Jun 30, 2008

Lehman follows Shirley, resigns

As a commentator noted earlier today, and as The Olympian reports, Russ Lehman has resigned.
“The stresses inherent in serving on a board that continues to suffer severe leadership and organizational problems are at this time, simply too disadvantageous to my health. I believe that my final responsibility as a resigning board member is to identify the specific leadership/organizational issues that, from my perspective, are rendering the board ineffective. The most critical of these issues is the lack of understanding or conflicting views about the role of a school board member,” his memo stated.
This comes as less of a surprise after Bob Shirley's early exit, especially given Lehman's ailing health. You can read Lehman's letter of resignation here.

The Board now requires two replacements, making three in the last six months.

we, me, you, and James Dobson

Recently James Dobson took umbrage with Barack Obama's notion that a person of faith, in a democracy, has to offer claims in support of her position without appealing to exclusively religious arguments. Dobson was blasted, and rightfully so, for twisting Obama's words into a claim that people of faith were somehow barred from introducing legislation offensive to nonbelievers.

The brouhaha illustrates the difference between democratic means and ends. For Dobson, democracy is not a value. It is a tool, effective or no, for producing valued ends. The pluralism held dear by those who value democracy in itself is, for Dobson, an unfortunate aspect of a messed up world. Thus, it's no surprise to me that Dobson would fundamentally (and some say maliciously) misinterpret Obama's words.

Two letters to today's Olympian illustrate Obama's point. Daniel Shaw, in the first:
Our national consciousness must rise above the "me" and start thinking in terms of "we." By voting yes for levies, you vote for the collective "we" and the world of tomorrow. By voting no, you vote for more intellectually challenged leaders who will run, control and decide your future.
Debra Brown, describing a road rage incident where no one stopped to help:
Here's the kicker: According to authorities, not ONE person called 9-1-1 to report the incident; not ONE person stopped to assist her, and it all happened during the morning commute!

What has this world come to?

When you see someone who needs help, PLEASE do yourself a favor and pay it forward.
Emphasis added in both examples.

Whether they're conscious of it, each writer is making a communitarian appeal couched in self-interested language. It's good for all of us won't sell it; It's good for you will. After all, if both writers are correct in their assessment that American society is fundamentally selfish, there's no other way.

Jun 29, 2008

can reading fiction make you a better person?

More thought provocation compliments of NewScientist: [sub. req.]
Intrigued to discover how engaging with fiction might affect a reader's sense of identity, Djikic and I, working with Peterson and Sara Zoeterman, devised a new study. We randomly assigned 166 participants to read either a short story by Anton Chekhov, The Lady with the Little Dog, or a control text - a version of the story rewritten in documentary form (Creativity Research Journal, vol 20, in press). The texts were the same length and had the same characters, content and reading difficulty as well as the same level of interest for the readers.

Before and after reading, our subjects completed questionnaires that assessed their personality traits and their emotions. We found that people who read the Chekhov story underwent larger changes in personality than those who read the control text - although the types of changes varied from person to person. Results from the emotions questionnaire indicated that the personality changes were mediated by the emotions experienced while reading: a person's emotional state is known to influence their scores on personality tests.

We think that readers found it easier to identify with the characters in the literary story than in the documentary version. By empathising with these characters, they became a bit more like them - but each in their own way. It seemed as though readers' personalities loosened up. Although the changes we measured were probably temporary, repeated reading of fiction may have more lasting effects.
Whether the effect is always positive isn't certain; nor is it known whether narrative-based video games might produce a similar effect.

I like to think of it this way: when I publish my novel, I'm doing humanity a favor.

Jun 27, 2008

immortal, immemorable

As I was blogging, Dad spooned sugar on his midnight-Eastern snack--Frosted Mini-Wheats--and Mom and Melissa tied ribbons on wedding favors for sister Caroline's upcoming nuptials.

"Mom, you're immortalized on the blog, you know," I mused aloud.

Melissa adopted her mimicking-Mom-falsetto. (It sounds remarkably like mine.) "You be nice on your blog."

"I never said that," Mom said.

"Yes you did," I said. "Those are your exact words." Melissa agreed.

"Did I really?" Mom confessed. "Well, I am turning 55."

"Not till next May," Melissa said.

vengeance is Chris's

The most beleaguered of all White Sox fans used to be Chris, pictured here.

Last summer, Melissa and I visited Cellular Field when the Sox were in last place, hosting a hopeful Mariner squad. We rooted for the M's amid a sea of depressed Chrises. Seattle won.

This year, Chris enjoys a White Sox team in first place, a joy mitigated only slightly by the Cubs' resurgence. (Last rivalry match went to the Sox.)

We, on the other hand, are cursed with a woeful husk of a team, nearly 20 games out of first, with at least four or five players on the trading or chopping block, all hope abandoned.

Chris has his vengeance. He is not smiling, though. He knows his dark days will come again. Such is the way of baseball.

catchphrases to drop as if hot

One more linguistic entry for today: Ron Rosenbaum wants to know which catchphrases have been completely cliched out.
There's Stage 1, when you first hear a phrase and take pleasure in its imaginative use of language on the literal and metaphorical level. This may not be the most beguiling example, but consider "throw up a little in my mouth." I'm still kind of attached to it.

Then there's Stage 2, when you use it to establish "street cred" (time to throw "street cred" under the catchphrase bus?) or convey a sense of being au courant.

Then there's Stage 3, when the user acknowledges a phrase's over-ness and tries to extract some final mileage out of it by gently mocking it, usually by using ironic quotes, or adding "as they say" to the end.

Finally, there's Stage 4: terminal obsolence, dead phrase walking. Take "at the end of the day." It kind of stuns me whenever I find someone still saying "at the end of the day" with a straight face. What are they, stuck on stupid, as they say?
Rosenbaum ends with questions rather than ordinances. What, he asks, are we to do with "stay classy," "up in your grill," "overshare," "tell us something we don't know," "man up," "go-to," "drinking the Kool-Aid," or "mad props," among so many others?

So, for his and your edification, some edicts:

1. Permitted
Stay classy, overshare, go-to.

2. Forbidden
Up in your grill, tell us something we don't know, man up, drinking the Kool-Aid, mad props.

Complete list of bans and moratoria here.

shocker: Bob Shirley resigns

The Olympian reports:
Olympia School Board member Bob Shirley submitted his resignation to the Olympia School District, effective today. The resignation memo did not outline the reasons. Shirley did not answer his cell phone, and a person who answered his home phone said he was gone for the weekend.
I won't speculate; I just hope that it's not health related.

rolling back the gender-neutral tide

Facebook can't handle gender-neutral pronouns anymore. Not because of problems with English, but because of problems in translation:
Users who haven't specified their gender in their Facebook profiles will be asked to do so in the coming weeks. That way, Facebook doesn't have to default to "their" or the made-up word "themself," as it had been doing.

While not knowing someone's gender poses grammatical challenges in English, it has created even larger headaches as Facebook expands to other languages, where a gender-neutral option isn't available in plural form.

"People who haven't selected what sex they are frequently get defaulted to the wrong sex entirely," Naomi Gleit, a Facebook product manager, wrote Friday in a company blog.
I still the the general trend in English is greater tolerance for "their" and "themself." If other social networking sites pick up the change, though, perhaps we'll see a return to fully gendered pronouns as the only acceptable choice.

