New York Times Magazine:

Tired of the constraints of the 40-hour workweek, my father, in 1972, quit his job in publishing. My parents were in their early 30s, and they had four children under 7. “But we still wanted to explore the world,” my father recalled recently. They bought six one-way tickets to Europe, leaving only a laughable $3,000 to subsist on. Young and idealistic, they thought they could easily educate us along the way. “Life itself would become a portable classroom.”

For the next four years, my parents embarked on an uncharted “free-form existence.” We traipsed to Nerja, Spain; Dorset, England; a Midwestern farm; and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, before settling in St. Louis. My father worked on his novel. The task of teaching the children — Mary, James, John and me — fell to my mother.

For much of this time, I was an educational tag-along. Yet I clearly remember San Miguel, where we spent six months in 1975, when I was 4. Art class was held outside in thejardin. When we giggled and chatted among ourselves, Mom never shushed us, but calmly told us to pick a subject. Why not draw idling mariachis, or the dog drooling at a vendor’s feet? she’d suggest. Or maybe the kids our age who sold gum to make ends meet? I’d invariably copy what my brothers drew, usually just a car.

Writing, history and geography were followed by “gym,” a family yoga class led by our father on a terrace. When school ended, we were allowed to wander the dusty cobblestone streets on our own. On one of those afternoon rambles, John and James found three .22 caliber bullets. Another time a pack of teenage boys chanting, “Gringos!” chased us.

How my parents stretched our budget to allow for our far-flung classrooms can be chalked up to several strategies: creativity (my dad sprang an invalid uncle from a nursing home and brought him to Mexico to help pay the rent); making do with very little (we bought a dried-out Christmas tree marked down to $2 in the waning hours of Christmas Eve); freeloading (the decidedly uninternational destination of St. Louis can be explained by a vacant house offered by a doting aunt). On our family adventure, my parents were consistently inconsistent. There were a few interludes of standardized education, but for the most part, as my mother would later write in this magazine, “during all this time, the children traveled with us and received nothing that remotely resembled formal schooling.”

Home Is Where the School Is,” published in the Oct. 19, 1975, issue of The New York Times Magazine, was the first article in a national publication to espouse what was then still a fringe educational choice. This was the curriculum my mother described.

Daily Schedule

9:30: Reading.

10:00: Mathematics.

10:30: Science.

11:00: Yoga (with parents).

Tea break (with parents).

11:30: Drawing, painting.

12:30: Lunch.

1:30: Writing (Monday and Tuesday: Play of the week; Wednesday: Correspondence; Thursday and Friday: Writing and illustrating stories.)

2:30: History and geography.

3:00: Yoga.

6:30: Spanish.

What may now look like the course offerings of a Portland, Ore., prep school was inspired by my mother’s reading. She supplemented this curriculum with simple spelling and math workbooks bought at Woolworth’s and an ever-changing stack of library books. She had little else to go on; this was decades before you could Google a lesson plan or buy a “My Kids ‘Heart’ Home Schooling” bumper sticker. In the ’70s, home schooling was still against the law; it wasn’t until 1993 that it became legal in all 50 states. In her article, my mother laid out the basic tenets of her approach to educating us. “They work at their own pace,” she wrote. “They have no assignments to complete. . . . I am not teaching the children. I am permitting them to learn.”

After Mom’s article appeared, multiple letters to the editor expressed “fear for the Heidenry children.” Readers wondered if we would ever be able to adjust to the “real world” or were destined to be “social misfits” and underachievers. My siblings and I still hear echoes of this social disapproval. Many to whom we recount our early years seem troubled by our unorthodox upbringing. In the age of Tiger Mothering and helicopter parenting, no one can understand how our parents’ experiment could have been anything but hard on us….

Read it all.

Miller McCune:

The next generation of political fact checking will offer humor and quicker turnarounds without further propagating the underlying deception.

Political fact-checking operations have proliferated over the last several campaigns. The Annenberg Public Policy Center launched the original The St. Petersburg Times’ PolitiFact won a Pulitzer for famously calling out politicians’ pants when they were on fire. And The Washington Post just launched a new and permanent Fact Checker column. Collectively, they have debunked death panels, vicious lies about light bulbs and birtherism.

