Sep 30, 2006

the netroots

Richard Dawkins is the devil

And the devil has a website.

other people's records

At lunch I'm always nabbing fries off other people's plates. Along similar lines, I'm totally absorbed by other people's records. I want to borrow them and listen to them. Sometimes I go so far as to steal them and play them at home, lounging in a smoking jacket and sipping bourbon to the the warbling of Zamfir.

My obsession goes beyond the record's sound, of course. In fact, I rarely buy scratch-free, spotless LPs; well-worn discs are just fine. But seeing some of the vinyl in my living room reminds me of a house in Aberdeen, which long ago fired my imagination and led me into middle management.

I had a chum who lived there, the son of a mechanic and a waitress, dwelling in a tract house on the border of Hoquiam, where we spent many a night riding in cars with vigilantes. He had a pristine row of LPs by Henry Mancini, one of my favorite artists, then and now. I often would sit on his back porch where we would discuss existentialism and the Bowery Boys and the joys of gun ownership.

But it was hard to keep my eyes off his vinyl: the glossy black discs in their motley jackets. I liked the decadent illustrations, the mountain vistas, the scent of sophistication. Decades later, when I got my own house, in Olympia, I bought that exact collection at Goodwill for $1.45 plus tax.

I spent many happy evenings at that house, returning often in later years. Good company brought me, and good music kept me. It was a purer, better era, a time of exploration and discovery, of harmony and simplicity.

What interests me about other people's records is what it says about them. A record collection is a road map to the personality, giving insight to a particular temperament, an intellectual disposition, a way of being in the world. The order of the records--alphabetical, chronological, preferential--elucidates the character of the collector. The quality of music reflects the quality of the soul.

My own parents never attended college, and we had few records in our house, apart from a few dusty Lawrence Welk discs. It wasn't until I struck it out on my own that, by thrift or theft, I built up my present library.

There is much to be said for creating one's own collection. My records remind me of where I've been, intellectually, physically — and emotionally. They are like a photograph album, only with more dimensions. I sometimes look at an album to see myself in faded jeans and flannel shirt on a trip to Portland in 1989. But I return more truly to that era when I take a certain weathered LP of Dave Brubeck from my bookshelf, and clink along to five-four time with an empty shot glass, weeping for lost youth.

Other people's records excite curiosity about their owners and the worlds they inhabit. But in the end, it's my own vinyl that matters, since it tells me where I've gone, and where I hope to go.

What, you think I'm trite and pompous and anachronistic? Well, don't blame me.

ridiculous replacement for emoticons

Everyone knows that words on a screen lack context, which sometimes leads to horrific misunderstandings. Using pictures to replace :-{ (mustachioed regret) or ~:-) (toddler smile) seems like a good idea, until you realize how it's going to work:
A user first uploads a picture of their face with a "neutral" expression. Then they use their mouse to mark the ends of their eyebrows, the corners of their mouth and the edges of their eyes and lips.

The software uses these points to morph the face to express different emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust. A user can select an emotion and one of three intensity levels when using the system....

The software uses a facial image database to determine the correct spatial relationship between different facial features for different emotions. It distorts the points and areas marked by the user to shift them for a desired emotion.
What a waste of effort. Are chat programs so strapped for server space that users can't just upload one picture for each expression?

The Keeper: throw it back

Speaking of hilariously heartbreaking performances, how about Dennis Hopper as The Creeper The Keeper? In a made-for-cable farce, Hopper is a sheriff's deputy with a history of locking up prostitutes until either they repent or he tires of their existence. Asia Argento plays his latest victim with an understated elegance and... kidding. The script takes pains to explain her Italian accent. Enough said.

Mix in a stupid but persistent coworker who unravels the mystery of Argento's disappearance, and an elementary school teacher with a healthy obsession for booze and an unhealthy attraction to a man in uniform, and you have just over an hour and a half of bad movie pleasure.

In the film's best scene, Hopper whips out customized puppets and a Punch and Judy stage to re-enact his mother's whoring infidelity. Unsurprisingly, the puppets out-act everyone else, including Hopper.

The Caveman's Valentine: snakes on a hairpiece

1. It's bad when a shallow, pretentious art film has its protagonist eloquently and forcefully denounce the emptiness of postmodern art.

2. It's sexy when Jackson's Medusan locks fondle Ann Magnuson's body double.

3. It's awful that Magnuson's character is a cabin-bound dope named Moira, a role she apparently relishes.

4. It's pleasant to see moth-men who don't prophesy.

5. It's appropriate that the villain proclaims, "If that's all you got, then you got nothin'."

6. It's understandable that the credits list "Mr. Jackson's Psychiatric Consultant."

Originally tapped for the role, John Travolta bowed out to finish Battlefield Earth.

Sep 28, 2006

nobody's body but mine

This time, it's Leon Kass offering muddled thoughts about organ transplantation.
Regarding the recipients of transplantation, there is some primordial revulsion over confusion of personal identity, implicit in the thought of walking around with someone else's liver or heart. To be sure, for most recipients, life with mixed identity is vastly preferable to the alternative, and the trade is easily accepted. Also, the alien additions are tucked safely inside, hidden from sight. Yet transplantation as such — especially of vital organs — troubles the easygoing presumption of self-in-body, and ceases to do so only if one comes to accept a strict person-body dualism or adopts, against the testimony of one's own lived experience, the proposition that a person is or lives only in his brain-and-or-mind. Even the silent body speaks up to oppose transplantation, in the name of integrity, selfhood, and identity: its immune system, which protects the body against all foreign intruders, naturally rejects tissues and organs transplanted from another body.
Eugene Volokh responds,
This is, I think, a variant of the Is-Ought problem, with a dollop of coming to believe one's own metaphors. A procedure is physically dangerous; therefore it ought to be seen as morally troubling. A procedure is revolting to many people (as are prostate exams, I suppose, or changing diapers); therefore we ought to assume that it's presumptively improper. If we'd consistently adopted such an approach, in what century would medicine be stranded?

UPDATE: My favorite comment so far, from commenter Dave Griffith: "As someone with an auto-immune problem, I presumably am passing histological moral judgements against myself. I'll admit it's probably a fair cop in my case, but that's beside the point."
The Kass quote, incidentally, comes from Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity, page 186.

Washington's 35th district: no or no?

The WEA's favored son, Kyle Taylor Lucas, couldn't bust 43% in the Democratic primary. The winners: Tim Sheldon, a Republican incognito, and Mark Shattuck, a Republican without a party. Who deserves a teacher's vote?

Let's head to the Olympian, which posted some of the results of their endorsement interview.

"Education, environment, rights" reads the headline. (Nice asyndeton!)

I dare you--triple dog dare you--to find any direct mention of education in the article. (Nice expletive!)

You could be perfectly safe and vote for nobody.

Update: Now I understand why the headline is so misleading: in the shredded alder version of the paper, the headline covers two articles. There's good news, however. Mark Shattuck emailed me to clarify his educational positions, and, if he gives me permission, I'll publish his thoughts on the blog, along with his takes on specific WEA policies and proposals. If it takes a blog to get the word out, so be it.

Update Update: Shattuck's thoughts are posted. Oh, and "favored son" is a metaphor, for all you overly literal-minded readers out there.

paging Elton John

Cross-posted at that floral funeral home, Mr. A's world of tacky ties.

the Duke, patriotism, and war

Sadly, Stanley Crouch's essay on John Wayne's patriotism doesn't mention The Green Berets. I can understand the omission, since it's not a John Ford film, but it does more to demonstrate Wayne's view of war than any other movie. (We'll leave Jet Pilot out of the discussion.)

Incidentally, I'm showing snippets of The Green Berets tomorrow in my junior lit classes, since we're studying "Vietnam in the public imagination."

