Why is There 18th Century Literature on a Nursing Test?

Source:
http://medievaljourney.com/tutorials/making-a-feather-quill-step-by-step-tutorial

The Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) is an exam which students entering the health field take, typically those entering nursing. According to the ATI Testing website,

“The ATI TEAS (Test of Essential Academic Skills) is designed specifically to assess a student’s preparedness entering the health science fields. Most likely, you’ve been asked to take the TEAS as part of your basic admissions requirements for nursing or allied health school. That’s because studies show a consistent link between a student’s performance on the TEAS and future academic success.”

Cool! I just have one question: which medical skill does interpreting 18th century text evaluate? For example, the following is a question from the TEAS practice test (which can be found here):

Maybe (and it’s a BIG maybe) it might be good for students entering nursing school to understand some 18th century texts, such as the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, in the same way that it would be good if everyone here knew the foundations of American government. But this isn’t some timeless document or world-historic piece of writing. This is an excerpt from Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address, and it’s not even the most important part of that speech.

Reading comprehension and interpretation are important skills, but no one writes or speaks like this anymore. Medical information is not written like this. Patients don’t describe symptoms or ask questions like this. Insurance claims documentation is not written like this. There are very few places in the modern world where understanding literature from hundreds of years ago is a skill.

So why is this question included on a test for nurses? The Nerdy Nurse offers a potential explanation under the aptly headed, “Why is the TEAS Exam Hard?”:


“Some people find the TEAS exam to be difficult because they struggle to perform well on standardized tests. Others have difficulty with the breadth of the subject matter. In general, the TEAS test is difficult because nursing school is competitive. The difficulty of the tests allows schools to select students to have the best chances to succeed academically. Nursing school is hard. This test is one of the first steps of the nursing school process, so it’s no surprise that it would be one of the many difficult hoops that future nurses will have to jump through to secure their place as healthcare professionals.”

While the Nerdy Nurse is not affiliated with ATI or TEAS, it’s refreshing to see someone say what many people who have taken this test (and many standardized tests like it) already know- the test is designed more to weed students out than to ensure that they possess the necessary skills and intelligence to perform well in their programs

The predictable result is that students fail the test, sometimes multiple times. At $50-$80 a session, those costs can add up. That doesn’t include the cost of study materials (which, naturally, are provided by the same people who make the test) or private tutoring. I tutored a student who was studying for the TEAS test. The student spent $100 on those tutoring sessions, and at the end we both agreed that the was ready to take the test. In fact, we were both so confident, we canceled the rest of our sessions- no point in the student spending more money.

The student failed the test.

My student paid me to help them prepare, and I did not help the student succeed. I’m responsible for that failure. But I’m frustrated by the absurdity of reading Jefferson on a nursing test just because it’s hard. In practice, it means that people are denied the opportunity to make more money to take care of themselves and their families. And it’s not because they don’t know what they need to know; it’s because they don’t know what they don’t need to know. If you’re not a historian, you don’t need to read Jefferson’s inaugural address or understand the needlessly complicated way politicians in the 18th century spoke. Denying access to education based on questions like the one above feels like a flimsy pretext to exclude people.

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Show Me Something, Mike Trout

Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. Ask anyone who knows anything about baseball and they will tell you so. He’s accumulated more Wins Above Replacement (WAR) than any player at his age in baseball history. He’s won two MVP awards. He can field, hit, hit for power, throw, and run. Those are all five tools. He has reportedly come to an agreement on a 12-year $430 million contract, and the media is describing it as a bargain. I agree with the knowledgeable baseball folks. I think that Mike Trout probably is the best player in baseball. The numbers are staggering. But I have a Mike Trout problem.

I need to back up a little so this makes sense. I am a big baseball fan. I watch a lot of baseball. I am a Red Sox fan and live on the East coast, so most of the games I watch are Sox games, but I watch many other teams as well. Unfortunately, I do not watch a lot of West coast games. They are just too late for me. It’s nothing against any of the teams. I work for a living and need to be sleeping when their games are on. Mike Trout has played his entire career for the Anaheim Angels, which, for the geographically challenged, play on the West coast, severely limiting the number of times I get to see him play.

Another factor limiting me in seeing Trout is that the Angels have been a pretty lousy team for the most part since Trout entered the league. That means that they are not frequently playing nationally televised games. I’ll watch if they’re the game of the week, but that doesn’t happen much.

