Friday, March 31, 2006

More Steriods Stupidity

George Mitchell, what the hell do you think think you're doing?

You're a former Senator and Majority Leader. You helped bring about the Good Friday Agreement. You do any number of good works around your state. You're still considered for some of the highest jobs in the country.

(I'll forgive your involvment in Disney. A brother's gotta make some bucks.)

And what do you do? You sign up for a job that has you running around trying to find out if Barry Bonds stuck needles in his ass?

All Hail Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. I mean everyone knows that Western Civilization will crumble if their records are surpassed by someone who may or may not have used performance enhancing drugs.

Did you know there's a war going on? Did you know that the President broke the law?

Maybe those things would be a bit more deserving of your time.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Culture Matters

I found the article that Makigirl put up the other day (two posts ago) to be pretty interesting. I have to say that I largely agree with it.

(Forgive me as I ramble about stuff I have no knowledge of. Well, I already did that with my NCAA picks, I guess.)

The basic point was that culture matters alot, but no one actually does anything about it. All the academics and people interested in education reform just worry about economics. I guess that's at least partially good. There are those people who just worry and complain about the stupid kids. I have little time for them. But, yeah, culture probably does play a significant role into why some groups of students achieve and others do not.

Unfortunately, it's really difficult to talk about. How do I, as a youngish, middle class white guy, talk effectively about different cultures in the US. How do I talk about why some succeed and others do not? It ain't easy. And I think that's one of the reasons why we consistantly fail at education "reform". A great majority of the people talking about it are just like me. We either can't see problems (because of our own cultural blinders), or we don't want to see problems (because we don't want to look and sound like some stupid racist). Conversations never get started and if they do, they devolve pretty rapidly.

I thought it was very interesting in the article how he talked about white kids moving into hip-hop culture, but then having other means of advancement when they needed them, but that culture is all there is for African American kids. I think that's very true. I can use 50cent to make me seem cool when necessary, but I can also leave him at the door and go back to being everybody's favorite geeky white boy. It's very powerful. The inverse situation must carry an equally powerful weight.

I think the solution to educational problems aren't easy at all. I complain alot about the nuts and bolts of particular educational minutiae, but that doesn't really matter all that much. I think that if all kids went through exactly the program that I would design, things wouldn't be that much different. There'd still be gaps and holes. Education is about talking. Education is about mentoring. Most importantly, education is about empowerment, but sadly, I don't think that American culture is much about empowerment.

Leaving the Academy

Here's a really interesting article about a woman who has decided to leave the tenure track and do something else. What's really more interesting to me, though is the comment thread below.

There seems to be a very large dichotomy in commenters. There are those who really agree with what the author has to say, and talk about how they either want to or have run away from the academic life, and then there are those who complain bitterly about this person's self-focus and lack of appreciation for what the academic world has to offer along with a few "you'll see how bad it is out there, yet"'s.

I think that there's something to be said about both sides, (although I'm not fond of the academic traditionalists) and that makes me sad, because it means that we could probably do something about the larger situation, but we choose not to.

I couldn't handle having an academic job when I left gradschool. I went through alot during my final couple years. Alot of it was wonderful -- getting elected to a University wide office was amazing; helping a highschool student place in the county science fair was empowering; hearing my advisor call me Dr. for the first time after my defense was the best thing I'd ever heard (up until the point my wife said, "I do"). There was also alot that was terrible. I spent too many late nights doing stuff I wasn't interested in, and sometimes wasn't even mine. I felt horrible about myself for not publishing. I couldn't handle going to meetings and thinking that I didn't have a good enough network. My advisor isn't as active, and I didn't have people seeking me out. I didn't know how to do that myself, and I sunk further down.

As much as I loved being in the University world, I just couldn't take doing it anymore. I didn't really apply to academic jobs. I didn't feel like I was anywhere near good enough. I didn't want to move across the country to who knows where, just to teach physics. That wasn't going to wake me up in the morning. Unfortunately, I didn't know what was going to wake me up in the morning. I wanted to get ahold of myself, because I felt like I was coming apart at the seams. I felt run over by an academic world that I thought I understood when I went in to it, but had passed me by somewhere.