FYI, that's 1800 miles per hour

Steve Lodefink, back in 1988, used the magic of stop-motion on a Super 8 to capture "Olympia to Seattle in 2 Minutes." It's amazing how much--and how little--has changed on the I-5 corridor.

[link via Mark Frauenfelder]


Today my juniors crafted and delivered brief speeches connected to our novel of study, The Things They Carried. One was writing about running cross country, but changed his mind mid-gallop and switched his focus to a Braveheartesque rally-the-troops address.

By the time he presented, he hadn't yet finished tweaking it. In his most stentorian voice, he declared, "We fight for glory. We fight for freedom. We fight for exercise."

Sep 27, 2006

sweet skepticism

The 44th Skeptics' Circle is posted, cleanly and efficiently, at Salto sobrius.

A sample: Lord Runolfr, for one, discovers the non-difference between shiraz and syrah.

blogging workshop a success

At least, I think it was a success. It was a blitz of information, sometimes overwhelming, but many of the attending teachers went away interested in trying blogging for themselves. (If they disagree, at least they know where to find me, and how to leave a comment.)

In a while, when I'm done with some schoolwork, I'll post the outline of the presentations and activities.

What is a blog? Can I get one?
First, I gave a brief overview--defining "blog," listing some of the advantages of blogging in class, and the various uses of a blog. This took about three minutes.

How to set up and maintain a blog.
No overviews here. Instead, we launched right into blogging, as I introduced the teachers to Blogger Beta (which, as it turns out, is a bit dodgy on older versions of Firefox.) After some wrangling over usernames, passwords, and blog addresses, everyone chose a template and completed their first post. We then explored some of Blogger's functions, including comment moderation, permissions, and RSS feeds.

Up next: our school's in-house blog program, with its quirky formatting and slightly less-user-friendly interface. Its simplicity, though, is a benefit on the first day of class, since posting and commenting involve the same basic links. After they joined a sample class, the teachers visited popular blogs, examined their content and style, and searched for local bloggers. Not surprisingly, some of them found me here.

Using blogging as a teaching and learning tool.
Here we looked at the various uses and purposes of a blog, going into depth.
  • Discussions / Debates
  • Instant publishing
  • Internet research
  • Assignment records
  • Parental contact
  • Project tracking
I showed them some assignments from my classes--and gave them direct experience with the assignments I had them complete. Most teachers seemed interested in the blog-as-assignment-record and blog-as-debate features.

Assessing work on the blog.
Here we discussed clear standards (word counts, mandatory links, block quotes, conventions) and the basic distinction between an academic environment and the drama-for-all known as MySpace. I tried to emphasize the importance of clear objectives, clearer directions, and clearer-than-clear rules for appropriate conduct.

Appropriate blog etiquette and style.
  • Conventions really matter.
  • Words lack emotional context, so think before posting.
  • A blog is the whole blog. A post is a single entry. Don't confuse them.
  • Linking is good.
  • Reciprocal linking is better. It's how discussions turn into communities.
  • Changes should be publicly mentioned as a matter of good blogging ethics.
  • Hotlinking is dangerous.
  • Be wary of violating copyrights. Avoid copying entire articles.
Blogging outside of class—do’s and don'ts.
If you blog about students...
Don't gripe, especially if you mention names.
Remember they can probably find your blog. So can their parents.
Respect their privacy.

If you blog on the job...
Be careful to follow your workplace policies about internet time while "on the clock."

If you blog about your job...
Remember that your administrators, community members, and future employers are all watching.

We covered much, much more than this summary lets on, and most of the novices came away feeling a bit overwhelmed by the information, so there may be a follow-up later in the year. No matter what they tell you, teachers make great students.

evolution and language

It's a science-loving English major's dream.
The biological basis of how people speak, listen and comprehend – and how all of this mental equipment evolved – is largely mysterious. Researchers can study animals to gain insights into many psychological abilities, but this is not possible with language as no animal communication systems are anywhere near as complex as ours.

"In short, we know it's unique to humans and it evolved quickly," says Marcus. We developed the skill after we split from our last common ancestor – shared with chimpanzees – seven million years ago. Nevertheless, he says, language probably evolved as recently as the last few hundred thousand years.

It has been difficult to gather data, but developmental studies could provide new clues, he believes. So-called knockout studies, where mice are genetically modified to lack certain genes, have helped tease out the origin of certain mental abilities and many genetic disorders.

Though such experiments are not ethically feasible in humans, detailed observational studies on people with naturally-occurring genetic mutations related to language, could provide equivalent data, says Marcus.

A systematic collection of such studies would help us understand which parts of language share an origin with other mental abilities and which parts have evolved independently.
I propose they call it the Babel Project, for obvious reasons.

Sep 26, 2006

tell global warming to hurry up

Then we won't have to worry about icebreakers nearing retirement.

the WASL is here to stay, part II: the New Testament

In the Old Testament I predicted that the WASL, like the paraclete and the poor, will be with us always.

Along comes a KOMO article that cast doubts on my prophetic street cred.
"So, I think rather than worry about 'is the WASL measuring the thing or not,' we actually want to keep the motivation and the opportunities high," [UW bio prof Tom] Daniel said.

Marc Frazer, with the Washington Roundtable, says postponing the science WASL is not the answer. He says we need to increase the number of courses students take.

Back in the lab, high school students are learning more than they would ever get out of a textbook.

"I think if other kids had similar opportunities, maybe meeting with real scientists and hearing about what real scientists actually do, then maybe they would become more interested in science," Cameron said.

Daniel added, "If more and more kids in the school system can get involved in science in the region, more and more will do well on standardized tests."
No, I'm not going to retract my oracle, since KOMO only notes that "some" claim we should abandon the test, doesn't name who, and spends the rest of the article giving credence to the view that students, over the next four years, should rise to miraculously meet the WASL in the air.

random questions to ask people

This is a search terms two-fer. First, the title is a search term. Second, the questions are all search terms that led to my site. I'll add others as they arrive.

1. Who saw the brontosaurus enter the restaurant?
2. What is the name of Jesus's religion?
3. Does Safeway sell jujubes?
4. Dear Lord, are you there?
5. Does the policeman hunt mad people?
6. What if everything was designed?
7. How do I erase all adult content?
8. Did Jesus meet with the Buddha?
9. Was Judas so bad?
10. Why did Jesus choose disciples?
11. Does Weinhard's rootbeer have caffeine?
12. Why weren't cells recognized before the 17th century?
13. What's another name for the ruler of the area between pelvis and knee?
14. Can astrologists be wrong?
15. How is a vortex made?
16. Is Jim Neighbors gay?
17. Is toilet papering trees a crime in Washington state?
18. What is Iggy Pop's religion?
19. Is Ramtha BS?
20. What do you wear under a toga?
21. Did Jesus meet Buddha?
22. What does micro-organism mean?
23. Why is Jesse Barnes called the light painter?
24. Is a Ph.D. worth it?
25. How long do you smoke steaks?
26. Has the problem of left-handed chirality been solved?
27. How's the weather in Lincoln?
28. How does God decide who goes to heaven?
29. Does heaven exist behind black holes?
30. Why do pandas need such a large intake of food?
31. Is talk of God reasonable?
32. If you marry in Nevada, is it recognized in Washington?
33. What is something bad about Mexico?
34. Do ravens recognize crows?
35. How do you pronounce "portmanteau?"
36. What happened to the disciple Thaddeus after Jesus' death?
37. What is human nature, and what is its origin?
38. What does a policeman do?
39. Can you sing Ave Maria in an evangelical church?
40. What's wrong with Evian water?
41. When are we going to meet poems?
42. What is a good title for a kool-aid science project?
43. How can I dress like a girl nerd for nerd-day?
44. Are you a flat tire disciple?
45. Did John Elway's sister smoke cigarettes?
46. What does God say about acne?
47. Should you wear a shirt under a toga?
48. Why do clouds follow you?
49. What makes globalization possible?
50. What is silent turnip?
51. What's the difference between a pimple and a boil?
52. Is God a micro-manager?
53. Why does the intake of food affect people differently?
54. How can identical twins be so different?
55. Is China favoured by the Antichrist?
56. How can the brain know when it's in love?
57. Why does Buddha have long ears?
58. Whatever happened to Bill Pullman?
59. How stupid is a caveman?
60. What is Emeril Lagasse's religion?
61. What does a policeman do?
62. Does Willy Wonka have attention deficit disorder?
63. Why aren't you allowed to eat your own blood?
64. Is cursive going out of style?
65. Can you eat cougar meat?
66. What are the addictive chemicals in fast food?
67. How does a cougar go to the bathroom?
68. Why are cat ladies weird?
69. Are rabbits allowed to eat potato skins?

