May 31, 2008

thick skull, thin skin

From the Chronicle of Higher Education, a story of the wannabe professor from Critical Theory Hell:
Or there was the famous professor’s advisee whose dossier I loved: superb letters, fine scholarship, excellent teaching experience for a doctoral student. We asked her how she might approach indifferent students. “Oh, they wouldn’t be indifferent to Marxist-feminist-postmodernism,” she said confidently, and was off: “We’d start the African-American history course by establishing that gender makes race.”

“Excuse me,” my colleague interrupted, “I don’t understand what you just said.”

She babbled on happily in code for a while.
Ryan writes, "She didn't get the job for obvious reasons."

Or did she?
Priya Venkatesan taught English at Dartmouth College. She maintains that some of her students were so unreceptive of "French narrative theory" that it amounted to a hostile working environment. She is also readying lawsuits against her superiors, who she says papered over the harassment, as well as a confessional exposé, which she promises will "name names."
[via Ed Brayton]


Last night the Mike Dean Project, drumming provided by yours truly, played at yet another Elma Relay for Life. I'm guessing the event raised even more money than last year's--there seemed to be more people in attendance.

I save bacon fat from time to time. I fry eggs in it when I'm in a particularly cholesteroly mood. I did not know it could be sculpted, though. Yes. Sculpted.

The Mariners still suck. Only a few weeks 'til a fire sale, I swear.

Now that Melissa is mere days away from graduating, she and I have decided to wade into the housing market. If you are trying to unload a reasonably-priced domicile in the greater Olympia area, drop me a line.

Blog-neighbor Christina Watts has found a new home. (Love the punny title, too--"Justified Text." Clever.)

The tie is the sixth-to-last of the year.

May 30, 2008

principal and student caught plagiarizing

In the same graduation ceremony, no less.
Naperville Central High School Principal Jim Caudill isn’t the only one Naperville School District 203 is punishing for plagiarism.

During a Thursday afternoon press conference in which District 203 officials announced that Caudill would likely be “reassigned” due to his admitted transgression, Superintendent Alan Leis revealed that portions of the commencement address delivered by Central’s valedictorian also appear to be plagiarized.

Leis would not identify the valedictorian by name, but, in covering Central’s May 21 graduation ceremony, Central administrators reported that Steven “Hankong” Su was the valedictorian for Central’s class of 2008.
Someone will be exposed as a plagiarist somewhere in America each commencement season. It's a graduation tradition. [via Obscure Store]

May 28, 2008

Allen Miller's debut, featuring... Avanti High School

I attended the first couple hours of last night's Board meeting, just to see how Allen Miller's first date with destiny went. Justice Gerry Alexander began the proceedings by swearing in the newest member of the Board, describing him as a "fine, upstanding, and public-spirited citizen... I know you'll find him a hard worker and an excellent person to deal with."

Miller, at least as long as I was there, had to sit and listen, mostly, as staff and students from Avanti High School shared data, art, projects, and testimonials about the value of alternative education. Most engaging were the snippet from The Importance of Being Earnest and the stair-climbing robots.

"Originally, we were a stereotypical alternative school," said Principal Michael Velasquez. He noted that Joy Walton, through her efforts at designing a performance-based curriculum, "turned this program into something unique." A study commissioned by OSPI places Avanti in the top ten alternative programs in the state.

Other meeting highlights included several community comments in favor of protecting activities and sports from the budget ax. Jennifer Forster, representing the South Sound Reading Foundation, noted that the group distributed 5,000 books to OSD students last year.

Also, Linda Lamb of the State Board of Education came to discuss the evolving math standards, including the upcoming 3rd-year requirement. It could be adopted as early as July of this year. However, it creates one problem and exposes another: insufficient math teachers, and insufficient preparation at the middle and elementary level. Says Lamb, "[Students] don't all enter, as freshmen, prepared, and they don't all achieve at the same stage... We need good teachers, and ways of keeping kids at the rigor we need." And, importantly, "We are also recommending that the legislature fund what we recommend." In her estimation, levies won't be the answer, if an extra year's going to be a basic education requirement.

Last, I note an interesting geographic shift: now Frank Wilson has a different seat. From left-to-right: Carolyn Barclift, Miller, Bob Shirley, Wilson, and Russ Lehman.

CHS tasing incident

Students came into class, breathless with excitement.

"A guy in a dress was in front of the school, waving a Taser around," one said.

"He was wearing a trench coat," another chimed in, "with purple gloves and pink shoes."

"They were red boots," said another.

"No, pink rubber boots," a fourth said.

"He was casting some kind of magic spell over us," said another.

The Olympian's report is a little less breathless:
A 33-year-old man was arrested in front of Capital High School shortly after 7 a.m. today after police received reports that he was threatening students with a Taser near the main entrance, an Olympia police news release says.

A Washington State Patrol trooper confronted the suspect, Anya Adora, who reportedly dropped the Taser.

Olympia police took Adora into custody. No one was hurt, and Adora did not enter the school. The school had begun to lock down as soon as staff became aware of the incident.
Apparently Adora--who is transgendered--has been having mental health problems, as referred to in this blog post.
In about an hour or so, Teens from Capital High School

will be parking out from of my house, and littering as usual...


I'll admit, I wasn't freaked out until I saw the website.

Update: Northwest Cable News has a writeup and a video, featuring CHS student Ian Metz, who first alerted his teacher that Adora was a threat.

Update II: KOMO reports that it could have been much worse for Adora:
Officers arrived and Olympia Police Commander Tor Bjornstad said officers almost shot the man.

"The problem is, the Taser looks like a handgun," Bjornstad said. "And in the right or the wrong circumstances, it could have resulted in some sort of a 'suicide by cop' thing."
Thankfully, Adora gave up without a fight, and without hurting anyone.

criminality correlates with lead exposure

Provocative results, reported in New Scientist:
Now Kim Dietrich at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and his colleagues have looked prospectively at how lead levels affect the risk of being arrested in adulthood. They recruited 250 pregnant women from a poor lead-contaminated inner-city district in Cincinnati.

