Wednesday, January 13, 2021

First Contact

    I have been doing my best to pick up with listening to podcasts at night rather than doomscrolling and frying my brain on Facebook. I took another chance on Levar Burton reads, and selected a story called "The Best We Can" by author Carrie Vaughn, winner of the 2018 Philip K. Dick science fiction writing award. I am pretty particular about the stories that I like, and I carefully selected this one from a brief blurb about a scientist who discovers an unidentified object in our solar system. I am a huge fan of science, and a minor fan of science fiction, but this story was incredibly well crafted and grounded. It touches on the very real existential dilemma of finding out that there is other intelligent life in the universe. 

 It made me wonder: what are the existential implications of confirming that there is intelligent life outside of our solar system?

    There's a million movies and books written about it, but they always take the perspective of meeting the aliens. We meet, we analyze their physiology, we question are they friend or foe-and those arrivals are always on Earth and unexpected, and the presence of the aliens very much keeps people occupied. There is less focus on "deeper meaning" and more scientific wonder (and, of course, war). Ms. Vaughn's story, however, captured me and made me wonder, because she addresses gaining the knowledge of their existence by finding an empty ship or vessel merely millions of miles from home. There is no need to determine their intent. There is no need to defend our resources. There is only curiosity. Curiosity is a fleeting thing. It's a feeling that takes us for just a moment. We wonder what a thing, or why a thing and by our cynical adulthoods, we stare only for a moment before returning to a less curious, more important moment. Vaughn captures this when she mentions that, while the scientist racks her brain to try to figure out what to do next, the world continues on, as people continue their routines, trying to get a good night's sleep and waking up to decide what to eat for breakfast.

Is that how this would go? 

    Or would there be bigger waves, more significant shifts in societies? Would it cause massive adherence to religion? Or the opposite-people turning their heads to atheism? Would societies falter in such a wake, criminals running rampant, or would crime decrease if  more people thought there was more evidence of a higher, governing power?

    Would more people become invested in the sciences, thinking that we should compete, and step up our efforts to learn, do and explore more? Would conspiracy theories take hold and cloud any real attempts at understanding a bigger reality?

    Human civilization seems to have lost its grip on awareness of the universe and giving real attention to existential thought. We live as if there is not a vast universe around us, as if our behaviors have significant meaning beyond this moment. Our politics, our policies, our systems-all mean nothing in a universe that will do what it will without our approval. So what would really be the impacts of having a real and concrete reminder that we are but a blip in space?  

The story can be found here, and the audio, as narrated by Levar Burton, here.
Maybe if we all took a moment to stop and think about what it would mean for us personally, maybe that existential impact might be revealed. 

Friday, May 15, 2020

The new "no shirt, no shoes, no service"

As I sat in my car at Wal Mart waiting for my grocery pickup, I look over to the car next to me and see a woman, alone in her giant SUV, with a big toxic-fumes type mask on. Then as I was driving to Ocshner I saw a young girl alone in her car wearing her mask. And with the news of businesses around the country reopening and many people physically returning to their jobs, it seems important to share info about mask wearing. I don’t know if the CDC has ever provided guidelines for it, but through one of my Facebook fights I got hold of a nice research article that helps to understand how mask wearing can most benefit people.

First to address that any mask is better than no mask; however, cloth masks are the least effective and most dangerous for the wearer. During this research study conducted during the SARS outbreak it was found that cloth masks most restricted oxygen flow to the wearer, increased CO2 reuptake, and increased risk of bacterial infection from repeated and long term wear.

Alternatively, surgical type masks can decrease in being an effective barrier against virus transmission over long term wear, as the condensation from our breath moistens the mask making it easier for the virus to penetrate (and potentially aerate, but no word on that re: SARS Cov 2).

So if people really want businesses open and the virus to begin to die off as summer approaches, it is important to use safety measures PROPERLY or they’re almost as good as no measure at all.

Think of it like STDs. You figure you don’t have an STD so you don’t wear a condom. You then either risk transmitting an STD that you don’t know you have or risk GETTING one. Makes total sense, right? That’s the “no mask” DGAF attitude.

OR you decide to be safe and wear a condom! Except you wear it all the time. With contact with innumerable people (y'know, your partner and every person THEY’VE been with). And then, y'know, casually keep it on around the house. You dribble a little pee in it. That’s like a sneeze or cough. You’re restricting the bloodflow to your little dingle. That restricting oxygen. So it would be a terrible thing to do.

So please talk to your friends and family about healthy safety practices so that an economic reopening doesn’t prove fatal to thousands of people.

A 2008 study on surgeons' blood oxygen levels with use of varied masks.

A 2015 study of the effectiveness of cloth masks

Another 2015, with updates, on the effectiveness of cloth masks

A general article about the debate on wearing masks.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Carbohydrate and Sugar intake

I have a tremendous sweet tooth, as exhibited by the dessert recipe posts, but I do actually try to manage my simple carb/sugar intake. It is my number one dietary issue. This site explains the glycemic index, the difference between no carbohydrate and low carbohydrate foods and where low carbohydrate foods fall on the glycemic index. http://www.optimalfoods.org/

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Chocolate Caramel Turtle Flan

Decadent dessert!! I don't even want to make this, I just want to HAVE it!
The complete recipe with photos of various steps can be found here: http://www.bestyummyrecipes.com/chocolate-caramel-turtle-flan/

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Strawberry cake delight

http://www.bestyummyrecipes.com/strawberry-cake/

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What are the lasting effects of the KIPP style charter movement on urban and low-performing students?


            There is currently a lot of focus on the New Orleans Charter schools as an example of the successful charter movement in this country. Along with the shift to Common Core Standards, there are a lot of changes in place in education that can and are having effects on the children that they were meant to help. In the Article, “The Great New Orleans Charter Tryout” (http://mag.newsweek.com/2013/09/20/post-katrina-the-great-new-orleans-charter-tryout.html ) , some of these effects have been noticed by those outside of the charter movement. Students who are trained to believe that they are “going to college” are showing a deep lack of success which is being attributed to the way the schools are run, teachers are told to teach, and students are made to feel.
            In the last three years I have seen some saddening effects of this movement. Having taught in kindergarten, sixth, seventh and ninth grade, I have had a perspective that many administrators, teachers and especially lawmakers have not. Children who entered kindergarten with no preschool learning had to be brought “up to speed” to try to close the achievement gap that would undoubtedly open in reading. However, by the end of the year, 2/3 of the students did not meet the end of the year goal. The achievement gap opened.
            During this year I was trained to use the Doug Lemov “Teach like a Champion” behavior management system. This system is chocked full of positive enforcement mantras, chorus style responses, non-verbal hand signals, visual behavior management systems, and chapters of recommended classroom procedures. Teachers were evaluated solely on their ability to follow this system. Yet, by the end of the year, children had not met kindergarten learning goals.
            Both that year and the following, teachers were told to use “small group instruction” to be able to take lower performing students and give them more individually directed learning and teaching time. The concept is designed to keep lower level students in their primary classes and to get them close to grade level or, in some cases, able to pass the LEAP/ iLEAP tests.
            While many may say that small group instruction is ideal, or a wonderful way for students to get the extra help that they need, doing so in the now kindergarten through eighth grade schools that pervade New Orleans leaves children unprepared for the high school stage of their education. A dependency on teacher assistance is leaving students unable to apply skills, new or previously learned, on their own.
            There are many charter high schools in New Orleans, however only a few of them continue the KIPP style of learning environment, and even then, as the article above mentions, the students are still not succeeding. The documentary “Rebirth: New Orleans”, takes note that many high schools students are having just as hard of a time despite the efforts of the charter movement.


            My current students, freshman estimated to graduate in 2017, are struggling to acclimate to the rigors of high school. The freshman aren’t the only ones; discussion across grade levels have revealed that many of the students struggle to read, write, comprehend and apply skills that they have learned and used year after year. Students complain that high school teachers “don’t teach” whenever they are expected to work independently. Many students are entering high school reading as low as a fourth grade level. Others are walking through the doors of high school with absolutely no self-discipline, little self-motivation, and very unrealistic goals for their futures.

