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I heard a talk a few months ago here from one Professor Mary Poplin from Claremont (whom, when I opened e-mails about her, I kept confusing with Mary Poppins) partly regarding her studies on high performing teachers in low performing schools.

I had begun a long entry on her talk a few days after hearing her, but it grew too long — even for me — and I shelved it for the time being. Since then, I have read three separate articles on the self-proclaimed "Tiger Mom", Amy Chua. I'll be upfront and say, to put it nicely, that I have little respect for Chua, (which I will not cover until my second entry in this series). While I do have a lot of respect for Poplin, I noticed that Poplin and Chua actually share a lot in common in some of what they have been saying. I intend to write two blog entries on their commonality; I'll begin with what they got right (and begin on a positive note for once) and finish with what they get wrong.

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So, I think that Poplin, Chua, and others are finally bringing actual problems in education and parenting to the limelight. However, I think that they are missing something, and it is related to their definitions of success. And as for Chua, I will attempt to show in my next entry how I think she is being extraordinarily hypocritical as well as relying too much on the idea of the ends justifying the means....


A couple papers by Poplin for those interested and with access to academic journals:
Poplin, MS. (1987) "Self-imposed blindness: The scientific method in education." Remedial and Special Education, 8(6), 31-37.
Poplin, MS. (1988) "The Reductionistic Fallacy in Learning Disabilities." Journal of Learning Disabilities, 21(7), 389-400.
Chua's article in the Wall Street Journal:

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While I've never written directly about them, I have spoken quite a few times on various "paradigm shifts" in science. (One can scan my topics list if interested.)

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Today, I want to speak about paradigm shifts in archaeology.

I subscribe to an e-mail newsletter from the Biblical Archaeology Review, a secular magazine regarding modern archaeological findings related to ancient Middle Eastern history. I would estimate that the large majority of the scholars and archaeologists contributing to the magazine each month are neither orthodox Jews nor Evangelical Christians; none of them take the whole Bible literally. I mention this because I want to suggest that regardless of whether or not you put any trust at all in the Bible as a religious document, BAR is probably a trustworthy source for historical information about the Bible, as they have no religious agenda from what I can tell.

One of the current modern paradigms in Biblical archaeology has been the model known as "Biblical minimalism". Biblical minimalism is the idea that the Bible, because it is a religious document, contains only a very minimal amount of actual historic value. If the Bible claims that some event occurred in history, it is almost always discounted by default as simply a literary invention and not as a valid historical source — unless the same event is mentioned in, say, an Egyptian or Babylonian source.

For example, the popular view among scholars in recent times has been that one can think about King David much as we might think about King Arthur. Sure, both men probably lived, but neither was ever really a king of any kingdom. There was no sword of Goliath; there was no Excalibur. There was no anointing by a prophet Samuel; there was no guiding Arthur to the crown by a wizard Merlin.

In the former case, this is all an assumption. It is an assumption based on absence of data, which is never proof of anything.

But as in other sciences, assumptions die hard in archaeology.

...And not just in Biblical archaeology. For a long time, archaeologists denied that there was ever a siege of Troy. Surely, Homer made up the whole thing! There was never a war; Troy never even existed! But recently, more and more discoveries have indicated that the siege really did happen to a real city of Troy. Granted, few people accept every Homeric detail, but it was not all made up, just exaggerated.

The May/June issue of BAR includes an article titled "The Birth & Death of Biblical Minimalism." I will not go into all the details — you can read the article on your own, if interested — but it is only one of quite a few articles I've read recently suggesting that the Bible contains more historical truth than the modern scholar gives it credit for.

One finding is a tablet with the inscription, "House of David," confirming a Davidic dynasty. In my opinion, though, the biggest findings reported in this article have to do with a fortified city in Judah that indicates an urban, structured, kingdom-like society, not just a tribal, farming society. Found at the site were standardized jars with a regular inscription, "belonging to the king".

These are recent findings, but there have been many others in the past. It used to be believed that the Bible invented the people group known as the Hittites, since there was no archaeological record of them at the time. Nowadays, one can take the Hittite language as a course here at Johns Hopkins.