The researchers took blood samples from the women early in pregnancy, then sampled the blood of the children four times a year till age 5, and then twice a year until they were about 7 years old.
Increased arrests

Years later, the researchers checked public records to see if their subjects had been arrested since reaching the age of 18, and if so, how many times and for what. Independent reviewers coded them into categories, such as violent offences, drug offences and fraud.

After controlling for factors including maternal IQ, maternal arrest rates, parenting style and socioeconomic factors, they found that prenatal and childhood lead concentrations in the blood predicted likelihood of adult arrest.

A 5 microgram/decilitre increment in average childhood blood lead level, for instance, increased the rate of arrest for violent crimes by 26%. And high prenatal blood levels predicted the total number of adult arrests.
Results tentative, subject to further clarification or potential retraction. I'd be curious to know how those other factors compared in predictive power.

May 27, 2008

and I quote

"Don't be such a naysayer."


"That's Shakepearean for 'hater.'"


Dignity intact.

[Tie provided by my shrine to Leon Kass.]

efficiency is selfishness

There, they said it:
Web users are getting more ruthless and selfish when they go online, reveals research.

The annual report into web habits by usability guru Jakob Nielsen shows people are becoming much less patient when they go online.

Instead of dawdling on websites many users want simply to reach a site quickly, complete a task and leave.

Most ignore efforts to make them linger and are suspicious of promotions designed to hold their attention.
When I click "close" on those annoying pop-over ads, I fancy myself clutching a saber and gritting my teeth and saying, "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my blogging mojo. Prepare to die!"

don't smile--you're on candid camera

I remember reading about the Everett EA's accusation that Cascade High School officials had been secretly videotaping a journalism teacher with a crudely hidden camera, and thinking, It's so crazy it just might be true.

It was true.

"Deputy Superintendent Brandsma authorized video monitoring from the hallway looking at the door to Kay Powers' classroom to determine if students were frequenting her classroom late at night or on weekends in violation of school policies and the district directives to Kay Powers," the report said.

Powers and her students were banned from using district equipment to publish an alternative newspaper. Powers' firing followed the district's discovery that a student had used a classroom computer to copy files from an e-mail account to his personal laptop for use in an alternative student newspaper.

It was unclear whether Brandsma would be disciplined; he could not be reached for comment on Friday.

The hidden camera was supposed to be in the hallway outside of the classroom, but the company hired to install it placed it on the ceiling inside Powers' room, according to the report. The camera was directed at the classroom door, the report said.

A video showing individuals from the waist up coming and going from the classroom was delivered to Brandsma. But now the video's "current whereabouts are unknown," the report said.

Patterson also concluded that there is "no evidence that any audio recordings were made."

Whitehead said she never saw the video recording and it played no role in her decision to fire Powers.

"My determination to terminate the employment was not retaliation. It was not an attempt to interfere with her free speech rights, and it was not based on any information seen or heard from any form of video or audio surveillance," she said.

Union leaders said they are glad the district now admits the camera was used.

"It does prove what we have been saying all along, that the district ... had practiced surveillance," said Kim Mead, president of the Everett Education Association. "I just find it so disappointing that they believe it is OK to treat employees in this manner."
So disappointing? How about "outrageous," "stupid," or "so tragic it's positively Shakespearean?"

May 25, 2008

a very Indy weekend

Indiana Jones and the Sorcerer's Stone rakes in hundreds of millions of thousands of dollars.

A French flick with indy sensibilities and style
wins the Palme d'Or.

The Seattle Times displays the best of the 3-Minute Masterpiece competition, as indies battle film school brats.

Below: my favorite from the contest, Ben Kadie's "A Friendly Game." No plot, but some great special effects. (Kadie used a skateboard as a dolly and a green sheet as a green screen.)

May 24, 2008

what's in a name?

Ben is Dan in real life:
I practiced and practiced, to no avail. Recognizing defeat, I have considered changing my name to Dan, but then everyone would probably call me Ben.

Another option is to go by Benjamin (I can hear it now, ‘Danjamin’). Benjamin, however, sounds too stuffy. I would rather be known as Dan.

Despite the difficulties it imposes, I am at peace with my dual identity. Given the ordinariness of my name it would be narcissistic to take offense at someone thinking I am one of the 1,193,150 Dans in America, rather than one of the 330,750 Bens.
Earlier this year, in one of my senior classes, we were talking about names--how people get them wrong, what they mean, why they matter so much. I was surprised that almost nobody knew the origin or significance of their appellations, first or last. That day's internet research session was fascinating, and at times revealing. We had several kings, a few princesses, and one candle-maker.

On a related note, I wonder if Romeo would've been so willing to doff his name if Juliet had wanted to call him Herman. "A rose by any other name," bah.

[via Obscure Store]

the rise and fall of microbes

Rise: Bacterial co-evolution has might have made you what you are today:
"If animals from an omnivorous background have moved into a more herbivorous lifestyle they have absolutely needed bacterial partners and microbes to allow that to happen," Gordon says.

David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University in California agrees that microbes could have played an important part in mammalian evolutionary history.

"It's possible that our microbial makeup has guided and played a major role in defining who we are and what we do, but it could also be the flip side," he says. Gut microbe populations could passively respond to changes in host physiology and diet.

To answer that question, researchers need a better grasp on the factors that determine an animal's gut flora – including genes and diet. To make things even more complex, other studies have shown that gut microbe populations change over the course of months and years.

"It's a daunting set of potential variables, only some of which you can control," Relman says.
Should make for interesting research. In similar news, "If cells could vote, people would be a minority in their own body." We've mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating: you are a superorganism.

Life has been found 1.6 kilometres beneath the sea floor, at temperatures reaching 100 °C.

