More on How We Read

Posted on August 21st, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I’ve been thinking a bit about that study, reported in the Guardian, showing that readers absorb less material when they read something on an e-reader than when they read a printed book.

Because I love printed books, my reaction was pretty much one of delight—I’m happy whenever something suggests that printed books aren’t going to become obsolete.

But of course, the issue has pretty profound educational implications. More and more textbooks are being delivered (and, theoretically, read) electronically. I’m sure that’s true of more and more course materials. Not to mention the larger phenomenon of online education. Will today’s students remember less of what they’ve learned than those who read print? Or will they just need to read things more times in order to remember them?

This is one of those things where Larry Summers’ push/rush to modernize universities starts to look not so smart, and more about his impatience with perceived avatars of the past than a real understanding of smart ways in which to advance learning. I wish Walter Isaacson had pressed him a little bit harder in his “conversation” with Summers and Drew Faust a few weeks ago at the Aspen Institute….

The Sexual Assault Backlash

Posted on August 21st, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

You could predict this (in fact, I think I did): The Washington Post reports that men on college campuses accused of sexual assault are alleging that federal pressure has created an atmosphere in which they receive unfair publicity and unfair “trials.”

They fiercely dispute the validity of internal investigations that rely on a lower standard of proof for determining misconduct than what is required for a conviction of a sex crime. They also contest accounts circulating on campuses and the Internet that label them as sexual assailants or rapists.

A student at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, who was found responsible this year for sexual misconduct after an internal investigation he called biased, said: “I wasn’t given a fair trial or anything. It’s sad that this process can be abused and that the university can totally change somebody’s life, with very little evidence. . . . In the real world, rape and sexual assault are crimes punishable by going to jail — and rightfully so. Why is this left up to schools?

That last is a fair point. I’m pretty sure I wrote earlier that the federal pressure to impose rigid guidelines for handling sexual assault cases would likely force universities to involve local police departments more than they do currently. It’s interesting that some of that pressure might actually come from the men involved, who feel that they’re more likely to get a fair trial outside the campus system. What would a university do if a man accused of sexual assault insisted on going to the police?

Missouri senator Claire McCaskill, one of the senators pushing legislation that would set up mandatory policies for how campuses handle allegations of sexual assault, tells the Post that she wants as many cases as possible to be handled in court—but disagrees that there’s a widespread problem of unfair treatment of the accused.

“I don’t think we are anywhere near a tipping point where the people accused of this are somehow being treated unfairly,” McCaskill said.

Many who have faced disciplinary sanctions disagree. They question the fairness of closed-door, internal proceedings that don’t follow the same rules of evidence and procedure as criminal courts. Usually, accused students must speak for themselves, with little or no help from an attorney. Some are filing lawsuits against schools.

That, I suspect, is something we will see more and more of—universities being sued. Which will in turn force them to involve external police departments more and more. Which is something that many victims of sexual assault apparently don’t want.

But I think that may be a good thing: The idea that you could accuse someone of rape but then say, I don’t want the police to handle the matter, let’s do this on the qt, creates a situation where you’ve departed from the rule of law. The police aren’t perfect about handling allegations of sexual assault, obviously. But at least they have well-defined and public standards; rape is against the law. I think that’s better than the shifting sands of a university bureaucracy and political hype.

I can well believe that the way many universities handled these matters in the past favored the accused. But now the pendulum has swung the other way. Neither situation is tenable. This has really become a fight about cultural and political power, and not about the administration of justice.

You Read Something on a Kindle. Do You Remember It?

Posted on August 20th, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Guardian reports on a new study finding that people who read books on an e-reader remember them less well than people who read books on paper.

A new study which found that readers using a Kindle were “significantly” worse than paperback readers at recalling when events occurred in a mystery story is part of major new Europe-wide research looking at the impact of digitisation on the reading experience.

I am both not surprised and also sort of delighted by this news.

Hilary Clinton Stabs Barack Obama in the Back

Posted on August 12th, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

In an Atlantic interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, she turns on her former boss.