[120th in a series]

blogging is killing me

Well, teaching blogging, anyway. I'm polishing tomorrow's presentation on blogging in the classroom, so I don't have time to visit my usual haunts and sling random arrows of outrageous logic. Sorry.

On the plus side, though, I present to you this fine and dandy tie.

Cross-posted at that haven of happiness, Mr. A's world of tacky ties.

Update: I should add that another blog project that threatens to take (over) my life, 5/17, is still in its infancy. That's where I'm storing most of my thoughts about education reform, educational politics and activism.

no news isn't good news

This morning, battling a cold that kept me grounded yesterday, I scanned the Olympian's website. After the latest gun-at-school story brought forth a heavy sigh, and the announcement that fetes at the Governor's Mansion were kiboshed launched an avalanche of tears, I was looking for some good news. Specifically, a follow-up on the WEA's meeting at Olympia High School last night.

Nothing. I checked the paper in the teacher's lounge at lunch to be sure. Still nothing.

Now, it may not have been a stellar example of advocacy--word from a reliable source is, the presentation was a bit ham-handed, and the discussion afterward not terribly useful--but dang it, somebody from The Daily Rag shoulda been there--or, if they were, it shoulda made the paper today.

Ah, well. At least I can carry shampoo to San Diego again.

Sep 25, 2006

a new source of ethical embryos?

Stem cell research couldn't get more confusing.

Could it?

It could.
Stojkovic’s team, including researchers from the University of Durham, UK, and at Sintocell, a company in Serbia, investigated 161 donated blastocysts in total, some of them normal and others in the so-called arrested form. Of the 119 blastocysts which arrested early – having multiplied to no more than 10 cells – none yielded viable embryonic stem cells.

The only successful line came from 13 “late-arrested” blastocysts, which had stalled after multiplying to between 16 and 24 cells.

The hESCs were retrieved and grown in the lab on a layer of human “feeder cells” and nutrients. “In countries with a non-flexible policy, arrested blastocysts provide a more ethical source for research and hESC derivation,” the team say. “Our opinion is that all surplus and consented arrested and developing embryos, whether of poor or good quality, should be used for research or derivation of hESCs and not discarded.”

The controversy continues, however. Not everyone thinks the blastocysts in question were indisputably dead. “They are arrested, but still metabolically active,” says Stephen Minger, a stem cell researcher at King’s College London, UK. “So technically they’re still alive, and to spin it bio-politically as an ethical source of hESCs is completely misleading,” he says.
The last one didn't pan out, and there's no reason this one will, either, since its opponents promote the broadest criterion for "life."

are you ready for the revolution? Microsoft's "School of the Future"

The future, of course, is digital.
Up on a hill, overlooking the Philadelphia Zoo and a West Philadelphia neighborhood where 85 percent of the people live in poverty, sits a sleek, shiny brand new High School. It is called the Microsoft School of the Future and it is the first one in the world.

The 170 freshmen about to start classes here are not only ready for school, but for the future. They will not use pens, paper or textbooks. Instead, each one will be given a wireless laptop computer, with software created by Microsoft specifically for this school's needs. The programs allow each child to learn at his or her own pace and educators and parents to monitor their progress.

Microsoft has a special interest in this Philadelphia school. It partnered with the school district to design the building and the curriculum, a first for the software giant.
No more teachers (they're called "educators"), no more books (laptops, smart boards, wireless internet, and more). The public school is a multimilliondollar facility, state of the art, Clifford Stoll's worst nightmare.

If it works--Microsoft is investing in these projects worldwide--it's just one more route to the revolution.

Previous opinionating:

Part I, online academies
Part II, the Google PC
Part III, homeschooling
Part IV, rapid growth
Part V, Olympia goes virtual

the Madden jinx is alive and well

Either that, or Satan. Last year's MVP Shaun Alexander has a cracked bone in his foot, worth at least a couple weeks on the bench.
Coach Mike Holmgren said Monday that a bone scan revealed Alexander sustained a "small crack" and "displaced fracture" on a non-weight-bearing bone in his foot sometime during the Seahawks' 42-30 win over the New York Giants on Sunday. Alexander ran for 47 yards on 20 carries before sitting out the fourth quarter, which began with Seattle leading 42-3....

Alexander missed practices last Wednesday and Thursday because of soreness from a bone bruise he sustained while rushing for 51 yards on 19 carries in the Sept. 10 season opener at Detroit. Holmgren said that bruise led to the small crack.

Lee Smolin on the temporality of physical laws

The non-inciting part of the Pope's speech--the part that got less radio play--involved faith and reason in conflict and combination. Quoth Benedict, as noted by my brother:
Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based.
Compare that with Lee Smolin, in the latest NewScientist [subs. req.]:
In science we aim for a picture of nature as it really is, unencumbered by any philosophical or theological prejudice. Some see the search for scientific truth as a search for an unchanging reality behind the ever-changing spectacle we observe with our senses. The ultimate prize in that search would be to grasp a law of nature - a part of a transcendent reality that governs all change, but itself never changes.

The idea of eternally true laws of nature is a beautiful vision, but is it really an escape from philosophy and theology? For, as philosophers have argued, we can test the predictions of a law of nature and see if they are verified or contradicted, but we can never prove a law must always be true. So if we believe a law of nature is eternally true, we are believing in something that logic and evidence cannot establish.

Of course, laws of nature are very useful, and we have in fact been able to discover good candidates for them. But to believe a law is useful and reliable is not the same thing as to believe it is eternally true. We could just as easily believe there is nothing but an infinite succession of approximate laws. Or that laws are generalisations about nature that are not unchanging, but change so slowly that until now we have imagined them as eternal.

These are disturbing thoughts for a theoretical physicist like myself. I chose to go into science because the search for eternal, transcendent laws of nature seemed a lofty goal. However, the possibility that laws evolve in time is one that recent developments in theoretical and experimental physics have forced me, and others, to consider....

Here is the question that keeps me awake these days: is there a way to represent the laws of physics mathematically that retains the notions of the present moment and the continual unfolding of time? And would this allow us - or even require us - to formulate laws that also evolve in time?...

It is not impossible to achieve time-bound laws in physics. There are logicians who have proposed alternative systems of logic that incorporate a notion of time unfolding. In these logics, what is true and false is assigned for a particular moment, not for all time. For a given moment some propositions are true, others false, but there remains an infinite list of propositions that are yet to become either true or false. Once a proposition is true or false, it remains so, but at each moment new propositions become decided. These are called intuitionalist logics and they underlie a branch of mathematics called topos theory.

Some of my colleagues have studied these logics as a model for physics. Fotini Markopoulou of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, has shown that aspects of space-time geometry can be described in terms of these logics. Chris Isham of Imperial College London and others propose to reformulate physics completely in terms of them.

Looking at biology, it seems there are advantages to what are, essentially, time-bound laws. Evolving laws might make computer systems similarly robust and less likely to do what the laws of natural selection, it seems, never do: crash. The universe, too, seems to function rather well, operating without glitches and fatal errors. Perhaps that's because natural selection is hard at work in the laws of nature.
I'd love to republish the whole thing, because it's hidden behind a subscriber-only firewall, but I'm too respectful of copyright. I'll poke around and see if anyone else has written about it, and link to their (more learned) opinions.

