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Friday, April 29, 2022

The Renaissance: New Ideas

The Renaissance (1450 – 1600) marked the flowering of culture, science and ideas about the nature of humanity that occurred in Europe, starting in Italy, spread throughout Europe. Characterized by philosophy, art, architecture, and literature, the Renaissance was a cultural revolution fueled by wealth from trade and new technology, along with political consolidations. It began in Italy in the 15th century (the “Quattrocento”) where the wealth banking family, the Medicis, became great patrons of art and learning. 

The Big Question: 

How did the philosophical ideas of Humanism reinforce the cultural and scientific revolution of the Renaissance?

See:  The Philosophical Foundations of Humanism

 During the Middle Ages, Aristotelianism reigned. It was a nice, orderly way of thinking of the world. Everything was in its right place, and there was always balance, equilibrium, and symmetry. Perhaps nowhere was this more evident than in Aristotle’s book, Categories, from his Organon. The Renaissance embraced the structure and symmetry of Aristotle as a way of creating beauty, instead of enforcing order in the world and structure, as it was used in the Middle Ages. The renewed emphasis on the philosophy of the Classics allowed investigation into representation of the phenomenal world, which is to say during the Renaissance, it was now acceptable to explore the natural world, and to ask questions about his forms and functions. Finding new ways to represent the natural world was also encouraged, which meant that the Renaissance brought together art, science, philosophy in new ways. As a result, we see the development of 3-dimensional art on a 2-dimensional canvas (thanks to, for example, linear perspective converging on a vanishing point where there are orthogonals, such as large tiles in the floor in a painting). 

Read: Defining Humanism in the Renaissance

Overview: Humanism represented a change of focus. Instead of simply seeking to define the right place of everything within a rigid hierarchy, Renaissance thinkers began to focus on the human being, and human potential for achieving great things, and finding a moment of unity with the good and the beautiful. There was a renewed interest in the philosophical writings of the ancient Greeks, primarily Plato and Aristotle.  In addition to exploring the philosophy of the Classics, the Renaissance thinkers also studied their buildings, sculptures, and other works of art. 

Foundational Humanism

Petrarch: Considered the key philosophical figure in the Renaissance, Petrarch, who was Italian, was driven by the idea of the quest for the ideal. For Petrarch, there was no conflict between realizing human potential and having religious faith. Petrarch was very interested in the ancient Greeks and Romans, and the classics, not just in terms of art and architecture, but also poetry, philosophy, and lost works. He invented the sonnet form, and he wrote love poems for Laura, although he had very little real contact with her in real life. His poetry and prose championed realism and empirical knowledge. 

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola: His “Oration on the Dignity of Man” is considered the Manifesto of the Renaissance. Pico resurrected humanism of ancient Greek philosophy, including Aristotle and Plato. His ideas mainly based on Plato. Through mental struggle, ascends great chain of being towards the angels and communion with God – unity which is very Platonic. 

Thomas More:  Wrote Utopia, an example of an ideal world which represents humanistic philosophy. In it, each person has a place in society that corresponds with their true nature and abilities, and there is communal ownership of property.  

Montaigne:  Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Lord of Montaigne, was one of the most important philosophers of the French Renaissance.  His essays were explorations of his own thoughts and attitudes, and he mulled over the prevailing philosophies and reflected upon the novelties of the times, such as the tales of travel in the Americas. 


Luther: Faith and the Individual

Martin Luther, a German professor, was famous for his “95 Theses” which rested on the main concepts that the Bible is the core authority and that individuals can be saved (achieve salvation) only by faith and not by deeds. The “95 Theses” were published in 1517, and unleashed the Reformation, a religious schism which broke with the Catholic Church and repudiated the pope’s authority, rejected the validity of the sale of indulgences. Instead, he promoted “The Priesthood of All Believers.” Luther was excommunicated in 1521 at the Diet of Worms, after which he used the printing press to create pamphlets that explains the new doctrine.

