Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Better Math Models

Adding Natural Uncertainty Improves Mathematical Models

Ironically, allowing uncertainty into a mathematical equation that models fluid flows makes the equation much more capable of correctly reflecting the natural world — like the formation, strength, and position of air masses and fronts in the atmosphere.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University]  — Mathematicians from Brown University have introduced a new element of uncertainty into an equation used to describe the behavior of fluid flows. While being as certain as possible is generally the stock and trade of mathematics, the researchers hope this new formulation might ultimately lead to mathematical models that better reflect the inherent uncertainties of the natural world.

The research, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A, deals with Burgers’ equation, which is used to describe turbulence and shocks in fluid flows. The equation can be used, for example, to model the formation of a front when airflows run into each other in the atmosphere.

“Say you have a wave that’s moving very fast in the atmosphere,” said George Karniadakis, the Charles Pitts Robinson and John Palmer Barstow Professor of Applied Mathematics at Brown and senior author of the new research. “If the rest of the air in the domain is at rest, then flow one goes over the other. That creates a very stiff front or a shock, and that’s what Burgers’ equation describes.”

It does so, however, in what Karniadakis describes as “a very sterilized” way, meaning the flows are modeled in the absence of external influences.

For example, when modeling turbulence in the atmosphere, the equations don’t take into consideration the fact that the airflows are interacting not just with each other, but also with whatever terrain may be below — be it a mountain, a valley or a plain. In a general model designed to capture any random point of the atmosphere, it’s impossible to know what landforms might lie underneath. But the effects of whatever those landforms might be can still be accounted for in the equation by adding a new term — one that treats those effects as a “random forcing.”

In this latest research, Karniadakis and his colleagues showed that Burgers’ equation can indeed be solved in the presence of this additional random term. The new term produces a range of solutions that accounts for uncertain external conditions that could be acting on the model system.

The work is part of a larger effort and a burgeoning field in mathematics called uncertainty quantification (UQ). Karniadakis is leading a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative centered at Brown to lay out the mathematical foundations of UQ.

“The general idea in UQ,” Karniadakis said, “is that when we model a system, we have to simplify it. When we simplify it, we throw out important degrees of freedom. So in UQ, we account for the fact that we committed a crime with our simplification and we try to reintroduce some of those degrees of freedom as a random forcing. It allows us to get more realism from our simulations and our predictions.”

Solving these equations is computationally expensive, and only in recent years has computing power reached a level that makes such calculations possible.

“This is something people have thought about for years,” Karniadakis said. “During my career, computing power has increased by a factor of a billion, so now we can think about harnessing that power.”

The aim, ultimately, is to make the mathematical models describing all kinds of phenomena — from atmospheric currents to the cardiovascular system to gene expression — that better reflect the uncertainties of the natural world.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The President's Daily Brief (PDB)

The President's Daily Brief (PDB), sometimes referred to as the President's Daily Briefing or the President's Daily Bulletin, is a Top Secret document produced each morning for the President of the United States. Producing and presenting the brief is the responsibility of the Director of National Intelligence, whose office is tasked with fusing intelligence from the ;Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Defense; Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other members of the U.S. intelligence community.

Purpose and History

The PDB is intended to provide the president of the United States with new international intelligence warranting attention and analysis of sensitive international situations. The prototype of the PDB was termed the President's Intelligence Check List; the first was produced by CIA officer Richard Lehman at the direction of Huntington . Sheldon on June 17, 1961.

Although the production and coordination of the PDB was a CIA responsibility, other members of the U. S. Intelligence Community reviewed articles (the "coordination" process) and were free to write and submit articles for inclusion.

While the name of the PDB implies exclusivity, it has historically been briefed to other high officials. The distribution list has varied over time, but has always or almost always included the Secretaries of State and Defense and the National Security Advisor. Rarely, special editions of the PDB have actually been "for the President's eyes only," with further dissemination of the information left to the President's discretion.

Production of the PDB is associated with that of another publication, historically known as the National Intelligence Daily, that includes many of the same items but is distributed considerably more widely than the PDB.


The PDB is an all-source intelligence product summarized from all collecting agencies.  The Washington Post noted that a leaked document indicated that the PRISM SIGAD (US-984) run by National Security Agency (NSA) is "the number one source of raw intelligence used for NSA analytic reports." The PDB cited PRISM data as a source in 1,477 items in the 2012 calendar year. Declassified documents show that as of January 2001 over 60% of material in the PDB was sourced from signals intelligence (SIGINT). According to the National Security Archive, the percentage of SIGINT-sourced material has likely increased since then.

Political Importance

Former Central Intelligence Director Georg Tenet considered the PDB so sensitive that during July 2000 he indicated to the National Archives and Records Administration that none of them could be released for publication "no matter how old or historically significant it may be."

During a briefing on May 21, 2002, Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Secretary, characterized the PDB as "the most highly sensitized classified document in the government."

Note by the Blog Author

As of September 29, 2014, popular radio broadcaster Mark Levin has accused President Obama of ignoring and possibly not even reading the president’s daily briefing and offers as evidence recent presidential and White House statements about ISIS and supposedly faulty intelligence which, intelligence sources contend, has been accurately an timely reported about ISIS in those daily briefings.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Strongest Ever Material

Smallest Possible Diamonds
Form Ultra-thin Nanothreads

Penn State Science, 21 September 2014 — For the first time, scientists have discovered how to produce ultra-thin "diamond nanothreads" that promise extraordinary properties, including strength and stiffness greater than that of today's strongest nanotubes and polymers. A paper describing this discovery by a research team led by John V. Badding, a professor of chemistry at Penn State University, will be published in the 21 September 2014 issue of the journal Nature Materials.

"From a fundamental-science point of view, our discovery is intriguing because the threads we formed have a structure that has never been seen before," Badding said. The core of the nanothreads that Badding's team made is a long, thin strand of carbon atoms arranged just like the fundamental unit of a diamond's structure -- zig-zag “cyclohexane” rings of six carbon atoms bound together, in which each carbon is surrounded by others in the strong triangular-pyramid shape of a tetrahedron. "It is as if an incredible jeweler has strung together the smallest possible diamonds into a long miniature necklace," Badding said. "Because this thread is diamond at heart, we expect that it will prove to be extraordinarily stiff, extraordinarily strong, and extraordinarily useful."

The team's discovery comes after nearly a century of failed attempts by other labs to compress separate carbon-containing molecules like liquid benzene into an ordered, diamondlike nanomaterial. "We used the large high-pressure Paris-Edinburgh device at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to compress a 6-millimeter-wide amount of benzene -- a gigantic amount compared with previous experiments," said Malcolm Guthrie of the Carnegie Institution for Science, a coauthor of the research paper. "We discovered that slowly releasing the pressure after sufficient compression at normal room temperature gave the carbon atoms the time they needed to react with each other and to link up in a highly ordered chain of single-file carbon tetrahedrons, forming these diamond-core nanothreads."