The discovery marks the deepest living cells ever to be found beneath the sea floor. Bacteria have been found deeper underneath the continents, but there they are rare. In comparison, the rocks beneath the sea appear to be teeming with life.

John Parkes, a geobiologist at the University of Cardiff, UK, hopes his team's discovery might one day help find life on other planets. He says it might even redefine what we understand as life, and, bizarrely, what we understand by "age".

Parkes has been hunting for deep life for over 20 years. Recently, he and his colleagues examined samples of a mud core extracted from between 860 metres and 1626 metres beneath the sea floor off the coast of Newfoundland.
It's possible that some of the freshly-discovered prokaryotes could be several million years old--their metabolism is so slow, that they live almost in a sort of permanent hibernation. Parkes figures that the mass of these undersea prokaryotes could equal that of all other life on earth.

in bad faith: more Sonics fallout

The Seattle Times' report on the latest findings from Howard Schultz's "Save the Sonics" lawsuit, among other things, shows a strange confluence of geography, sports, politics, and gay marriage:
While no major revelations emerged during his deposition, McClendon was asked about two e-mails that previously have not been disclosed in court filings.

The first e-mail came early last year, after controversy erupted in Seattle over large political contributions made in 2004 by McClendon and Ward to an anti-gay marriage political committee. News of the pair's political leanings didn't sit well in the Democrat-controlled Washington Legislature, which was then considering whether to fund the Sonics' Renton arena proposal.

Jim Roth, an openly gay politician in Oklahoma, offered to contact Seattle media to defend McClendon against accusations of being anti-gay.

McClendon encouraged that effort, but told Roth in an e-mail: "The reality is it just improves OKC's chances of getting them [the Sonics] here year after next."

Roth responded: "Yes, and then we all win."
"We," of course, not including "you," if you're a Seattle fan.

The article, must reading for anyone who cares about the Sonics, includes links covering the whole shameless debacle, a textbook example of disingenuousness, double dealing, and outright lying.

read this. NOW. ::CRUCIAL UPDATE::

Update 5/24: Thanks to your help, she advanced to the final round. You can vote again. And again and again and again. Jenni's the Monday dancer. Go vote!

Update: The day has changed, and so have the dancers. Thanks to all who voted!

A little while ago, Jenni Hargis, a former neighbor and total sweetheart, fulfilled a dream of a lifetime and met Ellen Degeneres. What I didn't know: she danced on Ellen, and is now part of their contest for Dancer of the Week.

On this here blog, I don't ask for much. But today, I'm demanding. Go now, and vote for Jenni. She's Dancer #1. In her own words:
Go and vote for me!!! I'm totally embarrassed and look like a complete dork, but am competitive enough to want to win.
It takes mere seconds. Click through. Do it! Vote!

(If you're super-awesome, link to this post as well, and tell all your readers to go and vote, too.)

May 23, 2008

Rich Semler sounds good on the radio box

I caught Rich Semler's appearance [mp3, 20:00 in] on the Dori Monson Show (Frank Shiers filling in) on KIRO this afternoon, and was impressed by his good humor, quick wit, and overall amiableness. I liked how Semler stressed the difference between being anti-WASL and anti-assessment. We can use less expensive, just as reliable instruments to get the results we need.

In an important interchange, Shiers asked Semler how he'd reform the WASL. A few steps:

1. Smarter use of multiple choice.
2. Get it back to teachers in 2-3 days.
3. 2-3 hour test, instead of days.
4. Testing complex thinking without taking 12-14 questions per student.
5. "Mime" systems like Delaware's.

It didn't help so much that Shiers, who's otherwise well-versed in educational issues, wasn't aware that Terry Bergeson is actually in the running, which perfectly illustrates the primary problem Semler faces. The Superintendent of Public Instruction just doesn't register on the average voter's radar.

If Semler can overcome that hurdle--and here, the ongoing publicity efforts by the WEA should help--he has a decent shot at an incumbent whose popular support, such as it is, weakens daily.

May 22, 2008

a lament for the Mariners

Alas! This sodden team is dead,
Adrowned in muck and mire.
For once the other team's ahead,
From Rainier's slopes will surge lahar
To douse the rally fire.

[Tacky tie provided gratis.]

May 21, 2008

a (prosthetic) leg up?

Tim Keown isn't too happy about a recent ruling allowing Oscar Pistorius to run in the Olympics.
Should he be allowed to compete? Of course not. This really isn't that difficult. Pistorius is running on artificial legs, wonders of technology instead of flesh and bone. It's simply not the same.

If a legless swimmer showed up at a meet with carbon-fiber flippers, would that be all right? If a legless high-jumper used spring-loaded Cheetahs, would that be allowed?

The truth is, Pistorius has an event, and it's called the Paralympics. It's not an insult to him to suggest that he compete in that event rather than the Olympics. The Paralympians are amazing -- usually more amazing than their able-bodied counterparts.

Pistorius is a fantastic athlete, and his story is a hell of a lot more gripping than the average professional athlete's. His accomplishments are vital; those of the able-bodied are merely inspirational.

So yes, it's a great story.

Just not an Olympic story.
Keown is right to wonder where this all stops, but, surprisingly, he doesn't discuss the substance of the ruling. Cleverly designed research demonstrated that, at least aerobically, Pistorius possesses no apparent advantage over any naturally-equipped runner.
If the Cheetahs gave Pistorius an advantage, he would burn fewer calories while performing at the same level as other athletes.

To find out, Weyland's team measured how much oxygen Pistorius consumed as he ran at a moderate pace on a laboratory treadmill.

They found that although he used oxygen more efficiently than many elite runners, he wasn't off the charts, and many distance runners do better. "Does he run cheaper than everyone else? The answer is no," Weyand says.
Scientists aren't sure whether the Cheetahs are "bouncier" than bone, returning more kinetic energy when striking the running surface.

