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.


Former Arkansas teacher remembers, long before 1957

September 27, 2007

Poignant story from the Associated Press, via Teacher magazine, about the Emancipation Proclamation, picking cotton, Brown v. Board of Education, and education.

Endocrine disruptors, such as DDT

September 27, 2007

The Alien Next Door describes some of the problems of endocrine disruptors released in the wild — like DDT.

Rachel Carson was right. Was she Catholic? Can she be canonized?

Killer lesson plans: Teachers as superheroes

September 27, 2007

Reader Bernarda noted this site in comments, and it’s good enough to promote more formally: Teachers as the alter egos of superheroes.

Teachers ARE superheroes, a lot of them. More than in other professions, certainly.

Which reminds me of this video. Teachers, you need to watch this sometime here in the first month of school. What do you say when someone rudely asks, “What do you make?” Wholly apart from the Ann Landers-style answer, “Whatever would possess anyone to ask such a personal question?” there is an answer to give, as explained by slam poet Taylor Mali; surely you’ve seen this before, but watch it again — to remember what teachers should be doing, as well as how to talk about it. See below.

You can support Mr. Mali. Just purchase a pen that includes that little poem.

You can support Mr. Mali and his campaign for good teachers in another way, too. Make sure that whenever you talk about this poem of his, you credit it to him. I think we as teachers owe that to artists, and other teachers, as part of our continuing struggles against plagiarism.

But we also owe it to ourselves to get credit to Mr. Mali. Odds are he has some other good things to say. When you properly attribute his work, you increase the chances that someone else will find the rest of his work. You increase the chances that some superintendent will hire Mr. Mali to speak to the teachers in his district. You increase the chances that someone will understand that Mr. Mali is a real human being who loves teaching — he is, in short, one of those superheroes we call “teachers,” even without a cape.

Uncaped crusaders need compliments, too.

50 years after Little Rock: Lesson plans

September 27, 2007 features a solid lesson plan on what the nation should have learned from the events in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957 — when nine African American students challenged segregation and sought to enroll at Little Rock’s Central High School. It’s timely — the actual anniversary is this month. This is a key point for Texas’s U.S. history standards:

September 2007 – This month, our nation marks the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine’s attempt to integrate schools. Have we really learned how to break down barriers?

This lesson plan is excerpted from the 2007-2008 Mix It Up Planner. Learn more about national Mix It Up at Lunch Day, to be held on Nov. 13, 2007!


  • Students will draw conclusions about boundary crossing from history and literature.
  • Students will identify boundaries in their classroom or school, cross those boundaries, report back and reflect on what they learned. carries several lesson plans teachers will find useful.

Nuclear bombs, game theory, the Cold War to the brink

September 27, 2007

John von Neumann died prematurely at 54, in 1957. He was very much a polymath, acknowledged first for his mathematical abilities, eventually contributing to physics, computer science and economics. His contributions in nuclear physics and game theory especially deserve better recognition than they’ve gotten among the public at large.

John von Neumann, NAS photo

Princeton University commemorates von Neumann’s life on the 50th anniversary of his death, with an afternoon and a night of lectures and discussion by scientists, economists and historians, October 5 and 6, 2007.

It should be good fun, and if you’re in the neighborhood of Princeton, New Jersey on October 5 and 6, you should go.

Here’s the biographical overview of von Neumann from the National Academy of Sciences, showing him to be the sort of guy we would have been happy to keep around another 40 years or so:

John von Neumann (1903-1957). When he was elected a member of the Academy in 1937, von Neumann was known for his contributions to the fields of mathematical logic and the foundations of quantum mechanics. But his interests were wide-ranging, and he went on to do distinguished work in other fields, including economics and strategic thinking. He is perhaps best known for his work in the early development of computers. As director of the Electronic Computer Project at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study (1945-1955), he developed MANIAC (mathematical analyzer, numerical integrator and computer), which at the time was the fastest computer of its kind. Built at a time long before the invention of the silicon chip, MANIAC was run on thousands of vacuum tubes. Von Neumann was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1903, and studied in Berlin, Zurich, and Hamburg. In 1930 he joined the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. He became a US citizen in 1937, and during the Second World War distinguished himself with his work in weapons development. In 1955 he was named a Commissioner of the Atomic Energy Commission, a position he held up to his death from cancer in 1957.

Free Lecture No. 1:

Budapest: The Golden Years

Early Twentieth Century Mathematics Education in Budapest and Lessons for Today

Free and Open to the Public
Panel Discussion
October 5, 2007
3–6 p.m.
219 Aaron Burr Hall
Princeton University

The starting point for the discussion is The Social Construction of Hungarian Genius, 1867–1930, a paper by Professor Tibor Frank, an historian of Hungarian exiles. The paper will be available for distribution at the event.

Free Lecture No. 2:

“Living in von Neumann’s World: Scientific Creativity, Technological
Advancement, and Civilization’s Accelerating Dilemma of Power”

Lecture and Panel Discussion
8 pm, Saturday October 6, 2007
McCosh 50 Lecture Hall
Princeton University

Introduction by Charles Harper

Thomas Schelling, University of Maryland College Park,
Nobel Laureate, Economics
George Dyson,
von Neumann biographer

Panel Moderator:
Eric Gregory, Princeton University

Freeman Dyson, Institute for Advanced Study
Martin Nowak, Harvard University
Robert Wright, Princeton University

Banner for von Neumann Lectures, 2007

Take Ben Stein’s brain

September 27, 2007


Ben Stein in a tub of money

Cornelia Dean’s article in the New York Times on September 27 reports that several scientists got the same deceptive invitation to appear in a documentary movie that has not been made, but instead discovered themselves in a different movie, a sort of mockumentary in support of the discredited concept of intelligent design.

Actor/comedian/lawyer/economist Ben Stein is the producer and narrator of “Expelled!” P. Z. Myers kicked off the blog discussions when he noted his own appearance in the movie, not exactly what it was billed — Myers posted the invitation letter, related the story, and eventually posted the kiss-off letter from the producer, who seems too embarrassed to talk about his deceptive actions.

One has to wonder, is such a vanity production in defense of voodoo science the best use of Ben Stein’s money? Is it the best use of Ben Stein’s brain? What was he thinking?

Let the record note: Scientific contributions from intelligent design and the rest of creationism, for 2007 and 2008, was a mockumentary movie, based on deception-obtained interviews.

Is that what they want us to teach the kids in high school?

Also see:

Image: AV


WordPress hiccoughs

September 26, 2007

No, I don’t know what’s going on with the masthead and a couple of other minor quirks.  Around WordPress, you generally get far in excess of what you pay for; on a bad day, maybe, you only get what you pay for.  The masthead will reappear, “magically, as if by magic,” as John Lennon would have said.   Sometime.

Drop me an e-mail if you have other problems.

Creationist upwelling in Iowa creates muddy water

September 26, 2007

The Des Moines Register followed up on the story of the community college professor who said he was fired for teaching the Bible as literature, and not as religion, in a class on western civilization.

I still think the fired teacher, Steve Bitterman, could have a contract claim against the school.  But the article points out that adjunct faculty often do live in a sort of “adjunct hell,” in which they have few rights, but lots of obligations, all at something less than half-pay.

But that’s not news.

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