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Academic Insights for the Thinking World


10 things Birth of a Nation got right about Nat Turner

On Sixty Minutes, when filmmaker Nate Parker was asked if Birth of a Nation was historically accurate, he noted, “There’s never been a film that was 100 percent historically accurate. That’s why they say based on a true story and doesn’t say, ‘A true story.’” Hollywood may not be the best place to learn one’s history, but here are ten things that the new movie Birth of a Nation got right about Nat Turner’s revolt:

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5 things you always wanted to know about interest groups

Virtually no government policy gets enacted without some organized societal interests trying to shape the outcome. In fact, interest groups – a term that encompasses such diverse actors as business associations, labour unions, professional associations, and citizen groups that defend broad interests such as environmental protection or development aid – are active at each stage of the policy cycle.

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Is elementary school mathematics “real” mathematics?

When people think of elementary school mathematics, they usually bring to mind number facts, calculations, and algorithms. This isn’t surprising, as these topics tend to dominate classroom work in many elementary schools internationally. There is little doubt that elementary students should know the multiplication tables, be able to do simple calculations mentally, develop fluency in using algorithms to carry out more complex calculations

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How to write a grant proposal

Whatever its scale or ambition, a grant proposal aims to do two things: to show that a particular project needs to be supported by a funder and to show why some individual, group or organization is the right one—the best one—to carry out the project. Showing the “need” is largely an exercise in argumentative writing. It’s argumentative not in the hostile, red-faced, fist-shaking sense but in the classical sense of establishing a claim

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Becoming better strategic thinkers

A manager at a hotel receives an alarming number of complaints from her guests that they have to wait too long for elevators. So she requests quotes for installing an additional elevator. Turned down by the price tag of that solution, the manager seeks an alternative and decides to give her guests something to do while they wait for the elevator, by installing mirrors or televisions or providing magazines.

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Brexit and Article 50 negotiations: why the smart money might be on no deal

David Cameron famously got precious little from his pre-referendum attempts to negotiate a special position for the UK in relation to existing EU treaty obligations. This was despite almost certainly having held many more cards back then than UK negotiators will do when Article 50 is eventually invoked. In particular, he was still able to threaten that he would lead the Out campaign if he did not get what he wanted, whereas now that the vote to leave has happened that argument has been entirely neutralised.

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The different faces of Taliban jihad in Pakistan

All simplistic hypothesis about “what drives terrorists” falter when there is suddenly in front of you human faces and complex life stories. The tragedy of contemporary policies designed to handle or rather crush movements who employ terrorist tactics, are prone to embrace a singular explanation of the terrorist motivation, disregarding the fact that people can be in the very same movement for various reasons.

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Etymology gleanings for September 2016

As usual, let me offer my non-formulaic, sincere thanks for the comments, additions, questions, and corrections. I have a theory that misspellings are the product of sorcery, as happened in my post on the idiom catch a crab (in rowing). According to the routine of many years, I proofread my texts with utmost care.

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One concerned economist

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail inviting me to sign a statement drafted by a group calling itself “Economists Concerned by Hillary Clinton’s Economic Agenda.” The statement, a vaguely worded five paragraph denunciation of Democratic policies (and proposed policies) is unremarkable — as are the authors, a collection of reliably conservative policy makers and commentators whose support for Donald Trump appear with some regularity in the media.

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Witches, werewolves, and Christmas

In Hamlet, Marcellus, referring to the royal ghost, says: “It faded on the crowing of the cock. Some say that ever gainst that season comes wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated, this bird of dawning singeth all night long, and then, they say, no spirit dare walk abroad, The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike, No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, so hallowed and so gracious is that time.”

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6 common misconceptions about Salafi Muslims in the West

Salafism, often referred to as ‘Wahhabism’, is widely regarded as a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam that fuels Jihadism and subjugates women. Some even lump ISIS and Salafism together—casting suspicion upon the thousands of Muslims who identify as Salafi in the West. After gaining unprecedented access to Salafi women’s groups in London, I discovered the realities behind the myths.

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How Americans found information before the Internet

How was information used before the age of Google? Cookbooks showed people how to make new dishes; instructions packed with disassembled toys carried the terror-filled message “some assembly required” and ensured hours of labor on Christmas Eve for millions of parents. Today, people “Google”, but this kind of information gathering has occurred since the seventeenth century.

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The eighteenth-century rhythm riddle: what is the quarter note quandary?

If you were to ask a modern musician what the quarter note means in Common Time the answer would be simple: “It lasts for one full beat, to be released at the beginning of the succeeding beat.” Ah, but eighteenth-century rhythm reading is not a simple “one-size-fits-all” affair. Just as spoken language has evolved over time, so has music notational language. The notation has remained much the same; it is how the notation is read that has changed.

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Churches and politics: why the Johnson Amendment should be modified and not repealed

Speaking before the Family Research Council, the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, called for a repeal of the “Johnson Amendment.” The Johnson Amendment is part of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and prohibits tax-exempt organizations such as schools, hospitals, and churches from participating in political campaigns. The Republican Party’s 2016 platform echoes Mr. Trump.

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Hey, language-learning platforms!

Even when speakers are proficient in English, Scientific English can still present challenges. Some bill it as ‘a foreign language’ even for native English speakers. Anyone who has learned how to use it might first laugh at that comparison and then grit their teeth on the grain of truth. Learning conversational English is a big enough task. Getting good enough to build a career in science fluently using Scientific English is a Herculean task.

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Tightrope walking: The future of political science

Imagine standing at the edge of a precipice. A combination of forces are pushing at your back, biting at your heels and generally forcing you to step into an unknown space. A long thin tightrope without any apparent ending stretches out in front of you and appears to offer your only lifeline. Doing nothing and standing still is not an option. You lift up your left foot and gingerly step out….

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