to decide.”

“If you’ve developed an ideology that what’s good for you personally also happens to be good for everyone else, that’s quite wonderful because there’s no moral tension.”

“I’ve heard from people who worked in the White House that (Obama) doesn’t like rich people. I don’t actually think it’s true. I think he has a kind of Harvard Law School sense of kinship with these guys. He’s a member of the same technocratic elite. He could have taken that path. He has an admiration for those skills. But what he doesn’t have at all is a belief that the pure fact of having made a lot of money makes your views more valuable, or makes you more interesting or smarter than anyone else.”

Brave New War

Here’s my over-simplification of John Robb’s thesis in Brave New War: A few, dedicated “Global Guerrillas” can defeat the army of a nation state by disrupting critical systems. I thought he made a pretty good case. Not sure about his timing, however. The book, written in 2007, suggests a dire sceneria for 2016:

“Security will become a function of where you live and whom you work for, much as health care is allocated already. Wealthy individuals and multinational corporations will be the first to bail out of our collective system, opting instead to hire private military companies, such as Blackwater and Triple Canopy, to protect their homes and facilities and to establish a protective perimeter around daily life. Parallel transportation networks—evolving out of the time-share aircraft companies such as Warren Buffett’s Netjets—will cater to this group, leapfrogging its members from one secure, well-appointed lily pad to the next. Members of the middle class will follow, taking matters into their own hands by forming suburban collectives to share the costs of security—as they do now with education—and shore up delivery of critical services. These “armored suburbs” will deploy and maintain backup generators and communications links; they will be patrolled civilian police auxiliaries that have received corporate training and boast their own state-of-the-art emergency response systems. As for those without the means to build their own defense, they will have to make do with the remains of the national system. They will gravitate to the cities, where they will be subject to ubiquitous surveillance and marginal or nonexistent services. For the poor, there will be no other refuge.”

I kept looking for “the good news” but this was the best he offered:

“The strikes of the future will be strategic, pinpointing the systems we rely on, and they will leave entire sections of the country without energy and communications for protracted periods. But the frustration and economic pain that result will have a curious side effect: they will spur development of an entirely new, decentralized security system, one that devolves power and responsibility to a mix of local governments, private companies, and individuals.”

Brave New War was only a couple hundred pages and well worth the read for those that share my sneaking suspicion a) our governments don’t tell us the truth, and b) we are not winning The War on Terror because it can’t be won.

Teach children “how to believe”


One of the best ideas (for me) in this documentary came from Prof. Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, UK. He points out that a five year old will 25 in 2031, and asks how can any teacher say she/he is preparing that child for 2031.

Professor Mitra suggest a curriculum that teaches just three skills:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Information search and retrieval
  • Teach the child “how to believe.”

That last one was the money shot for me. He described it as “giving the child armor against doctrine.” Not just religious doctrine, but rigid belief sets of all kinds. Ooh.