So, my big caveat is that I don’t get see Mike Trout play very much. I would guess that I watch him play may five to ten times a year. But, here’s my problem: I’ve never seen Mike Trout do anything amazing. When I do get to see Mike Trout play, he tends to go 1-4, maybe with a walk. He makes a couple of routine catches in center field. And that’s about it. It’s fine, but certainly not what I’m expecting when I watch the greatest player in baseball. I should specify that I’m not talking about highlights. I’ve seen him hit home runs and make diving catches in highlights. But everyone looks amazing in the highlights. That’s what they’re for. I want to see it as an organic part of a game. It’s much more satisfying that way.

The same isn’t true of the other great players in baseball. I’ve seen everyone from Francisco Lindor to Giancarlo Stanton to Nolan Arenado to Jose Altuve to Clayton Kershaw to Buster Posey do amazing things. I’ve even seen a lot of lesser players like Yasiel Puig and Jed Lowrie do amazing things. It’s just the greatest player in the game that fails to come through when I’m watching.

So, Mike Trout, I’m asking you to change this. Next time I watch the Angels play, go 4-4 with three steals or hit three home runs or make a game saving catch or something. I hope it’s not too much to ask. I just want to see the greatest player in baseball do something amazing.

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J-A-M-I-L

When I worked in the Registrar’s Office at Trinity College, I was in charge of inputting faculty advisers into the computer system. As part of the process, I sent the faculty a list of their advisees for confirmation. I sent a list to one professor, and included my standard email signature:

Sincerely,
Jamil Ragland
Office Coordinator, Registrar’s Office

“Thanks Jamal!” she wrote back with a smiley face.

This was a professor I’d known since I was a student. In fact, she’d been my adviser. She’d been mispronouncing my name for six years at that point, no matter how many times I corrected her. Eventually I gave up. It was clear that this sixty year old white woman was never going to pronounce my ethnic name correctly.

I chalked it up to cultural obtuseness- it’s well-documented that white people just don’t give a damn about pronouncing ethnic names correctly. And my name is about as ethnic as they come. I was named after my father’s best friend, the only other Jamil I’ve met that spells his name the same way that I do. Our name is Arabic, which places us into an even smaller group of African Americans.

But as the years have passed, it’s been more than just white people mispronouncing my name. Black people mispronounce it. Hispanic people mispronounce it (and it’s not an unheard of name for Spanish speakers, as my ex-wife has a cousin named Yamil). And in the ultimate blow, I’ve had native Arabic speakers call me Jamal too, even after calling me Jamil the first time they met me.

That’s when I realized that it’s not a problem of pronunciation, but familiarity. Like I said, I’ve only met one person named Jamil, and only heard the name a handful of times in this part of the world. People call me Jamal because they’re more familiar with that name. Okay, cool, I get that. Yet that leads to a question: where the hell are all of the Jamals?

Like Jamil, I’ve only met one person named Jamal. He lived on the same street at as me when I moved to Bloomfield, and we didn’t even call him Jamal, but instead a nickname. I can only think of one famous Jamal, Jamal Lyon from Empire, and he’s not even real!. So it’s fine if my name is rare and people default to the familiar, but what’s familiar about Jamal? Am I just being squeezed out by an equally obscure name?

In any case, I’m not taking this too seriously. I’ve been called much worse than Jamal in the past, and now that I’m working in a school I’ve become accustomed to not even hearing my name at all and simply responding to “Mr.!” Someday, all of this will change, and Jamil will take it’s rightful place among the popular names of the Western world. I mean, if a name like Jackson can be #1, how hard can it be to make it to the top?

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Some Early Thoughts on the 2020 Election

The 2020 presidential election is well underway. There are a ton of Democrats running. And the pathetic excuse for an incumbent Republican is running. I’m nowhere near deciding which candidate to support yet (hint: not Trump). I honestly can’t even name everyone who’s running. But some things have struck me about this election season.

The first and most important thing that struck me is the fact that no one has learned anything from the 2016 election. I can easily see it playing out just like it did last time, which terrifies me. Everyone got so focused on what Clinton did wrong that they didn’t pay any attention to the real reasons she lost. Chief among those reasons is pure, old-fashioned sexism. It was blatant in the Trump campaign. I don’t think I need to provide any examples. It was all over the Sanders campaign. Here’s an article for support. I don’t think it goes far enough. His whole attitude is chauvinistic and condescending. Plus I can’t think of any other reason why Sanders refused to concede when it was clear that he’d lost and couldn’t bring himself to support Clinton. And rather than call them out on it (which would be their job), the press joined in. Everything said and written about Clinton’s voice, laugh, hair, clothes, or her philandering husband was simply sexist. And there was a lot of it. Plus we can’t forget about the rampant victim blaming that happened just after the election.

