Monsters

Back in May I stumbled upon an online culture journal, The Hedgehog Review, a publication of the Institute for the Advanced Studies of Culture.  I don’t know much about either the publication or the IASC, other than they’re based out of the University of Virginia, so I can’t speak to their degree of implicit Leftist infiltration, but default position is that any organization in 2020 that isn’t explicitly conservative is probably Left-leaning.

It’s sad that I even have to make that disclaimer, because some part of me still clings to the old ideal of a broad, humanistic approach to knowledge—that we should examine ideas on their own merits, not on the politics of the entities espousing them.  I still believe that ideal is worth pursuing; I just also believe it is currently dead, or at least on life-support.

But I digress.  The then-current issue of The Hedgehog Review was dedicated entirely to the theme of “Monsters.”  It being the Halloween season, the time seemed ripe to revisit those pieces, and the idea of “monsters.”

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TBT: Tarantulas and the Hygge

The weather in the mountains this past weekend was delightfully chilly, and it seems the cold up on Mount Mitchell has blown down into South Carolina.  In short, the weather is perfect—warm afternoons, and crisp, autumnal mornings.  I’ve been taking a cup of half-caff coffee in the afternoons after getting home from work and watering the garden, and it’s been glorious sitting on the porch and enjoying the coolness of the evening.

That first nip in the air is a sign that the hygge—the Danish concept of contented, warm coziness—is near.  It’s a time for bundling up and staying warm in old quilts with good books—and good company!  Food tastes better, coffee seems more satisfying, and my mind feels more alert and alive this time of year.

There’s also college football, which is nice, too—and Halloween!

So it seemed like a good time to look back to a post from March of this year, during South Carolina’s unusually cool—and longspring.  This post, “Tarantulas and the Hygge,” explored what I called “the weird side of the Internet,” traveling “down one of those byways of oddity.”

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Hungry Like the Wolf

I’m puppy-sitting today, watching my parents’ ten-week-old rat terrier while they’re working and attending various doctors’ appointments.  I pray that the day I go to the doctor and various specialists as frequently as my parents do is still decades away.

Dogs are interesting critters.  It’s kind of amazing that our ancient ancestors domesticated wolves and bred them to hunt on behalf of humans, instead of merely hunting humans.  It’s even more interesting how breeding for selective traits led to various breeds.  There’s a whole art and science to animal husbandry that is fascinating.

The rat terrier, for instance, is the result of various combinations of terriers (for hunting), greyhounds (for speed), and chihuahuas (for compactness—the rat terriers had to be small enough to get into rat holes).  According to my dad, who has become something of an authority on the breed since getting the puppy, rat terriers used to be very common in the United States—most farmers had one or two to help kill pests.  Theodore Roosevelt kept one named Scamp around the White House to kill mice (although Scamp may have been a different variation of terrier).

Of course, the question that interests me is thus:  if we domesticated dogs once, couldn’t we do it again from their cousins, wolves?  Naturally, there’s no need to do it again—it was surely a long process—but doing so would help us to understand how difficult domestication was, and why our ancient ancestors thought it was worth the effort.

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SimEarth

Yesterday I wrote about SimRefinery, the oil refinery software lost to time (I’m praying it’s sitting on a long-forgotten floppy disk somewhere).  What I didn’t tell you was that I had succumbed to a mild but annoying stomach virus, so I was essentially useless for the rest of the day.

Of course, what better way to spend one’s time when sick than with video games?  After writing about SimEarth and doing some nostalgic reading about the world-building simulator, I tracked down a playable DOS version.  A helpful commenter also linked to the game’s 200-plus-page manual, which is necessary for accessing the game.  Anyone familiar with 1990s-era computer technology will recall that, in order to prevent piracy, games would often ask users to look up some piece of information buried in the manual, the theory being that if you owned the game legally, you’d have the manual.

During this sickly walk down memory lane, I realized how much I had forgotten about SimEarth.  The game is more complicated than I remember.  It’s not that deep, but what makes it difficult is balancing all the different inputs to your planet—the amount of sunlight, how much of that sunlight is reflected by the clouds and the surface, how much cloud cover to have, how quickly animals mutate and reproduce, how frequently meteors strike the surface, etc., etc.

