Photo of the day

Back to the Telegraph’s photos of the week:

Durdle Door, Dorset.

Stephen Banks managed to capture this image of the centre of our galaxy through the stunning rock archway Durdle Door, Dorset. By setting his camera to a 30-second exposure time, and using a bright LED torch to illuminate the arch, the 24-year-old snatched the perfect moment.Picture: Stephen Banks/Caters

Everything old is new again (Tea Party edition)

Really, really nice take from the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik putting the Tea Party in historical perspective:

As it happens, I’ve been doing some reading about John Kennedy, and what I find startling, and even surprising, is how absolutely consistent and unchanged the ideology of the extreme American right has been over the past fifty years, from father to son and now, presumably, on to son from father again. The real analogue to today’s unhinged right wing in America is yesterday’s unhinged right wing in America. This really is your grandfather’s right, if not, to be sure, your grandfather’s Republican Party. Half a century ago, the type was much more evenly distributed between the die-hard, neo-Confederate wing of the Democratic Party and the Goldwater wing of the Republicans, an equitable division of loonies that would begin to end after J.F.K.’s death. (A year later, the Civil Rights Act passed, Goldwater ran, Reagan emerged, and we began the permanent sorting out of our factions into what would be called, anywhere but here, a party of the center right and a party of the extreme right.)

Reading through the literature on the hysterias of 1963, the continuity of beliefs is plain: Now, as then, there is said to be a conspiracy in the highest places to end American Constitutional rule and replace it with a Marxist dictatorship, evidenced by a plan in which your family doctor will be replaced by a federal bureaucrat—mostly for unnamable purposes, but somehow involving the gleeful killing off of the aged. There is also the conviction, in both eras, that only a handful of Congressmen and polemicists (then mostly in newspapers; now on TV) stand between honest Americans and the apocalypse, and that the man presiding over that plan is not just a dupe but personally depraved, an active collaborator with our enemies, a secret something or other, and any necessary means to bring about the end of his reign are justified and appropriate. And fifty years ago, as today, groups with these beliefs, far from being banished to the fringe of political life, were closely entangled and intertwined with Senators and Congressmen and right-wing multi-millionaires…

The really weird thing—the American exception in it all—then as much as now, is how tiny all the offenses are. French right-wingers really did have a powerful, Soviet-affiliated Communist Party to deal with, as their British counterparts really had honest-to-god Socialists around, socializing stuff. But the Bircher-centered loonies and the Tea Partiers created a world of fantasy, willing mild-mannered, conflict-adverse centrists like J.F.K. and Obama into socialist Supermen…

I think this next bit is absolutely key:

Perhaps this is in large part because the real grievance can’t quite be articulated. The common core belief, then and now, is actually descended from “Huck Finn” ’s unforgettable Pappy and his views on the “guv’mint”: the federal government exists to take money from hard-working white people and give it to lazy black people, and the President is helping to make this happen. This conviction, then and now, may not fairly be called racist in the sense that it isn’t just (or always) an expression of personal bigotry; rather, it is more like a resentment at an imagined ethnic spoils system gone wrong. [emphasis mine] (Hatred is less the key than a throbbing sense of unfairness.)

The big difference between then and now?  The “establishment conservatives” have managed to let the loony conservatives take over the asylum.  The results are not pretty.

Map of the day

Was having a chat with my oldest tonight about his ADHD (and our committment to working on his executive skills).  He asked me about the prevalance of ADHD which led me to the CDC page (still functioning during the government shutdown).   Was quite intrigued by the variation in levels of diagnosis across states (and region) and we’re in an ADHD hotspot in NC:

State-based Prevalence Data of ADHD Diagnosis (2007-2008)

Quite interesting.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and presume that ADHD is actually distributed fairly randomly through the population relative to geography.  Thus, there’s clearly different medical cultures of diagnosis that lead to the rates being twice as high in some states as others.  That definitely seems like something worth studying (for a medical sociologist, or something like that, I presume).  The similar rates in contiguous states really is something.

On college writing

I get pretty frustrated by the quality of the writing in lots of my student papers.  According to this Slate article, it’s the SAT’s fault:

“What they are actually testing,” he says, “is the ability to bullshit on demand. There is no other writing situation in the world where people have to write on a topic that they’ve never thought about, on demand, in 25 minutes. Lots of times we have to write on demand very quickly, but it’s about things we’ve thought about. What they are really measuring is the ability to spew forth as many words as possible in as short a time as possible. It seems like it is training students to become politicians.”

Graders don’t have time to look up facts, or to check if an especially uncommon word actually exists, or perhaps even to do anything more than skim an essay before making a grading determination. Score-savvy essay writers can figure out what might catch the eye of a skimmer.

There very well may be something to this, but honestly, BS’ing is far from the most common problem I run into in my students’ papers.  It’s just plain poor writing,  In many cases, well-written BS would be a considerable improvement.   The main thing I think to myself when grading is “how could you possibly think that’s an okay sentence?!”  So often the writing is just jarringly bad.  They’d have to know it was a bad sentence if someone else wrote it– right?  I do think part of the problem is that many of them simply hand in their first draft.  Over time, I’ve come up with a list of questions for students to think about to address the most common problems I see.  Here’s a few:

  • Proofread! Read your whole paper. Make sure there are no typographical errors, extra words, etc.
  • Read for grammar, flow, etc. Read the paper aloud to yourself. Does what you are writing sound funny/awkward to you? If so, it will sound even worse to someone else.
  • Read for organization. Does your paper follow a logical flow? Is it clear why you are moving from one topic to the next? Consider using sub-headings to guide the organization.
  • Look for excessively long paragraphs. Each paragraph should deal with a single main idea. Overly long paragraphs are a sign of poor organization.

Anyway, this also reminded me that I recently found the folder on my computer that contained my own college papers.  I opened up my favorite– my History Civil War seminar paper on Sherman’s march to the sea.  And you know what?  I could write.  I’m not sure I’d actually convey this any better today:

After a thorough accounting, Sherman’s brutal march to the sea can be reconciled with his extremely generous settlement to end the war.  After spending many years in the South, Sherman had developed a strong love for its people.[1] He sincerely wished that the war had never started, but once it did he intended to prosecute it to the fullest and make the Southern people feel the full weight of the war they started.  By bringing the harsh realities of war directly to the doorsteps of the common Southern people, Sherman believed that he would destroy their will to fight and quicken the coming of the eventual peace.  Despite the many hardships Sherman brought to the Southern people, he never forgot his pre-war fondness for them.  Once the rebellion was over, Sherman sought full reunion with the people of the South on all levels.  In a sense, Sherman saw the South as an aberrant child, who, after a good spanking, was again worthy of love and kindness.  Sherman may have gone too far in his punishment of the South, but, for the most part, he was guided by noble motives.  In the end, it is far too rudimentary to define Sherman as just a great military hero, driven visionary, or ruthless destroyer; Sherman’s personality fully embodied all these elements.  Like nearly all other men, Sherman possessed a full range of characteristics, both good and bad.  Sherman should properly be remembered for all his achievements: his great lessons of modern warfare, his strategic genius, and finally, his brutality.

If I wrote this today, it would definitely be less melodramatic, but I’m not sure I’d write it any better (for better or for worse).

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