2012 blogging in review

I wanted to talk about how the blog got started, what’s been going on this year, and what my plans are for next year.

1.   How did this blog get started?

I’ve been coaxed, wheedled, cajoled, encouraged, or whatever verb you wish to choose, to start blogging this year by colleagues, friends and family, and I started in a half-hearted fashion to do so starting in January.   However, I made the decision on April 9th of this year to start blogging seriously, so every day without fail for the past 8 months or so, I have written a blog post.      Two things that have helped me to become a prolific writer:   this thing called a weekend, when I have more time to devote to writing blog posts, and the Hootsuite platform, which allows me to print the posts on WordPress later on during the week if need be.

2.  What was your initial goal as a blogger?

I wasn’t really writing for an audience, it was more like a public journal where I would write about the things I wanted to write about.   In particular, I wanted to write about a philosophical framework called Integral Theory, about issues related to globalization, and that’s all I started with.

3.  What made your blog start getting noticed?

Shortly after starting the blog, I took a two-month course on project management put on by the Project Management Institute to help prepare for the project management certification exam.   I was the leader of a study group that met every Thursday evening to discuss what had been covered during the week.   Not everybody could make it every week, so I decided to go through each chapter’s material and explain the material as best as I could and put my notes online in the form of a series of blog posts.   It was helpful for those who missed the study group, but then something magic happened.   Through being connected through the Internet, the blog posts I was writing about relating to project management were picked up by those studying the subject as well from places all around the world.   When I say all around the world, I mean from more than 120 countries!    This encouraged me to keep on doing so, and now I am focusing on Six Sigma Lean related topics because of a Green Belt course I took recently.   I’m putting these notes online so others can read them but frankly I need to refer to them from time to time myself.    They are public notebooks, if you will.

4.  What are the areas you’ve been blogging on in 2012?

About 70% of my blog posts have been on project management and Six Sigma related topics.   About 10% are topics related to globalization, meaning topics having to do with some point of interest around the globe, such as the Middle East, Myanmar or China, OR topics relating to some phenomenon such as global warming.    Another 10% are topics related to Toastmasters International, an organization I joined two years ago and which I have been heavily involved in ever since.   The last 10% are topics related to books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen, or more personal topics such as high school reunions.

5.  What’s going to be your focus in 2013?

I will continue with a series of posts on the 5th Edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge or PMBOK Guide, because I’m volunteering for the Orange County chapter of the Project Management Institute to put on the project management workshop classes like the one I myself took last year, and to update the curriculum to reflect the changes in the PMBOK.   So I will cover the entire PMBOK guide’s 5th edition, chapter by chapter.

I have covered about 20% of the material in the Green Belt Six Sigma class, and will finish the last 80% as well.

The topics of globalization will continue.   I will write on the intelligence community’s assessment of global trends of the next 20 years, as well as that of the World Economic Forum which meets early this year.    I will continue to write about Toastmasters International, as I move some steps closer to my goal of becoming a Distinguished Toastmaster.    I want to read more books and publish reviews of them online.   The new area that I am starting just now is that I want to do summaries of various lecture series I’m listening to from The Teaching Company on topics as varied as the history of philosophy, religion, literature, and U.S. History.   I realized I needed a more rounded diet not just for myself but to let people know that there’s a liberal arts side to me as well as the technical side.

6.  What about the exposure of your blog?

When I started in earnest, I was happy if I got, oh, 10 hits on my blog in a single day.   My record now has been 279 views on a single day which happened just recently.   But more than the 13,000 hits I’ve had this year, the fact that those have come from over 120 countries around the world is for me the most impressive statistic.   This is a medium which can truly reach the entire planet, and it is humbling to realize that.

There are some people who might sneer at the size of my readership.   One of my blogging heroes, Prof. Juan Cole, had 100,000 hits on a single day when he was writing about the constitutional crisis in Egypt.   To put it in perspective, he got  more than 10 more times the number of people in a single day than I got reading my blog all of this year.

But as a Buddhist nun named Pema Chodron said, the best way to proceed in life is to “start where you are.”   You don’t win at life by being better than others, although society will often judge you in that fashion; you win by being better than you were, one day at a time.

So one blog post at a time, at a rate of one per day, I will proceed into 2013 and start the Great Conversation that WordPress has made possible.   To paraphrase a title by Robert Heinlein, the blog is a harsh mistress, but she eventually yields her boons to those who are faithful to her.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 13,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 3 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.


History of the United States: Social Conflict and Ideological Tensions in pre-Colonial America–Conclusion

This is a summary of the first lecture of seventy in the course on the History of the United States by The Teaching Company. This is the 1st edition which is currently out of print, but for those who are interested in purchasing the current 2nd edition of this course and listening to the complete lecture series, please go to www.thegreatcourses.com.

This is the first lecture is given by Dr. Darren Staloff, Professor of History at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York; this last portion of the lecture deals with the conflicts between the Colonies and both the Amerindians and the mother Country of England, and lists 7 ideological tensions within the Colonies themselves.  

4. Societal and Ideological Tensions in early America

a. Amerindians

The political life in early America was characterized by a variety of different tensions. These tensions stemmed from the fact that everywhere authority was contested and negotiated. The authority of colonial governments, for example, was contested on the one hand quite obviously by the Amerindians. In the Chesapeake, the claim that Virginia belonged to the English was obviously disputed by the Powhatan Confederacy, which quite clearly established that they had the military resources to resist such a claim to authority. Through war, negotiation and marriage, a tenuous peace was established but often violated. A similar process occurred in New England, where the authority of the New England government to control land titles and Amerindian relations was challenged both from within the English community by figures such as Roger Williams but more important from without by the Pequot Indians in the famed Pequot Indian War.

A similar pattern would repeat itself in the 3rd quarter of the 17th century in Virginia where a challenge emerged from the Susquehanna and Chesapeake Indians known as Bacon’s Rebellion, a large-scale Amerindian uprising that decimated the frontier and resulted in the overthrow of the established government.

There was a similar Algonquin uprising at the same time in New England known as King Philips’ War or Metacom’s War, which destroyed the frontier in New England. In fact, it would take New England a full fifty years before it would reestablish the frontier that it had achieved by 1675.

Nor would the Deep South be immune to such aboriginal challenges: the Yemassee Indian War, the Cherokee War, and the Catawbas all challenged South Carolinians.

Those in the Middle Colonies, while facing more pacific relations with the Amerindians and who were much less likely to face war, nonetheless found the need to negotiate, initially with the Susquehanna, and then with the Lenape, and of course most famously in New York with the famed Iroquois Confederacy, resulting in the famous Covenant Chain of 1676.

b. Imperial Officials

Colonial governments were also challenged by imperial officials, such as with a set of Navigation Acts beginning in the 1650s, running all the way through the 1690s, and then sporadically passed in the 1730s. All these tried to mandate the flow of goods between New England, the Middle Colonies, the Chesapeake, South Carolina, the West Indies, Africa, the Continent of Europe, and England. Imperial officials insisted on the right to review colonial legislation and to veto that legislation which they felt jeopardized or undermined English interests or violated the English Common Law.