We face a brave new world of gene doping, drugs, wonder-prosthetics, and, someday, nanotechnologized everything. When we're all cybernetic organisms, I guess this this debate won't even matter.

May 20, 2008

North Thurston levy results--updated

The levy is going to pass.

That's not news, that's a prediction. But I bet it'll be news around 8:15 tonight. The level of advertising, sign-waving, and overall interest from the pro-levy folks is infinitely higher than last go-round. Thus, I'm confidently prognosticating a win today.

Heck, I even saw pro-levy signs at the office where I get my molars scrubbed.

If I'm wrong, I'll... I don't know. I won't be wrong.

Update 8:20 p.m. Early results are quite favorable. With about 44% of the possible ballots cast, the levy's up 62-37%. Remember, nowadays, it needs only 50.01% to pass. It's going to pass.

Update 8:28 p.m. The Olympian concurs. It passes.

wordplay, swordplay

I'm reading Romeo and Juliet with my freshfolks again, so here comes a series of loosely connected thoughts and links:

1. I don't know if I like the term "agenbite," but I do agree that certain words, in Mr. Olson's phrase, possess a form of noetic onomatopoeia.

2. In a mini-lecture, I used the term "s/wordplay" to describe Gregory and Samson's banter, and, it might be added, nearly all the verbal gymnastics, sexual or no, among the male characters in R and J. (I haven't found a good cinematic translation; sadly, the opening is almost entirely chopped out of the Zeffirelli production, and amped up beyond recognition in the Luhrmann travesty.) Subtlety and punnery are the first weapons of choice; only when they fail do the swords come out.

3. Going along with that, Tybalt, the villain, notably hates even the word "peace." He is the most witless, the most humorless of the dramatis personae, which is an important clue to his character.

4. Perhaps all is not lost with our upcoming text-message-based generation.
He and Tagliamonte analysed more than a million words of IM communications and a quarter of a million spoken words produced by 72 people aged between 15 and 20. They found that although IM shared some of the patterns used in speech, its vocabulary and grammar tended to be relatively conservative. For example, teenagers are more likely to use the phrase "He was like, 'What's up?'" than "He said, 'What's up?'" when speaking - but the opposite is true when they are instant-messaging. This supports the idea that IM represents a hybrid form of communication.

Nor do teens use abbreviations as much as the stereotype suggests: LOL (laugh out loud), OMG (oh my god), and TTYL (talk to you later) made up just 2.4 per cent of the vocabulary of IM conversations - an "infinitesimally small" proportion, say the researchers. And rumours of the demise of you would appear to have been greatly exaggerated: it was preferred to u a whopping 9 times out of 10. Tagliamonte and Denis suggest that the use of such short forms is confined mostly to the youngest users of IM
I've been known to bewail and bemoan the text-message trend, so this potentially gripe-undermining discovery is a happy defeat.

May 18, 2008

stop looking at the Jumbotron!

I watched a few games of the Celtics-Cavs series, interested mostly because my bro-in-law is a (now disappointed) Cleveland fan. LeBron James was incredible in games 3-7, but incredible wasn't good enough to win on the road.

One thing I noticed: NBA players spend an inordinate amount of time gawking at the Jumbotron. I started wondering if it affects their concentration. Consider this quote:
It wasn't Wilkins' day on May 22, 1988, even though he outscored Bird in Boston's 118-116 win over Atlanta at the old Boston Garden. Wilkins finished with 47 points, 16 in the fourth quarter, and Bird had 34, with 20 in the final period.

"I'm very aware of the game," Pierce said. "They don't ever let you forget it when you look up to the jumbotron."
Players are always checking the instant replay, the close-ups of the cheerleaders, the booing schlub in the nosebleeds, the opposing coach's pit stains... if I were an NBA coach, it'd drive me batty.

"Keep your head in the game," I'd tell 'em before the contest started. "Anyone who cranes his neck toward the television to check his style points on a dunk gets five minutes on the bench. Anyone who bets on that stupid boat/car/airplane race graphic sits for the night."

Could the JumboTron be solely responsible for the NBA's explosion of preening narcissism?

May 16, 2008

the end of civilization in an 11-inch span

Behold, the wonder-television.
People can't help touching it and can't help drawing comparisons between the OLED and other extremely slim things. "I came in just to see it," says one man, who, having seen it, goes home three minutes later. Another man, in tortoise-shell glasses, stands behind me for a few seconds, shaking his head and swearing repeatedly in glee. "Sold!" he says. "Why would you want to watch anything else?"
Behold, the end of civilization.

a 19-year-old mayor

John Tyler Hammons is one of the country's youngest politicians.
A 19-year-old freshman at the University of Oklahoma was elected mayor Tuesday of Muskogee, a city of 38,000 in the northeastern part of the state.

With all precincts reporting, John Tyler Hammons won with 70 percent of the vote over former Mayor Hershel Ray McBride, said Muskogee County Election Board Secretary Bill Bull.

"The public placing their trust in me is the greatest, humbling and most awesome experience I've ever had in my life," said Hammons, who is from Muskogee but attends the university in Norman.
More power to him.

May 15, 2008

incredible animated street art

Utterly astounding, creepy, and fun: street art comes to life.

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

I just National Boarded

And all I hope is that I'm above National Borderline. Won't know 'til November, though.

As I walked out toward the restroom during the mid-test 15-minute break, the radio in the receptionist's office was playing "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." Good thing I don't believe in omens.

Allen Miller is your fifth Board member

I've been caught up preparing for my National Board exam--yes, later today, I feel the pain of a high-stakes test--so I've had to put my District-blogging to the side, mostly.

I will say I'm not entirely surprised that the ESD chose Allen Miller. When the Board deadlocked on Keeffe-v-Tsou-or-Parker, and when I heard the ESD discuss the importance of moving forward, I figured they might go with the guy without any strong ties to any of the sitting members, and without any potential for extra fractiousness once his term began. A couple quotes sustain this thought:
"I think in looking at all the qualifications at all the applicants, all of them were highly qualified. Mr. Miller had the best chance of succeeding in the current environment on the board," Winner said.

