Saturday, April 5, 2014

What to do if you are tar

Hold together miles of road
Help Brer Rabbit trick Brer Bear
Keep the flood out of Noah’s ark
Attach feathers to the heretic and the tax-man
Envelop dinosaurs and keep them safe

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Culture Copy

When an English language version of Let The Right One In was released, a wonderful image macro hit the internet as well. It showed the movie poster for the remake with the tagline, "For Audiences Scared of Subtitles."

Remaking and repackaging art from abroad for a domestic audience is hardly new. Great art is often the result, from Paul Simon's collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo in Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes... the African masks Picasso recreated in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.

It is comforting to know that such mimicry goes both ways. Keep your eyes open long enough and you'll see favorite works remade in places far flung. Consider the strikingly shot video for Ne-Yo's Closer and the KPop homage, MBLAQ's Smoky Girl.

Perhaps the best art to capture our joy at reinterpretation (and the danger of its devolution) is the collaboration by Ben O'Brien and Dan Deacon on True Thrush. They write "Dan and Ben filmed a scene. It was shown to the next team. They had 1 hour and 1 take to re-create it from memory. The video that team made was shown to the next team, and so on and so on." Simple and joyfully filmed, the video is captures an experience we've never had and yet can relate to immediately.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Evolving Standards of Camping

It's tempting to think that just as things ever were, so shall they always be. It's incredibly comforting. But such an outlook can only last until you meet a child. At that moment every adult feels an inborn desire to do better for this young person than could ever be done for ourselves.

Teachers spend our professional lives searching out best practice, looking for ways to give our students a better grasp on literature, math, society and the universe than we ourselves ever had. And teachers is an expansive term. One need look no farther than the requirements of the Boy Scouts of America merit badges to see that adults are building on the experiences they had to create more powerful and meaningful engagements for their children.


Over the past century the Boy Scouts have modified their curriculum in many ways to better suit children of today. Look at just some of these changes.

Evidence of planning is required.
In 1911: "State how to choose a campsite."
Today: "Make a written plan for an overnight trek and show how to get to your camping spot using a topographical map and compass."

Approximation is valued.
In 1911: "Invent and patent some useful article."
Today: "Build a working prototype of an item you invented. Test and evaluate the invention. Describe how your original vision and expectations for your invention are similar or dissimilar to the prototype you built."

Safety is forefront.
In 1911: "Know how to enter burning buildings."
Today: "Conduct a home safety survey. Test a smoke alarm. Explain what fire safety equipment can be found in public buildings."

Gender roles are declining.
In 1911: "Cook camp stew, two vegetables, omelet, rice pudding."
Today: "Plan a menu for three full days of meals to be cooked at home. Prepare and serve a breakfast, lunch and dinner."

The effort to better teach children is not simple. It requires constant reflection and an effort to overcome the natural inertia of how things have been done before. As we in the classroom undertake this effort it is helpful to look around to the myriad allies joining us in the effort. Together we will build a future better than what came before.

Link - Via

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Do Tiger Woods and Jeremy Lin Have the Same Last Name?

Earlier this year, ShaoLan Hsueh gave a TED Talk on learning to read Chinese and launched a Facebook teaching page called Chineasy. The key to learning, she argues, is to know and understand the building blocks of Chinese words, so that you can recognize the smaller pieces in more complex characters.
Lin's name written on an SI China photo

One example of this is the word Tree. 木 Pronounced "Mu".

When this character is doubled, it means woods. 林 Pronounced "Lin".

Lin, of course, is a word that you are very familiar with as a last name. Last year, America went Linsane over the hot hand of basketball player Jeremy Lin. Wordsmiths came up with endless puns on his name (ESPN at one point was using his name more frequently than the words "but" or "if"). Perhaps the most surprising aspect of his name is this question: Does Jeremy Lin have the essentially the same name as another sports phenom, Tiger Woods?

While answering this question will require a Chinese scholar more qualified than I, informs me that Woods' name in Chinese is 老虎伍茲, without the double tree character. What a Linjustice...

Friday, May 10, 2013

How can we comprehend a crime against humanity?

Yesterday, former Guatemalan head of state Efraín Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide for the deaths of 1,771 Mayan Ixils in the 1980s. If you are like me, the sheer numbers involved are nigh impossible to wrap your mind around.
  • 36 years of war (longer than my lifetime). 
  • 200,000 people dead. Imagine people walking onto 2 football fields, standing in packed, shoulder to shoulder, chest to chest. 
  • 45,000 disappearances. The struggle to understand even a single "dissapearance" sobers me.
Rather than trying to understand these numbers, I urge you to listen to this story from This American Life. It is moving and personal, telling how Oscar Ramirez, a Guatemalan immigrant living near Boston, received a phone call telling him that he may have been abducted from a massacre as a toddler. I hope that understanding what happened in that single village on that one day can help build an understanding of what yesterday's verdict means for families in Guatemala.