We leave aside the syntactic ambiguities in the article's headline: "State sex to cut grammar errors."

ten most popular TED talks

Not quite the 10 best, but certainly some of the most entertaining. It's not wasting time if it makes you smarter.

cat people in trouble again

Judith Ann Lawson of Olympia...
...was jailed for investigation of 20 counts of felony animal cruelty after animal control officers found 20 Persian cats locked up in cages inside the garage of her home.

The animals were found living in filth. Feces covered their bodies. In some cases, the weight of the hardened waste pieces had caused their heavily-matted fur to tear right off of their bodies.

One of the cats was found covered with open and infected sores. The cat also had a broken tail and severe respiratory problems that affected its breathing.
Test her for Toxoplasma gondii. Test these brothers, too. There are too many cases like this; it seems quite evident to me that living with too many cats is an invitation to dementia, and my hunch is that Toxoplasma is the cause. But I'm no researcher, and can't prove my case.

Added: The Olympian has much more detail, placing Lawson in Lacey. Seattle media often miss the distinction.

Jun 26, 2008

today's origin-of-life links

From NewScientist:
A list of some of the hardiest organisms that inhabit inhospitable environments.

A new discovery along those lines: life buried far, far under the rubble of an ancient meteorite impact.

Added: Martian soil: good for turnips?

From PZ Myers:
Learning about life's common ancestor by examining Amphioxus.

From AstroBio.net:
Life's early history on Earth is tough to track down, due to several billion years of volcanic, oceanic, tectonic, and atmospheric changes. So, why not look for Earth ejecta on the moon?

Jun 25, 2008

dead man predicting

A computer can predict executions with 90% accuracy. How? [sub. req.]
To find out which factors might be linked to executions, the researchers first "trained" their [Artificial Neural Network] by entering the profiles of 1000 death row inmates between 1973 and 2000. Half of this sample of prisoners had been executed and the other half had survived. Each profile contained 18 factors, including the inmate's sex, age, race, marital status, educational level and information on their capital offences.

They then fed in profiles for 300 more inmates from the same period and asked the ANN to predict what had happened to them. To their astonishment, it correctly predicted the fates of more than 90 per cent of those inmates.
The researchers then tried to determine which factors were most salient: gender (virtually no female prisoners are executed) and education--or, more precisely, "the number of years the inmate had spent in high school." It's suggested that prisoners without much education are worse at working on appeals.

Psalm 139:13-16, the Albert Mohler translation

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I suppose you could consider yourself largely responsible
for the way I would've turned out
had no one intervened.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your basic blueprint, plus a little medical tinkering.
Your works are wonderful,

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was woven together in the secret place.
After I was stitched up in the operating room,
your eyes saw my reformed body.

All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be--

but I guess my parents tore out a few pages.

[Inspired by Jason Kuznicki. For those lacking the satire gene, Albert Mohler did not write this. He wrote something else.]

Jun 24, 2008

Andy Schlafly and his acolytes get eviscerated

PZ Myers holds the camera, and Dr. Richard Lenski wields the scalpel.
It is my impression that you seem to think we have only paper and electronic records of having seen some unusual E. coli. If we made serious errors or misrepresentations, you would surely like to find them in those records. If we did not, then - as some of your acolytes have suggested - you might assert that our records are themselves untrustworthy because, well, because you said so, I guess. But perhaps because you did not bother even to read our paper, or perhaps because you aren't very bright, you seem not to understand that we have the actual, living bacteria that exhibit the properties reported in our paper, including both the ancestral strain used to start this long-term experiment and its evolved citrate-using descendants. In other words, it's not that we claim to have glimpsed "a unicorn in the garden" - we have a whole population of them living in my lab! [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Unicorn_in_the_Garden] And lest you accuse me further of fraud, I do not literally mean that we have unicorns in the lab. Rather, I am making a literary allusion. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allusion]
Oh, there's more.

how to avoid a liveblogging scandal

Recently a Lakewood councilman came under fire for liveblogging during a city meeting.
Lakewood City Councilman Walter Neary’s blog, Neary-Sighted, tells readers about items city leaders will discuss at the next meeting. He also has posted photos of community events.

But over the past three weeks, Neary’s practice of blogging up-to-the-minute accounts of what people say during public meetings has met criticism from residents. They say the two-term elected leader isn’t giving the public his undivided attention.
A typical Neary observation, compliments of his blog:
As I sit here on the council dais tonight, we're beginning to hear from a stream of parents during our open public comment period. (The comments were continuing as I posted this at about 8:15 p.m.) The parents are concerned with how the Clover Park School Board appointed a new superintendent.

The whole issue is extremely complex, but surely the matter will not go away. A high school student got up and told us that her class could not finish a college prep history test ... a test they were preparing for all year ... because they did not have the proper books. More to the point about administration, a parent read from district emails that were disclosed as part of a public records act request. She read from an email in which a board member wrote that the board had made a point about keeping superintendent matters out of email where comments would have to be disclosed to the public.
As a result, Kathi Loverin wrote,
“He was too busy ‘being a reporter’ and writing to this group of people telling them how they need to get involved rather than listening to the very people who are involved. I find it very disturbing that he would begin writing right in the middle of their comments session.”
Neary has his defenders as well, including blog neighbor Emmett O'Connell:
Look Lakewood, you're lucky to have a city-councilman that takes this so seriously that he blogs about it. First, learn some basic civics. Second, blog back at Neary.

That he was blogging what you were talking about tells me that he was actually taking you very seriously, he found what you were saying interesting and that he thought other people should hear about it. [emphasis in original]
Responding to O'Connell, Neary says that he'll give up liveblogging because it's just too "novel" for the masses.

I've done a few liveblogs in my day, and I have a few tips for any liveblogging novice.

1. Show up early. Find a vantage point that'll give you a good view of the situation. Maybe a corner in the back, where you won't be in the way of those who came to speak. Also, you can take notes on the environment, for the full you-are-there experience.

2. Bring digital recording devices. A $30 voice recorder is essential: it helps ensure you get the quotes right, and that you can review the meeting (played back at a faster rate, natch) for those moments where you might miss something because you're busy typing. Bring a camera, too. Visuals add color and depth to your piece, and there's no guarantee the newspaper will bring a photographer.

3. Practice by liveblogging something on TV. I find that liveblogging actually increases my attentiveness, but only after I've learned how to type and listen at the same time, and which quotes to pull, and which can be ...'ed away. (I suppose it would've helped if I'd taken more journalism classes.) Don't do a true liveblog until you've practiced at least three times.

4. Post every ten minutes. This facilitates your summarizing. You don't have to write down everything, just the important and non-boring things. And there will be boring things; it is a meeting, after all.

5. Limit your editorializing. Save most of your analysis for your closing thoughts. Keep your live-opinionating pithy.

I'm with Emmett: liveblogging, if done right, shows you actually care, and should be encouraged. But it has to be done right.

summer of film

Every movie I see this summer will eventually make this list.

1. Le Doulos ("The Fingerman")
Seen for the second time. A twisty, brooding French neo-noir thriller with a smooth and bleak finish. I can't wait until it gets the American DVD release it deserves--I had to find a copy on VHS. Almost all of Jean Pierre Melville's gangster films are excellent, and this is particularly sharp.