"I think his skills of mediating and arbitrating and overall resume was very strong," said board member Rex Comstock.

"We were looking for people whose first priority is kids, and people who could work with other people," said board member Marvin Lam. "Because of the problem there with the existing board, we were looking for someone who could work with them."
What does it mean for the District? Time will tell. There will be a committed group watching Miller's every move, to see if he lines up on one side or another, and how often, because suspicion's still out there that Miller is the conspiracy-appointed rubber-stamper for the Axis of Lahmann.

I don't know, because I don't know and haven't met Miller. That's my only disappointment: that he came in under the radar, and that the public never got a chance to weigh in on his worth. But we've got a lot of work ahead of us, so it won't be long before we all know what Miller's made of.

Now, back to prepping. I've got a test to take.

May 13, 2008

a twenty-minute poetic analysis

Yeah, I'm practicing. I make my students do this all the time, so this should be easy, right?

The poem: "Shampoo & Sponge Bath" by J.W. Marshall.

The challenge: write a coherent commentary on a poem I've never before seen, covering at least three specific features, all within 20 minutes.

The results:
The poem presents a vivid and shocking picture of the frailty of human existence. There is nothing so humbling, the speaker of the poem obliquely suggests, as a shampoo and sponge bath: being taken into someone else's care, someone else who may only partly understand the "mess" that the speaker has become due to the ravages of age or extended illness.

The poet employs several literary devices to amplify the reader's sense of the speaker's humility and humiliation, and to strike up empathy; the reader is meant to not only visualize, but feel the speaker's plight.

One device, polysyndeton, in the fourth stanza, illuminates the comprehensive and cumulative nature of the speaker's hapless and somewhat helpless situation: the water from the bath covers his "gown and skin and sheets." (The lack of punctuation and the additional conjunction suggests the totality of the spill--the reader rushes through the line, much like the water "slopped" all over.) The staff assisting the speaker are careless and hurried, so that the speaker's humiliation is magnified by a form of psychic isolation.

The immersion becomes almost like a baptism; the speaker dies "and happily that time" when his head is placed in a metal basin for washing. This form of hyperbolic symbolism suggests that the immersion, much like the spiritual awakening of baptism, opens the speaker's eyes to his place in the cosmos: feeble, small, and sopping wet.

The poet further describes the smallness by recourse to simile--"Like a tuber on the pillow"--though this is offered only provisionally, since it is contrasted immediately with an alternative, "or the shadow of a spade." On the literal level, the speaker is physically shrunken by extended bed-rest. Figuratively, the speaker has been dug up from life; the reference to the spade might also ominously presage the approach of death and burial. (The hyperbolic death at the end of the first part lends to that particular reading.)

So, not only in the first part but in the poem's entirety, the theme of human frailty in the face of death, the existential crisis upon the discovery, through sight and sensation, that humans inhabit a shriveling body, tiny compared to the "terrifyingly large sky," is made clear and powerful. The reader, influenced by the surprising confluence of banal detail and philosophical observation, cannot go away unmoved.
There are a few reaches, but overall, passable. I use semicolons only when in a hermeneutic mood, I've noticed.

Brits releasing UFO files

And no, it won't satisfy the Believers:
Eight files are currently available on a dedicated UFO page at the National Archives website. The files are from 1978 to 1987 and include reports of UFO sightings and alien encounters from civilians as well as military personnel.

The reports range from mysterious to downright bizarre. One elderly man said he was given a personal tour of an alien spacecraft by beings wearing green overalls and then was ultimately rejected for abduction because of his age.
Actually, it was because he couldn't handle a brush. They were set on a remodel of this corner of the galaxy.

May 12, 2008

by a bibliophile, for bibliophiles

My deep and abiding love for books extends to those who nurture them. I harbor profound reverence for librarians, glowing appreciation for authors, and even begrudging respect for publishers. After reading Ben Carlson's review of Alberto Manguel's The Library at Night, I just might have a reason to shed the rest of my Barnes and Noble gift card.
The Library at Night is a reminder of all the things that books -- real, physical, hefted books -- have represented. They are friends, memories, consolations, and gateways to thought. As objects, they carry history, and their decay is itself a lesson in mortality. We mourn with Manguel the destruction of Aztec civilization during the great book-burnings of Juan de Zumarraga's Mexican Inquisition, and we celebrate the survival of a Jewish prayer book he discovered in a Berlin market: "From fire, water, the passage of time, neglectful readers and the hand of the censor, each of my books has escaped to tell me its story." Their impermanence instructs us in the need to remember.
Amen to that.

where was the air marshal?

Man talking on cell phone refuses to hang up. Signal fouls up plane's avionics, causing tragic crash. Not exactly:
Joe David Jones, 50, was cited for disorderly conduct, Dallas police said.

The incident occurred during a Southwest flight from Austin to Dallas. “After multiple requests, the flight attendants were not successful in getting the passenger to get off the phone,” said Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King.

According to a Dallas police report, flight attendants had asked Mr. Jones to turn off his cell phone and he responded with, "Kiss my ---." When asked again, he stated, "Kiss my ---. Not happening," the report said.

He remained on the phone for about 20 minutes. The pilot radioed the incident to the Love Field tower and Dallas police were notified. Officers met Mr. Jones at the gate and he continued to "exhibit disorderly conduct," police said.
Because if they let one guy talk on his cell phone, they have to let everyone else, and then we'll have a plane full of cell phone talkers, who'll have to shout over the engine because they're sitting way in the back with the screaming babies, and nobody wants that.

[via Obscure Store]

May 11, 2008

resolved: that secondary education in America should value the fine arts over athletics

By popular request, here are some crucial questions to get folks thinking more deeply about the NCFL resolution, "Resolved: That secondary education in America should value the fine arts over athletics."

