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Harry

New(ish) Crime Writers: Sophie Hannah

by Harry on November 28, 2016

After the last post in this series (what, a year ago?) a reader wrote to me enthusiastically about Sophie Hannah, assuming I’d have already read her. In fact I hadn’t: amazon had recommended her to me, so I had bothered to look her up and note her lineage but, to my embarrassment, the fact that she is a poet put me off a little bit. Still, a reader bothers to email me with a recommendation, I should try, right? I ended up doing something unusual: I read the Zailer/Waterhouse novels in order without a break, starting with Little Face. Hannah has a unique talent. Most of the books are psychological thrillers, and involve multiple deceptions among the characters, including between various of the detectives; in fact, in both Little Face and The Truth-Teller’s Lie (the first two) I occasionally worried that something supernatural was going to be involved (which would have been a cheat – as an aside I am curious what readers think about James Oswald’s crime novels, which I find completely addictive, but worry that I am being conned by). They are far from straightforward police procedurals, and the relationship between Zailer and Waterhouse is deeply unhealthy (and for a long time it’s hard to tell whether Waterhouse has some sort serious mental illness or is just extremely unpleasant). Yet there’s a sort of coziness to them – none of the plots are predictable (to me anyway), but the characters around Waterhouse (including Zailer) are stable and mostly likeable, the invented local geography is consistent and becomes familiar over the course of the novels, and the domestic lives of the characters involved in the labyrinthine plots are detailed lovingly – Hannah loves and cares about middle class English mothers who get the short end of the stick, but she shows her love by putting them in unbelievable (though possible) and awful situations!

I’m not sure I’d recommend reading all 10 in a row, but I’d certainly recommend reading them all over the course of a couple of years. So, thank you, unnamed reader!

Additional Comment
I haven’t read her Hercule Poirots, but hear they are terrific, so probably will read them after Christmas. I did decide to read The Orphan Choir, to see how well she did the actual supernatural. Now, I don’t really like the supernatural, and I didn’t really like The Ghost Choir but I could see that if she decided to write 3 more, the 4th would be outstanding. Still, I hope she sticks with crime.

WARNING: For reasons that I can’t imagine Sophie Hannah seems unusually prone to having her titles changed: most books are published under one name in the UK and an entirely different one in the US. So, beware duplication!

Teaching Logic with Presidential debates

by Harry on November 8, 2016

My excellent colleague Michael Titlebaum told me about an exercise he did with his Logic class. (It’s a First Year Interest Group class—20 first years who take 3 thematically linked courses, the composition of the program is disproportionately first generation, low income, and minority students—the idea being that students will get connections with each other around academics, and develop relationships with faculty early). I asked Titlebaum to write the exercise so I could include it here: mainly because it is an excellent example of the kind of pedagogy we should use more with our students in large public institutions like mine [1], but also, partly, because it is funny, and might entertain you on election day… Here’s his story:


I’m teaching introductory logic to twenty first-years in a special small-format class this semester, and the political season offered an opportunity too good to pass up. In class on October 18 I spent the entire lecture going over with them various logical fallacies and illicit rhetorical strategies. Then on October 19 I had all the students over to my house for pizza and debate-watching. I divided them into two teams, then had them score points by calling out instances of fallacies as they happened in the debate in real time.

The first astonishing thing was how many fallacies we found. 45 minutes in, my students had called out over 60. (And that was only on the two candidates—we ruled out scoring points off the moderator, despite Chris Wallace’s many loaded questions.) At that point we took ad hominem, red herring, hyperbole, and smokescreening off the table, mostly because I couldn’t count them fast enough. (Smokescreening is responding to a question by piling on related points or complications until everyone forgets the original question and the fact that you haven’t answered it.)

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I (still) believe

by Harry on November 8, 2016

The best election song of 1980…..Or maybe ever.

Good luck, everyone!

The latest issue of Law Ethics and Philosophy has an open access symposium on Family Values, with contributions by Sarah Stroud, Anca Gheaus and Luara Ferracioli, and a fairly comprehensive response by me and Adam Swift. To simplify, Stroud criticizes us for being too unforgiving of parental partiality; Gheaus criticizes us for being too permissive with respect to parental authority over children, and Ferracioli introduces two adequacy criteria that, she argues, our theory does not meet. Of course, you’ll want to be sure to read the book first so you’ll know what it’s all about! It’s a good symposium in that there is enough, and sharp enough, disagreement to be interesting, but enough common ground that several issues get clarified, and progress is made.

While you’re at it, you might also want to check out the other symposium in the same issue, prompted by Philippe Van Parjis’s provocative (to put it mildly) and brief piece “Four Puzzles on Gender Equality”. Here’s the abstract:

There are dimensions along which men seem to be disadvantaged, on average, relative to women. For example, they can expect to live less years; in a growing number of countries they are, on average, less educated than women; they form an electoral minority; and their greater propensity to misbehave means that the overwhelming majority of the prison population is drawn from their ranks. These disadvantages, if they are real, all derive from an unchosen feature shared by one category of human beings: being a male. Does it follow that these advantages are unjust?