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TBT: Sailer and Spotted Toad on Education

The grand experiment in online learning continues apace, although it is (somewhat thankfully) reaching its summer-bound conclusion.  Unlike many colleagues and teachers I’ve spoken with about the hasty transition, I have thoroughly enjoyed the distance learning experience, but I am thankful for the advent of summer.

Recording lectures can be a marathon effort, not unlike actual classroom teaching, requiring rapid shifting from one topic to the next.  I try to record “horizontally”—that is, I try to record multiple lectures for the same class or subject at once—rather than “vertically”—recording for each day’s classes—as “horizontal” recording allows my mind to stay fixed on a single track, but this week I’ve been a “vertical” recorder.  Yesterday I recorded a review lecture on Jefferson’s presidency (with a dash of Madison and the origins of the War of 1812), then a review lesson on Congress, then a Music lesson about the Phrygian mode.  I call myself a “Renaissance Man” in the post below; I might be right!

Of course, almost all of teaching is, as one colleague recently put it, “rebuilding a plane while it’s in mid-air.”  A beautiful, gleaming craft takes off confidently in August; by Labor Day, you’re buffing out the first spots and adjusting the navigational systems; by October, you’ve replaced the entire fuselage.  Christmas is a lonely island in the South Pacific where you refuel and make calculations for the next leg of the journey, which feels like flying over 6000 miles of ocean with no land in site.  From January to Spring Break the plane pretty much gets rebuilt entirely, until it’s no longer properly the plane you begin with.

By summer, you’re flying the glider the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, and not the F-16 or B-52 or 747 you started with for the year.  Not only that, but your canvas wings are punctured and your tail-fin is missing.  You’re not even worried about saving the plane at this point—you’re just trying to land somewhere without killing yourself or anyone else.

But I digress.  It’s been, overall, a pleasant experience since day one, for reasons detailed elsewhere, and my Kitty Hawk glider is looking more like an F-16 at this point in the year than it usually does.

In casting about for this week’s edition of TBT, I stumbled upon this post from nearly a year ago, a look at Steve Sailer’s review of blogger (and former NYC science teacher) Spotted Toad‘s book 3 Ways of Going on a Field Trip: Stories about Teaching and Learning, which I read shortly after writing this blog post.  The book is a short read, and quite good, as it details the challenges a young Toad faced in adapting to the chaos of an inner city Middle School Science classroom.

With my own summer vacation approaching, and the blog focusing more and more lately on education, I’m kicking around the idea of putting together an eBook with my own reflections on teaching, with some unorthodox proposals about what the field could look like in the future.  Spotted Toad’s work could be a source of inspiration.

Regardless, here is May 2019’s “Sailer and Spotted Toad on Education“:

Demographer Steve Sailer has a review on Taki’s Magazine of a new book from blogger Spotted Toad.  The book, 13 Ways of Going on a Field Trip: Stories about Teaching and Learning, is a narrative memoir detailing Toad’s decade teaching in public schools in the Bronx.

Sailer, a dedicated statistician in his own right, lauds Spotted Toad’s statistics-laden blog, but points out that his memoir eschews statistics in favor of narrative.  This focus on narrative, as Sailer points out, does not detract from the book’s insights about education, but makes them more viscerally real for the lay reader.

Based on Sailer’s summary of the book (which I plan to purchase and read soon), Spotted Toad’s teaching experience led him to insights similar to my own; that is, that administrators and school boards spend too much time chasing education fads and pushing a romantic narrative about teaching, rather than just getting out of the way and letting teachers… well, teach.

Toad was hired as part of the once-fashionable Teach for America program, which placed young, enthusiastic idealists into poor school districts, usually in tough inner city schools.  The theory was that bad or lazy teachers weren’t engaged enough, so schools needed an injection of Dead Poets’ Society-inspired young’uns who would bend heaven-and-earth to reach urban youths.

Sailer speculates about why Teach for America was so popular in the latter part of the last decade, and suggests that it’s because upper-middle class New York Times readers forwarded glowing articles about TFA to their out-of-work, overly-educated kids.

That somewhat comports with my own experience, as I briefly considered joining TFA upon finishing graduate school at the height of the Great Recession.  I think it’s even more accurate to say it was popular because it promised work during a time when few people could find it, and didn’t require lengthy additional years of education and training.

Sailer pooh-poohs the idea that TFA could create qualified teachers, and he’s not entirely wrong—the program was certainly overly optimistic about its own efficacy—but I think the apprenticeship model of “learning on the job” is one of the better ways to learn the craft.  Most education classes are a joke, and other than a few useful pedagogical insights, my impression is that many of them are indoctrination camps for the latest progressive educational fads.  I’d much rather have a “pure” young teacher learning the ropes with the assistance of battle-hardened veterans in the trenches than to have that teacher languish away in a series of Two-Minute Hates for another couple of years.

Indeed, that’s been my big complaint with the State of South Carolina’s alternative certification program.  We have a teacher shortage, but you want me to shell out cash and three years of my time to teach in a crummy public school?  No thanks.  How about adopt my proposal to grant automatic certification to any private school teacher with three years of teaching experience and a Master’s degree in a relevant field, or with five years and a Bachelor’s?  That would solve the problem more quickly, and would bring a number of qualified teachers into public schools quickly.

My premise is that credentials don’t make a good teacher; classroom experience does.  I’m generally anti-guildist, as I fancy myself a bit of a Renaissance Man.  Of course, that comes from my personal experiences professionally:  out of necessity, I’ve taught a slew of social studies courses, as well as music at different levels, for nearly a decade.  I would have benefited from some education classes to learn solid pedagogical methods in some areas (particularly music education), but I’ve picked up many of these methods through trial-and-error, and sheer force of will.  When you have to get twenty inexperienced middle school musicians to play a Christmas concert, you figure out how to make it work (and sound good).

Regardless, Spotted Toad’s experiences hit upon some common problems in education, particularly education policy.  Toad writes of the coming-and-going educational fads and programs, some supported by big-wigs like Bill Gates, that are championed, implemented hastily (and at great profit to the companies that market and develop these programs), and then abandoned in five years when some new, shiny trend emerges.

Take a moment to read Sailer’s review this morning, as it offers some interesting insights into the push-and-pull of education policy, and an interesting, if sad, retrospective on the bungled federal efforts in the Bush and Obama Administrations to address education in the United States.

That said, for all the doom-and-gloom surrounding discussion of education in America, Sailer ends on a positive note:

For example, as I’ve pointed out over the years, on the international PISA school tests, Asian-Americans do almost as well as Northeast Asian countries, white Americans outscore most white countries other than Finland and few other northern realms, Latino-Americans outperform all Latin American countries, and African-Americans beat the handful of black Caribbean countries that even try the test.

We Americans do spend a lot to achieve these educational results, but our outcomes by global standards are much less terrible than most Americans assume. (In particular, Indian states that have tried the PISA bomb it, scoring at sub-Saharan levels.)

At least we’re beating our peers in other countries—usually.

Progressivism and Playing God

God Bless the weirdos at Quora for asking the questions the rest of us are too afraid to ask.  Regular readers know that I relish Quora fodder, as questions range from the ridiculous to the thought-provoking, but usually fall into some kind of bizarre no-man’s land.

Such is the case with this question:  “Do humanzees (half-human, half-chimpanzee hybrids) exist, or have ones been recorded in the past?”  It’s the kind of question that’s both fascinating and lurid, like reading about a baby raised by wild animals.  Like allowing a human baby to be raised in the wild (what was once called “the forbidden experiment“), such a horrific, cross-species hybrid would be a disgusting mockery of Creation—so, like the terrible car wreck, we want to see more.

The top answer to the humanzee question is from Belinda Huntington, who explains how various species within the same genus can crossbreed, such as a horse and a zebra, or a lion and a tiger.  The more mundane example is the humble mule, the result of a male donkey and a female horse.

Huntington then goes on to detail the many differences between humans and chimpanzees physiologically, and how such differences would make any offspring, if possible, extremely vulnerable and fragile—differences in spinal structure, arm and leg length, cranial capacity, etc.

She doesn’t get into the more interesting metaphysical questions, much less the moral ones—should we interbreed humans and chimps (answer:  no)—but she does link to a piece about Soviet experiments to interbreed humans and chimps.

