July 30, 2003

Live from North Dakota

I'm spending this week in Minot, hosted by Craig Nansen. Craig is a major contributor to the EDTECH discussion list, so I felt as though I'd already known him forever when I came out here for the first time last year. He has a crew of technology support teachers that work with the schools in Minot Public Schools and they are absolutely terrific.

Minot is a nice little city. Craig proudly toured me arround when I arrived on Sunday. People don't lock their doors. Kids play in the parks late at night and their parents don't need to worry about what might happen to them. There's a Scandanavian Heritage Park that brings together all things Norwegian and Swedish, and a huge Norsk Hostfest in October that I hope to see someday.

I'm here to give a five-day workshop that Craig rounded up funding for. We have 18 teachers here from Minot, Bismarck, Grand Forks and Williston and they've been hard at work all week. The goal is to create a stellar set of WebQuests that focus on the Lewis and Clark expedition. With the bicentennial coming up soon, there is a lot of attention being paid to this and lots of raw material to work with.

We got started on Monday and generated a lot of ideas. Then on Tuesday we piled into two vans and toured Fort Mandan, where Lewis and Clark wintered, and the Knife River Villages nearby, where Sacagawea lived before joining the trip. We took lots of pictures and got a snootful of history so that by Wednesday everyone's heads were buzzing with possibilities.

And that's where it stands. Friday afternoon we'll have a showcase of 6 new WebQuests in pretty complete draft form. With a bit more polishing and fleshing out over the next few months, I know we're going to have some dazzling work to share. Pretty cool!


July 25, 2003

The Faces of War

The Houston Chronicle has set up a searchable database of US & UK casualties in the Iraq War. You can see who, when, and how all these lives were cut short. It's sobering to go beyond the statistics, look at the faces and read the details.

"From the time he was a boy, Thomas Mullen Adams wanted to know all he could about ships and planes."

"Sgt. Michael E. Bitz was a father of four especially eager to see his youngest children, twins born a month after he was sent overseas."

"Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez was an orphan who grew up on the steets of war-torn Guatemala. As a youth, he traveled to the United States by train, foot and bus, seeking a new life."

July 23, 2003

Two DINKS on the Loose

On Sunday we drove up to LA to take Alex to this summer's big event: his CTY class at Loyola Marymount. He's taking Latin I and these three weeks are equivalent to a semester long course. It's a shame that so few kids get to take Latin these days, or even know what they're missing. I had two years of it and across four decades I can still hear Mr. Belliveau intoning "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres" into the chalky air. They're the opening words of Caesar's account of the Gallic Wars, but of course you knew that. Mr. Belliveau promised that dropping this phrase into cocktail party conversation would mark us as well educated, though I'm still waiting for the right moment.

Alex has a vocabulary that's already awesome and this will boost him even higher. According to the syllabus, he's done with the first and second declensions. Next week: the subjunctive! He loves this stuff, as I did.

So June and I are DINKS for three weeks. Yippee! What freedom we have! No more the relentless drumbeat of "Let me know when you're hungry" every two hours. No more having to watch back-to-back episodes of MacGyver and Star Gate SG-1 Tivoed into four hour marathons. No reason not to stay out late swing dancing and swooshing martinis with all our well heeled academic friends. "By the way", I'll say seamlessly to the Dean's wife, "that dress you're wearing reminds me of what Caesar said about Gaul: 'Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres'."

With liberty ours at last, we had a choice to make on the way back home. Romantic dinner at sunset in Newport Beach... or funnel cakes at the Orange County Fair?

The Fair was deceptively big. Just when I though we'd seen the last of it, we turned a corner and there was yet another row of hand painted bird feeders, barbequed corn, kielbasa, antique tractors, stained glass crucifixes, crystal sun catchers, collections of miniature Napoleons, giant tomatoes, quilt contestants, rides where you hung upside down 600 feet in the air, artichoke sandwiches, corn dogs, a Libertarian recruitment booth, Walt Whitman needlepointed onto pillow shams, bookends shaped like cats, and my favorite... a place where you filled out a questionnaire and handed $2 over to a woman who then fed your answers into a computer straight out of a 1960 sitcom: a twenty feet long panel filled with lights flashing to themselves in thoughtful binary. Some time later, after a decent interval reflecting the enormous amount of processing required, the woman attending this Eniac produced a scientifically valid report on your personality, thus verifying things about yourself that you had long suspected. Could a romantic dinner top this? Hardly.