After some time, I started getting myself together, but it's still day to day. I'm in the real world, and all I can say is that it's boring, but it pays nice. It seems to me that alot of people have this same experience. I don't agree with all the real-world posters on the comments who complain about how tenure breeds incompetance. The real-world breeds incomptetance too. Any large human system will be largely inefficient. It's what you do with that inefficiency and how you think about it that's important. Yeah, layoffs happen more in the real-world, but most people are able to find a little niche where they can hide and the world passes them by. It doesn't take much work to keep most bosses happy, and at the end of the day you go home.

I miss having an academic world of the mind more than anything. Summer break would be great, but mostly I miss being able to be able to go to coloquium.

I think my time out here has been great for me. I couldn't do the academic world before, so I'm glad that I didn't. I've dealt with a lot of problems that I never could have being a junior faculty. I got to move nearer to my family and my wife's. That wouldn't have been a given. I got to think alot about life, and I don't think that many professors get that.

What I would have liked more than anything in gradschool would have been someone to talk to, and I think the comments in the article point that out alot. Even though I would have hated having someone question my thinking as a brash young first year who knew everything, I look now at how useful it would have been. Like many introverted academics, I took everything on myself. That wasn't healthy. I needed someone to tell me that I was still worthwhile as an astronomer even though I didn't get the fellowships I wanted in my second year. I needed someone to help me figure out how to make the academic connections that my advisor couldn't do for me. I needed someone to tell me how to feel justified in not taking on everyone else's problems (my biggest flaw). I little talking then would have prevented alot of stress now. But I didn't know that then. Oh well. I do now, and that's most important.

I think I'll probably get back into academics again, but probably in different way than I envisioned as a 21 year old. I miss using my mind too much. I'm glad that I've followed the path that I have, even if it doesn't look "perfect" from the outside. But, I still have along way to go, and alot to learn.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Poverty of the Mind

Still half asleep this morning I read this article in the New York Times about some different view points regarding the "achievement gap" between black and white young people. I'm interested to hear what you, hoagie boy, think about this. It sounds, suspiciously to me, like they are trying to say "it's their own fault that they're living a life of poverty" or "they choose not to do well in school." Is that really fair?

By the way, I am sending you good tooth pulling luck.

*maki-girl

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Isn't this the Coolest?

Jimmy Carter is one of my heros, and he's posted a diary on Daily Kos. That's awesome. The old fellow can still get around. His son Jack is running for Senate in Nevada. Go check it out.

The Final Four

Based on the picks that I made last week, here are my final four:

Duke
Gonzaga
UConn
Nova

The final is

Duke
Nova

The winner is

Nova

Philly in the house.

More Basketball Coming This Way

While I'm waiting for my tooth to be pulled next Tuesday, I'll be watching some basketball this weekend. Here's who you should pick:

Tonight:
Duke vs. LSU - Duke's too good for this one. I don't like them. I never did. I'd love to see them lose, but Reddick and Williams are too much. I bow down to their superiority. Maybe next round I'll pick against them.

Texas vs. WVU - I like Texas. I've heard alot of talk recently that WVU is a tournament based team. They're meant to get hot and run 6 games. I see that, but I also have seen how cold they can get too. Pittsnoggle has been stopped before and I think he will be here again too. The rest of the team just isn't good enough. Go with the seeds here.

Memphis vs. Bradley - Bradley's on my shit list for beating Pitt, so I would tend to pick against them anyway, but Memphis is just way too good for this. I know they're the #1 team that most people are picking to lose, but there's too much talent and experience there. Go with the seeds again.

Gonzaga vs. UCLA - I've switched alot on this. I initially picked Gonzaga, but then I went to UCLA after Gonzaga came too close to Indiana. I'm going back again because I would like to trust my gut, and I think that UCLA was placed in too high of a seed. Gonzaga should win the most entertaining game of the night.

Tomorrow:
UConn vs. Washington - UConn will have no problem until the final 4.

GMU vs. Wichita st. - Alot of people around here are climbing aboard the GMU wagon. More power to them, and I'd love to see them win, but I don't think they're the better team here. They suprised a couple better teams, but now Wichita has had a week to scout. I think Wichita gets to go and lose to UConn.

Villinova vs. BC - BC was one of my picks to the final 4 when I first saw the bracket. Disreguard everything you've read above. I absolutely don't trust myself. I like Villinova here, because I like the 4 guard offense. I like Allen Ray. I like this team's drive. I also don't want to see my friend, the Villanova grad, cry all weekend. I think his engagement party will be much more entertaining if nova's still in the tournament.