According to the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, 3rd Edition, fine arts are...
Art that is produced more for beauty or spiritual significance than for physical utility. Painting, sculpture, and music are fine arts.
There are other definitions out there, so be careful.

Key Questions
  • Should we consider an individual or a societal framework when considering the advantages or disadvantages of either side? In other words, should we ask how this will benefit students, or how it will benefit society?
  • How narrowly should we define "fine arts" and "athletics?" What about the intersection, such as synchronized swimming or figure skating?
  • Is a "balance neg" possible? Can we value them equally?
  • How much do statistics or other empirical arguments matter in this debate? In other words, should we aim for measurable success, or will abstract concepts carry the day?
Potential Values
Intellectual Growth
If the overall purpose of education is to promote intellectual growth, which better accomplishes that? Fine arts, which might be empirically connected to higher test scores? (Secondary debate: do test scores matter?) Athletics, which provide motivation for many students to study hard, to pass their classes in order to play?

Societal Welfare
If the overall purpose of education is socialization--gearing students to be productive members of society--which better accomplishes this goal? The arts, which promote creativity, critical thinking, and engagement? Sports, which promote collaboration (and competitiveness), hard work, and exercise?

Perhaps Maslow's highest priority is the true purpose of education. Which better gets us there?

Shouldn't education make us better people? Which is more likely to make us empathetic, selfless, reflective, well-mannered?

Maybe all those sports just raise testosterone and adrenaline levels and make us more aggressive and surly. Music, on the other hand, breaks down cultural barriers and promotes global harmony. (Pun intended, sorry.)

Potential Criteria
Which stands to benefit more students? Which costs more or less? Which has the greatest overall impact on academic achievement?

Virtue Ethics
Which leads to the formation of good moral habits?

Other thoughts or directions for research? Suggest them in the comments, or ask questions. I'll do my best to answer.

Mariners win! Mariners win!

With a save by J.J., with some pop from Ibanez and Johjima, and with a little insurance from Miguel Cairo (!) they avoided the sweep and beat the White Sox.

Not only that, but, for the first time this season, they came back from being two runs down.

That is as heartening, and dispiriting, as it gets.

Maddux vincit omnia ad infinitum

A little under 3 years ago, I celebrated Greg Maddux's 300th hall-of-fame-assuring win. Remarkably, he's still pitching, and still winning. He got #350 last night against the Rockies.
"Trev gave me the ball. That was cool," said Maddux, the only active pitcher with 350 wins and the first to reach the mark since Roger Clemens did it last July 22, against Minnesota. "I'll take any free ball I can get. I'll give it to my kid. Let him go play with it somewhere."
Nerd on, Greg Maddux. Nerd on.

"Olympia reverses financial skid"

At least one Olympia School District has worked its way back to fiscal stability.
The Olympia School District's improved financial health has paved the way for healthy decreases in the most expensive fees charged to middle school and high school students.

After dropping the extracurricular and activity fees by one-third for the 2007-08 school year, the district has lowered them another third for 2008-09.

"We're very happy to do this for our students," Superintendent Brad Hutchison said. "It's certainly unusual to see a cost going down these days."

Andrew Wise, the district's business and operations manager, agreed.

"We've had a lot of positive feedback to the lower fees," he said.

The extracurricular fee is charged only to participants. All students pay the activity fee, which gives them free admission to regular-season home athletic events.

In an effort to keep extracurriculars off the chopping block, the district assessed a new $250 extracurricular fee and an increased $150 activity fee for the 2005-06 school year. Next school year, the fees will be $85 and $50, respectively.
Sadly, that Olympia is found in Illinois. Out here in Washington, we're at least two budget cycles away from sustainability.

But it can be done.

Sidebar: At least we're not the only Washingtonians in a pinch.

May 10, 2008

the caped crusader strikes out

We're over at the folks' place, watching the Mariners attempt to salvage their dignity against the White Sox. It's been a tough second inning. I've been grading papers and brooding.

"Haven't said much," my dad notes. "You know we always enjoy your running commentary."

Mom nods.

"Fine," I say, and gesture toward the screen. "That fellow--they call him Bat Man because he likes to bat."

"Really?" Mom says.


it was Teacher Appreciation Week. were you appreciated?

Darren Paquin was.
Angie Collins has become a teacher’s pet, though it may have taken 22 years and a kidney.

Collins, 40, donated her kidney this week to her former Elwood Community High School English teacher Darren Paquin.
I got a free doughnut. It was more than enough.

dear Stupid Consumer: don't be stupid

Do you need a news article to tell you that $1 store deals are sometimes "deals?" Of course you do. You are stupid.
Think twice about vitamins. Consumer Reports found you can't always be sure of the ingredients. Stick to brand names.

Be careful about toys for children under 3. Many safety recalls involve cheap, imported toys with dangerous parts and high levels of lead.

You should also think twice about $1 extension cords. Consumer Reports found some cords may have faulty wiring that could cause fire. Even with safety labels it's hard to tell what's real and what's counterfeit.
See? There are deals, and then there are "deals." You will know the difference, because one has quotation marks.

Try not to be so stupid, Stupid.

May 7, 2008

past, present, future

1. Why movies are going the way of AM radio: Grand Theft Auto IV raised over $500 million in one week.

2. Why opacity is a thing of the past: transparency gets easier every day. And easier.

3. Why Hillary Clinton will be with us always, even as a fossil from another era: innumeracy.

4. Thankfully, polyester is timeless.

5. Why science refuses to sit still: real controversy.

control the information, control the discourse

It's not profound, at least not anymore, and certainly not shocking that those who maintain the databases run the show.

At last night's community forum to discuss the Olympia School District's budget cuts, I saw exactly how that works. In the utter absence of malice, the district has inherited a system of budgeting that hierarchizes and decentralizes information so that only a handful of people know the scope and character of the entire district budget.