The book of Daniel made reference to a ruler known as Belshazzar, "a son of Nebuchadnezzar." For a long time, this was laughable, as it was known that Nebuchadnezzar's son and successor was named Nabonidus, and no records outside the Bible ever mentioned anyone named Belshazzar. It was later discovered that Belshazzar did in fact live and reign. He was Nabonidus' son and ruled in place of his father when his father went off into the dessert to worship the moon god. (Also, "son" was not so precise as to mean immediate son; it could also be used for descendant.) It was, in fact, Belshazzar, grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, in charge of Babylon when the Persians conquered it, as Daniel stated.

I'm not trying to argue here that everything in either the Iliad or the Bible be taken at 100% face value in terms of historic usefulness; I am just suggesting that, oftentimes, because of a paradigm, archeologists — like any other scientists — are too slow to accept new discoveries and too quick to discount documents that may be loaded with historical clues as to what really happened in mankind's past simply because of their mythological and/or religious characteristics.

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Warning: This is long with around 20 photos. I've used cuts to shorten it.

Su, 1 May 2011
Weverton CliffsCollapse )

C&O Canal TowpathCollapse )

Harpers FerryCollapse )

From Jefferson Rock, the trail went still a little bit higher for about a mile. The sun through the green leaves was gorgeous, and this may have been my best photo:

Farther Uphill Yet Again

ATC and the Return to the Visitor CenterCollapse )

One last thing — I thought this combination of signs odd:

Before After

The first, you may remember, was at Greenbrier State Park, where I started; the second was just when I had entered Harpers Ferry. So then, I somehow managed to walk 25 miles further from Maine and only 2 miles closer to Georgia!

In actuality, I had walked 21 AT miles by that point. All in all, if I count all the side trails and the trip back to the car, I probably hiked 30 miles over the course of the weekend. I was sore and very tired, but I thought the whole trip was well worth it....

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Two of the most fascinating questions yet to be answered by science, in my opinion, are how developmental biology works and how the brain works. This is because they are, relatively speaking, some of the most complicated processes known.

On the other hand, while the questions asked by psychology are some of the most fascinating to me, psychology as a science has historically thoroughly disappointed me, because it has not traditionally been very scientific at all. It has been anecdotal at best and sheer imagination at worst. I have always given it very little respect and, like I do with paleontology[1], tend to be very skeptical of its claims, because they have not usually been falsifiable.

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Today's entry is meant to be about a particular area of psychology — human grief. I cannot take credit for most of what follows, as I read it in a months-old Time, which itself excerpted the article from a book by Ruth Davis Konigsberg titled The Truth About Grief. (You can read the article here: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2042372,00.html)

Most people have heard of the so-called "Five Stages of Grief". They are said to be:
  • denial
  • anger
  • bargaining
  • depression
  • acceptance

    Ms. Konigsberg argues that they amount to little more than urban legends.

    (In fact the list came from a book not about grieving at all; they were first said to be related to a person's anticipation of their own coming death. However, people began using the same list to describe grief, and the author went along with the fame and began attributing it to the grief process as well.)

    Konigsberg succinctly points out the obvious: why the heck is acceptance the last of the Steps? The woman who created the Steps defined acceptance as "recognizing that the loved one is permanently gone." What adult, if they are grieving doesn't recognize that their loved one is gone? That's the very reason he or she is grieving. So, too, denial. If one thought the loved one was still there, why would they grieve in the first place? (I can see denial as an immediate response to first hearing the news of a loss, but in my mind this is before grief begins. Grief only begins once I believe that a loss has actually occurred.)

    As for the commonly held view that pent-up emotions are bad, that people should express their true feelings in order to heal, she debunks this also. In fact, newer studies have clearly shown that those who become angry and express that anger openly while grieving take longer to recover from their grief. Another study revealed that people who kept to themselves their feelings about the September 11th disaster adjusted more quickly and showed less distress after time passed.

    And grief counseling? It's worthless (for most people). For the standard healthy human, there has been no evidence that professional counseling speeds the grief process on average. The average person recovers from their grief in six months to a year.