By the 18th century, most governors are in fact appointed by Imperial authorities as are most of the upper assemblies of the legislature, the Councils. A whole host of colonial officials are appointed by the Imperial authorities and they consistently challenge the autonomy of the early American colonial regimes.

c. Internal Tensions

Within the early American colonial settlements, there are also political challenges, challenges between various interest groups and classes that vie for power to protect their own vision of not only the Good Society but also of their own best interest.

Here’s a list of some of the internal tensions in early Colonial American society.

i. Western Frontier Regions vs. Eastern Regions

It was precisely the tension between the Western frontier vs. the center tidewater that lay at the bottom of Bacon’s Rebellion, as frontier regions resented the exploitive taxes of the Eastern tidewater elite and even more resented their unwillingness to protect them against they considered Amerindian deprivations.

A similar dynamic occurred in the late colonial period and early National period with Shay’s Rebellion, which is also a split between, on the one hand, Western Massachusetts farmers who believe they are underrepresented and overtaxed by an Eastern mercantile elite.

In Pennsylvania, the uprising of the Paxton Boys, which is again Western Scots-Irish frontiersmen, who feel they are underrepresented within the Pennsylvania legislature,against the mercantile Quaker elite of the East that insists on pacifism and which refuses to protect them against the threats of Amerindian destruction.

ii. Debtors vs. Creditors

Another important schism of interests which occurs throughout early American political life is that between debtors and creditors, between those who were forced to buy their farms, lands, and provisions on credit, and those who held mortgages.

This schism took various forms. For example, early on in Massachusetts when the Great Migration ends, and there were no longer people to purchase the agricultural surpluses of family farmers, there was a dramatic deflation, where a cow that once may have been worth 5 pounds would now be worth less than 1 pound. The result was that if you owed a debt in cash and cash was scarce, you would not be able to repay it and would be likely to lose your farm. Politics reflected this schism. Small farmers insisted on “stay laws,” which stated that you could not collect debts until the depression came to an end. They tried to facilitate the inflation of currency so that they could pay back their debts with depreciated specie. This was not simply a feature of early Massachusetts, but was a feature that would occur throughout Massachusetts with land bank schemes in the 18th century and throughout every colonial settlement.

c. Merchants vs. Farmers

Another important conflict of interests was between merchants and farmers. Merchants tended to believe that their accumulation of wealth served to create more capital and more opportunities as a whole. Farmers tended to think that any economic arrangement must be predicated on a notion of just price and just wage, such that if a supply and demand had necessitated that an oversupply of tobacco should result in a lower price, a merchant should respect the mores of the society and offer the traditional price for the tobacco and take the loss himself. That rarely occurred in the Chesapeake, but it was a live issue in the Middle Colonies, and particularly in New England, where scarce English commodities obviously were able to fetch high prices and small farmers demanded that their governments enforce the traditional prices they had been accustomed to paying in the Old Country.

d. Clergymen vs. Laity

Another disjuncture occurred between clergymen and laity. In New England, the famous example is the discussion of the Half-way Covenant. The bulk of the clergymen sought to make the Church far more inclusive in the second and third generations by lowering the standards of Church membership, or creating a second category of membership with lower standards. This was something that was vehemently resisted by the lay full members who insisted on maintaining the original standards they had come to establish.

Similarly, the notion of an established clergy with a regular maintenance created by tithing created intense schisms not only in New England but throughout all the colonial settlements, most famously in the discussion of the Parson’s Cause in late 18th century Virginia, the cause that made Patrick Henry finally a famous political figure.

Then there was the schism between the clergymen and laity that underlay the Great Awakening in every region. Clerical elites, used to their deference due to their high cultural training through university degrees, were challenged by itinerant laymen who claimed to speak directly from the spirit without the corruption of a hireling ministry.

e. Other Disjunctures

There was another disjuncture of interests between other professionals, such as lawyers, merchants, clerks, and yeomen farmers. The famous example of this is the North Carolina regulation, where small backwoods farmers fought against the excessive fees of lawyers, the corruption of the courts, and the exploitive use that educated people took of their ability to manipulate the court system and the record system.

The most legendary schism was that between backwoods farmers and frontiersmen and traditional farmers and planters, the best example of which is probably the South Carolina Regulation. Traditional frontier woodsmen and their style of life challenged the growing slave plantation regime of settled farming populations and the result is a violent law-and-order campaign.

f. Center vs. Periphery

Finally, the last political schism and challenge to authority is the tension between the power of the center and the power of the periphery. We’ll see this exemplified throughout early Colonial America at several levels, the schism between on the one hand Imperial authorities and on the other hand individual colonial assemblies and governments, one that takes the forms of not only petitions and protests but also of armed incursions.

But there is also within the colonies that same schism between the locality and the center, the powers of the towns in New England vs. the powers of the General Court, something that is contested throughout the 17th and 18th century.

Nor is that unique to New England; in the Chesapeake the power of the County Courts vs. the power of the Governor and in the case of Berkeley, his Green Spring faction, was an important source of conflict and contestation. It is critical to remember that throughout the 17th and the 18th century, and even into the 19th and 20th century, localism and local sovereignty is fraught with all sorts of ideological associations. Many of these associations we now consider as having libertarian connotations. The average person is able to have much more impact in a period before mass communications at the local level, at the town meeting, and at the County Court, at the Municipal Court than he has at the provincial legislature. The provincial legislature is where wealthy people and urban folk can lobby and show their interests, but it is at the town meeting where the average man can show up and have his voice heard and registered.

So that struggle between locality and center will suffuse and be one of the constant sources of tension within the early American political establishments and throughout all subsequent political establishments as well.

g. Radical equality vs. extreme inequality

The last large-scale pattern is one that is not only characteristic of early America, but also of a lot of subsequent American development, and that is the extent to which early American society and culture exemplified the tension that is inherent in almost every civilized periphery, a zone of settlement at the edge of a civilization, in this case Western civilization.

What we find in almost every case of a civilized periphery is an excess of liberty, freedom and equality, which is always coupled at the same time with an excess of violence, inequality and oppression. By way of contrast or comparison, the best other example in this period is the other end of the European periphery, the settlement of the Eurasian steppe, which not only produced the freedom of the Cossack, but the second serfdom of the small farmers.

A similar process occurred at this periphery, at the Atlantic periphery. For example, with respect to extreme equality, the rates of property ownership within the white community of North American settlement, were extraordinarily high by contemporary standards. Not only was the access to land incredibly open and easy for the vast majority of white adult males, but the terms of land settlement were far more favorable than could have been found in anywhere in England or, for that matter, in Europe. People held land by fee simple, a term which would have been the absolute fantasy of the average substantial English yeoman. Even squatters, people who illegally settled on lands that did not belong to them, which belonged to others, were able to establish their sovereignty and the right of first claim to purchasing that land at reasonable rates.

The social structure of early America was remarkably flat and egalitarian, particularly with regard to the mother country of England. There was no peerage, no aristocracy, no ecclesiastical hierarchy at the top end, nor was the bottom end there. There were no landless proletarians for most of the colonial period. There were no sturdy beggars, rogues and vagabonds. There were no begging widows and orphans in the seaports.

