Nov 30, 2006

conversations elsewhere

The real blog action is going on in the neighborhood.

1. My brother links to a Darymple smackdown of Mr. Language Instinct. While I find its elitism stodgy and its analysis oversimplified, it's certainly better than Pinker's pop-evo-psycho-linguo-babbling and laissez-faire approach to language development. Hasn't Pinker read Piaget? Left untutored, cognitive and linguistic development goes only so far. I don't teach English and coach speech and debate for nothing.

2. Mark Olson asks Two Dumb Questions.

3. Peter Wall, agent provocateur, tries to shoehorn the law into a social harms paradigm.

the Nintendo Wii is no longer cool

In the midst of a conversation over coffee, chewing on a chocolate chip cookie, I nearly spat it all over the tablecloth when, unprovoked, my mother blurted out, "That Nintendo Wii is soooo much fun!"

I checked my Apocalypse Calendar as she continued, "Never mind the oogly-boogly games--Zelda and whatnot--there's bowling and baseball and tennis!"

Yes, friends: my mom has played with a Nintendo Wii, and pronounced it good. Hope you kept your receipt.

a tacky tie for finals week

I have stacks of journals to plow through, essays to mark, vocabulary tests to bleed red upon, Emerson to read, parents to see, tournament details to prepare, lessons to plan, recommendations to write, and obligations I won't make public. Carry on.

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

Capital High School debate makes the pages of The Olympian

The coach--me--ends up sounding a little doofy.
Bolstered by the new growth, Anderson said he wants to build the Capital team into a powerhouse such as traditionally strong teams from Federal Way and Gig Harbor.

"They've been good for a long time, but they weren't always that way," he said. "We will be that sort of program."

Anderson said that passion stems in part from his participation as a teenager on his own high school debate team. It's an experience that builds up skills students can use throughout their lifetimes, such as how to be articulate, think critically and have confidence when speaking publicly, he said.

"That is powerful," Anderson said.
The students, though, are just fine.
Anyone can do it.

That's how Capital High School junior Joseph San Miguel described getting involved with the school's debate team.

"It's not just for people who want to be politicians or lawyers," the 17-year-old said.

"It's really fun to be part of the growth," said Gabriella Guilfoil, 14, a freshman. "I really like learning more about the world, and it's low key. It's really comfortable and open."

"There are events that play to almost anyone's strengths," said Leanne Nicholas-Monk, 16, a junior.

"If you get good at debate, you can get good at all of your assignments," said Ian Nordstrom, 16, a junior. "You can do all of your homework twice as fast."

David Goldstein takes on the WASL

While we're on a WASL kick, here are Goldy's unfiltered thoughts on Washington's high-stakes test:
The point is, the one thing these standardized tests are truly capable of evaluating is the ability of the student to take these standardized tests. They do not necessarily test the student’s grasp on the material, and they do not necessarily predict the student’s future performance in college or the real world. Hell… look at me: according to the SATs I’m a fucking genius, yet here I am blogging for free while my thermostat’s set to 58 and I’m struggling to pay my mortgage. How smart is that?

So when I read all these editorials and columns lamenting our student’s poor performance on the WASL, it absolutely infuriates me that nobody ever questions the performance of the WASL. I mean, did it ever occur to anybody that when it comes to measuring the ability of a typical high school student to grasp and apply a body of knowledge, that perhaps the WASL sucks? Is it so outside the realm of possibility to even consider the notion that the very same educators who are constantly being accused of failing to teach our children might also have devised a crappy means of measuring a student’s progress?
Actually, David, you're not alone--there are a lot of people who question the WASL. They're just not named Bergeson or Gregoire, and they're too busy teaching to the test as though their jobs depended on it. Soon they will.

Nov 29, 2006

teacher, may I be excused from the WASL?

I have to barf.
Some errors apparently were accidental, such as useful posters hanging in classrooms, providing the wrong kind of pencils and teachers who misread test directions or had students start the wrong sections at the wrong time.

Irregularities also included fire alarms, nosebleeds and other illnesses. A booklet from Eatonville was returned to the testing company in a plastic bag because a student had vomited on it.
I've always thought proctoring the WASL is as dull as watching public television. Maybe not.

Some tests were invalidated due to teacher idiocy and student mischief:
An Everett teacher gave students definitions of acute and obtuse angles and how many meters are in a kilometer.

"This departure from test protocol destroys the validity of these four test items and significantly impacts the credibility of the score results for these students," Paul Dugger, the state assessment coordinator, wrote in a report. OSPI invalidated the tests. A complaint against the teacher is still being investigated....

A Lakewood High School 10th grader got in trouble for using his cell phone during the test to send a text message after finishing his exam and turning it in. Another student had his test recommended for invalidation because he received a text message.
800 pages of issues, in sum. Makes you wonder how many anomalies go unreported when the pressure's on.

Adam Morrison and J. J. Redick Watch: Day 29

Morrison scored only 6, and the 'Cats lost by 9 to the Hawks, thanks to poor shooting all around. Morrison's non-defense didn't exactly help.
"There was nothing I could really do except try to make him miss, and that didn't work," Morrison said. "That's why he's an All-Star caliber player. He showed tonight he's definitely a star in this league, a superstar."
And that's why Morrison's not--yet. Potential. Kid's got potential. Gotta admit it.

(Redick update to follow at the conclusion of tonight's contest.)

Redick sat, and the Magic won again, this time over our hapless Sonics. (Those fond of the post hoc fallacy will see the connection.)

Update: According to the Orlando Sentinel,
Rookie SG J.J. Redick, who did not dress for Monday night's game against the Jazz in Salt Lake City, was activated Wednesday night against the SuperSonics. Second-year PG Travis Diener was deactivated. Coach Brian Hill said he likely will keep alternating between Redick and Diener until F Pat Garrity fully recovers from a strained right knee and is activated.
Meanwhile, in Main Street Newspapers:
It has been brutally tough and humbling for a cocksure kid who needs a trophy room to house the player-of-the-year awards he earned last season.

“It’s a new experience,” Redick said, in a grand understatement. “It’s definitely different. Any other season . . . .I’m out there.”

He had to heal from a herniated disc and plantar fascia before training camp, and the delay caused him to play catch-up. He played in two preseason games, scoring just zero points --- unfathomable for the ACC’s all-time leading scorer.

“We talked,” Magic Coach Brian Hill said. “I know the frustration J.J.’s going through coming off everything he accomplished in college.

“It’s going to be frustrating.”
I smell trade bait.

put a pitchfork in it

Slate deconstructs Pitchfork Media, the site that's trying its darndest to redefine music criticism. I don't hate 'em. A .4 rating for Weezer is worthy of admiration.

carnival ideas for your consideration

I'm thinking of starting a new carnival (I tried once before, and eventually failed, but never let failure deter you from future failure). I have three ideas.

1. A "carnival of questions."

Many searches that lead to my blog are questions that are perhaps unanswerable. For the first "carnival of questions," bloggers would submit their answers to those questions. The next host would collect her own list, and bloggers would submit new answers, ad infinitum.

2. A "carnival of search terms."

If you're a long-time reader, you know where this is going. Carnival participants would send in the post titled with an interesting (or even outrageous) search term that led to their blog, forging a creative, perhaps unexpected explanation or connection.

3. A "carnival of blog titles."

It wouldn't have to be a one-shot deal. Each week would have a theme: best animal-related title, best title from a work of fiction, cleverest pun, etc.

Your thoughts? Any one strike you as worthwhile, and, if so, would you participate, and encourage others to join the fun?

another snow day for CHS

Three late starts in a row. This time, though, the schedule's even more messed up. We were to have 45-minute classes, periods 1-5, and then a 110-minute 6th period final starting at 12:45. With a two hour delay, we'll have 28 minute periods (I'm guessing), with five minutes passing. It's going to be a great day.

I don't want to start next week with finals Monday, and a new trimester Tuesday. It'd better not snow tonight.

Update: Oh yeah, I forgot about lunch. Two, actually. We have 22-minute periods up 'til the final. Most excellent.