Badding's team is the first to coax molecules containing carbon atoms to form the strong tetrahedron shape, then link each tetrahedron end to end to form a long, thin nanothread. He describes the thread's width as phenomenally small, only a few atoms across, hundreds of thousands of times smaller than an optical fiber, enormously thinner that an average human hair. "Theory by our co-author Vin Crespi suggests that this is potentially the strongest, stiffest material possible, while also being light in weight," he said.

The molecule they compressed is benzene -- a flat ring containing six carbon atoms and six hydrogen atoms. The resulting diamond-core nanothread is surrounded by a halo of hydrogen atoms. During the compression process, the scientists report, the flat benzene molecules stack together, bend, and break apart. Then, as the researchers slowly release the pressure, the atoms reconnect in an entirely different yet very orderly way. The result is a structure that has carbon in the tetrahedral configuration of diamond with hydrogens hanging out to the side and each tetrahedron bonded with another to form a long, thin, nanothread.

"It really is surprising that this kind of organization happens," Badding said. "That the atoms of the benzene molecules link themselves together at room temperature to make a thread is shocking to chemists and physicists. Considering earlier experiments, we think that, when the benzene molecule breaks under very high pressure, its atoms want to grab onto something else but they can’t move around because the pressure removes all the space between them. This benzene then becomes highly reactive so that, when we release the pressure very slowly, an orderly polymerization reaction happens that forms the diamond-core nanothread."The scientists confirmed the structure of their diamond nanothreads with a number of techniques at Penn State, Oak Ridge, Arizona State University, and the Carnegie Institution for Science, including X-ray diffraction, neutron diffraction, Raman spectroscopy, first-principle calculations, transmission electron microscopy, and solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). Parts of these first diamond nanothreads appear to be somewhat less than perfect, so improving their structure is a continuing goal of Badding's research program. He also wants to discover how to make more of them. "The high pressures that we used to make the first diamond nanothread material limit our production capacity to only a couple of cubic millimeters at a time, so we are not yet making enough of it to be useful on an industrial scale," Badding said. "One of our science goals is to remove that limitation by figuring out the chemistry necessary to make these diamond nanothreads under more practical conditions."

The nanothread also may be the first member of a new class of diamond-like nanomaterials based on a strong tetrahedral core. "Our discovery that we can use the natural alignment of the benzene molecules to guide the formation of this new diamond nanothread material is really interesting because it opens the possibility of making many other kinds of molecules based on carbon and hydrogen," Badding said. "You can attach all kinds of other atoms around a core of carbon and hydrogen. The dream is to be able to add other atoms that would be incorporated into the resulting nanothread. By pressurizing whatever liquid we design, we may be able to make an enormous number of different materials."

Potential applications that most interest Badding are those that would be vastly improved by having exceedingly strong, stiff, and light materials -- especially those that could help to protect the atmosphere, including lighter, more fuel-efficient, and therefore less-polluting vehicles. "One of our wildest dreams for the nanomaterials we are developing is that they could be used to make the super-strong, lightweight cables that would make possible the construction of a "space elevator" which so far has existed only as a science-fiction idea," Badding said.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Emotions Outlast Memory

Alzheimer's Patients Can Still Feel the Emotion
Long After the Memories Have Vanished
UI study offers good news for caregivers, health care workers
By: John Riehl, September 24, 2014

A new University of Iowa study further supports an inescapable message: caregivers have a profound influence—good or bad—on the emotional state of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Patients may not remember a recent visit by a loved one or having been neglected by staff at a nursing home, but those actions can have a lasting impact on how they feel.

The findings of this study are published in the September 2014 issue of the journal Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, and can be viewed online for free here.

UI researchers showed individuals with Alzheimer’s disease clips of sad and happy movies. The patients experienced sustained states of sadness and happiness despite not being able to remember the movies.

“This confirms that the emotional life of an Alzheimer’s patient is alive and well,” says lead author Edmarie Guzmán-Vélez, a doctoral student in clinical psychology, a Dean’s Graduate Research Fellow, and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.

Guzmán-Vélez conducted the study with Daniel Tranel, UI professor of neurology and psychology, and Justin Feinstein, assistant professor at the University of Tulsa and the Laureate Institute for Brain Research.

Tranel and Feinstein published a paper in 2010 that predicted the importance of attending to the emotional needs of people with Alzheimer’s, which is expected to affect as many as 16 million people in the United States by 2050 and cost an estimated $1.2 trillion.

“It’s extremely important to see data that support our previous prediction,” Tranel says. “Edmarie’s research has immediate implications for how we treat patients and how we teach caregivers.”

Despite the considerable amount of research aimed at finding new treatments for Alzheimer’s, no drug has succeeded at either preventing or substantially influencing the disease’s progression. Against this foreboding backdrop, the results of this study highlight the need to develop new caregiving techniques aimed at improving the well-being and minimizing the suffering for the millions of individuals afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

For this behavioral study, Guzmán-Vélez and her colleagues invited 17 patients with Alzheimer’s disease and 17 healthy comparison participants to view 20 minutes of sad and then happy movies. These movie clips triggered the expected emotion: sorrow and tears during the sad films and laughter during the happy ones.

About five minutes after watching the movies, the researchers gave participants a memory test to see if they could recall what they had just seen. As expected, the patients with Alzheimer’s disease retained significantly less information about both the sad and happy films than the healthy people. In fact, four patients were unable to recall any factual information about the films, and one patient didn’t even remember watching any movies.

Before and after seeing the films, participants answered questions to gauge their feelings. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease reported elevated levels of either sadness or happiness for up to 30 minutes after viewing the films despite having little or no recollection of the movies.

Quite strikingly, the less the patients remembered about the films, the longer their sadness lasted. While sadness tended to last a little longer than happiness, both emotions far outlasted the memory of the films.

The fact that forgotten events can continue to exert a profound influence on a patient’s emotional life highlights the need for caregivers to avoid causing negative feelings and to try to induce positive feelings.

“Our findings should empower caregivers by showing them that their actions toward patients really do matter,” says Guzmán-Vélez, who was a Summer Research Opportunities Program student in 2008. “Frequent visits and social interactions, exercise, music, dance, jokes, and serving patients their favorite foods are all simple things that can have a lasting emotional impact on a patient’s quality of life and subjective well-being.”

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Undercover Jihadi


There’s a book, Undercover Jihadi, that isn’t out yet – we have to wait until October 31st.  But it could be a corker of a story…

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October 31, 2014

Mubin Shaikh, a Canadian born, Indian descent, Muslim grew up torn between two identities—that of an ultra conservative Indian boy who attended madrasa and learned to recite the Koran by heart and a modern Western kid who dated girls, partied and did drugs—much to his family’s horror. After getting caught for holding a wild house party when his parents were out of town, Mubin disavowed his Western self and entered into a strict Islamic mindset, joined the Tablighi Jamaat and traveled to Pakistan and India for pure Islamic enlightenment. There, a chance meeting with the Taliban opened the possibility to Mubin of joining the militant jihad.