2. Samurai Rebellion
Costume drama. Couldn't finish it, despite my love for Toshiro Mifune (see below).

3. The Seven Samurai
2nd time. Mifune's overplayed but entertaining antics come close to stealing the show as six samurai and one honorary inductee save a village from extinction. Not the most artful of all the samurai films, but certainly one of the liveliest. It's fun to see Mifune as a raving bumbler, rather than as a suave family man or sly comic genius. The man had range.

4. Man Bites Dog
Violence is bad. The media is complicit. Children shouldn't play with guns. Yawn. Didn't even make it to five minutes.

5. The Big Animal
Peter Rainer's blurb: "You've never seen anything quite so hilarious--or magnificent!" A few chuckles dot this man-versus-the-guvmint fable, but it's not "hilarious." The camel gets most of the best lines.

6. A Fistful of Dollars
A decent remake of Yojimbo, though not as tightly written. Only one massively irritating feature: a trick involving corpses propped up against tombstones, confused for living soldiers. C'mon, bad guys. When shot at, living folks don't sit still.

7. The Orphanage
When a child who imagines friends asks if he can bring a new one home, just say no. Moody, which is to say slightly dull.

8. Jesus Camp
Charismatics train kids to take back the judiciary in this not too sympathetic look at evangelical fundamentalists. There are a few revelatory moments, though. One in particular: Ted Haggard, the not-yet-disgraced pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, who tells youthful preacher Levi to capitalize on his "cute kid" persona, and when he's older the "content will come." The look that crosses Levi's face is priceless. Even though Haggard's congregation is oblivious to his canned charm, Levi sees right through him. The kid'll be agnostic by 25.

9. Green for Danger
2nd time. Alaistair Sim's Inspector Cockrill is one of his most delightful roles. Devastatingly droll, the detective hopes to solve a convoluted murder mystery set in a hospital during the German rocket bombings late in the Second World War. Whodunit is ultimately less important than the fact that, despite the overarching trauma, it's being done. Highly recommended for fans of classic British cinema.

10. Harakiri
Same themes as "Samurai Rebellion," yet more absorbing due to a flashback structure and severe, ironic twists. Not for the squeamish or the impatient. The recent Hero owes a great debt to the aesthetic and story structure presented in this morally challenging and subversive film.

11. Layer Cake
Drug dealing is a tough business. Monomaniacs and psychopaths seem to muck things up for the cool, rational, Daniel Craigs of the profession, the guys who just want to earn their bread and retire to a life of pastries. Uber-cool and clever, but never affecting. Watch Snatch instead.

12. The Long Goodbye
After the previous film, a palate cleanser. Robert Altman's assured naturalistic surrealism upends noir; this is either parody or pastiche. Gould as Marlowe is superb, but it's Sterling Hayden's performance that best captures the tornado tearing through society. Would make a great double feature with Chinatown, which subverts noir more subtly, or with the 1970s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which explores similar tropes in an entirely different manner.

13. My Darling Clementine
2nd time. To my knowledge the first (and maybe last) Western to quote Hamlet. Its faults are thus forgiven.

14. WALL-E
Americans are fat, lazy slobs who sit around all day. Because they can. Thank God for enterprising robots.

15. In Bruges
Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell walk a thin line between humor and pathos in this clever and affecting gem, which is everything Layer Cake tried so hard to be. There are moments, though, when certain actors' appearance in Harry Potter films makes for unintended laughs. Highly recommended for fans of Snatch.

16. The Quiet Earth
If you were the last woman on Earth, and I was the last man, would you make me wait three dates before sharing your bed? The Quiet Earth says "you betcha." Not a big film, but in comparison to, say, I am Legend, much more realistic in its treatment of one man's descent into madness. At least, as far as a 1985 film on a fairly low budget made in New Zealand can be.

17. Barton Fink
2nd time. More than just a Simpsons punchline. The Coen Brothers are at their most surreal, John Goodman at his most subtle (for a time), John Turturro at his most coiffed. Who knew writer's block could be such a fruitful source of ideas? "I'll show you the life of the mind!"

18. Unfaithfully Yours
2nd time. Preston Sturges' "Walter Mitty." Rex Harrison delivers a nuanced, at times histrionic performance as a concert conductor who suspects his wife of infidelity, imagining various tragic outcomes as the orchestra plays under his feverish direction. The music threatens to overwhelm the actors, but Sturges manages to balance wit, pathos, and some of the most realistic slapstick ever conceived. Ever think of murdering your spouse? Think again.

19. Jumper
Jumpers can teleport. Paladins don't like that, not at all. Lowjinks ensue. A terrible film, but not terrible enough to be funny. As a mental emetic, I propose a cinematic anticharisma fight between Hayden Christensen and Keanu Reeves. They could be long-lost brothers on opposite sides of the law. At the end, one of them dies, doesn't matter which, and the world suffers less.

20. The Dark Knight
For the last time, don't ask me to tell you how I got my smile.

21. Total Recall
2nd time. The Matrix's take-the-blue-pill trick. Vanilla Sky's is-it-all-a-dream twist. Eternal Sunshine's erase-your-past premise. All owe a debt to Paul Verhoeven's trash classic--but, since it's Verhoeven, you get Schwarzenegger's beefcake and cheesy puns, a red light district replete with mutant hookers, and a dwarf toting an AK. In the director's commentary, Verhoeven is wonderfully ambiguous about the film's ontology, refusing to tell the viewer on which level the story operates. Pop philosophy, sci-fi and sexy fun. Philip K. Dick would be proud.

22. Army of Shadows
A film of the French Resistance, as resistant to Hollywoodization as possible. (In an ironic scene, two characters, awaiting orders in England, watch Gone With the Wind.) Bleak, depressing, moody, atmospheric, depressing, realistic, at times dull, at times brilliant, at times terrifying, depressing.

23. Doomsday
Amazingly, not directed by Paul Verhoeven, probably because he would have shoehorned it into just one genre. Instead, it's a post-apocalyptic virus-outbreak cannibal fashion statement car-chase Medieval actioner. For as much trashy fun as it wants to have, it's entirely too predictable, loud, and stupid.

24. The Steel Helmet
"If you die, I'll kill you!" Low-budget, gritty artistry from Sam Fuller. As Tim Brayton notes, one of the key characters, a South Korean kid named Short Round, is the inspiration for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom's Short Round, one of the cinema's most obnoxious roles. He's also reincarnated in John Wayne's The Green Berets as Ham Chunk, the tyke who gets patted on the head by the grizzled vet at the film's conclusion, as Big Daddy USA gets ready to save Vietnam. Wayne's film, of course, is an attempt to make a World War II-esque movie about the war, and an interesting point of comparison. There's certainly nothing patronizing, glorified, or falsely sentimental about The Steel Helmet.

25. Eastern Promises
The last film the wife and I watched that starred Viggo Mortensen: A History of Violence, directed by David Cronenberg, and costarring Ed Harris. (My wife and I absolutely hated it.) Responses to Eastern Promises: "Viggo looks like Ed Harris" (wife). "This reminds me of Dirty Pretty Things" (me). "Cronenberg could learn a thing or two from this" (wife). Eastern Promises is directed by Cronenberg, and written by Steven Knight, who wrote the screenplay for Dirty Pretty Things. As the credits rolled, my wife said, "Cronenberg could learn a lesson from himself." Agreed. Incredibly graphic, with the most intense--or, one might say, ballsiest--fight scene ever filmed.

