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(no subject) [May. 13th, 2007|02:06 pm]
Potted Plant
I just read part of an interesting discussion of history, and in particular, how to teach it. If you go to the link, read the comments. That's where the interesting discussion is.

History, properly considered, is the study of how the world got the point it's at now. History, as it is often taught, is soulless and dead. I can't blame kids for tuning out on it. It is often taught at the elementary and high school level as a sequence of facts, beginning in the distant past, with little context and no analysis of how it impacts living people's lives. It's a little wonder anyone actually ever goes back to try to learn it.

World History classes start with Mesopotamia, Egypt, or Greece, and if they're like mine in school, end somewhere in the Middle Ages, with no direct connection to the present. Almost nothing is taught of Africa or Asia except for Mesopotamia and Egypt.

American History classes start with Columbus (and maybe a token discussion of pre-discovery eras), spend lots of time on things like the Whiskey Rebellion and the French and Indian War, and often end somewhere in the 19th century. I didn't have an American History class make it to the Civil War until the 8th grade, and I didn't have one reach beyond WWII until I took an AP class my senior year of high school. Once again, there is no link to the present, and no context for how any of the information is useful.

American History classes have the added sin of often getting important things wrong.

I always thought that a knowledge of history was built from the present and going backwards. You understand today by understanding yesterday, and then you understand yesterday by understanding the day before that. When I realized that and applied it to the problem of how to teach history, I came up with the idea of teaching it backwards. Not precisely backwards like the movie Memento. More like breaking up history into a series of discreet time periods and teaching the most recent one first.

If you're teaching American History, you might choose to break it up into categories of Pre-Revolution, Pre-Civil War, Pre-WWII, and Post-WWII. You would then teach from WWII to present, and when you were done, teach from Civil War to WWII, and then Revolution to Civil War. Finally, teach Pre-Revolutionary history. I'm not wedded to that particular breakdown, but you get the idea.

It would have the immediate benefit of teaching students the most directly relevant stuff first, just like all their other classes. You start Math by learning how to count, which is the most important thing you will ever learn about Math. Then you move on to addition, subtraction, then multiplication and division, then fractions, then basic geometry, then algebra, then trigonometry, and finally calculus (unless you go further). This follows the basic format of giving you the most basic and vital information first and then building on that.

You start English by learning the alphabet, then how to read, and then moving on to basic sentence structure, then paragraphs or story structure, then literature. Learn the most vital first, then build on that.

History is taught the opposite way. Teach the most distant and indirectly relevant stuff first, and likely never even get to the material that is the most directly relevant to people's lives. The solution is to start with the recent stuff and move backwards. Or at least, that's part of the solution.

The link above tells the story of someone who tried to do it backwards, and was ultimately forbidden from teaching history any more because the powers that be didn't understand it.
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(no subject) [May. 11th, 2007|07:51 am]
Potted Plant
Some time earlier this week, Rudy Guiliani apparently hauled off and kicked one of his Iowa supporters in the nuts.

Not literally of course, but it might have been better if he had. He actually got with a modest Iowa farmer who had donated to his campaign and arranged for the man and his sickly wife to host a campaign rally at his farm. It was all to be very Americana. The New York City moderate with salt of the earth rural farmer supporters.

Instead, Rudy decided that because the farmer was poor, it made a bad setting for him to talk about the Inheritance Tax. He canceled at the last minute, despite the hard work the couple had put into organizing the event, and despite the fact that many of their friends and members of their community had been invited.

So, he got that couple's hopes up, and then dashed them because he found out they were poor. It's such massively bad politics that I just have to laugh at it.
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New pictures [Apr. 18th, 2007|05:29 pm]
Potted Plant
There are new pictures at my flickr account.


A couple of them are below the cut.

Read more...Collapse )
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(no subject) [Apr. 6th, 2007|08:53 am]
Potted Plant
Bill O'Reilly accomplishes the impossible. He makes Geraldo Rivera look like a reasonable and responsible commentator on political issues.

