Thursday, June 21, 2018

A better way

In personal projects such as exercising or losing weight or maybe practicing attention training, I often see how people sabotage themselves by trying too hard.  I have a poorly supported theory that a nation of immigrants have a tendency toward trying hard and then harder. I realize that Ecclesiastes (9:10) says whatever I put my hand to, I should try with all my might.  Maybe there is a cultural force, something social that we imbibe as children, that success only comes from effort, hard effort, teeth-gritting effort.

The usual way of trying "with all my might" calls for me to exert maximum muscular effort.  That can translate into also setting a high goal, something challenging. I often read that we get what we ask for, try for, demand, and if we want good success, we need to aim high.  But I often observe this sequence

  1. I try doing X and I don't let myself just dab my toe in the effort.  No, sir, I jump in whole heartily.

  2. Later that day, or the following day or the day after that, I am a bit sick or stiff or both.

  3. Just what I expected!  Do I let myself off? I certainly do not!!!

  4. I jump in with even more heart.  

  5. Later that day, or the following day or the day after that, I am sicker or stiffer or both-er.

You can probably see where this leads.  Don't just picture the pain or chagrin, the shame, the embarrassment.  Also, consider a likely internal conclusion: "I wasn't cut out for this.  It is part of the grand plan of the universe that I should not achieve this goal."

Reaching such an internal conclusion can create a very strong inclination to listen to the pain and stop trying.

There is a fearful adolescent inside our heads.  This person fears success and expects to fail at anything important.  If that disastrously ambitious person can be sidelined, or sent on a tour of the Outer Hebrides or some place, a different sequence that can used.  

  1. Dip my toe in speed walking or fasting or whatever.

  2. Toast my toe-dipping effort.

  3. Tomorrow, dip two toes.

  4. Again, suppress the urge to go faster, to calculate how long before I will conquer. Instead, toast the progress I am making.  Savor that progress, Baby, and look forward to tomorrow's more toes and more dipping.

  5. Keep building slowly but steadily.

Moral: start small, stay small and win.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A Wisconsin writer gets involved

I didn't plan to be an essayist, a blogger.  I started with the idea of discussing meditation and being more aware of what is on one's mind.  What can be more apt for examination, rumination, philosophizing that what just happened? I was aware of Michel de Montaigne long before I learned to see him as one who examined his life and times.  Over the years, I became more aware of his reputation and the example he set for many subsequent writers.

I have been focused on the London writer and librarian Sarah Bakewell and her book "How to Live", a question to which she give 20 answers she found in Montaigne's writings.  Each answer or set of answers has its own chapter in her book. Here are Bakewell's first four answers:

1. Q. How to live? A. Don't worry about death  

2. Q. How to live? A. Pay attention  

3. Q. How to live? A. Be born  

4. Q. How to live? A. Read a lot, forget most of what you read, and be slow-witted

Bakewell, Sarah. How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (Kindle Locations 29-36). Other Press. Kindle Edition.

I was very surprised to pass a downtown bookstore today and see in the window "Montaigne in Barn Boots: A Amateur Ambles through Philosophy" by Michael Perry.  First chance I got, I downloaded the Kindle version of the book. We read his "Population: 485", non-fiction about living a western Wisconsin town and being part of the local volunteer fire brigade.  We read his novel "The Jesus Cow", a calf is born on a Wisconsin farm with the silhouette of Jesus on its side. Perry is a good writer and a good speaker. He is original and intelligent, much like Montaigne several centuries earlier.   

Asking myself what has happened today and writing out an answer in civil, honest language tends to give me a chance to think about what I think.  When I reflect and compose at the computer, I have good access to my previous writings, to my books and to Google and other search engines.

The musing of Montaigne, Bakewell and Perry make me feel I am in good company.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Kindle-istics, part 9

On the web page for this blog,, there is a search window in the upper left corner.  I used it to see how many of the 3202 posts have the word "Kindle" in them.  I counted eight so this is the 9th time I have written about the electronic ereader from Amazon.  I started this blog to write about a simple, 10 minute or less practice to increase mindfulness and enrich the experience of living.  Nowadays, there are dozens of wonderful books about meditation, yoga classes that include meditative practice, free videos online and other tools.  Just about the same time that I started this blog, I got my first Kindle and downloaded my first ebook.

