Developing a language-learning program (high-frequency sentence identifier)

UPDATE: I devoted most of my nights and weekends this year to building the program described below with the help of Kostyantyn Grinchenko, an excellent Ukrainian freelance developer. Then, after realizing that we had stumbled upon a breakthrough idea that could revolutionize language learning and help many people become fluent readers of their target language, I assembled a remote team of freelance and volunteer developers, designers, native-speaker audio recorders, and translators to help me develop it into a webapp (and future mobile app): WordBrewery.

Books I found helpful during the first year of law school (1L)

Last summer and fall, I did a bit of research to try and identify books and study aids that might be helpful during my first year of law school.  There are hundreds of products out there, and some are considerably more useful than others.  I wanted to put together a list of the books I found to be most valuable for any incoming law students (or self-educators interested in reading about law) who might be interested:

Discussing the Libya War on 'Russia Today'

I appeared on Russia Today (RT) yesterday to discuss the U.S./NATO intervention in Libya as well as the situation in Syria - feel free to check it out if you are interested: My related article, “Rolling the Dice in Libya,” appeared on yesterday. Another, unrelated op-ed of mine appeared yesterday as well in the Michigan Education Report: “National standards will stifle innovation.” In it, I argue that “strict standards risk forcing students and teachers alike into a curricular straitjacket, alienating creative teachers and sapping the motivation of students.

Rolling the dice in Libya

My latest op-ed, “Rolling the dice in Libya,” appeared today on You can find the op-ed here as well as pasted below. If you enjoy it, please consider sharing it on your Facebook wall, mentioning it on Twitter, or emailing it to a friend. Thanks, as always, for reading. — Rolling the dice in Libya Ryan McCarl President Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008 partly by reminding the party’s base of his early, prescient criticisms of the ill-fated decision to invade Iraq.

Interview with the University of Chicago Magazine

UChiBLOGo, the blog of the University of Chicago Magazine, interviewed me about Wide Awake Minds and the idea of self-education today. Check it out here, and please pass the interview along to others if you enjoy reading it. Thanks for helping to spread the word about self-education!

How to Think About Politics

“How to Think About Politics,” my most recent essay, is being featured in the August issue of Fogged Clarity. I’ve also pasted it below. If you enjoy it, please consider linking to it, sharing it, or passing it along to others who might be interested. Thanks, as always, for reading. — How to Think About Politics Ryan McCarl First, question everything, beginning with the political ideas you inherited from your parents, family, community, church, and school.

Recent posts on education at Wide Awake Minds

A few of my recent posts at Wide Awake Minds, in case you missed them: -A few of the things you can do in a great university, in which I argue that if students want to make the most of their school years in general and their college years in particular, they must take ownership of their education and elect to do what is difficult. I propose a few of the ways in which college students can do so.

The case for Facebook and social networking

Even though Facebook currently has over 200 million active users, many people continue to doubt the value of social networking in general and Facebook in particular. Critics argue that Facebook and other social networking and Web 2.0 tools - including blogs and Twitter - are symptomatic of the “solipsism” (meaning, in this context, the self-absorption of users) of the contemporary Internet. Indeed, Facebook can be an enormous time-waster and procrastination tool, as can any medium or Internet resource.

New short fiction: 'The Day-Trader'

“The Day-Trader,” my most recent short story, is being featured in the July issue of Fogged Clarity. Check it out here. There is a lot of great stuff in this issue - fiction, poetry, a short film, visual art, a music album, and an essay - so be sure to check out the other pieces as well. If you like what you see, you can support Fogged Clarity by linking to it, passing it along to others, and making a donation.

War: The More We Spend on It, the More We Get

My latest op-ed, “War: The More We Spend on It, the More We Get,” appeared on this morning. In it, I write: “President Obama and Defense Secretary Gates’ $534 billion defense budget proposal is aimed at building a “21st-century military,” that is, a military designed to fight asymmetrical “small wars,” conduct anti-terrorism operations, and battle insurgencies. It shuffles a significant number of pieces around the chessboard, to be sure, but like its predecessors, it is an enormous waste of resources and wealth.

For many in Chicago, driving is a necessity, not a luxury

My most recent op-ed, “For us, Mr. Daley, driving to work is a necessity, not a vice” (registration required) was published today on and will appear in this week’s issue of Crain’s Chicago Business. You can find the article here as well as reprinted below: — For us, Mr. Daley, driving to work is a necessity, not a vice Ryan McCarl It is exceedingly difficult for many commuters living on the North Side to find free parking after they return from work.