Added: Luboš Motl, for one, isn't very happy.

Lee Smolin promotes his cosmological natural selection. Just during the last month, five independent people have mentioned this issue in discussions with me or in their own articles; the list included famous names like L.S. or A.V. All of them are convinced that it is trivial to falsify Smolin's hypothesis and it has, in fact, been done immediately when Smolin proposed it.

A decade ago, Smolin had conjectured that the laws of our universe are optimized for black hole production because every new black hole is a new baby whose properties are similar to the parent universe but it is not quite identical because there is also a cosmological mutation going on. The most prolific universes - those who create many black holes - are going to dominate the ensemble of the universes. Lee Smolin has written a whole book whose content is isomorphic to this paragraph.

It is easy to see that if you change some parameters in our universe, for example if you reduce the hierarchy between the electroweak scale and the Planck scale, many more black holes will be created. The theory is dead. Trivially dead. Period. Why does Smolin revive this nonsense all the time, without having any new arguments or mechanisms? Does a lie become the truth when it is repeated 100 times?

Sep 24, 2006

making math education better means paying teachers more

Forty percent of math teachers don't have a math degree. Multimillionaire James Simon thinks that's a problem worth his time and money.
On Monday morning, flanked by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Simons pledged to double his initial $25 million commitment to Math for America (MfA), an education program he founded in 2004. With this cash infusion, the program will provide training and support to some 400 new math teachers in New York City in the next five years.... The number of students pursuing math and science degrees in America is in decline. Those that do study these subjects often enter fields that pay better than education. Simons' idea for persuading more graduates to become educators is a no-brainer: Pay them more.

"With all the good will in the world, once you get married and have kids, it's a tough job and the alternatives are so attractive," Simons said, his voice a near-pitch-perfect Humphrey Bogart, with a slight Bostonian inflection. "Teaching math and science ought to be a professional activity in which those professionals are well-paid and happy to do that as a career."
To which this English major says, "Amen."

all of the above?

From a recent Newsweek poll.

Aldomania's apotheosis

Compliments of the Curmudgeon, and especially Uncle Lumpy.
“My name is Aldo Kelrast - Stalkeroo:
Look upon your work, O Mary, and despair!”

taking the devil's due

The discussion about God, morality, reasonableness, and genocide (sparked here and continued here) has shifted over to Mark Olson's blog. Check it out, and join in if you're interested.

why I love ESPN's website

Seen earlier today on the MLB Scoreboard. Negative runs and ball 9. What an umpiring crew that must have been.

school funding forum Monday night, Olympia High School

It really ought to be front page news, but oh well.
The League of Education Voters Foundation, the Washington Education Association and the Washington State Parent Teacher Association plan to attend an open conversation with community members about school funding set for 7 p.m. Monday at Olympia High School, 1302 North St. S.E.
If I have time I'll be there, blogging away.

students fight back against plagiarism police

For pressuring their school to give up use of, kudos to the students of Virginia's McLean High School.
Members of the new Committee for Students' Rights said they do not cheat or condone cheating. But they object to Turnitin's automatically adding their essays to the massive database, calling it an infringement of intellectual property rights. And they contend the school's action will tar students at one of Fairfax County's academic powerhouses.

"It irked a lot of people because there's an implication of assumed guilt," said Ben Donovan, 18, a senior who helped collect 1,190 student signatures on a petition against mandatory use of the service. "It's like if you searched every car in the parking lot or drug-tested every student."
The issue isn't new--colleges have been wrestling with the legal and ethical implications for over four years now. Apparently the program has an astounding error rate:
Similarly, Virginia's Mr. Bloomfield says it would be an injustice if was forced to stop providing its service because of a legal complication....

After his own computer program flagged 157 papers at Virginia for suspected plagiarism, the professor turned the cases over to the university's honor committee in April 2001. Forty-three of the students were found guilty after a trial or admitted plagiarism, and 88 were cleared; trials are pending in most of the remaining cases.

He says and other plagiarism-detection services do more than just ferret out plagiarists: They improve the higher-education system by helping to attach more meaning to students' grades, and they make dishonest students realize that it doesn't pay to use any means necessary to get ahead.

"If copyright problems make it difficult to ensure the integrity of the classroom, how does this benefit society? How does this benefit the students?" he asks. "What important right of students is being preserved by barring a service from retaining a copy of their paper?"
Well, Professor B., if over half the students "caught" by the website were cleared of charges, perhaps it just might sour the relationship between teachers and students? A smart professor armed with Google and can catch perps about as efficiently. Teachers who assign the same projects and papers every year are only asking for trouble.

Let me be clear: I despise plagiarism. That presents no justification, though, for republishing a student's copyrighted work without her consent, especially by sending it to a company that will profit from it. It would be like gathering essays for an assignment, secretly publishing them as a book, and pocketing the royalties.

Say no to literary sweatshops. Say no to

Sep 23, 2006

the perils of supererogation

"Samaritans unwittingly assist in car theft," their good intentions only literally failing to pave the road ahead of the 14-year-old crook.

blogging saves lives

If Cory Maye walks, Radley Balko will show us all how a blog can be a force for justice.

Radley Balko for sainthood: part II

Brian Doherty sends along good news: Cory Maye has a new sentencing hearing ahead of him, and no longer sits on death row. Maye had shot a police officer in self defense when, in a no-knock raid, a SWAT team hit the wrong half of a duplex. Thanks to a prejudiced jury, a possible frame job, and an incompetent defense attorney, Maye was convicted of capital murder. Balko's tireless efforts might yet save an innocent man's life.

Part I here.

learning how to blog

In a few days I'm teaching a workshop called "Blogging in the Classroom," wherein I will share my accumulated wisdom and experience with members of the CHS faculty, many of them utter novices.

Perfect timing, then, for Joe Carter to re-release his guide to starting a blog, which not only contains some indispensable advice for rookies, but some great links to other blogging how-tos and some reminders for old pros.

I won't be plagiarizing too much from Carter, since his piece is about blogging for fun and profit, whereas I'm more interested in blogging as a forum and an assessment tool. Nevertheless, in the spirit of the enterprise, I owe Mr. Carter props for his quality blogging and thought-provocation, especially when he's at his most irritating. (Which isn't often, unless you're Mumon, and then it's every dang day.)

If you were going to take a class on blogging--especially as a teacher using blogging in the classroom--what would you like to learn?

an open letter to Aaron Dixon

Dear Mr. Long-Shot,

I'm guessing that your fuzzy, infrared image on your campaign signs is a shout-out to Che. Thing is, your beefy 'stache makes you look like Dzhugashvili: robust, manly, Communist.

Oh well. Cantwell's gonna win it in a walk anyway.



Sep 22, 2006

all twelve disciples, all the time

The web's only comprehensive resource just got better.

no kickback left denied

Back when I was a tyke of one, Ronald Reagan called the Department of Education a "democratic boondoggle" and promised to eviscerate it. In a vicious irony, now that the GOP's in charge, the department stinks to the abyss with corruption.
The government audit is unsparing in its review of how Reading First, a billion-dollar program each year, that it says has been beset by conflicts of interest and willful mismanagement. It suggests the department broke the law by trying to dictate which curriculum schools must use.

It also depicts a program in which review panels were stacked with people who shared the director's views and in which only favored publishers of reading curricula could get money.

In one e-mail, the director told a staff member to come down hard on a company he didn't support, according to the report released Friday by the department's inspector general.

"They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the (expletive deleted) out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags," the Reading First director wrote, according to the report.

That official, Chris Doherty, is resigning in the coming days, department spokeswoman Katherine McLane said Friday. Asked if his quitting was in response to the report, she said only that Doherty is returning to the private sector after five years at the agency.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, in a statement, pledged to swiftly adopt all of the audit's recommendations.
Ah, for the good old days.

convert, or die

"Repent of your sins, America. I'll give you six weeks to turn it around, or Washington D.C. is gone in a puff of smoke."