I have been asked by friends if I am a secret agent working to promote the Kindle.  I am not. I get no money from Amazon, Google or any of the other giant firms sometimes said to be endangering the world's freedom and future.  I live in a fairly quiet corner of the US so being able to tell the object in my hand to acquire a book out of the blue, by means of what amounts to a cellphone call, is a mindboggling feature.  So, what does it cost? The most popular Kindle is still highly recommended, the Paperwhite model. The price varies with sales but right now it is 1 cent less that $120. The cost of a book is often around $10 but many cost less and many cost more.  

Many of my reading friends say they like to hold the paper book in their hands.  I do, too. After a lifetime of reading actual books, it is indeed an adjustment to use a Kindle.  I have found that a large part of that adjustment is learning to concentrate on what I want to read and not letting the other books right at hand call for switching to them.  My Kindle reader currently contains 187 books. I have needed to learn a little extra discipline to stay with the book I am currently reading ("How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence" by Michael Pollan) when I have many other delicious ones right in my hand.

A purchased ebook can be read on all of your devices.  It can sit in your Amazon archives indefinitely.

I often hear about the joy of highlighting.  Kindles make it easy and quick to make a highlight.  A file of the highlights from a book can be downloaded and printed or sent.  A highlight can be immediately sent to Facebook or Twitter or other social media.  In several ways, the highlighting and note taking possibilities are richer than with paper books.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Late breaking news

Some of my friends, often those in their late 60's or early 70's, show such energy and wisdom in their faces, that I feel I am looking at living examples of greater longevity and health than in previous generations.

I am still focused on the use of personal writing as a tool for examining one's life, thoughts and experiences.  You may have heard of the Socratic saying The unexamined life is not worth living. I feel that writing is a superior tool for examining what happened in the world, in my head and what I feel about all that transpired over the last day. The book by Sarah Bakewell called "How to Live", an examination of the writings of Michel de Montaigne, is much about observational writing.

This is a time when many different businesses are attempting to create superior algorithms and intelligent machines.  So far, I haven't personally run into any of these that strikes me as super smart. I saw a headline touting Netflix as unusual an producer of funded shows.  The article went on to say that Netflix knows what I like. I think in truth neither Amazon nor Netflix knows much about my tastes. I don't know much about them myself.  I change and at the same time, I persist and continue unchanged. Sometimes, my purchases and choices are dictated by Lynn's interests and sometimes not.

We do get unusual products these days.  Chinese manufacturers, American entrepreneurs, money seeking to be made into more money, startups wanting to be big hits, all produce unusual products.  Take Jane Austen socks. Don't be the only one in your neighborhood without a pair! You know Jane would be delighted to see you in a pair of socks celebrating her stories. Jane lived from 1775 to 1817 but we all feel better wearing Jane's socks, don't we? Wear them for Mr. Darcy if not for Jane.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Happy Father's Day!

Hope it is a great day for everyone who is a father or who has had a father and to the women who help fathers through life.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

My obituaries

A friend advised composing my obituary beforehand and leaving it in a convenient place.  As with any piece of writing, it probably pays to think of one's audience.

For a history book or a genealogical inquiry,



For family and close friends:

Please forgive my insensitivities, my flare-ups and the boring parts.  Remember the laughs, the loves and some of the better lines. See you later.

For rivals and enemies:

Sorry I couldn't be more of a pain.  Your cleverness and tenacity gave me so many pauses, I didn't take time to reveal my true superiority but you are the better for what you got of me.  

For the world:

It's a good planet and we are lucky to have it.  Hope it lasts for a long time. Have fun and perspective.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Gorgeous music, satisfying as a meal

This piece is in the sound track of Lynn's beloved "Strangers in Good Company".


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Steve Jobs and LSD

I have read several books by Michael Pollan.  A friend told us about Second Nature and I read it aloud while Lynn drove on a long trip and back.  It’s about gardening and culture. Do you know that white blossoms are lovely but those pinks and oranges are the colors of hussies and questionable morals?  At some times and places, that is reported to have been the general conviction. We also read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” “The Botany of Desire”, and “Food Rules”.

