Thursday, June 30, 2005

Up and Down Week

It's been a real mixed bag teaching this week. Mondays and Tuesdays are hardest because I teach the little one 1.5 hr of math in the morning, then the big ones 1.5 hr of math next, then the little ones for 3 hrs in the afternoon, and then a private tutor in math for an hour. So basically, I have the kids for the full day, and it gets really long. The last hour can be almost useless. The little ones who are decently behaved get worse and worse as the day goes on. One day I lost it and I ended up yelling "shut up" really rudely. I thought about apologizing later, and explaining I had lost my temper, etc., but it apparently didn't bother them at all. I keep enhancing the curriculum, or just plain creating one. So I have decided that the last hour of each day is Life Science hour. It is a change of topic, and let's them know what they will be reading and writing.

Anyway, there were just some really bad times, when I could barely even get them to play games, much less work. And the big ones have real discipline issues. Wednesdays through Fridays are always easier, if not better, because I only work in the morning. Today I did a lot better. I had an assessment test for the little ones in Math. They all know how to take tests, though they complained of course. The only problem there is that I now have pages and pages to grade. Then I did a lot better managing the big ones today. They had the 3 strike rule in force, and I was very strict. Kids at that age just can't handle laid-back, which is how I normally live my life, so it is hard for me to be hard-ass. And exactly what we were going to do was laid out from the beginning right out on the board for them. In the end, it just worked better. I kept trying to have a strict set of rules and then relax them as if they would learn better behavior. But I think that is just confusing, and they don't know what the rules are or if there are any. So I will do better being consistent.

I happen to be writing on a good day, so you are not hearing the negative stuff, but this week really has been horrible for discipline issues. Both I and the other teacher have almost walked out of a class, giving up. On Tuesday, I so lost my temper that I had to give myself a time out. I turned to the corner and counted to 10 to let myself breathe and calm down before I turned back around and spoke to them again.

It's a learning experience, right? The only major thing I am going to have to watch is that the Director asked that we give homework now. That's fine, but it means I have to grade the homework too. Right now it means I am working an extra hour for them for no pay. If I can't figure out a way to change this, I will have to bring it up with him.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Sweet Tea

Here are some southern things I miss:

Good buttermillk biscuits. I keep trying to make them, but they're damn hard to get right.

Cornbread. The thick and moist kind, or the firm fried kind like at Cock of the Walk in Natchez where they toss it in the iron skillet. Mmm...

Sweet tea. But OK, I can make this one, despite the fact that I am sipping Crystal Light now.

Chicken and Dumplings. Mary's is still the best, but Courtney's is getting pretty decent. Just control that pepper, sis!

Frito pie. Mmmm.... My memory of frito pie is always tied to Little League at the park in the Boro. I never liked Little League, but I liked Frito Pies and Snowcones - and then the kids' big sisters later.

This wasn't supposed to be the topic, but I was looking for a title and noticed my glass of sweet, that's nutrasweet, tea in my hand. It became the topic.

Mmm... Frito pie.....

While I am on a food theme, right now I remember:
Mom's Monday Night Chicken - baked chicken, rice, and black-eye peas.
Dad's homemade spaghetti sauce
And Now N's lime garlic cardamom lambchop. Those are pretty tasty, N!

Tom's Egg Nog. OK, I confess I didn't really like it. But good god was it powerful! How can you forget it? An experience, it is. His gumbo, though, is good.

Then there is my poor cheese grits recipe. Still great, but well it is getting harder and harder to ignore 2 sticks of butter, 4 cups of milk, a cup of cheese, and a scoop of sourcream. That's a wee bit of milkfat.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The students they are a-changing

My students were changed for this week. It is never clear how long anyone will be around. I used to have 4 boys and 1 girl in my main class; all of whom, except perhaps one, are essentially native English speakers. They might have been born in Korea, some of them, but English is their main language with Korean school on Saturdays only. That changed on Monday. A new group of students from Korea arrived for a summer English program. Actually, we aren't sure why they are here as no one ever tells us. They are just put into a class and the director leans in periodically and tells me to make sure they speak English a lot. So, the problem is that my class is supposed to be simultaneously math and an English program. I also got a new girl who just finished 3rd grade. The effect is that now the majority of students are female, and about half speak English and half do not. They also moved an older kid out and a younger in, so I now run 4-6 grade instead of 5-7. It actually makes a difference. You know it sure would be nice if this were a Chinese academy instead of Korean, since I did all those years of Chinese, but alas, I studied the wrong language yet again.

