This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but Karlheinz Stockhausen (who died on Wednesday, Dec. 5th) was arguably one of the most important composers of serious art music in the second half of the 20th century, and certainly one of the most innovative in terms of his use of electronics and compositional technique. This piece, Kontakte, was finished in 1960 and consists of an electronic tape, piano and percussion. The pitches, dynamics and timbres employed were determined by application of the serial ('twelve-tone') technique first developed by Schoenberg, but then pushed to its logical (and in many ways, musically unfortunate) conclusion by Webern where conventional instruments are concerned.

A word about serial composition: it is a technique that encourages the working-out of an internal logic which can't be experienced via performance, but only yields its' secrets to analysis. In an extreme version, it can be said that a given composition is in a sense reducible to the analysis. If that sounds austere and somewhat removed from your experience, hey, join the club. It's been said that some very smart people can actually identify the particular tone row used where pitches are concerned (Morton Feldman is often cited), but I don't have that facility, and (with the possible exception of one former teacher, now deceased) I don't know anyone else who can do that either. And deducing the mathematical relationships when they are used to derive other things (rhythm, meter, timbre, etc.) is completely hopeless.

Stockhausen's music is more interesting than Webern's, however, in part because of the use of non-conventional sound sources (tape, early synthesizers, controlled feedback or other signal processing), and in part because many of his pieces feature a virtuostic use of solo percussion.

As an example of the former, consider this amazing site, which uses an interactive player resembling an electronic sound module to render sections of his piece Hymnen, which makes music out of manipulations of snippets of radio broadcasts, spoken text, national anthems and bursts of radio 'noise'. You can play with the stereo field and appreciate some of the things Stockhausen did, though if memory serves Hymnen was originally realized in quadrophonic sound.

As an example of his work with percussion, his piece Zyklus has been performed many times precisely because it offers a solo percussionist (such as the amazing Stephen Schick) a highly theatrical platform to demonstrate his/her chops. Check it out if you're interested. This is a guy who exerted an influence on people as diverse as Stravinksy and the Beatles.


On the one hand, this video that shows ABBA, Olivia Newton-John and the late Andy Gibb fooling around with some Beach Boys songs is an example of a failure in translation. On the other hand, it's totally refreshing to watch people play at making music. Emphasis on slick product and extra-musical concerns have made today's pop a largely humorless affair.



For those who've been following this as a news item, the film adaptation of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass has hit the screens. This would be a bit of a yawner for me if it weren't for the fact that certain Christians (notably Catholic League head and professional culture warrior Bill Donohue) are making a huge deal of the fact that Pullman (a non-believer) has peopled his imaginary fantasy world with a band of villianous vicars called the Magisterium, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Holy Mother Church.

My friends with CVAAS (Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics) went with some Christians and local ABC-TV news reporter Liz Harrison to check out the action and pretty much the whole crowd reported some disappointment with the film, either in terms of its tone, its difficult-to-follow plot, or both.

I wouldn't mention this at all, though, except for the fact that one young man who has attended one CVAAS meeting reports that the consequences for coming out as a 'non-believer.' His parents suggested that he might want to find another place to live. I'm kind of scratching my head over this one, frankly. If the first response of Christians who encounter doubt within the family group is to put their kid on the street, then how deep, really, is their own faith?



Teachers have been known to spend their own money on their classrooms. I'm afraid I'm no exception.

I became concerned three years ago about my seven-year-old I-Mac reaching the end of its duty cycle with so much work on it, so when I finally got a permanent room of my own (I spent my first two years in a portable jury-rigged for science instruction), I campaigned for a new computer, and by campaign I mean 'tilting at windmills', because I haven't gotten a lick of support from the district during this time.

But, hey, it's not personal. All of my colleagues have been stonewalled in this area, and things reached a head last year, with many departments routinely calling out the administration on our lack of computers and technical support. Eventually, grant money was found by the district to provide a one-time-only refurbishing of our site----which is in itself absurd, it should be part and parcel of the regular operational cost of the plant.
However, my site, Bullard High, is NOT a Title I school, so that's a revenue stream that we don't have and, as it was explained to me, the revenue stream that at Title I schools in our own district that provides much of the money for new computers, printers, data projectors, etc.

As a result, while my school community has historically had a much-higher socioeconomic status and is routinely perceived (incorrectly) as a 'rich school', the irony is that we have far less monies than schools that are perceived as 'poor' or 'lower-class' etc. Yet, the reality is we could already qualify for Title I right now based upon the percentage of students who take a free lunch, if the numbers can be believed. If that sounds vaguely Orwellian, well, yeah it is: but the fact is, Title I is in part tied to said percentage.