Political institutions were incredibly inclusive and representative by 17th and 18th century standards. This was not because the access to land made the “40 shilling freehold” fairly easy to meet, but also because in many cases, that wasn’t even required. In Virginia, for much of the 17th century, you didn’t have to own any property. You could always participate in town meetings in New England. The basis of representation rather than being virtual as in England, but was quite actual in the American colonies, and in fact quite demographically representative. Institutions like Instruction and Petition were quite accessible and common in the colonies.

Moreover, their society was far more ethnically diverse and religiously tolerant than almost any other European state at this time. In fact, to sum up this side of the argument, we would have to say that for the average yeoman farmer, his status in America would have been the envy of almost any European peasant or worker.

But there’s another side to this excess as well; not only an excess of freedom and opportunity, but an excess of violence and inequality that would have been inconceivable in Europe. Unlike Europe, almost every white male head of household owned a gun and was part of a militia, which resulted all too often in the genocidal elimination of Amerindian populations, a sort of warfare that would have been inconceivable within the European continent and unheralded in contemporary European usage.

The status of African-American slaves was more degraded and defenseless than that of the most abject peasant anywhere in Europe. We must recall that African-American slaves had no legal identity, had no legal protection in the Courts. There was no penalty for a master who killed his slave during the act of correction, because it was thought that one could never be done with malice aforethought: who would kill their own property? Nor was there any protection of their religious and family rights, which is not entirely standard in the Americans. Cuban slaves did have religious protection and did have protection of family rights. By the 18th century, we will see that as colonial elites gained more economic and social security, they sought to Anglicize their community’s mores. Part of this goal of Anglicization was to mimic the elites of England, but also to eliminate the egalitarian cultural residue of that first period of settlement, and thus legitimate a growing social and economic inequality.

That is finally something we have to look at not only in early American history but also in subsequent American history, that one of the themes of social development and maturation is not only an attempt to honor our traditions of freedom, equality, and opportunity, but also growing social differentiation, articulation, commerce and inequality.

History of the United States: Social Conflict and Ideological Tensions in pre-Colonial America—Part 4 The Deep South

This is a summary of the first lecture of seventy in the course on the History of the United States by The Teaching Company.   This is the 1st edition which is currently out of print, but for those who are interested in purchasing the current 2nd edition of this course and listening to the complete lecture series, please go to www.thegreatcourses.com.

This first lecture is given by Dr. Darren Staloff, Professor of History at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.    I split up the lecture into four separate posts, each on one of the four regional cultural zones in early America; this is the fourth post, on the culture of the Deep South.   The fifth and final post will be on the political and ideological conflicts that occurred throughout the early American period.   

iv. The Deep South

a. Slavery

Unique among all of the North American culture zones, it was not settled from Europe or from England. Rather, it was settled from the West Indies, particularly from Barbados. For most of the early American period, South Carolina, the Cape Fear region, and the low country of Georgia resembled the West Indies far more than the rest of North America. We can see this in the initial orientation of the economy. Slavery, although it emerged in Virginia by 1619, is not a significant factor in the economy until well into the 17th century and 18th century.

From the very outset, on the other hand, South Carolina is a significant source of slavery. Its economy is initially directed towards the West Indies. It produces livestock, wood for barrels and hogsheads, and grain for the West Indies because it’s so profitable to produce sugar there that it makes no sense to produce food.

Then in the 18th century, they end up producing their own staples, the two great staples of indigo and rice. That had a profound impact on transforming the nature of slavery in South Carolina, but nonetheless there is one distinctive feature from the outset. In Virginia, in the Chesapeake, and even in the North, it takes some time to establish a slave code, to establish legitimation for slavery. An important issue in every case is what happens when a slave converts to Christianity: is it ideologically acceptable and legally acceptable to enslave a Christian? South Carolinians don’t even raise the question. It’s not an issue for them. Uniquely among the North American colonies, the Deep South treats slavery as a natural relation, as a natural institution, and an unquestioned basis for the social order.

This will become significant in the 19th century. Even when the Virginians defend slavery, they do so on the assumption that it is a necessary evil; South Carolinians describe slavery as a positive good. Virginians say they must have slavery to produce their goods, and in order to ensure some sort of reasonable race relations that won’t become genocidal. South Carolinians say slavery is the natural way of organizing their society, and it’s good for the slaves.

b. Society

As you can imagine, Low Country society was even more hierarchical than that of tidewater Chesapeake. Indeed, one of the distinctive features that distinguished it from the Chesapeake was the fact that the Low Country was such a hot, humid, malarial swamp that during the summer, the planters would all remove to Charleston and create a fairly intimate community and transmit and integrate their hierarchical mores of mastery. One of the distinctive features of South Carolina that makes it quite similar to the West Indies is that it is the only part of North America that has absentee landlords, a feature which it shares with Jamaica, Barbados, and other colonies in the West Indies.

v. Conclusion—Four Regional Cultures

What we see are not only four distinct regional cultures in the early American period, but regional cultures that will persist thereafter, whose political realities will remain distinct well into the 19th century. Much of subsequent settlement will follow isothermic lines, which means that people will move to areas that are geographically and climactically quite similar to where they came from or settled. So New Englanders will settle much of upstate New York and the Northern Midwest; the evidence of that can be found in the religious devotionalism of that region, often known as “The Burned Over District” because of all the revivals and awakenings that took place there. Settlers from the Middle Colonies will move west into Southern Midwest and Central Midwest, people from the Chesapeake will move into Kentucky and Tennessee, and the people from the people from the Deep South will move into what will be subsequently known as the Black Belt or the Cotton Kingdom.

So these regional cultures will be replicated, and to some extent they persist even to this day.

The fifth and final post in this series will deal to developments of political life of early America, which was characterized by a variety of different societal and ideological tensions.

History of the United States: Social Conflict and Ideological Tensions in pre-Colonial America—Part 3 The Middle Colonies


This is a summary of the first lecture of seventy in the course on the History of the United States by The Teaching Company. This is the 1st edition which is currently out of print, but for those who are interested in purchasing the current 2nd edition of this course and listening to the complete lecture series, please go to www.thegreatcourses.com.

This first lecture is given by Dr. Darren Staloff, Professor of History at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.    It covers the four culture zones of early American history; this post covers the third zone, that of the Middle Colonies (colonial New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware).  


iii. The Middle Colonies

a.  Ethnic Diversity

The third region to be settled, the Middle Colonies (consisting of colonial New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware), were characterized by ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity, in stark contrast to both the Chesapeake and New England. New England overwhelmingly was settled by English people from one small portion of England, East Anglia. Virginia, with the exception of the African slaves (who in the 17th century made up a fairly small percentage of the population), was overwhelmingly English.

Not so in the Middle Colonies. New York had initially been settled by the Dutch. But even during the Dutch period of New Amsterdam, it was not purely a Dutch settlement. There were German Baptists and Lutherans, as well as New England Puritans who settled parts of Eastern Long Island, and who would settle parts of the Jersey tract throughout the Raritan and Hackensack River valleys. There were of course a host of other ethnic communities as well; Swedes and Finns in the lower Delaware, Scots and Irish would arrive in small numbers, not to mention the large numbers of Amerindians.

b.   Religious Diversity

The diversity was not only ethnic but also religious. Indeed New Amsterdam in the first 20 years of settlement, meaning specifically the island of Manhattan was reputed to have no less than 18 different languages spoken in the streets, and many different religious establishments; Baptists, Anglicans, Dutch Reform, New England Congregationalists, and even a small community of Sephardic Jews.

