Slave narratives in Flash animation

August 31, 2007

Wow!

Graphic for Slave Narratives on-line exhibit

Teachers, take a look at this Flash animation about slavery, from the Museum of African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco. Yes, that beautiful, distinctive narrator voice is Maya Angelou — this is a high quality, high-impact presentation.

This MoAD piece, “Slave Narratives,” gives a glimpse of the potential of on-line learning, and what can be done with computers to supercharge a subject. Here slavery is presented as not only a colonial American problem, but is instead carried on through salvery issues in the 21st century. It’s part of the MoAD “Salon,” a site that world geography, world history and U.S. history teachers need to visit right away.

Cyberspace Nova discusses the site in a quick review of recent great Flash animations:

Imagine how it looked like taking a people freedom, torturing them, killing them and moving them far far away from their home. Tears can follow very easily if you just put one picture on your mind how it looked like. Yet, Slave Narrative put thousands of pictures in front of your eyes if you listen to the stories of slaves who lived to write them and share with people that will live after them. Let’s never forget this, because it’s happening today, like some stories from Slave Narratives tell… I love that this site is done in Flash, it is so powerful, it tells a story that we cannot hear a lot… Narrative part not just only justifies use of Flash, whole interactivity makes it great. 5/5

Opening to Photographs from the African Diaspora exhibit

Also look at this photographic exhibit of from MoAD, featuring more than 2,000 photos of people of African descent and places and things important to them — again, with great flash animation.

Bookmark the home page of the museum while you’re there.


“Teachers are morons”

August 31, 2007

Not my view.  Vox Day.  I can’t resist kicking his arguments when he’s down.

Agree or not? Put it in comments.


Vox Day: Trapped in a quote mine cave-in

August 31, 2007

Vox Day, who claims to know more than most mortals can even think about, has fallen into a quote mine. (Quote mine defined.) Worse, the mine appears to have caved in.

Vox Day wishes to make the claim that Darwin is responsible for the evils of the Soviet Union. Apart from the prima facie absurdity of the claim, Vox has a dozen highly tenuous links he wishes to torture into supporting his claim, despite their refusal to do so.

This just in: Since I started out on this particular Fisking, Vox has popped up with this gem:

Unsurprisingly, evolutionists are reacting strongly to my column today. They swear up and down that there is no connection whatsoever between evolution and Communism, despite the fact that every single major Communist not only subscribed to Darwinist evolution but considered Darwin to be second only to Hegel as a pre-Marxist socialist figure.

There is no evidence Stalin or Lenin ever subscribed to evolution theory, and at any rate, Stalin expressly rejected Darwin and evolution, eviscerating the Soviets’ lead in genetics in 1920 by banning the teaching of evolution, banning research in evolution or research that had Darwinian overtones, stripping Darwin-theory subscribing biologists of their jobs, exiling a few to Siberia and death in several cases, and executing a few just for good measure. In place of evolution, Stalin backed Trofim Lysenko who advocated, apart from his creationist-like hatred of Darwin, an odd, almost-Lamarckian idea that stress in utero would change characteristics.

So, for example, Lysenko ordered that seed wheat be frozen, and then planted in winter. The freezing, the Stalin-Lysenko idea held, would make the wheat able to grow in cold weather. The crop failures were so spectacular that at least 4 million people died of starvation in the Soviet Union. By 1954 the crop failures were so massive the Soviet Union had to purchase wheat from the U.S., with loans from the U.S. These loans crippled any hope of the Soviet economy ever breaking out of its doldrums, and started the long slide to the collapse of the Soviet Union. You’d think Vox Day, who professes to be a libertarian and a Christian, would approve of the collapse of the Soviet Union by any cause — but he does not approve of the collapse if it came by a lack of evolution theory.

Vox Day never lets the facts get in the way of a rant. (As evidence that Marx was so deeply influenced by evolution theory, Vox notes that a fellow who knew Darwin, Edward Aveling attended Marx’s funeral. If that doesn’t convince, you, Vox says, Aveling later wrote an article saying it’s true, Marxism was based on evolution theory. So take THAT all you people who think Marxism emphasizes collectivism and the state: Darwin’s individual competition for survival is the REAL root of socialism. No, I’m not making this up — go read it for yourself. Then get some facts — read this account, which includes the guest list of Marx’s funeral. There were only nine people at Marx’s funeral, and Vox got the guest list wrong: Aveling wasn’t there. One more Vox claim refuted.)