If Osama Bin Laden said it, some of us might think, Typical Islamofascist, forcing conversion at gunpoint.

Others would think, hmm, sounds a lot like the Book of Jonah.
6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:

"By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish."

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
At least it ended well.

Sep 21, 2006

too sophist....icated?

I see now that I've made some arguments that are simultaneously misunderstood and misrefuted by my sometime sparring partner Mark Olson (link via my brother), who describes my take on Benedict's Paleologus quote as "silly."

It's not, and I'll explain why before sleep deprivation gets the best of me.

First, Olson criticizes me for decontextualizing Paleologus' assertion that "God is not pleased by blood." I note the irony that God is indeed "pleased" by the sacrifice of blood--human blood, if Jesus is/was fully human--even requiring it for the cleansing of sin. This is not, as a philosopher might describe it, a defeater--or even an argument. It is an irony observed. Which is why I immediately address the context of Paleologus's claim, violence for the sake of conversion.

My point here is that Paleologus states unequivocally that it is unreasonable to convert others by actual or threatened violence. Is a preacher who points out the "overwhelming" threat of damnation therefore unreasonable? Is any theology that threatens nonbelievers with hellfire unreasonable? Can Christianity claim to be all carrot and no stick?

I'll ignore Olson's charge of context-ripping because blogging is all about rashness and subsequent refinement. I would enjoy learning why my reading of Paul's (clear, I think) argument is wrong.

Finally, my last point stands after a missed opportunity for refutation. Pope Benedict warns us that the Islamic God could be a devil in disguise, and if so, we might commit evil acts, thinking them good. In my response, I claim that this applies equally to the Christian God, pointing to three passages in which God commands immoral acts, and his followers obey.

Mark claims the Hosea passage is figurative without providing a reason; it's an awfully literal-sounding text. I'd be willing to grant Abraham a pass for his extreme faith in God's crazy-sounding order to sacrifice Isaac, yet it still proves that a good God might ask something we'd expect from a devil-God.

Regardless, the final example is the most damning. In the passage from Joshua (and throughout the text, and elsewhere), God orders the destruction of entire cities, down to the last infant. Olson says I conflate general proscriptions with specific commands--but does not admit that this puts him in the awkward moral position of justifying infanticide. Again, my point: God commands an act that would seem outrageously immoral to anyone reasonable.

Olson's last rhetorical questions are haunting: "Was Carthage wrong? Was God?" If we are to answer the question in the affirmative or negative, we must judge His character, His motivation, His reasonableness. If we are unable to answer, we have no grounds for assuming He is reasonable.

a call to action

The WEA Public Education Action Committee, 5:00 on a cloudy Thursday evening. We're gathered around enchiladas and Diet Coke, discussing strategies for getting more WEA members involved in political activism. I'm 27, five years in, and I'm the youngest, greenest person sitting at the table. I'm on the agenda. Gonna talk about blogging.

As I'm listening, I keep hearing threads of themes, mostly about communication, or its lack. Nobody knows who the WEA-endorsed candidates are until after the ballots are mailed or stuffed in a box, too late for the primary. Nobody's sure if I'm a WEA PAC member, even though I've paid my dues. There's some skepticism about top-down measures like Take the Lead, and a clamor for grassroots groundswell, if I may mix metaphors.

Then it's my turn.

Nothing's more bottom-up than a blog. It's a person, or people, taking extra minutes to digest the news, spread the word, rally the troops, protect the weak, smite the unjust. But a grassroots initiative requires more than one blade of grass, which is why I'm going to use whatever heft I have to muster a team of sharp thinkers and piquant writers to blog the truth to power.

It's not just a youth thing. Sure, 54% of bloggers are under 30, but that means 46% are 30+. We need a diverse spectrum of opinions, our own neighborhood grocery of ideas. We need a way to publish faster than leadership, truer than the media.

We need you. Join up. We can use your blogging might.

ce n'est pas une cravate

Cross-posted at that art extravaganza, Mr. A's world of tacky ties.

Sep 20, 2006

is God reasonable?

My brother approvingly links to a post by Keith Plummer, who writes,
Does the Islamic doctrine of Allah preclude reasonable dialogue? Please note, this is not to inquire whether adherents to the Islamic faith are capable of being reasonable. Obviously, many are. But when they are, are they being consistent with the nature and character of Allah as they conceive of him?
Benedict's oration, the one that set afire the radical factions of Islam, answers the question.
In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: There is no compulsion in religion. It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat.

But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels,” he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words:
Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.
The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.
God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death....
The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: "For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality." Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry.
The Pope then describes a "rapprochement" between Greek rationalism and classic theism, a tenuous and tense rapprochement at best, given the Crusades, the Reformation, the Inquisition, Vatican II, and a thousand other sticking points in Catholic history. But every ideology has its sticking points.

Observe several ironies in Manuel II Paleologus's description of God's nature. God is not pleased by blood, he states, and yet God demands sacrifice for atonement. "Without the shedding of blood," after all, "there is no forgiveness." It is certainly not beneath God to inflict pain and suffering for the sake of justice, even unto death, even upon His own son.

Ah, but for the sake of conversion? The emperor claims, To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death.... And yet, as Pascal reminds us, any reasonable conversion calculus must include the overwhelming weight of the threat of hellfire and damnation.

On a good day, the apostle Paul writes, "God's kindness leads you toward repentance." On a bad day, he theodicizes,
18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

19 One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' "[a] 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath--prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
We are a hairsbreadth from the transcendent God of Islam, bound only by His own whims, answering to no one but Himself. We are allowed to speculate--and, paradoxically, forced to judge.

There is also a deep irony in Benedict's note that "Were it [the Islamic] God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry." Yet the Christian God has, at various points it time, commanded His followers to commit adultery, sacrifice a child, and wipe out entire ethnic groups (and even their livestock). Even in the New Testament, the meekness of martyrdom is temporary, a speed bump on the road to Revelation.

If Keith Plummer is right, and "theological convictions have undeniable practical outworkings," then let us be glad that, at least at present, the Greeks are winning.

WASL here to stay

I'm going to make a bold prediction. I'm channeling Ramtha, 88.1 on the FM dial, and one message blares through the fuzz and static. The WASL-as-graduation-requirement is here, and it's never going away.

Not ever. The Cubs will win a World Series before the politicians of the Evergreen State give up on high-stakes testing. President Bush will be crowned king by the Pope. Humans will grow gills. Kevin Costner will make a post-apocalyptic movie worth caring about.

How can I be sure? In every news article I've read about depressing math scores, no one's talking about flawed assessments, cost-benefit analyses, or statistical anomalies. Instead, it's assumed that something's wrong with teachers and students, and we'd better figure out how to boost scores so the next batch doesn't wind up failing en masse.

Then there's the science test, which should have administrators everywhere quaking in terror. Nobody's passing it. It'll be a graduation requirement by 2010. Again, the assumption: the test is good, so fix instruction so test scores rise.

And that, my friends, is why the WASL is here to stay.

view from the deck door

Waking up at six isn't always a bad thing.

be your own NewsCrew

The WEA is looking for a few good pundits, teachers who have the time and energy to "broaden the voice of WEA and the profession." Potential tasks would include writing letters to the editor, tracking the local media, and even speaking at a press event.

If I have my way at the WEA-PEAC meeting I'm attending tomorrow, at least in one district we're going to start reaching out to teacher-bloggers who are already on the media's case.

primary results for Washington state

See the unofficial numbers here.

Biggest winner: Maria Cantwell, who has polled over 310,000 votes, more than all other senatorial candidates combined. I fearlessly predict that Cantwell will beat McGavick by more than 10% in the general election.