Florida vs. G'town - This could be the most entertaining game of the weekend, or the most boring. G'town's been coming on alot lately, but I think they get stopped here. They play good defense and have that nifty offense, but I think that they don't shoot well enough and that Florida is too athletic.

Yes, I'm vanilla again. The only "upset" I picked was Gonzaga over UCLA. Sorry can't help it. I spent most of my youth picking wild upsets, and did it ever win me anything? No. So now I pick the man.

You may doubt that, but if you notice the picks that I made last week, 7/8 of my regional final teams are still around. So there.

The Price of Grad School

The price of grad school is apparently one tooth. After having one of the most painfilled nights I've ever experienced on Monday, I went to the dentist and was informed that my molar is deteriorated enough that it needs to be pulled.

Now granted, I could have cut back on the sweet tea for the past couple years, but mostly I blame this on my lack of health insurance for a good chunk of 5 years. Something about the concept of preventative medicine makes me think that had I went to the dentist sometime during that time, I would have had a nice filling, but that I wouldn't have had to endure $1000's of dollars of surgury and reconstruction. I could have spent $100 bucks or so on the dentist back then, but I did need to eat and all. Oh well, I guess that's the type of economy this American life is based on.

Thank god for ibuprofen.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

More Media Outlets, Less News

Beep beep beep: We are interrupting sports coverage for just a moment ...

I was just reading an article from last Monday's New York Times about how there is "plenty of breadth in [news] coverage, but not much depth." You can find the article here. The article is reporting on a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. It's affiliated with Columbia University and financed by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The study found many things that I think we have been noticing lately, but it was a little disturbing to read them in black and white. For example, they randomly chose to study May 11, 2005 and found:

-Google News had access to 14,000 news stories, but all were accounts of just 24 news events.

-On that day, print and evening network news focused on violence in Iraq, an airplane violating restricted air space in D. C., and protests in Afghanistan.

-On the same day, cable tv and morning news programs focused on Michael Jackson's court trial and a murder in Illinois.

-On the same day, local tv and radio focused on weather, traffic, and local crime.

-On the same day, blogs focused on broader, long-term issues (it did not explain which ones.) However, 94% of the blogs' content was not original.

-While cable news was the "shallowest," newspapers covered the most topics, with extensive sourcing, and with the most angles ... however "perhaps in language and sourcing tilted towards elites."

I think we know what news sources Americans use most often. This quote from the study says it all, "Consuming the news continuously does not mean being better informed."

Ok, back to your regularly scheduled Madness.

*maki-girl

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Isn't the Tournament Wonderful?

Here I am sitting at work, listening to a game on the internet, typing on my blog, and not worrying about anything job related. There really should be days off for this, but since there isn't, I'm going to continue.

I certainly didn't expect Pacific to give BC a game today. Pacific did beat Pitt last year in the first round, so they must be good.

It's amazing how games can turn. This game seemed out of reach a few minutes ago, and now with 3.9 seconds left, BC travelled and gave the ball back to Pacific with the game tied.

Ok, regulation over, now it's overtime. More excitement.

Early upsets

It seems that I already missed the upset of UW-Milwaukee over Oklahoma, and now Pacific is battling BC. Infact it's already tied.

Let me give you my third round picks to prove that I picked BC will lose to Nova

Duke
Texas

Memphis
Gonzaga

UConn
UNC

Nova
Florida

My Second round post

Well it seems there are a couple upsets brewing, but here were my original second round picks:

Duke
LSU
Iowa
Texas

Memphis
Pitt
Gonzaga
UCLA

UConn
Illinois
UNC
Wichita st

Nova
BC
Florida
Ohio St.

Madness!

Makigirl's probably rolling her eyes at this post, but since the dance is beginning in all of 2 minutes, here are my first round predictions:

Duke
GW
Syracuse
LSU
SIU
Iowa
Cal
Texas

Memphis
Bucknell
Pitt
Kansas
Indiana
Gonzaga
Marquette
UCLA

UConn
UAB
UW
Illinois
Mich St.
UNC
Wichita St.
Tennessee

Nova
Arizona
Nevada
BC
OU
Florida
Gtown
Ohio St.