Nov 28, 2006

for WEA eyes only

Mr. Rain reads WE Magazine so you don't have to.

a WASL alternative to Gregoire's alternative

Gregoire says to the legislature, postpone the WASL requirement for three years. The state's Board of Education says, sure, but only if you adopt specific recommendations:
The math action plan calls for a clarification and revision of state math standards, a revision of the math WASL if necessary to properly test for these standards, a limited menu of math curriculum choices for school districts and improvements in teacher training and recruitment.
A "limited menu of math curriculum choices?" Ack! Next stop, France.

how to make a good first impression

Would you wear this tie to an interview?

I would.

(Note: the shirt doesn't trip out like that, actual size. The tie does, though.)

Cross-posted at that hacienda of hubris, Mr. A's world of tacky ties.

NewScientist at 50: Paul Broks on consciousness

Broks gives a whirlwind tour of the last fifty years of neurological research,
a Copernican revolution of the self; a historical shift from the age of solipsism, when we were all at the centre of the universe - self-loving, self-loathing, self-absorbed - to an era of self-dispersion when ego is deemed constrictive. I saw the science of selfhood figure increasingly in the great social and moral debates of the century, from age-old wrangles about euthanasia and free will to disputes over brain enhancement, cyberethics, and the fusion, fission and transposition of minds.
In his most interesting moments, Broks, much like Dr. Oliver Sacks, shows how the brain can break down to reveal its essences.
The neurological diseases that were then still prevalent tended to carve human nature at its joints in such ways, and one occasionally saw what appeared to be clear dissociations of the two "selves". I remember an epileptic patient telling me of her intermittent loss of identity, a condition known as transient epileptic amnesia. Her surroundings would suddenly feel unfamiliar, and then she would begin to feel unfamiliar to herself. Soon she had no idea who she was, where she was or what she was doing. She was stripped to the minimal self: a floating point of subjective awareness untethered by identity.

In other, rare, cases I saw the opposite: the minimal self dissolving, leaving only the story of the extended self. One patient had a strong sense of identity and autobiography but believed that she had ceased to exist. "Am I dead?" she asked. This condition, Cotard's syndrome, was due to a neurological decoupling of feelings and thoughts. Thinking that one exists was not enough: the notion had also to be felt - "I feel I think, therefore I am."
This "dissolution" of the self, in society, in life, in medicine, where does it leave us? Says Brok, "And in the end? A liberating truth. There are no souls, only stories."

Adam Morrison and J. J. Redick Watch: Day 28

Re: Redick: not much to watch. Yesterday Redick didn't appear in the Magic's most recent victory over the Jazz, the start of a six-game road trip.

Tonight Morrison and the 'Cats face the weary Nets, who are looking for a face-saving win against a 3-10 squad. I predict Morrison, the league's leading rookie scorer, ends up with 10, just 'cause.

Update: Morrison exceeded my expectations, beating his average and helping the Bobcats take it to the reeling Nets.

Nov 27, 2006

Seahawks don't choke on national stage, beat Pack

Nice to see Hasselbeck back, and Alexander back to form. These Hawks showed glimpses of former glory in their comeback victory over Green Bay, making defensive stops, slugging it out on the ground, and scoring through the air. Even Jerramy Stevens nabbed a TD (after dropping several passes, to loud boos).

Brett Favre, bless his soul, played afire (and with fire, throwing a couple killer picks late), even until the last crazy down. Retire already and go to the hall, Mr. Favre.

I don't smell Super Bowl, but I also don't smell the mold of mediocrity. We're at least playoff bound, if everyone stays healthy.

(Don't bet on sports.)

NewScientist at 50: Vlatko Vedral on free will

Face it: we all want to predict the future, and science, with its formulas, emphasis on repeatability, and rigor, offers us our best shot at prognosticating, whether it's the market, the weather, or the next horse race. (Your lacking love life will stay that way, science or no.)

When it comes to predicting human behavior, though, we stumble on severe epistemic roadblocks. Enter Vlatko Vedral, posing a physicist's counterpoint to Patricia Churchland's neurophilosophical musings. Are we free? Vedral concludes[sub req]:
To have the kind of free will we would like involves walking a fine line between determinism and randomness. We must be able to freely make our actions, but they should then result in deterministic (that is, non-random) effects. For example, we may want to be free to send our kids to a school of our choice. But then we also want to believe that the laws of physics (and biology, sociology and so on) ensure that going to a good school is highly likely to lead to a better life. Having free will is pointless without a certain degree of determinism.

The same can be said about studying physics. I want to believe that the choice regarding which aspect of nature I want to study - whether I want to measure the position or velocity of a particle, for example - lies with me. But what I also want is some degree of deterministic behaviour in nature that would then permit me to infer laws of physics from any measurement that I choose to make. In fact, the only means we have for deducing the basic equations of quantum mechanics means that they are fully deterministic, just like those of Newtonian mechanics.

There is nothing mysterious or controversial about this, but look what happens when we apply this to ourselves. If we are all made up of atoms, and if atoms behave deterministically, then we too must be fully determined. We simply must share the same fate as the rest of the universe. When we look inside our brains, all we find are interconnected neurons, whose behaviour in turn is governed by their underlying molecular structure, which in turn is fully governed by the strict laws of quantum mechanics. Taking the argument to extremes, the laws of quantum mechanics ultimately determine how I deduce the laws of quantum mechanics, which appears to be a fully circular argument and therefore logically difficult to sustain....

The most honest position for a scientist on the question of free will is definitely agnostic: I simply do not know. What I do know is that when I was asked to write about free will as a physicist I found the idea so exciting that I had no choice but to agree to take it on.
I disagree with Vedral's psychology of choice: we don't have to be sure that our actions will bring happy results, but just confident that our chances are good.

stepping back from the abyss: a substitute for the math WASL?

This is a surprising turn for Terry Bergeson:
Gregoire and Bergeson announced today they will propose to the Legislature a temporary suspension for the classes of 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Those who don't pass the math section of the WASL would have to take rigorous math classes and take the WASL annually.

I have achieved success as a teacher-blogger

Say no more:
Reading some of your entries has made me shudder to think you are "moulding" young minds. Lets hope it snows and you get to stay home more!

CHS late start, November 27

When it's like this outside my classroom...

... we have a two hour late start, D schedule.

(Tomorrow, if we get the predicted freezing rain, we may just stay home.)

Nov 26, 2006

a sportswriter's thesaurus: "shock" and "stun"

Shock. Stun.

In the world of sport, both are clichés, perhaps because commentators and pundits and analysts are so assured of their rightness, or the rightness of power rankings, polls, win-loss records.

We all know it's not so simple. (Don't bet on sports.) But our knowledge is buried under heaps of hype. It's far easier to stem the symptoms than to cure the disease.

So, sportswriters, here are several verbs you should employ instead of "shock" or "stun" or their variants, with explanations, connotations, and sample headlines.

"To overwhelm with surprise or sudden wonder; astonish greatly."
Not just astonishment, but a sense of near-gratitude for one's role in the stomping, whether victim or spectator.
Trojans Amaze Irish, Raise BCS Prospects

The word probably derives from the Latin attonāre, to strike with lightning. Perfect for the subtle punster. (See also astound.)
Tampa Bay Lightning Astonish Sharks

Etymologically, it implies weariness--not just being stunned mentally, but beaten down physically. Think of a boxer counting sparrows on the mat.
Knicks Daze Everyone, Win

To make speechless. If you can dumbfound any personality in sports, an industry that thrives on words, words, words, you've done something truly special.
Titans Dumbfound Giants

Of unknown origin, the word, three syllables of confusion, is a treat for the eye and ear. Flah-bur-gahst. Yum. Combine with monosyllables for effect. (Why is "monosyllabic" polysyllabic?)
Pats Flabbergast Bears

Going back to the world of boxing for a moment, let's recall our heavyweight pugilist, examining puddles of perspiration close-up.
Cubs Floor Cards

Uncertain origin, but works well with football, for obvious reasons.
Colts Flummox Eagles


As Jesus once said, "You are Petra (Greek for 'rock'), and on this rock I will build my offense." Peter went on to lead the league in touchdowns and yards per carry.
Seahawks Petrify Rams

Underused, underappreciated, and it's a pity.
Spurs Stupefy Sonics, Sonics Stupefy Fans

Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick Watch: Day 26

Big day for J.J.: his first NBA action. Redick scored 2 points in Orlando's victory, more than Charley Rosen ever did. The Roanoke Times reports,
Redick’s debut came in the 14th game of the Magic’s season. Redick, who has been frustrated by his lack of playing time, played the final 3:27 of Saturday’s game.