    (To be fair, Ms. Konigsberg acknowledged that certain people take longer to heal than most; for that segment of society, counseling is likely still helpful, because for some reason, their brains are not handling the grief in the normal way; that is, such people have what could be termed a "grief disorder".)

    She suggests that as a society, we should abandon silly, unfounded ideas about Steps of Grief that everyone has to take to be healthy and simply allow people to grieve in their own way as comes naturally to them.

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    Warning: This is long with around 15 photos. I've used cuts to shorten it.

    Sa, 30 Apr 2011
    I was the last one to get out of my tent on Saturday morning, but the fastest to pack everything up. (I had slept rather poorly, not having a camp pillow or anything to really substitute for one. Also, my sore shoulders did not like it when I would roll onto my side.) I said goodbye to Shutterbug and wished him the best on the trail. He was planning to hitchhike out to Boonsboro and resupply that morning.

    Fox's GapCollapse )

    Rocky RunCollapse )

    Lambs Knoll and White RocksCollapse )

    Bear Spring Cabin and White RocksCollapse )

    Crampton's GapCollapse )

    Townsend Memorial

    Gathland State ParkCollapse )

    Ed Garvey ShelterCollapse )

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    sadeyedartist and I were discussing this in the car recently. One of our pet peeves is when the lyrics of modern songs do not match the music, that is, when the lyrical rhythm does not fit the musical rhythm or when lyrics are devoid of any rhythm of their own.

    Traditionally, poetry has had rhythm. No, it's not always been iambic or trochaic or some other metrical foot, but there always used to be some consistent, repeated rhythm, involving any or all of stress, syllable-number, pitch, tone, etc.

    It is only in more modern times, following a trend in other art forms, that poetry's "definition" has changed from a writing form in which the language itself has aesthetic qualities to one in which any creative act of writing (even meaningless writing) can be considered poetry.

    In poetry not set to music, rhythm-free "free verse" can still work if done well — in my opinion, if it still maintains some sort of aesthetic form — because language without consistent rhythm still makes sense. It may not be as beautiful sounding, but it can still carry beauty through its evoked images or other patterns.

    People have tried to abandon rhythm and other patterns in music also, such as with atonal music. But everything I've ever read about the topic seems to indicate that the large majority of humans do not find atonal music aesthetically pleasing. I myself cannot tolerate the stuff. I would argue that free verse is not as despised as atonal music because of what I stated above — because the words used in poetry have meaning, those words can be used to draw in aesthetic elements separate from the rhythm; however, with music, once form is abandoned, nothing remains but noise.

    So then, lyrics.... Lyrics, of course are just poetry intended to be spoken/sung along with music. Now if good music can be said to have rhythm, well-written lyrics should also match that rhythm. Otherwise, one has to compensate to sing the song. Sometimes, the words are stretched to longer lengths or likewise shortened. Sometimes, the proper accents of the words have to be changed. Sometimes, words are run together in an entirely unnatural way. And all of these things bring chaos into what should be an aesthetically beautiful union of two art forms.

    To see what I'm talking about, just read the lyrics to some modern songs without thinking about the music behind them. You'll often find complete inconsistencies of rhythm between verses, varying syllable length between supposedly parallel lines, and other such problems in form.

    This doesn't always destroy a song for me, but it really strikes me as lazy, because I think the song could be made much better if the time were taken to fit the lyrics to the music. It would also make the song more understandable to listeners, because words mispronounced or run together are always harder to understand. And of course, the lyrics are easier to remember and learn if they fit the music.

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    Warning: This is long with 10 photos. I've used cuts to shorten it.

    I was inspired by my last public entry to go do some hiking. sadeyedartist was traveling for a bridal shower, so on a whim, I decided to hike the southern half of the Maryland portion of the Appalachian Trail....

    Fr, 29 Apr 2011
    Shuttle from Harper's FerryCollapse )

    The Journey BeginsCollapse )


    Greenbrier State ParkCollapse )

    Washington Monument State ParkCollapse )

    Turner's GapCollapse )

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    One of my life goals/dreams has for the longest time been to thru-hike the AT.

    The ATC keeps a record of people who have hiked the ~2180 miles of the AT. It calls these people “2000-milers”, regardless of how they hiked the trail.