I have a couple upsets picked, notably, West Virginia losing, but otherwise, I'm picking the numbers. I'll include my second round picks in a bit.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Too Sore to Run Today

On a lovely Sunday afternoon, Ultimate Frisbee season began in the DC area. I'm playing in a coed-recreational league that is actually pretty intense. I hadn't played since last summer, so I was worried about being a bit rusty. But, it seemed that the running lately has done me well, as I played alot better than I expected. I have a tendancy to be a little tentative during the first couple games as I get used to the other players styles, but I was agressive this time, and really played my game. I scored 4 on the way to a 2 point win. I had a beautiful throw that should have went for a score, but it got dropped. Oh well. My defence was good, but my game legs aren't quite there yet (also my feet were killing me, becasue of new shoes).

I would say that I'm looking forward to next week's game, but I think it's going to be cold. No fun.

Senator Feingold, You Have My Vote!

I haven't written much about politics lately. I think I've just been overwhelmed and depressed about the whole situation. I mean, how much shit can W and his henchment pull and still get away with it? Yeah, his poll numbers are falling to record lows, but I'm very worried about the upcomming election. Congressional districts are gerrymandered, and incumbants are hard to beat.

I also haven't been overly swayed by the field of Democratic Presidential contenders. They're all better than the opposition, but no one has spoken to me yet the way that Dean was by late 2002. I've mostly been in support of John Edwards, because I love his Two Americas message so much, but Warner, Richardson, and Feingold have all sort of been hanging right around.

That is until this happened over the weekend. The illegal wiretapping done by the NSA and the administration needs to be investigated and punished. No one has been saying that, except for the lefty blogosphere. I haven't heard it at all on TV. But now, a promimant Senator is doing something about it. I say good deal. It's the right time to talk about these things. Attention needs to be kept on a President who broke the law. It's that simple.

Glenn Greenwald wrote a great pieces as to why this is so important right now. It is completely beyond my belief of how a President could have broken the law this blatently, and still has apologists for him. The members of Congress who still stand behind W on this matter have left their oaths of office behind. They leave the principals of America behind. If there is nothing so American as the ability to criticize and censure a President during a time of war, then I don't know what is. If he has done something wrong then it needs to be recognized and punished. W is not a king.

This may be a bit of craven political opportunism by Sen. Feingold to get people like me to jump on board. No one really thinks this is going to go anywhere. If we're lucky, it will come to a vote on the floor, but it will lose. Oh well. It's the process and the media that is driven the the story that count. Feingold is stating his values, and they are my values. I'm in his camp now. (Although, I will leave the door open for Johnny sunshine to come back if he starts talking similar things.)

---
I did notice in the transcript of Feingold's interview with Stephanopolus that he was asked why he wasn't bringing articles of impeachment. Well, duh, George, Feingold is a Senator. The House brings articles of impeachment, the Senate votes on them. Thus Feingold can't bring articles of impeachment, unless he gives up his seat and runs for a different one this full. Not likely. Also, a censure motion gets the votes on record in the Senate. A vote on impeachment would simply never come to the floor in the House.

Friday, March 10, 2006

It's Warm!

I'm having some serious spring fever right now. I have my office window open. They're mowing the lawn outside. The birds are chirping. The shrubs are starting to bloom. I'm filled with dozens of memories of previous warm March afternoons. Playing basketabll, hockey, writing my dissertation on my laptop out on the lawn...

Only one more hour left.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Our First Week of Teaching

So,after my angst filled post of the other day, Mrs. H and I actually got down to some literacy teaching.

First of all, it seems that we have a bit of a scheduling problem with one of our students. It turns out that E has a very strict medicinal schedule, and he probably won't be able to match up to our availability. Isn't it funny how life treats you like that sometimes? You're excited about doing something. You face reality and suddenly, you're anxious about doing it. You work through it. You get interested and excited in the task at hand again. And the task dissapears. Oh.

So we just had N with us a couple times this week. I have to say that I have never been more impressed with Mrs. H than after our first meeting with N. Mrs. H hates public speaking, but she is simply amazing working with people one on one. She has great command of herself, great understanding of the other person, and really shows no fear about interacting. Exactly some of the things I wish I could do.

We tried starting out with the workbook that we were given in our training, and started at the beginning. We were teaching the basic letters with easy sounds - b,d,f,g,c. We found though that the book tries to draw pictures of the letters (they use a bent over bird to make a "b".) Some of these pictures are a bit hokie, and not exactly correct. Our student, because she's English speaking, had a hard time getting past that to work on the letter. Also, I think that we could have reasoned better with someone of "normal" intelligence, where we had a hard time convincing N that a plate was really a "d"ish. One other problem we encountered was that N really likes to guess at the right answers. She wants to move quicker than she's able to, and she wants to please us, I think, so she just jumps in and guesses without thinking. I think it's going to take a long time to work her out of that. Otherwise, though, the session went pretty well for a first meeting. We got to know her a bit better, and it was fun.

We revised our lesson a bit for the second meeting. We dumped the book, for now, so we didn't have to deal with pictures. We had to wait in the library a bit before we got our room, so N picked out a children's book she wanted to read. It seems that sometimes she can sight read a fair amount, but she just gets herself going to quick, and then gets frustrated. I imagine this must be a problem for many students, special needs or not. Once we got our room, we started by writing our letter (b, p, and d since N had the most trouble with those last time) on the left side of a paper, and then had her say the name of the letter and its sound. Then we had her think of a word that began with that sound and wrote it down on the right side of the paper. Then she wrote the letter under the letter and the word under the word, after she had said them again a few time. We repeated each letter about 5 times with 5 new words. Thinking back we probably could have written the words more times.

We ran into a bit of a problem when we were done with our set of letters, and tried to review. We tried to point at older stuff we did, but N got a bit confused and went back to guessing. It seemed that she got a couple words stuck in her head, and regardless of what we did, they wouldn't go away. Probably for next session during our review time, we'll continue the same pattern as the lesson, but mix up the letters. I tried doing some flash cards with N, asking if she saw differences between the letters "b", "d", and "p", but I'm uncertain of the results. I'm not sure whether she sees different or not. When she slows down, she's good, but then she speeds up and the letters merge into one.

At the end of the session, Mrs. H read the Three Little Pigs with N, and we had a great time. N did a great job reading the story her self while Mrs. H pointed to the words. She knew the story already and liked it, so I think that helped alot. I was dismayed that in this book, the straw house pig and the wooden house pig both get eaten by the wolf after he blows their houses down. I had remembered that they ran away and hid in the next stroungest house. How else is the brick house pig supposed to stop the wolf from coming down the chimney without the help of his brothers? Perhaps I just wanted to ignore where pork came from when I was little, but I seriously don't remember any eatings.

We had to stop in the middle, because the library was closing, so perhaps there will be a Jonah and the Whale type reunion at the end of the whole deal. I can only hope.

Next time, we're going to try to do the same thing, but with "c", "f", and "g". We don't think beating on b,p, and d every time is going to be that much fun. but we'll revisit soon.

More Random Sports Musings

Ok, so for the past two days on both of my drive time sports shows M&M and the Sports Reporters, all the talk has been about Barry Bonds and his problems on the steriod front, sparked by this article in Sports Illustrated. I have been told repeatedly that it is news. I have been told repeatedly that this is one of the biggest things in baseball, sports, other stuff. I have been told repeatedly that Bonds catching up to and passing Babe Ruth's and Hank Aaron's home run marks is going to cause much consternation this year. I have been told repeatedly that people will "Just Not Be Happy" if he does pass Aaron this year. I have been told repeatedly about the motivations of Major League Baseball in not wanting to investigate Bonds or talk about these problems. I have been told that all people who defend Bonds are "Just Crazy". I have been told repeatedly that this all matters.

Sorry folks, I'm just not buying it.

Let me start by saying that if there is someone who dislikes Barry Bonds, it is me. He left the Pirates in '91 when we still had a chance to be good. He took the money and ran to SF. That's his right, but it's also my right to dislike him for it. People called the baseball fans of Pittsburgh racist for booing Bonds when he came back for the All Star Game in Pittsburgh in '94. Bull. (Ok, there are plenty of racist people in Pittsburgh.) However, people were defending their city from a guy who had left and said bad things about it. Oh, and by the way, he sucked in the playoffs. I supported the booing fully. I have never sinced rooted for the Giants in any way, shape, or form. I didn't root for him in his pursuit of the single season home run record.

But, when it comes to him using or not using steroids I could care less, and frankly in my book, it's still not proven whether he did or not. (FYI- I still say the Juice is innocent.) Yeah, there is enough circumstantial evidence that says he probably did. But, there is no medical test that says he did, and whatever he did a few years ago was perfectly legal under baseball anyway. So, get over it.

