Periscope Depth

you should hear how she talks about you

Today I discovered that, if you feed every sentence in a David Brooks column into Excel and use OFFSET() and RANDBETWEEN() to rearrange them at random, the resulting paragraphs make just as much sense.

For the past 30 years we’ve tried many different ways to restructure our educational system — trying big schools and little schools, charters and vouchers — that, for years, skirted the core issue: the relationship between a teacher and a student. I’ve come to believe that these failures spring from a single failure: reliance on an overly simplistic view of human nature. We don’t only progress as reason dominates the passions. Over the past few decades, we have tended to define human capital in the narrow way, emphasizing IQ, degrees, and professional skills.

You get a different view of, say, human capital. Reason, which is trustworthy, is separate from the emotions, which are suspect.

While invading Iraq, the nation’s leaders were unprepared for the cultural complexities of the place and the psychological aftershocks of Saddam’s terror. Their work is scientific, but it directs our attention toward a new humanism.

And this is with limited resources! With the right sort of grant money, I could prove that three out of five New York Times columnists fail a Turing test.

(BTW, I owe the OFFSET() formula, as well as several other Excel tricks, to Joel Grus and his latest book, Thinking Spreadsheet, one of the more accessible and comprehensive Excel how-tos I’ve ever read. Check it out)

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