Another creationist eruption

September 30, 2007

For a brief period yesterday Prof. Smith’s Weblog was one of the most popular among WordPress’s 1.25 million blogs. It’s not ranked there for brilliant writing or wonderful content — most of it seems to be apologetics for creationism and intelligent design. I suppose creationist sites might have discovered it.

Prof. Smith is not identified in any way. A rational person and others of good character might take alarm at how such a site can be so popular, without showing Brittany Spears or Lindsay Lohan undressed. The bare facts, offensive as they may be, would be an improvement over misleading material.

Legendary hoaxes: Neiman Marcus cookie recipe

September 30, 2007

Neiman Marcus cookies, Evans Caglage/Dallas Morning News photo, food styling by Jane Jarrell

[Substitute photo from Desserts by Juliette,]

Photo: Evans Caglage for the Dallas Morning News; food styling by Jane Jarrell [photo no longer available; substitute photo from Desserts by Juliette]

Caption: “When the legend wouldn’t die, Kevin Garvin created a cookie worthy of the Neiman Marcus name.” and other sites debunk the old urban legend about the woman who was charged “two-fifty” for a chocolate chip cookie recipe at Neiman Marcus’ stores — but in defense of mainstream media, let it be noted that the Dallas Morning News does it up right, repeating the recipe, fact-checking the story, and actually baking the cookies and providing that mouth-watering photo above (et tu, Pavlov?)

The story began circulating in the late ’80s and spread quickly.

Although Neiman’s denied the story – in fact, the company said it had never served cookies in its restaurants – it kept gaining momentum. Finally, with the help of the Internet and e-mail, it became The Urban Legend That Would Not Die.

Inquiries about the costly recipe kept coming in until, finally, the store tasked its bakers to come up with a recipe worthy of the NM reputation. It was perfected in 1995 by Kevin Garvin and is on the company Web site, Free. It also is in the Neiman Marcus Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, $45) by Mr. Garvin and John Harrisson.

The store served cookies made from the recipe as part of its 100th anniversary celebration this month.

When victimized by a hoax, make a cookbook and make some money off of it. Of course, it’s a lot nicer being “Neiman Marcus cookied” than being “swift-boated.”

Here’s the Neiman Marcus version of the Neiman Marcus cookie made famous in the hoax:

  • ½  cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso coffee powder
  • 1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 F. Cream the butter with the sugars until fluffy using an electric mixer on medium speed (approximately 30 seconds).

Beat in the egg and vanilla extract for another 30 seconds.

In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda and beat into the butter at low speed for about 15 seconds. Stir in the espresso coffee powder and the chocolate chips.

Using a 1-ounce scoop or 2-tablespoon measure, drop cookies onto a greased cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Gently press down on the dough with the back of a spoon to spread out into a 2-inch circle.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until nicely browned around the edges. Bake a little longer for a crispy cookie.

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

PER SERVING: Calories 154 (43% fat) Fat 8 g (5 g sat) Cholesterol 20 mg Sodium 119 mg Fiber 1 g Carbohydrates 21 g Protein 2 g


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Trial by Jury (grades 5-8)

September 30, 2007

Trial simulations put students into the middle of tough topics in government, economics and history — or can do, depending on how well the simulations work. In the middle of the fight is a great place to learn. features a series of lesson plans suitable for government and civics. Looking for Constitution Day lesson plans I stumbled into a trial-by-jury simulation, with the mock trial script all prepared for you, for grades 5 through 8.

It looks to me to be a good way to study the jury system (see Amendments 6 and 7 of the Constitution).  The lesson plans and materials were designed, and their dissemination supported by the American Board of Trial Advocates.  Yes, that’s a group with a view; no, the bias doesn’t show up in the classroom materials, really.

Here’s a graphic on amending the Constitution, from the same site. This could be reproduced for student journals, printed for small posters, or, check with your high school drafting classes to see whether they won’t print this out for you in a poster size, in color. features nine graphic pages like that one.