So, when 200+ people sit down to go over cuts, they're at a huge epistemic disadvantage. They don't have each building's budget in front of them--where the real details hide--and the district-provided handouts are vague, excepting the specific proposed cuts. How much cash would it save to trim 5% from every WIAA sports or activity program? How much would it raise to implement a $5 pay-to-play increase? How much does Marshall Middle School spend on photocopies? Unless we're the assistant superintendent, we don't know.

I've tried to make things easier on the average citizen by creating an interactive spreadsheet so they can try balancing the budget on their own, but I've only included proposals that I've heard about. Anything truly novel has to spring up out of the void of imagination, rather than the rational crunch of numbers.

District officials, when shown the spreadsheet, have been uniformly excited by it. My next goal is to work with them in an official capacity, to bring the power of information to the masses. Someday, I hope that every district in this state--and everywhere--would be that data-transparent.

May 6, 2008

OSD budget forum attracts massive turnout

Tonight's community forum at the Knox Center gave over two hundred Olympians a chance to share thoughts about the projected $2 million school district budget cuts. The event filled the Board Room and a spillover room hastily arranged upstairs. As the meeting began people stood along side walls and out in the hallway.

To start the forum, Jim Crawford, Assistant Superintendent and the night's emcee, gave a 15 minute synopsis of the budget process. In short, projected costs and revenues are both increasing, but costs grow faster. Combine this with a needed 5% contingency fund--$4 million--and we'll have to trim about $2 million from next year's expenses. "Reductions to balance the 2008-2009 budget will help forestall major additional reductions in 2009-10," Crawford's PowerPoint noted. Or, in his words: "Our outlook for the following year is another deficit... If we can solve this now, we won't be in this position next year."

Crawford also explained why the publicized cut sheet [pdf] wasn't as much cause for alarm as some think. "There are more cuts on this sheet than we're going to need to adopt, and that's very intentional... We want to hear from you before we [make cuts]."

Students, parents, teachers, and other concerned community members crammed around tables for the next hour and a half, discussing, debating, brainstorming, grousing, and, for the most part, learning a lot about their neighbors' values and their own. I sat in the back corner, sometimes blogging, sometimes taking part in a lively discussion led by constituents of Capital and Olympia's Drill Teams.

Along with Crawford, Board members Russ Lehman, Frank Wilson, and Carolyn Barclift, and Superintendent Bill Lahmann circulated throughout the tables, answering a constant barrage of questions about all things budgetary.

I had to go at 8:00, leaving behind an animated group who filled several poster pages with suggestions. The one I liked best: instead of cutting two or three programs--Drill, wrestling, or swimming--cut 5% from all sports and activities, saving roughly the same amount. "We can figure out how to make it work," said Angela Mattox, Oly's Drill Team coach, and I agree.

As he closed his introduction, Crawford said he "really is heartened" by the turnout. Me, too. I came away energized by the civil participation and spirited discussions by so many people crammed into such a small space. I think most folks left with a far better understanding of the challenges we face--and how to creatively solve them.

Speaking of solutions, I've updated the interactive spreadsheet. Download it, and give it a shot: save us $2 million. If you're successful, send your plan to Peter Rex or Jim Crawford. You can be a hero.

Update: The Olympian's wrapup is decent. I'd just add that those who "appeared to be students" actually were--and were at least a quarter of the participants.

hazard pay for Starbucks workers

Septuagenarian with lead foot plows into java dive:
Lt. Steve Felmley said the 70-year-old man was pulling into the store parking lot at 1031 W. Bakerview Road around 9:30 when his Chrysler 300M accelerated and crashed through the front window of the building.

Five customers -- four women and a man -- were injured. One of the women was pinned against a wall, and all five have been taken to a local hospital.

None of the injuries was believed to be life-threatening.

The impact sent glass, furniture and debris flying through the store as the car careened through the store and into the back wall, causing it to partially collapse.
Guy was from Texas, driving a rental car with too much hep. And on too little caffeine.

May 5, 2008

blogging the budget forum

I'll be at Community Budget Forum #1 at the Knox Building, Tuesday evening starting at 6:30, both to blog, and, if the mood strikes, to speak up. Come by and say hi if you see me there. I'll be the guy hammering away on his laptop, only semi-oblivious.

If you can't make Forum #1, try Forum #2, 6:30 on Wednesday, May 7 at Marshall Middle School. If you can't make either, email Peter Rex. Info here.

May 4, 2008

why should society limit economic inequality?

The new NFL Lincoln-Douglas resolution states,
Resolved: Limiting economic inequality ought to be a more important social goal than maximizing economic freedom.
This raises the fundamental question: why should society have an interest in limiting economic inequality?

There are several approaches; I'll outline a few below.

1. It's good for society.
This type of argument is largely empirical. The affirmative would show how economic inequality causes societal ailments, and, thusly, how limiting economic inequality is a social good.

If you want to take this line of argument, look for research to show tangible or measurable harms of economic inequality, while the negative would dismiss those claims as tangential or merely correlative.

2. It's the just thing to do.
This is where Marxist/leftist/egalitarian folks come in. Whether economic inequality causes tangible harm is irrelevant. In the grand scheme of things, all are due equal access to economic resources--in classic Marxist terms, "control of the means of production." Whether this comes from socialist practices--impressively high taxation to fund public services and redistribute wealth "voluntarily"--or through enforced redistribution in small-c communist fashion is a matter of practicality or taste (and of great debate in leftist circles.) Ultimately, any gap between the haves and have-nots is a priori unacceptable.

3. It's the right thing to do.
In a Rawlsian conception, it's not equality that ultimately matters, but rights secured through a social compact drawn up behind the veil of ignorance. Inequality is only permissible insofar as it benefits the worst off--the maximin principle--and so limiting inequality can be justified as a worthy social goal when it is necessary to ameliorate inequalities based on the whims of history, nature, or luck--as long as, per #1 above, the inequality perpetuates some sort of mitigable harm.

