What I’ve been reading

1. Building the Intentional University: Minerva and the Future of Higher Education, edited by Stephen M. Kosslyn and Ben Nelson.  The new university Minerva explains its educational philosophy, imagining redesigning higher ed from scratch.  I would do something very similar to what they did, and this book explains the curricular philosophy and practice in great detail.

2. Olivier Roy, In Search of the Lost Orient: An Interview.  There should be a book like this for every substantive thinker, namely a very long, book-length interview with frank rather than perfunctory answers.  The dialog covers Afghanistan, Yemen, 1968 Paris and radicalism, China, “political Islam,” and women (ahem), among other topics.  Recommended.

3. Aaron Carroll, The Bad Food Bible: How and Why to Eat Sinfully.  Yes, that is the Aaron Carroll, the one who writes about health care policy.  What does the evidence actually say about which foods are good and bad for you?  I’ll just say my diet is healthier than I had thought, and beware added sugar.

I have only browsed Abbas Amanat’s Iran: A Modern History, but it appears to be a very readable and highly useful 908 pp. overview of Persian/Iranian history, though less theoretical and conceptual than what an economist might be looking for.

Harvey Sachs, Toscanini: A Musician of Conscience, is a very high quality book, I would have read more of it except I can’t stand listening to Toscanini.

Eric A. Posner has the forthcoming Last Resort: The Financial Crisis and the Future of Bailouts.  He argues that much of what was done was not fully legal.

Dani Rodrik’s Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy is a very good introduction to Rodrik’s basic ideas on trade.


#2 - to compliment this book read: Video Night in Kathmandu by Pico Iyer (on "East meets West"), and get this free book online: George Myron Merrick, "Old Times on the Upper Mississippi: 1854-1863", well written biography of a river pilot, no flowery prose, gets into engineering and describes, credibly, a timber wolf attack (as a boy he ran up a tree and after an hour they lost interest and left).

Bonus trivia: riverboats are wide but have a very shallow draft, so just a few feet of water will float them, but their loads must be balanced very carefully since a few inches less displacement will get them stuck on a sandbar.

Unless Jane Mayer gets into the details of how the GMU Foundation was used to magically transform donations to 'GMU' to millions of dollars that went to public policy institutes with no actual connection to GMU that were controlled by the same people giving the donations, I'm not all that interested.

It is really a fascinating dodge, to be honest. The Kochs have contributed very little to GMU, a Commonwealth of Virginia supported institution of higher learning. Instead, they have contributed large amounts of money to the GMU Foundation, which is a private entity - for example, this is why the secret donor who was able to change the name of a taxpayer funded law school remains secret, as the Foundation has no obligation to make its business public.

You can trace, to an extent, what is going on using tax returns, but the entire process has now been working for decades. It hinges on the idea that people associate GMU with public policy institutes which are actually thoroughly separate from GMU itself. For example, it would clearly be illegal for a university program to search for 'better metrics with which to monitor students’ political views' - something which is not the case with IHS or Mercatus.

Mayer does not drill down into GMU Foundation that much. She does make the claim there's a "Koch-to-pus" using inferences. For example, tonight I read now the Tea Party was supposedly a Koch-to-pus "Astroturf" effort rather than a real grassroots effort (*sample blurb below). I don't think she makes her case but I like her prose, and reading between the polemic lines, you can learn about the personalities in politics.

Meyer: "The next morning, Santelli delivered his ['Tea Party'] rant, and within moments it went viral. Matt Drudge, the conservative news aggregator, linked to it under one of his Web site’s rotating red siren emblems, promoting it to the site’s three million daily readers as a pulsating political emergency. Within hours, another Web site called TaxDayTeaParty.com appeared on the Internet, spreading the rebellion under the Tea Party label. Its domain name was registered by Eric Odom, a young member of the Libertarian Party of Illinois who lived in Chicago. Odom had been working until recently for an organization called the Sam Adams Alliance, whose chief executive had long and close ties to the Kochs."

Posner and Bailouts: Posner also states that bailouts were necessary (and a very good thing) and have occurred throughout history and will happen again. I read Paulsen's book and Geithner's book and both were concerned about legal authority for their actions but more concerned about the abyss. When one is drowning one doesn't worry about trespassing on someone's boat. Ignorance (much of it the result of pandering politicians) has also occurred throughout history and will happen again. One can see evidence in many if not most places.

Amanat and Iran: My personal knowledge of Iran is pretty much limited to the two antique Persian rugs in my living room. That and one of the three wise men who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus and, of course, everything I learned (but mostly forgotten) from Ted Koppel. Much could be gained if President Trump "browsed" this book.

"I would have read more of it except I can’t stand listening to Toscanini."

I don't see the connexion between reading a book and not liking a musician.

Minerva: From the Amazon summary: "Minerva equips students with the cognitive tools they need to succeed in the world after graduation, building the core competencies of critical thinking, creative thinking, effective communication, and effective interaction." Doesn't that describe a classical education? When did higher education become a trade school?

When people went to law school, you know, to become grumpy old lawyers living in the south.

Building the Intentional University: Minerva and the Future of Higher Education, edited by Stephen M. Kosslyn and Ben Nelson

Looks useful but I find the pricing curious; charging $35-40 dollars would imply that they expect readers to come from libraries, which means the niche is narrow. I'm interested in the topic but not to the point of supernormal pricing!

