Sunday, February 5, 2006
Well, it's time to catch up with the blog after a few days of neglect. Yesterday I spent the day at the Sunflower Swapmeet in Wichita, attempting to sell some old car magazines. I peddled enough to pay about half the cost of the space. Oh well, maybe next year will be better. At least the trip to Wichita to set up ahead of time, and the one yesterday for the meet, presented the very pleasant opportunity for a good Mexiacan meal at Taquería El Paisa and some good Jop Chae at Manna Wok.
One evening recently I was doing some internet prowling and came across something that brought tears to my eyes. I haven't laughed so hard in years. You've brobably received at least one of those emailed appeals to sign and pass on a "petition" in support of some worthy charity or to save the life of some pitiful victim. These things invariably include a few lines aimed at making you feel guilty if you fail to participate, and they are usually hoaxes. This parody takes all that to the next level. With the warning that the guilt-inducing paragraph includes some rough language, here is PLEASE HELP.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Just got home from town and had to light some fires. When it's 40º in the kitchen and 46º in the living room, a bit of heat would be nice. All the warm weather this winter tends to spoil a person. When some actual winter weather comes along, it makes a body start counting the days to spring (38).
The other day I was looking for something to read and came across Test Your Cultural Literacy, by Diane and Kathy Zahler. I guess before I tell about it, I should give a little background on the subject. One of the many fads in education that gained a lot of influence in recent decades is the notion that students don't need to learn any information, they just need to learn how to find information. About twenty years ago, along came Cultural Literacy, a book in which Dr. E.D. Hirsch Jr. pointed out that most writing assumes certain basic knowledge on the part of the reader. For example, if a writer refers to World War I without explaining it, a reader who doesn't know when it took place and who was in it may not understand what he's reading. This seems both reasonable and obvious, but there was a certain amount of controversy over the book. Some accused Hirsch of reactionary elitism when he asserted that there is a core of certain basic knowledge everybody needs in order to be literate.
The book I found, Test Your Cultural Literacy, was inspired by the Hirsch book. It's just what the title suggests, a test. It has fourteen sections, each consisting of fifty multiple choice questions, for a total of 700 questions. A few shown on the cover are: What does the phrase Achilles heel mean? To what class of animals do lizards belong? What did Chamberlain agree to at Munich? How does rhythm differ from tempo? Who invented the microscope? What is a concerto? What was Rembrandt's main stylistic trait? What does e pluribus unum mean? Where did the industrial revolution begin? What does let sleeping dogs lie mean?
The fourteen sections are: American history; world history; civics; geography; art & architecture; music; myth & religion; quotes, phrases, & aphorisms; American literature; world literature; life science; physical science; technology; mathematics & economics.
The scoring key says: 90% to 100% Excellent. You are on your way to true cultural literacy; 80% to 89% Good. You have more than a passing knowledge of this subject; 70% to 79% Fair. You have a competent grasp of many aspects of this subject; 60% to 69% Poor. You could use some improvement in this area; Below 60% Time for literacy training. See the bibliography in the back of this book.
I was a little surprised at how I came out on the thing. My worst score was not on math & economics as I expected (I got 96%), but on physical science, where my score was only 84%. The next worst was world literature at 86%. I had a couple of 100%'s, three 98%'s, and all the rest were from 90% to 96%.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
It's Abraham Lincoln's 197th birthday. Recently I read Ruth Painter Randall's biography of Mary Todd Lincoln, and was reminded of why Lincoln is such a loved figure. It was also striking how much undeserved slander and abuse was heaped on his wife. If you think the "politics of personal destruction" is bad today, what happened to Mary Todd in the nineteenth century makes today seem pretty tame. The Randall book is excellent, and is a worthy companion to Carl Sandburg's biography of Lincoln. Speaking of which, if you haven't read the Sandburg biography, you're in for a treat. Lincoln is not only smart and wise, he can also be pretty funny. When a woman accused him of being two-faced, Lincoln replied, "Madam, if I had two faces, do you think I'd be wearing this one?"
This morning I watched the CBS Sunday Morning program. This used to be the last outpost of the fine arts on commercial television, but since CBS became part of Viacom the quality has declined. Coverage of great music has been dropped in favor of boomer pop. (Remember that the boomers are people who think A Horse With No Name is music.) In the Kuralt days, the closing nature segment usually ran from one to two minutes. Now, I suppose to cater the MTV generation that has the attention span of a fruit fly, it's usually from 30 to 45 seconds.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Time flies when you're in a boring rut. Well the past couple of weeks haven't been terrible, but somehow I haven't got around to posting anything here. So far the experiment of going without gas heat for the winter has been a success, but it does eat up a lot of time. Since I didn't have a full supply of firewood ready, I've had to spend a lot of afternoons gathering fuel. Because the wood needs to be dried well to burn well, I can't just go out and cut down a handy tree. I have to find dead ones. Since the dead ones are seldom handy, I've had to clear a roadway into the trees so I can get the truck to where the firewood is. The latest forecast is for highs in the seventies and lows above freezing, so the need for wood will diminish. Soon there will be more evenings when there's no need for a fire.
Last night I went to town and ate at Restaurante La Birría, the new Mexican place that's been open for a couple of weeks. The prices are a little above average, with most meals priced at $8.50 or $10.50, but I'll be back. I was the only gringo in the place. All the other customers were Mexican families. That's a striking contrast with the two established local places that purport to serve real Mexican food. Both of them are usually packed with clueless gringos who don't know any better. The only Mexicans in either place are the ones who work there. My theory is that if real Mexicans are willing to spend their money in a place, the food is likely to be real too. Now the question is whether our Mexican population has grown big enough to keep La Birría in business. I've seen other places serving real Mexican food die in Arkansas City for lack of support, while the places dishing out faux Mexican phony junk have prospered, so I'm a pessimist on this subject. Whatever happens, I plan to enjoy the place while it's there.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
After spackling cracks and screwholes in the bathroom sheetrock, I took a walk down through the woodlot and noticed that some of the trees are coming out already. This evening I ate with the front and back doors open, and a 75º breeze blowing through the house. Today's high was about 80º. Meanwhile, the latest forecast has a 60% chance of rain, but it's a week away. The trouble is that it's been that way for weeks. Rain will show up in the forecast a week ahead of time, but when you get down to the day the percentage goes way down and nothing happens.