Out of Range: The ethics of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan

My latest op-ed, “Out of Range,” appeared in this morning’s edition of In it, I explore the ethical dilemma of the U.S.’s ongoing campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan. This is shaping up to be one of the hottest contemporary debates in foreign policy circles. I write: “Technology and wealth have made it possible for the U.S. to exercise decisive military power anywhere in the world. But our technology and our wealth often outrun our wisdom, our prudence, and our moral sensibilities.

Why we must remember Iraq

“The Next Forgotten War,” an op-ed of mine, was published on this morning; check it out here.  In it, I argue that we must keep the memory of the Iraq War, and the individuals caught up in its maelstroms, alive: “As Iraq recedes from the headlines and slips from the public’s mind to make room for the next ‘crisis,’ we have a responsibility to give some thought to the two million Iraqi refugees displaced by the war and the tens of thousands of Americans and Iraqis killed or maimed as a consequence of the war.

2008 Reading Recommendations

Happy New Year! At the end of each of the past three years, I’ve written a post listing the best books I’ve read over the course of the year in order to bring these books to the attention of others. My lists from 2007 and 2006 are available here and here. As usual, I’ve put the titles of the five books most important to me this year in bold, and I’ve linked each book to its Amazon.

The Nuclear Peace and its Consequences for China's Rise

I just put the finishing touches on my M.A. thesis, bringing one of the most stressful months of my life to a satisfying close. 10,181 words, 45 pages, three entirely different drafts, and an ungodly amount of writing and revision. I am happy with the finished product and will turn it in tomorrow morning, then post a link to it online. My faculty advisor was John Mearsheimer, the best professor I’ve had at the U of C and one of the most influential international relations scholars in America.

2007 book recommendations

The following list includes the books I’ve read this year that I enjoyed the most and that had the biggest effect on me. I give the highest recommendation to all of them, and I’ve bolded the top five. Akhmatova, Selected Poems Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun de Bary, Sources of Japanese Tradition Frye, The Educated Imagination Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics Hamsun, Pan Hamsun, Growth of the Soil Hamsun, Victoria Hardy, Selected Poems Ienaga, The Pacific War 1931-1945 Krakauer, Into the Wild McCann, The Columbia Anthology of Modern Korean Poetry Petterson, Out Stealing Horses Pieper, Hope and History Rilke, The Duino Elegies Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Steinbeck, East of Eden Steinbeck, The Pearl Steinbeck, Travels with Charley Walker, Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs…

Belief isn't for the unimaginative; let kids see 'The Golden Compass'

The following editorial was published in this morning’s Philadelphia Inquirer: I was thrilled to learn that The Golden Compass, the first book in Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, was going to be released as a movie on Friday. I read the trilogy first in middle school and again in high school, and it was my favorite story for a long time. It is filled with imagination and erudition, and it is a significant cut above the vast majority of works aimed at young adults.

Quotes from Thomas Merton and John Steinbeck

Living is more than submission: it is creation. To live is to create one’s own world as a scene of personal happiness. -Thomas Merton, “The Street is For Celebration” Celebration is the beginning of confidence, therefore of power. -Thomas Merton, “The Street is For Celebration” The next passage in my journey is a love affair. I am in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love, and it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.

More wisdom from Czeslaw Milosz

From An Appeal In you, as in me, there is a hidden certainty That soon you will rise, in undiminished light, And be real, strong, free from what restrained you. From Notes He felt thankful, so he couldn’t not believe in God. From A Poetic State Every minute the spectacle of the world astonishes me; it is so comic that I cannot understand how literature could expect to cope with it.

Poems & fragments by Anna Akhmatova

Happy Independence Day! I’ll be spending a lazy Fourth revelling in freedom from work, sitting on the back porch with my roommates, and reading like crazy. Just discovered Anna Akhmatova, a Russian poet who wrote and published under the specter of Soviet communism and Stalinism; her husband of eleven years was shot in 1921 as a “counter-revolutionary,” her son and lover were arrested and sent to labor camps, and she herself was regularly persecuted and followed by the secret police.

Poems and fragments from Thomas Hardy

I’m working extremely hard and learning a lot by day, and running, reading, and spending time with my friends in the evening - it’s a great program, and I have a lot to be grateful for. Lately I’ve been reading the poems of Thomas Hardy, and he has become one of my favorites. Here are a few of the poems and lines that I’ve especially liked so far: From The Self-Unseeing

East of Eden quotes, part II

I finished John Steinbeck’s East of Eden yesterday, and it immediately became one of my favorite novels - joining the good company of The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, War and Peace, and The Great Gatsby, among others. It is a story of the great tragedies that befall two generations of the Trask and Hamilton families in California’s Salinas Valley in the years leading up to and including World War I. As in any great novel, its themes are far larger than any particular time or place: death and rebirth, grief and recovery, family and home, wealth and ethics, racism, love and lust, greatness and mediocrity.