Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Reading two books tonight. Both of them I got from the library after seeing them recommended by bloggers.

Our Underachieving Colleges by Derek Bok (h/t to Crooked Timber I think it was) is a dryly written but fairly devastating takedown of what colleges achieve as a percentage of what they could achieve. To blame, first and foremost -- though Bok doesn't sum it up as such -- is the faculty's timidity and conservatism when it comes to learning how teaching actually works. When you're in a Ph.D. program, nobody tells you how to teach, and once you get your own classroom, it's yours, and you get awfully crabby if someone tries to tell you how to teach better. And so they don't, and so you never learn. Professors don't learn, either individually or as a faculty, whether students are actually learning how to write better, or to think more critically, or even to understand the fundamental ideas behind the subjects that are being taught. We all know that a big chunk of our students are passing the tests, or even acing them, by regurgitating material; we don't know, and honestly I think we don't want to know, how much they really understand, or how much they could apply what they have "learned" to other issues. When someone offers to tell us how to teach in such a way that students learn, we don't want to listen ... so people don't often offer. Very depressing. And yet at the same time, inspiring: the thought that current standards are so low means that really good teachers, or really successful faculties of like-minded teachers, could make a serious difference to their students' lives. Of course, making that happen -- let alone devising the institution structures to consistently reward making that happen -- is an insanely daunting task.

The other book has no relation whatever to the first, except that somebody blogged it. I don't even remember who, but I'm grateful to whoever it was. The book is called Astonish Yourself: 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life. It's by a French dude (Roger-Pol Droit) and reminds me a bunch of what I recall as a typically "French" attitude toward philosophy -- a focus on destabilizing one's views about reality, mistrusting language, questioning one's relation to one's body, and so on. But throwing the word "French" at it is only good for placing it within a genre. The book is just flat out fun. I'm just starting it and reading through a few of the exercises, and I've actually done only two of them. Both were just a teensy bit mind-blowing, especially for how simple they were. I think I want to buy this book, and keep it around. Opening up my sense of what is possible: very important. It's almost the story of my life: I get bogged down in words words words words words and more words ... and forgetful of reality. I talk so much inside my head that I forget to listen to the world.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Milwaukee Brewers are a .400 baseball team that used to be decent. Their final record will only be non-hideous because of that stretch where they went 21-5. They suck suck suck suck suck.

Final record will be (21 W + 5 L + (.400 x 136 remaining games)) ==> 75 - 87.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I realized some time ago that what I said about "Iron Man" can be said, in its broad outlines, about most superheroes. Certainly about Superman, for instance. The combination of power and goodness in one creation is unrealistic, not in the power, but in the goodness. Superman is a philosopher king just as Iron Man is. Spiderman, the same thing.

A ton of other comic book characters don't fit the mold, because their "goodness" is much more tenuous. Batman is often very dark. The characters in "Watchmen" are a much more obvious example. Not that I'm a huge comic book guy, to say the least.

Iron Man is more explicitly set in a political framework, compared to Superman / Spiderman, and so the comparision seems more relevant. But there's nothing special about Iron Man, the character, compared to a lot of other superheroes. And that bugs me about my conclusion. I really liked that post until I had that thought.

Oh, well.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

David Simon, of course, is the guy behind The Wire. He started as a newspaper guy, and Season 5 is apparently all about the newspaper business. (I can't believe I still haven't watched Season 5.)

Anyway, he has a powerful and depressing editorial today about the impact of the collapse of the Baltimore newspaper and its impact on the Baltimore police. It's a must read.