But there’s a problem with the whole concept.

“The danger of print fact checking is that we have to describe what it is that’s deceptive before we correct it,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (and chair of Miller-McCune’s editorial advisory committee). “In the process, you’re laying down a memory track of the deception.”

Miller-McCune’s Washington correspondent Emily Badger follows the ideas informing, explaining and influencing government, from the local think tank circuit to academic research that shapes D.C. policy from afar.

Fact checking, in other words, can reinforce the whopper that needed checking in the first place. And cable news shows— in their subsequent coverage of the checked fact — can be among the worst enablers.

“When you think you’re commenting on how dumb an ad is,” Jamieson said, “you’re actually letting its message get through.”

The next generation of campaign season fact checking could ramp up the whole idea while mitigating some of these unintended consequences. Annenberg is now working on a third cousin to — the aptly named — and it could be a next step to even more sophisticated, real-time, multimedia policing of political fibs.

“We’re trying to get rid of the possibility,” Jamieson said, “that you’re processing the deception more clearly than you’re processing the correction.”

FlackCheck’s solution is to produce videos that deconstruct political ads in their own language, calling out not just the stated factual inaccuracies, but also the visual cues, music and insinuation that all support a deception. And they’re trying to do it with humor.

The site will go live in January, but there are a couple of examples — audition tapes from the team assembled for the project — up now. One video offers a comprehensive takedown of nearly every frame in this summer’s shocking “Give me your cash” ad attacking California Democrat Janice Hahn (who is seen with those ubiquitous demonic red eyes which, the fact-checking narrator clarifies, she does not have in real life).

Another series of videos targets the “Taliban Dan” ad that now-ousted Democratic Representative Alan Grayson ran last year, pulling his opponent’s words out of context to imply that Dan Webster advocates making women submit to their husbands.

“Unsurprisingly, Mr. Grayson sounds equally ridiculous when taken out of context …” FlackCheck’s response video says. FlackCheck then proceeds to artfully splice together several of Grayson’s own public appearances. Lo and behold: “Look, women are foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals. Look, what I want is to eliminate women’s rights. And I tell seniors: die quickly!”

The underlying point is pretty serious — scary, almost — but the clip is a riot.

“We’re thinking that there is an audience that is unlikely to read a print fact check but that is nonetheless politically attuned, that it is far more likely to get its news from The Daily Show, that processes things visually very comfortably,” Jamieson said. “We think humor is the most powerful way to put in place corrections. The danger otherwise is it sounds as if you’re trying to nag, you’re trying to teach, you’re being patronizing.”

FlackCheck instead wants to distance you from the message, reframe it as what it really is — a deception — and tell that story through humor that will make the deception easier to remember and recognize.

“Now you’re looking for the deception, you’re remembering our joke, and, as a result, it doesn’t work on you,” Jamieson said. “Then hopefully you send it to all of your friends.”…

Read it all.


Only a tiny fraction of the brain is dedicated to conscious behavior. The rest works feverishly behind the scenes regulating everything from breathing to mate selection. In fact, neuroscientist David Eagleman of Baylor College of Medicine argues that the unconscious workings of the brain are so crucial to everyday functioning that their influence often trumps conscious thought. To prove it, he explores little-known historical episodes, the latest psychological research, and enduring medical mysteries, revealing the bizarre and often inexplicable mechanisms underlying daily life.

Eagleman’s theory is epitomized by the deathbed confession of the 19th-century mathematician James Clerk Maxwell, who developed fundamental equations unifying electricity and magnetism. Maxwell declared that “something within him” had made the discoveries; he actually had no idea how he’d achieved his great insights. It is easy to take credit after an idea strikes you, but in fact, neurons in your brain secretly perform an enormous amount of work before inspiration hits. The brain, Eagleman argues, runs its show incognito. Or, as Pink Floyd put it, “There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me.”

There is a looming chasm between what your brain knows and what your mind is capable of accessing. Consider the simple act of changing lanes while driving a car. Try this: Close your eyes, grip an imaginary steering wheel, and go through the motions of a lane change. Imagine that you are driving in the left lane and you would like to move over to the right lane. Before reading on, actually try it. I’ll give you 100 points if you can do it correctly.