Comparing all three.
#1 leads to a cost-benefit analysis. If economic inequality's harm outweighs the harm of reducing economic freedom, vote Aff.

#2 creates perhaps the strongest potential clash between affirmative and negative world views. To a Marxist, "maximizing economic freedom" is simply not a primary goal, social or otherwise.

#3 doesn't necessarily swing toward either side, though it does provide a philosophical warrant for the practical approach of #1.

Note: this arena of political philosophy is not my specialty, so I welcome your criticism.

May 3, 2008


That is all.

fighting crime with math

Could we cut crime without resort to drama, political posturing, or needless injury and death? Cue mathematics [sub. req.]:
One of the earliest studies using this approach was led by Michael Batty of University College London. Since its inception in 1964, the Notting Hill carnival in London has grown to attract more than a million visitors each year. With vast crowds jammed into narrow streets, crime is inevitable - anything from pickpocketing and shoplifting to violent assault and worse. After three people were murdered at the event in 2000, the Greater London Authority commissioned a review of public safety and asked Batty to create a computer model of people's movements in an attempt to identify better crowd-management strategies. "We simulated the crowd movement around the parade and the exhibits," says Batty, "and used the model to test 'what if' scenarios for changing the parade route, or closing particular streets."

This led to the discovery that altering the parade route could significantly reduce the density of the crowds. "The circular parade route didn't let people easily cross it," says Batty. "This was the problem, as all the events were inside the route." Enlightened carnival organisers adopted the straighter route suggested by the computer analysis, and subsequent carnivals registered a big drop in both maximum crowd densities and the number of crimes committed.

Bowers's finding that burglaries spread like communicable diseases is another example of the power of computer modelling. It first emerged from work with her colleague Shane Johnson, completed four years ago. They studied data from the Merseyside region of the UK, containing information on locations and times of residential burglaries committed over 14 months within an area of about 26 square kilometres. This revealed that, following a given burglary, the likelihood of another was increased for the next two weeks for any house within about 200 metres, though the probability tailed off at greater distances and after that time had elapsed. This pattern of communicability of crime strongly mirrors the patterns that epidemiologists find with diseases that spread from one person to another. In the case of crime, Bowers and Johnson suspect, communicability arises simply because burglars have routines, and after one success they often continue in familiar territory nearby.
Seems a lot smarter than this approach.

May 2, 2008

why the North Thurston levy will pass this time

The North Thurston levy is going to pass.

Why? Because of coordinated, energetic activism, which leads to a lot of supportive horn-honks at the corner of Lilly and Martin on a Friday afternoon. That's why.

Update 5/20: And it did.

May 1, 2008

end of April recap

Bullet points and tacky ties today.
  • Big shocker today: my School Board blogging got recognized by the good folks at OlyBlog. I'm Olyblogger of the Month for April. Big thanks to the crew, especially Emmett O'Connell, who spurred me into action.
  • I'm two weeks from my National Board exam, which I hope will seal my status as the World's Greatest Teacher who Ever Teached.
  • This week, I have made two students cry. See above.
  • The Mariners almost got out-sucked by Cleveland today, but J.J. Shell-of-Himself got shelled in the 10th, blowing his second save. They are about what their record implies: sub-mediocre. It hurts.
  • April was National Poetry Month, but I couldn't ever get past the first line of the poem I had planned for the occasion:
    Fire. Fire. Fire in the doldrums.
    Another time, then.

"Science leads to killing people."

Ladies and gentlemen, Ben Stein.

Seriously, all I can keep thinking as I'm watching the interview: this is the guy they wanted as the face for Intelligent Design? The man is a walking catalogue of logical fallacies, scientific ignorance, and smug stupidism.

His own summary of Expelled:
"There's A Neo-Darwinist stranglehold on the academic world. You cannot even mention the possibility that there might have been an intelligent designer who created life, an intelligent designer who created the heavens and the earth, not even the possibility... you can't even ask how the cell got so complicated just by itself, you can't even ask how one day there was just mud and ooze, and the next day there was life, you can't even ask how the planets stay in their orbits, or else you can get fired, lose your grants, lose your tenure. We think that's a very serious issue of academic suppression.
Except that later in the film (and mentioned, without any apparent irony, in the interview), the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford (and noted critic of Intelligent Design), Richard Dawkins, proves Stein wrong by openly speculating that design by aliens from outer space is at least a possibility. Hmm... still has his job, grants, and tenure. Stein?... Stein?...

Ultimately, Stein presents little more than an argument for ignorance wrapped in a tu quoque, defending ID thusly: "I don't have any scientific proof of that, but the Darwinists don't have any proof either." So, teach 'em both!

The title quote says it all. Though blog neighbor Keith Buhler has labored in vain to deflect five bad reasons to avoid Expelled, there's only one reason needed: Ben Stein.

Sidebar:How do the planets stay in their orbits? Stein encourages students to ask in class, as a challenge to a "Darwinist" teacher. No, really.

limiting economic inequality ought to be a more important social goal than maximizing economic freedom

The NFL Lincoln-Douglas debate topic for the national tournament, 2008, has been released:
Resolved: Limiting economic inequality ought to be a more important social goal than maximizing economic freedom.
At last, a classic LD controversy, without the words "In the United States" to contextualize it to death. Lots of juicy words to analyze, and some pretty distinct positions staked out on either side, so it'll hopefully lead to good debate. Watch this space for links and analysis in the days and weeks to come. As always, your comments and questions will help drive my research and determine how much I'll blog about it.

5/2 To start thinking about it, read this brief essay on the philosophical disagreements--and moments of surprising harmony--between John Rawls and Robert Nozick. (If you didn't know, the resolution, in one reading, is a classic Rawls-v-Nozick struggle.)

5/4 I'm working on some thoughts, which I hope to post later this evening. In the meantime, examine the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's take on Distributive Justice. And done: three reasons society should limit economic inequality.