“It was definitely good to get on the court and play a little bit. I guess officially I’m an NBA player now,” Redick said with a smile after the game. “At this point in time, I’ll take whatever I can get. I’ll just keep working hard and hopefully I’ll play meaningful minutes at some point in time.”

With Orlando (10-4) up by 22 points with 11:18 to go, the crowd chanted, “We want J.J.”

The crowd stood and roared when Redick finally entered the game with Orlando up 92-72.

Redick took his first shot with 2:20 to go and buried the 22-foot jumper for his first NBA basket. He later missed a 3-pointer.
Big day for Adam, too, in the Bobcats' loss to the Heat: he put up 27 (10 in junk time), saying, "I know I can play in this league. I know I can succeed in this league if I do it the right way. Once the shots start falling, I'll feel a lot more comfortable offensively. But I know I belong out there."

Charley Rosen was unavailable for comment.

Nov 25, 2006

on our way home

This is what we're leaving:

This is what we're potentially coming back to:


Update: We made it home, beating the snow by just a few hours. Yikes.

NewScientist at 50: Patricia Churchland on free will

NewScientist often features humorous little pieces on "nominative determinism," the idea that your name can control your destiny.

It's not quite perfect. Consider Patricia Churchland, a neurophilosopher who isn't exactly friendly to a theistic worldview, since she espouses "eliminative materialism," the idea that the mind is matter, and that's all that matters.

In her contribution to NewScientist's 50th anniversary special, she explains how this affects traditional notions of free will. She begins by asking us to consider a tumor that turns an otherwise normal man into a pedophile: not just a hypothetical, but as reported in a 2003 article from the Archives of Neurology.
A middle-aged Virginian man with no history of any misdemeanour began to stash child pornography and sexually molest his 8-year-old stepdaughter. Placed in the court system, his sexual behaviour became increasingly compulsive. Eventually, after repeatedly complaining of headaches and vertigo, he was sent for a brain scan. It showed a large but benign tumour in the frontal area of his brain, invading the septum and hypothalmus - regions known to regulate sexual behaviour.

After removal of the tumour, his sexual interests returned to normal. Months later, his sexual focus on young girls rekindled, and a new scan revealed that bits of tissue missed in the surgery had grown into a sizeable tumour. Surgery once again restored his behavioural profile to "normal".
Churchland uses this extreme case to test the limits of the libertarian conception of uncaused free will, which she ultimately dismisses, writing,
...choices are made by brains, and brains operate causally; that is, they go from one state to the next as a function of antecedent conditions. Moreover, though brains make decisions, there is no discrete brain structure or neural network which qualifies as "the will" let alone a neural structure operating in a causal vacuum. The unavoidable conclusion is that a philosophy dedicated to uncaused choice is as unrealistic as a philosophy dedicated to a flat Earth.
Instead, Churchland advocates a framework of moral responsibility based on "self-control."
Unlike free will, self-control is a concept that we can usefully apply to other animals.... Through reinforcement, my dog has learned to lie quietly when the local squirrel taps the screen door for peanuts; a hungry chimpanzee will reach for a banana only if he knows the alpha male cannot see it, but will suppress the desire otherwise. Ulysses famously bound himself to the mast of his ship to avoid seduction by the sirens...

Self-control also allows us to make sense of difficult cases where free will is unhelpful....

...[E]ventually we will understand, at least in general terms, the neurobiological profile of a brain that has normal levels of control, and how it differs from a brain that has compromised control.
In other words, retributive justice can operate without a traditional view of totally free choice. We use the apparatus of the state to limit those who can't limit themselves. (Hobbes would proud.)

Lastly, Churchland answers those who criticize reductionism from aesthetic grounds.
In essence, the self is a construction of the brain; a real, but brain-dependent organisational network for monitoring body states, setting priorities and, within the brain itself, creating the separation between inner world and outer world....

Is one cheapened by this neuroscientific knowledge? I think not. Self-esteem and self-worth are wholly compatible with realising that brains make us what we are.... [T]he beauty, intricacy and sophistication of the neurobiological machine that makes me "me" is vastly more fascinating and infinitely more awesome than the philosophical conception of the brain-free soul that somehow, despite the laws of physics, exercises its free will in a causal vacuum. Each of us is a work of art, sculpted first by evolution, and second by experience in the world. With experience and reflection one's social perception matures, and so also does the level of autonomy. Aristotle called it wisdom.

Olympia School District faces cuts--again

On the heels of increased spending, the district finds itself facing a potential shortage:
Under a 2006-07 budget totaling about $74 million, the Olympia School Board approved about $1 million in new spending. The budget set aside money for a new math curriculum, a high school counselor, several special education services and more. And that new spending made sense because the money went toward high-priority needs and because the district's reserve fund remained at a healthy 6.2 percent despite the additional costs, Lahmann and other district officials have said.

But if the school board doesn't make reductions in the 2007-08 budget, the district is expected to spend about $2 million beyond the revenue it takes in that school year, cutting the reserve fund in half. And the following year, projected spending would exceed revenues by another $3 million, leaving the district with a $531,000 deficit.

Staff raises, increases in health insurance and fuel costs, and more are expected to cause a revenue shortfall in years ahead, particularly as the district tries to purchase new curricula across the K-12 system, which can cost up to $1 million per subject.

"We're in a terrible position," Olympia School Board President Russ Lehman said. "We just have terrible choices, and this is all coming at a time when the requirements of education reform in Washington state are now being implemented in earnest. ... It's just terrible timing."
It is unfortunate--but then, this board voted against joining the funding lawsuit, which at least would have pressured the state to ease the situation. Lehman would have set aside $5,000 for the task--a small amount, but enough.

Note to the board: it's not too late.

J.J. Redick Watch: Day 25

LZ Granderson asks, Where have you gone, J.J.?
Six months ago he was the center of the college basketball universe – breaking records, winning awards as Duke University's sharpshooter. But now the 22-year-old is muddled in the kind of obscurity that's usually reserved for people like William Hung and Nancy McKeon. The 11th overall pick in the June NBA draft is on the inactive list with the Orlando Magic. Although he's now healthy after missing the summer and preseason with a back injury, he's behind nine other perimeter players in the rotation.


A Web site supposedly dedicated to him ( hasn't been updated since he was drafted. Not even June's DWI charge was able to keep Redick's ink flowing by summer's end. It's interesting how the Wooden and AP Player of the Year can fall out of our consciousness so quickly. But what I found even more interesting is that he says he doesn't even really miss it.
Blame fickle fate (or, in Redick's estimation, fickle Providence), and even fickler fans. But where Redicks' fans have failed, this blog has stepped up, offering continuous updates on the Redick situation. He probably won't play until he's traded--or, heaven forfend, makes the team due to another's injury. Nevertheless, I'll keep track of his prospects, if for no other reason than to spite Charley Rosen.

Nov 24, 2006

Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick Watch: Day 24

Morrison posted 13 on 5-10 shooting in the Bobcats' loss to Detroit. Average: hovering around 15 per game, first among rookies (first in minutes, too). Not bad for a girly man.

Redick sat again. Maybe he'll see action in a blowout win--or loss.

Oregon's standards: up to standard?

While we're debating Washington Learns' recommendations here in the Evergreen State, our Beaver State friends have similar issues on the table.
With the state Department of Education swamped with more than 100 e-mails a day on the topic, the Board of Education announced this week that it would push back the final vote on the proposal until mid-January.