26. The Descent
2nd time. Does it hold up? Yes. Especially when you're watching the "Director's Cut," which is code for the British Version, which is code for a bleaker ending than the one modified for American sensibilities. The use of light and confined space is the most effective aspect of the film, an exploration of the darker crevices of human nature disguised as a horror flick. Not for the squeamish.

27. Pickup on South Street
Thanks to Netflix Instant Viewing, another Sam Fuller film, this time a small noir with a surprisingly big heart. Richard Widmark plays a pickpocket who stumbles across Jean Peters, a woman entangled in a scheme transporting microfilm for the Reds. Thelma Ritter is the film's brightest star, however, as Moe, a stoolie who sells "personality neckwear" (my new favorite phrase) and information to the cops, and just wants to save up enough for a plot in a nice cemetery: "If I was to be buried in Potter's Field--it'd just about kill me."

28. Babel
It took me two years to see the last of Inarritu's trilogy of time-benders. It was by far the worst, not only because of the lack of realism--people making stupid decisions just because the plot seems to demand them--but because of the lack of energy. Compare the dull, meditative pace of this film to the surging, intense flow of Amores Perros. Same director, same writer, completely different experience.

29. Boomerang!
My test run for Hulu.com. Definitely worth the price--a few commercial interruptions--and in decent enough quality to enjoy on a small screen. The film, directed by Elia Kazan and with a great cast including Lee J. Cobb and Karl Malden, who would later oppose each other in Kazan's greatest film, On the Waterfront, involves many of Kazan's main concerns: patriotism, corruption just below the surface of society, the individual standing up against the mob. A little didactic, but solid.

30. Lost Highway
The scrimmage for Mulholland Drive. Almost all the usual Lynchian touches, including a moody score by Angelo Badalamenti. This one, though, also features late 90s pop music, most of which hasn't aged well. Watch for Marilyn Manson in a bit part, and Bill Pullman playing an unconvincing sax, and Patricia Arquette's features--all of 'em.

31. Black Book
Make this the summer of Verhoeven. His best film to date, with enough twists, explosions, and plot-driven trashiness to make this film a throwback, with and yet irrepressibly modern. The plot: Anne Frank's trampy older sister joins the Dutch Resistance. Action ensues.

32. Dead End
A drama of gentrification.
Brood (v): to think anxiously or gloomily about. See: Humphrey Bogart.

33. The TV Set
An understated yet scathing look at the way a work of genius goes from pilot to pap. David Duchovny plays the weather-beaten writer. His supporting cast, many of whom are TV regulars, is effective. The fake shows-within-the-show are pitch-perfect, which is to say, perfectly designed crap. Afterward, the wife and I had to watch an episode of Arrested Development, and marvel that a good show ever gets to see the light of day.

34. The Conformist
Brilliant cinematography isn't enough to propel a slow, not-quite-intriguing story of one man's capitulation to fascism.

35. Red Road
Fear of the nanny state is usually framed with a question: who will watch the watchers? You will, if you chance upon Red Road, which uses closeups, grainy surveillance video, and gritty sections of Glasgow to create a compelling, shockingly graphic story. It stumbles only slightly at the finish, with a jarring musical intrusion that undercuts the tension of everything that came before.

36. The Grand Silence
I wish I could find a subtitled version--dubbing is the only flaw in this chilled spaghetti western. Klaus Kinski's eyes threaten to melt the Utah snow, and Jean-Louis Trintignant capably plays a Clint Eastwoodesque mute with vengeance on his mind. Ennio Morricone spices up the score with a sitar, a strangely effective choice.

37. Shallow Grave
Danny Boyle's first directorial effort is slick, but a little too stylish for its own good. For a better take on a similar premise, watch A Simple Plan (serious) or La Comunidad (absurdist). Shallow Grave goes for both, but never adds up. (Amazing that the same guy who directed this also cranked out Millions.)

38. Hamlet 2
A tragic disappointment.

39. Women of the Prehistoric Planet
MST3K-style, thankfully. No plot summary or capsule critique could capture the depths of feeling in this unique creation myth. No, really. Sorry if I spoiled the twist ending for you.

40. Robot Monster
"At what point on the graph do 'must' and 'cannot' meet?" I'm not sure, but it's precipitously close to the point where gorilla suits and bubble machines collide with a low budget and ridiculously short shooting schedule. In other words, right at the nexus known as Robot Monster. Even without MST3K commentary, this one's a hoot, and a great way to wind down a summer of film.

Jun 23, 2008

big man, little man

Circa Halloween, I'm guessing 1988. (Mom can correct me if I'm wrong; she sent me the photo.) Near the outskirts of White Sulphur Springs, just another ranching town in the middle of Big Sky Country.

My grandpa stands at left. Khakis, denim, and a sweater, with white tennis shoes: his classic outfit. His genial squint was worn just about as often.

I'm the Wyatt Earp wannabe beside him. As you can see, my amazing facial hair was already well in place at age 9.

the gravity of the situation

Why every high school student should be required to take physics, Part II: bullet goes up, bullet comes down.
Officers were dispatched to the two incidents at the same time about 10 p.m. One report was about possible fireworks or gunshots going off at an apartment complex at 815 S.E. 223rd. The other report involved a teen shot in the foot in the 22400 block of Southeast Morrison - about a block away, police said.

The victim, 16-year-old Josh Koga of Gresham, told police he was outside when he heard what he thought were fireworks or gunshots. He then felt pain in his foot and looked down to see it bleeding. There appeared to be a bullet lodged in his foot, police said.
Heck, even a basic discussion of parabolas, with story problems involving firearms, would help.

Part I here.

eight-legged geeks

Carl Zimmer:
So, is the octopus really all that smart? It depends on how you define intelligence. And if you've got a good definition, there are quite a few scientists who would love to hear it. Octopuses can learn, they can process complex information in their heads, and they can behave in equally complex ways. But it would be a mistake to try to give octopuses an IQ score. They are not intelligent in the way we are—not because they're dumb but because their behavior is the product of hundreds of millions of years of evolution under radically different conditions than the ones under which our own brains evolved.
Well, most of our brains, anyway.

today's traffic links

Today's news:

1. A car flips over in Puyallup. Two die.

2. Left-lane slowpokes, your time has come.

3. In Bellingham, the pedicab.

4. As the city readies for the Olympics, Beijing's trying to cut pollution by taking cars off the road. So far, it's not working.

Today's opinion:

5. Posting more traffic signs might actually make us less safe.


6. Via Joe Carter, an economist tries to think his way to better traffic.

7. D.A. Ridgely's take on #5.

smaller schools aren't better schools

On the heels of Ryan's series on diplomas comes this analysis of Oregon's small high school experiment. Backed by the Gates Foundation, districts created 400-student academies, hoping the smaller schools would cut dropout rates and prepare more youngsters for college.

Didn't happen.
In Hillsboro, Ore., Liberty High broke into small schools four years ago, but its dropout rate remains the highest in a district with three other traditional high schools. Despite progress in getting more students to take college-prep courses, three in five Liberty graduates fall short of entry standards for the University of Oregon — the district's definition of college-ready.

Twyla Baggarley, who graduated from Liberty this month, passed Advanced Placement calculus as a junior but worries that she might not be primed for college after a lackluster senior year. Tired of teachers who taught straight from the textbook, she chose to take just one full-year core course, AP English, and padded her schedule with photography and two periods of PE.

