Tag Archives: Coursera


I’m taking a sabbatical from book club to make my second serious stab at writing a real book, one with its own ISBN number, one for which some amount of money will change hands. I tried this once before, but when my enthusiasm lagged and it became obvious that only about a third of what I was writing was any good, i.e. readable, I stopped—thinking that I had a lifetime to finish! So Marjorie, I say to myself, that deadline is soon upon me (well not soon-soon but you know what I mean) and if I’m ever to have my name associated with an ISBN number it had better be now. Sadly they don’t give graduate theses those magic numbers or I would already be so anointed.

It would be nice if I were taking a sabbatical from work instead of weekly reading seminars—or, as I fondly refer to it, the Literary Lawyers Book Club (the group actually has a most erudite name which I find hard to remember). Since my fellow readers are all lawyers I’m trying to fit in by taking a Coursera introductory law course from the University of Pennsylvania—memorizing key legal phrases; for example, if the subject of transsubstantivity comes up, I’ll be able to respond knowingly. Finally. I’ve wondered about that for years…

I do enjoy this club a lot…as described earlier it’s an eclectic mix of literary seminar, bookish salon without a hip dress-code, and weekly political gnashings of teeth. I’ve already been introduced to two most interesting writers, previously unread by me. Don DeLillo and Paul Beatty. These discoveries have been passed on, in the case of Underworld, to my engineer granddaughter who is interested in waste, with Beatty’s Sellout going to my techie grandson who loves to argue issues of race with his many-hued and very smart friends.

Today at book club: we agreed The Sellout is brilliant in its own narrow way; Bob offered up Easter chocolates; and my kind friends offered to read the partial manuscript of The Book I must produce by August before I submit it for review. That made me both grateful and nervous…inspired and frightened…challenged and exposed…what if they hate it? So, talking to myself again, I say there (old chap) write it so they cannot possibly hate it. Done.


The (Short-Fingered) Man from the Tall Building

Soon we’ll be two months into the Turmp (it’s how my typing fingers want to spell its name) Administration. What we should fear more than anything…is happening—it’s normalizing. No good will ever come from this president, cabinet or congress being accepted as normal. So what to do for myself to make sure I do not succumb to finding those faces and voices normal?

First step. Thank Odin (my personal god) for Coursera. I’m taking a course, The Holocaust – An Introduction: Nazi Germany: Ideology,The Jews and the World from Tel Aviv University and Yad Vashem (Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust). It does not matter which political side one is on these days when considering the Israeli/Palestinian situation (I’m personally on the side of the Palestinians anytime settlements come into the picture); very little in the history of world horrors has equaled the Holocaust.

We study the Holocaust in school; at least I’m hoping it’s still studied, but details become blurry over time. This is a good time to revisit the reality of the Holocaust when our new “leader” and his minions seem to reflect a time and ideology we thought we had, at least partially, put behind us.

The class is simply excellent with a professor of great and fluently-shared knowledge who manages to present dispassionately, a story horrific beyond belief. And…hey folks…it came about gradually throughout the 1930s and early 40s. Hitler did not stand up one day in 1933 and say “I intend to take over a big part of the world, kill all of the people whom I personally consider inferior, and leave Germany and much of Europe a bombed out, starving disaster zone.” No, indeed. He just told the German masses it was all about the Germans and that he alone could fix whatever they believed to be broken in their lives, and make Germany pure and great again. And the rest is history, isn’t it?

 I so very highly recommend this class; it’s midway through right now but you could still catch up; it will also be offered again.

I named this piece after The Man in the High Castle which I’ve just started watching (what if the Nazis had won WWII is the premise); I planned to watch more but the reviews aren’t great so I’m not sure, and as a result I don’t know if “The Man…” is a good or bad guy. In any case it’s a good title I think.

More later on about bingeing on The Americans (Russian spies!) and starting to reread a very good Jackson biography to see if Turmp is just following in Andrew the Populist’s  footsteps, as Melissa McCarthy’s fake stooge Bannon has appeared to claim.

I took these photos around 2005 on a visit to Poland’s Auschwitz Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945). I’ve visited the Genocide Museum in Kigali, Rwanda too, and there’s just no way to feel enough at these sites. It seems like we would come away and devote our lives to the ending of racism, xenophobia, hate, genocide but we manage to go back to our normal lives…


The Following Photos have nothing to do with anything, they’re just from around my work building on Thursday—and I’m always uncomfortable when posts are photo-less. I need to get over that…


Last week I declared some of the best days of my life to be when I registered for college classes. Well we can all return to those thrilling days of yesteryear if we so desire by simply googling something called Coursera. We can go back to school by clicking ‘enroll’ next to any of the hundreds of possibilities that appear before our greedy eyes. It’s a candy store of information/topics/ideas/stuff that inquiring minds surely want to know. My current class list includes: Constitutional Struggles in the Muslim World/University of Copenhagen, Buddhism and Modern Psychology/Princeton, Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo)/University of Pennsylvania—all in progress now; Introduction to the Arctic: Climate from the University of Alberta (Canada) and Tromso University (Norway) completed and, in the future, Big History: Connecting Knowledge/Macquarie University (Sidney, Australia).

As you can see from these old college registration forms, my propensity for a little bit of everything has not changed over the years—possibly why I’m neither financially or professionally particularly successful. However I do find life very interesting—how could I not when I move between Islam and Buddhism, between poetry and the environment—and look forward to Big History which begins with the creation of the universe and covers everything that’s happened herein until this very moment?

I’ve written about MOOCs before, but they still seem to be a mystery to the public at large so here’s my additional two cents worth of promo. Coursera is my favorite purveyor of MOOCS; it is an educational technology company that connects with a wide range of some of the world’s best universities to make courses available on-line. Nearly all of the classes are free and include the online materials and all of the lectures. For about $50 you can get a certificate if you take all of the tests. There are some courses of study that do cost more and which carry a higher level certificate or credit. Check it all out. Practically everything you’ve ever wanted to know about anything is just a Google second away.

The best thing about these classes is exactly what was best about the first couple of years at university—the variety of new worlds opening up through the books, and especially through the lectures by generally stimulating, sometimes brilliant professors. I’m actually finding my on-line lecturers to arouse the same feelings as I had in those long-ago classes—admiration, awe, surprise, excitement—and always a great deal of respect for intelligent, educated and dedicated scholars.

I’ll write more about some of the classes and professors later including ModPo get-togethers with my poet friend Bob. But for now…I need to go study.