My current school draws students from all over the city with varying academic grades. It has a long-standing reputation of success and is one of few well-rounded high schools in New Orleans (complete with a state champion football team, state champion band, cheerleaders, dance teams and countless extracurricular clubs). Many students come from schools who are failing (but whose grades may have improved based upon the change in grading scales. Information about how this change has affected the lowest and highest performing schools can be found here: http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2013/10/school_performance_improves_ac.html ) despite their high reputations. Many others come from top performing public and private schools.   This varied academic background and mix of reputable school names leaves the ninth grade students with wildly variant knowledge and behavior expectations. Those who have come from private and KIPP style charters have the hardest time adjusting. Most of the charter school students feel abandoned, that their teachers don’t care about them, and that they can’t succeed because their teachers are setting them up for failure by not telling them what is the right answer or checking their work for correctness before it is turned in. These are the same students who often boldly proclaim that they are going to prestigious colleges like Yale, yet turn in as little as 50% of their work.
This encourages me to wonder if these schools are actually serving their students. The children are told that they are going to college (at many schools, this is a mantra that is repeated daily, even teaching kindergarteners what year they will graduate) yet the academic practices are leaving the children with almost no critical thinking skills, little ability to problem solve, and so little self confidence that they cannot trust their own thoughts as correct.
The transition to Common Core Curriculum is also garnering attention around the country (see http://www.nationalreview.com/article/347973/two-moms-vs-common-core  and http://truthinamericaneducation.com/common-core-assessments/new-york-principal-speaks-out-on-ridiculous-common-core-test-for-1st-graders/ ). Parents, students and educators are questioning the validity of the standards. Many have acknowledge that the standards have basically come out of thin air, have not been tested, and require teachers to change HOW they teach in order to try to get students to think more critically. The language is complex and vague all at the same time. The speaking and listening standard for kindergarten is “Confirm understanding of a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media by asking and answering questions about key details and requesting clarification if something is not understood.”  Many believe that these standards and the language within them is more of a means to get the next generation to be capable of little more than holding menial jobs. While I do not agree that this is the case, I do agree that this supposed transition to critical thinking is made up; students will not transition to thinking more critically or creatively because the standards do not specifically identify a way to teach children to think.  Instead, the charter schools, coupled with a half-witted set of curriculum, are leaving students less able to think and problem solve.

The students themselves comment on their feelings during their transition into high school. Doug Lemov and similar types of management systems focus upon positive reinforcement for students. On its own, it is good to positively support correct work and hard work but, coupled with an environment where teachers are asked to coddle students who are not succeeding, avoid addressing students who struggle, and tell all students that they are going to college (despite the student’s individual aspiration), students feel like they cannot be successful anymore and that high school is too hard. Many others feel that high school is supposed to be the time that they stop having to work so hard, or are free from the rigid expectations of their K-8 schools.  This response to burnout coupled with below-level reading and math abilities is getting students off the path to success.
Despite all of this positive attention, the students of the New Orleans charter system are crying out for a better and more long lasting fix. Biased documentaries and TV shows are not actually preparing our urban students for the challenges they are soon to face. These students deserve more than bright-eyed, optimistically inexperienced teachers (which many of the older students do not trust nor are motivated by), excessively test-prep centered curriculum and deeply biased media attention. It is about time that we figure out what will make these students successful in their lives long after they’ve taken their last standardized test.            

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Yeast Rolls

Texas Roadhouse style yeast rolls


Texas Roadhouse Rolls - "YES" The Real Recipe ~ 

4 tsp. active dry yeast
1/2 c. warm water
2 c. milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
3 Tbl. of melted butter, slightly cooled
1/2 c. sugar
2 quarts all purpose flour (7-8 cups)
2 whole eggs
2 tsp. salt

Dissolve yeast in warm water with a teaspoon of sugar; let stand until frothy. Combine yeast mixture, milk, 1/2 cup sugar and enough flour to make a medium batter (about the consistency of pancake batter). Beat thoroughly. Add melted butter, eggs and salt. Beat well. Add enough flour to form a soft dough. Sprinkle a small amount of flour onto counter and let dough rest. Meanwhile, grease a large bowl. Knead dough until smooth and satiny and put in greased bowl; turn over to grease top. (I used the dough hook on my Kitchen-

Aid to knead this for about 4-5 minutes). Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk. Punch down. Turn out onto a floured board. Divide into portions for shaping; let rest 10 minutes. Shape dough into desired forms. Place on greased baking sheets. Let rise until doubled. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Baste immediately with butter. Yield: 5 to 6 dozen. Serve with Cinnamon Honey Butter. 

*Extra Tips: Shape the rolls into a rectangle, about 1/2-inch thick, then fold it in half, making it an inch thick. Roll over the dough to seal the two halves and using a dough scraper, cut them into squares and place them on the baking sheet


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