She and other students say administrators seemed so caught up in tinkering with the small schools' structure that they didn't pay enough attention to the quality of teaching.
It's the program's a-ha moment, but for me, it's a no-duh moment. Smaller schools, or, for that matter, smaller classes, make zero difference if the pedagogical model stays the same. Canned, derivative, disengaging teaching and curriculum will be as ineffective in a school of 400 as they are in a school of 4,000.

At least the foundation is learning from failure:
This fall, Gates probably will switch the focus of its grants for fixing high schools to target teaching and raise teacher quality, says Vicki Phillips, who directs Gates' education initiatives.
Repeat after me: there is no single panacea for education.

Jun 22, 2008

the teacher of crows

Another one I missed in the turbulent finish to the 07-08 school year: the man who taught crows how to use a vending machine. Crows have the intelligence trifecta: causal reasoning, curiosity, and persistence. Watch and be amazed.

Added: Funny he should mention The Birds...
Experts are telling Chicago residents to beware of the birds.

The fiercely territorial behavior of red-winged blackbirds is being blamed on several recent dive-bomb attacks. The birds peck at unsuspecting bicyclists and pedestrians and swipe their hair.

Jun 21, 2008

focus on dropouts

Didn't want this to pass by without comment: News Tribune columnist Peter Callaghan runs down the numbers, and they ain't pretty.
The state of Washington reports a graduation rate of just under 80 percent (the most recent numbers are for the Class of 2005). But a recent report by the Education Research Center tells a less encouraging story. Again, based on the Class of 2005, the center estimated that Washington graduated just 68.8 percent of the students who entered high school four years earlier.

That’s a tick below the national average of 70.6 percent. Black students graduated at just 51.8 percent, Hispanics at 56.9 percent and American Indians at 42.7 percent.

The report went on to project that the Class of 2008 lost 28,000 students – 39 each school day for four years. None is factored in when the state estimates WASL success rates.
Callaghan's advice: get the WASL extremists, both pro- and con-, out of the room, and let moderation and reason reign. The State Board of Education's "Core 24" approach seems to be a step in this direction, focusing on credits and flexibility, not just on assessment.

Dropping out sucks, not just for students, but for society. We have to do better to keep students on track.


This story's worthy of the Obscure Store. Visit southwest Washington's lovely Yale Reservoir, and spend hours dodging a hail of bullets:
Clark County sheriff's deputies responding to frantic 911 calls last weekend located the source of the gunfire. They drove around the lake and arrested Jacob Michael Johnson, 25, of Vancouver, who acknowledged that he'd been firing three guns, including an AK-47 assault-style rifle, according to the deputies' report.
As a bonus, the reason every high school student in the state should be required to take a physics class:
Informed that his bullets were ricocheting off the water into the campground, Johnson said he didn't know bullets could do that, the report said.
Apparently, Johnson never skipped a stone in his life.

the scourge of organic meat

If it's organic hog hunks, at least.
Wondwossen Gebreyes and colleagues at Ohio State University in Columbus tested US pigs for antibodies - telltale signs of infection - to pathogens that can also affect humans. They found traces of Salmonella in 39 per cent of pigs raised in standard indoor pens and routinely given antibiotics, but in 54 per cent of organic pigs raised outdoors without the drugs (Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, vol 5, p 199)....

Worse, the US team found two organic pigs with signs of infection with Trichinella, a roundworm that can cause chronic disease and even kill when people eat undercooked pork. Trichinella is nearly eradicated in livestock in the the US and Europe, though it persists in wildlife. Finding it in two pigs of the 600 tested is 23 times its average frequency in US pigs.
That pain in your abdomen after last night's organic barbecued pork? That's moral superiority.

today's grammar links

1. I did not realize that the semicolon's demise has been so long lamented.
From the 1850s onward, it's virtually impossible to find anyone claiming a prevalence of semicolons in writing. We now lived, complained a critic in 1854, in a "fast era" that neglected punctuation; by 1895, the Times took it for granted that "[m]any writers have adopted the plan of punctuating as little as possible." What these writers intuited had an empirical basis: A 1995 study tallying punctuation in period texts found a stunning drop in semicolon usage between the 18th and 19th centuries, from 68.1 semicolons per thousand words to just 17.7.
2. Someday, a search engine will understand semantics.
We should have sympathy for anyone who tries to improve the way humans communicate with computers. Years of trial and error have made people very skilled at constructing Google searches. Most Web users now have a stable of basic tricks—putting phrases in quotes, limiting searches to individual domains—and have learned to pick out quickly what they're looking for from a long page of results. Because we're so good at Googling, a natural-language search engine has a high bar. Sure, Powerset gives me the right answer when I ask, "Who wrote The Godfather?" But so long as I can Google "godfather author" and get CNN's obituary of Mario Puzo as the first result, I'm not about to become a Google apostate.

Violent Femmes show up Gnarls Barkley

...by showing them how to cover a song. After Gnarls Barkley sucks all the life out of their classic "Gone Daddy Gone," the Femmes strike back by injecting pathos into Barkley's "Crazy." (Warning: MySpace!)

Yes, this is a theme: when you cover a song, you have to put your own stamp on it. Otherwise you're a hack.

[via BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow, who, sadly, likes the Barkley cover of "Gone Daddy Gone."]

Jun 20, 2008

pay attention

Multitasking is a crock.
Dr. Edward Hallowell, a Massachusetts-based psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and has written a book with the self-explanatory title CrazyBusy, has been offering therapies to combat extreme multitasking for years; in his book he calls multitasking a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously.” In a 2005 article, he described a new condition, “Attention Deficit Trait,” which he claims is rampant in the business world. ADT is “purely a response to the hyperkinetic environment in which we live,” writes Hallowell, and its hallmark symptoms mimic those of ADD. “Never in history has the human brain been asked to track so many data points,” Hallowell argues, and this challenge “can be controlled only by creatively engineering one’s environment and one’s emotional and physical health.” Limiting multitasking is essential. Best-selling business advice author Timothy Ferriss also extols the virtues of “single-tasking” in his book, The 4-Hour Workweek.

Multitasking might also be taking a toll on the economy. One study by researchers at the University of California at Irvine monitored interruptions among office workers; they found that workers took an average of twenty-five minutes to recover from interruptions such as phone calls or answering e-mail and return to their original task. Discussing multitasking with the New York Times in 2007, Jonathan B. Spira, an analyst at the business research firm Basex, estimated that extreme multitasking—information overload—costs the U.S. economy $650 billion a year in lost productivity.
Turn off your cell phone, turn down the radio, close MSN Messenger, put down your Blackberry, and read through the whole article without stopping.

If you can.

[via AL Daily]

Mariners decapitated; will filleting follow?

Bill Bavasi's gone, as is John McLaren. Who will replace them? And who's next on the chopping block? Respectively, we go to Jayson Stark for the GM candidates...
• The all-stars (Brian Cashman, Theo Epstein, Kevin Towers): Cashman and Epstein are both in the last year of their respective contracts, so you never know. Towers has done terrific work in San Diego for 13 seasons. But even though he just signed an extension through 2010, there are persistent rumblings that he has lost clout in the Sandy Alderson era and might be willing to listen to inquiries from a place like Seattle. Stay tuned.