Despite all of this diversity, political life was rent with factional strife for the simple reason that in fact most people’s political identities back in the 17th century were based on their religious creeds. The phrase for this is “confessional politics,” where politics was based on one’s sectarian identities. The result was twofold: one the one hand, since no one constituted a clear majority of the religious community, there was de facto religious toleration, which the Dutch called “connivance.” This became not just de facto but de jure with the settlement of Pennsylvania. William Penn made a very important point in his Quaker settlement to establish the freedom of religion of not just his Quaker immigrants to the Delaware valley, but also the Germans who settled the Susquehanna valley and the various sects that come from the Palatine during the Religious Wars.

c.  Development of Stable Political System

So while there is religious toleration, each of these ethnic religious groups has its own political goals and ambitions. The result is all of this political conflict led to the development of fairly stable partisan factional opposition, and the development of fairly unique means of political mobilizations, such as the development of newspaper campaigns, public marches and demonstrations.

In the beginning of the 18th century, you begin to see the development of balanced tickets, so that for example in Pennsylvania, where there’s a distinction between the Quaker and the Proprietary Parties, both parties will try to woo the German vote by putting a handful of German citizens on their tickets. They will woo the working man’s vote by putting a couple of artisans on their tickets. They will woo the Welsh vote by putting a couple of Welshmen on the electoral ticket, or the Scottish vote with a couple of Presbyterians. So the development of balanced tickets, electoral campaigning, and stable factional loyal oppositions all suggest that one of the distinctive features of the Middle Colonies was the development of one of the first stable two-party systems, a two-party system that would in fact characterize and be the model for early national political development. Indeed when the first two parties emerge, the Federalists and Republicans, both would be able to control distinct regions. The Federalists controlled New England for some period, and the Jeffersonians controlled the Chesapeake; it was only in the Middle Colonies that there was a stable two-party system which would subsequently expand from the Middle Colonies to the rest of the North American states, ultimately resulting in the stable two-party system that we enjoy today.

The society was remarkably egalitarian, in much the same way as New England was, and yet it was slightly less nucleated. In many ways, we can think of the Middle Colonies as a middle stratum between the extreme nucleation and egalitarianism of New England, and the extremely widespread plantation settlement of the Chesapeake, with its social hierarchy and materialism. So Middle Country society was both egalitarian, in the sense that very few elites except for the manors and patroons of New York, and yet at the same time it was extremely materialistic. From the beginning, farming was not only geared towards subsistence but also the provisioning trade for the West Indies and the creation of lumber supplies, horses, cattle, and foodstuffs to provision the Caribbean slave societies. So we see a mixed economy that was even more mixed than in New England, and the growth of large urban seaports such as Philadelphia, New York, which quickly in the 18th century outstripped Boston. By the end of the 18th century, Philadelphia emerges as the 2nd largest English-speaking city in the world, and New York emerges as the fastest-growing English-speaking city in the world.

Part of the diversity and richness of the Middle Countries comes from the fact that it has almost every possible social arrangement within it. Parts of Northern New Jersey in fact begin to appear to look like a plantation society. There are significantly large concentrations of slaves, particularly for a Northern context. There are also tracts which are remarkably egalitarian. There are frontier tracts, and of course in New York, there are quasi-feudal lordships known as patroonships, and manor land holdings. Despite all of this diversity and despite the existence of patroonships and feudal privileges, throughout the 18th century the Middle Colonies was a “poor man’s country.” Indeed, one of the reasons why such a large concentration of African slaves were imported to the Chesapeake in the 18th century was because the opening of the Middle Colonies was a magnet drawing any potential white servant or immigrant where they knew they could find rich lands in abundance for fairly low prices.

The next post deals with the last culture zone, that of the Deep South.

History of the United States: Social Conflict and Ideological Tensions in pre-Colonial America—Part 2 New England Colonies


This is the second part of the first lecture in the course on the History of the United States (1st edition) by The Teaching Company. given by Dr. Darren Staloff, Professor of History at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.   The first part covered the colonies of the Chesapeake, namely, Virginia and Maryland, the first region to be settled.  This post covers the second region to be colonized, that of New England.  

ii. The New England Colonies

a.  Society

Rather than settled by poor, young indentured servants and Cavaliers, New England was settled by Puritan zealots was not materialistic. They did not seek great wealth; if they did, they would have been quite foolish to land on the rocky shores of New England. Rather, they sought the seclusion to create a wholly Bible-based Commonwealth, a religious community that would essentially codify the arrangements that the Lord had had in mind for his latter-day saints, for his new Zion in the wilderness. So instead of a society that was hierarchical, and elitist, New England produced a society that was communitarian and organized around nucleated towns. Everybody lived in close proximity to one another, and everybody looked in on everyone else’s affairs to make sure that community mores and religious values were respected and honored. Whereas religion was an afterthought in the Chesapeake, it was the prime motivation in the founding of New England.

New England Puritans not only sought pure religion, but unanimity of thought with regards to religion. This had two sides to it: on the one hand, the government was not exploitative. It was if anything inclusive and idealistic. The average yeoman farmer had no small amount of impact in his political affairs as long as he belonged to the Church. He participated in town government; he might likely hold small local offices and was able to vote for both deputies and magistrates. On the other hand, it also led to a social structure and government structure that could often be quite repressive towards dissent. Those who could not follow the orthodox preachings of the Puritan divines might find themselves flogged, fined, imprisoned, with their ears cropped, noses slit, and tongues bore through with a hot iron. They might find themselves banished to a wilderness which, before the establishment of fixed communities, might be the equivalent of a death sentence. So there were two sides to the Puritan settlement: it was inclusive and unified, but this came at the price of difference and diversity.

b.  Economy

Settlement was focused in nucleated towns. But what was even more striking about New England was the distribution of property. Relative to the Chesapeake, it is strikingly egalitarian. There is extremely little poverty, extremely little indentured servitude, not is there a great disparity of wealth when it comes to land ownership: there are very few extremely large landowners. Social mores are in many ways egalitarian. There are differences in social rank, there are gentlemen, squires, and simply goodmen and goodwives (a lesser social rank than those addressed as Mister and Mistress). The difference is one that has to be maintained and almost fictively created by allowing people to have larger allotments of land, for example, or more prime spots within a town lot. In fact, the differences in literacy, education and wealth are not as dramatic than elsewhere, and certainly far less dramatic than one would find at the time in the Chesapeake and back in England.

The economy was remarkably different than that of the Chesapeake. Initially, it was geared towards subsistence family farming. The vast bulk of New England settlers for most of the 17th century and well into the 18th century spent most of their time producing foodstuffs and commodities for their own immediate family consumption or for barter within their town communities. Nonetheless, by the second decade of settlement, as the great migration to New England came to an end, and as trade of provisioning new immigrants dried up, New England merchants began to establish what would soon prove to be a thriving provisioning and carrying trade throughout the Atlantic economy. So much so that by the late 17th century, the Yankee trader would be a famous character in North American and even South American waters. By the 18th and 19th century, he would be a legendary world trader and merchant.