It’s a fairly easy task, right? I’m guessing that you held the steering wheel straight, then banked it over to the right for a moment, and then straightened it out again. No problem.

Like almost everyone else, you got it completely wrong. The motion of turning the wheel rightward for a bit, then straightening it out again would steer you off the road: you just piloted a course from the left lane onto the sidewalk. The correct motion for changing lanes is banking the wheel to the right, then back through the center, and continuing to turn the wheel just as far to the left side, and only then straightening out. Don’t believe it? Verify it for yourself when you’re next in the car. It’s such a simple motor task that you have no problem accomplishing it in your daily driving. But when forced to access it consciously, you’re flummoxed.

The lane-changing example is one of a thousand. You are not consciously aware of the vast majority of your brain’s ongoing activities, nor would you want to be—it would interfere with the brain’s well-oiled processes. The best way to mess up your piano piece is to concentrate on your fingers; the best way to get out of breath is to think about your breathing; the best way to miss the golf ball is to analyze your swing. This wisdom is apparent even to children, and we find it immortalized in poems such as “The Puzzled Centipede”:

A centipede was happy quite,
Until a frog in fun
Said, “Pray tell which leg comes after which?”
This raised her mind to such a pitch,
She lay distracted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.

The ability to remember motor acts like changing lanes is called procedural memory, and it is a type of implicit memory—meaning that your brain holds knowledge of something that your mind cannot explicitly access. Riding a bike, tying your shoes, typing on a keyboard, and steering your car into a parking space while speaking on your cell phone are examples of this. You execute these actions easily but without knowing the details of how you do it. You would be totally unable to describe the perfectly timed choreography with which your muscles contract and relax as you navigate around other people in a cafeteria while holding a tray, yet you have no trouble doing it. This is the gap between what your brain can do and what you can tap into consciously.

The concept of implicit memory has a rich, if little-known, tradition. By the early 1600s, René Descartes had already begun to suspect that although experience with the world is stored in memory, not all memory is accessible. The concept was rekindled in the late 1800s by the psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, who wrote that “most of these experiences remain concealed from consciousness and yet produce an effect which is significant and which authenticates their previous existence.”

To the extent that consciousness is useful, it is useful in small quantities, and for very particular kinds of tasks. It’s easy to understand why you would not want to be consciously aware of the intricacies of your muscle movement, but this can be less intuitive when applied to your perceptions, thoughts, and beliefs, which are also final products of the activity of billions of nerve cells. We turn to these now.

Chicken Sexers and Plane Spotters
When chicken hatchlings are born, large commercial hatcheries usually set about dividing them into males and females, and the practice of distinguishing gender is known as chick sexing. Sexing is necessary because the two genders receive different feeding programs: one for the females, which will eventually produce eggs, and another for the males, which are typically destined to be disposed of because of their uselessness in the commerce of producing eggs; only a few males are kept and fattened for meat. So the job of the chick sexer is to pick up each hatchling and quickly determine its sex in order to choose the correct bin to put it in. The problem is that the task is famously difficult: male and female chicks look exactly alike.

Well, almost exactly. The Japanese invented a method of sexing chicks known as vent sexing, by which experts could rapidly ascertain the sex of one-day-old hatchlings. Beginning in the 1930s, poultry breeders from around the world traveled to the Zen-Nippon Chick Sexing School in Japan to learn the technique.

The mystery was that no one could explain exactly how it was done. It was somehow based on very subtle visual cues, but the professional sexers could not say what those cues were. They would look at the chick’s rear (where the vent is) and simply seem to know the correct bin to throw it in.

And this is how the professionals taught the student sexers. The master would stand over the apprentice and watch. The student would pick up a chick, examine its rear, and toss it into one bin or the other. The master would give feedback: yes or no. After weeks on end of this activity, the student’s brain was trained to a masterful—albeit unconscious—level…

Read it all.

The Wisdom Of Joe Paterno

November 13, 2011

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Debate Subtext

November 13, 2011

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

GOP Field Narrows

November 13, 2011

Via Newsday


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