• Ghost of Mariners past (Pat Gillick): Gillick has already announced he's retiring after this season. But it's hard not to notice that he's been hedging just enough lately to leave his options open. And he's long had a soft spot for his previous destination, plus he has a home near Seattle and an unusually high level of interest in the state of the franchise. So don't count out a return to some sort of high-ranking position, even though the official title might not read "general manager."
...and Jim Caple for the deadwood:
Sadly, with a 4-4 record and 4.14 ERA, Bedard barely cracks the Top 10 Biggest Disappointments for Seattle. Carlos Silva (he of the 3-6, 5.59 ERA and $48 million contract), Jarrod Washburn (2-7, 5.83 ERA, $15 million left on his contract) and Miguel Batista (3-8, 6.09 ERA) have been dreadful in the starting rotation. J.J. Putz has been ineffective and injured. DH Jose Vidro has a .563 OBP. Catcher Kenji Johjima is batting .224, and not one of the pitchers wants him behind the plate (though none of that stopped Seattle from giving him a three-year contract extension). And Richie Sexson, well, Richie doesn't have an extra-base hit in the past four weeks, but at least his $50 million contract expires in a couple of months.
Much more at the links.

There's certainly no hope for this season, and the next might already be beyond salvaging. Mariners in 2010!

Update: On cue, the Mariners won the first match of the Riggleman Era.

an open letter to the Olympia School Board of Directors

President Barclift, Vice President Lehman, Directors Miller, Shirley, and Wilson, and Student Representative Hoekje:

Near the end of the second act of Romeo and Juliet--sorry, it's what I've been memorizing lately--Friar Laurence warns Romeo, "Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast." The padre's not too great at practicing his preaching, though, consenting to marry the "star-crossed lovers" in an ill-conceived attempt to reconcile their warring families.

Regardless, it's still good advice. I was glad to read that you're not hurrying to make a decision on the Superintendent's proposed budget. Too much is at stake.

I'm not going to tell you what you should or shouldn't gut, ax, trim, or nix. You've already heard enough from the community to know what's viable, and what will set Olympia on fire. My sympathies lie with parents who want to keep cuts "as far away from the students as possible," but I also understand that personnel are 85% of the budget, and it's tough, mathematically, to pare 2.4 million without paring staff. (Easy for me to say: I'll still have a job.)

Instead, I'll stick to the things within my expertise. Just as we learned tough lessons from the previous budget crunch, there are several lessons we can learn from this experience.

1. We need transparency in the budget process. It is impossible, without extreme assistance, for the average person to see how and where specific cuts can be made. The District-provided materials are excellent, but don't approach the level of detail needed, which is program- and building-specific numbers. If you desire informed public input, you have to press District administrators to fully inform its public.

2. We need to better use technology to facilitate citizen involvement. I applaud the District for making so much information available. However, an Adobe PDF file isn't very useful when trying to calculate costs. Instead, press the District to release proposed changes in an interactive format, like the spreadsheet I created. Give them a chance to see just how difficult your job is--and how this can make it at least a little easier.

3. We need to keep lobbying the state. We're hardly the only district in this pinch: just look at this list. Until the state develops a stable funding formula, we're going to skim from crisis to crisis. So, for those of you who've been putting the squeeze on your friends in the legislature, keep it up.

Thanks for your commitment to the students, families, teachers, administrators, and constituents of the Olympia School District. Good luck navigating these choppy waters.


Jim Anderson

Jun 17, 2008


The weather doesn't think so, and neither does the calendar. But school wrapped up today, and, even though I'll return once this week to clean up the rest of my junk, I'm done. Let my sustained intellectual ferment commence.

Bonus: two tacky ties for the end of the year.

Double bonus: last night's stress-shunting dream concerned travel, but the night before last's was the year's topper. In a dystopian landscape patterned after Soylent Green, I'm trying to flee a soccer match, barreling my way through a crowd of thugs and miscreants that marches in concentric circles around the stadium. Just when I think I've made my escape, finding an open door in a low-slung building, the futuristic police arrive, truncheons in hand, to administer a beating and get some information out of me. (My mistake: shutting the door on a cop's foot.)

The room goes dark, and a woman in a black dress says, "I think there's something wrong with my foot." It's turning into a pink slime mold, glowing like it's underneath a UV lamp.

I wake up soon after.

Jun 14, 2008

Howard Lincoln is ashamed of the Mariners

Howard Lincoln, chairman and CEO of the Seattle Mariners, at Western Washington University's commencement, wondering aloud how he could possibly inspire a graduating class:
Our team has performed so poorly that you probably don't want to hear me talk about the Mariners.
The self-deprecating line got a (tragic, ironic, soul-crushing) laugh.

Previously, when congratulating WWU's president, Karen Morse, who had introduced him, Lincoln praised her for being able to withstand "unending scrutiny of decisions."

Makes this blogger wonder if Lincoln is starting to feel the strain.

three commencements in five days

It's a new personal best. Capital's on Tuesday the 10th, Evergreen's yesterday, and Western's this morning.

Congratulations, respectively: to the entire CHS class of '08, to my officially smart wife Melissa, and to bro-in-law Russell Pendergraft. I've seen how hard you've worked--especially Melissa--and you've earned every privilege that comes with a diploma. And probably some that don't.

Memo to Evergreen: sure, anyone can join your choir. I get that. But why should anyone get a solo? Seriously. Like bagpipes in a blender.

Question to James Loewen: whenever you invent a portmanteau, make sure each half means what you think it means.

Note to the weather: thank you.

To everyone else: I'll be back to full blogging strength as soon as Tuesday's done.

Jun 12, 2008

the taste of nothing

The AV Club's recent review of some flavorless "Margarita Chips" made me remember (with horror) the time I lost my taste for several weeks. And then it made me wonder:

What yet-to-be invented food would simultaneously be the most useless and the grossest?

I would nominate Pop Rock Potato Chips. Instead of being coated with salt and tiny flakes of, say, dried green onions, they'd be lightly dusted with fizz crystals. Greasy and crackly.


Jun 10, 2008

Capital's graduation: farewell and amen

A compact, efficient, yet moving ceremony this evening at Saint Martin's, as 283 Capital seniors walked away with diplomas in hand and lessons in heart.

Highlights were the senior percussion group, who played "Samba Classico," and the uplifting speeches by teacher Dale Knuth and student Patrick Molohon. Knuth, giving his sixth and final graduation speech before leaving CHS for sunnier climes, railed against the stupidity of fanatical testing, and called for hope and compassion. A couple typical Knuthisms:
Capital values diversity. As you can see, I'm here as the token knucklehead.

Who really gains from all this testing? The #2 pencil makers. Someday they'll rule the world.
Molohon called upon the seniors to be "successful human beings," people of honor and integrity who serve others. Both speakers earned standing ovations.

All in all, a fine commencement. And, thanks to some fine detective work, hardly any shenanigans.

Ties were provided by graduating seniors: Mikaela Cox gave me the incredibly shiny golden fingerprint of the gods, while Jill Mauerman donated the modernist canvas on a cravat.

Update: The Olympian has quotes from several students, plus a list of the entire rogue's gallery.

light in-district blogging

Sorry--last night's Senior Awards kept me from the Board Meeting where, apparently, Carolyn Barclift was lightning-fast with the gavel. (Word to The Olympian: they're not "pleas." Constituents make demands or requests. They shouldn't have to beg.)

