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Archive for January, 2009

Quick, before it’s gone!

This past Sunday, Amo & I spent a couple of hours at the Blanton Museum of Art to catch the last day of some exhibitions recommended by friends.

Reimagining space: The Park Place Gallery Group in 1960s New York was a lively assemblage of paintings and sculptures created to capture the spirit of the urban industrial landscape the artists were working in and inspired by at the time.

Geometrically-shaped canvases painted with electric colors and machine-perfect lines and patterns parlayed perspective, dimension, and depth, a visual reflection of jazz, modern architecture, the Space Age, and an interest in the fourth dimension.

My favorite pieces in the exhibit were by sculptor Mark di Suvero: reclaimed materials from demolition projects such as steel beams, chains, pipes, and broken pieces of wooden framing and furniture were soldered and bolted together into wonderfully dynamic kinetic pieces that called to me like the playscapes in the parks of my youth. Dang that “No touching” policy in the gallery. I was also delighted to learn that the big orange sculpture I’ve been gawking at lately (part of a series of sculptures loaned to UT by the Met and scattered around campus) is one of di Suvero’s.

The New York Graphic Workshop: 1964 – 1970 exhibition presented the conceptual work of a small group of printmakers seeking to explore and redefine the practice of printmaking. Holy moly I love art that challenges tradition! Especially traditional ideas about what art is, what it can or can’t be. Good mental exercise. Repeat daily.

This group sent little mini-exhibitions through the mail, and created interactive installations for viewers to walk through and participate in. They even invented a fictitious character and then made and sold prints attributed to him to benefit a Latin American scholarship fund at Pratt. Ingenious!.

The Park Place and NYGW artists were admirably dedicated to establishing and working in collaborative, cooperative spaces, independent of commercial galleries & dealers. I think there are several small cooperative arts groups here in Austin – I’ll have to go a-hunting now, and report back later.

-Mel

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Last Fall, I was inspired by a campus visit from Dr. Maya Angelou, who said, “Don’t complain. Don’t whine. Protest.” I would like to do just that.

In Texas, the new Earth and Space Science course standards (ESS) will be up for approval before the State Board of Education (SBOE) from January 21 through Jan 23, 2009 (“standards” translate to curriculum and textbook adoption and implementation).

Chris Comer, the former science director, was fired from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in 2008 primarily for her public pro-science (gasp!) views on evolution, among other things. Recently, she sent out a call for action from those of us who support teaching good science in science class (I mean, it’s only the 21st century for goodness sake. Remember, creationism (aka Intelligent Design (ID), aka the Flying Spaghetti Monster) has 19th century origins). Come on!

“A group of ten individual Earth scientists (ES), that included high school teachers, ES teacher trainers, college professors, and industry geoscientists, worked together for a year during several intense meetings to create these standards. Their very careful effort and hard work should not be injured by the actions of nonscientists who have ideological and political agendas.

We need you and all your friends and family members to write letters to the individual SBOE members and ask them to adopt the new ESS standards without change! That’s the simple message of your email/letter: to accept the proposed ESS standards without editing or modification. We strongly suspect an effort will be made to modify, edit, and weaken the standards by members of the SBOE.”

Given this call for action, I thought I would also chime in with some thoughts of my own….and maybe a lesson or two for you young ‘uns.

SBOE 101:
First of all, how about some demographics (demy-G’s, as I like to call them) on the Texas SBOE: These are politically elected officials, representing 15 districts across Texas. Some basic stats: 15 members, roughly 60% Republican, 11 Anglos, 2 Hispanics, 2 African Americans, 8 males, and 7 females. Are you still with me? Did I mention that SEVEN of these 15 kindly folks are self-proclaimed “Young Earth Creationists“!? (sounds like something from a medieval renaissance festival, don’t it? Pass the Meade, ya limey wench!).

Under the Texas Constitution, the SBOE members are politically-elected officials who actually have the power to write whatever science standards they wish, and several have expressed their intention to modify certain standards to align with their religious and ideological agendas. What standards may be up for a Biblical mash-up, you ask? Well, only those silly little “theories” like: age of the Earth and universe, the Big Bang model of cosmology, radiometric dating, evolution of fossil life, fossil lineages and transitional fossils, origin of life by abiotic chemical processes, ancient mass extinction events, global warming and climate change.

How many Texans (and thusly our state’s brainpower, future marketability, competitive edge in industry, etc.) are affected by the SBOE? To the Texas Education Agency (TEA), I go a’ citin: The Board, with a Gov’nor-appointed Commissioner of Education, and the TEA all “…facilitate the operation of a vast public school system consisting of 1,227 school districts…more than 7,900 campuses, more than 590,000 educators…and more than 4.5 million schoolchildren.” They also designate instruction for the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and approve and determine passing scores on the state mandated TAKS exam. TEKS for TAKS. Follow me?

Let’s repeat: 4.5 million schoolchildren. That’s 4.5 MILLION.

Back on to my rant, er, story. In the fall 2008, our SBOE thankfully recognized they were not up-to-snuff with basic scientific knowledge (most don’t come anywhere near having a strong scientific background; you can check out their biographies at: http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/members.html). Therefore, they chose some external consultants to help select and validate the next public school science standards.

Note: I mentally begged them a simple request: please don’t bring any of those smarmy textbook reps over here to heavy-hand and muddy up the process. OK? ….. OK?! uh-oh.