Trial by jury provides the foundation for some of our greatest drama: On television with Perry Mason, Matlock, Law & Order, Boston Legal, or L.A. Law; on the stage with Inherit the Wind and Ayn Rand’s The Night of January 16th; in opera with Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury (okay, in operetta). This is the sort of thing students enjoy, and probably will remember.

How and why to show up for jury duty is one of the most important understandings our students can take away.

Justice by the People logo, from

More students with good ideas about improving schools

September 29, 2007

Not on the same academic plane as Andrea Drusch, but important. See the details at Pharyngula, “Growing bolder in Boulder.”

Dreaming: What school libraries could do

September 29, 2007

Great piece on the opposite-editorial page of the Dallas Morning News today, with solid suggestions on how to improve high school libraries, thereby improving reading and student achievement. Andrea Drusch, a student at Lake Highlands High School, vents a bit, and we would do well to pay attention.

Most English teachers will tell you, “Kids just don’t read like they used to.” I disagree. Recently my high school treated students who passed all classes with a trip to Stonebriar Centre. Upon arrival, a large group flocked straight to Barnes & Noble, where they stayed until the bus ride home. On the bus, they exchanged books and discussed favorite authors. If high school kids are willing to dish out $17 on books at the mall, then why isn’t a room the size of a basketball gym full of books free of charge appealing to them?

Well, the walls aren’t exactly lined with Oprah’s Book Club selections. Instead, libraries try to appeal to 17-year-olds with the same old Crucibles and Scarlet Letters they have been trying to shove down our throats for years.

Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble and Starbucks have students lined up out the doors, and it ain’t just for the coffee. At Starbucks, students can pile a table sky high with books and conduct study groups, or just decompress and chat. Barnes & Noble chooses the books it provides to its customers through something called the New York Times best-seller list, not through what 10th-grade English teachers think is appropriate.

Make school libraries more like these places.

I don’t blame the librarians, though — I’ve been to too many school board meetings where the latest cuts in the library budgets weren’t even questioned. I hope that parents, and maybe librarians, will copy Ms Drusch’s article, and send it to their school board, principals, English teachers, and to the social studies and science teachers, too.

Libraries should be places where kids hang out to learn. Getting them to hang out there would be an improvement over turning the library into a book museum, or a book vault, as too many schools have done.

For the record: The latté I had at the Irving (Texas) High School library the last time I was there was pretty good, despite it’s being a bit do-it-yourself. I had to wait in line to get it, there were so many kids in the library.

[Full text of Andrea Drusch’s piece below the fold, in case the DMN ever takes it down.]

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Where is the biggest clock?

September 28, 2007

Tehran 24 ran a photo of a huge clock somewhere in Tehran, under the headline of “The World’s Biggest Clock.”

Huge outdoor clock in Tehran, Iran - credit on photo, Tehran Daily

But is it more than 37 feet across, like the flower clock in Las Colinas, Irving, Texas?*

Las Colinas, in Irving Texas; flower clock - photo Glenn Boyden

What is the biggest clock in the world? Surely there are some bigger.

* This site says the Tehran clock is 15 meters across — bigger than Las Colinas. The clock faces accompanying the bell of Big Ben are 7 meters across. For a panoramic view of the belfry of Big Ben, see the Parliament website.

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What makes America worth defending

September 28, 2007

Anyone who wonders why the United States is worth defending should read the judge’s decision in the case of Brandon Mayfield.

Mayfield is the Oregon lawyer who was accused of being a participant in the al Quaeda-connected bombings of commuter trains in Madrid, Spain. The accusation appears to have been based mostly on Mr. Mayfield’s religious affiliation, and not on any evidence. Mayfield was arrested, charged and held in jail, until the charges were dismissed.

Mayfield’s suit points out that the government acted illegally against him, in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which bans searches without a valid warrant. It appears that Mr. Mayfield’s religion was the chief basis for the search warrants obtained.

In what other nation, in a time considered to be a time of war, could such a suit protecting a citizen against his own government be entertained? In what other nation could one judge declare such a major action of its government to be illegal, with any expectation that the government would obey such a ruling?

The case will probably be appealed.

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars covers the issue well enough to make a lesson plan out of it for government or civics classes.


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