Tonight's graduation at Saint Martin's keeps me from posting my open letter to the Board--guess it'll have to wait until tomorrow.

See you then.


For you, sodden and besotted Mariners fan: a new word.


You're welcome.

(Yes, I know his last name is pronounced "Ba-VAY-zee." But it scans well.)

3000th post

This blog began, rather humbly, on April 29, 2004.

In just over four years, 3000 posts, about 2 per day. Give each post an average of ten minutes' thought--pressing it for some, not even close for many--and we're talking a minimum of 30,000 minutes. That's 21 days of nothing but blogging. (And that's a minimum, trust me.)

What does it all mean? I'm a national expert on Lincoln-Douglas debate. I'm an RSS feed. I'm a sparring partner. I'm a resource for randomness. And, these days, I'm busy elsewhere, too: two edu-blogs suck away precious blogging time.

Only one thing qualifies me for blogging sainthood, though: a steadfast refusal to keep it free. Free of ads, free of undue influence, free of charge, free of nasty odors.

I don't know what the future holds. National Board was supposed to be the last major distraction before I started writing a book, which would push blogging to the side for the summer. Can't say for sure, though. It is a deeply established addiction, a memory well, a jumping-off place, a reflection zone, an idea generator. And it's fun.

3,000 is just a round number, anyway. Nothing special about it--post 3,001 could be better.

I close by mangling the Emerson quote that has haunted me this graduation season, on cards, on invitations, on billboards, on pop-up ads, on ransom notes, and on love letters.

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies we tell ourselves."

Mine: blogging is just a hobby.

Jun 9, 2008

Jason Kuznicki's blog class, "Collectivism and Science Fiction"

I now have my summer reading mapped out. Jason Kuznicki has started a fantastic project:
Below is a mostly complete syllabus for “Collectivism and Science Fiction,” a blog-class that I plan on teaching over the next few months. I’ve added several works based both on your suggestions and on the need to give a more thorough introduction to collectivist social thought. I couldn’t include everything, and already the reading list is pushing the limits of a semester-length class.

If you want to follow the entire class closely, you may buy nearly all of the copyrighted works at the links provided. The public domain works available online have been linked directly.

I plan to tackle one work a week from the following list. Each will get an extended blog-essay treatment, and the various essays will build upon one another. Expect unplanned supplementals along the way, if I run into other things that might be worth discussing. Each post will be tagged with “Collectivism and Science Fiction” for reference. Please feel free to post comments, either beneath my posts or at your own blogs, and don’t be afraid to take the conversation wherever you like.
Check out the syllabus at the link.

I like the fact that it's thematic. It can be illuminating to discover connections that are sometimes missed in a chronological format. Also, I'm totally stoked to read We again.

good for you is bad for you

We recently had E. coli appear in the lettuce at Capital High School's lunchroom, sickening three students and freaking out 1500 others. Now I hear that salmonella makes raw tomatoes a poor choice for tonight's dining.

This morning, via the 7:20 funny, comedian Jim Gaffigan made me realize that a BLT is just an excuse to pig out on pork fat.

Why not forgo the danger of produce altogether? Pass the bacon, please.

the most disappointing headline ever

"Café Juanita Chef Wins Beard Award."

Alas, it's for cooking.

Jun 8, 2008

reading poetry with a barcode scanner

I've dabbled in randomesque poetry from time to time, so I get its aesthetic. But, to be good, even randomness has to mean. Joan Houlihan, reviewing Matthea Harvey's "Flatland," explains:
If “to read” means to follow with your eyes, one word after another, until a text becomes comprehensible, then I cannot say I’ve read Modern Life. If, on the other hand, “to read” means to scan, in the sense of reading labels, like a grocery store’s optical reader, or if it means to observe various-sized and colored containers without being able to see what’s inside, or if it means to skim, admiring the typeface design and visual placement on the page, or if it means to obtain data from a storage medium (the page), and transfer said data to another storage medium (the brain) via the movement of eyes, then I can say I have read this book. But what does such a reading mean? I can’t say I enjoyed it, nor can I say I didn’t enjoy it, since each word, then each poem, overwrites the previous one. Was I changed by the experience? I don’t know. I don’t think I had an experience.

With only other poets left to read poets, with critics at a loss to read or evaluate poems (how to read or evaluate a poem not meant for a reader of the first type, above?), and with a blurb-storm that blows over the landscape with such force the landscape is itself is in danger of being obliterated, poetry has entered its Golden Age of Logorrhea.
That's the diagnosis. What's the cure?

[via AL Daily]

Jun 7, 2008

red light cameras: no deterrent this time

The Olympian is still optimistic, now that the cash is about to flow from Lacey's red light cameras.
Cameras have become a necessity given the epidemic of red-light violations in the South Sound region.

Greg Cuoio, Lacey city manager, defends the move to cameras, saying, “We’re not entering into this to generate revenue. It’s truly a safety issue.”

And that’s why red-light cameras are a good thing. If they prevent just one high-speed T-bone accident with injuries or death, they will be a success. And if they convince motorists to obey the law and stop for every red light, well, that’s an added bonus.
Tell that to the guy in the Terminix truck early this afternoon. I drove into the intersection at Pacific and College just as the light turned yellow. Fearing a short yellow, the kind cities institute to instigate offenses, I accelerated slightly, not going to be the chump with the ticket. Good thing, too. Terminix Truck Guy was running the light, camera be damned. He nearly rear-ended me. In the rearview, I saw him chatting on his cell phone, oblivious.

Yep. Those red-light cameras are the answer.

Jun 5, 2008

seriously... just make it

'Tis the season for pranks (Coupeville's was artless and stupid), rising tempers (without the usual commensurate rising temperatures), and fraying nerves (hire a hit man? seriously? rip out his eyeballs? really?).

Now's not the time to boil over, blow up, or burn out.

You can make it. It's only a week or two more. You can make it.

M's implode

Even the batboys and ballgirls are nervous, now.

Armstrong explodes privately:
Team president Chuck Armstrong berated members of the coaching staff Wednesday morning, hours before the imploding Mariners got swept out of a three-game series against the same Los Angeles Angels they expected to unseat for the AL West title.

Later, Armstrong refused to comment on the outburst during a 5-4 loss that sent Seattle to a season-worst 18 games under .500....

"What's said between me and the coaches stays between me and the coaches," Armstrong said through a team spokesman.
McClaren explodes publicly:
"I'm tired of (expletive) losing! I'm tired of getting my ass beat, and so are those guys!" McLaren shouted, jabbing his finger toward the clubhouse at the beginning of an expletive-laced tirade that emphasized his team is trying hard but not performing as it should.
Add to that McLaren's delusion that, in spring training, the staff had "five aces," and toss in a disillusioned Ichiro--"I don't think at this point it is even worth it to answer that question"--and you have the recipe for an all-out implosion.