Our daughter Jill fell mentally ill and remained that way until her death.  So when I learned that Pollan has a new book out called “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence,” I was deeply interested.  We are reading it aloud and it says something about the quality of the thought and the quality of the writing that conveys that thought that we both like the book very much. Before his book, I had already seen reports that psilocybin and LSD had achieved some stunning results with mentally ill patients, highly anxious people and with some who had big trouble not smoking.

Meanwhile, I finished the gripping story of Cecile Richards and her 10 years leading Planned Parenthood in all sorts of political fights and dirty (and cheap) tricks against the organization.  Next up for no particular reason is “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson. I am interested in research and research designs and methods so it was natural that I learned about computers. In the early 80’s, the Apple IIe and its software package called AppleWorks.  I started college teaching at just the time that strange machines called “computers” were springing up here and there. So, Apple computers as well as mainframe (rent a cheaper smaller one for $16,000 a year) were making their way into business and colleges.

Jobs and Wozniak started Apple and before I knew it, came out with the Macintosh, a whole new way of thinking about how people and machines could work together.  I am not very far into the audiobook about Jobs but I have learned that he was grouchy, impolite and eager to reach “enlightenment” as a young man. So, it seemed a good idea to him to get involved with marijuana and LSD.  Personally, I like me that way I am, and don’t enjoy modifying myself with smoking, drunkenness or drugs. However, I would not be surprised in the least if magic mushrooms and lysergic acid diethylamide and other chemicals come in handy for some people over the next few decades.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Letting go while holding on

Karen Miller wrote that people have trouble letting go.  I happen to be listening to "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson and it seems as though Steve didn't let go of much.  I have not heard much of the book but that is the impression I have so far.

Letting go of what?  Of whatever is bugging you, haunting you, irritating you.  I looked up "letting go" in Amazon books and found 2,000 responses. Clearly a big subject, a rich subject.  

I tried listing reasons people have for not letting go.

  1. I think I will succeed if I keep holding on.  I may and holding on may pay off. Perhaps there is a way I can persist without being bent out of shape by my project, my dream, my goal, my plan.  There is such a thing as the gambler's fallacy. In fact, Wikipedia lists several sorts of gambler's fallacy more or less related to the idea that if I pull the handle on a slot machine enough times, it MUST pay off.  This subject is related to the idea of "sunk costs", costs that have already been incurred. Maybe if I persist, I can have such a big success that I wind up with a profit even after paying my sunk costs.

  2. Who will I be without my goal of this project, without my plan to have a terrific success?  I will be so ashamed, so ridiculed that I better keep on keeping on.

  3. I simply don't feel like desisting.  I like the rhythm I have going of morning work on my project, lunch, afternoon work on my project, dinner, and evening dreams of my project's success.  I don't want to face who I am, what I am, or how I spend my time. I don't want to be analytical or philosophical or reasonable or explanatory. I just want to do my thing.  

  4. People and me hate quitters.  I am not a quitter. You think Nature or chance can outlast me.  No way. Watch me.

Buddhists and psychologists watch out for "striving" or "craving".  Situations where I get so hung up on, say, toffee or losing weight that I invest my self-image, my picture of the future in having more toffee or less weight. Daniel Gilbert makes clear in "Stumbling on Happiness" that most people picture the heaven of more toffee or the paradise of being slim without being able to see that the bills will still need to be paid, the local team will lose that all important game and your allergies are going to spring up. That is, achieving a goal is part of a larger world and will rarely be as wonderful as imagining it in isolation seems like it will be.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Limitations of MY present moment

I always have the present.  I wonder what I should do with it?  

Maybe I will plant some beans.  When they are ripe, I may sell them.  I will put the money in the bank and save for my retirement.  Admittedly, I am not actually planting beans just now. But, damn!  I can't do everything at once. Sure, it is a gorgeous day. And yes, I have some mesmerizing recordings I could listen to.  I could be listening to them right now. But those beans are not going to plant themselves.