Calvin:  Break Away from Hierarchy 

John Calvin, a French Protestant, believed in predestination and the omnipotence of God. Calvin was a stern believer in the power of God’s word and the responsibility of individuals to learn to read the Bible directly and to obey the word of God, without intermediaries (priests, bishops, etc.).  The core concept of Calvinism is that God selects those who, through grace, are made capable of believing in God, which is the route to salvation (not deeds, or purchasing indulgences). It was very anti-authoritarian, and was not welcome among the priests, kings, popes, bishops, and others who had benefited from a belief system that gave them privilege, power, and authority. 

The Middle Way

Henry VIII, miffed at Pope Clemente’s refusal to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, decided to create a religion that maintained hierarchies and the divine rights of kings, but which eliminated the Pope. That church was The Church of England, and it instantly made enemies of both Protestants (Calvinists, etc.) and Catholics. Henry VIII sought to replace both with his Church of England, and he did so by burning Calvinists at the stake for heresy, and beheading Catholics.  


That was impressive! What impresses you most? Please list the first thoughts that you have.

Expand: Machiavelli’s The Prince (1532): The End Justifies the Means

Dedicated to his patron, Lorenzo de Medici, The Prince (1532, but written earlier) contains advice to the prince about how to acquire and maintain power. Much of the focus is on the psychology of the subjects, and so it is often considered a practical guide into the psychology of leadership, and the dynamic between the leader and followers. 

Machiavelli first defines principalities, types of armies, and then moves into the character and behavior of the prince. Written in a pragmatic style, with a tone of scientific inquiry, some of the passages seem almost satirical, such as when Machiavelli concludes that it is better for the Prince to be feared than loved by his subjects, better to be cruel than merciful, but is a good idea to launch large projects in order to create a positive reputation. Enormously influential, but not at all an antidote to political hot water, Machiavelli was accused of conspiracy and tortured in 1513.  

Later, Machiavelli wrote The Prince as well as historical and literary works.  The main point of The Prince is that almost any tactics can be justified in achieving the overall goal (creating a stable princedom), and if the populace is treacherous, then treachery on the part of the leader is justified.  The book was condemned by Pope Clement VIII, but nevertheless became widely adopted and studied. 

Explore:  Scientific Revolution

Francis Bacon: The Scientific Method

Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626) was determined to invent a scientific method based on experimentation rather than parsing scriptures for evidence of natural law. He wanted to bring to light all the things that were previously hidden or unknown, and to do it for the good of humanity. His most important scientific writings were in essence writings in the philosophy of science. His book, “Novum Organum Scientiarum” (The New Scientific Method) lays out procedures for scientific investigation. 

Galileo:  The World Is Round, Despite Orthodoxy

1543):  Born in Poland, Copernicus was an astronomer who developed a celestial model which placed the sun in the middle of the planetary system (instead of Earth at the center). The heliocentric solar system was described in “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.” Copernicus was considered heretical by the Roman Catholic Church. 

Galileo (1564 – 1642) was convicted of heresy for his belief that the world is not flat, and barely escaped being burned at the stake, although he did spend time in prison. He was most famous for his work in astronomy and math, and his assertion that the Earth is not flat. 

Discuss:  Similarity and Differences

Discuss the ways in which humanistic philosophy found its way into science, art, literature, and philosophy. What were the similarities and differences across the areas of study? 

Check your knowledge Quiz (5 questions):

1.  The great patron of the arts in Quattrocento Italy was

a) Giovanni de Medici (correct)

b) Pope Clemente VII

c) Niccolo Machiavelli

d) Pantagruel, as chronicled by Rabelai

2.  Machiavelli asserts in The Prince that mercenaries are

a) essential for defense

b) dangerous and can leave one vulnerable (correct)

c) expensive and wasteful

d) useful because they bring new ideas

3)  Copernicus devised a heliocentric planetary model which asserted that 

a) the moon was at the center, and the “Prince of Tides”

b) the planets have moons, and the moons are sometimes more important than the planets themselves

c) the sun is at the center, and the planets rotate around it (correct)

d) the earth is flat

4)  Humanistic thought in the Renaissance includes all except the following:

a) a return to Classical models

b) the human being has infinite possibilities of self-actualization

c) human accomplishment should be celebrated, and it brings together science, literature, politics, architecture, art, and more

d) Literacy is dangerous and all serious works of science, politics, and literature should be written in Latin (correct) 


Heliocentric planetary system: developed by Copernicus. The planets rotate around the sun. 