The result is a huge mix of students with vastly different backgrounds all sitting in a little room with me. For instance, the 3rd grader is still working on multiplication tables, while one of the 6th graders keeps begging for harder long division problems. I finally bit the bullet today and gave people different things to do in math. The two younger girls got multiplication problems; the two older boys got division probs (before you jump on me for gender bias in math, those are just how the grades work out; the gender difference affects their behavior more than their academic abilities); and the new students from Korea all got word problems, since their math is great, and they are here to study English anyway. So that's one way to do it in a math class.

The English background is of course the big deal in the writing and reading class in the afternoon. This weekend I decided to try a Narnia book for several weeks, with companion creative and analytical writing assignments as they read. It works pretty well for all the English speakers. It is just at the limits of their ability. But of course it is far too hard for the Korean speakers who just cannot follow that level yet. I am not really sure how to solve this problem. Again I could make different assignments for the Korean kids, but I think the entire reason they are here is to talk to English peers and learn, not talk to the same people they did back home. I don't know.

I won't go into all the discipline issues. That would just take too long.

I also have a tutee in supposedly 7th grade math. I meet with him two hours a week, and while he speaks little, it is a very good session. He is already in a pre-algebra summer school in the mornings (and our language class in the afternoon) before he gets to me. So I thought, "ha, since he is already studying algebra every day, I will do all the other stuff you are supposed to know in 7th grade." Well, I found out on Tuesday that his mother thinks the class is too easy. The director let me know. I have never met her. Talking with the student, I figured out that it really has nothing to do with easy or hard. It is that his mom wants him to be studying algebra. I think this is a dubious decision, as he won't be doing algebra seriously in school till likely 9th grade, and he is just entering 7th. But hey, she is paying for a private tutor, so I tossed the 7th grade math book away, and found an algebra text. It is more interesting for me anyway. Next week is exponents.

Many of these kids are a bizarre combination of spoiled and worked to death. On the one hand, many of them go to school in the summer 6 days a week. I think one kid gets more assignments from his parents once he gets home. On the other hand, you get the impression that many of them get any toy they want and spend every moment at home, when free, obsessively playing computer games. It is the classic I want to give everything to my child syndrome, including making him the best educated person in the state at the age of 10. But at the same time, sometimes you get the feeling that the parents aren't all that involved. They send their child off to school as daycare, but do they care what the child does when there? I like the mom of my new 3rd grader. First of all, I have met her. She has come in to check the place out. And she wants her daughter to work really hard. She even put in a request that her daughter take home homework, when generally we don't give any. But at the same time, it doesn't seem crazy. The girl has school in the morning, and then gets to be a kid in the afternoon with another hour of homework or so. She has a life outside of computer games. This seems far more reasonable, and considering how she is doing - well-behaved, hard-working, and smart, despite being the youngest in the class - it works. But OK that's based on 3 days.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Today is N and mine's 7th wedding anniversary. We were married June 21, 1998 in Snohomish, WA. So, go us! To celebrate, we are headed to the big TGIFs about 3 blocks away. So yippee! Thank you, N, for putting up with me for seven full years and letting me drag you across an ocean, or halfway across an ocean, to school. It was very nice of her, don't you all agree?

Friday, June 17, 2005

Bag of tricks - not about politics!

Just finished the first week's teaching. Every day is anew, though I am really excited because at least my older kids are definitely learning stuff. They beg for the easy square roots, which means they know what square roots are. Yippee. I am also learning I need a bag of tricks a mile long. To go back to my old D&D days in the mid-80s - I need a Bag of Holding, full of new ways to keep a 10 year old interested. On the one hand, discipline only works so far. Meaning the tough version where you get punished when acting up. You also have to have a million things to get them interested so that punishments and rewards are not necessary. One nice new thing the other teacher tried was having competitive teams go at it. That worked well for me with the older kids twice now. I tried it with the younger ones, and it was hit and miss. Some of the young ones just aren't that competitive. And then there are a million psychological things to deal with. Our youngest missed the only question for her team - largely because all the other kids were yelling things at her in an 11 year old's method of helping - and this made her so sad that she dropped out of the class and refused to do anything for half an hour. So you think, well I just can't put her on the spot very often, she is only 9 or 10. Fair enough. Then you have her brother in the other room, and he sits there whistling and making masks with his handout while his teammate answers everything. So basically, you call on someone, and they break down; you let them work as a team, and one of them doesn't do anything. Sigh.... It sure would help if they were all closer in age, but I remind myself of the old country schools where grades 1 - 12 would be in a single room together. It must be possible.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Political "debate" so depressing

Just read some "debate" between lefties and righties over at a conservative blog. It's so depressing how everyone talks past each other. Can people who disagree never discuss something honestly? I sometimes think about trying to find some right-leaning person to do an open debate with me, but I never really pursue it for a rather bizarre reason. If I were to get in a real debate, that was truly worthwhile, it would take forever. In the end, I'd rather write, listen to music, hang out with family, and do research to learn about the world, not do textual analysis on years of paper work to ferret out something. Politics is not that interesting. I'd be dragged kicking and screaming into it if I was obligated to do it for real.

I hereby pledge myself to be constructive.

What Exactly is Our Foreign Policy?

Many who are not of my political persuasion might wonder why this issue of Iraq seems so important to me. There is the obvious one of unnecessary deaths. (Which I believe should be compared to the war in Afghanistan, which to mind mind did indeed seem necessary, as there were active terrorist training camps there working to kill Americans, and that government particularly decided not to shut them down. Those innocent deaths were likely necessary.) Let's take that as obvious and move on.

The other big issue is what the Bush / Rice foreign policy has become. Essentially, the motivation for the invasion of Iraq is that the administration thought we would ultimately be better off with Saddam gone. There is a solid chance, though only a chance due to the dubious reconstruction, that they will be right. But is the possibility that we would be "better off" a valid justification for war? This is not an issue of imminent threat. It is one of thinking that that guy I hate might do something some day which is bad. Compare "might do something some day which is bad" to the Iraqi death toll. "Better off" is a foreign policy with no limits. It is like "enemy combatant". Anyone can be an enemy combatant. The "better off" Bush doctrine says we can kill anyone we want if it is to our benefit. Think about that and convince me I am wrong, because I want to be. But how are we to lead the world, other than through economic might and fear, if this is our true foreign policy? It gives up everything we are supposed to be fighting for.

Here is an analogy.

Man stabs another man with a knife 12 times.
Justification 1: "He was trying to kill me with his own knife." - self-defense, justified.
Justifiation 2: "He was attacking my wife." Not self-defense, but likely justified.
Justification 3: "He attacked my wife last week and was planning to attack her again tomorrow. I have evidence and stated intentions." Wish there was another way, but we understand.
Justification 4: "Someone else attacked my wife, but I really think this other guy is up to something. I mean he is a really bad guy!" Obviously wrong.

You may fill in which world situations are which.

Bush V Clinton - impeachment

Killer Llama put a very nice comment about my "independent counsel" post below. For those of you interested in this stuff, you can read this, and I recommend reading his Comment as well, hidden further down. For those of you who just want to know what is going on in my life can skip all this and read about my attempts at teaching below.

Anyway, Llama made the point that the comparison of Clinton's lie under oath "In effect, I did not sleep with that woman" versus Bush's "war was the last resort only if Saddam doesn't give up WMD" had completely different consequences. At worst, Clinton's lie impeded a sexual harassment charge from being properly prosecuted. But Bush's of course has ended with 1700 dead American soldiers, likely between 10,000 - 20,000 dead Iraqi citizens, and the destruction of largely any moral authority the nation had. Valid point, I believe.

I was afraid when I brought up the Clinton thing that people would see it this way. "Ah, now that it doesn't matter anymore, he throws in that impeaching Clinton was OK just to pretend tobe neutral." What I was really going after is the larger point about clinging to Power. I wanted to convince people that it was no real tragedy for someone they believe in to not be in Power anymore. It should be no disgrace to no longer be President. That is a great privelege and responsibility instead. And the Republican Party would be just fine if they get a new Prez. And in case I had ever discussed my opposition to the Clinton impeachment in an earlier life, I wanted to be on record that I now think I was wrong. I had fallen into the same trap that the supporters of Bush are about to fall into. By the way, apparently the Democratic party is not ignoring this completely, as the media almost exclusively is. There were various meetings in the Capital today about this issue. Check Yahoo news if you want the account. Naturally, the Republicans scheduled many important votes at the same time so that the other hearings would be minimally attended. Of course, many if not most of the Democrats who are now going to call for Bush' head are after policitical gain and have no real moral outrage, except manufactured. That does not mean that they are not on the right side this time, though.

I have met the enemy and it is 12

So I have been teaching two classes of middle schoolers for four days now. As Yoda would say, "an experience, it is." I work for a private school called Sisa Academy, which is a franchise out of Korea, and all my kids are Korean. That makes a couple differences: 1) This is not a summer school for people who did badly and need remedial work, nor is it a summer school for gifted kids. In Korean culture, if you have the money, kids just go to school year-round, so these are kids whose parents just decided they should go to school over the summer. It is very close to daycare, and these 11 year olds are with us from 9:00 AM until 4:00 PM every day. 2) Some of the kids, though not all, have English as a second language issues. The other children, being children, relentlessly tease these others, calling them retarded and the like.

I teach 5 of them, from grades 5 - 8, Math from 9:00 - 10:15 every morning. I then switch and teach kids, grades 7 - 9, from 10:30 - 12:00. Then it is back to the first group to teach Writing instead from 1:00 - 4:00. So, yes, this means they have reading and writing for 4 and a half hours a day. Seems a bit much. I and the other teacher who work all day are working on creating a better curriculum as we go. We have no curriculum or lesson plans. Just something with math and something with language. WE are on our own otherwise.

These kids run around, they yell, they try to sleep, they curse each other, they toss stuff in the trash cans from their chairs. And that during class. As soon as the door opens, all hell breaks loose. So 90% of the job is to take control of the class, and 10% is teaching.

It has been really up and down. Day One was just learning what I had gotten myself into. Day 2 was better. For the older kids I set up a rule. If they speak without getting called on 3 times, they do not get out early. Everyone else gets an extra break. This really worked pretty well. Day 3 not as bad as Day One, but there were some pitfalls. One kid told me he hated me; and the only girl student I have, who is also the youngest and just finished 4th grade ended up in tears when she could not get out early. Today was perhaps the best. Despite their best efforts, the older kids have actually learned something. We are doing square roots, and the ones that they hated doing on Tuesday were now easy and got a "yay" on Thursday. They also knew what they were. I also had the younger kids on Tuesday invent a story together, and today one of them wanted to do more of that. (They invented the Superhero "Kaos" and his arch-enemy, the evil DevilMaster.) So I am slowly making progress.

The discipline stuff works some. The other teacher, Sara, invented a competitive game today (the team who wins gets out early), and it worked pretty darn well too for me. The kids learned, well some did, and I didn't have to do the Three Strikes and You are Out thing. I am becomingthe hard ass of the school I think, because I don't let them out of things. I went from being Hunter, well Mr. Hunter, on Day One, cause everything else just sounded weird to Mr. Hatfield by Wednesday.

I am learning.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Independent Counsel time?

So, the "Downing Street memo" and a few others were released from the Times of London today to the L.A. Times. First, I want to give a big thank you to Michael Smith, the writer from the London Times, whose reporting made these memos available to the world. You can read the whole AP story (note that this is the AP, not some wacko leftist web site - but then we all know that the Associated Press is controlled by the Reds and only Fox News and the Christian Broadcasting Network have any true objectivity) here.

These memos are basically the reports of some in the British Government to Secretary Straw and Prime Minister Blair about their discussions with counterparts in the U.S. Some important sections:

"Another memo, from British Foreign Office political director Peter Ricketts to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on March 22, 2002, bluntly stated that the case against Hussein was weak because the Iraqi leader was not accelerating his weapons programs and there was scant proof of links to Al Qaeda.

"What has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programs, but our tolerance of them post-11 September," Ricketts wrote. "Attempts to claim otherwise publicly will increase skepticism about our case….

"U.S. scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda is so far frankly unconvincing," he said.

Ricketts said that other countries such as Iran appeared closer to getting nuclear weapons, and that arguing for regime change in Iraq alone "does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge between Bush and Saddam." That was why the issue of weapons of mass destruction was vital, he said.

"Much better, as you [Straw] have suggested, to make the objective ending the threat to the international community from Iraqi WMD before Saddam uses it or gives it to terrorists," he said. A U.N. Security Council resolution demanding renewal of weapons inspections, he says, would be a "win/win." "

So let us get this straight. The U.S. government had decided to take out Saddam for unspecified reasons. They didn't think those reasons would play well with their own citizens or the International Community. So, they decided to focus on Weapons of Mass Destruction as the reason military action was necessary, despite the fact that the WMD program had not advanced any and that both Iran and North Korea were in fact much further along. Additionally, U.S. officials were off trying to find any possible link between Al Qaeda and Iraq to justify the military invasion. Note what this says. The reason for the invasion was not because there were ties to Al Qaeda; they looked for ties to justify a decision they had already made. This is not an "intelligence failure." It is a policy decision.

And in a memo from Jack Straw himself:
"Regime change per se is no justification for military action; it could form part of the method of any strategy, but not a goal," he said. "Elimination of Iraq's WMD capacity has to be the goal."

So, even though WMDs had to be the goal, the fact that there were no WMDs of course is now dismissed as irrelevant.

And further:

'Washington believes the legal basis for an attack already exists. Nor will it necessarily be governed by wider political factors. The U.S. may be willing to work with a smaller coalition than we think desirable,' it said.

The paper said the British view was that any invasion for the purpose of regime change "has no basis under international law."

The best way to justify military action, it said, would be to convince the Security Council that Iraq was in breach of its post-Gulf War obligations to eliminate its store of weapons of mass destruction.

So, under the British view an invasion of Iraq for regime change alone was illegal. Now, of course, both the U.S. and the U.K. say it is fine.


What I get from all this is that the U.S. government for unspecified reasons wanted Saddam out. But no one thought these reasons were good enough to convince anyone. So they trumped up WMD and Al Qaeda links to make it sound better.

Now we come back to the Independent Counsel title. Is any of this illegal or is it just managing the press - a marketing scheme. It seems clear that the current administration deliberately mislead its own citizens and made up things at the United Nations. I do not know if any of them are under oath. You would think that people would be upset about this, but that is naturally not how humans work. We are all on teams, you see. And if I am on the Bush team, then I must think it is OK for him to lie to me. And if I am on the other team, I must criticize him, even when he does something right. However, beyond marketing, I suspect that there will be some substantial material presented to Congress - which is under oath - and if so, any issues of perjury should be prosecuted fully.

To finish this off, I must admit that I think I was wrong previously. I used to think that Clinton should not have been impeached for lying about having an affair when he was under oath. It just did not seem important enough to bring down a President over. I think this view is wrong. I made a mistake. I had let myself get attached to Power like others, meaning I viewed it as some great tragedy to bring down a President over something little. However, I think it would be quite healthy for me and all Americans to get over this. It really is not a big deal to get a new President mid-term. Gore would not have been that much different from Clinton, and Cheney wouldn't really be all that much different from Bush. It really does little harm. Cheney would aggressively kill people he decides are bad just as well; hell he'd probably push amendments to prevent two adults who are in love marrying each other just as much, etc. I think it is time for us to get over this obsession with power and having to maintain it. If you lie, you don't get to be leader of the world's only Superpower anymore. That's not a disgrace. It is responsibility. It's really not such a big deal. Same goes for CEOs. So what if you end up flipping burgers. It is not the material of Greek tragedy. It's just something that happens. As long as you can feed your family and eventually recover your own dignity, get over it. And there you go.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Happy with my little car

N and I shipped the little Echo over here as our only car, and I had cause to truly appreciate it recently.

1) With gas now at $2.45 a gallon here, I am very pleased to be driving a car that gets one of the highest MPG ratings out there - of cars that are pure gas cars.

2) It is nice being small. Many parking lots here are tiny. I was recently in the garage at Ward Centres watching this car go back and forth trying to get in to a spot. They finally gave up and moved on. I turned into the spot in one move and went shopping.

On the downside, I recently could not get this chest from a garage sale in it. Oh well.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Children and Marketing

This is just a quick pet peeve that N and I have noticed - and probably so has every parent in the last 10 years, we are just new to it. Anyway, it is that it is virtually impossible to purchase certain items for a child that are not tied to some movie, TV show, or prominent brand. I am not saying there is just a Barney tag on the sheet, the entire sheet is a huge Barney cornucopia. N went looking, at Sears and Walmart too I think, for a simple blanket for B. You can buy a Sponge Bob blanket, a Toy Story or Finding Nemo blanket, a Thomas the Tank Engine blanket, but there literally are no simple blue blankets. We saw a couple tents for children recently. There were two choices - Hot Wheels (cars from top to bottom covering every inch) or Barbie (same covering, just light pink and Barbie everywhere). Nothing else. This is quite pervasive. For many goods, there is no choice other than the marketing tie-in choice.

This exists in the adult world in certain places. I have often been frustrated by the fact that it is almost impossible to buy any sort of sporting good - like a t-shirt and shorts - that doesn't make you a walking advertisement for Nike, Adidas, Reebok, New Balance, etc. Try going to a sporting goods store and buying athletic clothing that doesn't have a prominent logo on it. How did we go from being paid to carry ad boards on our backs to paying for the privelege of doing so?

Anyway, I once heard an interview on the radio with the author of this book.
Born to Buy . It is about marketing to children, typically at ages where there are plenty of studies indicating that they do not yet have the ability to understand what is a commercial and what is not. I remember some ad exec chuckling during the interview saying that kids will buy what they want, and who knows if the ads have any effect. This is of course completely disingenuous. I mean they aren't spending $15 billion a year because for no effect. They know it works or they would not spend the money.

Monday, June 06, 2005

What the World is Not

One thing I miss in my life is my old explorations of sprituality and religious life. It was never a huge part, but of course back in college I read philosophy and lots of stuff about world religions, mostly Buddhism, some mystical Christianity, etc. Somehow I have let that part of me go. I periodically still pull out a good C.S. Lewis book for contemplation, but pretty rarely. I think it is ultimately unwise to not nurture that part of me.

But for now, it just isn't happening. Every once in a while, N and I discuss going to church, probably something Episcopal as a bridge between N's Catholic upbringing and my generally Protestant once. There are also a whole bunch of Japanese Buddhist temples here, hongwanji, and I think sometimes I should take advantage while here. After all, when I end up teaching at Western Mountain Valley State Community College, those resources will be gone. But it never happens.

You may wonder what the point is? I mean how can I equally read C.S. Lewis and the Zen Essays of Dogen? Or go back and forth on attending a Buddhist temple or an Episcopal church? It's a good question. The only explanation I have is that I would not attend a service to hear people tell me things I already think. I would go to learn and to shape my beliefs.

OK. A philosopher story. In the early 20th century, probably around 1910, give or take a few years, Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead worked together to publish an enormous work called Principia Mathematica. It was a singularly audacious title for the book, as it echoes Newton's Principia, and one has to guess that the title was Russell's idea, as Russell wasn't known for his humility. The goal of the book was to lay out the logical underpinnings of mathematics. If they succeeded, then they would have delivered proofs that most of the greatest mathematical axioms, an axiom being something that is unproven but "obvious", can be derived from simple logical concepts. They largely succeeded. In fact they succeeded so well that a mathematician named Godel was later able to build his Incompleteness Theorem from it, which destroyed an entire mathematical program (Hilbert's) and changed mathematical theory forever.

Anyway, after the Principia, Whitehead and Russell went their own ways, philosophically and otherwise. Russell continued a successful career doing work in set theory, philosophy of language, and the like. He also became quite well known in the popular press, mostly for his atheism and pacifism. Whitehead also moved away from mathematics and into philosophy of science and nature, and ultimately metaphysics. Whitehead's major move was to try to incorporate the discoveries of Einstein's relativity theories into our basic philosophical view of the world. In fact, Whitehead is one of those people who had something, often thought-provoking, to say about everything. Sort of like a Plato or Wiggenstein. To get to the point, Whitehead is to have said the following: "You think the world is what it looks like in fine weather at noon day; I think it is what it seems like in the early morning when one first wakes from deep sleep."

In the end, I am closer to Whitehead. I have a lot to say about what I think the world is not, what God is not, and the like. But I have little of note to say yet about what the world is, and it would be wise of me to keep searching until that early morning fog wears off.

Yippee! Summer Job

Well, it looks like I am going to be teaching middle school children math after all. I think this will be for 3 hours each afternoon 5 days a week. They said they would call me last Wednesday, but never did, so I thought it wasn't happening. But I got the call today, so I will be starting now next Monday. So I have 4 more days of vacation. I had just put my name in with a temp agency, but maybe I will pull my name out of their hat now. Or perhaps not, if they have weekend jobs or something. I will have to debate that. So anyway yay! I think. Now I have to go learn middle school math again. While my trig has left me - an arcsine is... hypotonuse over opposite? hmm..., I think I can still handle basic algebra or, geez, what do you take in middle school? I remember long division in like 5th grade, and then I remember algebra in 8th. What's in between? Anyway, they supposedly have lesson plans you can use, so I will either use them or take them as a starting point. If anyone has advice on handling 7th graders, yell. Something other than "duck!" I have this vague memory from Winnsboro Junior High of cross-multiplication and finding least common denominators. Crap, I always hated least common denominators.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Song list correction / explanation

I must add to this quickly based on Killer Llama's comments:

These songs are not in order! I made absolutely no attempt to rank the songs. The numbers are there simply because I was counting to see how many songs I had. They mean nothing more. The reason all the soul funk is at the top is because I happened to start writing things down when looking through that section. And Van Morrison is at the bottom because I was afraid I would fill pages from that section, so I skipped it to the end.

As for llama's comment - would these change in 6 months? Indubitably, sir. If I did the list again 6 minutes from now, it would change. This was just a snapshot. I know there are a bunch of songs from my list that I crossed off that should probably replace the ones that made it. But I decided not to go down that road, or I would be going down it forever. That said, several of these songs I have listened to for years.

Wild and Peaceful

So here is an attempt at my 17 favorite tunes. Why 17? I couldn't cut anymore, and I don't really need to spend that much time worrying about this.