One of the features of New England society was not only unity of thought, unity of feeling, religious devotion and communitarianism, but also economic diversity including subsistence farming at one end of the scale and far-flung carrying and mercantile trade at the other.

The next region to be settled were the Middle Colonies, which are covered in the next post.

History of the United States: Social Conflict and Ideological Tensions in pre-Colonial America—Part 1 Virginia and the Chesapeake

This is a summary of the first lecture of seventy in the course on the History of the United States by The Teaching Company. This is the 1st edition which is currently out of print, but for those who are interested in purchasing the current 2nd edition of this course and listening to the complete lecture series, please go to www.thegreatcourses.com.

This first lecture is given by Dr. Darren Staloff, Professor of History at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He earned his B.A. from Columbia College and his M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. from Columbia University.

The original title of this lecture was just “Introduction” since it was the first in the series, but I have retitled this summary based on the contents of the lecture.

1. Introduction—Traditional early American history

Prof. Staloff says that the approach to the study of early American history has been transformed in the past forty-five years. The traditional approach to studying early American history was to treat as an inevitable run towards independence. There was the initial period of exploration and settlement, followed by epoch of “Whiggish” development. This term means that it assumed that the history of pre-colonial America led inevitably towards the development of institutions of representative government, with colonial autonomy demanding increasing liberties and rights of representation (freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of print, and freedom of religion) culminating in the great conclusion of the American revolution. This was how students were taught early American history up until the 1960s and 1970s.

Here’s the typical progression of events according to this version of history.

Major events in Early American History (as traditionally taught)




1. Mayflower Compact 1620 First Pilgrium fathers agreed to set up self-government among themselves.
2. Bacon’s Rebellion 1676 First people of colonial Virginia fought for their independence, a “dress rehearsal” for the American revolution.
3. Culpepper’s Rebellion 1677-1679 Rebellion in colonial North Carolina provoked by the British Navigation Acts.
4. Leisler’s Rebellion 1689-1691 Rebellion in colonial New York against the policies of King James II.
5. Glorious Revolution 1688-1689 Overthrow of King James II of England by William and Mary; led to Bill of Rights in 1689, and the overthrow of the government in colonial Maryland.
6, Zenger Trial 1735 His trial in colonial New York led to establishment of the freedom of the press.

Each of these events was presented in a grand narrative often called Whig history, which said that they led inexorably towards the establishment of the United States as a great nation of liberty during the American revolution.

2. Early American history revisited

Some things were absent from this grand narrative, such as:

  • Displacement of Amerindians
  • Development of African-American slavery
  • The status of women
  • The role of the family
  • The role of urban workers and indentured servants
  • Social conflict, social tension and ideological rifts

Now early American history is taught on its own terms and not through the “wrong end of the telescope” from the standpoint of what occurred later at the time of the American revolution. There developed several distinct regional styles, cultural mores or norms, and family structures. Early American history is not just the predecessor to American history, but actually represents about the first half of American history. One of the rewards of studying this period on its own terms is that what emerges are a set of patterns that reveal not only much about the nature of early American society but that persist long after independence, and even to the present day.

3. Four Regional Cultures in Early American Society

The following is a chart which represents the four different regional cultures in early American society. They are listed in order from North to South, but the descriptions that follow are based on the order in which they were settled.

Four Regional Cultures in early American society

Society Economics Politics
1. New England (NH, MA, MA, CT, VT) Commonwealth, religious zealotry Subsistence family farming at first, later traders and merchants Communitarian, religious
2. Middle Colonies (NY, PA, NJ, DE) Ethnic, religious, cultural diversity Farming, trading (same mix as in New England) Fractional strife which led to emergence of stable system of partisan politics
3. Chesapeake (MA, VA, parts of NC) Hierarchical, materialistic Staple crop (tobacco) Extractive government, aristocratic
4. Deep South (coastal NC, SC, GA) Plantation owners and slaves Provisioning of West Indies, staple crops (indigo, rice)

i. Chesapeake Society

Chesapeake was the first to be settled and it was hierarchical and materialistic in its orientation. Its economy was geared towards staple crop production, specifically tobacco. The society was extractive in that it was trying to draw from the soil and from the Amerindian population as much profit as possible and as quickly as possible. It was exploitive not just of these resources but of its own members. Governments were corrupt.

It was a rough, frontier society with a boom-town feel to it. It was characterized by extremely high rates of mortality. It was ironically the fact that it was death trap that led to the first stability that you find in the Chesapeake. Precisely because mortality was so high, those who didn’t die off found themselves with great opportunities of land after they had completed their indentured servitude. It was only after that mortality rate dropped that large social conflict emerged, because a larger number of people were competing for a smaller number of resources.

Further complicating this picture was a collapse in tobacco prices which ultimately made debts hard to repay and land difficult to acquire. The result was an intense social conflict within the white settler community which recapitulated the circumstances that promoted emigration from England to Virginia in the first place. One of the issues that lies behind the early settlement of the Atlantic seaboard by 17th century Englishmen is the sense that there was dramatic overpopulation in England, and a growing class of rural proletarians who were potentially insurrectionary. That’s exactly what came to exist in Virginia and in the Chesapeake, and the result was an insurrection known as Bacon’s Rebellion which occurred in 1676.

The response to that social conflict took the form of eliminating the white laboring class and replacing it with a black slave laboring class, the advantage of which was that they would never complete their terms of servitude, and therefore never become free to engage in insurrectionary activity. So one of the distinctive features of Chesapeake society, aside from materialism, exploitative government, and extractive economies, was the growth of African-American slavery.

The culture of the Chesapeake was oriented towards very aristocratic ethos of honor and display. This had a lot to do with the regional origins of much of the planter elite, many of whom were south and west English aristocrats, or sons of gentry. They recapitulated those cultural mores in the Chesapeake. It was also reinforced by the existence of slavery, which requires an ethos of mastery, domination, and self-assurance. Moreover, slavery had accentuated what had already been an extremely violent tenor to social relations. One of the things that distinguishes this region of Virginia and the Chesapeake is a pervading violent tone to social relations, the ubiquity of things like blood sports, dueling, horse racing, cock fighting, and other entertainments. The society was dominated by a sophisticated and educated planter elite whose mores were all about honor, display, fine clothing, and cultivated manner and taste.

This planter elite was challenged at essentially two distinct moments in its history. The first was during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. The challenge then came from two sources, from a) those lower in the social scale who resented the extractive and exploitative relations of the planter oligarchy, and b) some of the so-called Cavalier immigrants to Virginia who had noted that much of the planter oligarchy actually lacked the breeding associated with the true social elite.

The second challenge came during the late 18th century with the rise of the Separate Baptists in the aftermath of the Great Awakening. The Separate Baptists challenged the mores of the planter elite not through politics or organized protests, but by creating a counterculture based on love, compassion, and non-violence, the exact inversion of the value system of the dominant elite.

The next post will deal with the next regional area to be colonized, that of New England.

History of Christianity: Lecture One—The Early Christians and Their Literature

This is a summary of the first part of twenty-four in the course on the New Testament presented by The Teaching Company. The lectures in this course are by Prof. Bart D. Ehrman, the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His expertise is in the Greco-Roman cultural environment of early Christianity and the textual criticism of the New Testament. For those who are interested in purchasing this course and listening to the complete lectures, please go to http://www.thegreatcourses.com.

Bart Ehrman has taught courses at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since 1988. He says the New Testament is the most revered, and yet most unknown book of Western Civilization. This course is designed for those who want to know more about the New Testament using an academic approach.

This first lecture will cover why such an academic study is worthwhile, indicate the approach used in the study, what the objectives will be, and some of the major points of background information crucial to the study.

1. Cultural Significance of the New Testament

According to most historians, the New Testament is certainly the most significant book in the history of Western Civilization. The visual arts, as well as English literature from Beowulf through the 20th century, are replete with references from the New Testament.

Although it certainly shapes the religious views of modern Christians, it also affects the political and social milieu in which we live. References to the New Testament have been used in the previous century by both sides in the US Congress in debates about topics as diverse as abortion and nuclear disarmament, and were used in the 19th century to justify slavery, the suppression of women’s rights, and military intervention abroad.

There are many different denominations of Christianity, whose interpretations of Christianity stem not just from differences in geography, culture, and history, but from their different understandings of the New Testament.

In sum, Prof. Ehrman believes that it is worthwhile studying the New Testament from a cultural standpoint alone even if you are not a Christian believer.

2. Cultural Approach to the New Testament

There are three approaches to the study of the New Testament. The first approach (listed below in yellow) is a study of the text from the “inside out”, meaning someone who believes in the religion of Christianity. Since Prof. Ehrman teaches at a public institution, he feels it is not his place to teach from that perspective. The second and third approach (listed below in green) are studies of the text from the “outside in”, meaning someone who does not either believe or disbelieve in the religion of Christianity. The second approach studies the New Testament by showing how it has impacted culture throughout the history of Western Civilization. This is the approach taken by the cultural historian. The third approach, the one that Prof. Ehrman actually plans to take in the course, studies the New Testament in its own historical context, and is the approach taken by the ancient historian.

The benefit of the third approach will be that it will illuminate the difference between what the New Testament has meant for those actually living in that historical time and the usage to which it has been put throughout the history of Western Civilization.



1. Doctrinal This approaches the New Testament from the standpoint of a believer in the religion. That will not be the approach of this course. 
2. Cultural This approaches the New Testament from the standpoint of its effect on the society, economics, politics, and culture throughout the history of Western civilization.


3. Historical This approaches the New Testament from the standpoint of its own historical context (the Greco-Roman world of the 1st century AD).

The challenge of this third historical approach is a) suspending our own belief or disbelief in the teachings of the New Testament (i.e., disengaging approach #1 above) and b) suspending our own cultural biases with regards to the interpretation of the New Testament (disengaging approach #2 above). This is not easy to do, but is essential to determining what the New Testament might have meant to the people who were the original readers.

3. Background Information to the New Testament

Prof. Ehrman is surprised at how little people know about the New Testament, and this includes those who consider themselves believers in Christianity. He tells an amusing story about he gives a pop quiz to all of his undergraduate students at the UNC at Chapel Hill on the first day of class. This quiz contains basic information on the New Testament, some of which is summarized in the chart below. He has offered to buy dinner to any undergraduates who can answer as many as 9 out of 11 of the questions correctly, but in all the many years of 300+ students taking his course, he has only had to pay out ONCE!

Here is some of the basic information regarding the New Testament listed in the form of FAQs (frequently asked questions). New Testament is abbreviated as “NT” in the chart.

Frequently Asked Question Answer
1. How many books are in the NT? Twenty-seven (see section 4 below)
2. What language were the books of the NT originally written in? Greek (not Hebrew)
3. When were the books of the NT written? From roughly 50-120 AD (i.e., 20-90 years after Jesus’ death in 30 AD).
4. Who wrote the book of 1 Andrew? THERE’S NO SUCH BOOK IN THE NT! (many students will write “Andrew”)

I thought the last point about the curveball question about “1 Andrew” to be amusing, but it does shows the extent of ignorance among college-age students about the contents of what is essentially one of the foundational texts of Western Civilization, ignorance which Prof. Ehrmann says is unfortunately reflected in the population at large.

4. The Books of the New Testament

The books of the New Testament were later attributed, that is, later claimed to have been written by either disciples or apostles of Jesus. Disciples were one of the twelve men whom Jesus chose to follow him; apostles were those who did not know Jesus personally but who felt that they were sent on a mission to spread the word about Jesus.

For example, of the four Gospels of the New Testament, Matthew and John were attributed to disciples of Jesus. The word “disciple” comes from a word meaning “follower.” Matthew was a tax collector who was a disciple of Jesus, and John was the so-called beloved disciple of Jesus. The books themselves do not claim that they were written by one of the disciples; these attributions were made by others later on in the 2nd century AD.

Other books did indeed claim to be written by one of the apostles of Jesus. “Apostle” means “one who is sent,” such as the apostle Paul. Thirteen of the 21 epistles in the New Testament claim to have been written by him, so he is very important to our understanding of Christianity. (In a later lecture, it will be discussed why scholars doubt whether all thirteen of these epistles were actually written by him.)

Here’s a chart containing the four categories or genres of books in the New Testament, together with the number of books in that category, and an explanation of what that category entails.


Number of Books

in the NT

Explanation of Category




Describe the life of Jesus and the beginnings of Christianity.




Describes the spread of Christianity by Jesus’ apostles and missionaries after the death of Jesus.




Letters written by Christian authors to other Christians (either individuals or communities) about the beliefs and ethics of Christianity.




Describes the end times, or the culmination of Christianity.

5. The New Testament Canon

The 27 books of the New Testament are the writings of the early Christians which survived and made it into the New Testament Canon. Bishop Athenasius of Alexandria in the year 367 AD wrote a letter listing the 27 books that we know now of as the New Testament. This was the first time anyone had set up what we would call a New Testament Canon or definitive listing of the books of the New Testament. Setting up a Canon meant that these 27 books and no others were to be officially considered as the scripture of Christianity. Note that this is 300 years after most of these books were written.

Over the next few decades, there were debates among Christians about what books to include or not include in the scripture. The criteria for considering whether a book could be included as part of the New Testament Canon were as follows:

Criterion Explanation
1. Authorship Books were considered if they were written by either an apostle or a companion of one of the apostles.
2. Time Written Books were considered if they were written around the time of Jesus, i.e., in the first century AD.
3. Distribution Books were considered if they were known not just in one locality, but throughout the Christian world as it was known at the time.
4. Theology Books were considered only if they coincided with the teachings of the early Church. This is the one of the most important criteria.

6. Non-Canonical Books of the Early Christians

There were, however, writings of the early Christians which did not survive, and therefore did not make it into the New Testament. We know of them only by reference in the writings of the early Christians. Other writings have survived until today but did not make it into the New Testament, and these are called the “non-canonical” books or writings. These writings include books of every category listed in the chart in section 4 above: gospels, acts, epistles, and even apocalypses.

An example of one of the non-canonical Gospels is the Gospel of Thomas. This was one of the most significant archeological finds of the 20th century related to the New Testament. It consists of 114 sayings of Jesus, some of which are similar to those contained in the New Testament, and some of which are quite unlike those in the New Testament, that contain Gnostic teachings. Gnostic teachings assume that Jesus was a divine being, but his mission was not to achieve salvation of mankind through sacrifice of his own life, but through the revealing of truth which would set mankind free from the prison of this material world.

This Gospel didn’t make it into the New Testament; neither did the Gospel of Peter which contains a narration of the resurrection of Jesus. (The New Testament talks about the aftermath of the resurrection, but does not narrate the resurrection itself.)

7. Conclusion

The 27 books of the New Testament are major religious and cultural artifacts. They are the earliest surviving documents for the most part to come from early Christians. They were regarded by these early Christians as representing sacred scripture. To learn more about the early Christians who wrote these texts, Prof. Ehrmann will take a strictly historical perspective. In the next post in this series, he will go into the Greco-Roman cultural context in which these works were written, which is the only way to understand them and situate them historically.

Associated Press Picks Top U.S. News Stories for 2012

The Associated Press had its top U.S. news editors pick the top news stories for 2012. For more information, check out the Huffington Post article here:

Newtown Shootings Top Story Of 2012: AP Editors Poll http://ow.ly/gla6c

Here’s their list of top 10 news stories which I have put in the following table with the following color scheme:


News story content

1. Mass Shootings 20-year-old Adam Lanza kills 20 children aged 6 or 7 and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
2. US Election Obama wins second term with large lead in electoral and popular votes. Republicans lose Senate, retain House.
3. Superstorm Sandy 800-mile-wide storm hits eastern US, particularly NY and NJ. With $60B + damage, second more destructive storm in US history after Hurricane Katrina.
4. Obamacare Supreme Court upheld law by a narrow 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice Roberts casting the decisive vote.
5. Libya 9/11 assault on Benghazi kills 4 Americans including US Ambassador Chris Stephens. Becomes cause celebre for Republicans seeking to attack President Obama’s administration.
6. Penn State Jerry Sandusky, former assistant of Coach Joe Paterno, convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys and sentenced to 30-60 years in prison.
7. US Economy First the good news: unemployment has gone down to 7.7%, the lowest rate in 4 years. GDP growth is weak (about 2%) but US economy doing better than that of Europe, which is in a recession.
8. Fiscal Cliff Now the bad news: the inability for the Republicans and the White House to come to a deal to reduce the Federal Deficit means that there will be an automatic trigger of dubiously named “the fiscal cliff” as a “shock doctrine” tactic by the media
9. Gay Marriage Three states, Maine, Maryland and Washington, became the first US States to legalize gay marriage by a popular vote. The Supreme Court has two cases up for consideration involving this matter.
10. Syria Protests against the regime of Bashar Assad have escalated into a civil war, and affected international relations since Syria is a client state of Russia which is helping arm itself against the rebel forces and impeding calls from the UN for a negotiated solution to the crisis.

Here are some of my thoughts about the stories, and where they might lead in 2013.

  1. Mass Shootings: top story in 2012 about mass shootings in Newtown was made even more poignant today by the story of the 2 firefighters who were shot and killed with 2 others injured responding to a house fire in Webster, NY. The gunman, William Spengler set the fire on purpose with the idea of luring the firefighters there whom he killed with an assault rifle. This will fuel the move by the President to introduce a ban on assault rifles in the next Congress. Prediction: The Republican-controlled House will not allow any such legislation to pass, and gun control will not go anywhere at the Federal level until 2014.
  2. US Election: The election of Obama over Romney was predictable if you were in the fact-based community (someone like Nate Silver, for example). But a race that was not close did not fit into the “horse-race narrative” that the mainstream media preferred, so the only ones that were surprised were ones that either got their news solely from those media or those political consultants who believed their own political spin. In the end, the ground game made the crucial difference between the two campaigns. GOP soul searching runs in two directions: either a) they need to become less extreme and reach out to minorities, or b) they need to become even MORE conservative. We’ll see which direction they go in 2014.
  3. Superstorm Sandy: the damage caused by the storm surge is literally the wave of the future. Insurance companies are taking note and may become more vocal in the climate change debate in the future.
  4. Obamacare: The vote by Roberts was a surprising, but it means that the controversial measure will survive at least until 2014, when many of its provisions finally kick in. This will not end the debate on the problem of health care costs in this country, but was at least an attempt at a solution.
  5. Libya: The debate about Susan Rice’s candidacy for US Secretary of State is over, since she withdrew her nomination. The “scandal envy” among Republicans trying to attack the Obama Administration will fuel more investigation into the Benghazi incident, but one angle that neither the Congress nor the media is covering is the problems created by the provision of the safety of public officials by private contractors.
  6. Penn State: The tendency for institutions to protect their leadership from the responsibility for their actions, to the point where it works against the interests of those whom the leadership is supposed to protect, is a theme that can apply to many institutions in the United States, and this tragedy is the perfect formulation of this dilemma.  Expect the tragedy to be replicated in the case of the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church with the same issue of sexual abuse of minors, but this time by priests rather than a football coach.
  7. US Economy: 2% growth seems pretty anemic, until you look at the alternative in Europe which is in recession. How did it get that way? By adopting austerity measures, the very ones that the US is contemplating adopting here in response to the fiscal cliff negotiations. We have been given a warning by those across the Atlantic, if we had politicians who were wise enough to heed it.
  8. Fiscal Cliff: This is “shock doctrine” framing by the media at its worst. It is almost as hyped as the end of the “Mayan calendar” was, but the inability of the Tea Party to endure ANY compromise regarding tax increases means that come January 2013 we will endure the automatic budget cuts and tax increases that were hard-wired into the political system as the result of the LAST round of debt ceiling negotiations. Forgetting about the politics of it, the actual fiscal cliff results will mean a slowing down of the US economy by 1-1.5% (according to John Mauldin and other financial experts), but not bad enough to send us back into a recession (if we’re lucky).
  9. Gay Marriage: Three states have made it legal, and it seems that this may be a bellwether for the future outside of the South, of course. The US could have gone the route of some European countries and adopted a “civil union” approach which would have obviated the whole issue of the traditional definition of marriage, but for whatever reason activists chose the more direct approach which risked a greater backlash, but which is now bearing fruit.
  10. Syria: The real specter in all of the Middle East regarding the Arab Spring is what is happening in Syria, an all-out civil war. This is the nightmare in the background of all countries in the region, whether they be conservative such as Saudi Arabia or relatively more progressive, such as in Egypt. The real question about the end of the Assad regime in 2013 is not “if”, but “when”, and “after how many more deaths?”

It was a pivotal year for the country as it goes from election mode to governing mode, as the problems of 2013 require some serious attention by political and other leaders alike.

Multilingual Learning Plan for 2013

I’ve been enthused about language learning all my life, but I made a real discovery this year of an Irish guy named Benny Lewis who travels the world learning new languages and shares his language-learning tips on his website fluentin3months.com.

One of the things he encourages those members of his community to do is to set out a plan on how they want to tackle a new language in the coming year.  I’ve spent this weekend thinking about what I’ve done in the past year with the various languages I’ve learned, and planning what I want to do next year with each one. This post is the result of that effort.  I hope you can get inspired by it to create a language learning plan of your own for the next year.

In the chart below, I list for each language what level of fluency I am at now, any notable accomplishments I’ve done in learning that language in 2012, and then what my target level for 2013 is, together with any specific goals I have and what method I plan to use to reach those goals.

I must first, however, explain the shorthand I use when it comes to the fluency level for each language. This is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. This framework has been influential worldwide because China’s proficiency exams have been changed to conform to this framework.

Level Explanation
A1 Beginner Can introduce oneself and understand familiar everyday expressions.
A2 Elementary Can describe oneself and communicate about one’s immediate environment.
B1 Intermediate Can talk about past and future events and about most situations encountered at work or school.
B2 Upper Intermediate Can communicate about simple ideas and concepts in a way that is generally understood.
C1 Advanced Can communicate about complex ideas and concepts in a way that is easily understood.
C2 Fluent Can summarize complex idea and concepts and create coherent presentations.

With the fluency levels understood to be those referred to above, here’s my language planning chart for 2013. In the chart, RS means “Rosetta Stone”, TB means “Textbook”, FSI means “Foreign Service Institute course.”  The various abbreviations in the “Achievements” column are for the officially recognized proficiency exam for that country.

If it’s a European language I have it colored in red, if it’s an Asian language I have it colored in yellow, and if it’s a Middle Eastern language it’s colored in green. Spanish and Portuguese are, of course, originally European languages, but I’m specifically learning the South American version of these languages as opposed to the European version, so I have colored these two in orange.

Language 2012


Achievements in 2012 2013 Fluency


Plan for 2013 Learning Resource(s)
Spanish B1 Passed DELE A1,
RS Level 4
B2 DELE A2, B1,
RS Level 5
French B2 Passed DELF B2, RS Level 4 C1 DALF C1,
RS Level 5


German B1 Passed Zertifikat B1
RS Level 4
B2 Zertifikat B2,
RS Level 5
Japanese C1 Passed JLPT N2 C2 JLPT N1 (C2) TB 
Chinese B1 Passed HSK 3 (B1) B2 HSK 4 (B2) TB
Arabic A1 RS Level 1 A2 RS Level 2-3, ALPT A1 TB, RS
Portuguese A1 RS Level 1 A2 RS Level 2-3,
Korean None None A1 KPE 1 (A1) TB
Italian None None A1 RS Level 1 TB
Farsi None None A1 RS Level 1 TB

So essentially my plan is to move up one level of fluency in the five languages I’ve studied and am already proficient in (B or C level), as well as in the two languages I’ve studied and am still a beginner in (A level).   I also plan to start three new languages in the coming year.  I would never have had the audacity to try such a thing if it weren’t for the inspiration of Benny Lewis, who knows a DOZEN foreign languages fluently.

Why am I starting these new languages? Korean is an obvious one to me because I’m in the manufacturing sector and Korea has become such a powerhouse in manufacturing, especially if you live like I do on the West Coast. Italian has no real direct professional reason but I am inspired to learn it for fun and because it’s the next European language on my list of languages I want to learn. Farsi is because there are so many people of Iranian heritage here in the Los Angeles area and I want to learn to speak their language. Someday I’ll try a language that’s from a different area, such as India or Africa.

But the point is to have a plan, and to use multitasking whenever possible to practice using the languages you are learning.

  1. I listen to language recordings while driving. Traffic is not seen as a curse but as a way of turning your vehicle into a language lab. Plus if you get frustrated, you can practice yelling insults to the other drivers in other languages!
  2. I listen to language recordings while doing housework. It takes away the drudgery of routine physical tasks by listening to foreign languages while doing it.   You’ll reorder your brain while putting order into your environment, let’s put in that way.
  3. I like renting foreign films from Netflix and watching the film first in the foreign language, and then again with the English subtitles turned off after I know the story.
  4. I like the Spanish, French, and German audio magazines from Plango which I listen to on their mobile phone app while waiting in line at the grocery store, DMV, etc.  I also like the phone app called Skritter which helps me practice Japanese and Chinese character writing when I want a short break from work. There is something about recalling and tracing characters on the screen that relaxes me almost as much as meditation.
  5. Finally, the proof of language learning is in the speaking, and I plan to find native speakers through Meetup groups, through my Toastmasters network, or other means.

These are some creative ways I try to use my time so that I can do something as audacious as to follow Benny Lewis’ lead, whom I mentioned at the beginning of the post.   There’s no reason why I can’t shoot for the same goal of being fluent (C2 level) at a dozen or more foreign languages.   It is a journey of 1,000 miles, but I can do it–one step at a time for each language I’m studying.

Six Sigma Green Belt: Define—Team Tool #3 Force Field Analysis

Force field analysis is a tool in analyzing the forces that are for and against a proposed decision or change that management wants to have implemented in the organization.

When I read about this tool in my Six Sigma Green Belt class, I wanted to learn more about it looked up the history of it on an excellent website called Mindtools.com. It was developed in the 1940s by an American social psychologist named Kurt Lewin. But the more I read about the technique, the more it reminded me of a technique Ben Franklin described in his autobiography which he used whenever it came time to make a tough decision. He described it as follows:

.. my Way is, to divide half a Sheet of Paper by a Line into two Columns, writing over the one Pro, and over the other Con. Then during three or four Days Consideration I put down under the different Heads short Hints of the different Motives that at different Times occur to me for or against the Measure. When I have thus got them all together in one View, I endeavour to estimate their respective Weights; and where I find two, one on each side, that seem equal, I strike them both out: If I find a Reason pro equal to some two Reasons con, I strike out the three. If I judge some two Reasons con equal to some three Reasons pro, I strike out the five; and thus proceeding I find at length where the Ballance lies; and if after a Day or two of farther Consideration nothing new that is of Importance occurs on either side, I come to a Determination accordingly.

Let’s see in contrast what the force field analysis entails.   In the force field analysis, you divide your paper into three areas, a central rectangle for the central decision or change being proposed, a space on the left-hand side for the forces for the change and a space on the right-hand side for the forces against the change. 

 Then you estimate the impact of each of the forces on either side, with one common scale being suggested of 1 to 5, with 1 being “not very impactful” to 5 being “very impactful”. Then you make the height of each arrow correspond to the number on the scale, like in the schematic example below.

This gives a visual representation of the forces for and against the change. These could be internal forces (technology, training, organization, etc.) or external (customer demand, regulatory) as long as they impact in some way on the change being considered.

Then you have two levels of decision to make: First of all, do we go ahead with this change or decision? If most of the arrows are creating a “headwind” against the change, then it may be best to think of another project, unless you want to devote the resources to overcoming most of the barriers. The way to do this is to add up the ratings you have given each of the forces (1 through 5) and see if the balance of them lie on the “for” or “against” side.

If the organization IS going to go ahead with the decision, then you have to develop a plan to initiate countermeasures against the forces that oppose the project, and to strengthen those forces that are for the project.

Here are the steps described above, but listed in a flowchart format with the basic set up of the change and the forces for and against in blue, the estimate of the impact of the forces in green, and the final discussion based on the results in red.

I think if you compare the process above and read the description of Ben Franklin’s decision-making method, you can probably see some similarities.

The force field analysis is the last of the team tools listed in the Green Belt Body of Knowledge.

With this I conclude the last of the posts on the Define portion of the DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) process of Six Sigma. Starting in January, I will move on to posts that discuss the next part of the DMAIC process, that of Measure.