Clinton had many kind words for the “incredibly intelligent” and “thoughtful” Obama, and she expressed sympathy and understanding for the devilishly complicated challenges he faces. But she also suggested that she finds his approach to foreign policy overly cautious, and she made the case that America needs a leader who believes that the country, despite its various missteps, is an indispensable force for good. At one point, I mentioned the slogan President Obama recently coined to describe his foreign-policy doctrine: “Don’t do stupid shit” (an expression often rendered as “Don’t do stupid stuff” in less-than-private encounters).

This is what Clinton said about Obama’s slogan: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

For the sake of advancing her own political career—because you don’t eviscerate the commander-in-chief this way if you’re not running for president—Clinton has just made the last two years of Obama’s presidency significantly more difficult.

From a purely political point of view, I can see the argument for doing so. But I think this betrayal tells you a lot about Hilary. Nothing—not even loyalty—is going to stand in her way. Perhaps she feels she has reached the level where people owe loyalty to her and not vice-versa. Or perhaps she just doesn’t care.

I’m on Vacation

Posted on August 10th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

In case you were wondering….


Why People Shouldn’t Eat Octopus

Posted on August 1st, 2014 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Marine biologists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute have found an octopus that guards her eggs for 4.5 years. Then, when they hatch, she dies.

It’s a tough life, being an octopus. But they are amazing creatures. To my mind, eating them is like shooting an elephant to make a belt.

Today is Jerry Garcia’s Birthday

Posted on August 1st, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

He would be 72.

Deadheads remember him here. San Francisco remembers him here. Here is one of my favorite Jerry songs—the pedal steel is just beautiful.

Headline of the Day

Posted on July 31st, 2014 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

“How Have Red Sox Fallen So Far, So Fast?”

—a Boston Globe piece by Christopher Gasper.

That is an excellent question, and one I hope we can ponder for many seasons to come.

That said, I do like how the Sox are willing to admit that this is not their year and make moves now—like trading Jon Lester—that they think will help them in 2015. That’s something the Yankees never do, apparently because ownership feels it has to compete every single year; as a result, they often trade away prospects for aging stars whom they hope have a few more good months left. (Hello, Alfonso Soriano.) Or they sign aging stars whom they hope have one season left—but often don’t—for two or three years. (Hello, Carlos Beltran.) It’s a frustrating process for a fan to watch—I’d rather see promising young talent on its way up than aging talent in decline….

The Feds Get Tough on Sexual Assault at Colleges

Posted on July 30th, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Times reports that a bipartisan group of senators is pushing a bill designed to crack down on sexual assault at colleges and universities.

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced legislation designed to curb the striking number of sexual assaults on college campuses. The measure would require schools to make public the result of anonymous surveys concerning assault on campuses, and impose significant financial burdens on universities that fail to comply with some of the law’s requirements.

…The new measure would require every university in the United States to conduct anonymous surveys of students about their experience with sexual violence on campus, with the results published online. The survey, which had been pushed for by sexual assault victims, is similar to one conducted by the military, and would allow parents and high school students to make comparative choices.

There are a couple of things wrong with this.

First is reporter Jennifer Steinhauer’s use of the word striking, as in “the striking number of sexual assaults on college campuses,” when in fact we really have no idea how many assaults there are on college campuses—Steinhauer never bothers to venture a guess—nor, in my opinion, is it by any means clear at what level this would become “striking” if we did know it.

(More than society in general? About the same? Half as many?)

More important is the idea of taking anonymous surveys seriously and penalizing universities that don’t—or decline to comply with the proposed law in other ways. This is a heavy-handed intrusion of government into an area where one size fits all legislation is not the answer. I think university administrators will soon come to the point where they routinely tell students, “If you feel that you have been sexually assaulted, go to the police.” Because that may be the best way to comply with federal legislation and avoid litigation and/or federal penalty if the student feels that the university has mishandled the matter.

I continue to be fascinated by the emergence of campus sexual assault as an issue about which the level of consensus—it’s a huge and horrible problem that the federal government must deal with—is inversely proportional to the level of knowledge about the issue.

For example: Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democratic senator from my state of New York and one of the architects of this legislation, declares that ““The price of a college education should not include a 1-in-5 chance of being sexually assaulted.”

Reporter Jennifer Steinhauer takes this statistic for granted—or perhaps gives it credence (that would explain “striking”).

But any person with just a hint of skepticism would look at that number and say, Hmmm…really? One in five?

The Washington Post examined the origins of that statistic and finds that it’s based on a 2006 Department of Justice survey of 5, 446 women aged 18-25 who chose to respond to the anonymous online survey. (They were given a $10 Amazon gift certificate in exchange for filling out the survey, which was said to take 15 minutes.) The researchers admitted that response rates were low; the respondents were, obviously, a self-selected group, which would tend to skew the responses toward those who felt particularly strongly about the issue.

Some of the questions are strikingly vague—for example, “Have you suspected that someone has had sexual contact with you when you were unable to provide consent…?”

The researchers then extrapolated the results from that online poll to all women at colleges.

There are other issues with this survey—the WashPo piece does a pretty good job of getting into them—but the bottom line is that no responsible social scientist in the world would say that the results of a survey conducted in this manner are worth the paper they’re printed on.

And from what I can tell, the same is true for most of the other numbers being tossed around in the assault on sexual assault.

The Times does not note some other elements of the Campus Accountability & Safety Act, which would also:

1) require all schools to use one uniform process for campus disciplinary proceedings (presumably this is why Harvard has just done so)
2) Mandate that colleges and universities designate “Confidential Advisors” to coordinate “support services and accommodations for survivors” (This would apply only to sexual assault victims, not students who are victims of other crimes)

Here’s the specific language for these confidential advisors:

The confidential advisor shall be trained to perform a victim-centered, trauma informed (forensic) interview, which shall focus on the experience of the victim. The confidential advisor may perform the interview for which the goal is to elicit information about the traumatic event in question so that the interview can be used in either a campus or criminal investigation or disciplinary proceeding.

These confidential advisors sound like a combination of prosecutor and cop. Will the accused also be granted confidential advisors whose job is to elicit information about the alleged event and serve as their advocate?

3) Mandates specific training for “on-campus personnel”
4) Require colleges and universities to “enter into memoranda of understanding with all applicable local law enforcement agencies to clearly delineate responsibilities and share information (emphasis added) so that when a crime occurs, both campus authorities and local authorities can focus on solving the crime”…
5) Gives the Justice Department the power to subpoena the attendance and testimony of any person who might have knowledge of an alleged incident, including current and former students

Now, a couple of things. Any sexual assault is wrong, of course. (The question is how best to handle the matter.) And, to be fair, sexual assault is a notoriously difficult thing to quantify.

Still, there are real issues here that aren’t being discussed—the downside of the federal government getting involved in allegations of rape on campus, and the unintended consequences of framing something as an enormous issue (20 percent of all college women are assaulted or raped!) when that may very well not be the case. The language in this bill corrodes the very idea that one is innocent until proven guilty; it seems instead to mandate universities to establish bureaucracies whose purpose is to corroborate allegations of sexual assault, as opposed to simply seeking the truth.

Truth is, there is no perfect way to handle the problem of sexual assault on campus; every method has its downsides. But this bill seems like a bad idea. It is, one remembers, an election year.

Is David Ortiz Becoming Hard to Like?

Posted on July 28th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

After hitting a game-winning home run against Tampa Bay, Ortiz stood at the plate, stared at pitcher Chris Archer, and flipped his bat. Pretty cocky stuff for a guy on a team that’s just lost five straight and is saddled in last place in baseball’s weakest division.

‘‘I don’t know what makes him think that he can showboat the way he does, and then nobody retaliates,’’ Archer said. ‘‘Nobody looks at him in a funny way or pitches him inside. I don’t know why he feels like that, but obviously he feels the way David (Price) said he does — he feels like he’s bigger than the game. He feels like the show is all about him.’’


Ortiz has been increasingly curmudgeonly this season, and at age 38, he’s hit 25 homers about 55% of the way through the season. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, Sox fans? Just sayin’….