    There are many different ways that people do it. Some do it in small sections in different years. Some (most) hike north from Springer Mountain in Georgia to (one of my favorite places on earth) Mt. Katahdin in Maine; others do that in reverse — which is actually a lot harder because of how yearly weather works out and because one has to start with some of the most difficult sections of the trail first. There are also “alternative” methods such as “flip-flopping” and “leap-frogging”.

    The ATC defines a thru-hike as any trip completed in a single year, but even among thru-hikers, there is a lot of variation to what counts as a real thru-hike. Some don't consider flip-flops to be real thru-hikes, for example. Many leave the trail on weekends — or on Trail Days, AT hiking's major “holiday” — to stay at hotels, get showers, and buy gear.

    When I say that I wish to thru-hike though, I really want to avoid hotels. I won't say that if you thru-hike using hotels that you are a cheater; people should “hike their own trail.” But for me personally, it would feel like cheating, like I hadn't really achieved my goal. Moreover, hotel-staying slows one down and severely increases the financial cost of hiking. I'm convinced I could hike the trail in four months, but weekend breaks would probably delay that to five.

    The fact of the matter is that I am going to have to compromise if I ever wish to achieve this dream, because sadeyedartist is not a hiker. Most likely, for it ever to work, I would need to meet up with her periodically off trail — assuming that she herself would sort of be traveling north with me by car to various towns, creating art or visiting people, I suppose. More reasonable than this would probably be simply section hiking.

    But the point of this entry is more my trying to figure out why it is that I don't feel like section-hiking or hotel-staying would count towards my full dream. What is going on in my mind psychologically?

    In normal life, I'm obsessed with cleanliness. I'm always washing my hands; I take two showers most days; I won't open a bathroom door without a paper towel; I despise sweating; I hate arthropods. Why, then, am I content, if not delighted, to sweat buckets in insect-infested, shower-less forests?

    I don't know.

    I do know that it somewhat has to do with setting. Sweat isn't so bad when one is outside where it can evaporate and actually do what it was meant to do — cool one off — or when one can wear moisture-wicking clothing or hike shirtless — things one does not do on a regular basis in the typical work environment. The hiking part is enjoyable work, but it is still work; it is at the end of day that one cools down and relaxes. And it's not like I don't bathe when I hike. At end of day, I always wash off near some natural stream or in the rain, so I go to bed rather clean. And my hatred of insects isn't gone; it's just that if they invade my home, I will go out of my way to annihilate them, but in the wild, I am in their space — I just keep them away from me and my gear.

    I think it has to do with almost becoming a part of nature. I love living in the city, but it can hardly be called a part of nature. It is a separate thing altogether. But on the trail, I don't want to be just a tourist; I want to become a part of it. Hotel stays kill that.

    One could argue that even stopping by a town to grab food for the next two weeks of hiking from a local grocer could also be said to kill that. True, but I think it is a matter of degrees. I frankly cannot survive without purchasable food; I know nothing about how to survive on berries, and I will never kill an animal to eat. But I can certainly survive without a hotel stay.

    There's just something — for me anyway — about knowing that I can survive for two weeks to a month easily with what I am carrying on my back. It reminds me of what things are actually necessary in life.

    And it's odd; in my world view, I place man far above animals in importance (yet still holding that too many people underestimate them[1]), so why would I want to sometimes “return to nature”? I have no idea. Perhaps a vulgar example, but I think that most men will agree that it is wonderful to be able to “go” outdoors. That does not make any logical sense to me, but to be honest, I have to agree. And swimming in lakes in streams — provided they aren't covered with trash from human activity — beats swimming in a chlorine-infested pool.

    Is all this a reminder to myself that in many ways mankind are just like animals? While that is probably a healthy viewpoint (if balanced), I'm not sure if that's why either.

    Is it that to truly see the beauty of nature, I feel that I must temporarily join with it and be a part of it? This goes along with my tourist comment above, and currently it is why I think I may be so attracted to the idea of escaping away and hiking.

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    It's been ages since I've posted (primarily because I am writing other more important things) and even longer since it was an "...and What It Is Not" post.

