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Showing posts from 2016

Money Can Buy Happiness. The Question Is: “How Much Happiness Is Enough?”

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How much money buys happiness? Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell we can now say that increased wealth correlates with an increase in happiness up to an annual salary of $75,000 USD—that’s $100,000 Canadian  (See Good Teachers Are Always Underdogs ).  After $100,000 CAD, more money produces less and less happiness, until wealth eventually causes more problems than pleasures.         = < $100,000 CAD We are left with the question: “How much happiness is enough?”  Strange question?  I hope so.   Being unhappy is not a mental illness Listening to a lecture given by Thomas Szasz, the psychiatrist who denied the existence of anything that could be called a “mental illness” (see also Terrorism and Madness:  Between Sympathy and Understanding ), I was struck by his description of people who came to him thinking that they were mentally ill because they were not happy.  As Szasz reported, being unhappy is a perfectly reasonable, sane response to some of life’s events and circ

Lies, Lies, Nothing but Lies! Oh, Wait a Minute, There’s a Bit of Truth There . . .

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Analyzing Fiction There has never been a better time to be a specialist in analyzing fiction.  Alvin Kernan’s The Death of Literature notwithstanding, there may still be hope for the study of “literature”; a.k.a., “the lies that tell the truth.” Sarah Palin in a bikini!  [click the link please!] Fake News Is News In the wake of the American presidential election, there has been a tidal wave of discussion online, on television and in the press about “fake news.”  One television news show I saw recently claimed that fake news stories outnumber “real” news stories (whatever “real” means) by a ratio of three to one, and fake news is viewed online tens times as frequently as its conservative cousin. Of course, the television news show in question was quoting online sources, raising the question “Is the news about ‘fake news’ fake?” Fraudsters Target the Illiterate and Less Literate Have you noticed that when you receive one of those fraudulent email mes

When It Comes to Democracy, Who Are Canadians to Talk?

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Trump, Trudeau and the popular vote   When some of my Canadian Facebook friends seemed outraged that Donald Trump won the American presidency without winning the popular vote, I felt compelled to point out that the Trudeau Liberals only won 39.5% of the popular vote (Oct. 19, 2015) which translated into 54% of the parliamentary seats—which in Canada means 100% of the power.   Trump tweets that he won a "rigged" election Of course, being elected to the single most powerful position on the planet isn’t quite enough to satisfy Trump’s mega-ego, so his team has been pursuing claims that he did, in fact, win the popular vote, pursuant to Trump’s typical strategy of simply Tweeting that he, in fact, won the popular vote and that the voting was rigged.  Yes, he claims that the election which he won was rigged.  We live in dark comedic times.     "There is a crack in everything" As a Canadian, it’s difficult not to notice that Leonard Cohen died the day

The Trump Vision for Education in America

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Education is one of the Trump campaigns important positions Until November 9, 2016, I never imagined there would be any reason to consider what Donald Trump had in mind for education in the USA. I was surprised to see that “Education” was one of sixteen important “positions” on the Trump campaign web site which has now been dismantled in favour of  https://www.donaldjtrump.com (This post is updated from my original comments on November 10, 2016.) The Trump plan has only one theme:  choice The Trump vision for education has one theme:  “choice.”  I have to admit I find “choice” to be a very appealing notion in education, in particular, because it necessarily implies variety. (Singular, silver-bullet solutions in education seem to inevitably produce more problems than solutions. See "Everything Works! ") In the Trump plan “choice” means “public or private schools,” “magnet schools and charter schools.” What does "choice" mean in practice? Each of these

Does Knowledge Require Truth?

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The absolute truth I spent a career telling university students that if they encountered someone who claimed to know “The Truth,” they should run in the opposite direction because what would follow was bound to be religious dogma or a schizophrenic rant based on an encounter with God—the kind of truth that could not be checked or verified or even questioned. The notion of absolute truth disappeared after Nietzsche announced that “God is dead” in 1882 and Einstein followed up with a “theory of relativity” in 1905.  Marx’s claim that “religion was the opiate of the people” made it plain, at least for we egg heads who occupied the universities, that the Twentieth Century was going to have to get by without “The Truth.” The tree of knowledge The problem I faced as a professor was that my job was to be the serpent in the garden, encouraging young people to take a bite out of the apple from the tree of knowledge (no, not that kind of Biblical, carnal knowledge, just ordinary knowin

How Many Americans Think Planet Earth Is 6000 Years Old?

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A Short History of the World Most people these days think of H.G. Wells as a science-fiction writer, in fact as one of the pillars of the genre together with Jules Verne, but his best selling, most popular work in his lifetime was A Short History of the World which he wrote in 1922.  In the opening paragraph of this brilliant and monumental work, Wells writes: A couple of hundred years ago men possessed the history of little more than the last three thousand years.  What happened before that time was a matter of legend and speculation.  Over a large part of the civilized world it was believed and taught that the world had been created suddenly in 4004 B.C though authorities differed as to whether this had occurred in the spring or the autumn of that year.  This fantastically precise misconception was based  upon a too literal interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, and upon rather arbitrary theological assumptions connected therewith.  Such ideas have long since been abandoned by

Something Rotten in the State of Grammar

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Descriptive versus prescriptive grammar I still haven’t recovered from the revelation that “grammatical mistake” isn’t a mistake. English grammar is basically pattern recognition.  Once we recognize an established pattern in the language we attempt to maintain it.  Prescriptive grammar (which attempts to dictate how people should speak) eventually derives from descriptive grammar (how people actually speak).  Of course, “ain’t no denyin’,” that what some grammarians might take for egregious, fossilized errors, Everyman accepts as just “speakin’ plain.” Can a mistake be grammatical? It may be swimming against the current, spitting into the wind, and [insert your own cliche here] to challenge the evolution of the language and attempt to manipulate prescriptive grammar, but that’s what we pedants do.  Inspired by the expression “grammatical mistake,” I have come to surmise that there is something rotten in the state of English grammar. Adjectives that end in "