The interesting responses are by Paula Casal, Pierre-Étienne Vandamme, Jesus Mora, Valeria Ottonelli and Gina Schouten. It’s entirely accessible to non-academics, not just because it is free on the internet, but also because most of the papers (including Van Parijs’s) are short, and largely free of technical language. I mainly don’t teach my own work, so despite its pedagogical value I probably won’t use the Family Values symposium, but I can’t wait to teach the Van Parjis symposium in my undergraduate political philosophy class in the spring!

The Stone Tape

by Harry on October 30, 2016

On the iplayer, a repeat of the brilliant radio adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape. I saw The Stone Tape much too young (when it was first broadcast—I think my mum bought our first colour television specifically for it) and still remember the sense of complete terror it caused. Listening to the adaptation last year brought it all back. Listen with headphones, in a dark room, and don’t get interrupted, if you can manage it!

Tom Hayden is Dead

by Harry on October 25, 2016

Tom Hayden, a leading member of SDS, and the person with most responsibility for drafting the Port Huron Statement, is dead. The Times obit, with its spectacularly wrong first sentence, is here. Despite the inaccuracies it is well worth reading. More interesting, more accurate, and passionate is Christopher Phelps’s piece in Jacobin, announcing the death and responding to the Times. For a start, the Times says that Hayden “burst out of the 1960s counterculture as a radical leader of America’s civil rights and antiwar movements” which, Phelps rightly responds, ‘gets it exactly backwards’ (and includes, amusing photographic evidence that I won’t reproduce because I want to induce you to go there and read Phelps).

Hayden’s youthful trajectory points, rather, to the early New Left that began awakening in the stiflingly conformist atmosphere of the late 1950s, one whose radicalism was focused in thought and action aiming to surmount race, bureaucracy, and war — and not on the experimentation with hair, dress, music, and psychedelic mind expansion that captivated the hippie counterculture.

The hippies were by and large apolitical; Hayden and his kind were political from start to finish.

The Times obit does, however, end well, with a quote from J. Edgar Hoover that anybody from that era would be pleased to have as their epitaph:

“One of your prime objectives,” J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime F.B.I. director, said in one memo, “should be to neutralize him in the New Left movement.”

John Peel’s 40th Birthday Programme

by Harry on October 19, 2016

from 1979 is on Listen Again for about 3 more weeks: Here, and here. Enjoy.

Viv Stanshall Day 2016

by Harry on October 14, 2016

Today is Viv Stanshall Day (its a moveable feast). Why? Who needs a reason? But… every day when I make my first check of the election news I think of Viv and wonder whether even he could have made it up.

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Adrian Grey-Turner, 1955-1986

by Harry on October 12, 2016

(This is an updated version of something I posted 10 years ago, on the 20th anniversary of my friend’s death)

About 33 years and 3 weeks ago You and Yours had one of those “off to University” shows, helping parents and about-to-be new undergraduates to understand what the first few weeks of University was going to be like.[1] Although fitting the latter category, I only listened because at the time You and Yours was among my regular listening. One comment struck me, and has stayed with me ever since. A woman in her thirties, commenting on Fresher’s Weeks, said that “in that first week of college you meet people who will be your friends for the rest of your life”.

I was skeptical. And it turned out to be untrue for me. I’m in much closer touch with several friends from secondary school than anyone from college (I did meet CB sometime in 1984, but only for a few minutes, and not again till Sept 12, 2001, so he doesn’t count). My first day at Bedford College was spent almost entirely with a girl who decided the next day to leave (not, I hope, because she spent the first day with me, but because she was trying to escape her home town of Egham, to which my college suddenly announced it was moving). I’m still in touch with two other people I met that week, but I’ve seen them each only once in the past ten years, and have spoken to one of them only a few times more.

But it was also that week that I met Adrian.

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Spending money on classrooms

by Harry on October 10, 2016

Michael O’Hare has a nice piece about building on campus. The central point is that capital is so cheap, compared with labor, in our business (even at UC Berkeley apparently!) that if better buildings make us more productive the university should invest more in building than they do (at least, if they will invest in the right kinds of buildings):

Consider an improvement of some sort to a classroom with fifty seats, used for 1200 hours a year – new projector, paint the walls, new chairs, whatever. If it could increase learning by the students by 5%, what fraction of the cost of the room would it be worth spending? The answer is 100%: you should be willing to throw the room away and build a whole new one.

A typical senior faculty office is about 10×12 feet…. In that office you can get a desk and a chair, bookshelves all over one wall, a couple of file cabinets, and a chair for visitors. If we’re lucky, there’s a tree outside the window, and the élite of profs get a squirrel in the tree. Throw in a printer and a scanner and you need another small table and it starts to get quite tight.

What would increase productivity in my business? I nominate: another real table that seats four, and a couch. Why a couch? For naps; actually everyone would do more, better work with naps, but profs work long hours; the research on this is done and it’s not debatable. The meeting space is because our work requires a lot of small meetings, often unscheduled, with colleagues and with students alone or in small groups.

Three thoughts based on my own experience:

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Why have classroom discussions anyway?

by Harry on September 19, 2016

A couple of people observed that, in this post about making classroom discussions actual discussions, I didn’t give any reasons why students actually should discuss. And, I have to say, that when I first started teaching I didn’t understand why, either. Here’s why.

I was a voracious reader and an intent listener. I used to (from age 4 at the latest) demand that my parents let me go to bed early so that I could listen to the radio (not music – but Radio 4: documentaries, comedies plays and, when I was 9, a 13×1 hour radio dramatization of Nicholas Nickleby, on Sunday evenings. By the time I was in college, listening to someone talk about philosophy for an hour was almost effortless – I did the reading, listened carefully, and took extensive notes. I also wrote a weekly essay… So who needed classroom discussion?

And when I started teaching, in the US, as a TA, leading discussion sections, I guess I assumed my students were much the same. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I lived a lot in my own head, and was not especially perceptive about people or the way they learned (despite having been to a good number of different schools, each with quite different demographic profiles; I even managed to attend two different colleges in my 3 years, the first one having closed down while I was there!). The first class I TA-ed had an excellent professor, who was friendly, engaging, and clear. And in section I supplemented her lectures, which more, mini-lectures, focused on details and, to be fair, allowing students to talk more than they could in lecture. The best students did the reading, and were on top of what was going on; and many of the rest remained confused, often because they hadn’t done the reading, but sometimes even when they had. This was clear in their writing, which I graded, and was often quite confused even though they had been in class and section.

How could this be? I have a much better sense of the answer 30 years later (as one might hope).

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1. Walking pneumonia is really not a big deal any more. I’ve had it maybe 10 times; it is very annoying indeed, but, normally, like HRC, I have not bothered telling anyone about it. Indeed, whereas she apparently told close friends and family, I sometimes don’t bother (its not as though anyone is going to have any sympathy—“Go get antibiotics and steroids, now, you idiot”). [1] Her failure to tell the world she has a minor ailment is not part of a pattern of secrecy.

2. Or maybe she doesn’t even have the ailment. Could it be that there is nothing wrong with her, and this is just a rumour spread by her campaign i) to make her seem a bit more like a normal person and ii) to panic people (like the Bushes, for example[2]) who think they can sit this out without having to take responsibility for the deranged performance artist becoming President, and move them into positive action?

[1] A tip—Since I started getting a regular 8 hours sleep the colds that previously would turn into pneumonia occur about 1/4 as often, and last about half as long. Another tip: avoid children.

[2] with apologies to the excellent senior Mrs Bush, who has made it clear that she is not going to stand by.

50 years and one day later…

by Harry on September 13, 2016

In this post I mentioned a time that I had my small (21 person) discussion based class recorded, and then watched the video with several colleagues (and 3 students I invited who were actually in the class). Someone observed, pretty quickly, that the discussion had a kind of ping-pong feel. The students were all willing to talk (event the student who told me in the previous class that she was ok with being recorded as long as she didn’t have to speak in the discussion), but they were all just talking to me. We were in a circle, so it was entirely possible for them to talk to the whole class, but something I was doing was preventing that, and doing it, anyway, was not what they were used to (all but one were first-semester freshmen). What I was doing, specifically, was affirming, or rephrasing, or gently correcting, or responding to, what each of them said, preventing a flow of conversation. And, of course, responding to interesting things each one said, with something else interesting for the whole class. So, it wasn’t wholly bad, and clearly my motives were good. But it was a failure, something like 21 separate and not that great tutorials, all happening at the same time – and I would say it was a fair representation of my classes up to that point.

So, how to change that? One commenter said “I would love to hear, either in the comments here or in a separate post, what strategies you’ve developed to get past (or to some extent deal with) this problem.” I held off partly because it was summer, but mainly because I wanted to wait till I had, as it were, watched myself in action, to see what I do now that makes class discussions real, full on, discussions, in which students are giving one another reasons, listening to one another (not looking for my approval) and improving as thinkers and talkers. So, the semester has started again and, luckily, I am teaching two smallish classes (one has 26 students, juniors and seniors; the other has 22 freshman).
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Spinoza’s Dream

by Harry on September 7, 2016

My friend (and former student) Dave Nachmanoff, has just released a philosophy themed folk-concept album called Spinoza’s Dream. I love it. The concept is pretty cerebral I suppose—each song is inspired by some philosophical idea or theory—but, as usual, Dave’s songs are nevertheless affecting and often personal. And the musicianship is fantastic: Dave himself is one of those musicians who somehow manages to make a single guitar sound like a whole band, and he is joined by various Al Stewart personnel (Dave has been Al Stewart’s lead guitarist for many years; the cover is designed by Colin Elgie, who designed the cover for Year of the Cat!), and Al himself on supporting vocals on one track. Here’s the great title track: