Monthly Archives: August 2009

Everything I Need to Know

Eli’s been going to kindergarten for a few weeks now, and it’s about to kill me. It’s my job to take him to school, which involves me getting up earlier than I’m used to. Once upon a time I was a morning person, but then I became an adult and discovered that I could stay up stupid late reading or playing videogames, at which point my early morning leaps out of bed became a thing of the past.

Not now–at least for the “getting out of bed” part. The leaping has been replaced by me hitting snooze at least once before rolling stiffly out of bed. Each morning I calculate how many days are left before Eli can drive himself to school.

Eli loves school. Class is fun. Recess is fun. The bus ride home is fun, even if there are the two “mean girls” on there. “Why are they mean?” I asked him.

“They said I was bossy,” Eli replied. Go figure.

The whole exercise emphasizes how much he’s changed. Sometime when I wasn’t looking he became a long, lanky boy, all elbows and knees and enthusiasm. Our morning routine is set. We pile into my car, him with his backpack that’s nearly as large as he is, me with my travel mug of decaf coffee. On the way we listen to “Shut Your Eyes” or Spoon’s “song about dogs”. When we pull into the car riders’ line, he takes off his seat belt and puts his backpack on. I see him grinning at me in the rearview mirror. The teacher signals all-clear and he’s out the door, barely able to stop and give me a goodbye hug before he tucks his head down and pelts into the school. He runs forward into the future, while I drive off into history.

Propaganda and Teaching Intelligent Design

The thing about Intelligent Design is that it’s non-science masquerading as science. Its claims can’t be used to predict anything and are not falsifiable. It’s not a theory that can be improved over time. Its domain is religious and philosophical.

That doesn’t stop its ardent supporters from wishing very hard for it to be science. It was designed to supplant evolution, which is very much a scientific theory. Christian creationism was clearly religion and not science; to hide this fact, supporters filed off the serial numbers, removing explicit references to the Christian God and giving creationism a new name and a shiny science-y gloss.

William Dembski, a big proponent of Intelligent Design, is a professor of philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This summer he taught three courses on Intelligent Design. Note the requirements for the undergraduate and masters classes.

AP410: This is the undegrad [sic] course. You have three things to do: (1) take the final exam (worth 40% of your grade); (2) write a 3,000-word essay on the theological significance of intelligent design (worth 40% of your grade); (3) provide at least 10 posts defending ID that you’ve made on “hostile” websites, the posts totalling 2,000 words, along with the URLs (i.e., web links) to each post (worth 20% of your grade).

AP510: This is the masters course. You have four things to do: (1) take the final exam (worth 30% of your grade); (2) write a 1,500- to 2,000-word critical review of Francis Collins’s The Language of God — for instructions, see below (20% of your grade); (3) write a 3,000-word essay on the theological significance of intelligent design (worth 30% of your grade); (4) provide at least 10 posts defending ID that you’ve made on “hostile” websites, the posts totalling 3,000 words, along with the URLs (i.e., web links) to each post (worth 20% of your grade).

Why the requirements that students troll science-oriented blogs and other websites? If you’re a teacher, your goal should be to help students understand the material and demonstrate mastery of it. Having students write about the class topic is a long-accepted way of doing that; maybe that’s what Dembski is after. But that’s unlikely — both classes already have an essay requirement. And these “website posts” are going to be about 200 to 300 words or so, bite-sized chunks that won’t give the students room to really develop their theses.

Maybe Dembski wants his students to show that they can handle rhetoric and discussion, and can debate their points logically. But if so, why send them to the internet? Trying to learn good debate through blog comments is like trying to learn journalism from the Weekly World News.

That leaves propaganda as the most likely purpose for the assignment, which serves no pedagogical purpose. Dembski is cynically using students to advance his cause, with no real benefit to them. At least grad students learn useful skills when they do research for their professors. Worse, he’s sending them into a hostile crowd. This will help foster an us-versus-them mentality. “See?” Dembski can say, “they don’t want to talk rationally to you. They hate the truth,” leaving aside that he sent them there to troll.

Dembski has betrayed the teacher-student pact. He’s using his position of power to further his ideological ends in a craven manner. Shame on him.