It is rather steep for a book that explicitly says it is trying to recruit people. Seems like they want us to pay for the privilege of receiving a long form advertisement. I read the "Look Inside" pages on Amazon.

I reject the idea that society need more leadership by enlightened people; I think we need more people capable of leading themselves. This bias definitely influenced my view.

To some extent it appears that Minerva is actually working towards critical thought. However, these skills should be explicitly be taught in high school, and by the time one gets to college they should be expected, the norm, the bare minimum. It isn't happening in HS, and I can see the need for remedial education. While I agree with the themes of the courses, I disagree that they are courses by themselves. One should know what their sources as part of forming a coherent idea, but that is merely one of the expectations of a term paper.

My interest in higher education is very narrow and tied to engineering. I don't see how it would benefit from Minerva's approach. In the preview pages available, it does not appear that actual practical skills are taught, which is directly counter to the assertions made. Being taught the scientific method is great, but this should be expected when science is first taught. Being able to argue and being opposed against pseudo-science is a nice sophomoric exercise; actually knowing science and being able to apply it into the real world is what adults do.

I find the ideas around the admission process to not be very self-aware. The statement is that they are looking to admit every qualified person. They don't admit people on academic merit, but rather on likelihood of becoming a leader. What does the admissions committee look at then, a HS yearbook where you were named most likely to become President? They say they admit every qualified person to learn practical things; but they don't admit based on students having a demonstrable success on learning practical things. What is qualified?

Qualified a Minerva appears to be "someone who is going to fit our mold and make us look good".....which is exactly like every other top tier school. Nothing has changed, except now instead of pretending to be about academics like Yale or Harvard, Minerva is explicitly looking for people who fit their ideal for admissions into polite society.

Is this higher education, or is it a four year degree on Minerva Leadership by the Numbers?

I was hoping for something else. I agree that if we teach for the purposes of turning people into tenured professors, we are missing the mark by far. I agree that much of the cost can be kept down if we keep the non-essentials away. I think we should teach practical things.

I'm just not seeing a four year degree in leadership being all that practical.

The point, I think, is that Johnny still can't read! America's failing schools are surely one of the causes for the current trials and tribulations of the average American. Why doea it happen? What can be done? Will America enact much need reforms bedore it is too late?

"I would have read more of it except I can’t stand listening to Toscanini."

If you mean listening to Toscanini speak, I suppose I can understand.

If you mean that you can't stand listening to his recordings, what is wrong with you?

I've known for a long time that simple sugars are bad because they cause oxidative stress on the vascular endothelium (the one-cell-thick lining of the circulatory system). This is why excessive consumption of sugary sodas causes type 2 diabetes in young people, normally a disease seen only in old age. Consensus opinion is that cardiovascular disease also begins with endothelial dysfunction, and an emerging body of evidence implicates endothelial dysfunction in Alzheimer's Disease.

2017 is the year I learned that being too aggressive against sodium is bad. I was influenced by a doctor who seemed to think all sodium intake was bad. I drink a lot of water and normally eat a low-sodium diet, which by themselves are not bad. But I've been increasing my aerobic exercise, and during the summer that meant I was sweating a lot. Aha! Losing sodium there. I was having problems which were solved by drinking warmed chicken stock and eating pickles. This might be idiosyncratic with me, but when I am sodium deficient I get muscle spasms in the arches of my feet in bed in the morning, and in my hands when I cut up vegetables for my mother's meals. When I have enough sodium, those symptoms go away.

Or you can skip the chicken stock and get a two-fer by drinking the pickle juice from your pickle jar. No lie, a number of athletes who engage in demanding aerobic sports drink pickle juice (instead of gatorade and the like).

I haven't tried it myself though. I don't much like pickles so I don't think I'd like pickle juice.


Yeah, if you’re gonna live like you only have a year or two to go, live like J.J. Cale sang about in “It’s Easy”:Buy Soma

Eric A. Posner has the forthcoming Last Resort: The Financial Crisis and the Future of Bailouts. He argues that much of what was done was not fully legal.

How useful would Eric Posner have been in September 2008? Somehow I suspect that when Sheila Bair and Messrs. Bernanke, Paulson, Kashkari, et al were trying to sort things out, they had more immediate considerations on their mind then whether or not a nosepicker on the Chicago law faculty would approve.

Added sugar as a concept seems ill-defined to me. If I drink grape juice (which is full of sugar) then that is OK because it has no added sugar, but if I add grape juice to some energy drink to sweeten it and it has less sugar overall than grape juice then it is bad because the sugar was "added." Can't it just be viewed as diluting the grape juice? Is eating a honeycomb now healthy because the sugar wasn't added?

I think I know enough about classical music fandom to guess why someone would say they do not like listening to Toscanini. That being said, poor H.R. Haggin tried - unsuccessfully - to make me believe Brahms and Brendel were not talented (they were, supremely, in one case, and very, in the other). I boycotted Ives and Nielsen (both lovably talented composers) for decades for staying stupid negative things about Mozart. Well, Toscanini may have been a little louche when he conducted the music of his near-contemporaries, but he was an interpretive angel of light when he conducted the composers of my grandparents' day - Verdi (for example, Trovatore, Act 4, scene 1 - I do not remember where exactly I heard it on the radio first - I think it was in Northern Michigan, but I am not sure if it was summer or winter - but as Chekhov once said (and then quickly forgot he said, although we remember) - when someone is happy they are not even aware whether it is summer or winter ) (much better in the original Russian, which you can find on poor google images).

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