The state has beefed up the number of credits students need to graduate. Legislators boosted the English and math credits to four and three, respectively, in 2005.

Chairman Jerry Berger said the board seems to be leaning toward requiring students to take higher-level math classes rather than letting pre-algebra courses count toward a diploma.

The new proposal also would boost the science requirement from two credits to three, including two years of laboratory science.
Good in some ways--all students deserve a challenging education--but I fear for electives and vocational programs, which are already at risk because of increased emphasis on standardized testing. I'm not yet convinced that all students need advanced study in science and math, as interesting as those subjects are to me, and as economically useful as a degree in either can be. Aren't there better incentives, college- or market-wise, that would draw in more students to Science and Its Language? Or is there a good argument to be made that all students should take Calculus and Physics?

when you're stuck in a ditch in British Columbia

1. You will stop and wonder, how did I get here? And then you will remember: you thought you could make it. It was just slush and big, wet flakes, and you drove slowly but steadily, despite the darkening sky and the strengthening snowfall. It was just ten more miles to Whistler. Soon it was just two more miles.

At 1.2 miles, the road slipped out from under your wheels. You turned to your wife and nonchalantly announced, "Officially, we're coasting now." You tried to gear down and steer in the direction of the skid, but that just meant crashing into the ditch across the road.

That's how you got here.

2. People will stop, even when you wave them on, since you already have a tow truck coming and if they stop on this incline they might not start again. (They can't feel the skating rink ice under the slush, the ice that sent you gently careening into a ditch.) People will stop and ask, "Everything okay?" Thumbs up and they'll be gone.

3. The RCMP officer and the tow truck driver will both ask you how you are doing. You will laugh as a reflex.

4. You will part with $87 (Canadian), a burst of adrenaline, a photo of the wreck (and the accompanying snow angel), and a story-worthy memory. You will blog about it when you get the time.

Update: And your brother will suffer a similar fate. On the same day.

Nov 23, 2006

whistler in the dark

Now that the world is falling apart, I'm fleeing to Canada. For the weekend, at least. Regular blogging resumes Monday.

a world gone mad

Accidents happen. No nonagenarian is safe.

That's it. I'm fleeing to Canada.

For the weekend.

Regular blogging resumes Monday. Sporadic blogging, from Whistler, BC, as conditions permit. Ciao.

Update: We arrived, safe if not sound. We left Olympia at 10:40 and got to Whistler at 7:00--at least two hours later than we expected. The details are amusing in retrospect, and the photo will be a bit of a shocker. It's after midnight, though, so I'll to bed.

Adam Morrison Watch and J.J. Redick Watch: Day 23

A happy Thanksgiving to you, and to Morrison, who scored 26 points on 8-17 shooting to lead the Bobcats past the Boston Anemics.
"There is going to be a transition point that people don't understand," Morrison said. "My shooting percentage is not where I want it right now, but I'm taking good shots. I'm happy that the coaching staff and the players have stuck with me."
Meanwhile, Morrison's alma mater continued unabated in his absence, defeating North Carolina in the NIT semifinal. (The victory is described as stunning, only because Gonzaga, as always, is underrated.)

(J.J. Redick was active, but still has yet to make his debut. Orlando's doin' okay without him.)

Nov 22, 2006

plagiarism detected, apology made

Over at the Teacher/Ref/Poet's quarters.

the taste of a word

How does your writing taste?
Julia Simner at the University of Edinburgh and her colleague, Jamie Ward, at University College London, both in the UK, showed 96 pictures of obscure items such as a gazebo, a geisha or a metronome to six subjects with lexical-gustatory synaesthesia.

In all but one subject they managed to induce a "tip of the tongue" condition, where the person recognised the object but could not remember what it was called, what letter its name started with or how many syllables the elusive word had. The researchers found that these individuals could still identify what taste the item elicited. One woman, for instance, unable to come up with the word "gramophone", reported tasting Dutch chocolate, precisely the flavour that the word is associated with for her.

This shows that it is the meaning of the word – not the sound or spelling – that elicits the taste sensation in these people, Simner says. She suspects the associations begin in childhood.
It's obviously different for different people, and in different contexts--as the evidence presented earlier in the article attests.
Synaesthetes tend to experience the same taste for words with similar sounds. In one subject, for instance, not only does the word "mince" call up a mince flavour, but "prince" and "cinema" do too. This suggests that the taste is somehow tied to the sound or the spelling of the word.
The fact is, the meaning of a word, the image of the word, the sound of the word, all are tied up together, sometimes literally (think of a Batman bubble that says "CRASH" or "ZORT"). Teasing apart "which is which" is probably futile--and maybe even unnecessary. Language just isn't one or the other or the other.

the 48th meeting of the Skeptics' Circle: last will and testament

[Pressed for time? Just the links here.]

I am old and tired, my son. I feel the creeping chill of death in these creaking bones. I smell the heather of heavenly meadows and hear the distant strains of Gabriel's flugelhorn. Listen as I croak out my last will and testament. Lean in close. No, not that close. Your breath stinks.

Are you writing this down? No, I don't have a pencil--do I look like a pencil store? You always were the slow one.

Ready? I, being of sound mind and body, do hereby bequeath my worldly goods to my fellow skeptics.

brain scanI leave my brain to PZ Myers, so that he may prove once and for all that the holes appearing in my various CAT scans were the result of fifty years of arguing with creationists, and not a side effect of glossolalia.

To Matt, I will all my tinfoil. There should be a couple rolls in the right-hand drawer next to the oven. He might find them useful for keeping food fresh, or maybe as a fashion accessory.

Clark Bartram gets my head lice. Even in these thinning strands of gray, I've got a thriving population. Say hi when you see him. He'll know how to deal with the lice--nothing involving homeopathy, I'm sure. What do you mean he won't catch them from me? Didn't I tell you to lean in close?

To Zeno I bequeath my collection of Dembski's Greatest Contributions to Information Theory. I've buried them in the back yard. He'll have a heck of a time finding them with his dowsing rod, 'cause Dembski's proofs don't hold any water. Get it? Water? Yeah, you're still the slow one.

Shalini... Shalini... make sure you call Shalini and tell her that I had a Near Death Experience just a couple hours ago--oh, and I did see Deepak Chopra. He and Jesus were tussling over a bag of Fritos. Figures.

Phil Plait can have my Angel Trap. Sure, it looks like a bug zapper, but it's because angels are known to slip through mosquito netting and aren't put off by citronella candles. Have you ever spent a Saturday morning sweeping angel carcasses off your front porch? I have. Phil took pictures.

To Mark Nutter I leave my ham radio. If you're going to contact God in an experiment to see if He exists, you have to make sure you're talking on the right frequency--777 mHz, if I remember right.

To that old rapscallion John I leave a calculator with gigantic buttons, perfect for shaky hands, which he should use to pummel the nearest creationist mathematician who spews blather outside his field of expertise.

Bob Carroll, that even-handed reviewer of Richard Dawkins' latest, can have my denim pants with the mollusks on the back pockets. They're my shellfish jeans. Get it? Laugh a little with your dying father, would you?

I don't have anything for Mike. Tell him to take a cold shower or something. Anyhow, despite what he claims, sexually induced calm probably is contagious. Just ask Mom. All I'd have to say is "Hey honey," and she'd fall into a coma.

To guest-blogger GSB and Carl Feagans, I bequeath duck repellent. Seems they have to take on more than their fair share of quacks--really sick, twisted, fallacy-spouting quacks who hurt people with their "chelation therapy" and their "natural cures."

Same goes to Orac, who seems a little bit despondent about the future of American medicine. Tell him to cheer up--when homeopathy is finally proven true, alternative medicine will be vindicated. Also, he can have the Brooklyn Bridge.

Martin Rundkvist and Rebecca Watson can have my leftover air miles. Martin hasn't had enough of Chinese superstition, I'm sure. Rebecca needs to go and check out that QiGong master, and witness his amazing table trickery firsthand. (I used to pull that stunt to impress the ladies. It's how I met your mother.)

To EoR I devote my entire Mr. Ed library. Did he show that Equine Breathing nonsense? Knowing you, you probably thought he was serious. No wonder your breath smells like rotten oats.