I’m sad to say that things have not improved at all since 2016. I know people will point to the #MeToo movement and the handful of famous people who have been brought down by it, but it has hardly been a broad social change. The Brett Kavanaugh hearings and elevation to the Supreme Court are more than enough to prove that. The women who are running in the 2020 race are already falling victim to the same kind of sexist attacks that Clinton did. Kamala Harris is being called a gold digger. Amy Klobuchar is being called a mean boss. Trump basically called Kirsten Gillibrand a whore. It’s everywhere.

The second big reason Clinton lost was the press. They are completely inept. I’ve written about it before, but the press is simply bad at their job. 2016 wasn’t the first time Trump ran for president. Just like those other times, he wasn’t a serious candidate when he declared. He didn’t have a Super PAC or any kind of fundraising apparatus. It was a publicity stunt by a guy that likes the attention. Once the press realized that Trump was good for clicks and ratings, they put him everywhere. The New York Times says Trump got $2 billion in free media coverage. Some estimates go even higher than that. The point is that the press picked Trump as their preferred candidate, turned him into a real candidate and handed him the election.

In the years since Trump was elected, the press hasn’t learned a thing. They are trying to paint themselves heroically since Trump, in his more fascist moments, calls them the enemy, but they’re behavior hasn’t changed at all. Apparently Trump is still good for clicks and ratings, so they cover everything he says and does. No matter how bald-faced the lie, they report it. No matter how irrelevant or inane the statement, they report it. Calling Trump’s attacks on Elizabeth Warren irrelevant and inane is being overly generous, but they make the news. Rep. Ilhan Omar made some legitimate criticisms of Israel and AIPAC, but the story hasn’t been about the substance of her claims. It has been about her supposed anti-Semitism. It’s a lie, but the press loves it.

Another big reason Trump won in 2016 is that people would not unite against him. It happened in the primaries. There were a ton of Republicans running and they were all horrified by the idea of Trump getting the nomination. But rather than get the party to do something about him, they concentrated on bashing each other and letting Trump slide through. Then, during the general election, all those Republicans who hated Trump a few months earlier supported him against Clinton. Add to that the fact that Democrats and the left couldn’t unite behind Clinton and it goes a long way towards explaining Trump’s victory.

This time, the Republicans are still supporting Trump even though it goes against all of their professed values. And the Democrats are anything but united. It seems like every eligible Democrat except Hillary Clinton has jumped into the race. At this point there is nothing resembling a show of unity on the left. There’s still time, and we’ll have to wait and see how the primaries play out. But I’m worried that the candidates own egos will get in the way of the more important mission, stopping Trump.

Like I said, there’s still time and we’ll have to see what happens in the primaries, but I’m having a really hard time finding reasons for optimism in the 2020 race. No one learned anything from 2016. The left is disunited as ever, the press continues to be awful and we’re too sexist to give all of the qualified candidates a chance. (I didn’t even get into the racism issues and the conspiracy theories, but I could write another whole essay on those.) I really hope I’m wrong, but from what I’m seeing now, the next two years are going to be a nightmare.

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Donald Trump is Going to Win Re-Election in 2020

Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/United-States-Electoral-College-Votes-by-State-1787124

I’ve written in the past that it seems very unlikely that Donald Trump will step down at the end of his presidency, no matter how that happens. I think we may be able to dodge that bullet until 2024, because it looks like Donald Trump will not only escape impeachment, but he’s also poised to win re-election in 2020. There are a bunch of reasons why, but I want to focus on three major reasons:

1. The Mueller Report is not going to prove collusion between Donald Trump and Russia: This is probably the single biggest problem for Democrats going into 2020. After spending the last two years calling Trump a traitor, anything less than the special counsel report proving that Donald Trump himself spoke to Russian intelligence officials about the 2016 election will be a letdown that plays into Trump’s narrative about the entire investigation being a “witch hunt.” That’s not to say that Trump didn’t break any laws; he almost certainly has broken campaign finance laws at the very least. But breaking campaign finance law, and even obstruction of justice, aren’t the same as collusion, and they won’t rise to the level of convincing any Republican Senator to vote for Trump’s impeachment.

