Friday, January 30, 2009

And sometimes it just looks cold out there


Frozen snakes did cartwheels in our yard

Sometimes snow-covered yards are interesting.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Our back yard ... in the winter

Several months ago I posted a picture of my back yard happy place.
In January it's not quite the same place.
It's still in the back yard ... but it's not quite as happy.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

New winter coat

OK, I did it.
Bought the new coat yesterday.
But it's lovely and snuggly -- and it was on sale!

Monday, January 19, 2009

A dream

I guess it's rather appropriate for me to post this today, but the night before last I had a dream that was very happy and very realistic (by which I mean that it felt real at the time, as opposed to the kind of dream where the dreamer finds herself thinking, "Gosh, what a weird dream this is.")

In this dream, I was with a group of people visiting post-war Mogadishu, Somalia ... sometime in the future, obviously.

It was hot and dry, and there were still a lot of scars left on the city from the war. Many parts hadn't yet been rebuilt. Some roads still had holes in them from bombs. But there was a government, and that government trying very hard to recreate an economy from the rubble of years of war.

I was with a group, and we were staying at some kind of hostel, until I ran into a Somali friend who insisted that we stay with him at his apartment. So we went with him, and on the way to his place (which was very beautiful) I saw street vendors selling everything from shoes to pastries, and a couple of shops that were actually air-conditioned.

The country was pulling itself back up from years upon years of anarchy, and it was making great strides toward doing so.

It was -- and is -- a lovely dream. I would so much love to see it come true.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My winter coat

It was 15 degrees below zero here the other morning, so I finally pulled my winter coat out of storage (i.e., the grocery bag where it had been stuffed, awaiting some badly-needed mending, particularly a new lining).

At this point I said to myself, "Lining, shmining! It's cold out there!"

So I tossed the coat in a Dryel™ bag and half an hour later, it looked just fine (unless one looked at the lining, which still looked as if it had been chewed by a puppy).

However, there was a bit of a problem.

Y'see, this coat is now 15 years old. (This explains, I hope, the problems with the lining. I've mended and patched this poor little fella more times than I can count over the years.)


It's light as air and down-filled, so it's WAAARRRRMMMM.

But the snaps had stopped snapping below my waist.

Clearly, the coat had shrunk while it was in the bag.

Mom explained to me that when garments are kept in the dark for a period of time, they shrink. Oddly, that is the same time when hangers procreate. It's good to have this kind of information.


Fortunately, Mom & I were able to dig up appropriate buttons, sew on loops and make the coat usable through the rest of the winter.

The painful part will come when it gets warm out, and coats go on sale, at which time I will have to consider the possibility that it's time … for … a … new … coat.

A new winter coat every 15 years? That's not too bad, is it?

Monday, January 12, 2009

And now for a moment of Butterscotch

I love the way that cats will look wherever the finger goes.

Modern journalism

In my first journalism class, the prof asked us, "What is the primary function of your daily newspaper?"

To report the news? No, that's something it does to achieve its primary function.

To present ideas? No, that's something else it does to achieve its primary function.

To sell advertising? ... You're getting warmer ...

The primary function of the regular, garden-variety newspaper -- the thing it does without which it ceases to be -- is to make money.

If the readers demand objective news, they get it.
Let me change the mood of that sentence: If the readers were to demand objective news, they would get it.

But they don't. The majority of readers and listeners/watchers go for sound bites and splashy headlines. Cotton candy for the mind. No depth. That takes too long to learn and process.

And the average folks HATE things that are really long ... like some posts I can think of. (And of which I am guilty, I will admit.) Especially if they require thought. Or -- GASP! -- background knowledge.

We haven't progressed at all since the days of muckraking and yellow journalism back in the late 1800s.

As far as broadcast media -- at least radio -- try out -- I loooooove it.
That's the way to get national & international news.
The only challenge is that sometimes there is a long discussion of cricket scores, but there are plenty of online BBC channels and plenty of programs, news & otherwise.

And one can always go play with the cats for a few minutes until the cricket chirping is over with.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Journalism - back in the day

Just to let y'all know where I'm coming from, my BA was in Journalism, way back in the day when many people KNEW the difference between journalism and slop.

That was, rather obviously, a long, long time ago.

Many of us way back when got into journalism in order to dig up TRUTH. (Yeah, I know -- it's a funny concept, huh?)

We grew up with Walter Cronkite (whom I still adore fervently -- and if you haven't read his autobiography, I highly recommend it).

We thought that Woodward and Bernstein had it goin' on, even though Watergate had been a few years prior to the time I started college, thankyouverymuch.

Do you know why Walter Cronkite retired from CBS news? It was because of the 24-hour, you-gotta-keep-talking-or-they'll-change-the station attitude. Say something, even if you're saying nothing at all. Or worse, even if you're making conjectures that you couldn't possibly justify. That's not journalism. That's keeping the advertisers happy. So he left. That's a man with principles.

When I went through the School of Journalism (henceforth known as J-school) and worked on the school paper, it was a paper with a circulation of 32,000 -- one of the larger papers in Ohio -- and it was a college paper!

Our adviser was a real newspaperman with an insistence on accuracy that would be utterly beyond belief today. We had to have TWO (count 'em!) sources for every story, or it didn't go in the paper.

Once -- and I just realized how very timely this little anecdote is -- I came in for my usual 8:00 a.m. staff meeting/class, and the word was going around like lightning among the staff. "Phil's furious! Somebody screwed up BIG TIME!" But no one knew quite what had happened until we all were seated and he walked in.

He was so angry his face was absolutely bloodless. Honestly, his lips had disappeared. He was completely pale, pale grey from hairline to collar. And he was practically trembling in anger.

It happened to be the holiday observing the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., so the paper had run a photo of Dr. King with a brief statement that this was the day of the observance, and who he was, and he had been assassinated, etc., etc.

Pretty straightforward, yes?

Welllll, it seems that whoever was on Copy Desk (I never knew who it was, but it wasn't me! ) made an eeensy error in the name of Dr. King's assassin, which was, as you will likely recall, James Earl Ray.

Most unfortunately, the paper went to press (after going through Copy Desk, final editor check and paste-up) with a nice boxed photo and paragraph prominently placed on page 1, erroneously stating that a rather famous actor with the same first two names (think "I am your father, Luke") had killed Dr. King.

Bad, bad, bad idea.

We had a scathing, fire & brimstone lecture on the responsibilities of journalists, accuracy, checking details, not assuming anything -- EVER! -- and the pesky problems of libel for a solid hour.

I don't remember all the words, but the burn marks in my brain are still there and will be there forever.

That's what journalism used to be.

'Tain't no more.

A little below average

Several years ago, when I was teaching college-level Spanish, I had one class of students that were -- oh, let's say they were special.

I had to explain the concept of adjectives several times. And there was one lad who couldn't read the (fairly simple) paragraph in the book which explained them -- and yes, it was in English.

And (sigh) -- same class -- I have to say I was a bit surprised when they asked me how to figure out how they were doing in the class, because a full page of the syllabus was devoted to explaining this and providing them a chart they could use to fill in their grades as they got them. What caused them grief was the notion that the average of their four test scores would be used as a certain percentage of the final grade.

Why was this a problem?

There wasn't one person (of 20) in the class who was able to figure out the average of four two-digit numbers. One student said, "There's a button that says 'Average' on my calculator, but I don't know how it works."

So I taught them how to figure an average. And when I'm teaching math, somebody should be scared.

Help from IT (?)

I ran across this in my Gmail archive. It's from May of 2006:

A couple (REALLY-TRULY-TRUE!) bits of amusement from our move to the new building --

Tom from IT: Scott, I need you to come with me to let me know where you want your computer locked down.

Scott: I put the X down with masking tape where I want it like Thelma told us to.

Tom: Well, it can't go there. There's no network connection on that side. Actually, there's only one place on your desk it can go.

Scott: How about you put it there?

* * * * *

John from IT moved my computer and then told me there was a problem because there was no power in my office. I said, "Funny, I had the radio and the fan on earlier."

John: Well, there's no power on this side.

Me: But the printer light is on.

John: (After checking for a loose connection) Oh, I see. You don't have a monitor power cable.

Me: I had one in the old office.

John: It's gone. We'll need to get you a new one. But your computer's ready to go otherwise.

(Mind you, we moved just across the alley -- and the cable was NOT in my old office..)

(And just how do I use the computer without the monitor??)

Tom brought me a new cable, hooked everything up and I sat down to check my e-mail and get off my feet for a little while. (Unpacking is hard work, especially when it's all files & books!)

I noticed the end of a power cable hanging out of the rat's nest of cables behind my computer. Sure enough ... it was the old monitor cable, just tangled in with the cables, not attached to anything at all. It had been there all along, and two (count 'em!) IT guys missed it.


I need to try to get out tomorrow at lunchtime. That's not always as easy as it sounds. The attempt often involves taking lunch at around 10:30 so I can slip out without being noticed, leaving only my "At lunch" sign on the door to let people know I've gone. Otherwise, there is this curious assumption that I'm in the office and am therefore available. Unfortunately, I have the very bad habit of eating lunch at my desk, and even when I have the "At lunch" sign on my door, if I can be seen, then ... well --- "Oh, this is quick." Oh, I don't mean to bother you, but ..."

But there aren't many places to take a brought-from-home lunch around school, particularly in the winter. In nice weather it's no problem. In January, though, I don't fancy sitting under a tree eating my sandwich.

I've actually resorted to hanging a shawl over the window in my door. However, that now leads people to the notion that if I have the shawl over the door, then I'm in there trying not to be bothered, and then ... well --- "Oh, this is quick." Oh, I don't mean to bother you, but ..."