Really, it doesn't matter much to me whether he did or not, anyway. Barry Bonds is the best baseball player, ever. No question. I consider myself lucky to have seen him play way back when. He was probably the greatest then (except in the damn playoffs) before he had even considered getting near steroids. I used to have my opinion of him covered by my dislike of him. I thought he couldn't be that good, because I hate him so. But I was wrong. I admit it. He is that good.

What does steroids get you in baseball? In my book, not a whole lot. Yeah, you might get strong enough to turn a few long fly outs into HR's, but there's still a whole lot of baseball to be played. In his record breaking season, Bonds came to the plate 476 times and got 156 hits. 73 of them were HR's. (He walked 177 times and was hit 9 times). These numbers, other than the home runs (and associated RBI's) actually aren't all that out of place with the rest of his carreer. Yeah, he hit for power, but that was only 1 out of every 9 times he came to the plate (a little less than once every other game).

The rest of the time he was crippling his team by being on base and not being able to run like he used to -- In 2002 he scored 129 runs, but 73 of them were the result of his own homers. So, when he didn't home run, he rarely scored. In 1993 he also scored 129 runs, but he had only hit 46 home runs, meaning he was turning his teammates hits into runs, which is far more important if you're interested in winning games.

On defense, his fielding percentage that year was .977, and right in line with the rest of his career.

To me, the whole steroid thing is just a wash. It didn't help his other stats, and it didn't help his team win a championship (The Giants lost in the WS in 2002, but Bond's HR numbers were much lower).

I say give it a rest. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't, but we'll never know for certain. The whole topic only comes up because of some over glorification of sports and sports records. Who really cares in the long term how many HR's Bonds had or not. I think also, this is an example of "news people" covering the easy story. Bonds' problems are something that can be talked about by a bunch of people with no knowledge of the situation. Everyone has an opinion on the issue, and every opinion is equally valid. You can argue till you're blue in the face. It's great for TV and talk radio ratings, because some people will get upset over the whole deal, and everyone loves gossip. However, while we spend time on this, we miss other seemingly more important, deeper stories like the new labour agreement in football, or the Stadium deal in DC. These stories have layers that expose who we are and what we really think about ourselves within our society. Is $615 million really a reasonable amount of money to be spent on a stadium? What happens when the people of a city aren't so in favor of a stadium deal, but the suburbanites really want it? Are our sports allegiances more important than our personal beliefs on labour practices? What are our beliefs on labour practices? Is the NFL deserving of a monopoly? How much money is enough money to spend on sports? Why does MLB have rules on the direction of a stadium, such that the one in DC won't be able to look out on the Capital? (Ok, that one isn't that important.)

Hopefully, you get my point. Bonds = easy story. Other less talked about things = maybe more important, and certainly more interesting, but harder to explain to the talk radio audience.

I guess in the end, you have to wonder if we are consumers or citizens, and who is going to decide that for us?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Fourier Transforms are Cool

Never thought I'd say that before, as I associate them with one really terrible lecture series/summer school out in New Mexico during my second year of grad school. Well, I guess I have always enjoyed Fourier Transforms. It was just that this particular lecture series was so bad that it still shakes me just to think about it.

PZ Myers at Pharyngula does a great job in illustrating the technique and then applying it to the human genome. Hmmm. I wonder if it would be possible to do a general physics 101 class based on the Fourier transform. It would be an interesting central principle to base the course in -- "All things are harmonic". And you could get the students to see real (and current) applications to what they were learning.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bloggered

Wow, those images really f'ed up the last post. I'll leave them for the shear joy of it, but I guess I'll have to write more soon, so that they scroll off the page.

-update: All fixed now.

I Need to Go West

Here is my map of visited states:



create your own visited states map
or check out these Google Hacks.

Here is my map of visited countries -- Only 5% :(



create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands



via Dr. B.

What I Meant to Write Yesterday

Welcome to Holland

Mrs. H and I have spent the past two Saturdays training to become literacy tutors through this organization. I've been itching to do some teaching lately, and we wanted to get more involved in the community, so we thought that this was a good solution. Because of the demographics of Montgomery County, the program tends to be heavily ESL, as opposed to basic literacy. The schools are pretty good here, and the region is one of the #1 destinations for immigrants, so you tend to get people in the program who don't know any English, as opposed to people who never learned how to read. We knew about these demographics, but Mrs. H really wanted to work with a native English speaker who hadn't learned how to read, anyway -- someone who the system had missed. She felt more emotionally attached to that situation, and I was for it too. Well really, I guess I didn't have an opinion either way, I just wanted her to do the program with me.

We survived through our two days of training. I put my other educational instincts on hold to make it through. It was a lot of lecture about phonics and pronunciation and other stuff that generally went right by us (the people at our table felt much the same way). For only a little bit on the first day did they actually have us practice the lessons on each other that we were supposed to do with the students. I felt a bit at a loss, and our teacher's book is fairly hard to understand. I know, though, that I'm an "in the moment" sort of teacher anyway, so I was confident that I would figure it out once we got into a real session. Really, even though I thought that the sessions could have been run with a lot more organization and more foresight into what we would eventually be doing, I still had a fun time. We sat with a table of fun people who were our age (the rest of the class was pretty old), and we managed to entertain ourselves, despite (or maybe because of) the antics of some very odd people leading the classes.

So, by the afternoon of the second Saturday, we were ready to meet our tutees. We had received some information about them on a sheet earlier in the day, but it's hard to tell what a person is like from their intake sheet of a literacy program. From reading the sheets we could see that they probably had some strong learning differences, and neither could really read or write that well. I was still very excited about the whole endeavour, though.

We had one last session where our instructor told us about more high level reading and writing techniques. It was all stuff that I had known before, so I could have been bored, but I sat there thinking about how it will be cool to help our students someday learn to read and write to a high level. We'd discuss books some day, and talk about the news paper, and think about science and all that other cool stuff. I was really excited.

And then the plane touched down in Holland. Mrs. H reminded me of that story later in the afternoon when I was processing my feelings of what it was like to meet our new students. Both of them (N is a woman and E is a man) weren't what I was expecting. -- They both are special people. They live in group homes. They have differences in the way they interact with others. They may or may not have mental retardation. It was hard. It was probably silly for letting myself get caught up into what I could do instead of what my students might actually want me to do, but that probably would have been hard. I went through a real strong reaction after we met our students. I was angry. I was anxious. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. I wasn't trained to be a special ed teacher in two Saturdays. I felt like I really didn't know what I was going to do, and I didn't know if I wanted to continue anyway. Luckily, I had Mrs. H around to handle all the details with our students and set up times for our meetings and stuff. I really think I was out to lunch for a bit.

It was more the shock than anything. Had we known who we were going to be given as students, I don't know if we would have requested someone else. Well, we probably would have. Even having met with them twice now, we still don't feel qualified or knowledgable to do a good enough job. But it wouldn't have been a shock. We would have known where the plane was going. I think they're both really great people. N is in a play. She has a job. She graduated from highschool. E got himself to the library on Saturday by bus. He rides around town on his bike. They're both really competent. They both deserve to learn how to read. They both deserve people to help them with that. I was thrown a bit, and I'm really suprised by how much I was. I like to consider myslef as all-tolerant and exposed to and comfortable with many different situations. And here I was reacting like an ignorant fool, and I couldn't believe myself.

I think one of my biggest fears when we met E and N was the amount of emotional work that I would need to do to carry on conversations/class. Often times when I'm interacting with people, I let the other person do that. I sit back and react to them. I let them be who they want to be, and then that draws me out. With little children, and often with people with special needs, that doesn't happen the same way. If I don't become friendly and put myself out there, then we don't interact. I recognize this, but it's really hard for me, and often it puts the fear of god in me as well. So when I met E and N, on top of everything else, my own fears of interaction made me that much more nervous about the whole situation.

Mrs. H and I processed alot after we got home. I talked out my feelings, and she had many of the same as well. (Of course, she's much friendlier than me, so doesn't have the same interaction fears that I do. You should see her with kids.) I'm back to feeling comfortable with the situation again. I think that we can do alot of good for E and N, but it's going to be a different sort of good than what I was naively expecting while sitting in class. It's going to be a real sort of good, and I think it's going to be the type of good that teaches me alot more than E or N will ever get out of this situation.

We had our first lesson last night, but I'll write about that in another post.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Healthcare for All

A really powerful case for single payer health insurance here from Krugman and Wells in the New York Review of Books.

