Welcome to 90 Cubed Rule

This website is Matthew Lasar’s repository of history, memory, and obsessive compulsive issue tracking. It is also where he keeps the syllabi for the courses he teaches at UC Santa Cruz.

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Why you should memorize the first lines of the first Sura of the Qur’an

By Unknown - Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1992.230_SL1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10967360

Manuscript of the Qur’an at the Brooklyn Museum – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1992.230_SL1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10967360

I have always found the first two or three lines of the first Sura of the Qur’an (“The Cow”) very useful for understanding the document as a whole. Here are two versions from two different editions.

“This is a scripture in which there is no doubt, containing guidance for those who are mindful of God, who believe in the unseen, keep up the prayer, and give out of what We have provided for them; those who believe in the revelation sent down to you [Muhammad], and in what was sent before you, those who have firm faith in the Hereafter. Such people are following their Lord’s guidance and it is they who will prosper.” (Oxford World’s Classics edition, M.A.S. Haleem)

“This Book is not to be doubted. It is a guide for the righteous, who have faith in the unseen and are steadfast in prayer; who bestow in charity a part of what We have given them; who trust what has been revealed to you and to others before you, and firmly believe in the life to come. These are rightly guided by their Lord; these shall surely triumph.” (Penguin Classics, N.J.Dawood)

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Socrates to Euthyphro: three strikes and you are out


Socrates patiently listening to you trip all over yourself as you try to answer his questions.

I have become a bit obsessed with Socrates’ dialogue with Euthyphro, in which the former patiently questions and challenges the latter’s methods for defining the meaning of a word: “piety.” The strange context comes in the year B.C.E. 399. Euthyphro arrives at an Athens court to prosecute his father, who has, through neglect and mistreatment, caused the death of a servant who killed one of his slaves. This shocks Socrates. “My dear sir! Your own father,” he exclaims. But he has come to the place because he faces prosecution too, in his case for allegedly corrupting young people with his supposed disbelief of the gods. Hence, one can see why the philosopher would take interest in Euthyphro’s claim that busting his dad represents the “pious” thing to do.

Explain the meaning of “piety,” Socrates asks of his friend. Euthyphro repeatedly attempts to comply, but fails each time. Below I summarize three of his tries.  Continue reading

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Is Brexit the beginning of the decline of international English?

When it comes to the great Brexit controversy, everyone is quoting the late Tony Judt, so why can’t I? Here’s an excerpt from his masterpiecePostwar: A history of Europe since 1945.

“The present author can vouch for both the necessity and sufficiency of French as a medium of communication among students from Barcelona to Istanbul as recently as the year 1970.” But:

“Within thirty years all that had changed. By the year 2000, French had ceased to be a reliable medium of international communication even among elites. Only in the UK, Ireland and Romania was it the recommended choice for schoolchildren embarking on a first foreign language – everyone else learned English.”

I wonder how long this dominance will last if London loses its perch as the financial gateway to Europe, a possibility if the United Kingdom really quits the European Union. It’s not like I’m expecting everyone to start learning French or German again. On the other hand, if the French-to-English transition can happen in just three decades, so can something else starting now (or close to now), I guess.

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The hottest historical figures of the global Cold War? and the winners are . . .

JFK with daughter Caroline.

JFK with daughter Caroline.

In the final exam for my Global Cold War class, I give my students a two point bonus question: who was the hottest historical figure of the Cold War? I allow them to define “hot” any way that they wish: in terms of brilliance, looks, leadership, intellect, charisma, or style.

Here are the winners:

John F. Kennedy: 17 votes
Mikhail Gorbachev: 7
Gamal Abdel Nasser: 4
Leonid Brezhnev: 3
Ronald Reagan: 3
Brigitte Bardot: 2
Robert McNamara: 2
Richard Nixon: 2
Anwar Sadat: 2
Josef Stalin: 2
Margaret Thatcher: 2 Continue reading

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How far back do “end-of-work” automation predictions go?

I am reading Victor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Page 107 of my edition (2006) says the following:

” . . . progressive automation will probably lead to an enormous increase in the leisure hours available to the average worker. The pity of it is that many of these will not know what to do with all their newly acquired free time.”

The question for me is did Frankl include this in the original edition of his book, released in 1959. I have found a pdf of a 1986 edition that contains the observation. Did the book’s progenitor, From Death Camps to Existentialism include the notion? If so, this train of thought goes much further back than I imagined.

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The 90 cubed rule

Don’t forget: ninety percent of the American people forget ninety percent of everything in ninety days.

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Looking Backward: the coach scene illustrated

As a history lecturer, I have for many years used the coach scene in Edward Bellamy’s utopian novel Looking Backward: 2000-1887 as a way to describe the deep sense of insecurity that Americans lived with during the Gilded Age. I often read the passage to students in my courses on the late nineteenth century United States. But I have always wanted an illustration to accompany the scene as I discussed it; something that I could put up on a PowerPoint slide.

At last my student Lois Rosson, a gifted artist, has granted my wish, producing this representation of the text for my course on the United States from 1877 through 1914:

Art by Lois Rosson [http://loisrossonart.com/home.html]

Art by Lois Rosson [http://loisrossonart.com/home.html]

Looking Backward is about a well-to-do Bostonian who falls into a deep sleep in the year 1887 and wakes up in the year 2000. All the world’s economic problems have been solved, he learns. Humanity has transformed itself into a vast cooperative “industrial army.” So successful are these utopian reforms that the protagonist of the novel, Julian West, feels that he must explain to his readers what life was like back in 1887:

“By way of attempting to give the reader some general impression of the way people lived together in those days, and especially of the relations of the rich and poor to one another, perhaps I cannot do better than to compare society as it then was to a prodigious coach which the masses of humanity were harnessed to and dragged toilsomely along a very hilly and sandy road. The driver was hunger, and permitted no lagging, though the pace was necessarily very slow. Despite the difficulty of drawing the coach at all along so hard a road, the top was covered with passengers who never got down, even at the steepest ascents. These seats on top were very breezy and comfortable. Well up out of the dust, their occupants could enjoy the scenery at their leisure, or critically discuss the merits of the straining team. Naturally such places were in great demand and the competition for them was keen, every one seeking as the first end in life to secure a seat on the coach for himself and to leave it to his child after him. By the rule of the coach a man could leave his seat to whom he wished, but on the other hand there were many accidents by which it might at any time be wholly lost. For all that they were so easy, the seats were very insecure, and at every sudden jolt of the coach persons were slipping out of them and falling to the ground, where they were instantly compelled to take hold of the rope and help to drag the coach on which they had before ridden so pleasantly. It was naturally regarded as a terrible misfortune to lose one’s seat, and the apprehension that this might happen to them or their friends was a constant cloud upon the happiness of those who rode.”

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A Spotify Vietnam era hit song playlist

Any suggestions for the list are welcome.

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Don’t forget about the Income-Based student loan repayment plan

If you are graduating soon, and are worried about repaying your loans, don’t forget to look into the Income-Based repayment plan. This program allows you to make lower monthly payments:

Under IBR, your monthly payment amount will be 15 percent of your discretionary income, will never be more than the amount you would be required to pay under the Standard Repayment Plan, and may be less than under other repayment plans.

Basically you pay that amount for up to 25 years and the rest of the loan is forgiven. But, notes The New York Times, “participation has lagged because borrowers are either not aware of the program or are turned off by its complexity.”

Find out whether you are eligible here. And here is a YouTube video about the program that was posted in 2011.


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