Sandy Szwarc can have whatever meat's left in the freezer, since, until science shows otherwise, it's as healthy as it is tasty. Hell, I ate steak twice a month, and, aside from fathering a dullard of a son, I've lived a good life.

To Bronze Dog I bequeath my last bottle of cologne. Obsession--even obsession with right reason--will never smell as sweet as Preferred Stock.

Last, to you, my genetic detritus, I will my razor-sharp logic and critical thinking skills--God knows you need them. You can lean back, halitosis boy. My croaking is done. Now I can die in peace.

This Skeptics' Circle couldn't have come together without the gracious contributions of all the bloggers involved. Thanks to all who linked, emailed, and passed the word along. Any errors or omissions are my own.

Next time: December 7, hosted by Autism Street. See you there.

[My previous entry: #17, Ask a Random Skeptic]

48th Skeptics' Circle: just the links

[Want the gussied up version? Click here.]

PZ Myers, Witch doctors in America.
Matt, The Paranoia is Strong With Him...
Clark Bartram, Head Lice, Homeopathy, and a Bunch of Hot Air...
Zeno, Science Envy and Water Witching for Fun and Profit
Shalini, The Moronic Rants of Deepak Chopra
Phil Plait, Where Skeptics Don't Fear to Tread
Mark Nutter, MikeGene undertakes “A Scientific Demonstration of the Non-existence of God”
John, Appalled over Evolution
Bob Carroll, Book Review: The God Delusion
Mike, Men Get a Hard-On, Women Get a Wide-On: It's All For World Peace
GSB, Autism, a Killer App., and a Drug of Choice
Carl Feagans, Review: Kevin Trudeau's Natural Cures, Part 2
Orac, Woo: The Future of American Medicine? and CAM infiltrates the mandatory medical school curriculum
Martin Rundkvist, Chinese Superstition
Rebecca Watson, Everything happens for a reason.
EoR, Equine (less) Breathing
Sandy Szwarc, Have your steak and enjoy it too!
Bronze Dog, Doggerel #45: "Why Are You So Obsessed?"

Nov 21, 2006

a tacky tie for Thanksgiving

After all, we should all give thanks for tacky ties.

Cross-posted at that grab-bag of gratitude, Mr. A's world of tacky ties.

blog in peace?

Thankfully, the California Supreme Court realizes that bloggers can't control ever last little act of defamation and libel that their idiot commentators spew forth. (Due to its obscurity and the intellectual caliber of its small readership, this blog escapes most of that nonsense.)

But hold up, say some commentators. The ruling also overly protects the libelous.
The actual author can just hide behind a wall of anonymity, and the forum admin or site operator can no longer be compelled to pierce that wall by a threat of being held responsible for the content themselves. It would be common sense if refusal to disclose the author's identity was construed as taking responsibility for libelous content, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
Where do we stand, then? Wait for the next litigal outbreak.

last call for the 48th Skeptics' Circle

5:00 p.m. PST, the gates close. It's not too late. Send your entries via ether-mail to

decorabilia AT hotmail DOT com


Use this telepathically enhanced portal.

Nov 20, 2006

NewScientist at 50: Robert Hazen defines life

What is life? Short answer: "Life is a self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution," as Gerald Joyce puts it. For the long answer, we turn to Robert Hazen [sub. req.]
Any attempt to formulate an absolute definition that distinguishes between life and non-life represents a similar false dichotomy. The first cell did not just appear, fully formed. Rather, life must have arisen through a sequence of emergent events - diverse processes of organic synthesis followed by molecular selection, concentration, encapsulation and organisation into various molecular structures. The emergence of self-replicating molecules of increasing complexity and mutability led to molecular evolution through the process of natural selection, driven by competition for limited raw materials.

What today appears as a yawning divide between non-life and life obscures the fact that the chemical evolution of life occurred in this stepwise sequence of successively more complex stages. When cells emerged, they quickly consumed virtually all traces of the earlier stages of chemical evolution. "Protolife", a rich source of food, was wiped clean by voracious cellular life.

Our challenge, then, rather than to define life in absolute terms, is to establish a progressive hierarchy of steps leading from a prebiotic Earth enriched in organic molecules to cellular life. The nature and sequence of these steps may vary in different environments, and we may never know the exact sequence - or sequences - that occurred on Earth. Yet many of us suspect that the chemical path has a similar, inexorable direction on any habitable planet or moon.
I appreciate Hazen's distinction between top-down and bottom-up attempts to work out a definition, and agree that our current conception of life is too advanced for us to likely ever know what came before.

Elsewhere (subscribe already!) Hazen notes that the short definition is pragmatic and defensible, since it would exclude "artificial" (read: digital or virtual) lifeforms. However, here's where blurs begin again. What happens when computers, a la The Terminator, take control of material resources and begin replicating? It's only a matter of time.

Adam Morrison Watch: Day 20

Special update: Gonzaga in the post-Morrison era.

The Zags have started off 4-0, led by feisty Derek Raivio, who, if no fashion god, at least knows when to get a haircut. Up next, the Bulldogs face North Carolina in the NIT Season Tipoff Semifinals.

Meanwhile, Dallas rolls into Charlotte on a win streak, and 4-0 lifetime against the Bobcats. Look for Morrison to bust out and score 30+ in a shocking victory.

Update: If you're going to be wrong, be wrong in a big way. Morrison's cold hand pretty much singlehandedly lost this one. (Don't bet on sports.)

God gives a buckeye

How else to explain the winning numbers in the Ohio Lottery's Pick 4, the night of OSU's historic defeat of Michigan? God cares deeply about sports, and even more deeply about gambling.
Scientists who study life desire an unambiguous definition, and they adopt two complementary approaches in their efforts to distinguish that which is alive from that which is not. Many apply the "top-down" approach. They scrutinise all manner of living and fossil organisms to identify characteristics of the most primitive entities that are, or were, alive. This strategy is limited, however, because all known life forms, whether living or fossil, are based on sophisticated cells containing DNA and proteins. Any definition of life based on top-down research is correspondingly myopic.

By contrast, a small army of investigators pursues the so-called "bottom-up" approach. They devise laboratory experiments to mimic the chemistry of Earth's ancient environments. Eventually, the bottom-up goal is to create a living chemical system in the laboratory from scratch - an effort that might clarify the transition from non-life to life. Such research leads to an amusing range of opinions regarding what is alive, because each scientist tends to define life in terms of his or her own chosen speciality - cell membranes, metabolic cycles, RNA, viruses and even silicon-based artificial intelligence all have their passionate proponents.
“Eventually, the bottom-up goal is to create a living chemical system in the laboratory from scratch”

Into this mix, philosophers and theologians inject a more abstract view and speculate on the full range of phenomena that might be said to be alive - robotic life, computer life, even a self-aware internet. Such debates can at times sound like a science fiction convention, but defining life is no idle exercise. After all, if NASA is to look for life on other worlds, a clear definition is essential for planning future missions.

Scientists excel at many things, but compromise is not always one of them. Nevertheless, Gerald Joyce of The Scripps Research Institute, serving on a NASA exobiology panel, has tried to achieve this. He proposed one of the descriptions in Lahav's list as a "working definition" for life in the context of space exploration: "Life is a self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution."

This succinct and widely cited metric combines three distinct characteristics. First, any form of life must be a chemical system. Accordingly, computer programs, robots or other electronic entities are not alive. Life also grows and sustains itself by gathering energy and atoms from its surroundings - the essence of metabolism. Finally, living entities must display variation. Natural selection of more fit individuals inevitably leads to evolution and the emergence of more complex entities. This NASA-inspired definition is probably as general, useful and concise as any we are likely to come up with - at least until we discover more about what is actually out there.

bully puppet

"Puppets help to prevent bullies," reads the headline.
Jasmine Thomas and Kellen O'Reilly, both 8, said they would recommend the puppet show to other third-graders.

"It was pretty funny with the dog," Kellen said.

"This teaches kids a nice lesson about bullying," Jasmine said.