And so forth.

And no, we're not allowed to paper over the windows in the doors as an ongoing defense mechanism. It annoys our interim dean, who wants to be able to walk by & see if we're actually there. I can't entirely blame him, but he has a secretary to run interference for him and protect the sanctity of his lunch.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A memory that popped up

A few years back I was in a meeting with the chair of another department, the president of our college and two higher-ups from the local school system (public school system for the largest city in the state).

The purpose of the meeting was to see if my Basic ESL program could come up with a way to "transition" some of the refugee students who were currently in 9th-12th grade out of the public schools and into my program so they could get the language/literacy help they needed that the school system was not able to provide (budget, in large part).

Not a problem on my end of things. We were still a fairly young program and I was pleased by the confidence shown by the College and by the schools.

Then -- sigh -- one of the school system folks said that they really needed to get these people out of the school system because they were dragging down the overall proficiency test scores.

Y'know, he could have left that part out ...
I didn't respond -- and that's a really hard thing for me -- because I had a feeling there might be career implications. After all, I was sitting next to the president.

Anyway, the conversation ended after the question of -- you guessed it! -- money came up. Someone was going to need to pay the fees for these students. In my program, fees are pretty darn low, but I have to bring in enough money to pay my instructors (as well as myself!), buy materials and so forth.

The school system folks said they'd see if they could get any grant money and get back to us. I've pretty much stopped waiting.

Friday, January 2, 2009

K-12 education

Just posted this on a forum to which I belong, and I thought it belonged here, too --

One of the reasons that so many people disagree about educational policies, both in the abstract and in the specific, is that the basic underlying philosophy of education may well be different for each of the individuals doing the disagreeing. And until one really considers the question, one may not have ever thought there was a question there to consider.

So ... the first question is this (and it’s a hard one):
What is the purpose of education?

Common reflex answer: “Oh, come on <rolling eyes> -- everybody knows that!”

Ohh? Really? <Spock-like eyebrow lifts toward edge of bangs>

OK, so what’s the answer?

Let’s take K-12 education first. That’s probably the easier one to resolve without shouting.


I’ll look at higher ed in my next post. (After all, I want y’all to be able to read what I write without having to take a nap in the middle of the post. Besides, it’s getting close to supper time, and I had a really long day!)

One of the stated purposes of public education in those early years was to “mold children into good citizens”. The following (from the philosopher Herbert Spencer) is an example of the notion of the 1800s: “For what is meant by saying that a government ought to educate the people? Why should they be educated? What is the education for? Clearly, to fit the people for social life — to make them good citizens. And who is to say what are good citizens? The government: there is no other judge. And who is to say how these good citizens may be made? The government: there is no other judge. Hence the proposition is convertible into this — a government ought to mold children into good citizens…” [ Source: ]

Well, THAT sure worked a treat, didn’t it? <giggle>

In Ohio, public education was established in 1825 (and was financed by property taxes from the very beginning). Public education in Ohio was not mandatory until 1921, at which time “once a child reached the age of sixteen years and had passed the seventh grade, the student could work as a farmer rather than attend school.” [ Source: ]

This implies that contributing to the workforce was a pretty important part of the picture as well. (True, only farmers are mentioned in the Bing Act, but at that time farming was an immense part of the Ohio economy.)

In the U.S., school-based apprenticeship programs are becoming more and more common (as they have been in other countries for generations) for children as young as 13, who are being asked to consider their career goals and make decisions that will affect their education and careers while still in middle school.

There are also those who believe that K-12 education is to create a relatively well-behaved, semi-rational being out of Mommy’s Little Monster. That might actually just be a subset of the first one about molding good citizens, so we’ll leave it at that.

Then there are those weird, funky hippie-folk and their ilk, who believe that the purpose of K-12 education is to help each young person learn to think critically, perform creatively and generally maximize his or her own individual potential. Children learn to use their imaginations to ask questions and create new ways of doing things.
... So what if they don’t pick a major until the third year of college?

So at this point we have three basic ideas about the purpose of education at the elementary level:
1. To mold good citizens
2. To prepare children for the adult world and workforce
3. To create creative, thinking individuals

True, you may see quite a bit of overlap among two of the three -- or all three. But it depends on your personal philosophy and Weltanschauung (“worldview”), don’cha see?

If you think that #1 and #2 overlap, you are looking at K-12 education as preparation for the adult workplace.

If you see overlap between #2 and #3, you are looking to the creative thinking power of today’s children to charge the workplace of tomorrow.

If you think #1 and #3 go together, you believe that the political and social scenes need and will need the creative power of individual thinkers to resolve the issues of the future.

If you think all three should be combined somehow into a workable system, and if you’ve been horrified at how most public K-12 education can hardly be called “education” -- then let’s do a nice, long lunch or teatime or something. You’re in my camp.