Upon his return to Canada, Mubin joined a group of Muslim extremists and recalls celebrating the 9-11 attacks, an event that prompted him to travel again, this time to Syria to become involved in the “great jihad” – the Muslim version of the final apocalypse in “the land of Sham and the two rivers.” Thankfully, Mubin was taken off the terrorist trajectory by a sheik in Syria who gently taught him that his violent interpretations of Islam were misinformed and would lead him to destruction.

Returning again to Canada, Mubin learned that his friend, a former madrasa student, was accused of terrorism. Trying to clear his friend’s name, Mubin ended up volunteering with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). He went undercover and went on to also work with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to infiltrate what became known as the ‘”Toronto 18”—a terrorist group made up of Canadian and American Muslims bent on punishing U.S. and Canadian citizens for their involvement in the war in Afghanistan.

In his undercover role as a fellow jihadi, Mubin learned that the “Toronto 18” was plotting to detonate truck bombs around the city of Toronto, behead the Prime Minister, and storm the Parliament Building with a death wish. As the group moved closer and closer to dangerously activating their plots Mubin, posing as a committed cadre, tracked their actions until they were ultimately arrested.

At that time, Mubin found the Muslim community refused to believe the truth and condemn the terrorists, but instead turned on him—accusing him of entrapment. In the ensuing months Mubin struggled to keep up his courage to credibly testify as the main fact witness, leading to the convictions of eleven of the aspiring terrorists—three who are currently serving life sentences.

Mubin Shaikh is one of the very few people in the world to have actually been undercover in a homegrown terror cell. Because of this courageous experience, Shaikh is considered a primary source for the study of militant jihadi radicalization and terrorism by academics worldwide and remains an active trainer of military and security intelligence on violent Islamist extremists.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Global Cooling Fad

Global cooling was a conjecture during the 1970s of imminent cooling of the Earth's surface and atmosphere culminating in a period of extensive glaciation. This hypothesis had little support in the scientific community, but gained temporary popular attention due to a combination of a slight downward trend of temperatures from the 1940s to the early 1970s and press reports that did not accurately reflect the full scope of the scientific climate literature, i.e., a larger and faster-growing body of literature projecting future warming due to greenhouse gas emissions. The current scientific opinion on climate change is that the Earth is that the Earth has not durably cooled, but underwent global warming throughout the 20th century.

Introduction: General Awareness and Concern

In the 1970s, there was increasing awareness that estimates of global temperatures showed cooling since 1945, as well as the possibility of large scale warming due to emissions of greenhouse gases. Of those scientific papers considering climate trends over the 21st century, less than 10% inclined towards future cooling, while most papers predicted future warming. The general public had little awareness of carbon dioxide's effects on climate, but Science News in May 1959 forecast a 25% increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide in the 150 years from 1850 to 2000, with a consequent warming trend. The actual increase in this period was 29%. Paul R. Ehrlich mentioned climate change from greenhouse gases in 1968. By the time the idea of global cooling reached the public press in the mid-1970s temperatures had stopped falling, and there was concern in the climatological community about carbon dioxide's warming effects. In response to such reports, the Word Meteorological Organization issued a warning in June 1976 that a very significant warming of global climate was probable.

Currently there are some concerns about the possible regional cooling effects of a slowdown or shutdown of thermohaline circulation, which might be provoked by an increase of fresh water mixing into the North Atlantic due to glacial melting. The probability of this occurring is generally considered to be very low, and the IPCC notes, "even in models where the THC weakens, there is still a warming over Europe. For example, in all AOGCM integrations where the radiative forcing is increasing, the sign of the temperature change over north-west Europe is positive."


Note by the Blog Author

The article above is an overly-convenient after-the-fact analysis of the global cooling fad of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  The author managed to find a few references to global warming and inserted these as somehow superior references at the time.  Nonsense.  People genuinely believed in the inevitability of global cooling at the time, and even after the temperature stabilized and stopped falling in the 1970s, President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) began adding regulations and federal clout to the presumed imminent ice age.

Around 1978, the earth’s temperature went on a rampage of increases that lasted through about 1998.  Since 2002, the earth’s temperature has been hard to classify but appears to be slowly falling.  In 2003, IPCC correctly reported that it was unable to offer a long-term prognostication about future trends.  In 2007, IPCC notoriously asserted a certain and dangerous long-term warning trend without any explanation at all for why the 2003 conclusion had been dumped. The 2013 IPCC report reiterates the inevitability of global warming, although there is language that allows for a possibly slower rate of increase.

The blog author asserts that neither the global cooling fad nor the global warming fad are scientifically rigorous enough to be used to make policy decisions.  They are fads, not scientific certainties.  Long term temperature trends have at least 14 independent variables that are not all measured consistently over long periods of time.  The hottest temperature ever recorded was 136 degress Farenheit in Libya in 1922, itself the hottest year of the twentieth century.  That temperature has never been matched, anywhere, in over 90 years.  During this time there have been thousands of daily temperature readings.

IPCC 2007 also violated dozens of forecasting standards.  It should not be considered more reliable than the global cooling fad that preceded it.

Afterword by the Blog Author

The post above from Wikipedia is a sterling example of why Wikipedia cannot be trusted when the topic involves modern politicians or supposed “scientific consensus” that amounts to a fad.  Fortunately it is easy to audit Wikipedia for biases like these.  The free encyclopedia is often used in this blog – but not the biased posts that seek to confirm a political agenda.

In making long-term predictions, there is a strong tendency for the average to return to the mean.  A period of cooling died out and was replaced by a period of warming which also fizzled out into a period of temperature stagnation.  None of the models used in the 2007 IPCC respect that tendency; nor was a refutation offered for the correct 2003 conclusion that the problem was too difficult to be reliably forecast. Therefore the conclusions of 2007 and 2013 were probably biased.  Neither the 2007 study nor nthe 2013 study hypothecated extensive periods of temperature stagnation, even though such a period was well underway by 2007.  Further, carbon dioxide, a benign chemical essential to life, has been increasing through both the cooling trend and the warming trend and the current stagnant trend.  Carbon dioxide is a poor chemical for storing heat.

Carbon dioxide in a closed system such as a terrarium does increase the average temperature.  But the earth’s atmosphere is not a closed system – tons of atmospheric gases spin off into space every day.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Stronger Underwater Glue

Engineered proteins stick like glue — even in water

New adhesives based on mussel proteins could be useful for naval or medical applications.

Anne Trafton | MIT News Office, September 21, 2014

Shellfish such as mussels and barnacles secrete very sticky proteins that help them cling to rocks or ship hulls, even underwater. Inspired by these natural adhesives, a team of MIT engineers has designed new materials that could be used to repair ships or help heal wounds and surgical incisions. 

To create their new waterproof adhesives, the MIT researchers engineered bacteria to produce a hybrid material that incorporates naturally sticky mussel proteins as well as a bacterial protein found in biofilms — slimy layers formed by bacteria growing on a surface. When combined, these proteins form even stronger underwater adhesives than those secreted by mussels.

This project, described in the Sept. 21 issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology, represents a new type of approach that can be exploited to synthesize biological materials with multiple components, using bacteria as tiny factories. 
“The ultimate goal for us is to set up a platform where we can start building materials that combine multiple different functional domains together and to see if that gives us better materials performance,” says Timothy Lu, an associate professor of biological engineering and electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) and the senior author of the paper.

The paper’s lead author is Chao Zhong, a former MIT postdoc who is now at ShanghaiTech University. Other authors are graduate student Thomas Gurry, graduate student Allen Cheng, senior Jordan Downey, postdoc Zhengtao Deng, and Collin Stultz, a professor in EECS.

Complex adhesives

The sticky substance that helps mussels attach to underwater surfaces is made of several proteins known as mussel foot proteins. “A lot of underwater organisms need to be able to stick to things, so they make all sorts of different types of adhesives that you might be able to borrow from,” Lu says.

Scientists have previously engineered E. coli bacteria to produce individual mussel foot proteins, but these materials do not capture the complexity of the natural adhesives, Lu says. In the new study, the MIT team wanted to engineer bacteria to produce two different foot proteins, combined with bacterial proteins called curli fibers — fibrous proteins that can clump together and assemble themselves into much larger and more complex meshes.

Lu’s team engineered bacteria so they would produce proteins consisting of curli fibers bonded to either mussel foot protein 3 or mussel foot protein 5. After purifying these proteins from the bacteria, the researchers let them incubate and form dense, fibrous meshes. The resulting material has a regular yet flexible structure that binds strongly to both dry and wet surfaces.

“The result is a powerful wet adhesive with independently functioning adsorptive and cohesive moieties,” says Herbert Waite, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California at Santa Barbara who was not part of the research team. “The work is very creative, rigorous, and thorough.”

The researchers tested the adhesives using atomic force microscopy, a technique that probes the surface of a sample with a tiny tip. They found that the adhesives bound strongly to tips made of three different materials — silica, gold, and polystyrene. Adhesives assembled from equal amounts of mussel foot protein 3 and mussel foot protein 5 formed stronger adhesives than those with a different ratio, or only one of the two proteins on their own. 

These adhesives were also stronger than naturally occurring mussel adhesives, and they are the strongest biologically inspired, protein-based underwater adhesives reported to date, the researchers say.

More adhesive strength

Using this technique, the researchers can produce only small amounts of the adhesive, so they are now trying to improve the process and generate larger quantities. They also plan to experiment with adding some of the other mussel foot proteins. “We’re trying to figure out if by adding other mussel foot proteins, we can increase the adhesive strength even more and improve the material’s robustness,” Lu says.

The team also plans to try to create “living glues” consisting of films of bacteria that could sense damage to a surface and then repair it by secreting an adhesive. 

The research was funded by the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Unschooling: Ultra-Radicalism

Introduction by the Blog Author

There’s a small, radical movement out there in the hinterlands of America that believes in never sending children to school.  Ever.  This is not the same as home schooling, where children complete an elementary and high school education at home, schooled by parents and other home schooling parents.

My private opinion about unschooling: I think it should be legal.  I think it can work for independently wealthy people who know enough science and mathematics to teach their children as much chemistry and mathematics as are learned by high schoolers.  Such children should be sent to college at age 18 in search of a profession.  My reasoning is simple: if you are not on a professional track by the time you are 25 in America, you are going to have to fight like an animal to remain in the shrinking middle class.  Thus the “choice” of unschooling by parents is a crippling path for their children unless they are very well educated and don’t themselves have to work at all (and thus are able to act as very savvy, scientific tutors for 18 years).

Below is a speech by an unschooled teenager followed by some links to this theory and its practitioners. 

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Leap of Faith
Dagny Kream

Rue Kream's intro:

Dagny's speech from the NE Unschooling Conference last May has finally hit the internet. Here it is:

Leap of Faith

I'm calling this The Leap of Faith because that's what unschooling is.

If I asked any person in this room what they thought of sky diving you would probably say it would be exciting, but you certainly couldn't deny you'd be kind of scared. That's how I see unschooling. It's scary and exciting and hard to get off your butt and just do it - but once you do it's going to be one of the most amazing experiences you'll ever have.

Parenting should be a gift to you, not a curse. Parenting should be a beautiful and scary thing. Not a wrong and stressful thing. Our perspective as unschooled teenagers is so different from that of an adult or a younger person. We are at a halfway point with a lot of confusing things to figure out and what feels like not a lot of time to do it. Fortunately it's slightly better, though certainly no easier or harder, to go through it as an unschooler as opposed to a formally schooled person. We have a trusting family base who are always there and knowledgeable and kind and supportive of us and our needs and wants from this life. Trust comes in many forms and I've found my parents’ trust in unschooling to be the most necessary part of the whole unschooling process.

I have had many conversations with unschoolers about people we know saying, "I unschool, except for math" and how what we really hear is "I unschool, but I don't trust my child to learn what he needs to know, when he needs to know it". Unschooling, no matter how natural or not it is to you, is a constant leap of faith. It always comes back to whether or not you’re going to trust yourself, your children, and your family as a whole, to hold hands and jump. Unschooling is about constantly adapting to the understanding that although the obvious, easy, mainstream answer is to say no, you're going to learn to say yes, to say yes to deciding to trust your children’s ability to decide on their own what they need, and when they need it, and how they are going to get it. The ability to let go of a well-trained reaction to just say no doesn't come easy. You can jump of the first cliff, but it's parenthood, and there're going to be ten dozen more even scarier jumps than your first. If unschooling were a tree divided into parts trust would be the trunk. It holds everything else, all of your other ideals and wants and opinions of unschooling, up. It is sturdy and un-swaying and most of all necessary. After all, without a trunk there is no tree.

John Holt said, "To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves...and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted." You need to start reversing this curse; trust yourself and show your children that they can be trusted!

You might have noticed by now that unschooling is not the easy way out. It just Can Not truly be done halfway or with except-fors like math or bedtimes or diet. I have many sane, nice friends who I call "except-fors". The big difference between my family as unschoolers, and their family as "unschoolers except for", is that none of them have anything like the relationship I have with my parents.

I wish I could express to you how much I want these parents to realize that they could all change that one small thing, that whole trusting thing, and there would be communication between these people who feel they are from and in different worlds.

I have a friend who I visited and ate dinner with one night. Her parents would not let any of us have dessert until she and her sister had unloaded the dishwasher. She spent the whole time stalling and saying nasty things about her parents while they were in the other room yelling at her to hurry up, eating the dessert already themselves.

This is such a disrespectful way to communicate; they would never ever have even thought to speak that way to an adult. Did they create these humans to use as slaves to do work that was important to them, and not the kids?

Do you really want to spend more than half of the short time you have with your children arguing about who has to do what? Do you want for these people to despise you and disrespect you simply because you don't trust and respect them? Or because you didn't spend two extra minutes just asking them if they would help with the laundry, because it does need to be done? Is this really worth it?

As surprising as it may sound, you don't have to waste away 18 or such years of your life in a living hell, just because that's what everyone else is doing.

I have never been made to do a chore in my life, but I know a lot of people who have to do a certain number of chores each day. I do more than these un-trusted and/or disrespected friends ever forcibly do in a day without even realizing it.

For example, any day of the week I might wake up, see the dishwasher was clean, and very reasonably think "well, we need these dishes for breakfast, so I'll put these away before I eat." I have never been taught that having to get this done is a chore and, because it must happen everyday in order for us to eat off plates, a menial task. It needs to happen, so it gets done. Sometimes I don't feel like doing it and more often than not someone else will notice the other putting away dishes alone and go help out. We end up having very pleasant conversations while getting this done and no one is any angrier for having done this task that is to us, because of the way have been raised, just a necessary and not unpleasant part of life.

People are so concerned that their kids could never learn that housework needs to get done without making them do it. They absolutely just don't trust them to figure it out on their own when it becomes necessary for them. It seems that people decided that when their children move out, if their new place gets messy and it's bothering them, they won't have the ability to think "oh, this is bothering me, and I need to fix it" and that once that decision is reached, they won't know HOW. That is ridiculous. It is so often that the younger generation is underestimated in this way, without ever giving them a fair chance to prove their parents wrong. I'm going to use my opportunity to be up here at this lectern as a chance to prove them wrong on their kids’ behalf. There is a group of questions commonly asked of unschooled teens such as myself that I'd like to answer today:

· What do you want to do with your life?
· What's it like growing up unschooled?
· Do you have friends?
· What do you do all day?

The answers to these questions are as follows:

What do I want to do with my life?First of all, I have to back-sass this question and say that I'm doing it right now! I'm not waiting around for school to be over to have a life and/or go to college. However, that’s just not the answer people are really asking for with this question. If I were to answer it their way I would have to say that very honestly I just don't know for sure, and I'm certainly not comfortable committing to something that I'm not over one hundred and ten percent positive of, just for the sake of going to college like everyone else.

I am constantly made aware by my parents that they will help me find resources for whatever I feel the urge to be doing at the time. I find that very important. For example, for the past few years my interests have been drawn to photography, so we asked around and met an unschooling mom - Hi, Karen! - who is also a professional photographer. She jumped on the idea of me following her around on shoots and I've been able to go on quite a few with her. I've learned so much already from Karen, from the technical aspects to how to make the people in front of the camera more relaxed, and I am incredibly grateful that she's put the effort into helping me. I've considered this and am still considering this as a job option.

I am also very interested in dance of most every kind. I've been taking hip-hop for two years and I am currently looking into taking it more seriously with competitions and hopefully eventually becoming at least a semi-professional hip-hop or break dancer.

I am very interested in running a small business. I sell handmade bags and other accessories online and at these conferences. It feels really good to have made something that people will actually buy from me. I never get over the happiness it gives me to make someone else happy with something I made.

I really don't know if I'll ever be okay with committing to one thing, and that’s alright with me. I mean who really honestly wants to do the same thing day in and day out? I feel really lucky that I have the time and resources to really think about and carry out what I genuinely want to be doing. Knowing that has made me a more content human being. All of the things I have learned would not have been possible if my parents did not trust that I can and will figure out what I want and need to be doing when I need to do it. The fact that they have made it possible for me to find what I really truly love doing is in my eyes a huge advantage. If I love what I do, I'm going to be better at it than the people who are doing it just to work.

A friend and I were having a discussion about unschooling, and she said to me "But do you feel fulfilled? Because that's what is most important."

This well-schooled, college graduate, intelligent person went on to say that she's got two steady jobs and a pretty good life but when she gets home every night she can't really say to herself that she feels she's getting anywhere, or that she is fulfilled. It felt really good to be able to confidently say that I do.

What's it like growing up unschooled? Obviously, I'm still working on growing up some more...however, currently it's been amazing, and confusing, and angering, and beautiful and inspiring to say the least.

Every day is an adventure. Every day I learn something new, or develop a better understanding for something else. I feel intelligent! I feel free and content and happy. I am confident that the way I am being raised is going to get me somewhere great in life, that I am already somewhere great.

I could go to college - it's really not any harder for me than a traditionally schooled person. But I could also NOT go to college and still be fulfilled and live comfortably. I have so many options being unschooled and I'm so aware of them all, it's so gratifying. This is true for me and for most every other unschooler I know. I certainly went through and still go through phases of self-doubt. But so does the rest of the world! It's not because I'm unschooled, it's because that's life.

It's really important that you understand that my family is not perfect. I really have never met a perfect family, unschooled or homeschooled or schooled. I know for a fact that a lot of people, having read my mom's book, proceed to email her saying, "Well, that’s nice for you and all, but you just got lucky. My kid would never learn his multiplication tables if I didn't make him! You got 'easy' kids." I'm not sure how she answers these, but I do know everyone in my family's initial reaction if we happen to hear about these emails. Generally it's a very dignified snort or lots of giggles. I really don't understand what people mean when they say your kids must be easy. What's an easy kid? I'm pretty sure I'm not one.

I can promise you without a doubt that my family fights. We drive each other crazy just as much as you can expect of four people living under the same roof. Being unschooled and writing a book about it doesn't mean that we find ourselves to be perfect in the slightest. That's also not to say that we have the same sort of issues as your average family - but it's all relative.

The good news is that the good stuff has always outweighed the bad. For example going to ice rinks during school hours is like owning your own rink. Doing errands without pushing through crowds of people is lovely. Having a consistent, and understanding, and trusting family is inspiring and wonderful.

Do I have friends? Not only do I have a huge community of friends who know and respect and love each other and me, they are all different than most school-peoples’ friends in a very important way - I know I'm going to have them forever. They aren't going to betray my trust or go off and gossip about me. I can't possibly explain to you what a nice feeling that is. To have a constant and ever growing open group of people full of love and respect for each other is a gift I certainly would not have if not for being unschooled and if not for these conferences, and Not Back to School Camp. In one whole school year of kindergarten, I made one good friend. In three days of a conference, I have many, many more than that. I may not have the mainstream’s idea of a friend, with the drama associated with school - but I have my idea of a friend, and many of them. My family likes and knows my friends. They trust me to pick good people to hang out with and I think I can say that they agree with my choices, whether or not it makes a difference to me what they think. In fact, though, it does make a difference. I trust their judgment of people just like they trust mine and because of this I would take into account anything they have to say about the people I hang out with.

A lot of my closest friends are here right now - mostly just to cause me embarrassment - I mean, to "SUPPORT" me -, but most of them helped make this speech what it is, and it would probably be super awful if not for their criticism. There is a lot of concern about unschoolers and a lack of socialization. Unless for some horrific reason the parent is keeping the child indoors against his or her will all of the time, this is near impossible.

We are out in the real world constantly. There are unschooling groups, classes, conferences, camps, neighbors...we meet people of every background and age and are respected by them, whether we're 12 and our best friend is 16 or we're both the same age. Age no longer matters, personality and maturity level matters. When I was 12 I came to this very hotel and met my best friends in the whole world. Only one of them is my age and the rest are all 3 or 4 years older than me. They treated me just as they would someone their own age because that was how old I acted. I was myself and myself just so happened to act 14 or 15. I'm chronologically 15 now and have 12 year old friends. Honestly I forget sometimes how old anyone is, and usually I don't even know how old they are in the first place for a few months after I meet them. This is only possible because my parents were open-minded. They didn't hear about these 16 year olds their daughter was with and think, "But they're 16 and she's 12 and that is not okay, and she can not hang out with them", they wanted to meet them. They wanted to know who their daughter was with, reasonably enough, but they trusted my judgment. They knew from the start that I acted older than I was and these people made me happy and I am safe with them, and that was all that mattered.

What do I DO all day? The problem with answering this question is it changes everyday. I don't have a curriculum. I live my life.

I do whatever I want would be the simplest answer, but most people respond by saying "If my child could do whatever she wanted all day, she wouldn't even get dressed in the morning! My kid needs direction."

We can and do make our own direction. Just because our idea of direction might not match up with what is "right" doesn't mean it is "wrong"! People should do what makes them happy! If sitting with their computer on their lap all day writing a speech, makes them happy ... then it's right.

If running 5 miles a day, or taking a nap makes them happy ... then it's right.

If learning math, and having a curriculum makes THEM happy ... it is right. But you have to leave that decision to them.

My days vary, from being on the computer on and off all day, looking up something in particular that I'm interested in or surfing random sites, to going into the city for a show with some friends, to doing errands and creating and just hanging out with people who make me happy. I do what I want. But from anything I do I learn something new, no matter how small. My parents know to trust that and I can hardly imagine what our relationship together would be like without their trusting me the way that they do.

A lot of people have said to me that I must be a special case. If I ask them, "Do you think I'm well-rounded?" their answer is generally, "Yes, but you got lucky." They're right! I did get lucky, but only in the sense that I'm lucky to be unschooled.

Every other unschooled child is lucky too and I am no better or worse than them. I also get, "But everyone else can't be like you. What about the kids with ADD? Or dyslexia?" They say that people with these labels or the like need structure, and are incapable of determining that for themselves. My opinion is that those kids can benefit just as much from an unschooling environment as anyone else.....If anything, even more.

I'm certainly not trying to say that having a formal education is bad. Structure is good and fine, if that is what the person wants. It is not okay in the slightest to force another human being, no matter how much smaller they are than you, to go day in and day out to a place they do not want to be, to learn things they do not want to know. A big part of unschooling is whether or not you would "let" your child go to school if they so chose. If you still think that decision is yours to make, you're not unschooling. Unschoolers do decide sometimes that that is what they want for them to be happy. Not often, but it does happen. Some people like it, or feel that they need it, and it's important to understand that that's okay. School, any sort of class or more formal education, is a perfectly fine thing when it's in a safe, happy environment and the person going wants with all of their own heart to be there, without any guilt or peer pressure. Trusting your child when they want to go to school is just as important as trusting your child to want to be unschooled.

It is a common misconception that children just aren't smart enough to decide they want to be smarter. I'm positive when people send their children to school they only think they are doing the right thing, and that the kids will thank them for it later. And maybe they will, but they've never been given a chance to know anything else, any other way of learning, so how can they be so sure? Unless they're informed of their options it just plain isn't possible. Many young people are completely unaware that they do not have to go to school. This is unfair. It's crucial that the world learns to trust kids enough to let us decide what we want from this life and how we are going to get it. Children are second-class citizens and that has to change.

Recently I heard someone say that it's all about the choices we make. This is a very true point, but who decided that parents were right to make them for another human being without any thought to their consent or opinion? Mainstream's opinion of children, teenagers included, is that we are not human yet. We are un-trustable. No one asks why.

Once while renting paddle boats with my family and waiting for our boat, we were exploring the building and discovered a sign with boat rental prices posted on it. The sign stated something to the effect of "two PEOPLE and one CHILD - twenty dollars." We were stunned to discover people did not, in fact, become people until they were 13 and up. Who woulda guessed?

In the words of Janusz Korczak, "Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people today. They are entitled to be taken seriously. They have a right to be treated by adults with tenderness and respect, as equals." However, most of the world tends to disagree.

We are not people.

We are not capable of decision making, ideas worth having, being trusted.

A 7 year old is not capable of a maturity level beyond that which the system has deemed reasonable.

Teenagers are reckless, children are too innocent.

So much of society relies on these "facts" given to them by the experts, who decided they were the experts?

Who decided being an expert made you a trustable human being, suitable for making decisions based on a random (and non-existent) "average"?

If anything shouldn't we think that the untainted mind of a child is more open and all knowing than anyone else's? To me it is a truly sick thing for someone to decide the innocence of a child makes them a child, not a person.

A 13 year old trusted, respected teen, who is not afraid of his parents, who does not see them as authoritative figures but human beings just like him, is likely to get into less trouble - I myself am proof of this, this conference is proof of this - than a 13 year old teen with unreasonable rules and boundaries, authoritarian parents who are not open and understanding and trusting with them. Kindness, and trust, in action leads to love...love for each other and love for their world.

In the end, you've got one decision left for you and you alone to make. What is the meaning of life?

To rule over your children in a constant battle for power?

Or to trust, however crazy it may seem, in the judgment and equality of the people you put on this world?


Dagny’s mother is the author of Parenting a Free Child:  The Unschooled Life

 Unschooling website at: http://sandradodd.com/unschooling

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Positive Quiddity: Claire Bloom

Claire Bloom, CBE (born 15 February 1931) is an English film and stage actress whose career has spanned over six decades. She is famous for leading roles in plays such as Streetcar Named Desire, A Doll’s House and Long Day’s Journey into Night, and has starred in nearly sixty films.

After an uprooted and unstable childhood in war-torn England, Bloom studied drama, which became her passion. She had her debut on the London stage when she was sixteen, and soon took roles in various Shakespeare plays. They included Hamlet, where she played Ophelia alongside Richard Burton, with whom she would have a "long and stormy" first love affair. For her Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, critic Kenneth Tynan stated it was “the best Juliet I've ever seen.” And after starring as Blanche in Streetcar Named Desire, its playwright, Tennessee Williams, was "exultant," stating, "I declare myself absolutely wild about Claire Bloom."

In 1952, Bloom was discovered by Hollywood film star Charlie Chaplin, who had been searching for months for an actress with "beauty, talent, and a great emotional range," to co-star alongside him in Limelight. It became Bloom's film debut and made her into an international film star. During her lengthy film career, she starred alongside numerous major actors, including Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Paul Scofield, Ralph Richardson, Yul Brynner, George C. Scott, James Mason, Paul Newman and Rod Steiger, whom she would marry.

In 2010, Bloom played the role of Queen Mary in the British film, The King’s Speech, and she currently acts in British films. She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to drama.


Bloom's first film role was a small part in the 1948 film The Blind Goddess. She trained at the Rank Organisation’s “charm school”, but did not stay with that company for long.

Her first international screen debut came in the 1952 film, Limelight. She was chosen by Charlie Chaplin, who also directed, to co-star alongside him in Limelight, a film which catapulted Bloom to stardom, and remains one of her most memorable roles. Biographer Dan Kamin states that Limelight is a similar story to Chaplin's City Lights, made twenty years earlier, where Chaplin also helps a heroine overcome a physical handicap. In this film, Bloom plays a suicidal ballerina who "suffers from hysterical paralysis."

She was subsequently featured in a number of "costume" roles in films such as Alexander the Great (1956), The Brothers Karamazov (1958), The Buccaneer (1958), and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962). Bloom also appeared in Laurence Olivier’s film version of Richard III (1955), where she played Lady Anne, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1973), The Outrage (1964) with Paul Newman and Laurence Harvey, as well as the films Look Back in Anger (1956) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), both with Richard Burton. Of Bloom's character in Spy, novelist David Plante writes that "Claire's refined beauty appears to be one with the refinement of a culture she represents as an actress…"

In the 1960s she began to play more contemporary roles, including an unhinged housewife in The Chapman Report, a psychologist in the Oscar winning film Charly, and Theodora in The Haunting. She also appeared in the Woody Allen films Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Mighty Aphrodite (1995). She played Hera in Clash of the Titans. Laurence Olivier played Zeus, her husband; she had also played his wife, Queen Anne in Richard III (1955). Her most recent appearance in a Hollywood film was her portrayal of Queen Mary of Teck in the 2010 film The King’s Speech.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Jazz Piano Great Hazel Scott

Hazel Dorothy Scott (June 11, 1920 – October 2, 1981) was an internationally known, American jazz and classical pianist and singer; she also performed as herself in several films. She was prominent as a jazz singer throughout the 1930s and 1940s. In 1950, she became the first woman of color to have her own TV show, The Hazel Scott Show, featuring a variety of entertainment. To evade the political persecution of artists in the McCarthy era, Scott moved to Paris in the late 1950s and performed in France, not returning to the United States until 1967.

Born in Port of Spain, Hazel was taken at the age of four by her mother to New York. Recognized early as a musical prodigy, Scott was given scholarships from the age of eight to study at the Julliard School. She began performing in a jazz band in her teens and was performing on radio at age 16.

Music Career

By the age of 16, Hazel Scott regularly performed for radio programs for the Mutual Broadcasting System, gaining a reputation as the "hot classicist."  In the mid-1930s, she also performed at the Roseland Dance Hall with the Count Basie Orchestra. Her early musical theatre appearances in New York included the Cotton Club Revue of 1938, Siing Out the News and The Priorities of 1942.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Scott performed jazz, blues, ballads, popular (Broadway songs and boogie-woogie) and classical music in various nightclubs. From 1939 to 1943 she was a leading attraction at both the downtown and uptown branches of Café Society. Her performances created national prestige for the practice of "swinging the classics".  By 1945, Scott was earning $75,000 ($982,486 today) a year.

In addition to Lena Horne, Scott was one of the first African-American women to garner respectable roles in major Hollywood pictures. She performed as herself in several features, notably I Dood It (MGM 1943), Broadway Rhythm (MGM 1944), with Lena Horne and in the otherwise all-white cast The Heat’s On (Columbia 1943), Something to Shout About (Columbia 1943), and Rhapsody in Blue (Warner Bros 1945). In the 1940s, in addition to her film appearances, Scott was featured in Café Society's From Bach to Boogie-Woogie concerts in 1941 and 1943 at Carnegie Hall.

She was the first African American to have her own television show, The Hazel Scotty Show, which premiered on the DuMont Television Network on July 3, 1950. Variety reported that ‘‘Hazel Scott has a neat little show in this modest package, its most engaging element being Scott herself.”


Scott had long been committed to civil rights, particularly in Hollywood. She refused to take roles in Hollywood that cast her as a "singing maid." When she began performing in Hollywood films, she insisted on having final-cut privileges when it came to her appearance. In addition, she required control over her own wardrobe so that she could wear her own clothing if she felt that the studio's choices were unacceptable. Her final break with Columbia Pictures' Harry Cohn involved ‘‘a costume which she felt stereotyped blacks. Scott also refused to perform in segregated venues when she was on tour. She was once escorted from the city of Austin, Texas by Texas Rangers because she refused to perform when she discovered that black and white patrons were seated in separate areas. "Why would anyone come to hear me, a Negro," she told Time Magazine, "and refuse to sit beside someone just like me?"

In 1949, Scott brought a suit against the owners of a Pasco, Washington restaurant when a waitress refused to serve Scott and her traveling companion, Mrs. Eunice Wolfe, because "they were Negroes." Scott's victory helped African Americans challenge racial discrimination in Spokane, as well as inspiring civil rights organizations ‘‘to pressure the Washington state legislature to enact the Public Accommodations Act in 1953.

With the advent of the Red Scare in the television industry, Scott's name appeared in Red Channels: A Report on Communist Influence in Radio and Television in June 1950. Scott voluntarily appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Scott insisted on reading a prepared statement before HUAC. She denied that she was ‘‘ever knowingly connected with the Communist Party or any of its front organizations, but said that she had supported Communist Party member Benjamin J. Davis' run for City Council, arguing that Davis was supported by socialists, a group that ‘‘has hated Communists longer and more fiercely than any other...”

Her television variety program was cancelled a week after Scott appeared before HUAC, on September 29, 1950. Scott continued to perform in the United States and Europe, even getting sporadic bookings on television variety shows like Cavalcade of Stars and guest starring in an episode of CBS’s Faye Emerson’s Wonderful Town musical series.  Scott's short-lived television show ‘‘provided a glimmer of hope for African American viewers' during a time of continued racism in the broadcasting industry and economic hardships for jazz musicians in general. Scott remained publicly opposed to McCarthyism and racial segregation throughout her career.

To evade oppression in the United States, Scott moved to Paris in the late 1950s. She appeared in the French film Le Desordre et la Nuit (1958). She maintained a steady but difficult career in France and touring throughout Europe. She did not return to the US until 1967. By this time the Civil Rights Movement had led to federal legislation ending racial segregation and enforcing the protection of voting rights of all citizens; most African Americans in the South could vote again, after nearly 100 years of many being excluded from the franchise. Other social changes were underway.

Scott continued to play occasionally in nightclubs, while also appearing in daytime television until the year of her death. She made her television acting debut in 1973, on the ABC daytime soap opera One Life to Live, performing a wedding song at the nuptials of her "onscreen cousin", Carla Gray Hall, portrayed by Ellen Holly.


Scott was best-known internationally as a performer of jazz. She was also accomplished in politics, leading the way for African Americans in entertainment and film; and was successful in dramatic acting and classical music. Scott recorded as the leader of various groups for Decca, Columbia and Signature, among them, a trio that consisted of Bill English and the double bass player Martin Rivera, and another featuring Charles Mingus on bass and Rudie Nichols on drums. Her album Relaxed Piano Moods on the Debut Record label, with Mingus and Max Roach, is generally her work most highly regarded by critics today.  She was noted for her swinging style, performing at the Milford Plaza Hotel in her last months.

