Belgium breaking up? Who gets the beer?

January 22, 2007

Town Hall in Leuven, Belgium

Town Hall in Leuven, Belgium; image from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

Did I really miss this last month?  A television  network in Belgium, RTBF, started out the morning reporting on the breakup of Belgium.  Rather contrary to the rules of hoaxes set up by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre, no mention of a dramatization was made for at least a half-hour.

And of course, it was all a hoax.  The network said they wanted to generate discussion about how Belgium works, etc., etc.   Not everyone was happy with the kickoff to discussion.

I have no particular dog in that fight, though I’m fond of Belgium.  My wife spent a year studying in Louvin (Louvain, Leuven) (before I knew her), and we have wonderful photos.  My own business trip to Brussells was less than 24 hours, though we conducted our business in lightning fashion and were able to spend the evening in a wonderfully lit historic square sampling several brands of beer — okay, many brands.  We all made it to the Oh-Dark-thirty airplane home the next morning (some in better shape than others).

It’s always an eye-opener to learn how little most people know about the country, though it plays a huge role in the European Union, in NATO, and in the history of the 20th century, especially World Wars I and II.

Now it appears even Belgians don’t know whether their nation would break up or not.  Jacques Brel is no longer alive and well.


Quote of the Day: Charles Darwin

January 22, 2007

April, or Valentine’s Day worthy? Young Charles Darwin, from University of South Carolina

Charles Darwin to Emma Darwin, April, 1858:

Moor Park

The weather is quite delicious. Yesterday, after writing to you, I strolled a little beyond the glade for an hour and a half, and enjoyed myself — the fresh yet dark green of the grand Scotch firs, the brown of the catkins of the old birches, with their white stems, and a fringe of distant green from the larches, made an excessively pretty view. At last I fell fast asleep on the grass, and awoke with a chorus of birds singing around me, and squirrels running up the trees, and some woodpeckers laughing, and it was as pleasant and rural a scene as ever I saw, and I did not care one penny how any of the beasts or birds had been formed.

Francis Darwin, The Life of Charles Darwin (Senate 1995), p. 184.

Evolution and dogs

January 22, 2007

No, this really isn’t off topic.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County has a good website with good materials. On the way to find something else (just what I don’t remember) I found a discussion of the evolution of dogs, and artificial selection in dog breeding.

Dogs and evolution at Los Angeles County Museum of Natural HistoryHere are a few ways the site can be used:

Homeschoolers, you just got a puppy, and the kids are all about learning everything they can about dogs. Here’s a page to sneak in some serious biology on evolution and how it works. Your kids will be reminded of it every time they see a different dog.

Elementary school biology courses can be supplemented with information about how natural selection works to provide the wild dogs native to your area — coyotes for the western U.S., for example (which can lead to a wonderful discussion of how coyotes have spread to all 50 states from the west in just the past 30 years, and how and why that happened).

High school biology students can be directed to this site for supplemental information that I can all but guarantee is not in the textbook — about dogs, an animal that most students will know first-hand.

I had expected that there might be a good, on-line version of exhibits on La Brea Tarpit fossils, but it’s not there. There are a few links on archaeological information, however. The museum seems solid in early Latin American cultures, material that is probably quite useful for junior high and middle school history courses in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and probably Nevada, Utah and Colorado, too.

If you have a local museum with good on-line resources, please drop a line and let me know — edarrell(at)sbcglobal-dot-net.

Archeaology sources: Four Stone Hearth 7

January 22, 2007

High school history courses tend to brush over “prehistory” in America, that part of history between the arrival of the first humans in the Americas and the arrival of Europeans with quill and paper to record what they saw and what they did. For a few kids this would be the most exciting part of the course; for all kids, my experience is that textbooks tend to short change what we know, and especially how we know it.

A key problem for the non-archaeologist high school history teacher is just where to find information about prehistory.

A few archaeologists are blogging, and bitten by the meme virus of the moment, they gather together the better posts of recent weeks into a “carnival.” Four Stone Hearth is a carnival of archaeology. Four Stone Hearth 7, hosted by Aardvarchaeology, has several posts that can provide good information for history classes.

Students should learn skepticism in history classes, why to doubt fantastic claims and just-so stories, and how to evaluate sources of information and find good ones. Students often brought in stories intended to debunk standard histories, often involving UFOs or supernatural claims. Hot Cup of Joe’s entry, “Forbidden Archaeology? Some So-called Out of Place Artifacts,” explains the problems of OOPAs — out-of-place artifacts — often claimed to show that most archaeologists or other scientists withhold information that would confirm some of the more wacko ideas about history and prehistory. In the explanation he casts righteous doubt on a bizarre book that is wildly popular among conspiracy buffs, Atlantis Rising.

Students might also be interested in a report from Remote Central on objects found under glacial deposits in Minnesota which have some appearances of being knapped stone tools. This story could form a neat exercise in a series of lessons on what we know about history, and how we know it.

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