Monday, January 07, 2013

Yipes! Off the charts phenomenal.

Okay. Okay. The first guy: Good. Really good. But . . . not all that amazing. I mean, I can see how someone could do that. (Percussion with his mouth. First minute and a half.)

Second guy, too. Fun. Real fun. (Vocal harmonica. Next minute and 45 seconds or so.) Well worth watching. Amazing! But, again, sorry . . . his show is highly imaginable.

Third guy (beginning about 3:20) . . . oh, my goodness! What a voice! And quite hilarious. (Human bass fiddle with a concluding number that ought to get you out of your seat. The rest of the vocal band provides a "full experience." Fancy footwork thrown in for fun. Ends at about 5:05.)

But then the show goes off the charts.

Fourth guy: the vocal DJ. Now I'm impressed. Blown away. "How does he do that?!?" (Ends at about 6:25.)

And for the grand finale?

Sorry. You've got to watch and listen to the human electric guitar.

Yowzie! (About 6:30 to 7:22.) I didn't know a guy--any guy--could make his voice go that high, much less while he's blowing the speakers. But you've got to listen to it. Jimmi Hendrix has been . . . superseded. (I was going to say pwned, but I get the sense that that's so . . . 2009.)

With thanks to my brother David.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Beyond beyond . . .

Un. Be. Lievable!

Michael Grab must have a deep sense of balance.

First, a photo. Stone balance art by Gravity Glue:

Stone balance art by Gravity Glue

But now, watch Grab make a design like this, from scratch, in three and a half minutes.

I have done rock piles where I am "simply" trying to stack rocks as solidly as possible. Grab seems to relish the challenge of piling rocks in such a way that each one touches the rock beneath on a single point or line:

--With thanks to Robert Krulwich of NPR's RadioLab.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

New "Common Core Standards" for reading in education

The Educrats have got to be insane. And those among us who let them rule the asylum are just as crazy.

Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post:
Forget “The Great Gatsby.”

New Common Core standards (which affect 46 states and the District of Columbia) will require that, by 2014, 70 percent of high school seniors' reading assignments be nonfiction. Some suggested texts include “FedViews” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the EPA's “Recommended Levels of Insulation” and “Invasive Plant Inventory” by California's Invasive Plant Council.

Forget “Catcher in the Rye” (seems to encourage assassins), “The Great Gatsby” (too 1 percenty), “Huckleberry Finn” (anything written before 1970 must be racist) and “To Kill A Mockingbird” (probably a Suzanne Collins rip-off). Bring out the woodchipping manuals!

I like reading. I love reading. I always have. I read recreationally still. . . . And it's all because, as a child, my parents took the time to read me “Recommended Levels of Insulation.” . . . That was always my favorite, although “Invasive Plant Inventory” was a close second. (What phrases in literature or life will ever top the rich resonance of that “The Inventory categorizes plants as High, Moderate, or Limited, reflecting the level of each species’ negative ecological impact in California. Other factors, such as economic impact or difficulty of management, are not included in this assessment.” "And we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past" has nothing on it!)

“It is important to note that even Limited species are invasive and should be of concern to land managers,” I frequently tell myself, in moments of crisis. “Although the impact of each plant varies regionally, its rating represents cumulative impacts statewide.” How true that is, even today. Those words have brought me through moments of joy and moments of sorrow. They are graven on my heart. I bound them as a seal on my hand.

My dog-eared, beaten copy of “Recommended Levels of Insulation” still sits on my desk. I even got it autographed. Their delay in making a movie of this classic astounds me. That was where I first learned the magic of literature.

“Insulation level are specified by R-Value. R-Value is a measure of insulation's ability to resist heat traveling through it.” What authority in that sentence! . . .

I remember curling up with [“Recommended Levels of Insulation”] and reading it over and over again. It was this that drove me to pursue writing as a career — the hope one day of crafting a sentence that sang the way “Drill holes in the sheathing and blow insulation into the empty wall cavity before installing the new siding and” sings.

But I doubt I will ever achieve this lambent perfection.

Look, I was an English major, so I may be biased. . . . [But l]ife is full of enough instruction manuals.

The best way to understand what words can do is to see them in their natural habitat, not constrained in the dull straitjackets of legalese and regulationish and manualect. . . . Words in regulations and manuals have been mangled and tortured and bent into unnatural positions, and the later you have to discover such cruelty, the better.

The people behind the core have sought to defend it, saying that this was not meant to supplant literature. This increased emphasis on nonfiction would not be a concern if the core worked the way it was supposed to, with teachers in other disciplines like math and science assigning the hard technical texts that went along with their subjects.

But teachers worry that this will not happen. Principals seem to be having trouble comprehending the requirement themselves. Besides, the other teachers are too busy, well, teaching their subjects to inflict technical manuals on their students too, and they may expect the English department to pick up the slack. And hence the great Purge of Literature . . .

All in all, . . . a great way to make the kids who like reading hate reading.

[But, hey, t]hat’s certainly one way of addressing the reading gap.
Read more here.

By the way: Is Petri overstating the case or misstating what the Educrats are really demanding?

I urge you to read the links in the article itself. The last one, in particular, makes clear: those who wrote the standards "didn't intend" them to be implemented in the manner Petri suggests. But who cares? It's how they are being implemented that matters.
Yes, the standards do require increasing amounts of nonfiction, [said David Coleman, who led the effort to write the standards with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation]. But that refers to reading across all subjects, he said.

Teachers in social studies, science and math should require more reading, which would allow English teachers to continue to assign literature, he said.

The standards explicitly say that Shakespeare and classic American literature should be taught, Coleman said. “It does really concern me that these facts are not as clear as they should be.”

In practice, the burden of teaching the nonfiction texts is falling to English teachers, said Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University: “You have chemistry teachers, history teachers saying, ‘We’re not going to teach reading and writing, we have to teach our subject matter. That’s what you English teachers do.’ ”

Sheridan Blau, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, said teachers across the country have told him that their principals are insisting that English teachers make 70 percent of their readings nonfiction. “The effect of the new standards is to drive literature out of the English classroom,” he said.