Afterword by the Blog Author

Marian McPartland ran a Piano Jazz radio show for 33 years on National Public Radio.  In addition to being an important piano jazz artist herself, McPartland quizzed her guests for decades.  This radio show became a very important archive of piano jazz, its development and flowering in America.  Of course Hazel Scott herself was a guest on the show late in her life, talking to Marian and playing the piano.

And what a piano talent Hazel Scott was.  She not only played deftly and precisely, but the melody would swing hypnotically, and she could do all this playing forte.  Her hands were strong enough to play a grand piano quite loudly indeed.  By itself, her technical mastery of the instrument was remarkable and unforgettable.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence

Most writers, researchers and consultants in the field of emotional intelligence (EI) typically promote only the "good" side of EI. They say it makes people better students, better employees, better managers, better soldiers etc. Or they say it makes everyone more "successful". In this article, though, I discuss what I call the dark side of EI.

I have long suspected that a person's innate emotional intelligence could be warped or damaged by an abusive environment. In my experience with abused youth and suicide prevention, I have found this to be exactly the case. The depressed, suicidal and self-harming young people I have worked with come from emotionally abusive or emotionally neglectful families. Often there has been sexual abuse and almost always some physical abuse. Among this group, I have found that those I would consider to be the most emotionally intelligent are also fast learners and have good memory and recall. Sadly, because they are so emotionally hurt and starved, they are learning, remembering, developing and using unhealthy, destructive, hurtful or dangerous survival mechanisms.

Here is an initial list of what I have found from these emotionally intelligent, yet emotionally abused and neglected youth:

- They learn to manipulate. They need to manipulate because their needs were not met by simply asking or expressing their needs directly.

- They learn to use their tone of voice, their words, their silence to manipulate.

- They learn how to threaten others with what will hurt or frighten the most.

- They remember things they can use to hurt others with when they feel hurt.

- They learn to use someone's own words against them.

- They learn how to lie. (See note on lying.)

- They learn to tell someone whatever that person wants to hear.

- They get hurt easily because they have been hurt so many times. This hurt causes them pain and they become desperate to stop it. It is this desperation which leads them to lie, manipulate, threaten etc.

- They become nearly constantly defensive and therefore lose their childhood ability to empathize. They may become bitter, cynical, sarcastic.

- They learn how to verbally attack. (See note on why we attack others.)

- They learn hurtful phrases and quickly recall and apply them.

- They can sense when someone is upset with them or is going to be, so if they are afraid of conflicts, as many are, they learn to do whatever it takes to avoid that person's disapproval or anger.

- They learn responses to defend themselves.

- They learn when to be evasive, for example, when to say "Maybe" or "I don't know" and "I don't remember".

- They learn how to lay guilt trips.

- They learn how to apologize when it serves them and how to beg for mercy and forgiveness.

These are just some of the things I have noticed, I expect there are several more.

What is most sad to me is that all these young people feel alone, unloved and unwanted. They are desperate to feel connected, cared about, understood, loved and wanted. They often hate themselves, so they look for love in relationships. But they don't have the necessary ingredients to make a relationship work. They don't have the needed self-love or even self-acceptance. They don't have the relationship skills or communication skills. These things are not often taught in schools, while at home what they primarily see are dysfunctional models. These emotionally needy young adults get into romantic relationships with other emotionally needy people. These relationships are unlikely to work, so they end up feeling more disillusioned, bitter, jaded and depressed.

It is a vicious cycle. Their high level of innate EI has given them an ability to both feel emotional pain and to hurt others emotionally. The survival instinct has programmed humans to attack what is hurting us and to defend ourselves from it. Because emotionally intelligent people are sensitive, they are easily hurt. They are also insecure from years of feeling disapproved of, disappointing, threatened, afraid, unworthy, inadequate, guilty, etc. Because of this insecurity, they take everything personally and are easily put on the defensive. Or they may go on the attack.

When the body is in attack mode, it doesn't feel its own pain. The energy is redirected. For some people, there may even be pleasure in hurting others. This brings to mind the lyrics in the song by Hall and Oates "It's so easy to hurt others when you can't feel pain." But these people did feel pain once. They felt it more intensely than their peers. They felt the pain of injustice and hypocrisy. They felt the pain of being invalidated and left alone or over-controlled and unfree. They felt the pain of crying in their rooms with no one to comfort them. They felt the pain of being mocked and ridiculed by those around them. They felt the pain of having no one to talk to who wouldn't judge or lecture them.

Eventually, out of survival, they learned ways to numb their pain. This does not make them any less emotionally intelligent, though they might score lower on any of the current tests which are supposed to measure EI. It is also possible that they would still be able to get a high score, but it doesn't mean they are people you would want to have as friends or partners. This is something no EI researchers have addressed as yet, to my knowledge. I continue to urge the people who are seriously into EI research to consider the effects of emotional abuse and neglect on emotionally intelligent children and teens.

I believe that when emotionally intelligent teens develop the above-listed survival techniques while living at home, then apply these to relationships outside of the family, they eventually push away all the people they once wanted to be close to. I have done this myself in the past and I have had it done to me. They tend to enter into emotionally intense, codependent relationships. By codependent I mean each person's moods strongly affect the other's to the point it becomes unhealthy.

It is well known, in fact, that people from abusive homes take their survival mechanisms along with them as adults where these mechanisms no longer work. These mechanisms didn't work very well in their families, but they were better than nothing. People from emotionally abusive and neglectful homes did not learn any better ways of surviving, and if they tried to use better ways, they found those ways did not work with the people they were dependent upon for food, money, clothing, shelter and acceptance. For example, if they tried to simply state their feelings with feeling words, their feelings were invalidated. So when they found that didn't work, they tried other ways to get their needs me. But as adults, these other ways became self-destructive since outside the home people choose their friendships and relationships voluntarily.

I believe emotionally intelligent people from emotionally abusive and neglectful homes can become some of the most hurtful, manipulative, greedy, controlling, arrogant people in society. Or they can become depressed and suicidal. Which direction they go depends on their personalities, genes, and life experiences. But chances are good that an emotionally intelligent teen from an emotionally dysfunctional family, or society, will develop many unhealthy thoughts, beliefs, feelings and behaviors as adults.

This is what I would call the dark side of emotional intelligence. I believe it is something that could be prevented if parents, first, and teachers, second, were more emotionally competent and skilled. I make a distinction here between emotionally intelligent and emotionally competent or skilled. A parent does not have to be especially emotionally intelligent to stop invalidating their children. Nor does a parent have to be an emotional genius to develop some basic listening skills. Some training in school or later on could provide a basic level of competency, just as most people have a basic competency in addition and subtraction without needing to be math geniuses.

The sooner we provide such training and education to all parents and prospective parents, the sooner we can begin to avoid the consequences of the dark side of EI.

S. Hein
June 28, 2003