Anyway, the point of this digression is what I've put in. The photos here show a computer, a printer, bookshelves, sound system and DVD/VCR combo player, all of which I've supplied at my own expense.
Believe it or not, I would not kick about any of that if the district would just provide me with an otherwise well-equipped, OSHA-compliant classroom to do the standards-based curriculum they desire.
The problem is that they are manifestly failing to meet that obligation, in my judgement, and I'll post more photos to that effect in the future.



Once again, I've had a wild one this week already!


I'm the President of the School Site Council this year at my campus, and we actually are charged with some real monies and duties right now, so I've tended to get a sub for my classes on those days and meet with various parties to make sure things go smoothly. The Council's start time also conflicts with 7th (last) period, and I'm a 7th-period instructor. My district has essentially decided to add a 7th period of instruction to accomodate remedial or repeat courses for students who are behind in credits and/or who have failed one or more sections of the CAHSEE.

In other words, it's punitive. The classes are filled with kids with 'two strikes' against them, and they are more challenging to teach as a result. Trying to find a fellow teacher who is willing to cover an additional period under those circumstances is one of those tasks that is best filed under 'Rotsa Ruck.'

So, as a result, I took the teaching day off. After meeting with many of my colleagues in the morning, I spent the mid-day grading tests off-campus, came back to the campus after lunch and then ran the Site Council. I got done with that around 5:00 (keep in mind I was at my school site at 8:30 to personally give my sub instructions). Immediately after that, I drove to Clovis for the third installment of Valley Cafe Scientifique. I'm a member of the steering committee. I glad-handed patrons at the door, introduced a local functionary (a Clovis city councilman) there to show some support for our effort and in general served as MC for the event. The actual presentation, by teaching award-winning plant scientist James Farrar, was excellent, amusing and timely and we had a substantial turnout (60-70 by my count). Time well spent, but by the time I got home, I was so fried I nearly dozed off during Heroes. And of course, as usual, I still had some tests to grade, so....


Caught up with my classes, and returned their tests, which had a strongly bimodal score distribution. Rather grim-facedly explained to my three sections of Chemistry that if they were still unable to balance equations after the 14th week of instruction, much less do stoichiometry, then maybe they should reconsider taking Chemistry the second semester, because they are unlikely to pass. This was not exactly a shock, as I had made a point at both the 3rd and 6th week to emphasize that Chemistry, while a standards-based course, was not required for graduation, and was probably best delayed until after successfully completing a full year of Algebra, etc. Still, it was probably my most unpleasant moment in Chem so far, because I would like these kids to succeed and I know that some of them never had a chance to succeed. My school site has gotten in the habit of aggressively placing students in Chemistry as sophomores (and similarly unprepared freshmen in Biology). When I've challenged this practice, it's been explained to me that this increases the possible pool of students who can take AP courses, and that high numbers of students in AP courses leads our school to be highly-rated in some measurements of school achievement.

I take a grim view of that particular tail, wagging this particular dog.

Anyway, did my best to soften the blow and even offered to substitute a higher percentage on the final for this test score, but I made it clear that it was time to either fly or bail out.

(Just to show you that no good deed goes unpunished, I received email the following day from counselors concerned about where these kids who want to bail are going to go?!?! Whatever will we do, Mr. Hatfield, gasp! The obvious suggestion, which is follow the district policy and not place kids who can't do Algebra in Chemistry, will probably not win me any fans.)

During my prep I spent time preparing some data to support my concern that proposed modernization plans for my school site (many of our classrooms are in excess of 40 years old) were scrimping on essential equipment for the classroom. Its' my position that all science classrooms should have all of the essential safety equipment: safety showers, eye washes, hoods. It appears, however, that in an effort to save money the district is attempting to designate some science classrooms as 'chemistry' and others as 'non-chemistry.' This is not only short-sighted, it may well expose them to litigation. So far I've been a bit of a lone wolf on this one: we'll see if I can get some satisfaction with the Committee on-site, but I kind of doubt it. Are they aware that I and other science instructors within the district have been quietly documenting the various ways the district is failing to follow OSHA guidelines? They should pay attention to us, that's for sure, because we are not going away.

Lunch time, spent hosting the DEEP Student Club, which is working on a brief questionairre to draw attention to the club's activities. Discussed and voted on possible questions. Inhaled a Mountain Dew. Truly the lunch of champions, if you call 37 minutes in your own room with a dozen kids a 'lunch break.' Don't mind too much: these kids in DEEP validate my conviction that we can ask high school students the 'big question' without either shredding the Constitution or neutering their impact.

