Thinking outside the bathtub: Here, read this!

December 26, 2006

How did I find KnowHR? I don’t remember now. I do remember that it featured a very interesting post on presentations, one of the areas of pet peeves of mine, especially as they related to bad PowerPoint presentations offered to teachers for use in the classroom — or worse, offered by teachers in the classroom.

We corresponded briefly on turning-point “presentations” in history (Go see, here, here, and here).

“HR” in that blog’s title stands for “human resources,” I’m guessing — they lean toward corporate human resources issues. That’s a long way from history and teaching history, for some people. Sadly, it’s a long way for many administrators and other leaders who could use some HR tips about how to get history taught better . . . but I digress.

KnowHR recently featured a “z-list.” It’s a list of blogs that you probably ought to look at from time to time, high quality blogs with material you can use — but blogs you won’t get to in the normal course of your business. It was tagged with a meme: Pass the list along, and add a couple of other very worthy blogs at the end. I’m passing it along, below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Carnival of the Liberals #28

December 26, 2006

I rather like the image of the Statute of Liberty. As an icon of freedom, it’s among the best. Help keep it: Go read the 28th installment of the Carnival of the Liberals, over at Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted).

Merry Christmas, 2006

December 25, 2006

I wish a Merry Christmas to all readers and friends. It would be a good thing to have.

There is plenty of room at the inns in Bethlehem today — the continuing violence hammers tourism in the city. The International Herald Tribune carries an Associated Press story on the dearth of tourists, which means many natives of the city continue to face dramatically reduced incomes.

BETHLEHEM, West Bank: Hundreds of people packed the Church of the Nativity on Monday to celebrate Christmas at Jesus’ traditional birthplace, but few foreign tourists were among the worshippers, putting a damper on the holiday cheer.

Nun lights candles at the Church of the Nativity, Christmas 2006

Houston Chronicle photo by Quique Kierzenbaum – Nun prays at the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem.

Indeed, Christianity may be dying in the town. (For a more detailed and closer look at events in Bethlehem, take a gander at Reclaiming Space’s “Christmas in Bethlehem.“) Read the rest of this entry »

Time to stand up for religious freedom: Lay off of Rep. Ellison

December 23, 2006

It was just sad when Dennis Prager prostituted U.S. history to rant at Minnesota’s U.S. Representative-elect Keith Ellison, for Ellison’s having said he’d use his faith’s scriptures for a staged photograph commemorating his being sworn in as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Ignorance can be so ugly.

It was jarring when so many others demonstrated their ignorance of the First Amendment and Constitutional history by repeating Prager’s concerns. Ignorance is contagious.

It was tragic when a few people, after having had a chance to repent of their ignorance, then mounted an assault on the Constitution by continuing to demand something was wrong with the situation, even calling for Ellison to give up his faith for the ceremony. Ignorance can be cured, why would anyone reject the cure?

It’s time to stop piling stupidity on stupidity: Rep. Virgil Goode (ironically named, no doubt), a Republican representing much of southern Virginia in the U.S. House (5th District) took aim at Ellison’s election itself, calling for “immigration reform” to prevent a Muslim takeover of Congress.

Goode’s comments are insensitive, xenophobic, insulting, demonstrative of ignorance, and just wrong on so many counts it is hard to determine which rebuttal is more important. So, random rebuttals follow. [I've come back to this four times today. It makes me amazingly angry, and I have to take a break.] Read the rest of this entry »

The Christmas card I wish I had

December 23, 2006

Olduvai George is just wonderful; go see his card.

The tree is up — a new one to us, still not natural in hopes of preventing the family-wide sinusitis the physicians say is caused by living things on the real trees.  The wreaths are up outside (a bit late, but still before Christmas).  One batch of mulled cider down already; St. Olaf’s and King’s College and Colorado State Choirs on the CD player (Emmy Lou and Louis Armstrong coming up).

Gotta find the Santa hat to put on the bust of Einstein, though.

Christmas cards always vex.  It’s difficult to walk the line between the friends who border on fanatic Christian and take offense at humorous cards, the friends who border on radical atheist and take offense at religious themes, the friends whose international concerns virtually dictate cards from international children’s agencies that feed several villages in Africa or Bengla Desh.

A mammoth card walks the line nicely, I think.  I’ve urged George to publish them; if you think you might like one, go tell him.

Tip of the old scrub brush to P. Z. Myers and Pharyngula.

