Monday, April 24, 2006

Opening of the American Mind

I thought I would take a minute to note some books I've read so far in 2006.

The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom has been so far the best (published 1987). The subtitle says the book is about "how higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today's students." Though sometimes long-winded, I found the book to be full of great insights and as I embark upon being a professor, it made me think about how I can feed the souls of my students.

Bloom criticizes the 'openness' of cultural relativism, in which "the point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all." He believes the purpose of education is not career training but to learn how to live a good life. It's important for an individual to search for truth, not just a diversity of opinions, in order to have any hope of living a good life. He believes it is the unique obligation of the university to point students in this direction. Furthermore, he points out that democracy--by valuing the opinion of each citizen equally--is not an environment in which genius excels. Therefore, the university needs to lead the way in the lost art of living the good life.

American Mind is a bit heady and one needs a break from it now and then. So I was also reading An Empire Wilderness by Robert Kaplan, a travel book written in the late 1990s looking at the future of the United States. The main take home message is the rise of the city-state over the nation-state. America's federal system may give way to more local control, particularly in the western U.S. where most federally owned land resides and some resent the 'imperial' control of a distant Washington DC.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

No Whining!

Shane was gracious to join me on one of the many adventures that I planned for my students. Although it is the last one for now, it was good that he got to enter my world for a few days.
For the most part all the students behaved, participated, and were super good sports. Unfortunately, there were a few that caused things go sour for a few moments on the trip.
Even though I feel that my students are good kids they are still teenagers; thus some have the innate ability to grind your nerves with their whining and complaining. I guess that is predictable since we were camping and that just isn't for everyone.
During this trip I learned that when a student talks back, it's not that they are talking back or being sassy, it just means that they are talking to themselves. Isn't that an interesting new concept? That just blew me away. Over and over I heard what I thought was backtalking, but I was wrong. The student was just talking to himself.
I wish I had had that line when I was growing up. That would've made my mom be sorry and apologetic for slapping me. I could've accused her of wrongful beatings.
Okay, so why focus on the negative?
The positive side of the trip was hearing that most of the students had a good time. They were very happy to be challenged and that they survived.
I survived, and Shane survived. That was cool.

Pranks continue as world's end looms

Some silliness and some seriousness.

Back in the good ol' days, Jesus used to talk about his coming back and the end of the world, but also how ordinary things would be continuing up until the final hour. People will be "eating and drinking, marrying" and so forth. Perfectly ordinary. With so many ordinary things going on, how can one ever hope to predict when that day will come, despite the best attempts by our modern 'prophecy experts' who claim the world's end is soon?

Jesus' warning about his coming day is for all days: "Be on your guard--see to it that your minds are never clouded by dissipation or drunkenness or the worries of this life, or else that day may catch you like the springing of a trap--for it will come upon every inhabitant of the whole earth. You must be vigilant at all times, praying that you may be strong enough to come safely through all that is going to happen, and stand in the presence of the Son of Man." (Luke 21:34-36, Phillips translation)

Jesus said a few other things about the end, which, unless he was Jesus, might sound a bit nutty or pessimistic, or in the value-hesitant vague-speak of today, a tad "negative":

  • "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know that it's desolation is near." Luke 21
  • "The love of most will grow cold." Matt 24
  • "Do not worry beforehand about what you are going to say", that is, when they get you. Mark 13
  • "False messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive the elect--if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time." Matt 24
  • "On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken." Luke 21
  • "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Matt 24

Taking Jesus' good news message as a whole, his emphasis seems to be on things like repentance, holiness, and faith, NOT speculation, obsession, division over the specific details of the prophecy.

Did that firebrand Paul have anything to say about the end? Sure did. He spoke plainly to his converts, "Brothers, do not become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy....saying that the day of the Lord has already come" (2 Thes 2). He called this time, this age, a period of "waiting for his [Jesus'] final appearance." (1 Cor 1)

We'll give Peter the final word: " I have tried to stimulate you, as men with minds uncontaminated by error, by reminding you of what you really know already. This means recalling the words spoken of old by the holy prophets as well as the commands of our Lord and savior given to you through his messengers. First of all you must realize that in the last days cynical mockers will undoubtedly come--men whose only guide in life is what they want for themselves--and they will say, 'Where is his promised coming?'

"...You should never lose sight of the fact, dear friends, that with the Lord a day may be a thousand years, and a thousand years only a day. It is not that he is slow about keeping his own promise as some men seem to think; the fact is that he is very patient with you. He has no wish that any man be destroyed; He wishes that all men should find the way to repentance. Yet the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. In that day the heavens will vanish in a tearing blast, the very elements will disintegrate in heat and the earth and all its works will disappear." (2 Peter 3)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Upward and Outward Bound trip

Last week I was a leader, along with Jessica and Franchezska, on a 4-day Spring Break trip with Outward Bound Adventures or OBA. OBA is a Pasadena-based organization providing nature-based education that promotes positive self development, environmental responsibility, and outdoor career exposure for at-risk, low-income, and urban youth. As a special bonus, my 8th grader nephew Jacob got to come along too.

Jessica met the director of OBA a few years ago and led her PCC Math/Science Upward Bound high school students on a backpacking trip to the top of Mt. San Grogonio. This time, we car camped and visited a few places in Southern California, focusing on alternative energy and environmental education. On the first day, we visited the wind energy farm near Palm Springs, with all those windmills, and camped at Mission Creek. Day Two had us looking at desert plants and animals at the Living Desert and camping in the Santa Rosa mountains. Day Three we learned how to use a map and compass as part of a competition to see who could use a topographic map to get to a rock quarry in the nearby mountains. We also visited the Salton Sea and heard about work being done to save California's largest lake. On Day Four, after camping next to the Sea, we visited nearby bat caves.

I was impressed by how OBA operates. Cooperation, fairness, and respect are emphasized. Everyone works together to unload gear, put up tents, cook, and clean the campsite. Against the drawback of nature and wilnderness survival, kids are taught how to get along with each other. When there are problems, it's all brought out into the open around the campfire.

It was a good experience. I got a taste of how different it is to work with high school students compared to college students. Namely, high school students need to be motivated and disciplined, whereas I expect college students to be self-motivated and treated like the young adults that they should be.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

What's a Caucasian??

From Wikipedia:

"In the United States, it is currently used primarily as a distinction loosely based on skin color alone for a group commonly referred to as Whites, as defined by the American government and Census Bureau... in continental Europe, "Caucasian" currently refers exclusively to people who are from the Caucasus.

"The term itself derives from measurements in craniology from the 19th century, and its name stems from the region of the Caucasus mountains, itself imagined to be the location from which Noah's son Japheth, traditional Biblical ancestor of the Europeans, established his tribe prior to its supposed migration into Europe.

"Caucasoid is a term used in physical anthropology to refer to people falling within a certain range of anthropometric measurements.

"In New Zealand the term Caucasian is used most frequently in police offender descriptions.

"Later anthropologists, including William Z. Ripley in 1899 and Carleton Coon in 1957, further expanded upon the classification of the Caucasian race proposed by Blumenbach, and subdivided the group into Nordic, Alpine, Mediterranean, and at times Dinaric and Baltic subdivisions.

"The term Caucasoid (Caucasian-like) also came into use to encompass a larger grouping of populations with similar skull-shapes, including many North African, South Asian and Middle Eastern peoples. Nordicism, the belief that the blond Nordic sub-division constitutes a "master race", was influential in Northern Europe and the United States during the early twentieth century.

"The question of a difference between the "Caucasian race" and "white" as a racial category in the United States has led to at least one set of major legal contradictions in the United States Supreme Court. In the case of Ozawa v. United States (1922), the court ruled that a law which extended U.S. citizenship only to "whites" did not apply to fair-skinned people from Japan, because:

...The term "white person", as used in [the law], and in all the earlier naturalization laws, beginning in 1790, applies to such
persons as were known in this country as "white," in the racial sense, when it was first adopted, and is confined to persons of the Caucasian Race... A Japanese, born in Japan, being clearly not a Caucasian, cannot be made a citizen of the United States.

"However a year later, the same court was faced with the trial of United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923), where they ruled that someone from the Indian subcontinent could not become a naturalized United States citizen, because they were not "white". The Supreme Court conceded that anthropologists had classified Indians as "Caucasians", and thus the same race as "whites" as defined in Ozawa, but concluded that "the average man knows perfectly well that there are unmistakable and profound differences", and denied citizenship.

and so on...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Stuff you can see from space and another new article

Well, to amend my earlier post about things you can't see from space, apparently there are some manmade things you can see. For instance, in the desert near Las Vegas, there's a picture of Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria so huge, that yes, you can see it from space. If this kind of "Google earth" based advertising takes off, who knows what assortment of things we might soon be seeing from space. What will the aliens think?

marbles in space???In other news, you can check out my new article in American Scientist on getting around space for cheap. This one's different from others in that it's written by me. It kind of turns the public lecture I gave in 2004 into an article, but with some new pictures and a description of the motion using the idea of those funnel-shaped coin thingies at science museums, an idea suggested by my editor.

To get full access to the article, you have to a member of the research society Sigma Xi (which I'm not, by the way!). But if you want a copy, maybe I can send one your way.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Great Wall of China not visible from space

A Chinese astronaut has said that no, the Great Wall is not visible from space. I remember being told that it was visible from space when I was a kid. California water people came and told my grade school class that only two manmade things are visible from space, the Great Wall of China and the California Aquaduct. I guess the thing about the aquaduct's a lie too. Liars, shattering a young boy's dream! I'll give them somethin' that's visible from space!!! Like weapons! How `bout that?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Some photos from Texas in January


This is in Hewitt, Texas at my grandparent's place (my dad's parents) during a trip a few months ago that Jessica and I took. Pictured left to right are my grandfather (B.J.), Natalie, Chris, my Dad (L.C.), my grandmom (Keenie), Jessica and me, with Chispita lingering in the foreground.

Now we're in Waco, Texas, just after my dad gave us all a tour of Baylor University, where he works on the police dept. That's my dad, my sister, and me, and of course, Chispita.

Speaking of Baylor, I've thought of reading this book by Rodney Stark, Baylor professor of sociology of religion.