Jun 4, 2008

humans still perched on their cognitive pedestal

Even as the birds try, in vain, to topple it:
As everyone knows, parrots are remarkably good at mimicking human speech, but they tend to repeat randomly picked-up phrases: obscenities, election slogans, “Hey, sailor.” Many parrots kept as pets also imitate familiar sounds, like the family dog barking or an alarm clock beeping. But Pepperberg taught Alex referential speech—labels for objects, and phrases like “Wanna go back.” By the end, he knew about fifty words for objects. Pepperberg was never particularly interested in teaching Alex language for its own sake; rather, she was interested in what language could reveal about the workings of his mind. In learning to speak, Alex showed Pepperberg that he understood categories like same and different, bigger and smaller. He could count and recognize Arabic numerals up to six. He could identify objects by their color, shape (“three-corner,” “four-corner,” and so on, up to “six-corner”), and material: when Pepperberg held up, say, a pompom or a wooden block, he could answer “Wool” or “Wood,” correctly, about eighty per cent of the time. Holding up a yellow key and a green key of the same size, Pepperberg might ask Alex to identify a difference between them, and he’d say, “Color.” When she held up two keys and asked, “Which is bigger?,” he could identify the larger one by naming its color. Looking at a collection of objects that he hadn’t seen before, Alex could reliably answer a two-tiered question like “How many blue blocks?”—a tricky task for toddlers. He even seemed to develop an understanding of absence, something akin to the concept of zero. If asked what the difference was between two identical blue keys, Alex learned to reply, “None.” (He pronounced it “nuh.”)
It's difficult to know exactly what level of awareness Alex the parrot would have of his own abilities--though, to be fair, two-year-old humans, with rare exceptions, aren't terribly reflective. Regardless, that Alex could endure the training of ethologists like Pepperberg shows either a remarkable patience or a stultifying lack of drive, seen usually in nearly-graduated seniors.

I should also add that I don't really think of admitting animal intelligence as knocking humans off a pedestal; as I've written time and again, it's more a matter of raising others closer to our humble perch.

For examples of other non-human leaps toward human heights, see this NewScientist summary.

his name is... me!

Writing under my nom de plume, I've been selected as the Commenter of the Week over at The Comics Curmudgeon.

I am nearly speechless.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy: an excerpt

The gray ash floated from the clouds and sifted over the barren landscape and drifted. Covering ash with ash. Like fertilizer from a malevolent god. The sky burning itself out like a Roman candle. In the distance the ashen corpses.

He rearranged the ashes in the fire and poked at the coals and opened a tin of peaches and ate a few and drank deep from the sweet juice. Humanity. The wistful scraps of civilization. From every memory a floating ember. The fire died. He considered lighting it again and stirred the ashes. The darkness would come and swallow them up. Dark ashen grayness. The boy drew a circumference in the ash.

Bleak, isnt it Papa?


Going to get bleaker, isnt it?


Will we ever run out of food?

We'll come close, but there's always a house or store or bunker with canned goods that will keep us going. And we will always ration our apostrophes.

But will we ever run out of synonyms for "ashen?"

Try not to think about that, son.





somnambulism and the nanny state

"Chicago sleepwalks into the surveillance society with 'intelligent' networked cameras."

"We are sleepwalking into a surveillance society."
First it was Chicago. Then came Seattle. Metropolis after metropolis marches blithely toward automated authoritarianism. Who will watch the watchers? Who will wake the watchers of the watchers?

Jun 3, 2008

two decades in the evolving

Ed Brayton points us to a fascinating--and very, very patient--experiment:
If Stephen Jay Gould were alive today, he would be smiling. Maybe even gloating.

New research suggests that the famous evolutionary biologist was right when he argued that, if the evolution of life were “wound back” and played again from the start, it could have turned out very differently.

In experiments on bacteria grown in the lab, scientists found that evolving a new trait sometimes depended on previous, happenstance mutations. Without those earlier random mutations, the window of opportunity for the novel trait would never have opened. History might have been different....

Lenski's team watched 12 colonies of identical E. coli bacteria evolve under carefully controlled lab conditions for 20 years, which equates to more than 40,000 generations of bacteria. After every 500 generations, the researchers froze samples of bacteria. Those bacteria could later be thawed out to "replay" the evolutionary clock from that point in time.

After about 31,500 generations, one colony of bacteria evolved the novel ability to use a nutrient that E. coli normally can't absorb from its environment. Thawed-out samples from after the 20,000-generation mark were much more likely to re-evolve this trait than earlier samples, which suggests that an unnoticed mutation that occurred around the 20,000th generation enabled the microbes to later evolve the nutrient-absorption ability through a second mutation, the researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Remarkably, in roughly the same amount of time, creationism evolved into Intelligent Design by a similarly subtle mutation--though without much in the way of labwork.

Olympia School District recommends its balanced budget

Big savings through attrition. That's the major sticking point of the formally-proposed Olympia School District budget cuts [pdf], which save Drill Team and sports (but increase pay-to-play fees), largely relying on a combination of smaller savings aligned with fairly steep increases in class sizes.

I'm not terribly surprised: to list one example, administrators at Capital have been planning for next year under the assumption that we'll push 30 students in 9th grade, and 30+ in upper-level English courses.

If, like many community members, you want to keep cuts "as far away from the students as possible," you'd better continue lobbying the Board. It'll be entirely in their hands, and soon.

The next meeting for public comment is Thursday, 6:30 p.m., at the Knox Building.

WASL passage rate tops 90%

91.4% of the class of 2008 can sleep well tonight, glowing in the light of the WASL. (Well, at least since the math portion was dropped.)

I'm glad--well, not glad, but satisfied--to see KOMO getting the other, often unmentioned part of the story: that 15,000 students have already dropped out. That's about 18% of the original class of 2008, number about 82,000 in all.

If a few more drop because they can't get credits, and a few more because the WASL stumps 'em, then we'll be at near the historically high dropout rate. This, to me, is the most important issue we face in secondary education, WASL or no. I'm somewhat optimistic that the State Board of Education is serious about tackling it, with their revision of graduation requirements and talk of pathways, but... we'll see.

Oh, and: I totally called it.

to sleep, perchance to sleep

3:40 in the morning. Melissa punches me. "Did you turn off the alarm?" she asks.

"No," I mumble. As she scrambles to get ready for her 4:00 Starbuck shift, I grumble and try to sleep again. I reset the alarm for 6:15, and toss about for the next half hour before drifting away.

7:00. I punch myself. "Did I turn off the alarm?" I ask. "Must have."

As I scramble to get ready for the school day, I mumble an apology to no one in particular, and wonder how and why my brain could have, quite unconsciously, turned off the alarm twice in the same morning.

No time to shower, shave, or read the morning news. Barely time to fix coffee and breakfast. Just enough time to throw on today's tie. No time to run through Romeo and Juliet, Act III, for today's Shakespeare Challenge. It shows: twelve students stump me, a record.

Otherwise, it's been a very pleasant day.

Jun 2, 2008

Capital gets a visit from the accreditation team

As I was scrambling to get my senior writing class settled in the computer lab, the accreditation man appeared, out of the void, and stood at my side, watching the class, filing away mental notes. He wore a floral tie, a navy blue suit, and a serious look.

"This is an English course?" he asked. Uh-huh.

"Where'd you earn your degree?" Master's in teaching from Evergreen.

"How long've you been teaching here?" Six years.

"Did you see the article this morning about the WASL not being the hurdle we thought it would? Something like six students in the district aren't passing?" I thought, See it? I'm going to blog about it. I said, well, it's not too surprising, since math was no longer included. But I'm more concerned with the dropout rate. It's never specifically addressed in the article, and, I fear, gets short shrift in state discussions.

He nodded. He stood for a while, then left, off to another class.

I wondered if I made the grade.