In other news, read Goldstein's take on the judicial elections, and learn why defeat for John Groen makes Sharkansky sad.

is the enemy insane or is he?

A reader sends this along (all errors and absurdity in original):
1:28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number ; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

Christians priests are not fruitful and contradict god : they are heretics and agents of devil. With baptism christians forgive themselfs from god's death sentence.

1:29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.

1:30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground, everything that has the breath of life in it, I give every green plant for food " And it was so.

Chirstians don't eat only green plant : they trust in god to contradict god. Eating cadavers for non nutritional reason is a pathological conduct. Like lion is parasite of gazelle, mankind is parasite of cow, for antinutritional and anticulinary reason : eating cadavers induce genetic reflex of vomiting.
It's the first such schizophrenic spam I've received that's offered an unsubscribe option.

Sep 19, 2006

a rose of a different color

The tacky tie for Tuesday, September 19. Open House. I always wear one of the tackiest, just so there's no doubt in any parent's mind that Mr. Anderson is a man unhinged.

Cross-posted at that library of lunacy, Mr. A's world of tacky ties.

the bitter result of extraordinary rendition

For every tidbit of anti-terror intelligence gained by torture, there's a mountain of misinformation, and the possibility that a true innocent will end up shattered by suspicion.
Arar, now 36, was detained by U.S. authorities as he changed planes in New York on Sept. 26, 2002. He was held for questioning for 12 days, then flown by jet to Jordan and driven to Syria. He was beaten, forced to confess to having trained in Afghanistan -- where he never has been -- and then kept in a coffin-size dungeon for 10 months before he was released, the Canadian inquiry commission found.

O'Connor concluded "categorically there is no evidence" that Arar did anything wrong or was a security threat.
More reasons to question the use of torture here.

teachers and technology

Sometimes they mix. For instance, a certain blogging buddy of mine sent me a near-final draft of a piece he was about to send off for publication. I sent back comments, he utilized some, and then sent me back the final-final copy--which, in its time, will be mangled to death by a professional editor before hitting the press.

Since I've been helping freshfolks discover the magic of revision, it seemed wise to incorporate this real world experience for their benefit. Thirty minutes later, a Powerpoint was born, and they could see the process unfolding, concretely illustrating my maxim, "Everything written is a work in progress."

Score two for technology.

Ludditism battled back, though. The school district has switched to a new email program, and some otherwise capable people can't figure it out. After several hit "reply all" instead of "reply sender," clogging up everyone else's inbox, I sent a broadside explaining the difference--and the danger.

Several teachers wrote back to say thanks. One response, in particular, stuck out to me. It read, "Vert good."

It was sent to the entire staff.

Sep 18, 2006

free Jesus certificate

[119th in a series]

new hope for rock carvings

petroglyph, Milk River, Alberta
They were never guaranteed to last forever, but this at least sidesteps erosion.
A system being trialled by archaeologist Kalle Sognnes and colleagues at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim provides a much simpler and cheaper solution. It consists of an ordinary office projector, a digital camera and a laptop running specially developed software....

To scan a carving, the projector is used to illuminate it with stripes of light and dark, and the digital camera records the resulting pattern for analysis on the laptop. The technique has been dubbed "structured light".

"The pattern will be distorted because of the topography," explains Øystein Skotheim, who helped create the system. "The software uses images from the camera to calculate the 3D shape very precisely."
Other petroglyph news here.

National Merit semifinalist = total nerd

Congrats to Capital student, debater, Eagle Scout and all around good guy Forrest Rice for a top score on the PSAT, which puts him in the running for National Merit Finalist and all its attendant privileges and honors and remunerations. Here's hoping the criterion is speed of solving a Rubik's Cube.

Sep 17, 2006

Thurston County voters' guide: Republicans

Bubble in:

Tom Campbell. If you've ever stood in line at Albertson's, sniffling and sneezing, drowning in snot, muffling coughs with your sleeve, waiting for the hapless boob in front of you to find his driver's license since he needs cold medicine as badly as you do, except he doesn't have his license on him because his wife dropped him off, and she's over at Ross Dress for Less for Senior Discount Tuesday, and where is that danged license, remember Tom Campbell. He kept us safe from Sudafed.

Richard Debolt. He's "achieved among the highest leadership positions in the House of Representatives." No mention of what he achieved, or which positions he was among.

Mark Shattuck. The lone poet among the Republicans, Shattuck waxes, "From the mountains to the Sound I have lived and breathed the 35th district and respect the land and its people."

Randy Neatherlin. The goateed GOPer is the the first to reach out to Generation Y. "IM1 of U," Neatherlin gushes from his cell phone. His staffers note that Randy "understands our desires." That's only a teensy bit creepy.

Tom Crowson. For marrying a woman named Tootie.

Thurston County voters' guide: Democrats

Bubble in:

Max J. Heller III. Not just for having a numerical suffix, but for a Bushesque promise to "protect the futures of our children." Bonus points for employing hollow truisms like "Together we can make a difference."

Rick E. Payne. In a time of hollow truisms, only one Democrat has the guts to refuse to submit a personal statement or photo. Vote for the tabula rasa. Vote for Payne.

Tim Sheldon. Kudos to the renegade Democrat for staying on the ballot, even without a party endorsement, thus proving the uselessness of the new primary system.

Dan Venable. Boldly running without an editor. "My wife and I of 33 years have raised three children."

Bob Macleod. Italics for emphasis. Bob Macleod knows that simple, straightforward typography only goes so far. No, really, Bob is a smart guy. "Bob Macleod considers all sides of an issue before making tough decisions."

Gary Warnock. "Our children represent approximately 33% of our population but 100% of our future." I did not know that.

another non-apology

Didn't Benedict ever learn that you can't apologize for the things you can't control? Nothing sounds hollow like "I'm sorry that you...." Might as well just say "bummer" and be done with it--or follow Pat Robertson's lead and pre-apologize.

Sep 16, 2006

what I learned at the Cougs game

My wife and I enjoyed WSU's close contest against Baylor in the company of Mr. and Mrs. TRP. I spent the whole time learning. It's what I do.

1. Not everyone has seen The Sopranos.

2. At Mariners games, when the clapping sound effect starts, people clap along, like automatons, until lapsing back into latte-induced stupors, waiting for the digital Hydro Race and the Hat Trick. At Cougars games, no Hat Tricks, no Hydro Races, and nobody claps with the clapper.

3. The innards of Qwest Field remind one of a dairy, a factory. The deconstructionist let's-expose-the-ductwork style looks okay across the street, but at Qwest, the sanitary cream paint and long concrete ramps... not a factory, a meat-packing plant. An abattoir. Suddenly all those beef ads on the jumbotron seem a lot creepier.

4. Watching a football game with a referee gives you a new perspective on the game. Especially when the ref's wife matches the ref snark for snark.

6. More people should sing along with the national anthem.

Sep 15, 2006

Take the Lead: the word is out

One of my 9th-grade classes, enjoying the luxury of an open forum, was in the middle of ranting about the horrors of closed campus, the lameness of dance censorship, and the possibility of adding sofas to the classroom. Eventually I could no longer moderate from the sidelines. "Okay," I said, "you've got problems. What can you do about them?"

Petition, some said. Go to the school board, others chimed in. "More school funding would help with the sofa thing," said one previously quiet participant. "I heard somewhere that we're 43rd in the nation."

Good job, WEA media machine.

43rd Skeptics' Circle: cute puppy edition

I got an email announcing the most recent entry, but let it lie buried in a pile of unfulfilled responsibilities. Sorry.

jesus's 12 disciples photos

For the first time online, recovered from a remarkable archeological find in an obscure corner of Jerusalem.

Simon Peter


James Zebedee

John Zebedee




James Alphaeus

Simon the Cananean


Judas Iscariot

[118th in a series]

Sep 14, 2006

fossil fuel for the fashion-forward

Cross-posted at that encomium to environmentalism, Mr. A's world of tacky ties.

teaching teachers how to blog

Ever since I joined CHS's English department, I've had a reputation as the technology guy, helping staff with email eccentricities, internet issues, and printing problems. No surprise, then, that I'm the only English teacher who requires his students to blog regularly for mental health and fitness.

After a couple years at it, I've decided to share my knowledge in the form of "staff development," a three-hour workshop two weeks from now. I filled out the requisite paperwork earlier this year, and broadsided the staff yesterday.
Staff Development: Blogging in the Classroom

Or, Everything You Wanted to Know About Blogging, But Were Afraid to Ask

Wednesday, September 27
3-6 p.m., Pod B
Instructor: Jim Anderson

If you want to learn how to immediately increase student achievement using interactive technology, come to the blogging workshop two weeks from today. Topics include...

What is a blog? Can I get one?
How to set up and maintain a blog.
Using blogging as a teaching and learning tool.
Assessing work on the blog.
Appropriate blog etiquette and style.
Blogging outside of class--do's and don'ts.

Learn from an experienced blogger who has incorporated it into all of his classes. Blogging is engaging, relevant, and easy--even for teachers.

To RSVP, or if you have questions, email me... et cetera.
Ten people immediately emailed back to sign up. The strangest reply I received, though, was a simple sentence.

"Is this staff development serious?"

Sep 13, 2006

three easy pieces

1. A junior asked to use the hall pass, explaining that she "really had to go" because "this class has an aura that makes me have to pee." That, or it's just that the air conditioning is off again.

2. From now on, in any debate about civil liberties, the Bespectacled One's pronouncement that "Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither liberty nor security" will henceforth be known as the Ben Franklin Smackdown.

3. Three latecomers to 11th IB English came up to me with a request to drop the class, whether from a presumed lack of ability, fear of demanding expectations, or the difficulty of completing a summer reading assignment in two short weeks. I refused to sign in each case, telling them to think about it until the end of the period, then talk to me again. Eventually I convinced, no, cajoled all three to stick it out. If that is my only success for the day, that's enough.

Sep 12, 2006

French flair for the first Tacky Tie Tuesday of 2006-2007

Cross-posted at that repository of haute couture, Mr. A's world of tacky ties.

endogenous retroviruses and development

A couple years ago I noted a remarkable piece of evidence for common ancestry, the DNA inserted by viruses into our genomes. In a recent study, biologists show how endogenous retroviruses can influence embryonic development in sheep.
Tom Spencer and his colleagues at Texas A&M University in College Station, US, studied the role of ERVs in pregnancy through lab experiments and on live sheep. They already suspected from the lab work on sheep embryos that endogenous Jaagsiekte sheep retroviruses (enJSRVs) help embryos develop.

In the new work, they proved their suspicions correct by injecting the womb linings of sheep with a drug which blocks activity of the virus. The drug was designed to block the specific “envelope” gene of the virus suspected of aiding pregnancy.

Pregnant sheep given the virus-blockers suffered miscarriages. “When production of the envelope protein was blocked in the early placenta, the growth of the placenta was reduced and its development inhibited,” says Spencer. “The end result was that the sheep suffered recurrent early pregnancy loss.”
Such research could open up another front in the war on HIV.
Spencer says that none of the retroviruses “adopted” by the human genome has any surviving infectious counterpart, suggesting that our adopted viruses have “won” the battle for us and wiped out viruses that were previously infectious.

The tantalising implication, he says, is that in years to come we will be protected from today’s killer viruses, like HIV and the hepatitis viruses, by endogenous versions which have taken up residence in our own DNA.

I would love to blog right now

I really would. Lesson planning and grading are sapping all my creative energy, though. This evening brings band practice and a visit with the folks in Elma. Along the way, I might call a certain local newspaper about a certain deceptive, smarmy local merchant that could stand a visit by an undercover investigative reporter. If they're not interested, by gum I'll publish my angrifying tale of woe right on thishere blog.


are you ready for the revolution? virtual learning hits the Olympia school district

It was only a matter of time.
One K-8 distance learning program would reach out to students receiving home-based instruction. That program - one of two in a new Olympia Regional Learning Academy - likely will begin in late October or early November.

A second program mostly focused on high school and some middle school courses would allow students to learn online and would be open to existing Olympia School District students.

That program likely will begin shortly after a teacher is hired and could appeal to students who have dropped out of school or can't attend school during regular hours because of family or work obligations.

"We're really going to be listening to what families say they need and build on that," Joy Walton, administrator of the Olympia Regional Learning Academy, told the Olympia School Board on Monday.
The floodgates are open.

Previous opinionating:

Part I, online academies
Part II, the Google PC
Part III, homeschooling
Part IV, rapid growth

Sep 11, 2006


I prompted my students to write about 9/11 today, to share their thoughts and memories on this fifth anniversary. Now juniors, they were middle schoolers then, shaken out of ignorance by hours of intense footage of the towers' destruction, the crashes in D.C. and Pennsylvania, the gaping maw that opened up in the New York skyline--then, later, the flags, the firefighters, the fallen.

"I didn't even know where the World Trade Center was," said a few. "I didn't know anyone, didn't feel anything." Others recounted their helpless panic as the teachers around them, suddenly somber, abandoned lesson plans to talk, to watch television, to reassure those who weren't sure what they were scared of.

This is the 9/11 generation, for whom war is immediately distant, for whom the threat of terrorism is both equally real and unreal. I suppose it's not so different for me, a child of Gulf War I and the Oklahoma City bombing, always watching tragedy from the outside.

Sep 10, 2006

ravenous ravens, a menace to your driving safety

ravens attacking a car in Banff National Park

Long-time reader blogmastergeneral points me to this article about a new wildlife menace, the wiper-destroying raven.
It seems that at least two ravens have spent the hiking season ripping out the rubber windshield wiper blades from their housings on various vehicles, including some at the employee parking lot, at the Goodell Creek Campground and near the visitor center.

Curious raven behavior began in May, however, when a raven continually attacked the center's rear windows....

Employees wrapped butcher paper around the first few feet of all of the windows, but it was torn down by the next day.

Theories included reflection anxiety, trying to attack the two large murals of ravens that were inside (they covered the murals) and wanting to get in because it heard the raven calls that were played inside.

By June, the raven had given up windows and started on windshield wipers.
Think they're isolated to the wilds of Washington? Think again. The birds--or, I should say, The Birds--just like their anarchoterrorist raccoon compatriots, are striking back at humanity all over North America.
Last July, rangers reported that ravens were ripping off windshield wipers (and a few antennas) in a Yosemite National Park parking lot. Those ravens had a bartering gene, however. Sometimes they left dead rodents on top of the vehicles, the one-pair-wipers-for-one-dead-vole system.

CBC radio once reported that a principal from a New Brunswick, Canada, school had removed more than 40 windshield wipers from vehicles in the parking lot. One teaching assistant lost nine wipers, gained a lot of scratches on her car, and had the car's soft top damaged by a raven apparently trying to rip it off.
Yours truly witnessed ravens attacking the fender of his parents' Grand Marquis while at a scenic stopping point in Banff National Park, pictured above. Ravens are smart, aggressive, and potentially deadly. Don't underestimate their wiles.

Update: Someday, someone is going to catalogue all these kinds of incidents. The results will be truly terrifying.

"Superman Guy rally" falls short, "rally hair" wins it

Last night the M's beat the Rangers in thirteen, after J.J. Putz blew a save Guardado-style by giving up a solo shot on a 9th-inning two-out 3-2 count to Gary Matthews. Our boys put up baserunners in every successive inning, but couldn't get a clutch hit to win it until Jose Lopez, who had struggled early, knocked a single into left center with the bases loaded. (Kudos to Emiliano Fruto for a solid Moyeresque effort to earn the win.)

