Regarding >> “America has a simple ideology”: how one of Russia’s top US experts tries to explain America – Vox

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A couple of observations:

  1. What might underlie this Russian perception — which I think is over the top — is something far more threatening to the Russian psyche than the idea that America is scheming and plotting to topple them.  Far worse indeed is the truth, which is that since the end of the Cold War we’ve more or less ignored them.  A lot of what Putin has done, seems to me, to be the geopolitical equivalent of a moody tweener screaming for attention from the once-idolized cool kid who nows ignores them.  Going from being one of two superpowers, where every time the Kremlin caught a cold, Washington sneezed, to a perceived backwater minor power, is bruising.
  2. Having said that, from one point of view, they’re not entirely crazy.  While I think they overestimate the coherence of any “American worldview”, there is a certain evangelizing tendency in American politics.  We’ve solved it, many Americans think, and of course everyone else should reap the benefit of our leadership.  It’s cloying and positive but threatening in its own way.  And the ongoing cultural ascendancy of American media — where our action films and pop fashions rule the world — can’t help anyone feel secure.
  3. It’s hard to see what to do about this.  You can’t convince someone you’re on their side by simply repeatedly telling them that.   And our actual attitude — dismissive neglect — is unlikely to generate either the evidence of a benign attitude or reciprocal respect.  The nigh-complete breakdown of the American political machine implies more neglect and drift, with sporadic and counterproductive engagement mixed with saber-rattling for domestic benefit.  It’s a bind.

Regarding: “America has a simple ideology”: how one of Russia’s top US experts tries to explain America – Vox

Josh Marshall, spot-on as always

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From Talking Points Memo:

Yes, George W. Really Should Remain Silent

For all my many criticisms of him during his presidency, I have come to respect President Bush’s post-presidency. He’s kept out of the toxic political battles that came after he left office. He’s had the confidence or perhaps simply the realism and detachment to leave it to posterity to judge his presidency and not try to duke it out in the 24/7 press cycle like his toxic second Dick Cheney. And there are moments of grace like the recent 50th anniversary commemoration of the the March on Selma. DC’s Republican leadership stayed away. But Bush was there. One might argue that there was little to be gained by Republicans attending since, in the nature of things, it was not going to be a receptive audience and they would be upstaged infinitely by the iconic symbolism of an African-American President. But the same applies to Bush. And he was there.

Full article: Yes, George W. Really Should Remain Silent

One sentence can pull you out of an entirely fine essay

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By Godot13 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I actually agree with most of what Fareed Zakaria writes in his Washington Post op-ed “Why America’s Obsession with STEM Education is Dangerous“.  We need balanced, robust, well-rounded education, not narrow business-driven training.  It will take many different vantages points to see solutions to the problems we face in this hardest century of human history.  Students of mine often express shock (and perhaps a little betrayal) when they complain about, say, their history teacher and ask me “Don’t you think it’s just a waste of time?” only for me to reply that it is one of my favorite subjects.  As a physics guy, I obviously think we need more and better science teaching, but I also think we need more and better teaching in the humanities and the arts.

Having said that… boy, does this one sentence put me in a slow burn:

No matter how strong your math and science skills are, you still need to know how to learn, think and even write.

It angers me that Farakaria, with a vast platform, falls into the stereotypical thinking that these skills — learning, writing, thinking — are somehow not part of the math/science pool.  In actuality, of course, scientists, engineers, and coders practice those skills constantly.  While there are surely scientists who cannot write, there are English majors with the same problem.  STEM thinking isn’t the only kind of thinking we need, but it is thinking.  It is both disingenuous and insulting for him to imply otherwise.

I know it’s a small piece of a larger argument, but it still rankled me.

College Admissions Hunger Games

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Today the NY Times published an Upshot op-ed called “For Accomplished Students, Reaching a Good College Isn’t as Hard as It Seems“.  It’s one of those article that seems to say more than it does.  It doesn’t actually support the conclusion it asserts.  Saying that roughly the same percentage of “top students” still get admission to elite schools is almost self-evidently circular, and does nothing to dispute the notion that “college admissions has become a Hunger Games-like tournament”.  In the Hunger Games, the same number of winners happened each year — but the competition wasn’t always the same.  And what constitutes a “top student” could (and does!) vary from year to year without creating more of them.

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The persistence of “factory”-style schools

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Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute asksWhy Do ‘Anti-Corporatists’ Defend Factory-Style Leadership?”  There’s a lot in there I’d like to respond to; here’s my first swing at it.

It’s easy to blame hidebound educators for educational malaise, and some of the blame lands justly. But you cannot begin to understand the problem until you realize how strenuously parents resist any change that means their kids aren’t learning it the way they did. If education “looks different”, it is distrusted and undervalued. (Witness the growing backlash over Common Core.)

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Lunacon 2014 (2d): Gamification in Education

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Saturday 2 PM

I sort of felt obligated to go to this panel (and the one on The Future of Education), seeing that I am a teacher and all.

It was OK.  The title proved to be inaccurate: This was more about the use of existing games in a school setting.  Gamification usually refers to adopting the tropes of gameplay — varying difficulty, badges and other rewards, etc. — for use in education.   Instead, the panelists related how they had used games to advance their classes.  Two of the three panelists work (at least part time) for companies that make educational games, so that wasn’t too surprising.

While sitting there I thought up a game I might use in covering diffusion:

  • Start with a grid grouped into larger boxes (I’m thinking a 21×21 grid, divided into 3×3 boxes).
  • In some of the boxes, place pennies to represent molecules of gas.
  • Every turn, for every penny, roll 1d8 and move accordingly along a cardinal direction.
    • If the target square is occupied, the moving penny stops and does not enter.  Instead, the other penny moves in the direction indicated.
    • Pennies that hit the edge of the grid bounce back.
    • As a variant, give the pennies two speeds, based on the heads/tails status.
      • heads = moving; tails = stopped
      • A moving penny hitting a stopped penny itself stops.  The hit penny moves off.
      • A moving penny hitting a moving penny bounces back (in the opposite direction) and is stopped.  The hit penny is also stopped.
    • Using the larger boxes allows you to compute density variations.

Two quips about using games:

  • Magic: The Gathering is a good introduction to business strategy and resource management.
  • AD&D is “hours of improv comedy with an algebra test in the middle”.  😀

Games mentioned

  • Compounded: A game about the periodic table
  • Phylomon: a Pokemon-type collectible card game about ecology
  • Bio Blitz