I misspoke in the opening paragraph that Trump would escape impeachment. The House, which is controlled by Democrats, may actually bring articles of impeachment against Trump (although even that seems very unlikely). Yet it’s the Senate which would actually try and convict the President if it comes to impeachment. A two-thirds vote is required to convict. That means that the Democrats, with 45 members and two independents voting with them, would need to pick up twenty Republicans to vote to reach the 67 Senators they’ll need to convict President Trump. There has been absolutely no evidence that Republicans are prepared to do that.

One of the potential events which might get Republicans to change their minds would be direct evidence of collusion. Some people are holding out hope that that evidence does indeed exist in Mueller’s future report. However, Michael Cohen’s testimony yesterday, while hyped up and entertaining, really didn’t change anything about the current political situation. He confirmed that Trump is a liar, a crook, and a racist, and that he probably broke campaign finance law. But we already knew all of that. Trump has never faced any serious consequences for those same actions, and is unlikely to face any now (especially since the Justice Department has a policy of not indicting a sitting President). Hearing Cohen confirm the same information again isn’t going to move senators now, or voters in 2020. And if Cohen is any indicator of the overall direction of the Mueller investigation, then it looks like we’re not going to get the smoking gun we’re hoping for. The people who are with Trump will remain with him. The people opposing him, on the other hand…

2. Bernie Sanders is going to wreck the Democratic primaries again: Full disclosure- I don’t like Bernie Sanders. I don’t think his ideas are nearly as radical (or well-thought out) as he claims they are. I don’t think he resonates with voters as strongly as everyone says that he does. I think he gets all of the attention he does because media reflexively defers to the old white man in the room (see: all the attention Howard Schultz got for doing literally nothing). I don’t trust any part of Bernie Sander’s platform, because I believe that while it may trickle down to people of color, it is primarily designed to help the all-important white working/middle class that politicians are obsessed with courting.

That’s just what I think though. Why don’t we get down to the facts? Here’s a fact: Bernie Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton. She was unpopular, had forty years of baggage, controversies and gaffes, and didn’t have the national media fawning over her as some sort of dark horse savior. And he STILL lost to her. I don’t really know why Sanders supporters think he could have beaten Trump if he couldn’t even beat Clinton. Besides, pandering to the white working/middle class is Trump’s bread and butter. Sanders would be trying to beat Trump at his own game, and that’s a losing proposition on its own.

Additionally, the Democratic party has decisively shifted in the direction of women, especially women of color. Black women showed up for Doug Jones in Alabama; Stacey Abrams came incredibly close to winning Georgia (with very real voter suppression happening); Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar are the new stars of the Democratic House caucus; Kamala Harris is a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination. White women are ascendant in the party as well.

And into this clear ideological shift steps Bernie Sanders, waving the same flag he waved in 2016. You remember 2016, when it was clear that he couldn’t win yet he refused to concede and support Hillary Clinton? To be sure, there were alot of other things that contributed to Clinton’s defeat (the Comey letter, the free advertising Trump got from major media, the electoral college), but a huge part of it was also Sanders damaging Clinton in the primaries and continuing to do so even after it was clear he lost.

I don’t think Sanders has learned anything from that experience, either about the direction of the country, the party, or his own refusal to get out of the way. If he had, then he wouldn’t be running for President now. He would stand aside and let the generation of young women who are the future of the Democratic party have their time in the sun. Instead, he usurps them at every turn, and will almost certainly continue his mixture of wink-nudge misogyny and appealing to white identity politics, but from his position inside the big tent of leftist politics. That will put the eventual woman nominee (because just like in 2016, Sanders has no actual possibility of winning the nomination) in the same place Hillary was in, in terms of party unity and a bunch of left-wing dudes crying bloody murder all the way until November 2020. Bernie will beat up on the other candidates in his doomed attempt at getting into the White House, and then sulk when he inevitably fails. That worked out really well in 2016.

3. Donald Trump is the incumbent, and incumbency matters: One of the reasons that AOC skyrocketed to fame so quickly was because she defeated an incumbent representative to win her seat in the House. As of 2014, 95% of incumbents in Congress won re-election. Defeating an incumbent is something of a minor miracle in national politics.

But what about the presidency? In the ten elections where an incumbent president was on the ballot since 1945, the incumbent has won seven of them. 70% is far lower than the 95% rate for Congress, but still well beyond a 50% chance of success.