Three hours of fairgoing and we were ready to come home to a sonless, catless house. Just the two of us, dead tired. And for the record, I love watching MacGyver and Star Gate for hours at a stretch and miss the kiddo already.

July 18, 2003


So here I've been for two decades in the city that thousands make a pilgrimage to each summer, and I've been oblivious. It's like living in the suburbs of Mecca and never doing the haj. Today, at long last, we all went to Comic-Con and trolled through the vendor area.

And saw: stacks of comics from the 50s, miniature orcs and knights, strolling Klingons, medieval trollops... you name it. Cartoonists have groupies here, all lined up to get a signature or to watch him draw. June noticed how dark most of the present day comics are, so different from the brightly colored worlds of Archie and Superman.

I had two brushes with celebrity here. First, I followed a line of people waiting for an autograph and found a familiar face at the end of the line surrounded by security people. Immediately I recognized him as the guy who blocked the aisle and smiled apologetically as he settled into his seat in first class as I headed for steerage on the plane coming back from DC. I didn't know who he was but he clearly had star quality. I completely forgot about him until I saw him there signing autographs and looked up at the sign: Crispin Glover. Don't know what his connection with comics is, but there he was.

Then, sitting quietly at a table with a tip jar, with no lines of fans in sight, sat one of the heroes of my yoot: Forrest J. Ackerman. In 1958 he began to publish Famous Monsters of Filmland, a monthly magazine filled with stills from all the vampire, godzilla, werewolf and flying saucer movies that I loved as a kid. I bought every issue (long gone, unfortunately) probably well into high school. Forrie's career went back further than that, all the way to the pulp magazine origins of sci-fi (a term he coined). What an interesting, idiosyncratic, obsessed life!

Had we planned this better, I would have gotten to see two more of my favorite bloggers and writers: Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman, both there today but somewhere out of view. Maybe next year.

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John Dean on UraniumCakeGate

From Findlaw...

"What I found, in critically examining Bush's evidence, is not pretty. The African uranium matter is merely indicative of larger problems, and troubling questions of potential and widespread criminality when taking the nation to war. It appears that not only the Niger uranium hoax, but most everything else that Bush said about Saddam Hussein's weapons was false, fabricated, exaggerated, or phony."

Fuzzy information was taken as fact; guesses turned into certainty; qualifiers removed.

"Bush is not the first president to make false statements to Congress when taking the nation to war. President Polk lied the nation into war with Mexico so he could acquire California as part of his Manifest Destiny. It was young Illinois Congressman Abraham Lincoln who called for a Congressional investigation of Polk's warmongering.

Lincoln accused Polk of "employing every artifice to work round, befog, and cover up" the reasons for war with Mexico. Lincoln said he was "fully convinced, of what I more than suspect already, that [Polk] is deeply conscious of being wrong." In the end, after taking the president to task, the House of Representatives passed a resolution stating that the war with Mexico had been "unnecessary and unconstitutionally commenced by the President."

Isn't this more impeachable than lying about a squalid dalliance with an intern? How many soldiers died for Monica Lewinsky?


July 05, 2003

"Are You Living?"

That's what Peggy O'Brien, Executive Director of Cable in the Classroom, wrote me after a very long stretch of my not returning emails or phone calls. Given this 6 week hiatus from blogging and other forms of communicating, I don't blame her for imagining that I was now in Hell welcoming Strom Thurmond to the next phase of his career.

But I'm not there yet. I live.

My excuse is that I've been armpit-deep in two things: putting EDTEC 570 online and ready for 130 students, and getting the new WebQuest Portal up and running. It's been busy and satisfying, and I've spent the last two days mostly sleeping. Now, finally, it feels like Summer has begun and I can put some more time into non-core tasks. I'll be posting more often now.