Leave it to a dangerously progressive, atheistic ideology to play God.

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Tarantulas and the Hygge

One of the joys of blogging is discovering the weird side of the Internet—the fun weird side, not the dark, inappropriate weird side.  Today’s post is a trip down one of those byways of oddity.

My blogger buddy photog posted a striking stack photography image a couple of weeks ago with the enigmatic title “Name That Tooth.”  He invited readers to identify a truly remarkable fang.

After studying the image for a few moments, I ventured a guess, which turned out to be correct:  it was the lethal, chitinous fang of the mighty tarantula.

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High-Tech Agrarianism

The coronavirus situation—which I am convinced is both quite serious, but also inspiring some huge overreactions—has created a world that feels almost entirely different than it did even a few days ago.  This time last week, I was convinced that the whole thing was way overblown, and that life would largely continue apace, minus some school closures here and there.

By Friday evening I was growing more concerned, as everything began to get closed or cancelled.  I proctored the SAT Saturday morning and even went out of town that evening.  At that point, I thought the risk of my school closing was greater than it had been even two or three days before, but I still figured it was a relatively remote possibility.

Then Governor McMaster announced the closure of all South Carolina public schools (I teach at a private school, but we always follow gubernatorial closures)—and a bunch of other stuff shut down.  I picked up dinner at a Hardee’s in Florence, South Carolina Monday evening after a guitar lesson, and it was surreal—everything was gone from the front, and the cashier had to give me a lid and straw according to their new cleanliness guidelines.

(Let’s take a moment to thank all those service industry folks and long-distance truckers who are continuing to work and risking exposure; they are unsung heroes.  Also, spare a thought to people in those industries that are out-of-work at the moment.  They need our love and charity now more than ever.)

That’s all to say that, in a remarkably short period of time, the United States has undergone a major paradigm shift.  The world of Saturday, 14 March 2020 at 2 PM—when I emerged from the cocoon of extended time SAT testing—was a different than the world of Wednesday, 18 March 2020 at 9 PM (when I’m writing this very belated blog post).

One trend—that I think will be positive if it endures—is the implicit rejection of globalism.  People are suddenly awakening, dramatically, to the manifold downsides of open borders and excessive global economic integration.  Suddenly, localism is back in vogue.

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Lazy Sunday XXXVIII: Best of the Reblogs, Part III

The Lazy Sundays roll on!  Today marks the first Sunday of Advent season, as we metaphorically prepare for the Birth of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  But instead of doing a compilation of heartwarming holiday posts, we’re soldiering on with our “Best of the Reblogs” (see Part I and Part II).

  • Reblog: The Normalization of Ugliness Inevitably Becomes The Denigration of Beauty” – This post was a reblog from the ultra-controversial Chateau Heartiste website, which was so full of edgelord red pillery that the SJWs at WordPress finally pulled the plug.  While there was some truly despicable stuff at CH, it also hosted some hard, gut-punching Truths.  The original post argued that we’ve gone to the extreme of accepting all sorts of grotesqueries not just as people, but as the new standard of beauty—to the point that having objectively beautiful people in advertisements is seen as “hate speech.”  Of course we should love all people, but we don’t—and shouldn’t—pretend that everyone is pretty, or that every lifestyle is healthy.
  • Reblog: Conan the Southerner?” – One of the many great posts from The Abbeville Institute, this bit of literary history detailed the development of Conan the Barbarian, and the muscular barbarian’s creator’s origins and upbringing in hardscrabble Texas.  Conan is not just a wildman from the steppes; he’s a man of the Old South.
  • Galaxy Quest II: Cox Blogged” – I wrote a post, “Galaxy Quest,” about our attempts to understand the vastness of our own galaxy.  Longtime blog (and real life) friend Bette Cox linked me to some of her own work on astronomy and cosmology, and this post was an attempt to bring those writings to a (slightly) wider audience.  I’ve been reading Bette’s material for about a year, and had no idea how much she wrote about astronomy, cosmology, and space.

That’s it for this week’s Lazy Sunday.  Enjoy the start of the Christmas season.

Ho ho ho!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments: