Archive for January, 2007

Interesting Times

Interesting Times
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Chinese curse/blessing “May you live in interesting times…”

This post falls under the category of Things My Dad Would Never Have Dreamed Would Happen. Castro’s on his deathbed. The Chinese have nuclear weapons and are showing off their military might by blowing up their own satellites, AND…Today, Sen. Hilary Clinton announced she ripe for a run for the Presidency in 2008. Ingenue Sen. Barack Hussein Obama, an African-American, has all but tossed his hat into the ring. We’ll know officially on Feb. 10. John Edwards, the white, family man from South Carolina, and John Kerry’s running mate in the last presidential election, was the first to announce he’d take a shot at the Democratic Party endorsement.

With these three vying for the party nod, this is one primary that could reveal the real mindset and predjudices of the American public. The FIRST female candidate versus the FIRST non-caucasian candidate vs the TRADITIONAL white, southern family man that this nation has almost always elected as its leader.

This is going to prove entertaining in ways that will change politics forever. This is a race that will play out before us on national TV, and I have a fond feeling, will further divide, rather than unite, us. The division has already begun in the form of political muckracking and story cultivation–someone, reportedly from the Clinton Camp, dropped a line to Insight Magazine that Obama, whose mother is from Kansas and father a Kenyan Muslim, was schooled by Muslim extremists in Indonesia. Obama, who claims to be a practicing Christian, admits this is in his past.

A story in yesterday’s Washington Post accused John Edwards of some sort of “shady land deal.” Other online news tells of accusations of ethics breeches while selling his Jeep Cherokee.

The GOP is probably wise to lean against the gymnasium wall and let this drama play out on the dance floor before Republican candidates announce that they, too, want a shot at the White House. I’m not sure whether the Republicans can make this race any more interesting. All eyes may be on the Democratic primary. Let’s study the campaign rhetoric. Obama and Edwards already have official campaign websites. Clinton will soon follow, I am sure. Take a look–I’ll blog about that later.

Something to Think About

Martin Luther called Gutenberg’s printing press “God’s highest and most extremist act of grace, whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward.” (qtd. in Postman, Technopoly).

What, then, of Blogs, which essentially are the printing press and the publishing house of the people?

Addendum: Jan 20, 2007 A commentor queried as to if Martin Luther actually used the words “most extremist.” I searched the web and library databases and found numorous references to the quote as written above, which doesn’t necessarily mean it is accurate. I haven’t yet located the source of the original document.

Posted by Mike P on 1/22/2007 12:25:31 PM
My guess is that Luther would have spoken 15c German, not English, so I wonder who the translator is and why a double superlative would be needed.
Posted by Michelle on 1/20/2007 11:12:18 AM
This is the quote as it appears in Technopoly. I am not certain the word “extremist” was used in the original text. (note, I was careful to attribute to Postman). Do you think not, oh wise Mike?
Posted by Mike P on 1/19/2007 3:10:52 PM
Did he really say most extremist?
Posted by Michelle on 1/22/2007 4:29:24 PM
What do you expect from a guy who declared war on the Catholic church? Maybe he declared war on the English Language as well. (He was German, after all). But all blasphemy aside, your suggestion that this was added in the translation is sound. I do seem to remember reading that ML believed that excessive or extremist drinking of alcohol cured all ills. He’s like the Homer Simpson of the Medieval World. I see how much meaningful thought this post (and my entire blog, for that matter) is provoking.


This week, my composition students are reading excerpts from Alyssa Quart’s Branded , and responding to the text in writing. I’ve given them a prompt asking for their reactions and any examples of this branding from their own lives.

Here are examples I’ve observed in the last couple of months:Branding, Part I: My friend’s sister,who doesn’t have any children, took my friend’s 12-year-old daughter to the mall last November and bought her something in Abercrombie and Fitch, where the girl’s mother would have never ventured. The mom came across the bag from the store and started to throw it away. The girl protested and said she wanted to keep it. The following week, she came down the stairs with her gym clothes in this bag–an obvious desire to fit in and show off the fact that she shops at this store.

Well, her mom, who told me that the bag wasn’t appropriate for junior high (but didn’t reveal what was on the bag),wouldn’t let her take it to school. A few weeks later, the girl is in a Christmas play at school–in a shopping skit. Mom attends and sees that the entire cast of the 7th-grade shopping skit, including her daughter, is carrying American Eagle and Abercrombie bags. Hmmmmmmm. What in the world do we make of THIS?

Branding, Part II: Scene: My van Time: afternoon, after picking my 16-year-old daughter up from school.

Dialogue: “Mom, I want an iPod for Christmas. ”
“What do you need an iPod for? You already have an mp3 player.”
“I don’t want an mp3-player. I want an ipod.”
“An iPod is an mp3 player.”
“No it’s not; an ipod is different from an mp3 player.” “Actually, no….it does the same thing–plays mp3s. The only difference is yours is a flash drive, the iPod is a Hard-drive and it holds more music.”
“You don’t know what you are talking about–an iPod lets you download music from iTunes.”
“Anyone can buy music from iTunes for any player.”
“Then why don’t you let me do it!?”
“Because you don’t have an income to pay for those songs. Give me the money, and download away…””
“I realllly really need an iPod.”
“Why? You hardly use the MP3player I got you last Christmas.”
“That’s because I can’t be seen with it at school… Everybody has an ipod and I have this crappy cheap player.”
“AHHH, so you want me to spend$200 for an iPod to play music you already can play on a nice Mp3 player that you have, so that everybody can see that you have an iPod?”
“An mp3 doesn’t sound as good as an iPod.”
“Any music player is only as good as its headphones–buy a better set of phones.”

I noticed this Christmas season and during its aftermath that APple is doing all it can to make us iPod dependent with the iPod-compatable docking stations, alarm clocks, under-cabinet players for our kitchens, car transmitters, etc…

Why Put Off…

A ten-year study of procrastination blames technology for an increase in putting off until tomorrow what we can do today. The 30-page study was conducted by University of Calgary professor Piers Steel and is in this month’s Psychological Bulletin, a publication of the American Psychological Association. (This is not yet available at the APA online, but you can read the Associated Press story in USA Today.

Steel’s study compared people’s perceptions of their own procrastination to a study conducted in 1978, when just under 5 percent of the American public labeled themselves procrastinators. According to the version of the story printed in yesterday’s (Toledo) Blade, three out of every four college students believe they are chronic procrastinators. In the age of the Internet, micromanaging and multi-tasking, cellphones that do so much more than take calls, YouTube, Spam, video games, portable technology (laptops, Blackberries, iPods,etc,, etc… etc….) it is no wonder, Steel says. The study finds that the worst procrastinators among us are more unhappy, more likely to be overweight, and more likely to earn less money than those who jump right in to projects and polish them off instead of reading chain letter e-mails, blogging, browsing e-bay and YouTube, and playing solitare on their desktops.

Not one to take on a researcher who spent a decade studying a human behavior and its reprecussions, I cautiously comment after just a day thinking about this study–maybe it isn’t actually procrastination that describes the behavior. I consider procrastination a conscious effort to put something off and do something else, or do nothing. When technology is in the mix, I personally don’t make a consious effort to do something like, say, grade papers, until later. However, I tend to be Distracted. Right now, for instance. I could be unloading the dishwasher or getting ready for class on Tuesday, but…I am distracted from it by the Internet, and the Time-Life music infomercial on the TV behind me, and by the other things that need to get done before I write next week’s lesson plans.

Further, is it technology to blame, or is it a consequence of culture change? My mother and father had far less to do than I do in a day. My generation and those behind me seem to be cramming so much work and activities into our lives–so much more than our parents. With so much to do, we must put things off–we cannot do everything at once! For the ADD set, too much to do often results in just throwing in the towel.

From the Feb 2006 Psychology Today “Procrastination: Ten Things You Should Know.”

Wikipedia Woes

A couple of days ago, a WSPD news reporter cited Wikipedia as a source for a definition of First Amendment rights. “According to Wikipedia…” he said. I nearly lost control of my car…the end of the world is nigh. Nevermind that a reporter shouldn’t have to consult an encyclopedia of any sort to confirm that the Freedom of the Press is discussed within the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Golly, this is an example of common knowledge, but also an example of something every card-carrying American should know and understand, right? My issue here is with a credible news source crediting WIKIPEDIA as a credible research source.

Wikipedia touts itself as a “free-content encyclopedia project.” What began as an experiment in 2002 has grown into a six-million article database that can be revised, edited, ammended, and written by “almost anyone with access to the website.”

Herein lies the trouble. I do not permit my students to use Wikipedia as a source in any way, and as a result, have been embroiled in argument after argument with students who claim that previous teachers allowed it because some entries have a list of reference sources that can be verified, and useful in finding further research materials. This is the way of the future, they tell me.

First I counter by explaining the distinction between primary and secondary research, and how Wikipedia is compromised because the writers do not use bylines or demonstrate any proof of their expertise, much less authenticity of knowledge. Wikipedia is fertile soil for plagiarism–Let’s say I am an artist/art student who admires the American artist Edward Hopper(1882-1967), and I see that there isn’t an entry for him on Wikipedia–a travesty. So, I spend an hour hunting down info about Hopper from the Internet, from my school textbooks, two biographies I own, and a couple of art history books that my mom used in college. I cut and paste pieces of articles, without noting the web address or its sources. As I collect, I skim and I type, merging together all this material without attribution, without checking facts, dates, spellings…stories. Even typing in the names of the texts I used at the reference/further reading section doesn’t appropriately give credit to those people who spent years researching, reading, interviewing, studying photos, artwork, etc… Someone else did all the legwork, and I would have condensed it into a page of text. I might have got some dates off by a year, or gave his wife’s name as jo Anne instead of Josephine. Minor mistakes that matter. No matter; with Wikipedia, someone can correct the misinfo. True. They can also mess with information.

A Christopher Marlowe fan might visit the William Shakeapeare page and enter a line: “Most Oxford-educated English professors recognize the Christopher Marlowe was in fact, William Shakespeare.”A hapless student writing a paper on Shakespeare could come across that line, add it to his essay and either get a bad grade (if his teacher is one of many in the anti-Marlowe conspiracy camp), or could change the future–the teacher could read that, never having heard it before, and then continued to share that information as fact with other students.. Ok, I am stretching it…but I need to prove to them that this information is less sound than infomation we can glean from research databases. If an article in the Journal of College English includes the line, “Most Oxford-educated English professors recognize the Christopher Marlowe was in fact, William Shakespeare,” and I cite it in my research paper, at least I can attribute it to Anne Thrax, the author of the piece, lifting the burden of proof from my shoulders.

So, what do you think? Is Wikipedia becoming a recognized/credible source? Do you know of teachers who permit its use? Do you allow students to use it? Do you know of teachers who do? What is your combat strategy?If you are a student, what do you think of all this? Is it a big deal?