Back to the regularly scheduled Vox Day quote mine cave-in, below the fold.

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Giant spider community – in Texas, of course

August 30, 2007

Bug Girl has all the details — spiders being closer to her blog’s core topic – but this news is just about 90 minutes from here, much closer for North Dallasites.

Giant web at Lake Tawakoni State Park, Texas - Star-Telegram photo

Did you see the giant web at Lake Tawakoni State Park? It was on the CBS Evening News tonight, and it’s all over the blogs today. The Washington Post has this delightful quote (delightful to those of us who think of all the West Nile virus that won’t be spread):

“At first, it was so white it looked like fairyland,” said Donna Garde, superintendent of the [Lake Tawakoni State] park about 45 miles east of Dallas. “Now it’s filled with so many mosquitoes that it’s turned a little brown. There are times you can literally hear the screech of millions of mosquitoes caught in those webs.”

Ah, the screech of millions of mosquitoes, about to be eaten.

Map to Lake Tawakoni State Park, from Dallas

By the way, DDT kills these spider very well. DDT spraying, in such a case, is a favor to the mosquitoes — spiders can be significant contributors to pest control.

See Bug Girl’s post for all the science — her post is practically a lesson plan just waiting to be downloaded.

And, it’s pronounced tuh-WOK-uh-nee. Named after a local tribe of Native Americans, “a Caddoan tribe of the Wichita group.”


Life-saving mine communicators: No deal, operators say

August 30, 2007

Via The Pump Handle, a very good blog on public health issues, we get an article by Tom Bethell noting that a revolutionary mine communication system saved 45 lives in Utah during a mine fire in 1998.  Unfortunately, most U.S. mine operators refuse to use the system, including the Crandall Mine in Huntington Canyon, Utah, where nine miners have died in the last three weeks.

Bethell is an old United Mine Workers Union writer, and might be considered biased because of his past affiliations.  However, I’ve watched his work since I staffed the Senate committee that dealt with mine safety, and my experience is that his work is very good, tilted toward workers and increased safety for very good reasons.

Bethell’s article ran in the award-winning weekly newspaper, The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Kentucky — operated by Tom and Pat Gish since 1956.   Though nominally a small-town weekly, the newspaper’s influence is multiplied by solid reporting and followup on stories and issues that are vital to the local community.  Coal mining is a big part of life in that area of Kentucky.

I cannot improve on Bethell’s writing, nor on the drama his story has naturally from its topic and the tragedy it reveals.  Bethell’s article is below the fold:

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Historic moment: Texas commutes a death sentence

August 30, 2007

Gov. Rick Perry commuted a death sentence today. This is the first commutation in eight years so close to an execution. Any commutation recommendation is rare in Texas.

Is this just one commutation, or does it signal a change?

Gov. Perry’s press release:

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Preacher looks again: Did Hubble kill God?

August 30, 2007

Sometimes religion and science don’t clash at all.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field Image Reveals Galaxies Galore

Unlike the last time we visited this remarkable photograph, some people of faith look at it and see beauty, insted of seeing conflict between reality and their holy books.

I know of a Real Live Preacher who doesn’t abuse the science in finding a religious message in the photo.

Image of man and stars, from Real Live Preacher

So first vertigo, then panic, then longing. After that I generally calm down a bit. My tiny mind and delicate emotions cannot bear even my small thoughts of the universe for more than a few minutes. I relax. Sometimes a shrinking reality can be a comfort. My sins, the things that I have done wrong and the ways that I cannot be what I should be, also shrink. I feel I can forgive myself for them, small man that I am. Why the hell not? Look at the size of the universe!

This forgiveness is the Grace that Christians speak of. The main story of our faith tells us that we must be forgiven and can be. Funny how it takes science to bring that reality to my guts.

For some reason, this experience always ends with a crazy happiness that I cannot easily explain. I become giddy with the knowledge that ultimate reality is so far beyond our grasp. This lets me off the hook, to a certain extent. We’ll never know reality. We’ll never even map our solar system, you and I. We’re small people, but we have grasped the idea of existence. We know love, seek knowledge, and recognize goodness and evil.

Our saintly scientists, single-minded and incredibly committed to the search for truth, draw down amazing pictures from the ancient light in the sky. These pictures help me to know that it is okay to be nothing more or less than what we are.

One might visit Real Live Preacher just for the art, too (see sample above). A remarkable site.

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Great Wall of China crumbling

August 29, 2007

Nothing lasts forever.

From MSNBC comes an Associated Press report that the Great Wall of China is falling down in places, the victim of blowing sands. The blowing sands are the result of a Dust-Bowl-like overplowing spree after World War II.

Crumbling section of Great Wall of China, in Mongolia

Observations:

1. Geography teachers should copy this story and follow it; soil erosion killed Babylon and several other civilizations in the Fertile Crescent (and Carthage, if we allow that the erosion was promoted by the Romans as a weapon of genocide); the Great Wall is one of those features that most people think strong an permanent. This is also a great insight into construction methods — the parts of the Wall that are crumbling appear to have been made of mud. Adobe construction, anyone (someday I have to finish that post).

2. World history teachers ought to note it for the same reasons as geography teachers. U.S. history teachers will want to keep this to compare it to the Dust BowlThere are also signs that humans may have significantly altered the local biota and, perhaps, climate, with their construction and agriculture methods.

3. China’s ascent in world position brings responsibilities it may have hoped to avoid, such as protecting the environment. Ending the encroachment of the desert in this case is a tall order — but if it can be done there, perhaps it can also be done around the Sahara, around the Namib, around the Syrian Desert, and other places where grasses once grew, but dust now blows. These sites are more common than one might think.

4. Santayana’s ghost: Didn’t China pay attention to the events of the U.S. Dust Bowl?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Jonathan Turley’s new blog — Turley’s a good lawyer with very interesting cases; his views are a welcome addition. Most of his blog simply points to interesting legal issues.


π = 3: A discussion of Biblical literalism

August 29, 2007

In the comments — continued from a thread at Gospel of Reason, a blog no longer growing.


One Texas, under God

August 29, 2007

A federal district court judge dismissed a challenge to the new law in Texas which adds “under God” to the Texas pledge, on top of the Texas law which requires all kids to say the pledge every day.

The Texas Lege, long the foil of Molly Ivins, was in particularly fine form this year, writing commandments from God and curtsies to God into several state activities. While I’m way behind on railing about these requirements, our Texas State Attorney General, Greg Abbott, has little more to do than make sure God gets his due — God being incapable of doing that himself, I suppose. Houston’s being over-run with storm refugees who disproportionately brought their guns, drug and gambling habits with them, juries in East Texas being under fire for being racially imbalanced and sentencing way more blacks to death than would seem reasonably by any statistical measure, and millions of school dollars disappearing in charter school scams and other scandals across the state, and Texas having the highest number and highest percentage of kids without health insurance, all pale by comparison to the Texas Lege’s and Mr. Abbott’s calls to make sure Texas kids pledge allegiance to the correct deity in the correct way.

Abbott’s opposite-editorial-page opinion ran in this morning’s Dallas Morning News. He gets his full say, below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »


Majerus’s Peppered Moth PowerPoint

August 29, 2007

True to his word, Michael Majerus put up on his lab’s website the PowerPoint slides from his presentation in Sweden, in which he verified Bernard Kettlewell’s findings that natural selection had changed the colors of certain moths in Britain.

Go to Majerus’s website and download the .ppt presentation. Warning — it’s about 60 megabytes. [Problems of time: The PowerPoint has disappeared from that site; go here to get the paper on Majerus's research.]

Encyclopedia Britannica, photos of peppered moths against light bark and lichens

Have you ever noticed that creationists don’t put up on their lab websites the papers or slide presentations they make at scientific meetings? What’s up with that, creationists?

See earlier post, here, “Creationists lose key Texas case.”


Creationists lose key Texas case, peppered moths

August 29, 2007

Texas creationists have lost a key case in their campaign against biology textbooks. No, not in the courts.

Peppered moth, lighter colored, against pollution-colored tree; photo by John S. Haywood

They lost their case in nature. In the wild.

Colors changed in peppered moths because of natural selection, a new study confirms. This strikes a serious blow to one of the chief creationist complaints about how evolution is discussed in biology textbooks. Photo at right showing two moths, of the light and dark forms, against pollution-colored tree bark; photo by John S. Haywood, from Kettlewell’s paper, via Encyclopedia Britannica.

British moth researcher Michael Majerus reported that a seven-year research project has confirmed the 1950s work of Bernard Kettlewell: Changes in the coloring of peppered moths is a result of natural selection at work. Majerus is the researcher whose work was mischaracterized by creationists as having questioned or disproven Kettlewell’s work, which showed that natural selection was responsible for a change in the color of most peppered moths in Britain.

Majerus reported his study at a biologists’ meeting in Sweden on August 23. “We need to address global problems now, and to do so with any chance of success, we have to base our decisions on scientific facts: and that includes the fact of Darwinian evolution. If the rise and fall of the peppered moth is one of the most visually impacting and easily understood examples of Darwinian evolution in action, it should be taught. It provides after all: The Proof of Evolution.”

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Pushing them out of the nest

August 29, 2007

It’s been an interesting last few days. Saturday we drove to Austin to catch a session with a group called Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL), as younger son James is looking hard to find a good college fit for next fall. Sunday, Troop 355 honored its fifth Eagle this year (one of the five being James), and then we attended the ordination of a friend from our congregation, a recent graduate from Brite Divinity at TCU.

School started yesterday across Texas.

This afternoon older son Kenny popped in for a quick laundry run and to pick up some items he needs for the start of his third year at UT-Dallas.

So much change, all the time.

Over at Musings of a Dinosaur, a touching piece about sending the young ones off to college, in contrast to our own college trips 30 or so years ago.  Teachers have more to send off to college, more often.  Either that’s what ages us, or it’s what keeps us young.


Texas: Doomed or not?

August 28, 2007

Phil Plait said there is good news out of Texas, the state’s not doomed, since the State Board of Education members said they don’t want to force intelligent design onto the biology curriculum. P. Z. Myers says doom still lurks, since that statement is part of the strategy of doom planned for Texas by the Discovery Institute, which is now pushing a “teach the weaknesses of evolution” tactic.

Doomed or not? Where is the tie breaker?

The tie breaker, Dear Reader, is you.  Read the rest of the post to see what you can do to save Texas, and your state, too.

Read the rest of this entry »


Feynman, on the inconceivable nature of nature

August 27, 2007

NOVA had a couple of good programs on Richard Feynman that I wish I had — it had never occurred to me to look at YouTube to see what people might have uploaded.

I ran into this one:

Richard Feynman struck my consciousness with the publication of his quite humorous autobiography, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman. I thought it was a wonderful book, full of good character portraits of scientists as I saw them in my undergraduate days, only more famous ones. He followed that with What Do You Care What Other People Think?

By then, of course, Feynman was one of my heroes. His stories are useful in dozens of situations — his story of joining the samba bands in Rio testify to the joy of living, and the need for doing new things. Brazil was also the place he confronted the dangers of rote learning, when students could work equations perfectly for examples in the book — which they had memorized — but they couldn’t understand real world applications, such as describing how the sunlight coming off the ocean at Ipanema was so beautiful.

Feynman wrote about creationism, and about the dangers of voodoo science, in his now-famous essay on “Cargo cult science” — it’s so famous one has difficulty tracking down the facts to confirm the story.

Feynman’s stories of his wife, and her illness, and his love for her, were also great inspirations. Romance always gets me.

I failed to track him closely enough. During the run of the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, we had the misfortune of having scheduled a hearing in Orlando on January 30 (or maybe 29), 1986. We had hoped that the coincidental launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28 might boost our press response. Of course, the Challenger exploded. Our hearing went on as planned (we had a tough schedule to meet). The disaster affected our staff a lot, those who were in Florida, and the rest of us in Washington where many of us had been on the phone to Florida when the disaster occurred.

Feynman’s appointment to the commission studying the disaster was a brilliant move, I thought. Our schedule, unfortunately, kept me tied up on almost every day the Challenger commission met. So I never did walk the three blocks down the street to meet Feynman, thinking there would be other opportunities. He was already fatally ill. He died on February 15, 1988. I missed a chance of a lifetime.

We still have Feynman’s writings. We read the book aloud to our kids when they were younger. James, our youngest and a senior this year, read Surely You’re Joking again this summer, sort of a warmup to AP physics and his search for a college.

And we still have audio and video. Remembering Feynman makes even the most avidly atheist hope for an afterlife, just to get a chance to hear Feynman explain what life was really all about, and how the universe really works.

Other notes:

Tip of the old scrub brush to Charismatic Megafauna.


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