She says to try to see what is right in front of me.  Right in front of me is a keyboard and a monitor. To the left is a pile of dishes that need washing.  I don't see the value in directionism. I take a look at what is behind me. What is that right behind me?  A dust cloth and a dusty desktop. Ooo! My Kindle! Maybe a good use of the next few moments would be reading.  

I could continue to fester and stew, but I think I will haul my tired, old carcass outside and plant those beans.  Sometimes, it feels much easier to just dive into something instead of weighing alternatives and seeking the optimal choice.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Limitations of the present moment

I hear that the past is already gone and the future is yet to come.  Some people recommend staying in the present moment. What is NOW? What is right in front of me right now?  Where am I right NOW?

I have tried taking refuge in the present and it is indeed good.  But I see that even the animals realize that they will be hungry and thirsty and sleepy soon.  What will I eat and drink at dinnertime today? Maybe I should get that turkey in the oven now.  Oops, forgot to begin thawing it a few days ago and it isn't ready for the oven. I will begin thawing it now and cook it in a few days.  We are out of bananas and milk and I will want some tomorrow morning. I had better go to the store now so I will be ready in the morning.

My taxes will be due in a few weeks.  Better put some money aside now to get ready to pay them later. Father's Day is coming.  What will I give Dad on that day?

Planning ahead is very human.  Sure, too much fascination with the future robs the present.  It is lovely outside right now and I would be wise to step outside now and enjoy the good weather while I have it.  Too much pride or longing for the past can also diminish the good I have right now while I have it.

It is true that we live in a land of craving.  Sharp minds backed by experience, wit and technology are hoping to start me craving a new car, a new lawnmover, a better washing machine, a new vacuum.  I need to learn to covet my neighbor's smartphone, my other neighbor's dog, my grandmother's cat, my daughter's bird, my grandson't fish. What is a life lived fishless?  It can be viewed as unAmerican not to crave, not to get a mortgage, not to want a 100 inch tv. Everyone's doing it. Do I want to laughed at, snickered at, smirked at? Sticks and stones can break my bones but laugh, snickers and smirks are very unpleasant, too.

I can see that craving can be overdone but I don't want to be too armored against desire, plans, hopes, goals.  Even though I am a male, I don't even want to be invunerable to emotions. I long for that woman, even though my wife says to stay away from her.  I desire success in my writing and I want to read all my books, twice or more. Got plenty of wants and craves.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The queen, the president and blusher

When television came along, reporters, newscasters and others had to learn about blusher and makeup and dress for the camera.  Humans transmit information and attitude with body language and facial expression. The Republic of Spin tells of reporters who were told "when you are on camera, remove the toothpick from your mouth."  When I think of non-verbal expression, I still chuckle at memory of "The Millennial Job Interview"

I guess it is another situation where judgment and balance are called for.  Too much primping and makeup and "warmth" and you will be seen as quite phoney.  Too little and you come across as cold, insensitive and maybe even of limited intelligence.  Watching "Victoria" and "The Crown", I can see that the king or queen stands for the nation and its history and glory and travails in a way that a president does not.  When we know that the president won the position by a hair and that a large portion of the population dislikes him, we don't feel the same thrill as a person would meeting the head of state who is in the position more or less for life.  That person is the king or queen because of royal blood and was foreordained to be the head of our country.

There are scenes in The Crown where Elizabeth II is being prepared for a television broadcast on Christmas Day.  What she wears, what she says, how she says it - all get pre-planned to the point that she feels artificial and false.  Whether it is the mayor, our governor or our alderman, do we want to see confidence and health or fear, hesitation and pallor?  We may assert that we want the truth but underneath, maybe we don't want too many details of yesterday's headache and the sore knee.  

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The window

Some days, I don't find a theme that speaks to me.  It seems especially likely that a Saturday morning will arrive without something written for posting. I do have between 1 and 2 thousand themes noted in eleven files but in general, I don't click with a theme unless I can feel definitely interested.  Besides, I don't want to get too technical. The point is also always to work with events in my life or thinking, either one.

I tend to be habitual, repetitive, methodical.  When I was 14, my girlfriend said that I was a methodical person and that was the first time I had had that term applied to me.  I am quite interested in habits, both in me, others and in animals. I don't know if animals are as habitual as humans or more so or less so.  

When I am considering whether a certain theme seems to have a day's future with me, I often gaze out the window.  I admire what I know of Sarah Bakewell and her examination of Michel de Montaigne's writings and habits and beliefs and life in the 1500's. Because of that, I have been looking into her most recent book, At the Existentialist Cafe.  Bakewell is a librarian who lives in Britain and she writes in a relaxed, informative way that makes it easy for the reader to see where he is and where she is going.

Lynn wrote her dissertation using reader response theory, which derives from and is related to postmodernism.  It can be surprising how thought and theory and discussion and rumination during the last 100 years is related to literature and from there to theater, movies and all sorts of art in words.  Gazing out of the window is a natural thing for a sentient being to do. We visited a pueblo in Taos, New Mexico that had no windows, supposedly built that way for safety purposes: no windows = less chance that enemies will enter through one.

But even modern garages often have a window in one of the walls and windows in the main door for vehicles.  It can be fun and instructive to purposely locate a part of a well windowed room that I don't usually look at.  However, normally, the light, the sky, the grass and trees are far more interesting and rather automatically attractive that a spot on the wall or ceiling. The modern, existential, philosophical thing to do is to notice that one is looking through the window and give some thought to the window itself.  Who put the glass in? Where was the glass made? How much do what I see match what is actually outside?

I give thanks for our windows, our views through them and the literature, essays and ideas that coming from gazing out of them.

Friday, June 8, 2018


The news from Think with Google for the last couple of years has been consistently about the big change from computers, desktop or laptop, to cellphones.  Google has also consistently urged businesses to examine their websites through cellphones to see how they look and operate.

The first iPhone came out for purchase in 2007.  So, there has been about a decade for people to try carrying around a surprisingly powerful micrcomputer in their pocket or purse.  The apps make a smartphone smart and to give an idea of the popularity of the smartphone apps, consider the fact that in the first weekend they were available, ten MILLION apps were downloaded.

I am something of a curmudgeon, a cheapskate, and a foot dragger.  Fear of a car breakdown got us thinking about the desirability of a cellphone and we each got one five or so years before the iPhone.  My pockets are generally big enough for a flip phone but not a smartphone. I have been carrying a Tracfone for about ten years and am quite pleased with it.  I rarely make a cellphone call and my service days and minutes last a long time. I spend about $100 a year on my cellphone as opposed to Lynn's bill for about $100 a month.

I use my computer for several hours a day and I can imagine a person might assume that having a powerful machine available at any time or place would be fine.  Not so for me. I enjoy not using a computer and not being connected to the rest of the world. If a new invention would overcome the space and capacity limits and enable me to carry around complete access to my wardrobe, our china closets, our pantry and refrigerator, our books, the contents of our basement, tool shed and attic, that would be a burden, not an asset.  It would create more distractions and that I don't need.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Fwd: Common Tick Myths Debunked

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Date: Thu, Jun 7, 2018 at 8:19 AM
Subject: Common Tick Myths Debunked

When it comes to ticks, old wives' tales are in great supply. Take, for instance, the one about...
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June 7, 2018 CR.ORG/NEWS
4 Common Myths About Ticks Debunked
4 Common Myths About Ticks Debunked
When it comes to ticks, old wives' tales are in great supply. Take, for instance, the one about burning an embedded tick with a lit match or the one about covering it with nail polish to get it to let go. There's no proof that either of these works.
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A New Threat to Your Finances: Cell-Phone Account Fraud
A New Threat to Your Finances: Cell-Phone Account Fraud
There's a new privacy threat to worry about. It's known as cell-phone account fraud, where crooks open up a phony cell-phone account in your name and use it to access your bank account, or sign up for credit cards.
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Tips for Better Passwords
Tips for Better Passwords
Most people know they're supposed to create strong, unique passwords for every account, but not everyone does it. The recently disclosed data breach at MyHeritage, a genealogy and DNA-testing site, should serve as a powerful reminder.
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2019 Subaru Ascent Aims to Climb Atop the 3-Row Midsized-SUV Segment
2019 Subaru Ascent Aims to Climb Atop the 3-Row Midsized-SUV Segment
Subaru has sprung back into the three-row SUV battlefield with a fully competitive model that offers a good engine and comfortable ride, but its merely average third row and lackluster handling hold it back.
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4 Products on Deep Discount in June
4 Products on Deep Discount in June
Now that summer is here, it's a great time to tackle those home improvements that were tough to get to during the colder months. There are a few products expected to be on deep discount in June that can help you fix up your home.
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Most Reliable Central Air Conditioning Systems
Most Reliable Central Air Conditioning Systems
Installing or replacing a central air conditioning system is one of a homeowner's biggest expenses, so you'll want to get it right the first time.
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Fifty years in Point