Afternoon, started a new unit on DNA in my above-mentioned Bio classes. Suggested that the students in my 7th period class who aren't working might plan on spending part of the summer making up my class, and that I might very well accept the contract to be THE Biology instructor for summer school. Haven't decided if I'm going to yet, but my goodness, kids, thanks for wanting to spend even MORE time with me, etc.

School ended, I popped into modernization, touched base with the principal, ran off site, had a grilled cheese and a Coke, then back to the library at 5:30 where I tutored kids. It's now 8:30 and I'm locking up, and kicking out this quick little sketch of my last two days. I'm not sure why I think all of this is newsworthy (it isn't), but people often have a dim picture of what a teacher's day is like. So far, between all my commitments, I've worked 30 hours the last two days. If I didn't know teachers, even academics, who are similarly obsessed by work I'd complain. As it is, the bosom of my family calls. Perhaps tomorrow my day will be shorter.

Naah. Tomorrow night (Thursday) I have choir rehearsal until 9:00, which means I'll have to be sure that day not to talk too much. I guess it's all about pacing yourself.



PZ and company make significant sport of an appearance in Minnesota by historian John West, a shill for the Dishonest Institute. West essentially attempts to put a scholarly veneer on the old "Darwin is responsible for Hitler" trope by focusing attention on the prominent scientists of the past who were enthusiasts for eugenics.

Icky. What about all the non-scientists who were also enthusiasts in what was a popular movement, not one imposed 'top-down' from scientific elites as West implies? Further, albeit non-grammatical cheek: in defense of West's presentation, which is essentially 'one long ad hominem' against biology, DI head honcho Bruce Chapman describes PZ as a "dyspeptic and ad hominem blogger/biologist."

Never mind that Chapman, a lawyer and politician, seems to be confused about the lexical status of the latter, which is a noun, not an adjective---it would be like me describing Chapman as a 'dissipated and ad nauseam blogger/barrister.' I just wonder about the irony of the whole thing: I mean, was it intended, or not? Chapman's a Harvard man, and I'm just a high school biology teacher, but seriously, Bruce, do ya think that maybe, just maybe, that the expression 'dyspeptic' might also qualify as an ad hominem?

As I remarked at PZ's site, you can count on the Disingenuous Institute* to pretty much misrepresent anything that serves their agenda. How doth they mangle the truth? Let us count the ways:

1) (Biology) Evolution is routinely portrayed as entirely the product of chance, or else conflated either with natural selection/abiogenesis, or described as the product of a worldview ("Darwinism"), or based entirely on evidence open to interpretation, etc. etc.

2) (Nature of Science) Scientific practice is routinely conflated with the monotheistic culture in which science emerged ("Christianity's child"), while attempts at delimiting science as practiced from religion are denounced as naturalism/atheism.

3) (Theology) Advocates routinely protest the application of any conclusions about the Designer, to the ludicrous point that they claim that they are not, in effect, proposing a 'God of the gaps' argument. "We're not, we're not! Don't confuse us with facts."

4) (Religious Motivation) The DI routinely asserts that ID is not religious, nor motivated by religion, it's a 'big tent'.

5) (Sociology of Science) There is an enormous CONSPIRACY, dontcha know, to keep critiques of "Darwinism" out of sight, out of mind. Never mind that some of the greatest lights in evolutionary biology (S.J. Gould is a sterling example) made their reputations precisely through such critiques.

6) (Current Events) "We nevah, I repeat nevah encouraged the Dovah School Board to place design in theah curriculum, and the Dovah decision has nothing to do with the validity of ID. Oh, and that conservative Bush-appointed Republican John Jones III, he's a judicial activist..."

7) (Secondary Science Curriculum) Biology textbooks are "laced with Darwinism", are filled with dishonest or misrepresentative 'icons of evolution', says the Rev. J. Wells, who only had to change his name once and schools thrice to acquire (at the expense of the DI and his church) the academic credentials needed to pose as a scientist.

8) (Probability Theory) "For my next trick," says Bill, "I will misappropriate a fellow mathematician's work in this field (NFL theorems), resist all attempts to make the supposed math in my derivations explicit and characterize the source of this imaginary math as an aspect of God's nature. [Didn't get the memo about item #4]

Due to time constraints, this post must end. Point being, why would any of us at this point be surprised that a DI shill who happens to be a historian would misrepresent history, given their track record in other fields?

* For you folk who care about consistency, no, the expression 'Disingenuous Institute' is not an ad hominem. Because, for one thing, it's not addressed to the character of any individual claim or source, but to a population of claims. Secondly, it's true. They ARE disingenuous. All they do is lie, lie and lie some more.