Japan and Disaster, Forever

They’re twins joined at the hip.  As the staggering magnitude of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami sink in, I’m reminded of just how deeply interwoven natural disasters are in Japanese history, even in the Japanese psyche. 

One of my favorite authors is James Clavell, whose Asian Saga begins with Shogun, a novel about a European sailor colliding with the samurai culture in 1600.  One of the book’s primary themes is that, even in a land of ultimate beauty, violent destruction crouches ready to surprise anyone at any time.  This produces the Zen philosophy that the Japanese lived by, and is evident in both the stoicism, nihilism, and lust for life on every page of the book. 

That mindset is seen in many scenes of brutal, random violence, but perhaps is nowhere better shown than at the end of chapter 38, where a sudden earthquake ravages the island.  Rather than try to produce a short quote, here are two pages of characters reacting right after the disaster:

 

I can’t find a good enough passage right now, but Clavell mentions a few times that the chaos of major catastrophe is a mainstay of Japanese life. 

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Logical Fallacies and “Asians in the Library”

An excellent teaching moment came my way yesterday.  My English 101 class spends the last half of the semester doing a unit on persuasive writing, and the textbook has a whole section on logical fallacies.  In addition to a dry review of them last night, I ended class with something a little more unique and practical. 

I told my classes about the already-infamous “Asians in the Library” video that a girl at UCLA did a couple of weeks ago, and then showed it to them.  As we watched, we stopped it often so we could identify specifically which logical fallacies she was committing.  It was hilarious, controversial, and really drove the point home–the world is full of people who make stupid arguments, and we have the tools to deflate them. 

On a more serious note, for someone like me who truly believes that racism is a thing of the past, a relic that’s been relegated to only the most extreme fringes of society, no matter how loudly some professional grievance-mongers continue to crow about it, it’s really disturbing to hear something every now and then like this that shows us that there really is still some serious racism out there.  I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t think of any way to view this video with a charitable explanation–this young lady just simply comes across as an ignorant bigot. 

My notes on her logical fallacies are after the jump; see how many you can spot!

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When I Became A Real Teacher

When I was doing my student teaching, kids would ask all the time, “Are you a real teacher yet?  When will you be a real teacher?”  I’d usually respond, “What?  Because I’ve been faking it so far?”

But here’s a better answer:

When I started student teaching, I wasn’t as scared of those classes full of teenagers as I was of all those blank calendar days needing lesson plans.  “Sixteen weeks!” I thought.  “How will I fill up all that time?  What the heck will I do for sixteen weeks?” 

About halfway through, though, my thinking changed.  “Eight weeks!”  I thought.  “How can I possibly get everything done in just eight more weeks?”

That’s when I became a real teacher.

It’s Time For Politically Conservative Mormons To Follow Their Church On Illegal Immigration

I’ve written about this once in each of the last three years (here, here, and here), and as the Church’s position keeps getting clearer, the reactions of many of my fellow political conservatives keeps getting more hostile.  A posting on the Church’s official web site last week makes it clear: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints favors some kind of amnesty–including guest worker programs, at the very least–for illegal aliens. 

Conservatives in general may blanche at this, and they’re welcome to–their suspicions about the Church’s motives in this don’t hold water, anyway.  (Pandering to Hispanic populations?  If the Church wanted to pander to politically sensitive groups, we wouldn’t have recently offended everyone who supports gay marriage.  Between that issue and this one, now we’ve alienated everybody!)

But for those of us who accept the divinity of the LDS Church’s claims and the authority of its leadership, there should be no argument.  In too many comments on other blogs and quotes in other news articles, conservatives are bristling about this to the point of rebellion.  Continue reading

Teach Me About Citizenship

I haven’t blogged about the Man Scout Project in forever, because it’s been so slow–last year, I only made time to work on it in the Spring and Summer.  Without going over all the activities I’ve done, right now I’ve done everything for tenderfoot and second class, and I’m finishing up first class. 

One of the requirements I still have for that is #5:

Visit and discuss with a selected individual approved by your leader (elected official, judge, attorney, civil servant, principal, teacher) your constitutional rights and obligations as a U.S. citizen.

So, I’m appealing to the online community for help with this one.  What are your thoughts about our rights and responsibilities as citizens?  I’m happy to hear all ideas here, including those that might be based on political values different from my own: I won’t be criticizing them here, just thanking you for your help.  If you think you have any special background or experience to support your comments, please explain. 

The forum is now open.

Remembering Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie Simpson

As the world continues to mourn the loss of the glamorous Elizabeth Taylor, let’s not forget the famed actress’s greatest screen achievement: no, not the budget-busting Cleopatra, or her Oscar-winning turn in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  Rather, her ultimate triumph came on December 3, 1992, when she provided the voice as baby Maggie Simpson finally said her first word. 

This was actually pretty big.  Not only was this a fairly early entry in the trend of major Hollywood stars doing TV cameos (though Taylor had done these before), it was the first time I can think of when a major star did a purposely minimalist bit–one word, at the very end of the show.  What a good sport.  The next best disparity between fame and lowliest guest starring role would be George Clooney as the bark of a gay dog on South Park

Below is the best copy I can find of the clip. 

Hello, New Friends!

A lot of new people are reading today.  Welcome to you all!  Please browse through these ten posts, some of my favorite about politics and policy, mostly from the last year or so. 

The Atlas Shrugged Quote Book—a collection of my favorite quotes from this seminal novel

The Problem With Throwing Money at Problems—a big flaw in liberal logic

The Hypocrisy of Bleeding Heart Teachers—a conservative public school teacher’s view of the petty Wisconsin protests

Display an American Flag on Cinco de Mayo—an idea to overcome politically correct ethnic segregation and unite in our identity as patriots

Rules By Which a Free Republic May Be Reduced To a Socialist One—a parody of a Benjamin Franklin essay, showing just how much our modern elite rulers resemble those we broke away from

I’ll Make This Simple: Homer = Democrats—“You think you can use The Simpsons to back up your liberal agenda?  Not on my watch, bub.”

Why Don’t Illegal Alien Sympathizers Love Mexico?—another flaw in liberal logic

Grade Day of Reckoning—two graphics illustrate the futility of our anemic public education system

Is Harry Reid Secretly a Conservative Saboteur?—a tongue-in-cheek theory about nobody’s favorite senator

The Great Grade Bailout—a satire combining a criticism of our public schools, economic cluelessness, and society’s growing irresponsibility

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Note: Wednesday will be this blog’s third anniversary.  Thanks to everybody who reads and keeps us growing!

TRUE Bracket of AWESOMENESS!!!!

You may think this a little strange, but I present, 3 days into the tournament, my sheet of integrity, uploaded to the interwebs, to stand as a challenge to Jamie’s weak, chalk filled bracket.

NEWS FLASH, his Final Four is already BUSTED! BY A TEAM I PICKED!!!!!

Go ahead and look it over, and my commentary will follow in the comments. He will verify via email that even though I’m late with this post, I did not pick these games retroactively. This is the one bracket I filled out this year, and I intend to beat Jamie’s picks into the ground!

My overall champion is SDSU over Notre Dame with a score of 52-49.

NPR Mocks Michelle Malkin’s Family After Her Cousin Goes Missing

This morning on NPR’s popular comedy show, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, a segment aired where a contestant had to choose which of three strange news stories was actually true.  One of the (false) options concerned conservative commentator Michelle Malkin.  The NPR show joked that, after Malkin had advertised her belief that President Obama is a “secret Muslim” and that she believes other “secret Muslims” are “taking over this country,” she found, to her dismay, that her own grandfather was a Muslim. 

First of all, while the humor of this segment was based on the idea that Malkin must be a hypocrite with a Muslim relative (which even the show acknowledged was untrue), the setup was based on the premise as I described it above, which the narrator clearly presented as factual. 

I’ve followed Malkin’s blog and columns for years now, and she has never said that President Obama is a Muslim, nor does she believe that Muslims, “secret” or otherwise, are somehow “taking over this country.”  While she does report on multiethnic strife in many areas of the world, including ours, as a result of political correctness and lack of assimilation, nothing she has ever written comes close to the bizarre, mean caricature aired this morning on NPR.

But NPR’s mistake goes far beyond mere slander.  Their joke targeted the family of a specific conservative at a time when that specific conservative’s family is suffering a tragedy.  Quite a coincidence.  It’s been two weeks since Malkin’s cousin Marizela Perez went missing, possibly the victim of a kidnapping.  Malkin has used her media presence tirelessly since then to help find her young relative.  Either NPR and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me are not nearly as well-informed in their news awareness as they’d like us to believe, or they cruelly decided to go ahead with a particularly tasteless joke. 

Ironically, just before this segment aired, they made fun of Gilbert Gottfried getting fired for his tasteless jokes about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.  Pot, meet kettle.

Malkin has repeatedly noted NPR’s recent controversies regarding their bias and the recent vote to end their federal funding.  Do political differences justify emotionally torturing someone’s family during their time of heatrache, NPR?  Classy. 

Will NPR apologize to Malkin for tormenting her about her family’s painful tragedy?  Will they then use their own resources to help find her cousin Marizela? 

I’m calling on all of us to contact NPR and ask them to do exactly that.  Nothing less would be decent. 

Malkin’s most recent posting about her missing cousin is here.

Audio archive of the NPR show is here.

Fill out this form to contact NPR and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.

The T Scale

There are many measurement systems out there–from calories to degrees to pounds–but there hasn’t been one to objectively rate the beauty or perfection of things until now.

Using a complex scientific formula, I’ve found a way to quantify beauty and perfection. My results are measured along what I call, for reasons that don’t concern you, the T scale, where the standard for ultimate beauty and perfection are equal to exactly one whole unit of T.

For example, something that had previously only been admired as vaguely “gorgeous,” such as Paris, can now be determined with atomic accuracy as worth exactly .33 T, or one-third of T.

Other things that entail great beauty and approach perfection can now to be statistically categorized along the T scale. A sampling of results is below:

The Mona Lisa = 0.44 T

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony = 0.88 T

Marilyn Monroe = 0.75 T

A sunrise over a clear mountain lake, just as the leaves are turning colors in the early Fall = 0.83 T

The flawless geometry of Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid = 0.76 T

A gentle chorus of angels humming your favorite lullaby = 0.55 T

Audrey Hepburn = 0.81 T

The ceiling of the Sistene Chapel = 0.91 T

Amy Winehouse = -0.29 T

A double-double cheeseburger from In-N-Out, animal style = 0.71 T

You get the idea.

Other men might be tempted to substitute another letter for T as their barometer of beauty, but they would be wrong.

This is science, people. You can’t argue with science.

You Voted For Harry Reid

I have a bone to pick, but not with the many people who voted for Harry Reid because they agree with his principles.  That’s a choice of conscience, and I respect that.  Rather, I wish to criticize those who might have voted for Sharron Angle—probably even would have—but were swayed by Reid’s negative campaigning. 

Are you happy now?  Since November, Reid’s two biggest missions have been starting a crusade against rural brothels, and using his platform in the Senate to champion federal funding for cowboy poetry.  Always good to see real leaders, men with their priorities straight. 

And why is our time being wasted on such embarrassing trivia? 

Because you voted for Harry Reid. 

Reid had some of the lowest approval ratings of anyone, ever.  Angle had very high poll numbers.  But as the campaign drew to a close, the Reid machine launched an all-out professional assault on Angle’s character.  And you bought it.

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“See What’s Really There”

I’m helping teach one of my young children to read, and it’s interesting to see her make the same mistake that the older children made.  Just as many children naturally write letters backwards, they also seem inclined to read the first letter or two of a word, and then assume it’s a similar word they’re already familiar with, so they just say that word instead of reading the rest of what it actually is.  A child may see the word “became” and, after puzzling through the first two letters, find it close enough to “begin” or “belong” or whatever other word they’re comfortable with; they’ll then confidently pronounce that word and move on. 

When this happens, I repeat the patient mantra they’ve each come to expect: “Read the word that’s there, not the one you want to be there.” 

That’s not just good advice for phonics, it’s good advice for life. 

How often do we tend to skim through the superficial aspects of something and then pronounce ourselves experts, and act accordingly?  How often do we look for the few comfortable things in a complicated issue, and then link it to a familiar pattern, congratulating ourselves on another success?

Consider Head Start.  Continue reading

Repost: Stephen King Was Wrong About Nuclear Power

The alarming disaster in Japan and the possible tragedy of one of their nuclear power plants is certainly scary.  However, it’s also gotten me thinking of this post from a year and a half ago, where I analyzed some anti-nuclear predictions from the 80’s and found them wanting.  As real as the danger is in Japan, it might be good to review how safe nuclear power is overall, to temper our worries with some hope. 

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When I was a kid, I read a lot of Stephen King.  One of my favorite sections of his novels was the ten page scene in The Tommyknockers where the dashing, rebellious writer confronts an obnoxious old energy executive with the shocking “truth” about the dangers of nuclear power.  I remember reading that for the first time and just tearing through it, amazed at the strength of the facts on the side of King’s hippie hero.  Surely, I thought, it must be clear to anyone with a brain that nuclear power is bad. 

Of course, I was a kid.  I was easily impressed by messages where emotional young rebels strike out at conservative caricatures.  Actually, that’s why I don’t read much King anymore: I got tired of the constant bashing of conservatives.  Seriously, where would King stories be without insane religious fundamentalists to be the bad guys in almost every book

Anyway, for some reason I thought of that scene recently, and I wondered how it held up with twenty years of hindsight (The Tommyknockers was published in 1987).  I looked it up (I have the original mass market paperback edition, which I think still has the same page numbering as the current editions), and was surprised by how vapid the argument was that I was so impressed by as a teen.  Here are the major points King makes in his screed:

  1. “When you examine the cancer-death stats for the areas surrounding every nuclear power facility in the country, you find anomalies, deaths that are way out of line with the norm.”  (page 101, repeated on 104)
  2. The explosion of the Russian facility at Kyshtym is used as a scare tactic, suggesting that similar things or worse would happen here.  (page 102)
  3. Waves of future cancer rates at Chernobyl are predicted.  (103)
  4. A 1964 AEC report is quoted predicting scary scenarios for US plant meltdowns.  (103)
  5. “At Chernobyl they killed the kids….Most may still be alive, but they are dying right now while we stand here with our drinks in our hands.  Some can’t even read yet.  Most will never kiss a girl in passion.”  (104)
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NCAA Tournament Brackets

My NCAA Tournament brackets are at left.  A little early, perhaps, but I think they’re all solid. 

I have my local team, UNLV, beating Illinois this Friday, but then falling to Kansas on Sunday (much like last year).  For that matter, I think Kansas will take the championship this year, beating out defending champ Duke in the final. 

BYU will make it to the sweet sixteen, where I predict they’ll fall to Florida.  Mountain West Conference winner San Diego State will do a little better, getting to the elite eight before Duke takes them down. 

I got my chart here, by the way.  Steve, you got your brackets to put up here?

Education Activism and Unintended Consequences

I sent the following as a letter to the Las Vegas Review-Journal a week ago.  Apparently, they didn’t want to run it, so here it is:

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There has been much sound and fury of late from well-meaning Nevadans regarding Governor Sandoval’s proposed budget cuts to education, but in their zeal they may have set up a tragedy.

Many of my fellow teachers and parents have been saying that these budget cuts would prove disastrous to education in Nevada. Dire predictions of doom and gloom abound that, should the budget cuts materialize, Nevada students would be condemned to eternal ignorance.

Perhaps they’re exaggerating to emphasize their point, but can’t these academic Jeremiahs see the danger of their hyperbole? If these budget cuts do pass, what message has this community now sent to our students? Might young people pick up on the idea that their fate has been sealed, and that further effort is hopeless? Might the economic situation, at the very least, be used by some as an excuse for failure?

Lobbying for schools is noble, but hopefully the fatalism so prominent in this conversation won’t turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.