The power of already holding office cannot be understated. It doesn’t guarantee victory, but it is a very powerful advantage. Combined with Trump’s ability to manipulate people’s fears, lie his way into a holding pattern with just about everyone who opposes him, and an electoral map which favors Republicans in 2020, and it looks like the political winds are at Trump’s back heading into 2020. Those winds can absolutely change, but I’m pretty confident in saying that Trump will be reelected in 2020. That will present us with a whole new set of challenges, but I suppose that at least one of them won’t be removing a recalcitrant President from office.

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Synthetics

This is story number two for my 12 stories in 12 months challenge. This month’s prompt was “New Me” and we had to write it in 1200 words. I liked this prompt better than the last, but my idea didn’t really need the full 1200 words. I hope the filler isn’t too distracting.

Theseus opened his eyes. “How do you feel?” the doctor asked.

“Fine. Did you do it?”

“We did. Your fingernails and toenails have been replaced with synthetics. You will find them stronger and more useful, and you’ll never have a hangnail again.”

Theseus looked at his hands and tapped his thumbs against each of his other fingertips. “They don’t seem any different.”

“That’s the idea,” the doctor replied.

“That’s everything, then?” Theseus asked.

“It is. As far as we know, you are the first person to have had every body part replaced with synthetics.”

“You didn’t tell anyone, did you?”

“Of course not. All medical procedures are confidential.”

“Good. I don’t want any press.”

“No need to worry. When I write it up, you’ll be given a pseudonym.”

“So, what now?” Theseus asked.

“Nothing really. I’d like you to rest today, but you can resume normal activities tomorrow. No restrictions.”

“Perfect.”

***

The next day, Theseus awoke a few minutes before his alarm went off. He lay in bed waiting for the alarm. When it went off at 6:30, Theseus turned it off, got up and walked to the bathroom. He looked in the mirror, then held his hands up with the backs facing him. “Amazing,” he said. Then he bent down and inspected his toes.

If he didn’t know, he wouldn’t know. That’s how all the synthetics were, though. No one could tell by looking that none of his body parts were original. He even felt the same as he’d always felt. The only differences between Theseus and everyone else were no grey hairs and none of the daily aches and pains that were common in people his age.

He knew he had to get moving. He started by brushing his teeth, then a shower, then breakfast. He had trouble deciding what to wear. He kind of wanted attention, it was a big day. But he hadn’t told anyone about the procedure. The only way he’d get noticed is if he wore something special. He decided on his regular khakis but paired them with a bright red dress shirt. That should get him a couple of compliments.

***

Theseus left the house a bit earlier than he usually did. Instead of taking the shuttle to work, he wanted to walk. He couldn’t think of any other way to test his new synthetics. It’s not like he used his fingernails much. Occasionally he would pick his teeth with them, or maybe lift a cover, but that was about it. And he couldn’t think of anything he’d ever done with his toenails. So, walking it was and he dragged his fingertips across railings or the sides of buildings as he passed them.

It took Theseus about twenty minutes to get to work. He pushed his way through the revolving door into the lobby. The floor was marble, probably not real marble, but it looked the part. There was a high, mirrored ceiling and there was a security desk with a woman sitting at it. Next to the desk was an arch that led to a door which led to the building proper. There were a few people milling about and chatting.

Theseus walked towards the arch and the door. “Good morning, Sophia,” he said as he walked past the desk.

“Nice shirt,” she replied.

He walked under the arch, like he did every morning. A red light started flashing, and when Theseus tried the door, it was locked. A puzzled look crossed his face.

“That’s weird,” said Sophia as she walked around the desk. “Step back out here, please.” He did and she said, “Now, try again.”

Theseus stepped through the arch again, and the same red light started flashing. “There must be something wrong with the scanner,” he said. “Can you buzz me in?”

Sophia was looking at a screen on the side of the arch. “It says you’re ‘unknown.’ I’ve never seen that before. Everyone’s in the database. Try one more time.”

He walked a few feet into the lobby, turned and walked back under the arch. The red light flashed. The other people in the lobby started to pay attention. Theseus looked around uncomfortably. He’d wanted attention, but not this kind. “Can you please buzz me in? I’m going to be late for work.”

“I’m sorry,” she replied, “but I can’t let you in without it being logged. Do you have an ID on you?”

“An ID? Of course not. No one’s carried ID in a decade. Not since the scanners were installed everywhere.”

“I need something to prove that you’re you.”