Oscar Ramirez Castaneda (R) looks over a photo album filled with photos of his adoptive father Lieutenant Oscar Ovidio Ramirez Ramos with his 7 year old daughter Nicole Ramirez in the kitchen of their home in Framingham, Massachusetts on May 13, 2012. Oscar was adopted at the age of 3 by the Lieutenant after he and his fellow Kaibil troops led a massacre in young Oscar's village in Guatemala. Matthew Healey for ProPublica.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

TV Enters the Era of the Novel

Photo Credit: Jason Mrachina
On February 1st, Netflix released the first episode of its new series, House of Cards. That same day, Netflix released the 2nd episode of House of Cards. And the 3rd, 4th... every episode of the season. CCO Ted Sarandos crowed, "In offering the entire season at once, Netflix is giving viewers complete control over how and when they watch the show."

The release prompted a spate of articles on "binge-viewing", watching multiple episodes of a television show in one sitting. One thing that everyone agrees is that the phenomenon is real. Between streaming sites like Hulu, DVD sets of whole seasons and DVR machines that can automatically record and group episodes for months, individuals are increasingly delaying their gratification. Rather than watching television shows episode by episode, viewers instead watch in hours long sessions.

Critics of such viewing abound. Critiques tend to fall into two categories:

  1. TV is bad for you. This view is inherent in the nomenclature "binge". Individuals binge on harmful substances. No one posts, "Ran 12 miles today, I love binge running!" Hopeless romantics are not binge lovers. We do not tarnish anyone's practice of peace, charity or justice with the label "binge". But watching television is compared implicitly (and often explicitly) with drug use and self abuse. If one hour is bad, four is terrible.

    Is TV bad for us? The ills of television could be numerous. It promotes sitting, which is bad for circulation and health. However, writing equally promotes sitting. TV is receptive, rather than creative. So too is reading. TV is a visual media, which means we aren't using our imagination to fill in action. But theater and puppet shows give us visual story cues. Without question, there is bad TV. But to the extent that one is watching good TV, it seems likely that it is as good for you as other good art.
  2. Watching multiple television episodes at once reduces our enjoyment of TV. Perhaps watching good TV requires watching just a little bit of TV. Inherent in this argument is the standpoint the TV is structured in ways that require episodic viewing. Jim Pagels of Slate outlines many of these.
  • Episodes have their own integrity, which is blurred by watching several in a row.
  • Cliffhangers and suspense need time to breathe.
  • Taking breaks maintains the timeline of the TV universe.
To the extent that television shows are created with this mindset, Pagels' critique is apt. The intention of artists matter. In 2009 researchers found that individuals enjoy television shows more with commercial interruption. Yet this same research showed that it is "unlikely that all types of programs will be improved by interruptions." For decades television has been written for interruption by commercials and episode endings. Shows written this way suffer if interruptions are removed. The phenomenon spans television genres, interruption free hours of the Bachelor or of Dragon Ball Z would be equally numbing.

Yet arguing that television should be watched episodically because of how some of it is written is as ludicrous as arguing that books should be read one chapter a sitting because Charles Dickens wrote great literature in weekly installments.

Television is changing

Television is changing. Shows are developing long narrative arcs that supersede the story of individual episodes. IMDb maintains a list of the highest rated drama TV series. Only one show before 1980 breaks the top 50: Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Masterfully crafted stories completely unrelated to one another. In the top 100 there are two shows, M*A*S*H and All in the Family. For either show, a viewer could watch a single episode from each season and lose none of the appreciation of the stories being told.

One cannot imagine doing that with the best loved dramas of the past decade. The Wire, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, these shows certainly have episodes with their own integrity, but their driving engine is the story across episodes. To watch only a single episode would be meaningless, if not incomprehensible. These creators are not worse Hitchcock, their form is different.

This new form involves chapters, evolving characters and interwoven plots. It looks much like an old form of story: the novel. And just as latter day moralists decry consumption of TV shows, critics once railed against the novel:
Women, of every age, of every condition, contract and retain a taste for novels […T]he depravity is universal. My sight is every-where offended by these foolish, yet dangerous, books. (Sylph no. 5, October 6, 1796: 36-37)
Artists and audiences were right to ignore these broadsides. In the face of opprobrium they continued to explore this art form which required hours of attention at a time. This radical form of engagement has continued for generations and across centuries. It intimately links the likes of Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott with adults and children lying in bed, small lights illuminating the page.

A similar experiment is being undertaken today. Artists are creating stories for an audience that "lounges on the sofa, ...sits at the counter... losing hours... in the parlour". (Yes, same 18th century moralist) Rather than tensing with moral panic, let us lean into the experience.  TV is entering the era of the novel. It's time to curl up with a good show.