Both students said they learned something new about preventing bullying at their school.

"We can learn how to take care of bullying," Kellen said.

"If someone gets bullied, we should help," Jasmine said.
Not if that kid carries a puppet.

Nov 19, 2006

"merit pay" is hot, hot, hot

When Washington Learns released its report, it became obvious to me that its merit pay proposal would start topping agendas.

Evidence: the Sunday Times' editorial, which calls for a more stable funding structure for education (hear, hear) to support all-day kindergarten, higher education enrollment, professional development, improved high school curricula, and, you guessed it: merit pay.

Question is, when will the WEA address it?

tacky tie science project

This experiment will attempt to demonstrate "aesthetic desensitization."

Survey materials, pens or pencils, a room with a projector screen, a mannequin attired in black pants and a white long-sleeve shirt, a digital camera, a computer with PowerPoint and Excel (or other comparable software), a digital projector, fifteen tacky ties.

Specifically, a tacky tie must meet the following criteria:
  1. No stains, tears, fraying, or other damage. The tie must be wearable.
  2. No "novelty" ties. The tie must have been designed with good aesthetic intentions.
  3. Preferably, the tie is polyester, but silk, cotton, and other fabrics are permitted.
Dads' closets are an excellent source, as is Goodwill and Value Village. The ties will not be damaged if the experiment is carried out according to the prescribed methods.

1. Working with at least two other people, arrange the fifteen tacky ties in order from least tacky to overwhelmingly tacky. There may be some disagreement along the spectrum, but the three must agree on groupings near the beginning and end points. The rough sequence is good enough for the purpose of the experiment.

2. Tie each tie and place it on the mannequin, photographing it with the digital camera. Record the order of the photos into an Excel spreadsheet. Incorporate the photos as slides in a PowerPoint presentation. Arrange them in a new order (1 = least tacky; 15 = overwhelmingly tacky):

10, 11, 12, 7, 5, 3, 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15

3. Set up the PowerPoint in a quiet room with a projector screen, preferably using a digital projector with a remote, so the subject can advance the slides at her own speed.

4. Before letting the subject enter the room, instruct her to, on the paper provided, rate each tacky tie from 1-10 in tackiness. (The paper should be numbered from 1-15.)

5. Let the subject view the slides without interfering or observing, so the subject is not somehow unconsciously influenced.

6. Repeat steps 4-5 with at least thirty different subjects.

7. Collate the data into an Excel spreadsheet, and run the numbers.

By starting with quite tacky ties, and viewing an entire assortment, by the end of the slide show, the subject will rate the tackiest ties as less tacky than the first group, thus demonstrating desensitization. The results will be statistically significant.

"Tackiness" is a subjective term. However, with a large enough sample, patterns should emerge.

[127th in a series]

Nov 18, 2006

Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick Watch: Day 18

Charlotte went 1-17 from outside the arc. Morrison put up ten, but went 0-7 in the second half. Result: Bobcats lost to Orlando. What can be said? Morrison, like all other shooters, is streaky. Still, in one game, he scored more points in the NBA than Charley Rosen ever did.

(Redick will suit for Monday's game against the Celtics, says ESPN.)

NewScientist at 50: Roger Penrose describes reality

In his entry, Roger Penrose argues that a Platonic world of mathematical truths coexists with the world of molecules and molehills. Penrose's argument, in short [sub. req.]:
Our mathematical models of physical reality are far from complete, but they provide us with schemes that model reality with great precision - a precision enormously exceeding that of any description that is free of mathematics. There seems every reason to believe that these already remarkable schemes will be improved upon and that even more elegant and subtle pieces of mathematics will be found to mirror reality with even greater precision. Might mathematical entities inhabit their own world, the abstract Platonic world of mathematical forms? It is an idea that many mathematicians are comfortable with. In this scheme, the truths that mathematicians seek are, in a clear sense, already "there...." To a mathematical Platonist, it is not so absurd to seek an ultimate home for physical reality within Plato's world.

This is not acceptable to everyone. Many philosophers, and others, would argue that mathematics consists merely of idealised mental concepts, and, if the world of mathematics is to be regarded as arising ultimately from our minds, then we have reached a circularity: our minds arise from the functioning of our physical brains, and the very precise physical laws that underlie that functioning are grounded in the mathematics that requires our brains for its existence. My own position is to avoid this immediate paradox by allowing the Platonic mathematical world its own timeless and locationless existence, while allowing it to be accessible to us through mental activity. My viewpoint allows for three different kinds of reality: the physical, the mental and the Platonic-mathematical, with something (as yet) profoundly mysterious in the relations between the three.
What Penrose doesn't acknowledge is that some convergences are coincidences--and that mathematics can be entirely internally consistent, yet need not map onto any external reality, or are adaptable to entirely variable realities. (The gaping holes in the middle of math brought by Gödel go completely unmentioned.)

In other words, math would be an epiphenomenon: predictable, and predictive, but not on its own level of existence--like a literary character in the pages of a novel.

As a bonus, the article offers Nick Bostrom's simulation argument. If we grant that a sufficiently advanced civilization could create a workable simulation of existence, we have every right to suspect we inhabit that simulation.

where are the good edublogs?

The WaPo wants to know.

[via Education Wonks]

NewScientist answers the big questions

Oh, don't you wish you were a subscriber.

If I have time, I'll do little capsule reviews of the various articles. It's on newsstands now.

if people are willing to pay for grades, no wonder there's inflation

After all, 'tis a free market.
Grade inflation is hard to measure, and experts caution numbers are often misleading because standards and scales vary so widely. Different practices of "weighting" GPAs for AP work also play havoc. Still, the trend seems to be showing itself in a variety of ways.

The average high school GPA increased from 2.68 to 2.94 between 1990 and 2000, according to a federal study. Almost 23 percent of college freshmen in 2005 reported their average grade in high school was an A or better, according to a national survey by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute. In 1975, the percentage was about half that.

GPAs reported by students on surveys when they take the SAT and ACT exams have also risen - and faster than their scores on those tests. That suggests their classroom grades aren't rising just because students are getting smarter.

benign brainwashing: reading obsessively to change your life

Joe Carter writes,
For the one or two people who will find this useful, the four steps that will transform your worldview are:

1. Choose a book of the Bible.
2. Read it in its entirety.
3. Repeat #2 twenty times.
4. Repeat this process for all 66 books of the Bible.
I wouldn't be surprised if absorption in any sort of motivational text would change your way of thinking, and maybe even change your life. Neuronally, when you read and re-read, you're establishing patterns of activity that will quite literally reshape connections in your brain--which, in the glorious feedback loop of behavior, will reshape your responses in the future.

So, I'm taking up Carter's challenge, and reading and re-reading (and re-reading) Emerson's "Self-Reliance" for twenty days straight. I'll report back when I'm finished.

spider monkeys make perfume from crushed leaves

In another installment of Animals Are Smarter Than You Think, researchers are mighty suspicious that black-handed spider monkey males daub themselves with homemade cologne.
Laska’s team found, in ac­cord with a past study, that the spi­der mon­keys swiped the fra­grant mix on­ly on their arm­pits and breast­bone ar­eas, and that this oc­curred in­de­pen­d­ent­ly of time of day, sea­son, tem­per­a­ture or hu­mid­i­ty. The previous study—published in 2000—also found, con­sis­tent with the new one, that males do it more often than females.

All these con­sid­er­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to the auth­ors of both stu­dies, clash with the idea that the lo­tions func­tion as bug re­pel­lents or skin med­i­ca­tions.
No word on whether the spider monkeys have perfected the art of the pick-up line.

money for grades, part II

Covered on my other blog.

Bonus: I debate the WASL... and lose!

(Part I here.)

money for grades, the root of all kinds of evil?

Parents paying for grades makes me a little uneasy. (Same with strangers paying for grades.) In a case of the right hand's ignorance of the left hand's machinations, The Times runs two articles on the same day that shed light on each other--while neither references the other.

The first covers the topic of money for grades--when it works, when it doesn't. (Even if it works, the experts seem to say the alternatives are better, so there's little to no need.)