Reformation:  The reaction and reorganization of the church based on Martin Luther’s 95 Theses (written in 1517) which criticizes the Roman Catholic Church. 

Quattrocento:  The 1400s (15th century) in Italian

Petrarchan sonnet: a sonnet form popularized by Petrarch, consisting of an octave with the rhyme scheme abbaabba and of a sestet with one of several rhyme schemes, as cdecde or cdcdcd

Elizabethan sonnet: a type of sonnet much used by Shakespeare, written in iambic pentameter and consisting of three quatrains and a final couplet with the rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg.

Vanishing point: the point at which receding parallel lines viewed in perspective appear to converge

Linear perspective: a type of perspective used by artists in which the relative size, shape, and position of objects are determined by drawn or imagined lines converging at a point on the horizon.

Orthogonal line: A related term, orthogonal projection, describes a method for drawing three-dimensional objects with linear perspective. It refers to perspective lines, drawn diagonally along parallel lines that meet at a so-called "vanishing point." Such perspective lines are orthogonal, or perpendicular to one another.

Key Takeaways

Upon successful completion of this lesson, you will be able to 

1. Define humanism in the Renaissance

2. Explain the political philosophy of Machiavelli in The Prince

3.  List important works of philosophy in the Renaissance

4.  Identify key scientific works in the Renaissance

5.  Describe utopian writing in the Renaissance and its impact

Lesson Toolbox

Renaissance Links

Encyclopedia Britannica:  Renaissance art and architecture.  

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Renaissance. Renaissance Art:

Art Institute of Chicago: Arms, Armor, Medieval, and Renaissance 

Virtual Uffizi Gallery / Florence. 

Art Museums: Where to see Renaissance Art. 

Renaissance Inventions: 

More, Thomas. Utopia. 

Machiavelli, Niccolo.  The Prince. 

Grotius.  The Rights of War and Peace.  

Cortes, Hernan. Letters to Emperor Carlos V.  

Lope de Vega. Comedias: El remedio en la desdicha; El major alcalde, el rey.

Calderon de la Barca.  La Vida Es Sueño. 

Garcilaso de la Vega. The works of Garcilaso de la Vega. 

Montaigne, Michel.  Essays. 

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. 

Petrarch. Sonnets. Triumphs and other Poems. 

Sir Philip Sidney. Astrophel and Stella. 

-- Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.
Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.



Immersive History Takes You to the Plague of Athens: Interview with Spencer Striker, History Adventures

Spencer Striker is determined to make history come alive, and to put learners in the middle of scenarios that let them role play in ways that relate to their lives in ways they never imagined possible. The latest addition is "Global Pandemics: Plague of Athens," which plunges learners in the middle of a mysterious pandemic that occured in Ancient Greece. 

Dr. Striker, who is a Digital Media Design professor at Northwestern University in Qatar, earned his Ph.D. in Digital Media from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  

Here is an interview from May 13, 2022 about Global Pandemics.

At Life Edge, we had the privilege of interviewing Spencer in 2020 over his series featuring revolutions in history in History Adventures. Here is a link to the show: 

Spencer Striker on E-Learn Chat in 2020

Welcome to an interview with Spencer Striker, Ph.D., along with links to demos. 

1. Is the Global Pandemics  game ready now? 

Yes, absolutely! You can find the fully interactive web app available here:

(It’s built for a desktop or laptop running in the Chrome browser, i.e. Chromebooks)

Please also find the full gameplay demo here on YouTube: 

Also, please find a full Media Kit of product screenshots here: 

2. How much does it cost? 

It’s absolutely free!

3. What do people think was the main thing that caused the plague? Was it something unique, or was it a massive cholera outbreak or something like that? 

To this day, historians are not certain what was the cause of the Plague of Athens. In the product, we challenge students to think like historians/epidemiologists and examine the possible causes in a feature we call: What Was It? Please see the attached screenshot as a reference! The possible suspects include: smallpox, bubonic plague, ebola, typhus, and typhoid.

4.  Can students interact with the vectors? (for example, with rats and fleas? a first-person shooter game to kill the rats?  or run from the fleas in a maze?)