As my wife and I watched, several attempts failed to charge up the players and the crowd. First it was the clapping scene from Hoosiers. Then the "Win" scene from Rocky. Then the "not in our house" scene from Rudy. Irish music prompted a "rally jig," and the dorky dancing of a hilariously dorky guy in the cheap seats led to a "Superman Guy rally." Nothin'.

But then the camera panned to these two high school girls with their hair done straight up in freaky bouffants, and the next thing you know, the Rangers walk two, Navarro lays down a sweet bunt, Johjima walks, and Lopez bashes the game winner.

Two of the three games we've gone to this season have ended with a win in extras after a ninth-inning two-out two-strike solo shot. As we walked down Royal Brougham to our distant free parking, we passed by the Rally Hair Girls. "Thanks for your rally hair," I said, and they laughed.

Sep 8, 2006

outgoing, upcoming

Today closed the first short week of school, three fantastic days, in retrospect. I...

1. Watched as an eager debate class dove into arguing the fine points of domestic surveillance, FISA, and the War on Terror. I jumped in only twice, to point out a couple directions for research and to suggest how to divide labor.

2. Enjoyed learning about the bizarre exploits and quirks of my freshfolks and juniors, who had interviewed each other about their accomplishments and "things we wouldn't ever guess about them." Two students in separate classes have appeared in TV commercials, one is champion speed skater, and several despise mustard.

3. Slumped in disbelief when the air conditioning magically turned on at 2:50, too late to dispel the day-long odor of high-octane learning. Again.

4. Mentally steeled myself for the 30th annual Spaghetti Bowl, Capital vs. Oly in a non-league matchup. (We--Capital--lead the series 18-11, I am told.)

5. Tried to forget that I have a forensics meeting tomorrow morning in Federal Way.

6. Tried to forget that the Mariners game we--the wife and I--are attending tomorrow was rendered meaningless by an 11-game road losing streak. Since I'm over 14, I can't even take home a Cloverdale Meats Lunch Box.

7. Whistled "The Theme from Rocky" in the halls.

Sep 7, 2006

delirious for Driloleirus: protecting a national earthworm treasure

I was browsing my incoming search terms, wondering why in the world everyone suddenly wanted to know about Driloleirus americanus, when it hit me: it must be in the news. Sure enough, the Seattle P-I reports that environmentalists want to declare the Giant Palouse Earthworm an endangered species, with all the attendant regulations and hoopty-hoo.
The petition was sent by certified letter on Aug. 30 to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, a former Idaho governor, said Paulson, an author of the petition who lives in Lenore, Idaho.

It's too soon to know if anyone will object to the listing, or what lands might be considered critical habitat, Paulson said. He suspected that only lands that have not been developed, which represent only a fraction of 1 percent of the Palouse prairie, would be preserved as habitat.
My favorite quote: When Paulson says, "This worm is the stuff that legends and fairy tales are made of."

That and cheesy Kevin Bacon flicks.

(If you want to learn more via Google, be sure you spell it right. Driloleirus, not driroleirus or driloreilus. Heck, just cut-and-paste.)

tacky ties for all, and all for tacky ties

As promised, here's the first tacky tie of the year. (Brush up on your tacky tie history here.)

Cross-posted at the all-new neckwear extravaganza, Mr. A's world of tacky ties.

we are all opisthobranch fans now

"If you are into betting on snail races," the article opens. What do you mean, "if?" Isn't everyone?

Heck, in Elma, where I lived for a decade, and my parents still dwell, slug races once defined the town's very existence. A forum user called Chronic Monkey writes,
Back in the day, my old stomping grounds of Elma, Washington, hosted the annual SLUG FESTIVAL! Yes, it was 3 days of fun and merriment dedicated to everyone's favorite gastropod, the noble slug, culminating in the ultimate event, the SLUG RACES! Imagine, if you will, 8 slugs barreling down the track at blistering speeds, competing against one another in a life and death struggle to win the title of the Fastest Slug in the State of Washington. Unfortunately, Elma's snootier town elders felt that a slug festival did not bestow grace and diginity upon our small community, and it was replaced with the mind-numbingly dull Blackberry Festival. That little celebration was thankfully put out of its misery after about the 5th year into it. I always dream of the day, though, that the Slug Festival returns to Elma for good!
Amen, brother/sister. The last slug race was the day the music died.

Learn all you need to know about slugs here.

Sep 6, 2006

proactive solutions

Some thoughts on the first day.

Here in the Olympia School District, we're happy and proud to work under a contract that, if not perfect, is better than it used to be. Thanks to the dedication of our collective bargaining team, we've achieved greater compensation, a more reasonable RIF process, the right to know what's added to our files, and a host of other changes.

So, it's easy for a teacher--yes, even a blogging teacher--to buckle down at the year's beginning, to zone in on lesson planning and forget about advocacy and activism until the next round of negotiations.

But that's not gonna cut it.

Think about it. Everett recently bargained for the right to have an off-campus, 40-minute lunch. Every day as I'm sitting in the break room, chowing down on a sandwich while enduring the jocular stylings of a long-time teacher, my mind--which is supposed to be off-duty--is wheeling, and I'm constantly looking at the clock as the minutes disappear. An extra ten minutes, which we get on the rare bizarro-schedule day, is a stress-reducer that makes sense.

Schools all over the country have adopted later starting times to deal with the simple fact that students are sick, physically and mentally, from a lack of sleep.

What are we missing because we haven't even imagined the possibilities? What are the changes you'd like to see bargained into the next contract? What problems can be solved? What improvements can be improved even more?

It's not going to happen without input from forward-thinking teachers who take time to put thoughts into words, and words into action.

day one: one and done

It's strange to start the day with debate. Back a couple years, the class tore up sixth period, at each other's throats as the buses rolled into line. This morning, though, class was quiet. Too, too quiet. That'll change after Day One.

Next up, the freshfolks were well-behaved, consequences of first-day jitters, a seating chart and a difficult task--digging into Roethke's "The Waking," and cracking the Villanelle Code.

Juniors began the year with Hughes' "Theme for English B." Their homework: write a theme for English--Let it come out of you, and then it will be true.

(Toward the end of class, I had them read the "assignment" in the poem, and then told them that was their task for the night. "I knew it," one declared in triumph.)

The bad: I didn't take enough time to start learning names. The A/C didn't turn on until 2:50, long after the room was inbued with the sticky smell of people. Network access in our pod went down when I was trying to finish the next day's planning. I didn't wear a tie.

There's always tomorrow.

the marathon begins

Talking to a colleague in the history department yesterday, I found out that he's teaching 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th periods, which he called "The Marathon." This year my schedule's equally breathless, starting at 1st and running straight through to 5th, with only short breaks and a half hour lunch for respite. I miss that mid-day reflection time, which provided a chance to change tactics if an early lesson bombed.

The trimester is another marathon, but for my first period debate class, it's a marathon sprint, a year's curriculum finished in thirteen weeks.

In fact, I don't have time to blog. I've got to get ready to teach.

Sep 5, 2006

Bush's speech to the MOAA: one wire service, two takes

The Times (via the AP) runs two nearly identical recaps of Bush's recent speech about the threat of terrorism. Which is the original, and which is edited? Can't be sure. The differences in the beginning, though, are telling.

Version one:
Bush quotes terrorists to warn U.S. of their intent

President Bush used terrorists' own words today to warn Americans about the threat of future attack as the fall campaign season kicks into high gear.

Bush said the terrorist danger remains potent.
Version two:
Bush reminds Americans U.S. is at war

President Bush used terrorists' own words Tuesday to battle complacency among Americans about the threat of future attack, defending his record as the fall campaign season kicks into high gear.

Bush said that despite the absence of a successor on U.S. soil to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the terrorist danger remains potent.
My hunch is that "battle complacency" was seen as biased, and "despite the absence of a successor" inept. If the latter is the edit, though, it's a remarkable change.