Fifty years ago today, June 7, I flew to Stevens Point to live and teach.  I have traveled here and there temporarily since, but basically, I have not left.  I had spent college summers in Vermont and Maine but no winters, and I was a little doubtful that I could handle the cold.  I was surprised to find that the winters were easier than the warmer, and therefore icier, winters of Maryland.

I went through graduate school with about six other men with the same major: statistics, measurement and experimental design.  They, like me, had never heard of the town and they kidded me about moving, literally, to a house on Main Street. I took a course in grad school on the history of higher education.  At the beginning of the last century, schooling beyond six grades was already "higher" and questionable. After all, how much schooling did a person need? Get those noses out of books and into the fields where some work of value could be done. The course made it clear that the "Northwest Territory" of what is now Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota had a new direction.  Their constitutions set aside land from the start for public universities, and they made it clear that the job of these schools was to do research and solve problems that bugged people, not just teach what Aristotle had written.

In the history of higher education, the "Wisconsin Idea" that the borders of the campus are actually the borders of the whole state, is a famous and valuable one.

1968 is often cited as an especially tumultuous year and it seemed like a wonderful time to move to a lively but compact city.  Our experience is limited but we do feel that a university town is a good bet. Lynn made a "History of Stevens Point" and in it, she said that the city is a good place to raise kids. It definitely has been, and a good place for grandkids and greatgrand kids as well.  Over the years, we considered Delaware and Texas and we lived in La Crosse for a short time but the spirit, family and friendships in and around Point have won out every time.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Location, location - not so much

I have heard of the mantra: location, location, location.  I was told that was the secret of a successful business: put it where you will get plenty of traffic going by and people with notice and buy your stuff.  I read the other day that 40 cents of every dollar spent in US online shopping goes to Amazon. I have also read that the Chinese online Alibaba and Walmart are both interested in competing with Amazon and getting some of the emerging market.

In general, a material product, like food or fuel still needs to be delivered to the buyer, so online shopping increases the needs for a good internet connection, shipping and for truck drivers, which are growing in demand.  Some products, such as an ebook or instruction can be delivered over a wire. This flexibility creates competition that didn't used to exist. A school in Boston or Bosnia can offer me instruction in Wisconsin. This possibility plays havoc with borders and territories. A professor of architecture and office design told us recently that online communication, meetings and business have created a large number of empty buildings in places that were centers of business.

I conducted quite a bit on online instruction before retirement.  I believe that careful attention to the wording and layout of web pages and deadlines can make a big difference in online instruction.  Turnaround time for student work and quality of feedback and encouragement are also important factors. Lynn and I both taught Interpersonal Relations online and we found that the online environment encouraged participation and honest revelation in ways not seen in the standard classroom where everyone else is hearing your comments and questions.  The teacher in such instruction can always select pertinent and insightful points made by students and share them broadly if appropriate.

Just as positive, likely locations are not as relevant, perhaps, in the same way, there are probably fewer places where the news of the world and valuable as well as pesky innovations are unknown.  See the interesting and prize-winning true story told in "Educated" by Westover of a young woman raised in a Idaho family without much education. She now has, really, a PhD from Cambridge University in England.  The head of the National Geographic Society's Genographic Project, Dr. Spencer Wells, has said that the days when likely ancestral paths of travel around the globe can be deduced from one's DNA are being limited by international travel and intermarriage.  Similarly, the days when wealth and doctrinal ideas can be tucked away rather "out of sight' of the world are probably also shrinking.

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