We have many amazing interactive features built into Global Pandemics: Plague of Athens. Please find a list here!

  • 3D Motion Design to Recreate History
  • Advanced Web Animation to Simulate Pathogens
  • Immersive 360 Panoramas of Historical Locations
  • Animated Historical Timeline & Maps
  • Choice-based Narrative Design
  • Interactive Original Historical Documents
  • Media-Rich Adaptive Assessments

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Moldy Strawberries by Caio Fernando Abreu: Dangerous Self-Knowledge

Abreu, Caio Fernando. Moldy Strawberries. Trans. from the Portuguese by Bruno Dantas Lobato.  Brooklyn, NY: Archipelago Press. 2022. 

Caio Fernando Abreu, or Caio F. (as he signed his letters and manuscripts), died in 1996, but was most active in the 70s and 80s, when he first wrote the highly taboo and scandalizing stories.  The stories in this collection, first published in the 1970s and 80s, feel as though they were written yesterday. The descriptions are visceral and unsettling - almost as though one were a large brass cymbal or a gong hanging from cords that continues to vibrate long after being struck with a wooden mallet. His body is your body, and your body is lost somewhere in the collective consciousness of the stories, where desire is mixed with shame, confusion, Dionysian abandon fueled by a seething rage for connection. 


Some of the stories, such as “The Survivors,” are experimental in form. "The Survivors" is a 7-page single stream-of-consciousness paragraph that blends art, music, philosophical and psychological ideas with the memories of a relationship that may have just ended (the narrator isn’t sure). What is left is “saudade” - the deep, melancholic longing so characteristic of Brazilian music and literature. I’m not sure which story was the most unsettling, but the one that first comes to mind is “Sergeant Garcia,” the story of a corrupt police officer who arrests adolescent boys and young men to physically and sexually assault, all the while maintaining a charade of hypermasculinity.

Caio F. died in 1996 of AIDS in a Brazil deeply conflicted about homosexuality.  His impact on literature was profound, with the sense of a hand-held movie camera, with jerky quick cuts, somewhere between cinema verite and a tone poem. The collection of short stories opens with a sense of sambas and saudade and ends with classical suite (“Moldy Strawberries” with the sections, Prelude, Allegro Agitado, Adagio Sostenuto, Andante Ostinato, and Minuet and Rondo), that begins with the taste of fruit going bad, but ends with a reflection on the possibility of growing strawberries in one’s own garden. The ending is life-affirming, which is a relief, because through the stories, the reader experienced harrowing encounters in a world that denies gay sexuality, and in doing so, creates cruelty, hypocrisy and obsession.

-- Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.


Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.


Friday, April 22, 2022

Saadat Hasan Manto's The Dog of Tithwal: Precarious Lives during the India-Pakistan Partition Years

Saadat Hasan Manto. The Dog of Tithwal. Translated from the Urdu by Khalid Hasan, Aatish Taseer, and Muhammad Umar Memon. Introduction by Vijay Seshadri. Brooklyn, NY:  Archipelago Press. 2021.

Sadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) was born in British India and when India was partitioned into Pakistan, he, as a Muslim, had to move to Lahore, Pakistan. It was in Pakistan that he began to produce the vast number of stories, radio plays, and essays that made him a formidable influence in Urdu-language writing. Manto’s life and times were shaped by conflict, disruption, and confusion as Kafka-esque political absurdities erected boundaries and divisions between previously happy cohabitants of a beautiful land. 

The story that is also the name of the collection of short stories, “The Dog of Tithwal,” perfectly illustrates the tragic absurdity of a politically engineered clash between the Hindus and the Muslims. They take up arms against each other and decide to fight on the border.  However, no one really has the heart to fight; it’s a political imperative imposed from on high. In the No Man’s Land between the two sides is a rag-tag, importunate dog who is regularly fed by both sides, and both consider the dog to be of their nationality. The dog survives, somehow, in this existential limbo until one day (spoiler alert), he is killed.  The dog perfectly embodies the capricious nature of fate, and the razor-thin margin of safety that keeps people and dogs alive.  