“But you know me. We say, ‘Good morning,’ every morning and, ‘Have a nice night,’ every night.”

“I know, but I could get fired. There’s no way they’ll take my word over the scanner’s. Excuse me,” she said to the small crowd that was watching. “Are any of you going in?”

A short man with thick, dark hair raised his hand.

“Glaucon!” Theseus almost yelled. “You can vouch for me. We’ve been working together for years.”

“Can I?” asked Glaucon.

“I’m afraid not,” Sophia said. “If they won’t take my word over the scanner’s, they won’t take yours. But, could you try going in? I want to see if the scanner’s messed up or if it’s Theseus.”

“Nice,” Theseus muttered.

“No problem,” Glaucon replied. He walked through the arch, no red light, and the door opened at his touch. He lingered for a moment, “Sorry, Theseus. I wish I could help.” Then, he went through the door and it closed behind him.

Theseus let out a sigh.

“Okay,” said Sophia, “Try it one more time.”

Theseus shrugged and walked through the arch yet again. The red light flashed, and the door stayed locked. “This is ridiculous.” He was starting to get angry.

“Were there any issues yesterday?”

“I took a vacation day yesterday, but it was fine the day before that and every work day for the past seven years.”

“What did you do on your vacation day?” Sophia asked jokingly.

A slow, “Oh, crap!” was Theseus’ response. “What does the scanner scan when it scans us?”

“I’m not really sure. I think it scans everything and matches it to the database.”

“This is embarrassing, but I had a procedure done yesterday,” Theseus said in a low voice. “I had something replaced with a synthetic. You don’t think that could be messing up my scan?”

“I wouldn’t think one synthetic would do it. You’re still mostly the same. There are tons of people who have gotten synthetics.”

“Crap, crap, crap. I can’t believe I didn’t think about this. I can’t believe they didn’t warn me. Oh, crap.”

“Warn you about what?” Sophia asked.

“I might not be me anymore.”

“Of course you’re you. What are you talking about? We’ve known each other for years.”

Theseus took out his phone. He called his boss, “Hi. It’s Theseus. I’m going to need to take a sick day today. I know I was out yesterday, but it’s important. I’ll explain tomorrow.” He hung up and put the phone back in his pocket.

“I’ve got to get to city hall,” he said. “This is going to be a nightmare to sort out.”

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Madame Bovary

I just read Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert. I have two ongoing goals. One is to read all of the Great Books. I know all of the complaints about the Western Cannon, and I’m not following the Western Cannon exactly. I’ve read plenty of non-Western Great Books. But, I do tend to think that the books that have made the list are generally worth reading. They made it for a reason. My other goal is to read all of the books that I was assigned as a student, but never read. Madame Bovary checks both boxes. I know it was assigned my senior year of high school, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t read a page of it at the time. It’s still an open question how I passed any of my classes in high school, but at least I’m doing the work, even if it is twenty-five (or more) years late.

I don’t know what to think about Madame Bovary. I didn’t exactly hate it. It’s better than Moby Dick or Ulysses. But I can’t honestly say I liked it much at all. I can’t help but wonder what the point of it was. According to the introduction, Flaubert was going for realism, and it was groundbreaking to do so at the time. But, for Flaubert, realism seems to be a bunch of awful people getting way too caught up in pointless nonsense from their day to day lives. It’s almost like a satire of the French common folk from the mid-nineteenth century. But satire doesn’t work when it’s punching down, and Flaubert spent the entirety of the book punching down.

In the last paragraph I mentioned the awful people. That was probably the strangest thing about the book. I’ve never read a book before where the author so clearly finds all of his characters to be completely contemptible. They didn’t generate any sympathy at all. There were only two things in the book that elicited any kind of feeling. One was when Hippolyte was the victim of a botched surgery, and the other was when Berthe was orphaned. But Hippolyte and Berthe weren’t even close to fleshed out characters. Any feeling associated with them just came from the fact that in theory it’s bad to lose a leg or to become orphaned. I just didn’t know enough about either character to feel anything specific. They were more like plot devices to show how bad Charles and Emma Bovary were.

