Academic Holism

Indeed, all things are connected. That being the case, it behooves us to become academic generalists. The good news is that it’s great fun; we get to follow our nose. Structured school settings necessarily narrow our focus. Unfortunately they do so arbitrarily without regard to what we find fascinating.

As readers know, I’ve been studying geography.  Imagine my surprise when, as I hop to my space studies, I find that territories in space are being circumscribed as we speak! My geographic mind-set has prepared me to simply expand my understanding and voìla, this rather sophisticated conversation about defining a space wilderness makes sense.

Harvard Education on Ebay? Yep

Have you ever marveled at the beauty of the language in the Declaration of Independence? The Gettysburg Address?

Philosophizing and writing were common indulgences in 18th and 19th century America. Granted, literacy rates were low but ideas were in the air and newspapers were read aloud in cafés and discussed at family dinners.

The literature that informed those conversations included scrolls of ancient Egypt, transcriptions of rules of law from The Ottoman Empire and the works of Plato and Socrates, et al. Conversations  with the Chief of the Iroquois Nation made their way into the mix.

Early on, a Harvard Education was a liberal education. It was education for it’s own sake, not preparation for employment. A ‘man of letters’ was a well-read man*.

In 1909, Charles Elliot, then President of Harvard, noted that a liberal education could be obtained by spending 15 minutes a day reading from a collection of books that could fit on a five-foot shelf. In line with his objective to educate all that were so inclined, he selected worthy works, built a collection and sold it to the public.

Today, this collection can be bought for around $300 on eBay. Not bad for an education that is, in my view, better than the education offered at most American Universities today. This education plunks one right down into a context designed to help us think, to inspire us to write, to make us laugh and to make us cry. One cannot work their way through this collection without ‘picking up IQ points,’ and reconsidering everything modern in relation to our very human nature.

So, my recommendation? Do a search on eBay for Harvard Classics, also known as Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf.  You’ll find selected books, partial collections and perhaps a complete collection of the first 51 volumes. I have to say, if you do, I’m happy for you. I don’t own the collection. When I learned of it, I already had some of the selections in my own library.  I do however, peek at the list of works included and keep it in mind as I browse local library book sales.

I am using the traditional all-inclusive term ‘man’ here folks as, English grammar works. Efforts to restructure language to conform to a contemporary agenda will necessarily be short-lived. My two cents? Don’t bother to conform. Just speak from the heart.



West Asia? Yes, West Asia

I recently attended a lecture by one of my favorite writer-researchers. Parag Khanna has authored 5 books since I had the pleasure of meeting  him. His first book, The Second World, reads like a travel guide for diplomats, et al. He tours countries noting what they’re doing well. Doing well you ask? Who’s doing well these days?

That’s precisely my point. Call me a cock-eyed optimist, a rarity these days. Why might there be so few? I believe we’re all targets of ‘manufactured fear and pessimism’ but, moving along…

As Parag discussed his latest book, The Future is Asian, I was amazed at his command of the subject matter and, of course, humbled yet again. My most significant take-away, was that folks in China, Southeast Asia, Russia and  Iran all refer to ‘the Middle East’ as West Asia.

So, as you look at Syria, Libya, Jordan, Iraq and Israel as West Asia, what comes to mind? I suggest you refer to your atlas, and really look at West Asia in relation to it’s neighbors.

There’s a lot of food for thought here. Does your atlas include railroad lines being built as we speak? Fiber optic cables being laid? Oil and gas pipelines transiting 4,5 and 6 countries? There is a tremendous amount of development occurring there. I for one am happy for folks. It seems to me, we might just all get along.

For ambitious folks, Parag’s latest book:

Pick a Country…

To track current events, particularly in the US, YOU MUST LEARN GEOGRAPHY. Your tax dollars support military and para-military activity in, perhaps 80 countries.

The national election of 2016 marked full scale public awareness of the growing necessity of some kind of cooperative management of a global system. I for one realized I didn’t even know the lay of the land on the planet, let alone, how best to engage the peoples of the world.

I bought an Atlas. Sorry folks, you can’t just pick up an Atlas at a used bookstore. Get a current one, it’s worth it. If you can, get one very well ‘coded.’ I bought the Fifth edition of the New Concise World Atlas by Oxford. Country lines are clear, border disputes are noted and presentations vary from simple, (inside cover) to complex.

Here’s a simple trick. I just arbitrarily picked Turkey. I must confess, I had no idea that Turkey shared a border with Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. I spent a couple of days, memorizing the list of countries sharing a border with Turkey.

I cannot understate the benefit of just this small bit of information about Turkey as I now read about the falling Lira and the shift of Turkey towards the BRIC nations. It has an entirely different level of meaning.

We need that depth of understanding folks. Voting is a big responsibility. I for one am acutely aware of the limits of my formal education, and my historical dependence upon filtered news.

The good news? It’s wonderful to feel better informed about one’s world. It piques one’s curiosity. Remember curiosity? It’s that delicious source of inspiration that drove our inquiries at the ripe old age of 5, 10 and maybe even 15.

The bad news? As schoolwork became, ‘work,’ we lost that source of inspiration. As time spent studying history was limited, ‘oops, there goes the bell,’ time spent studying geography was limited, ‘ring,’ and so too with math and science, any fascination with a subject was likely extinguished.

Now I suggest, turn off the TV and create your own curricula. I believe, in time, you will have the time of your life. As you find kindred spirits, you will have scintillating conversations. (Have your dictionary handy?) Scintillating, “brilliantly lively, stimulating, or witty-a scintillating conversation.”

A funny thing happens along the way; you feel better. Our brains are phenomenal. Our mind-body-spirits are phenomenal.  We were blessed with curiosity, inspiration and the ability to be fascinated and to care.

As you move from a literally inhumane lifestyle; work, TV at home and/or TV in restaurants and bars to a humane lifestyle; learning, reading, perusing maps, having deep conversations, educating others as you share what you’ve learned and exchanging views, you will feel better.

Intellectual stimulation is an antidote to depression folks.






The Arctic, Hotbed of Activity

Looking at our planet from various vantage points is mind-expanding, hence our topic today. We can all do with a bit of mind-expanding.

We all ooh and awe as we see our beautiful planet from space but what do we learn about it? It’s precious? Yes. It’s extraordinarily unique in the cosmos? Yes. It’s perhaps, vulnerable? Yes. I say ‘perhaps’ because, left to it’s own devices, who knows? Well, some folks know but that’s a topic for another day.

Let’s look a bit closer at our planet from the vantage point of extreme north.  Have you got your atlas handy? Well, well, will you look at that? It’s the Arctic Ocean or the Arctic ‘Mediterranean Sea’ depending upon who you ask.

Ask the locals and you’ll hear about the Baffin Bay, Barents Sea, Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, East Siberian Sea, Greenland Sea, Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, Northwest Passage, and a few other tributaries.

The Arctic Ocean is bordered by Canada, Denmark, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and the US. Hmmn. Is there an accident waiting to happen here?  We’ll keep an eye on this folks.

News from the Arctic

Arctic Shipping Dramatically Impacts World Economy