Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Time is limited if you want to get this for someone special for Xmas.
Wow. Interesting read.
In the spirit of Paul Cantor's Gilligan Unbound, I thought it would be fun to compare the (original) Star Trek with Joss Whedon's Firefly with the aim of thinking about how popular culture has radically shifted over the past 30 years. Unfortunately my html skills aren't up to making a side by side look, so you'll have to bear with my presentation. For the benefit of any of you who haven't seen Firefly, I'll mention quickly that like Star Trek, it is a set of stories about a space ship which travels from planet to planet, though Firefly has more of a Western feel to it instead of being a traditional sci-fi show.

Star Trek: to explore the galaxy in servive to the galactic federation, with the typical result being the use of force to overcome the local way of doing things, unmask religious pretensions, and often use overwhelming force to bring about defeat or conformity to liberal/democratic priciples (you'll need to read Cantor's book for a full discussion of all of that if you are skeptical).

Firefly: Typical aim is some sort of short term money making enterprise where the members of the ship need to use all their cunning to escape in one piece.

Ship's Crew:
ST: an ethnically diverse group of staff members all serving to further the overall aim of the federation. Only three of these play a significant role in developing most of the plot lines.

Ff: a diverse group made up partly of staff relatively loyal to the captain, but also including some who have ended up on the ship by accident. Each character on the ship plays a part in the stories and each has a separate way of looking at their position onboard.

ST: The Enterprise is a state of the art warship, equipped with the highest levels of weaponry available. These weapons often come into use in the stories. The characters are personally armed with sophisticated weapons and other medical and communication devices, relying heavily on these technologies to acheive their aims.

Ff: The ship is an obsolete model, completely devoid of weapons. While some of the characters will use firearms, these are generally old fashioned guns. Because of their overall powerlessness, the characters rely on wit and trickery and bravery rather than technology for the most part.

ST: The Federation is viewed as a benevolent force trying to civilize the galaxy. The cast serve the federation generally without question and do not dispute it's views of governance.

Ff: The Alliance is generally portrayed as a poweful enemy to the cast. Its views of governance are hidden but assumed to be corrupt and insidious. The ship tries to avoid and work around the influence of this government.

ST: Cpt Kirk is a tradition naval commander, expecting total and immediate obedience to his commands. All decisions are ultimately his and he only allows hs senior officers to question him or discuss decisions.

Ff: Captain Reynolds is much more like the captain of a commercial ship. He is employer to some of the crew but others have a more ambiguous relationship with him. One character rents space on the ship and expect the captain not to enter her shuttle without permission.

I could go on, but perhaps you would like to add some of your own.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Just made it back from vacation after driving for about 12 hours today. Fortunately our son was well behaved today, making things much easier on us.

Had good visits with both my family and Lenise's. Glad to be home again though. Diodn't get much reading done while away ;(

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Is there anything wrong with typical american ideas about educating children? Read the third paragraph in this article before answering.
Being contrary has become so much a part of me that it is both instinctive and predictive. By contrary I don't necessarily mean being disagreeable, but rather always wanting to look at things from the opposite of the way way most would.

By way of example, tonight I finished a class in ESL teaching methods. Generally speaking we studied one way or method of teaching each week and tonight we gave presentations (either visual/poster or written) giving our reflections and impressions of what we had learned.

Of all the methods we studied, the one which most captured my attention in reading about it was the one called the Silent Way. In true contrary fashion, Silent Way advocates refuse to use the term "method". The keys principles of the Silent Way are the use of silence to encourage student initiative and having the teacher concentrate on observing the students rather than leading. I think I was the only student in our class who felt that this was truly interesting. It just appeared too counter-intuitive to most I think.

I think the use of silence as a pedagogical technique is disturbing to americans so used to "multi" media. We are not accustomed to reflection, to self-initiative, or to silence, especially in a classroom.

One other oddity I noticed in class had to do with a method known as CLL. This now stand for Community Language Learning, but apparently the initial initial once stood for "counseling". The idea here is that language learning is a problem faced by, particularly, the adult immigrant, and the teacher can play the role of counselor in help the student through this problem. One of the interesting techniques associated with this method is having the teacher stand behind the students, to be in more of a helping position rather than in front. The idea is to avoid being intimidating.

Regarding this method I heard at least two of my classmates say that they felt very uncomfortable with the idea of "counseling" anyone, that peoples problems were their own business. One tonight said "I have enough of my own problems." This strikes me as a very strange attitude for a potential teacher. It reminds me of Stan Hauerwas' comments about people who refuse to teache morals to their own children, preferring to let them "make up their own minds". The term he uses for this attitude is moral cowardice.

Just a few thoughts I wanted to get down upon reflection from this class.
Would you do this to your spouse?
Thesis: email feedback (i.e. customer complaints) work much better with bricks and mortar stores than with online stores. Developing.

(edit) Followup: Had a bad experience at a restuaruant on Sunday. I emailed the store manager and the general feedback dept to tell them my story. I got two emails the next day apologizing and a phone call today from the district manager. The original problem had to do with them basically not caring about a comlpaint I had in the restaurant, but they seem to have made up for it pretty well.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Ukrainian history in the news.
Interesting interview with Nuremberg prosecutor Whitney Harris here. I like this quote particularly:

Harris: I am totally convinced that Adolf Hitler was only a name that symbolized the absolute and worldwide breakdown of morality in the 20th century. It started in 1914 with World War I when everyone killed everyone and no moral standards remained. Revenge was the order of the day and any excuse was permissible. And afterwards? What did the communists do in Russia? And the Japanese in China?
Three cheers for mathemeticians. Who said that math was impractical?

I'm very impressed by this.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Just in case you missed Napoleon on Letterman, here it is.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Ok, so who makes better music videos, Chinese kids or suburban white kids?

Monday, November 14, 2005

I'll happily paypal you a dollar if you can read this story out loud to someone without either making mistakes or laughing.

Friday, November 11, 2005

I recently enjoyed reading Doomed to Fail : The Built-in Defects of American Education by Paul Zoch. Zoch does an admirable job in tracing the origins and major figures of the "progressive" movement in american education and discusses the negative consequences on student learning and achievement. The foremost idea here is the teacher-centric model, the idea that student learning is dependent (almost entirely) upon the quality and methods used by teachers.

One portion I read with particular interest was his look at the impact of Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences thesis on the public schools. While I'm sure that Gardner is a brilliant man and is on to somethig or other with his theory (briefly, that intelligence is multivariate and each person has some measurable amount of intelligence in at least eight disctinct areas), the manner in which this theory is applied to educational theory has had poor results. When students are made to believe that they are, e.g., primarily kinesthetic learners, they have a built in excuse to tune out lectures o blackboard demonstrations since they are led to believe that they just aren't designed to learn that way.

One portion of the book which I found intriguing but wished I had more knowledge about was regarding John Dewey's ideas about education serving the needs of the community. Zoch seemed oblivious to what I consider the obvious point that education must have some sort of teleology, and that that teleology should reflect what society feels children should become through participation in the schooling system. Thus the question of how many students develop some competence in Latin seems to me to be entirely secondary to the question of what purpose is served by teaching Latin in the school system. Something for mew to look into another day.

The book ends with a brief look at what Zoch considers a model school system in terms of creating academic success--the Japanese schools. This was fascinating to read about as a contrast to american attitudes. In Japan it is universally taught and believed that academic success is a function of the amount of work devoted to it. Academic lectures are simple, straightforward, and boring. The idea is to present information in as clear a manner as possible so that the students can grasp it and then practice it.

I found myself wondering to what extent the "Japanese method" could flourish on american soil, but then I consider that in fact it is the method, more or less, of the top american schools already.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A new answer to the question of what bears do in the woods. Believe me that the whole article is worth reading. (Sorry--now with actual link.)