That razor-thin margin between life and death is also apparent in “Ten Rupees,” in which a mother faces the terrible consequences of having sold her young daughter into prostitution. In “Kingdom’s End,” an educated man occupies an office and yet does not seem to have any work to speak of. He falls in love with a voice on the telephone that started out as a wrong number. The precarious nature of his life is perfectly illustrated as he falls ill with a high fever just before he is to meet her. In “The Monkeys Revolt,” monkeys attack the insulting idea that humans, whom they consider to be quite beneath them, “evolved” from them. 

Other stories in the collection are likewise intelligent, sympathetic, and they unflinchingly face life in a world with few safety nets but with many ideas about the nature of survival, both physical and intellectual. 

-- Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.


Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Moodle 4.0 Is Here! What's new?

Moodle 4.0 is here! I’m trying to determine just what the advantages are and how much of a step change it is from Moodle 3.11.  I don’t think that Moodle can change the basic architecture for a number of reasons. So, the changes have to come in things like user experience and efficiency.  

 If you've worked with Moodle for very long, you know that it can be a place of almost infinite complexity, but also almost Zen-like simplicity. It's also a veritable ant-hill of programming activity, as programmers develop productivity and design apps - some are available for free, others require a download fee.  Moodle and Moodle partners are likewise entrepreneurial, and you can quickly use pre-built templates and hosting and an integrated software-as-a-service solution.


Improved User Experience, with modules listed in an easy-to-follow design.


MoodleCloud is still in 3.11, so I can’t experiment with it as much as I’d like. However, the “sandbox” is still available, and one can select a role as student, teacher, or manager, to play around with it.  

Here are some of my initial thoughts:


1.  Much improved user experience, in terms of navigation, layout, use of new thumbnails, and course construction (with drag and drop). 

2.  The default theme being used in the Sandbox (probably either Clean or Boost) is very attractive and easy to use.  

3.  Fully responsive interface that works well with tablets, laptops, and phones. 

4.  Improved navigation – you can tell where you are, and can go back to a previous screen very easily. There may be some AI-based plug-ins that can help refine "smart navigation."  

5.  One can use the calendar as a dashboard. The "My Courses" screen can display in a number of different options. The “Card” option makes the interface look a lot like the way Canvas displays available courses.

My Courses page

6.  The basic structure of the learning management system is the same, so the same names, arrangement, process and procedure works.

7.  Moodle 4.0 is available for download if you’d like to host courses on your own server. That PRO is also a CON if you’re not ready to be a Moodle Administrator. 

8.  Outside Apps more easily integrate with Moodle 4.0.  Integrating apps has always been fairly easy by means of a link or embedded log-in.  I don’t know to what extent single-sign on is facilitated, and if authentication is otherwise streamlined. 

9.  There is less content on each screen. Not only is it easier to see with your tablet or phone, it’s much easier to stay focused and avoid distractions due to a busy design.

10.  Moodle is open source, which means that there is an entire industry dedicated to building plug-ins and other features that are useful and needed.  I would not be surprised if there will be machine learning-based apps that can detect patterns in student performance and help administrators and even teachers, see student preferences, gaps in knowledge, and collaborative strengths.   


1.  If you have not worked with Moodle before, you may feel a bit discouraged. Moodle is not a very intuitive LMS, and one may not know where everything is without going through a pretty thorough training course.

Courses and categories admin screen

2.  It’s not clear how much Universal Design for Learning was used with the new interface, dashboard, icons, etc.  I did not see multiple modes of content delivery on the sample classes in the sandbox site, but that does not mean that they are not available.

3.  Moodle 4.0 is not yet available in MoodleCloud, which is the most popular cloud-based Moodle.

4.  Moodle documentation is still at 3.11. 

An Initial Chat:

Relatecasts' Rick Zanotti and I had an informal conversation about Moodle 4.0, just hours after its release to the web on April 14.  Please click on the link to hear our conversation on E-Learn Chat.  I'm not as clear as I could be as I respond to Rick's questions -- I think my enthusiasm about the  arrival got the best of me :)  Please click and listen, then share your thoughts.

E-Learn Chat on the debut of Moodle 4.0 - speaking with Rick Zanotti

 Here's a link to the chat:

 Please note that an updated version of Packt Publishing's guide to Moodle course development will be published in July 2022, just in time to get courses and programs up and running. 


Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D. 



Monday, April 11, 2022

A Visual Poetics Coup de Dés of Meaning: Thomas Fink's Selected Poems

 Thomas Fink.  Selected Poems and Poetic Series. East Rockaway, NY: Marsh Hawk Press. 2016. 244 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9964275-0-0

This stunning collection includes examples from some of Thomas Fink’s most innovative and subversive work.  His work subverts the subversive, thinking specifically of all the concrete poetics that followed Malarmé’s Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hazard (1897) that has been used as the foundation for so many visual poets, including John Cage, John M. Bennett, Jesse Glass, Dick Higgins, F. A. Nettlebeck, Rochelle Owens, and Armand Schwermer, just to mention a few.  The visual poets subvert reading and meaning-making practices by add the aleatory, while Fink systematizes the strategies for generating meaning from a visual poem, particularly in his series that use the same form. 

For example, subversion of the subversive occurs in “Jigsaw Hubbub” where a Figure 8 / vertical Infinity sign is used several poems. The reader automatically resystematizes his / her method of approaching the poems, and looks for similarities and differences.  The same can be said for the “Goad” series where the upside down Greek letter Omega suggests the end of meaning (a common conceit in the twentieth century), but the fact that the shape is the same for each of the “Goad” poems instantly imposes at least two types of strategic meaning-making processes: first, comparing the shape of the upside-down Omega in each for raw semiotic meaning, and second, in the words themselves and the meanings forged by reading from right to left, descending from line to line. 

The collection of work is particularly fascinating because it is arranged chronologically and we can see a timeline of textural and thematic innovation. The collection begins with 1993’s Surprise Visit. The poems serve as an antidote to the then-ubiquitous L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, and are intertextual in the sense that they evoke and import an entire body of exogenous work. Perhaps the most delightful example is “Louise Bourgeois” which one cannot read without thinking of her big daddy longlegs spider sculptures, her bold prolificity, and the workshop where basically everything was cubed, drilled, formed into serviceable art (which is to say that it beckons itself to be in the service of EveryPerson).

Excerpts from Gossip (2001) reflect the giddy sense of having dodged apocalypse, until, of course, apocalypse showed itself to be a narrative characterized by its innate multiplicity.  Such inescapability from deterministic narratives is reflected even as natural phenomena are considered to be random, are likewise subjugated to narrative, as in “Reprise”

like a refugee

and every time you kiss me it’s like 

another little piece of my

lightning striking again … (p. 13)

After Taxes (2004) incorporates poetics of unparalleled sweetness, with a palpable desire for meaningful connections that flow through dreams, memories, and the actual experience, past or anticipated. “In Memoriam” is either a letter from a grandfather to a grandchild, or from a grandchild to a grandfather, or simply from / to childhood to later life, a homage to the ability of language and letters to forge enduring bonds and to affirm life. 

Dusk Bowl Intimacies stretch from 2011 to 2015. Each has more or less the same formal structure: A block prose poem followed by a minimalist verse, three to eight lines in length. The voice is the persona of an older woman, possibly a grandmother. She is an inquisitive spirit who investigates the underlying assumptions in the ways that language embodies everyday life, and then closes with lines that assert a personal commitment or an exhortation. 

“Home Cooked Diamond” and “Jigsaw Hubbub” are visual poems. As mentioned earlier, “Jigsaw Hubbub” toys with infinity, and subverts the popular notion widely espoused in the twentieth century that a visual poetics liberated language, thus unleashing an infinite number of potential meanings, and thus finding a way to define infinity.  “Jigsaw Hubbub” puts a playful stop to that, while “Home Cooked Diamond” has enough variation in the shape and textual arrangement on the page to look like shadows from a tree as the day progresses, looking “slant” and also into a mirror. 

“Home Cooked Diamond” has the feel of a memoir and an awkward road trip with  parents whose flaws are all too obvious to the children, which makes the telling all the more uncomfortable. The struggle one has to read parallels the emotional struggle in the author’s voice. It’s strangely emotionally compelling. 

--- Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D. 

susan smith nash, ph.d.

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