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"Thanks for the newspaper with your book review. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this terrific piece of writing. It is beautiful, complex, scholarly. Only sorry Mr. Freire cannot read it!" -- Ailene

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Support the Nadler-Lee-Stark Amendment

The Nadler-Lee-Stark amendment will be voted on today or tomorrow.

The Congress is voting on a Continuing Resolution to authorize funding for 2011. Continuing resolutions are used when a new budget has not been adopted. It allows the government to continue to operate while debate continues on the budget.

This amendment to the Continuing Resolution, which will set the budget for FY 2011, would strike $90 billion from the proposed $100 billion allotted for Afghanistan, leaving $10 billion for the withdrawal of US troops.

Call the Capitol Switchboard TODAY: (202)-224-3121.
Ask your member of Congress to vote in favor of this amendment.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Missing the Forest for the Mystery Lights

At a PhACT meeting recently, George Hansen complained to me that, in a couple of earlier posts ("Review: The Trickster and the Paranormal" and "This Movie Is for the Birds"), I had misrepresented him by saying he portrayed Linda Moulton Howe as a credible source of information (and I had added that I thought this reflected negatively on his own powers of critical judgment). He said that, on the contrary, he had written about how "even her friends sometimes become exasperated at her for uncritically accepting information from government personnel." I said I'd reread that part of his book and issue a correction if necessary.

I've now reread the section in question. It's true that he makes the statement about her uncritical reporting of claims by government personnel. But that's a very limited criticism compared to what I observed when she spoke at the Central Library in 2002, which didn't even involve quoting government sources. As I wrote in my review of Hansen's book, Howe failed to see evidence of the artifactual nature of "mystery lights" that was literally staring her in the face, instead seeming to see only further "mystery" in it. Likewise, she irrationally dismissed the revelation by the two Englishmen about having made crop circles — with a demonstration of how they did it — on the grounds that these two men couldn't be responsible for circles on multiple continents. This totally missed the real point of their revelation, which was that if they could do it, anyone could do it. And evidently many have.

Compared to this, what is Hansen's observation that Howe is unduly credulous about claims coming from government sources? Why, it's hardly anything. He ascribes to her such broad positive traits as "incredible energy, tenacity, and dedication" as well as "integrity ... above reproach," yet he doesn't see fit to criticize her incredible obtuseness when it comes to recognizing information that disconfirms her beliefs? Such an imbalance might be called "praising with faint damnation," and borders on dishonesty in my book. Unless, of course, he doesn't mention her obtuseness because he shares it with her.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Critical Thinking Discussed, Not Applied on NPR

Today's Morning Edition discussed a study that purported to show that a large fraction of college students aren't learning critical thinking skills. This may well be true, but it was never stated how this outcome had been measured — particularly ironic given that Steve Inskeep had opened the interview with a declaration that he'd be applying critical thinking to the study, yet never asked this rather basic question. Here's the comment I posted:

You said you'd apply some critical thinking to the study, but actually did very little. You never asked the guest how it was determined that a third of the students surveyed showed little improvement in critical thinking skills. The only metrics mentioned were the amount of writing done, and how difficult students feel their courses are. Neither of these bears any necessary relation to critical thinking. One can write at great length, but if the teacher gives a high grade simply for regurgitating what he said, no critical thinking need be involved. On the other hand, if a professor knows how to teach critical thinking really well, the student might find it very easy despite the fact that he's learning a lot.

Some good ways to measure such skills can be imagined. For instance, one could ask a person to read an essay and then identify all the fallacies it contains. This might involve very little writing — none at all if administered orally — but would still provide a definite measure of critical thinking skills. But the guest said nothing about whether this or any similarly relevant test was actually employed in the study.
You can read a transcript of the story at

Sunday, February 06, 2011

A Little Exposure Never Hurts

Last Sunday I had an experience to which I didn't respond as promptly as I would have liked because of social anxiety.

I was doing the laundry at a place around a couple corners from my building. This is a place I started using a few weeks ago, when it had just opened. The location is much more convenient than where I'd been taking the laundry, at 7th and Girard, and also cost less. It's built into a little apartment building on Carlisle Street.

The first few times I used it I was quite satisfied. But last Sunday, I looked inside the only dryer that wasn't in use, and found there was water at the bottom. I got the manager's attention, saying, "This dryer isn't working right." Then I pointed and said, "See, there's water at the bottom."

The manager responded by going to get a rag or washcloth, coming back, and wiping the water up. Then he left the dryer just as it was.

From past experience, I'd always assumed that a dryer in this condition is not functioning properly. How can it get clothes dry if there's water at the bottom? So I was simply stunned that the manager was wiping the water up — in effect concealing that there was a problem — and not putting an "Out of order" sign on the machine. I didn't even think of asking him about it then, so conditioned I seem to be by fear of confrontation.

At the time I simply decided I wouldn't come back to this place, as the manager was evidently either incompetent or a crook — and a brazen one too, to have done what he did right in front of me. I started also thinking of putting signs up in the neighborhood to report on what had happened.

But a day or two later I told a couple of my co-workers about it, and one of them asked me, "Did you say anything?" I admitted that I hadn't, and he noted that the manager apparently had not been wrong in thinking he could be so brazen. This thought had crossed my mind, but hearing it from someone else made it impossible to simply push out of consciousness. (Social proof to the rescue!) So I resolved to go back there and ask the manager to explain his action.

This past week I've been lacking a home Internet connection, keeping me out late using a library computer. So I didn't get a chance to address this matter till today. When I went there, a different person was managing, who has hardly any English. He pointed to a sign across the street with his boss's number on it, so I called that. I asked the man who answered if he was the one managing last Sunday, and he confirmed this. But when I reminded him of what had happened, he simply denied it. He repeatedly asked "Last Sunday?" and I would again confirm that that's when it happened. But he just kept saying, "There was nothing wrong," and "No one said anything." So finally I said, "Well, either you have a bad memory or you're a liar. Either way, I'm not bringing my business here any more."

I wish he'd been there in person, so I could have confronted him face to face. Not that I relish that thought. Just the contrary. It would have been more anxious-making — and therefore a better "exposure" to help me learn I can handle my social anxiety. But that's the way the cookie crumbled. Better than nothing, anyway.