Is this O'Reilly's "Have you at long last no sense of decency, sir" moment?

It's gotta sting when Geraldo Rivera makes you look bad.
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Music I really like, but don't play much anymore [Feb. 21st, 2007|08:29 pm]
Potted Plant
These artists once graced my CD player quite regularly. Now they don't anymore, even though I haven't stopped liking them:

The Sundays
My Morning Jacket
Letters to Cleo
David Garza
The Dandy Warhols

I actually listened to a Sundays CD and the first Portishead CD. They sound very... early 90s.

Seriously though, while Portishead takes a certain kind of taste to really like, the Sundays are pretty readily accessible. They're not terribly different from, say, 10,000 Maniacs. Yet, they are almost totally forgotten these days. I wonder what they're doing.
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(no subject) [Jan. 21st, 2007|06:07 pm]
Potted Plant
The Saints' storybook season is over.

Those of you who are regular readers of this journal know that I am a big college football fan. Fewer people know that I am also a fan of the New Orleans Saints, and have been since I was a small child. Growing up an hour from New Orleans, with a New Orleans-born mother will do that.

Now, keep in mind, I am a different kind of fan of the Saints than of the LSU Fightin' Tigers. Meaning, I generally only pay attention when the Saints are doing well. I don't think this means I am a "fair weather fan". I am a fan no matter what. However, if the Saints aren't doing well, and are out of the playoff hunt early, I simply focus my attention elsewhere. I remain a fan of the Saints through thick-and-thin. I just don't watch if it's not going well. I will tune out and pick it up again around the time of the draft.

Anyway, the Saints remarkable run is over for this year. I think this has the look of a team that is not a one-year wonder though. I think they'll be back next year, perhaps even better than this year, with a few personnel changes through free agency and the draft.

In other news, the baby inches closer and closer. We're starting to get a little anxious. We have under two months to go now, but we keep getting this feeling it's going to come soon. Yesterday we were worried because the baby had an unusually quiet several hours. Then, the baby got active again, and now we aren't worried.

Everything's going smoothly otherwise. We ordered our crib. We bouoght pretty much all the clothes we'll need for a while. We have a travel bassinet. We have a car seat. There are still baby showers in the future though.
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(no subject) [Jan. 3rd, 2007|09:36 am]
Potted Plant
I'm still here, just not doing much.
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Five Best American Rock and Roll Songwriters [Dec. 21st, 2006|10:32 am]
Potted Plant
In my mind's idle moments recently, I've tried to compile the five greatest American rock and roll songwriters. This topic requires a lot of thought because several questions come to mind, first and foremost being how one defines "rock and roll". I decided that old blues and straight country did not count, but that folksy-rock did. The next question I thought of was how to weigh a brief period of great songwriting against a long period of very good songwriting. Anyway, keeping in mind the ambiguities of the definitions and measurement, here is my list of the all-time great American rock and roll songwriters:

5. Stephen Malkmus of Pavement - I'm a little late to the Pavement party, but their greatness is pretty undeniable.

4. Frank Black/Black Francis of The Pixies - a short burst of great songwriting, followed by a decade and a half of merely good, but just taking the first three Pixies albums into account, this is a great American rock and roll songwriter.

3. Michael Stipe of R.E.M. - the more I listen, the more I appreciate Stipe's songwriting gifts. I think he is an underappreciated rock singer and songwriter, having a prolific career spanning 2 1/2 decades with no significant lapses in productivity with probably a top 5 all-time rock band (IMO).

2. Johnny Cash - a little iffy as to whether or not he is rock and roll, but I think his work is rock enough to count, and he was a great songwriter, as most everyone acknowledges.

1. Bob Dylan - another one who was a little iffy, but it's hard to deny his songwriting abilities.

Also considered: Paul Simon (rejected as too folksy), Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, John Fogerty, Kurt Cobain, many others.

