So, Senator John McCain has chosen Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, as his running mate.
It’s taken me a while to get my head around this. Sarah Palin is a political neophyte — if your main charge is that Barack Obama is inexperienced, then you have to see Sarah Palin as INEXPERIENCED. All of her avowed positions are far far to the right of mainstream American opinion. It’s impossible not to believe that the campaign picked her in a blatant attempt to pull off a cynical two-fer: (a) The ultra-right goes ga-ga over her ideological credentials; (b) low-information “Hilary die-hards” decide to vote against everything Senator Clinton believes in so as to get a woman — any woman, dammit — into the executive wing. The latter part is so blindingly obvious that, I think, the only people who will fall for it are people who would have found some reason to vote for McCain anyway.
What to do? How to react? The Obama campaign has a lot of people way more plugged in than me, but below the fold, I give my two cents:
Senator Hilary Clinton has finished her address to the Democratic National Convention. My personal response: She didn’t hit it out of the park but she definitely got some extra bases and maybe batted some runs in.
I think she delivered a full-throated, crystal clear indictment of the past eight years and of John McCain’s alignment with it. It was a bit corny but I liked the line about McCain and Bush meeting in the Twin Cities because you can hardly tell them apart. Senator Clinton did a good job enunciating what the Democratic Party is for — things like universal healthcare and improved public education — as well as what the Party is against — such as military adventurism, crony capitalism, and the abandonment of civilized society to a race of all against all. I still believe that had she delivered this message consistently throughout the primaries, rather than focusing on her opponents, she would have made the hurdle and would be speaking tomorrow instead of last night.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the speech was nonetheless still mostly about her — her experiences on the trail, her motivations for running, etc. That’s to be understood and it was a historic campaign, so it can be forgiven. She spent a little too much time on that, and she did detour into the end into a polishing of the legacy of President Clinton. If you tuned in to the middle and you cut out before the last few moments, you would be forgiven for thinking this was a Clinton acceptance speech.
Marc Cohn & band
Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center
Sunday 2008 August 24 8:30 PM
It’s my habit to see Marc Cohn every chance I get during the New York leg of his tours. This explains why, three days after my last Cohn concert, I schlepped all the way out along Long Island’s southern shore to Westhampton. Tonight he had no opener; it was just his band and him. The WHBPAC is an intimate space, acoustically rich and comfortable. It lacks the grandeur of St. George’s Theater but is quite nice for a modern building.
As before, the playlist is below the fold. I don’t have as many comments, as many of the songs are the same.
Marc Cohn with Toby Lightman
St. George Theater, Staten Island, NY
Thursday 2008 August 21
This is another in my ongoing series of reviews of Marc Cohn shows. See this earlier one and this one as well for comparison.
The St. George is a beautiful venue, an old vaudeville theater (I assume) which has been either renovated or maintained lovingly in its original state. Ornate and glitzy, it nonetheless provided excellent sound for an intimate concert. The opener was a bluesy singer/songwriter named Toby Lightman, who has been featured (apparently) on the Home Shopping Network as well as singing the opening for NASCAR on Fox. Unfortunately I don’t know any of Ms. Lightman’s work, so I can’t review it in depth. She seemed to have a nice range, though, and her songs aren’t bad at all. She does appear to be a bit nervous on a stage by herself.
After Ms. Lightman’s forty-minute set and a small break, Marc Cohn came on stage with his current touring band: Shane Fontayne on guitar; Joe Bobadillo (?) on drums; and John Ossman on bass. The set was high-energy and went on for more than an hour and a half, including two encores. The playlist is below the fold.
(Part I gives the background.)
Since the date to order a textbook has long since passed, I’m pretty committed to not going with one for “Space Science & Astrophysics”. I’ve taken the plunge. The problem is, I don’t know exactly what the course should look like now. Most especially, I don’t know of a good way to evaluate the students. I do not want long papers to grade every week! Also, although Scientific American articles are written for “the intelligent layperson” and so should be within the reach of 12th graders, there won’t be the same organized, coherent narrative that a textbook can give. In other words, when you know that you’re going to cover tides in detail in Chapter 5, you can arrange Chapter 3 more intelligently.
I won’t have that luxury. It would seem that that would lead to more lecturing, a proven-bad way of teaching. I will have to lecture somewhat but I want to minimize how much. One thing I’ve considered is throwing it back onto the students. There are tons of sites dedicated to popular astronomy and astrophysics. Perhaps I can give them weekly worksheets with terms and ideas they need to research. Certainly class participation is going to carry a lot more weight than usual in my class, because a lot of what we handle is going to have to be tailored to what they bring to discussion. There will almost certainly be papers of some sort. I am also considering weekly quizzes just to ensure that people have read somewhat. Finally, each quarter will conclude with some sort of group project/presentation. What’s worked well in the past have been things like The Pluto Prosecution as well as a detailed project on Exobiogenesis.
An intriguing possibility is that I will have functioning laptops for each student. This opens up the chance to do actual web-based instruction — but what would that look like? How can it be used to enhance the course? Most especially, web-kits often take a lot of time to develop, and I’ll be doing this largely seat-of-my-pants.
What has me concerned most is tests. How much objective stuff can I put, when their sources are likely to be wildly divergent? And what would be the most effective way to assess the objective content? For the past two years, I’ve used a mixture of multiple-choice and fill-in questions, and (I have to admit) I’ve been immensely dissatisfied with both.
So… anyone have any thoughts on how to assess this class? All suggestions will be deeply appreciated.
(You can skip to Part II.)
Some of you might remember that this is nominally a blog about education. It’s time again to shunt aside all the personal and political things I like to blog about, and to instead post about my classes. I do this in part because school starts soon and I am still up a creek regarding one of my classes, and thought that the great wide Internet community might offer some ideas.
Here’s the situation: For the fifth semester I will be teaching “Space Science & Astrophysics”, a 16-week overview of the discipline intended for seniors at my prep school. Due to the vagaries of our curriculum, many if not most will be taking this course to complete their science requirement — and hence will not have taken regular HS physics beforehand. For the past two years I’ve used The Cosmic Perspective by Bennet, et al. (I’ve been using 4th edition but I see they’re up to 5th now.) I really liked the book, actually, and still think it’s a fantastic textbook for its audience … but its audience is not survey-level 12th graders many of whom have not had physics. As I observed even my best students falling behind in the reading, and as I considered the $125 price tag, I grew guilty and frustrated. So I decided to shake things up.
More below the fold.
Counting Crows with Maroon 5
Also with Sara Bareilles
Thursday 2008 Aug 7
PNC Bank Arts Center
My usual way to review a show would be to give the playlist and say what I did or didn’t like about each. That’s not going to work this time for a host of reasons. First off, I don’t really know the body of work for either Sara Bareilles or Maroon 5. I wouldn’t be able to name almost any of their songs, and it wouldn’t be fair to give an in-depth review of material I was hearing for the first time, under concert conditions. I can say that I was impressed with both groups, enough that I’ll probably plunk down some cash and check out their studio work. Ms. Bareilles has tremendous range and an endearing quality to her voice. Maroon 5 also covered a lot of ground stylistically, from hard rock to something that sounded a bit like late Police work.
I do know most Counting Crows songs, and I will be posting their playlist. But it really isn’t meaningful to analyze each in detail, for reasons that will be made clear below the fold.