Children’s Antipasto

Occasionally I’ll let the kids pull up the step stool to the cart/island in the middle of our kitchen and we will eat a meal there. That meal is sometimes breakfast: homemade donuts where they get to dip or roll the donuts in their choice of toppings. When it’s lunch or dinner I put out a variety of meats, cheeses, fruit and crackers for them to munch on and in my head I call it antipasto. (I know, I know, antipasto is really an appetizer but sometimes you just have to eat only appetizers and desert.) Eli and Liza love to eat off of the cutting board and assemble their own food. We have a lot of fun and the kids talk and we all laugh. Since my kids rarely eat the same things, it’s a chance for us to gather and truly share a meal. Here’s a list of the items I pull from but it can be changed around to suit your kids.

Antipasto for Kids
pepperoni
cut up chicken nuggets (we always have leftover nuggets in our fridge)
ham
cheddar cheese
mozzarella cheese
swiss cheese
raisins
blueberries (we always have dried but fresh would certainly work)
strawberries
pears
carrot sticks
cut up grape tomatoes
Ritz crackers
Triscuits (Quattro Formaggio are my favorite)
cheese crackers
french bread (when we have it)

Dips
pizza sauce
ketchup (it is Eli we’re talking about here, so of course, there’s ketchup)
mustard
ranch dressing
Everybody gets their own dip bowl(s) so I get to use my tiny dishes!

Open the Door and Jump In

Busy day today, what with finishing up my two prepared talks for Dragon*Con and writing new material now that William Shatner is a guest, and, oh, yes, there’s always my real work with the rockets and the lasers and the FWOOSH. So here, watch this video to pass the time.

I previously gushed about the band No More Kings, and somehow missed that they’d done a video for my favorite song of theirs, “Michael (Jump In)”. It’s an alarmingly cute animated thing; do enjoy it.

In fact, I just discovered that they released their second album in May. And last night, Misty and I finally started watching The Guild, the web-based series about a MMORPG guild that is both awesome and awkward. I obviously need an assistant who scours the web for cool things I’m really going to like and presents them to me each evening, as if on a digital platter, or perhaps even an actual platter like a DVD, to go all 1990s on you.

Mark Edmundson Demonstrates Boredom

Writing in The American Scholar, Mark Edmunson has a common complaint: boring people can be very difficult to get rid of. The problem is, he spends some 5,000 words trying to decide what motivates a bore and in the process put me to sleep.

There are a couple of things you can get from an article such as Edmunson’s, from interesting facts about the subject to entertaining anecdotes told in a strong auctorial voice. This article lacks all of that. It meanders along, combining overwritten stories from Edmunson’s life with quotes from people like Graham Greene and Groucho Marx. One paragraph in particular caught my eye.

In his essay on talkativeness, Plutarch suggests that the bore, despite appearances, may often be out to win the esteem of the victim. The words are an offering. They come as something like a sacrificial tribute. Whatever the surface flow may be, the subtext reads like this: I care about your judgment; I want your esteem. I want to show you how smart I am, how learned, how good. Schopenhauer, Lord of Pessimists, seems to concur on this view: “Vain people are talkative, and proud, taciturn,” he says. “But the vain person ought to be aware that the good opinion of others, which he strives for, may be obtained much more easily and certainly by persistent silence than by speech, even though he has very good things to say.”

Summing up: bores want to show you how smart and learned they are. To prove it, here’s support from Plutarch and Schopenhauer!

The whole essay could have ended after the second paragraph, where he brings up the obvious rebuttal and dismisses it. I happen to agree with him: he should have defended himself better, or found coping strategies that allow him to escape. But I could be misreading Edmunson’s objectives. This essay could just be an extended example of the “show, don’t tell” dictum. Why read something exciting or entertaining about boredom when you can instead be bored by it?

Lighthouses Finished

Coast to Coast Houses of Light
Had a marathon stitching session last night and then finished up this morning. I’ve ironed it and emailed my client to say that it’s ready. Can’t wait for her to see it. I’ve talked about it and tweeted about it and you guys have traveled the road with me. This is a pretty awesome end to a pretty awesome week.

One project finished

Where's his cat?

I started this small project before I began work on the lighthouses. Since then, I’ve only worked on this when we traveled. It’s been a great one to work on in the car. This past craft night, we had a full house so instead of cramping everyone else’s style with my large frame for the lighthouses I finished this for Stephen. Do you think he’ll be surprised?

Schrödinger’s pattern came from Greta at Larripin Labs.