If Madame Bovary weren’t one of the world’s Great Books, I’d describe it as sloppily written. But, I don’t read a word of French, so I can’t really comment on the style. Perhaps, in French, it’s beautiful, even though it didn’t translate as beautiful. But narratively, it is sloppy. The narrative voice is wildly inconsistent. The point of view changes frequently. It goes on lengthy tangents. And there are long periods where it is unclear whose story it is. The most egregious was during Emma Bovary’s death scene. It’s a very long and drawn out death. Personally, I think Flaubert really relished torturing his titular character. But right in the middle of her long, drawn out death scene, Flaubert takes a break and goes over to the neighbor’s house to have Homais, the pharmacist, act like an idiot for a few pages before going back to Emma dying. It didn’t advance the plot. It didn’t deepen our understanding of a character. It didn’t seem to have any reason for being in the book, but there it was.

It doesn’t do Madame Bovary any favors that the most obvious book to compare it to is Anna Karenina. They both follow women in unsatisfying relationships who have extramarital affairs and die. But Tolstoy’s characters feel real while Flaubert’s feel like caricatures. There is a depth of feeling in Tolstoy that Flaubert never approaches. The only point of comparison that Flaubert wins is that his book came out first.

Overall, Madame Bovary was just about the strangest book I’ve ever read. Strange is fine if that’s what the author is going for, but in this case, it clearly isn’t. I don’t think I’m sorry I read it. At least I have an opinion about one of the world’s Great Books. But I can’t recommend it.

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That Voice

I just saw Gladys Knight in concert for the first time. She has long been one of my absolute favorite voices. I’ve had a crush on her since before I really understood what that meant and it has always been all about that voice. During the show, I found myself wondering what makes her voice so special.

One statement I hear a lot is, “So and so can really sing.” It’s usually made about pop singers, especially pop singers who have been over-produced. I’ve always found it to be a strange statement, though. One reason is that the statement is being made about a professional singer. Of course she can sing. Another reason I find it odd is that it’s a pretty low bar to set. While I appreciate technical ability, when it comes to singing, it’s a fairly common talent. Stop in any high school or church in the country and there’s a good chance you’ll hear more than one person who can really sing. What separates the truly great voices from everyone else?

At the Gladys Knight show, there were three backup singers and they were great. Not only did they hit all the notes and sing in rhythm, they had real power behind their voices. Ms. Knight gave them each an opportunity in the spotlight, and it was impressive. I’d have paid money to see any of the three in concert. But it just wasn’t the same as when Gladys Knight was singing. I don’t want to say they were missing something, because they weren’t. I guess Gladys Knight just has something extra.

I think that extra thing comes down to timbre. It’s not the notes or the rhythms she sings, it’s the sound of her voice. There are just a chosen few who are blessed with a better instrument than everyone else. We are lucky that those who have the gift record and perform so we can share in it. Gladys Knight can really sing, but it’s so much more than that. By sharing her voice, she has made the world a better place.

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Foreign Policy with Jam Stunna: What Does “Great Power Competition” Mean?

Image Source: http://blog.naiop.org/2018/08/ai-and-the-return-of-great-power-competition/

It’s been a little bit of time since my last post in this series, but I want to be more consistent in writing about these topics. So today’s post is about a phrase that has been thrown around alot in the last few years: great power competition.*

Basically, great power competition is political, economic and military competition between the “great powers” of the world. Right now, that’s understood to mean competition between the United States, China and Russia. After the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 90’s, many American policymakers and military leaders believed that we lived in a unipolar world- that is, a world where the only global superpower was the United States. Leaders believed that both Russia and China would eventually become Western-style democracies, and the mood of a global system led by the United States was captured in Francis Fukuyama’s infamous essay, “The End of History?”

As we can see, history did not end. Russia and China did not become Western-style democracies. In fact, the United States’ status as the undisputed power in the world lasted for just about ten years, and crumbled into dust along with the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. Yet the global War on Terror (which I’ll write about soon, because there’s alot to say), while a catastrophic and incredibly deadly conflict which has claimed the lives of people all across the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, is not the same as great power competition. The War on Terror has been fought with organizations that are substantial and deadly, but could never really succeed in destroying the United States.

On the other hand, nations like China and Russia possess the power to inflict serious damage on the United States, and their power is growing. China already has 500 nuclear weapons, and the Russians have thousands of bombs. China and Russia are both in the process of rapidly increasing their other military forces too: building more ships, more planes, more missiles and more cyberweapons. We’re seeing these forces being put to use, both in Russia’s annexation of Crimea and China’s militarization of the South China Sea.