It's amazing how many of the really respected songwriters are not American.
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(no subject) [Dec. 19th, 2006|07:32 pm]
Potted Plant
People say we have to succeed in Iraq. People hearing people say "we have to succeed" ask, "Is it possible to succeed?" It's a good question, but it's not my question. I have a question that needs to be answered before we can even begin discussing whether it is possible to succeed in Iraq.

What is the definition of success?

By this I mean, what are our goals in Iraq? What is it that we ever hoped to achieve? I know we intended to depose Saddam Hussein, and that this was done rather easily. But what are/were the ultimate goals? What are our parameters of victory? How will we know success when we see it?

In WWI, the goal was the surrender of the German state and its allies. In WWII, the goal was... the same actually, plus the surrender of Japan. In Korea, the goal was to prevent a communist takeover of the South Korean land. In Vietnam, the goal was to prevent the communist takeover of the South Vietnamese land. Some of these goals were laudable. Some of these goals, even if reached, gave the United States no great benefit. All of them were, however, concrete goals. They were easily definable. Every day that Saigon wasn't under the control of Ho Chi Minh was, in some sense, a successful day. It was a day in which our ultimate goal was met.

I've never heard what our goal is in Iraq. The closest I can come to articulating a goal is to say that our goals were two-fold. 1) Depose Saddam Hussein, and 2) take steps to reduce the threat of global terrorism. It's thoroughly disconnected, and there seems to be no reason to have ever thought that our presence in Iraq would actually reduce terrorism, and lots of reasons to think that terrorism would increase.

So, I know some of you were big supporters of the war. If you were, and you know what the goals are/were, please tell me. I have never heard it actually articulated in a clear way.
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(no subject) [Dec. 10th, 2006|07:29 am]
Potted Plant
Four or five times a day, people come up to me at the pool hall or the oxygen bar and ask me, "Potted Plant (people really call me that), what do you think of Christmas displays on government property?"

They ask me this because I am a super liberal and an occasional member of the ACLU. Wel, my answer is this: I am opposed to religious displays by the government, but I see nothing inherently religious about a Christmas tree. However, if the Christmas tree is accompanied by a nativity scene, or has overtly religiously themed ornaments, there is a problem.

I think the First Amendment means that the government stays out of religion. It neither promotes religion nor interferes with religion. This is, btw, the exact same position that organizations like the ACLU and People for the American Way espouse. I don't understand why so many religious people have such a big problem with this. Why do they NEED the local/state/national government to openly embrace the same religious principles they embrace? And why do they always push for some display of the Ten Commandments and not, say, the Sermon on the Mount? Why do they think that refusal to embrace religion is endorsement of anti-religious principles. I find their attitudes absurd and bewildering.

Anyway, back to my original topic. I see nothing inherently religious about taking a pine/spruce/fir tree and putting colorful ornaments, blinking lights, and garland on them. I think the holiday of Christmas has both a secular and a sectarian component, and that it is entirely possible to put up a Christmas display that acknowledges and celebrates the holiday without endorsing religion. All you have to do is avoid the overt religious symbols like crosses, crucifixes, Nativity scenes, and the likes. Stick to Santa, Frosty, Rudolph, blinking lights, circular balls, etc., and it's just fine.

Now, I certainly understand that many religious people take offense at the secularization of Christmas, and do not like that the religious meaning of Christmas has kind of faded a bit. I understand then, the signs that say, "JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON".* These people should, IMO, oppose all attempts to put Christmas displays on government property, because they will never be satisfied with any display that would pass First Amendment review.

*For what it's worth, a friend of mine who used to work retail at a J.C. Penney or Dillard's or something like that told me that the rudest, most demanding, and most condescending customers she ever had to deal with were people wearing pins or sweaters that said "Jesus is the reason for the season". When she saw someone coming who had that kind of saying on his or her person, she knew she was in for trouble.
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