Battle of Medina (Texas) entry revised

December 23, 2006

Since I posted on the Battle of Medina last August, the entry has consistently been hit by educational institutions and what appear to be students looking for information on the events. I have updated the entry, correcting a couple of minor errors and some narrative difficulties, and adding links to sources students and teachers should find useful.

You’ll find the improved post here, “Forgotten Texas History: The Battle of Medina.”

Free Inconvenient Truth for teachers

December 23, 2006

    Update: As of February 11, 2007, all 50,000 free copies have been given away. You may register for other giveaways and contests of

. is giving away 50,000 copies of the movie on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth.

First 50,000 teachers who ask. Go here:

One more way Al Gore is ahead of his time.

Ranan Lurie cartoon competition: Sabat, African tsunami

December 22, 2006


Most readers here are from the United States. I wager you didn’t see this cartoon when it was first published:

Tsunami, 2006 Lurie Award winner, Alberto Sabat, La Nacion, Argentina

This cartoon won the 2006 Ranan Lurie Award for editorial cartooning, an international competition supported by the United Nations Correspondents Association (other 2006 winners here). The title of the cartoon is “African Tsunami.”

The cartoonist is Alberto Sabat, the cartoon was published in La Nacion in Argentina. The award is named after the outstanding cartoonist Ranan Lurie, who himself was once nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his cartoons that promoted peace and understanding.

Political cartoons make classrooms interesting, and often provoke students to think hard and talk a lot about things they should be thinking and talking about. These links provide more sources of classroom material — please remember to note copyright information.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Reclaiming Space.

Update, December 2007: 2007 Lurie Awards announced; my post here, all the 2007 winners at the Lurie Awards site here.

Update, December 2008:  2008 awards post.

Update December 2009:  2009 awards listed here.

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Carl Sagan

December 22, 2006

I’m a day behind — but, that just makes it more like real history, no?

Carl Sagan & Mars Viking Lander, NASA JPL photo

Carl Sagan and the Mars “Viking” Lander, NASA/JPL photo

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of Carl Sagan’s death. Several bloggers are blogging to commemorate his memory.

I’ll borrow wholesale; John Pieret at Thoughts in a Haystack pulled out a passage from Sagan’s book, Demon-Haunted World, that has rung true for me. Here it is:

Pieret wrote: For this passage (pp. 414-15), Sagan begins by discussing George Orwell’s 1984 and its roots in Stalinism:

Soon after Stalin took power, pictures of his rival Leon Trotsky — a monumental figure in the 1905 and 1917 revolutions–began to disappear. Heroic and wholly anhistoric paintings of Stalin and Lenin together directing the Bolshevik Revolution took their place, with Trotsky, the founder of the Red Army, nowhere in evidence. These images became icons of the state. You could see them in every office building, on outdoor advertising signs sometimes ten stories high, in museums, on postage stamps.

New generations grew up believing that was their history. Older generations began to feel that they remembered something of the sort, a kind of political false-memory syndrome. Those who made the accommodation between their real memories and what the leadership wished them to believe exercised what Orwell described as “doublethink.” Those who did,not, those old Bolsheviks who could recall the peripheral role of Stalin in the Revolution and the central role of Trotsky, were denounced as traitors or unreconstructed bourgeoisie or “Trotskyites” or “Trotsky-fascists,” and were imprisoned, tortured, made to confess their treason in public, and then executed. …

In our time, with total fabrication of realistic stills, motion pictures, and videotapes technologically within reach, with television in every home, and with critical thinking in decline, restructuring societal memories even without much attention from the secret police seems possible. What I’m imagining here is not that each of us has a budget of memories implanted in special therapeutic sessions by state-appointed psychiatrists, but rather that small numbers of people will have so much control over news stories, history books, and deeply affecting images as to work major changes in collective attitudes.

We saw a pale echo of what is now possible in 1990-1991, when Saddam Hussein, the autocrat of Iraq, made a sudden transition in the American consciousness from an obscure near-ally — granted commodities, high technology, weaponry, and even satellite intelligence data — to a slavering monster menacing the world. I am not myself an admirer of Mr. Hussein, but it was striking how quickly he could be brought from someone almost no American had heard of into the incarnation of evil. These days the apparatus for generating indignation is busy elsewhere. How confident are we that the power to drive and determine public opinion will always reside in responsible hands?

Good things for historians to ponder.

“Yes, Virginia,” most famous editorial ever, Newseum says

December 21, 2006

Is this the man who really saved Santa Claus?

The Newseum itself doesn’t open until autumn of 2007, but some exhibits are already up, online.

Among other things already up is this explanation for the 1897 editorial in The New York Sun, with the famous line: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” It is “history’s most reprinted editorial,” the Newseum says.

While you’re there, look at other exhibits already in place. This is a good source for kids’ reports and for teachers’ lectures.

Update: Parallel Divergence is at it again (remember the “how Hubble killed God?”) Here it is: “How Google Earth Killed Santa Claus.”

Update May 2007:  Coverage of the Newseum’s pending opening.

Discussing faith and religion, not yelling

December 21, 2006

Williams College Prof. Mark Taylor has another facet to the question of whether we teach about religion in schools, in an opposite-editorial page article in the December 21 New York Times titled “The Devoted Student” (subscription required after December 28, 2006). Taylor wrote:

Today, professors invite harassment or worse by including “unacceptable” books on their syllabuses or by studying religious ideas and practices in ways deemed improper by religiously correct students.

Distinguished scholars at several major universities in the United States have been condemned, even subjected to death threats, for proposing psychological, sociological or anthropological interpretations of religious texts in their classes and published writings. In the most egregious cases, defenders of the faith insist that only true believers are qualified to teach their religious tradition.

This contrasts interestingly, and vexingly, with trends like the Texas high schools who teach the Bible as history, many of whom probably cross the line into advocacy for religion according to one study.

So, on one hand we get religious fanatics who want the Bible taught as a faith document in high schools. On the other hand, the students at whom those classes are aimed want it taught only one way, their way, when they get it. There is no thought of actually learning beyond what the fanatics want to learn.

Alan Bloom was wrong: THIS is the closing of the American mind.

Taylor ends his piece with a warning:

Until recently, many influential analysts argued that religion, a vestige of an earlier stage of human development, would wither away as people became more sophisticated and rational. Obviously, things have not turned out that way. Indeed, the 21st century will be dominated by religion in ways that were inconceivable just a few years ago. Religious conflict will be less a matter of struggles between belief and unbelief than of clashes between believers who make room for doubt and those who do not.

The warning signs are clear: unless we establish a genuine dialogue within and among all kinds of belief, ranging from religious fundamentalism to secular dogmatism, the conflicts of the future will probably be even more deadly.

Case in point:  This discussion at Pharyngula.

Another test for bogus science and bogus history

December 21, 2006

In a post I missed back then, science writer Chet Raymo sets a standard for how science can leave the “bogus” category:  He says intelligent design can start to be called “science” when the first paper is published retracting another, previous paper, that was since found to be in error.  Raymo wrote:

Here is my litmus test for science.

In the October 7 issue of Science, the weekly journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Robin Allshire, of the prestigious Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology at the University of Edinburgh, offers a retraction for a paper previously published in the journal, titled “Hairpin RNAs and retrotransponson LTRs effect RNAi and chromatin-based gene silencing.” He admits that his laboratory and others have been unable to reproduce the results reported in the paper.

When we see the first peer-reviewed experimental data supporting intelligent design or astrology that is reproducible in other laboratories by skeptics and believers alike, then these hypotheses can make a legitimate claim to being sciences.

When we see the first published retraction, we will know that intelligent design or astrology has reached maturity as a science.

Of course, the same is true for bogus history.  Corrections made when error is found suggest that there is care for accuracy, and that the author has no great stake in the story other than getting the facts right to get the correct understanding.

I’ll have to revise the list, here, and here.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Catholic Sensibility.

Carnival of Education #98, at Median Sib

December 21, 2006

Go see.  Good stuff as always.

A hard drive in 1956

December 21, 2006

What is this? What am I driving at?

1956 hard drive

Go take a look at Gaya, Ruang & Kepelbagaian.

Student project sources: Influenza in Alaska

December 21, 2006

Here’s a post with a ready-made student project in it: “Alaska and Eskimo data in 1920 British report,” at Grassroots Science (Alaska).

This would be a good AP History project, or a cross-discipline project for history and biology.

The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed millions, between 20 million and 40 million people by good estimates — it is estimated that 16 million died in India, alone. Soldiers returning from Europe and World War I carried the plague to hundreds of towns and villages where it might not have gone otherwise. The flu was a particularly deadly one for some people, striking them dead within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Public health issues are largely disregarded in most U.S. and world history texts. This story, of the 1918 flu pandemic, needs to be told and studied carefully, however, because of the danger that such a thing could occur again. Small villages and towns need to be ready to deal with the effects, to try to prevent further spread, and to handle the crisis that occurs when many people in a small community die.


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