    My thoughts on this were triggered by an article my father-in-law had forwarded on to me regarding the political unrest in Egypt and (now) elsewhere in the Arab world, but it really was just a digging up of ideas I've already shared before.

    I am concerned for the people of Egypt and elsewhere, that they will have democratically traded a poor ruler for a worse one. Perhaps all will turn out well, and the Egyptians will be able to rest in newfound freedoms. But I fear a repeat of history; this sort of thing has happened before. In Iran, it ended with the new leaders executing the very people who had protested and democratically chosen to put them in power -- tens of thousands of people.

    But democracy is not synonymous with freedom, and I fear that people forget or have never considered this.

    In this country we almost worship democracy. We live in a culture where it's ok to live any way you like, but how dare you not exercise your right to vote![1]

    It is entirely possible to be in bondage under a democracy. The minorities can easily be oppressed. Again, years of history have shown that democracies have not prevented slavery, eugenics, religious oppression, or even genocide. Sure, democracy is great if you are in the majority, but democracy is no guarantee of freedom or of truth[3].

    People need good leaders to be free. People can have the courage to take a stand and the passion and zeal to protest, but zeal without knowledge can easily lead to terror in a few years if there is no good leader.

    Rather than cheering on the protesters for wanting democracy, we should be hoping they choose the right leaders who will give them freedom.

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    ...for Extraterrestrial Life

    (This is only the 2nd time in LJ history where I have had a title that wrapped into the body of my post....)

    A major scientific discovery was announced yesterday by press conference from NASA, followed by publication later that day in the journal Science.

    A NASA researcher has discovered a bacterium that can live without phosphorous, substituting arsenic instead.*

    For those of you with less science knowledge, scientists have believed until now that life requires six elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorous. In fact, the DNA "ladder" that you should have learned about in school has its "uprights" composed of alternating sugar and phosphate moieties (groups/units)**. The argument — until yesterday — would have been that without phosphate, you cannot have DNA; without DNA, you cannot have life.

    Moreover, arsenic is essentially a poison for most of known life.

    But it's a poison because it is so much like phosphorous that it "sneaks" into cells, "tricking" them into thinking it's phosphorous. Arsenic is just below phosphorous in the periodic table; it has a larger mass but is about the same size and reactivity (in many cases) as phosphorous, so it really shouldn't be too surprising that it can replace phosphorous in molecules. On the other hand, it is a poison. It's more reactive the phosphorous, which leads to problems, which usually kill cells.

    But this paper reports that the arsenate has actually been integrated into the DNA of this type of bacterium, changing the make-up of the "ladder uprights".

    What this does not at all mean:
  • This does not mean that these bacteria are from another planet, despite what ignorant bloggers may have said.
    First, of all, these bacteria don't always utilize arsenic; they only do so when they cannot access phosphate. The use of arsenic is a survival mechanism. Genetically, they are related to other known bacteria, most of which are already resistant to arsenic poisoning.
  • This does not mean that these bacteria evolved separately from all other life we know on this planet.
    Again, they have close genetic relatives.

    What this does mean:
  • Once again, scientists have turned theory into dogma in assuming that something cannot exist just because no one has found it yet.
    No, we still don't understand how these arsenate-utilizing bacteria survive, but it looks to be the case that they really do.
  • Those trying hard to find life on other planets have been limiting themselves too much by the faulty assumption that life on other planets must also use carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorous.
    Here, we have a strong indication that you can have life without any phosphorous. I don't see why we couldn't have life without sulfur (replacing it with selenium) or why life couldn't exist somewhere based on silicon instead of carbon. Scientists argue that silicon behaves too differently from carbon to substitute, but that's only on the assumption that life must be just like it is here, which I see as silly.

    Seeing as I've complained about this a few times here[1, 2], I feel somewhat vindicated by this discovery....

    *Those of you at academic institutions can download the article here: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2010/12/01/science.1197258. The rest of you, unfortunately, will have to settle for whatever press releases you can find, which you should take with a grain of salt — or perhaps something stronger — because journalists, even science journalists, rarely get science reports right.

    **A phosphate is a phosphorous atom surrounded by four oxygen atoms. Similarly, an arsenate is an arsenic atom surrounded by four oxygen atoms.

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