As these nations push further and further out, they will inevitably come into contact with American forces. The United States has a global presence; our military is present in 150 out of 195 nations in the world. Our Navy patrols every sea and ocean on the planet, even the Arctic. Military and civilian leaders believe now that, in order to maintain the United States’ global dominance, they must shift away from the tools used to fight terrorism and instead prepare for the possibility of conflict with other nations- in other words, to compete with other great powers.

But why should you care? After all, there are more pressing daily concerns for all of us than theoretical conflict with China. Perhaps we don’t need to have this concern at the front of our minds, but we need to be aware because the potential for conflict will have serious consequences for us. We only need to look backwards to see what those consequences could be. While the phrase wasn’t used in the past, we’ve seen great power competition before. The emergence of Germany as a unified nation in the 1870’s introduced a brand new country to a Europe where Great Britain, France and Russia were already competing for power; while a bit of an oversimplification, the result was two world wars and more than 100 million people dead.

China is now roughly in the same place that Germany was in the early 1900’s: powerful, and growing more and more powerful (this is another gross oversimplification, but I think the analogy works to make the point). American leaders consider China’s rise as a potential threat to our dominance, and this could lead to a phenomenon known as the Thucydides Trap– basically, that as one power rises (China) and another one fades (the United States), war becomes likely.

But history is not destiny, and knowing that our leaders are preparing for war gives us the opportunity to have a say. We have the right to say that maybe we don’t need our military everywhere around the globe; that maybe the South China Sea isn’t worth it; that we should be talking to other great powers instead of getting ready to fight them. Everything is a series of choices, and we need to start making choices that lead to peace.

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Breakfast

I’ve had a complicated relationship with my mother, as many children do. There were alot of problems, but the biggest one was that we’re too much alike. A surefire way to generate conflict is to put two smartasses together under the same roof, for years at a time, and under extraordinary amounts of stress.

I didn’t really understand just how much stress my mother was under when I was a kid. My mother had three sons and a divorce before the age of thirty, and she had to raise us with very little help from other people. And by “raise,” let’s be clear about what that euphemism really means- she had to keep us alive. My mother had to provide food and shelter for all of us, essentially by herself.

How much food does it take to feed four people? I got a lesson in that this morning as I was making breakfast. I don’t usually eat breakfast during the week (to be honest, I’d rather have the extra sleep than food in the morning), but on the weekends when my son comes over, I like to cook for him. Since my brother and my roommate were awake too, I offered to make them the Saturday morning special: pancakes. The order came out to six pancakes, six pieces of bacon, and four glasses of orange juice. That’s:

-Three cups of pancake mix
-Three eggs
-2.25 cups of milk
-Three tablespoons of vegetable oil
-Six pieces of bacon
-An indeterminate amount of butter (probably about a cup)
-A lot of orange juice

My son is here for the entire weekend, and my brother and roommate live here, so double that for breakfast tomorrow too. That means in one weekend, for two meals, we’ve gone through half a carton of eggs, more than 1/4 of a gallon of milk, half of the orange juice, half of the bacon, and put a decent dent in the vegetable oil.

But wait, there’s more!

Monday, February 18th, is a federal holiday. Guess who doesn’t have school or work? And guess who has to eat? So in fact, TRIPLE that order. Now we’re out of pancake mix, out of bacon, out of orange juice, down to our last three eggs, and running low on milk (thankfully you can buy vegetable oil in bulk pretty easily).

Again, that’s just for three meals, to feed four people. Two people had two pancakes, and two people had one. One of the people who had one pancake ate the bacon instead of getting a second pancake. This is not people who are being greedy and stuffing themselves. This is just breakfast. And the milk, butter, eggs and oil need to be available for dinner too (lunch is when everyone fends for themselves).

If I didn’t have the money or the food for breakfast, I could tell my brother and roommate to make do for themselves; after all, they’re adults. And if things got really dicey and I ran out of food, I could send Gabriel back to his mother’s house and she’ll feed him. Or I could borrow money from my roommates. I have a ton of options.

None of those were available for my mother. She had to feed us at least twice a day, every day, for years (seriously, thank goodness for subsidized school lunch. Even the full-priced lunch was only $2.00- can you imagine getting a full meal for that price anywhere else?). My mother worked hard to make sure that we ate, but also to hide the fact of how close we came to not eating on so many days. I didn’t appreciate the amount of strain she was under because I didn’t know. But now I do, and the rest of my childhood is starting to fall into place as I learn how fucking hard it is to make it with one son and a college degree, much less with three sons and a high school diploma.

Thank you mom, even though I was definitely right in some of our arguments.

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