I find myself nodding my head the whole way through, particularly at the end. It is interesting how "mainstream" liberal interest groups are not interested in pushing for real health care coverage for all Americans. It's left to the more crazy leftists who otherwise would be protesting for things like this to advocate for single payer systems. Thus the idea is taken even further off of the table. Perhaps if normal liberals actually said what they thought, regardless of what big Pharma and big Insurance thought, then we might get somewhere.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Random Sports Musings

I started listening to sports talk radio during my commutes about 3-4 months ago (I listen to WTEM 980. My commute lines up with Mike & Mike in the morning and the Sports Reporters in the afternoon (I listen more for Andy Pollin than Steve Czaban, whom I really just don't like, but that's for another post). I used to listen to NPR, Air America, and Democracy Now, but I found that I got enough news reading blogs during the day, and it was just too depressing. I enjoy keeping up to date on sports (which would otherwise be hard since Mrs. H and I don't watch TV), and it's mind numbing enough to make the drive home go quickly.

This morning, on Mike & Mike, they were discussing the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) talks in the NFL. Here's a nytimes article about the whole situation. The basis for discussion was that if football fails to sign a new agreement, then there will be no salary cap in football for the 2007 season. (If you're a non-sports reader, the salary cap means that the total salary that a team pays out to all it's players is limited - about $95 million in 2005.) If it comes to pass that there is no salary cap in the 2007 season, and the season is played, then it is highly unlikely that the players will not sign another CBA which includes a salary cap.

I mean really, could you blame them? Most normal people would never work for a company that essentially limits how much you can make. We go into a job knowing that a company doesn't have inifinite resources, but also knowing that if we continue to perform well, we will continue to get raises. If the company can't give us a raise, well, then we'll look for other employment. There are thousands of companies that hire programmers and scientists, but unfortunately for football players, there is only one company that they can work for - the NFL.

I've always been ambivalent about sports unions. I'm very pro-union otherwise, so I identify with the players. It doesn't take alot to see how much owners can make on professional football teams. The players are the reason that owners can make so much, so they deserve a large chunk of what the team takes in. Also, the average fan doesn't appreciate how risky professional football is to the players. The average career length is on the order of 4 years. A player needs to go in to the league and get as much money as he can, because he doesn't know what's going to happen. This is illustrated by the story of Gabe Rivera (You'll have to read down the article a bit, and Rivera's fortune is sadly entwined with Dan Marino in Steeler fan's memories, which overlooks the tragedy of the whole thing).

So, I definitely feel for players who are trying to get everything that they can. At the same time, I want to watch my team be good. I want my team to be able to keep the best players that they can. I don't want to see a good team get broken up by some already rich player going for even more money (see: Neil O'Donnel). So as a fan, I lie a bit more with the owners. And really sports unions are such a weird thing anyway, becase as I said before sports are run as monopolies. What to do?

Baseball doesn't have a salary cap, and I think it's one of the reasons that I don't like it. The Pirates are never going to win another world series. It's that simple. The same few teams every year are going to make the playoffs. Yeah, there'll be a Marlins or a Twins from time to time, but you already know that Boston, New York, Atlanta, and St. Louis are going to be there this year. It's boring. It's boring because teams aren't forced to break up from time to time and spread their players /money around to the rest of the league. In football the money is spread and the seasons are more interesting. Hopefully I'll be able to show that with the data I've been working on.

I do believe that football is not as good as it was in the past (I can be curmudgonly at times). Yes, the athletes are better trained and simply better now, but the teams are not because you can't accumulate an unequal amount of talent on one team now. So, no, there won't be the types of games that you saw in the 70's and 80's in the playoffs between two really outstanding teams, but now more teams will actually have a chance to make the playoffs, and I guess in the end that's what's most important. (As a related topic, it's not actually goals scored in hockey that matter. It's goal scoring chances that keep fans involved.)

So I really hope that the two sides in the NFL are able to come together on a new CBA in the near future. I would hate football to become baseball. I have a low enough opinion of sports these days anyway (another post). As much as I complain about the Patriots of the past few years being the kings of "Slightly Above Average", I'd rather have the interesting seasons that we've had lately. It's hard for me to say that, but I think it's true.

(If you made it this far, congratulations. I apologize for the varied and uncontrolled track of this post, but it's what happens when you start and stop and start again.)