1) Pet the Kat - Dirty Dozen Brass Band
2) Wild and Peaceful - Kool and the Gang
3) Soul Power - James Brown
4) Just Got Paid - ZZ Top
5) Gymnopedie #1 - Erik Satie
6) Asturias - John Williams' performance
7) Like a Knife - Cui Jian
8) Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens - Louis Jordan
9) Night in Tunisia - Art Blakey's version of Dizzy
10) You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To - Julie London
11) Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody - Louis Prima
12) Nine Times Blue - Mike Nesmith
13) Circle Sky - Monkees
14) Superstar in France - Lambchop
15) Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding
16) Angeliou - Van Morrison
17) Into the Mystic - Van Morrison

There is a basic soul, jazz, funk thing going there - with some noticable exceptions. Satie's Gymnopedie would be considered "classical" or "western art" music. Asturias is a classical guitar piece. There are more uptempo tunes than I expected. I was worried it would all be quiet stuff. It's also older than I realized. A lot of my newer stuff made list 1, but didn't stay. But then my criteria was that I had listened to it for some time. Anyway, there you go. If anyone would like to hear this stuff, email me. My address is sitting right at the top of the blog on the right.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Peace and Sadness

There is a certain emotion that is very poignant to me. I was trying to think of my 5 Favorite Songs just to make a post that would interest the music lovers, but I realized many of them all convey the same emotion. It is an emotion of fundamental peace with a tinge of loss or simple melancholy mixed in. Of my list of fave songs, one which has this emotion that most of you will know is Otis Redding's "Sittin on the Dock of the Bay" Many of the others are Van Morrison tunes. He does restless peace better than any. If you simply read the lyrics to Sittin On the Dock of the Bay, they are quite sad. "Sittin here restin my bones; wishin this loneliness would leave me alone." "Well i left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay; I had nothing to live for, seems like nothins going my way." But the sense of the music is fundamentally one of peace and tranquility. This emotion appears to be very strong to me.

Another song which would be in the running sort of has this emotion but the sense of sadness is much stronger. Oddly, it is named "Superstar in France" by Lambchop.

You're a superstar in France
You have everything I want.
You have all those pretty girls.
I was born to change the station.

Pretty soon. The dream is over. sha la la lala
Pretty soon. The dream is over. sha la la lala
Pretty soon.

You're a superstar in france
I was born to take vacations.
Don't you ever want to die?
Don't you think we should be together?

Pretty soon. The dream is over. sha la la lala
Pretty soon. The dream is over. sha la la lala
Pretty soon. The dream is over.

OK, this is a rather different emotion or set of them. The answer to "do you think we should be together?" right after "don't you ever want to die?" is "umm, you first check into therapy for a couple years and then let's talk."

And in case anyone is now worried about me. It is just a very sad song I like. I'm Ooo Kkkk. But those lyrics are quite wonderful. What better way to express the sense of a life disappearing to nothing than "I was born to change the station." And then the simple, directness of "don't you ever wanna die?" cuts right to the core of what is going on.

no teaching for you!!

Well, really no teaching for me. No one ever called, so it looks like I'm back on the job trail. The most exciting thing about the job is that it would have meant I was done with boring resume stuff. C'est la vie. In other news, today I did none of the really cool things I talk about doing. Instead I rented The Two Towers and The Return of the King (Fellowship is one of the three DVDs I own.) and watched both, which of course takes about 6 hours. I think those movies are certainly flawed (was the burden of the Ring really this bizarre transelike state?), but certain parts always grab me. Like when Aragorn says at the end to the 4 hobbits, "You bow to no one," and the greatest lords and ladies of the world all bow to the little hobbits. Bawl like a newborn baby is a little strong, but definite tears in the eyes material. Kind of like the end of It's a Wonderful Life when all the friends come to help George. There's this point where they cut to Donna Reed and the look she gives to George sends me over the top. Then Zuzu hears the bell ring for the angel Clarence. I've seen that scene 20 times, and it gets me every single time. Anyway, here is hoping I do better tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Llama made the mistake of showing an interest and amazing memory of linguistics, so I am forced to do a follow posting, talking about consonants, especially as they relate to Thai and English. Llama himself will know much of this from his Ling 101 class. (Sorry. I'm practicing to teach my 101 class this fall.)

OK, so what exactly is a consonant? Not easy to really describe. Of course, we all memorized in school what the consonants are (everything other than a, e, i, o, and u right?), but why? One plausible definition of the consonant is that it is everything that involves a significant constriction in the oral pathway when being spoken. So a consonant like /t/ has a total block on the air passing through your mouth. In this case the tongue is pressed against a ridge right behind your teeth. (Make a /t/ and feel it.) An /s/ is a consonant where the tongue is super-close to the same place, but not quite touching. The tongue is so close that the air become turbulent going through and makes that hissing sound. Other things are not quite so clear. An /l/ also has the tip of the tongue on that same ridge, but the sides of the tongue stay down, letting air continually pass. (By the way, this is where English speakers are supposed to put their tongue to make an /l/. I appear to put my tongue on my teeth instead. If any of you North Louisiana folk can say [llama] and see where you put your tongue, and let me know, that would be more than awesome.)

Anyway, we are just going to talk about consonants that have a complete stopping of the air. There are many choices for how exactly to make such a consonant, mostly having to do with whether or not you vibrate your vocal cords and when. You have 4 choices. 1) Start vibrating your vocal cords, called voicing, while your tongue is still pressed to the ridge. This voiced stop consonant is called a /d/. 2) Release your tongue and with no delay at all, start voicing the next sound like a vowel /a/. This would be an unvoiced, because the vocal cords weren't vibrating during the closure, stop, and is a /t/. It is also unaspirated, which will be explained next. 3) The next choice is to release the stop but wait just a little bit, like 40 milliseconds before you start voicing the next sound. This is an unvoiced, aspirated stop. Aspiration refers to the delay in the start of voicing between a consonant and the next sound, and it comes out as a little puff of air between the consonant and the vowel. 4) You can also voice and aspirate at the same time, though this is pretty rare, which if you followed the above discussion makes sense, because it says you are both vibrating and not vibrating your vocal cords at once. People can actually do this. It is a voice quality called breathy voice, and is common in South Asian languages, among others. What you do is have part of your vocal cords close together and vibrating, making the voiced sound, and you leave the other part of the cords loose, allowing air to pass. You end up with the consonant both being breathy and vibrating at the same time.

There are other choices as well. Korean has a version where your vocal cords are tensed producing a quality, which is virtually impossible for me to hear. You can also make your whole vocal box, the adams apple, move up and down, sucking air in or shoving it out to make cool consonants. But basically we have voiced stops, aspirated stops, and unvoiced, unaspirated stops. Choices 1-3 above.

Languages use these stops differently. Spanish has nice, beautiful voiced consonants, like /d/ and /b/, where the vocal cords start early and vibrate continuously throughout. It also has unvoiced, unaspirated consonants. So, in Spanish, when you say /t/, there is no voicing during the stop, and the voicing starts immediately. Thai is different. It does not have voiced stops (correct me please!), but it distinguishes between aspirated and unaspirated stops. So, you can say a /t/ either with the voicing starting immediately, unaspirated, or delayed a little bit, aspirated. There is nothing hard about actually saying and hearing any of this. Thai children learn these sounds with ease, and they are quite common across the world's languages. However, they are rather difficult for English speakers for a kind of complicated reason.

The main problem with aspirated and unaspirated consonants for English speakers is not that we cannot produce them. In fact, we do! English has both. But we do not distinguish between them. If you say a word with a /t/ at the beginning of a word, like 'top', you will aspirate the [t]. If you say it in the middle of a word, like 'stop', you won't. And yet to us, they are all /t/. We don't really care which it is; it is considered the same sound. This is the opposite of Thai, where a word with an aspirated /t/ is a different word from one with an unaspirated /t/. We have a Thai student in our department, and I tried one day for a few minutes to say an unaspirated stop at the beginning of a word, and she kept saying "nope, you aspirated again," "did it again", "a little better - i guess." So English speakers have this rule to aspirate voiceless consonants at the beginning of words, and in stressed syllables. And it is really had for us to turn this rule off. (Where does this rule come from? If you can answer this conclusively, then you just earned yourself a doctorate in linguistics.)

This is even further complicated by the fact that English voiced consonants, like /d/, /g/, and /b/, are not all that voiced. While in Spanish the voicing starts real early in the /b/ and voices throughout, in English it can often start rather late in the closure and come out not all that different from an unvoiced unaspirated stop. I learned the effect of this with my Chinese study. Chinese in fact only has aspirated and unaspirated stops, no voiced ones, but they don't ever bother telling English learners this, but simply say to say /t/ and /d/ instead. Our /d/s have so little voicing, no one ever notices.

And there you go. Articulatory phonetics 101. By the way, this is largely where foreign accents come from. An American speaking in French sounds really American because he keeps saying English vowels, that are kinda close to the French ones, but not the same, when speaking the other language. A Hindi speaker (India) has a slightly different version of the /t/ than English speakers do, and when she says her [t]s that way, we notice. Japanese does not have a true English type /r/ or /l/ and that lack of a distinction carries over into their English. I would assume a common way that English speakers have a funny accent speaking Thai is always aspirating consonants at the beginnings of words, even when they should not be.