Textbook adoptions and Texas 101:
Ahem. Texas is the state that the other 49 keep their eyes on for major textbook adoptions. Because of us, for example, Pearson is so powerful that they not only write THE state test, they write the textbooks, the test review materials and all the other bells and whistly accouterments that go with it (all for purchase of course). Who wouldn’t want Texas as a customer?! And who’s sitting on the SBOE external textbook review board to support any science standards? I’ll tell you.

There are 6: three accredited and highly respected university science professors, and three out-of-state dudes FROM THE DISCOVERY INSTITUTE THAT REPRESENT A FRIGGIN’ INTELLIGENT DESIGN TEXTBOOK.

Here’s some pro-ID wisdom (all cited from print or interview media where he spewed his anti-science rhetoric over the years) from the Darwin-hatin’, young-earth lovin’ CHAIR of the SBOE, Don McLeroy. Sixty-year-old D.M. is a dentist and sunday school teacher from Bryan-College Station who’s been the SBOE chair for the last 10 years. Did I mention that Governor Hairy Perry appointed him?! I’m sure there is no agenda what-so-ever. Um, yeah….and Bonobos just flew out of my butt:

“Texas standards are not grade-level specific, most of them are noise. They can’t be measured and are just a bunch of fuzzy words.”
“Keep chipping away at the objective empirical evidence.“
“Keep pointing out that their deductive reasoning depends on the premise nature is all there is to be true. Remind them that they may be wrong.”
“Science must limit itself to testable explanations not natural explanations. Then the supernaturalist will be just as free as the naturalist to make testable explanations of natural phenomena. The view with the best explanation of the empirical evidence should prevail.”
“I believe a lot of incredible things…the most incredible thing I believe is the Christmas story. That little baby born in the manger was the god that created the universe”

Just for laughs (you know, the kind of ha-ha’s you do when you don’t want to cry), I’ve included some more educational nuggets from the humble gent (remember, he’s the Perry-appointed CHAIR of the SBOE! Large and in Charge!) Worried yet?!:

“Abstinence-only is the only realistic message. It’s the only thing that works. Now, the subject of contraception could be mentioned but only in the context of marriage. The abstinent message needs to be given a chance.”
“I was stunned at what I didn’t know. In the whole panoramic sweep it’s not that much. You’re competing with other history. Black History Month helps fill in the gap.”

Silver Lining?!
Thank the Monkey God that there are some politicos fighting back:
“State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has just filed legislation that would strip the Texas State Board of Education of all authority assigned to it by statute. Among the board’s powers that would go away: setting curriculum standards and adopting textbooks. That authority would be transferred to the Texas Education Agency.”

I’ll just end with this: get your emails ready; bombard the Board and keep our science standards rigorous and research-based!!
sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us

The Texas Freedom Network said it best when they said, “We can do best for our kids and honor the faith of all Texans by teaching sound science in science classrooms and leaving personal religious views about creation to our families and churches.”

-amo

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Learning to blog

I’m new to this, and as with most things that interest me, I like to observe and learn from others. Today, I learned a tasty little something about blogging from Austin Kleon (officially my first favorite personal blogger) and others’ comments on the topic. Nice.

-Mel

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Hello, 2009!

2008 is officially over. I know because I’ve even written several checks without accidentally writing the wrong year. My list of anticipations for the year includes: travels to San Diego, CA and Big Bend, TX; my second Danskin triathlon, this time as part of a relay team; developing a weekly writing routine (so that this blog actually says something new each week). This list seems much more palatable than my list of “resolutions” – I won’t share those here. As a general rule, I try to leave as little evidence of failure as possible.

But, in the spirit of new year’s tradition, I’ll share some highlights from 2008:

  • switching from credit cards to a cash-only spending plan
  • visiting NYC for the first time ever and enjoying every waking moment with my partner, faboo hosts, and friends in Brooklyn
  • adopting (and almost completely housebreaking) the deliciously cute companion Busy for my old-timer dog pal Griffin – G-man has quite the spring in his step these days!
  • being found by and reconnected with my BFF from highschool (thanks, Christine!)
  • traveling to Sedona, AZ with Amo and her mom, hiking, eating, reading, and riding the train
  • having a mic placed in my hand and asked to be the lead vocalist for my friends’ garage band, no audition necessary
  • visiting my family and friends in Atlanta, GA for the winter holidays, and getting a goodly amount of quality time with everyone (no small feat)
  • learning how to make chicken and dumplings from my Nana. Now I can please picky-eater children all over the world with this famous delicacy. Recipe below.

-Mel

Chicken and Dumplings

5 chicken thighs, cooked, skin removed
~ 4 cups chicken broth (from cooked thighs)
1 can pillsbury buttermilk biscuits
plain self-rising flour
yellow food coloring (optional)

Separate thigh meat from bone & set aside.

In large pot, heat chicken broth to boiling. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add few drops food coloring.

Flatten biscuits with hands and press into flour, coating. Tear small (quarter-sized) biscuit pieces with fingers and drop into boiling broth. DO NOT stir broth, but check bottom of pot with spoon to loosen any stuck dumplings.

When all dumplings are in, cover and simmer on low until dumplings are cooked through (~10 minutes). Add chicken to pot and simmer on low for ~20 min.

Chicken & Dumplings

Chicken & Dumplings

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