The second describes a potential downfall to a pay-for-grades scheme: the risk that it will make students self-centered, even if they become more self-reliant.
...Vohs and her colleagues theorized that even subtle reminders of money would inspire people to be self-reliant and to expect such behavior from others.

A series of nine experiments confirmed their hypothesis.... [S]tudents who played Monopoly and were asked to envision a future with great wealth picked up fewer dropped pencils for a fellow student than those who were asked to contemplate a hand-to-mouth existence....

A poster of bills and coins prompted students to favor a solitary social activity, such as private cooking lessons, while students sitting across from posters of seascapes and gardens were more likely to opt for a group dinner.
My grandpa, who spent a fair part of dinnertime conversation railing against "plutocrats," had it about right: the mere thought of wealth turns people into conservative Republicans.

Now that's evil.

Nov 17, 2006

five days to go 'til Skeptics' Circle #48

So, send your entries directly to decorabilia AT hotmail DOT com. Or, better yet, employ this handy-dandy form.

Deadline: Tuesday, Nov. 21 at 5:00 p.m. PST.

debating the WASL

Today, a group of my 9th graders debated the merits of the WASL as a graduation requirement. Unfortunately, one member of the pro-WASL side has been sick, so I agreed to sub in, only because every other debater was busy. I'm a debate coach with more than a couple years of public speaking experience, and I blog competitively. I promised I would hold back.

I must have succeeded, because we lost.

In my rebuttals, I pointed out that testing isn't that expensive, that stress is a normal part of life, that no one took it seriously before it became a graduation requirement, that the WASL is sparking education reform, and that there are alternatives for the student who tries and fails continuously.

At the end of the debate, one of the judges said, "Gee, Mr. Anderson. You're intimidating. You almost had me agreeing with you."


Update: How about this fun standardized testing story?
According to three of the students who were there Oct. 14, the proctor and the associate test supervisor in the room let students work on some sections long after time expired and on others ahead of time. They let students make cellphone calls and eat in the room. Lacking a clock, they let students time the examination themselves with a microwave oven timer....

The Educational Testing Service... canceled the exam scores for all eight students after looking into reports of testing problems. Ray Nicosia, test security director for ETS, said the students can have letters sent to the college admissions officials to absolve them for missing any deadlines. The students also may take a special makeup test as early as tomorrow.
Oh boy! They get to take it again!

[Link via Obscure Store]

quick and easy thesis writing exercise

Your students have trouble writing a thesis, don't they? (Yes, they do.)

Let's assume they're already outlining their paper--they have a thesis (of whatever quality) and a few supporting points.

Here's a quick way to assess where they're at.

Materials: One 3x5 card per student.

Have students write their thesis on the blank side of the card, and write their three (or two or four or...) subpoints (summarized, obviously, in a sentence) on the other side.

Then, they trade cards with a neighbor, letting them look only at the subpoints. The neighbor should attempt to guess the thesis without flipping the card over, and then talk to their partner about the differences when they finally read the "real" thesis. This helps the writer...

1. Clarify the meaning of their thesis for themselves by explaining it to their partner.
2. See if their subpoints really link to their thesis.

You can then collect the 3x5 cards in one easy stack, and try it for yourself, reading their subpoints and seeing if their thesis matches up.

It works. Try it.

Nov 16, 2006

Democrats go with Hoyer

Sorry, Nancy Pelosi. Sorry, GOP schadenfreudeans. Murtha's out, and the Democratic non-crack-up continues.

(Yes, I hereby copyright "schadenfreudeans.")

do not adjust your set

Cross-posted at the premier site for prescience, Mr. A's world of tacky ties.

how to slip down a slippery slope

As Jacob Sullum has it, one little law at a time.
Last night KGO, the San Francisco news station, interviewed me about an ordinance the city of Belmont is considering that would ban smoking everywhere except in private cars and detached single-family homes. This would be the most sweeping smoking ban in California, which is saying a lot, and it is based on astonishing misinformation about the dangers of secondhand smoke.
I keep thinking I must be crazy: there's no way anyone could be crazier than the city of Calabasas, California (the state where cancer goes detected). But then, I should know better.

Nov 15, 2006

Adam Morrison Watch: Day 15 (plus: why Charley Rosen is tragically hypocritical)

Two good games for Morrison: first, in a loss to New Orleans, Glendive's favorite son scored a career high 21.

Second, tonight Morrison led all scorers with 27 in a surprising victory over the Spurs.

Incidentally, I finally figured out why Charley Rosen's trash talk about Redick and Morrison is ironic at best, hypocritical at worst. Rosen had opined:
Like Redick, Morrison had enough stuff to excel in a boys' game, but the NBA is for men only (except for an occasional man-child like LeBron). Like Redick, Morrison's off-the-ball movement and bull's-eye shooting versus largely inferior and dull-witted opponents was sufficient to make him an "all-everything."
Let's go to tape:
Rosen played for Hunter College from 1959-62, where he set school records for scoring and rebounding, and was voted team MVP all three years. He went on to play for the U.S. Maccabiah team in 1961, for Camden and Scranton in the Eastern League (a forerunner of the Continental Basketball Association) in 1962, and was a member of the bronze-medal-winning team in the World Senior Games in 1994. Rosen coached in the minor-league Continental Basketball Association for nine years and was the head coach of the women's team at the State University of New York at New Paltz. He lives in Woodstock, NY.
Can't see "NBA" anywhere in there. Bitter, Charley?

oh be careful little mouths what you say

Ah, teachers. Some of them make you so proud to be part of the profession. Consider David Paszkiewicz, who used his classroom as a bully pulpit... for Jesus. Listen here and draw your own conclusions. (Read a professed former student's more positive opinion here.)

The same strategy that brought down Jay Bennish (he of the famously discombobulated anti-war rant) was at play here: disaffected student with a recording device (probably a tricked-out iPod) pokes and prods and elicits a great reaction, all while digitally preserving the inanity.

Ready to ban iPods in your classroom?

so much for all my bright ideas

This morning's meeting was quite informative, since our Culminating Project coordinator shared a massive handout describing the process, a graduation requirement for this year's juniors. More important than the project suggestions are the project prohibitions, which include (but are not limited to):
  • human experimentation
  • food eating contests
  • donkey basketball
  • snake handling
  • Jell-O wrestling
When I was reading over the list, a colleague warned, "Jell-O wrestling is risky. Have you ever tried it?"

No. No I have not.

Nov 14, 2006

an autonymous "math moron" goes back to school

opportunity missed

If you're going to write a blundering headline about pseudo-Nike smuggling...

...why not go all the way with "counterfeet?"

Credit University at CHS

Yes, that's Capital's DECA teacher, Jennifer Fabritius, over on Yahoo News.

goes without saying

Cross-posted at that fall phantasmagoria, Mr. A's world of tacky ties.

War on Christmas finds a new front

This time, it's Toys for Tots, which has balked at a Christian toymaker's offer of free Bible-thumping action figures.
“We can’t take a chance on sending a talking Jesus doll to a Jewish family or a Muslim family,” Grein said Tuesday. “Kids want a gift for the holiday season that is fun.”

According to one2believe’s Web site, the button-activated, bearded Jesus doll recites Scripture such as “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Frankly, isn't a talking Jesus doll blasphemous? 'Cause if it isn't, nothing is.

extra added bonus jail time

Federal sentencing guidelines insanity: you can be convicted of one charge, acquitted of another, and serve a sentence tantamount to being convicted of both. Radley Balko explains.

Essenes, ritual purity, and roundworms

All brought together in this ironically tragic story.
Following directions found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeologists have discovered the latrines used by the sect that produced the scrolls, discovering that efforts to achieve ritual purity inadvertently exposed members to intestinal parasites that shortened their lifespan....

Tabor and Joe Zias of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an expert on ancient latrines, went to the site and took samples.

Zias sent samples to anthropologist Stephanie Harter-Lailheugue of the CNRS Laboratory for Anthropology in Marseilles, France, who found preserved eggs and other remnants of roundworms, tapeworms and pinworms, all human intestinal parasites.

Samples from the surrounding areas contained no parasites. Had the waste been dumped on the surface, as is the practice of Bedouins in the area, the parasites quickly would have been killed by sunlight. Buried, they could persist for a year or longer, infecting anyone who walked through the soil.

The situation was made worse by the Essenes having to pass through an immersion cistern, or Miqvot, before returning to the settlement. The water would have served as a major breeding ground for the parasites.

"The graveyard at Qumran is the unhealthiest group I have ever studied in over 30 years," Zias said. Fewer than 6 percent of the men buried there survived to age 40, he said. In contrast, cemeteries from the same period excavated at Jericho show that half the males lived beyond age 40.

Nov 13, 2006

opiorphin: a new kind of painkiller in your spit?

Saliva from humans has yielded a natural painkiller up to six times more powerful than morphine, researchers say.

The substance, dubbed opiorphin, may spawn a new generation of natural painkillers that relieve pain as well as morphine but without the addictive and psychological side effects of the traditional drug....

The substance was so successful at blocking pain that, in a test involving a platform of upended pins, the rats needed six times as much morphine as opiorphin to render them oblivious to the pain of standing on the needle points.
No wonder kissing boo-boos makes them better. (Tangent: when French kissing is outlawed, only French outlaws will kiss.)

Update: The paper's abstract is here.
Opiorphin displays potent analgesic activity in chemical and mechanical pain models by activating endogenous opioid-dependent transmission. Its function is closely related to the rat sialorphin peptide, which is an inhibitor of pain perception and acts by potentiating endogenous µ- and {delta}-opioid receptor-dependent enkephalinergic pathways

Washington Learns report released: make way for merit pay

Today Washington Learns released a sixty-page behemoth that will transform the way we bureaucratize education [pdf]. Among (many) other things,
Subject to appropriations, by June 2009, the professional Educator Standards Board will set performance standards and develop, pilot and implement a professional teaching level assessment and licensing system based on demonstrated teaching skill.

By June 2009, the Professional Educator Standards Board will revise the requirements for college and university teacher preparation programs to match the new knowledge- and skill-based performance system.

Subject to appropriations, by June 2009, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction will design and pilot a professional development delivery system that focuses on teacher knowledge and skill areas identified by the state.

Subject to appropriations, beginning with the 2007-2008 school year, the teacher salary allocation model will include pay for performance, knowledge and skills.

By July 2007, a state committee will begin development of a professional performance-based educator salary system and will identify the elements and support systems necessary for implementation. The committee will involve teacher and administrator groups, the Professional Educator Standards Board, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Office of Financial Management and the Legislature.
I hope and pray the pay scheme rewards higher WASL scores, thus leaving 11th and 12th-grade teachers out in the cold where they belong.

Adam Morrison Watch: Day 13

Over the weekend, Morrison got schooled by the Sonics...
Morrison, the No. 3 pick in the draft, was just 3-of-12 against the team from his home state as he started in place of the injured Raymond Felton. The former Gonzaga star missed all three of his shots in the decisive third quarter, including a layup on a fast break during Seattle's 9-2 run early in the period that put the Sonics ahead to stay.

He managed only nine points and one rebound and failed to get to the free throw line.
...but then showed us all how to use anaphoric asyndeton.
"It's not the ball, it's not the basket, it's not the coach. It's me."
In his defense, it was the first time he had failed to score in double figures. Out of his defense, he scored 2 points against the Nuggets two days later, as Charlotte dropped to 1-5.

damn you, "if then because" thesis

At least one CHS history teacher forces his students to write all their history papers as counterfactuals. This leads to confusion: are my students supposed to use the same format?


"If Huck Finn would have died in the first chapter, then the rest of the novel wouldn't have been written, because he's the main character."

Literary counterfactuals make for great creative pieces, but terrible criticism.

(Trouble writing a literary thesis? Go here.)

Nov 12, 2006

a failure to communicate: Rainier Beach High School and the TAF

A well-intentioned educational foundation approaches the Seattle School District, hoping to replace Rainier Beach High School with a souped-up, futuristic academy. Teachers vote no. When the foundation returns with a slight variation on the plan, a major gaffe occurs:
The district has been in discussions with the foundation for the past year but had not told the community....

[TAF Executive Director Trish] Dziko faced a tough audience at the Rainier Beach Community Center. There was shouting and, at one point, the PTSA president walked out with dozens of students. Dziko traced some of the anger to the community's feeling toward the district.

"I think it's going to take a lot for people to get to the point where people believe the district is trying to do the right thing," she said.
As anyone who's ever been in a bad relationship knows, words hurt, but silence hurts worse.

Wikipedia is just that good

Haters, temper thy scorn:
Some of the errata he inserted — like a claim that Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist, had made Syracuse, N.Y., his home for four years — seemed entirely credible. Some — like an Oscar for film editing that Mr. Halavais awarded to The Rescuers Down Under, an animated Disney film — were more obviously false, and easier to fact-check. And others were downright odd: In an obscure article on a short-lived political party in New Brunswick, Canada, the professor wrote of a politician felled by "a very public scandal relating to an official Party event at which cocaine and prostitutes were made available."

Mr. Halavais expected some of his fabrications to languish online for some time. Like many academics, he was skeptical about a mob-edited publication that called itself an authoritative encyclopedia. But less than three hours after he posted them, all of his false facts had been deleted, thanks to the vigilance of Wikipedia editors who regularly check a page on the Web site that displays recently updated entries. On Dr. al-Halawi's "user talk" page, one Wikipedian pleaded with him to "refrain from writing nonsense articles and falsifying information."

Mr. Halavais realized that the jig was up.
Granted, Wikipedia ain't perfect. But its lay editors are pretty darn sharp, and its democratic nature is more a help than a hindrance. Oliver Wendell Holmes would be proud.

Nov 10, 2006

deliberate deadly prose

Oh, the sins of Lincoln Douglas debate.

I have many to share (after only one night!), but I am tired, and will be up at an ungodly hour on the morrow. Later, friends. Later.

Update: Back after a brief hiatus, which is Latin for "exercise in sleep deprivation, see also 'debate tournament,'" I have a few things to share with future Lincoln Douglas debaters.

Six Commandments of Lincoln Douglas Debate

1. While arguing about domestic violence, thou shalt not refer to the "abusee."

2. Thou shalt not say "enlighten me" to your opponent in cross-examination.

3. Thou shalt not argue that the victims of chronic battery are "mentally weak."

4. Thou shalt not refer to Hitler or the Holocaust, ever.

5. Thou shalt not ask for my paradigm, ever. (See also here.)

6. Thou shalt not be smug.

Since this list is not divinely inspired, it may be amended at any time. Thou shalt suggest thy amendments in the comments.

Update: Josh has the quotes. Best one: "What do you mean by 'moral'?" "I...I don't know." Epistemic honesty is refreshing.

K-Fed's concert rider

The Smoking Gun, as always, has the scoop. Best zinger: "purported rapper."

In their summary, though, they miss the weirdest parts of the pseudo-celebrity's demands.

"Six (6) One liter sized bottled spring water (cold, no Evian please)"
K-Fed is that particular about bottled spring water? What's wrong with Evian? Anyone?

"Box of Altoids, red"
Cinnamon Altoids are red, and come in a maroon box. Regular pepperminty fresh Altoids are white, but come in a red box. K-Fed is the guy who likes purple on his toast and yellow on his hot dogs.

48th Skeptics' Circle: call for submissions

Update: Welcome, Pharyngulans. This carnival's for you.

I'm hosting the Skeptics' Circle (for the second time!) on November 22nd, so send your entries to

AT hotmail DOT com

By 5:00 PST, Tuesday, November 21st.

A guide to the carnival is here. My previous encounter is here.

Note that Nov. 22nd is a Wednesday, one day early for the Skeptics' Circle, thanks to the holy American tradition of gorging on turkey and cranberry sauce.

a tacky tie for Veterans Day

Cross-posted at that parade of patriotism, Mr. A's world of tacky ties.