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A timely quote from my Google home page:
"The things we know best are the things we haven't been taught."
- Marquis de Vauvenargues

> What can I say? I was young and
> naive.

You were learning from experience... ironically.

Ahh... Jack Chick. How wonderful that Battleaxe Ministries is still passing them out. I wrote to them and then sent me a sample pack of all 50 or so tracts that they had at the time. Good reading!

My daughter's recent experience in learning to read has taught me in no uncertain terms that whole-word reading and phonics are two different modes of learning to read and she is most definitely a whole-word reader. If we'd not found an old Dick & Jane book, she'd have learned to read from her school's phonics lessons months after she did.

My father taught me to read when I was about two years old. No clue how he did that -- I don't remember it happening, but the skills have always been with me. One of the first things I do remember reading is the sign in the South Parkway Waffle House of Huntsville, Alabama, telling customers to reserve booths for parties of eight or more. My father, the professional photographer, snapped a picture of me at age three or so devoutly reading a book entitled "Toilet Training in a Day" (or some such). It's the sort of photograph mothers frame and trot out to embarrass their children in front of guests.

Fonix lessons in elementary school always seemed like studies in absurdity. I was able to **do** them, but it was startlingly easy to stump the teacher by asking "Why do we write this word like that?" I understood a little of the "why" years later, when I started studying linguistics for fun. The silliness which puzzled us kids so much goes back to the Great Vowel Shift, the Norman Conquest -- all sorts of history which, as a first-grader, I had no idea impinged upon my silent Es.

Wow. I had no idea you were raised as a born-again Christian. I was too! With that in mind, you might enjoy this book by Randall Balmer, a critique of the religious right by an evangelical Christian.

Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America: An Evangelical's Lament
by Randall Balmer

Here's a description taken from Amazon:


Book Description
The distinguished author of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory returns with a searing examination of a new generation of evangelical leaders who have hijacked the Christian faith on behalf of the Republican Party
For much of American history, evangelicalism was aligned with progressive political causes. Nineteenth-century evangelicals fought for the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, and public education. But contemporary conservative activists have defaulted on this majestic legacy, embracing instead an agenda virtually indistinguishable from the Republican Party platform. Abortion, gay marriage, intelligent design--the Religious Right is fighting, and winning, some of the most important political battles of the twentyfirst century. How has evangelical Christianity become so entrenched in partisan politics?

Randall Balmer is both an evangelical Christian and a historian of American religion. Struggling to reconcile the contemporary state of evangelical faith in America with its proud tradition of progressivism, Balmer has headed to the frontlines of some of the most powerful and controversial organizations tied to the Religious Right. With a skillful combination of grassroots organization, ideological conviction, and media savvy, the leaders of the movement have mobilized millions of American evangelical Christians behind George W. Bush's hard-right political agenda.

Deftly combining ethnographic research, theological reflections, and historical context, Balmer laments the trivialization of Christianity--and offers a rallying cry for liberal Christians to reclaim the noble traditions of their faith.


Balmer's earlier book and PBS series, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory give a glimpse of what it's like to be an evangelical to those on the outside. I don't think you can really ever understand it totally without experiencing it for yourself, but this book and series come pretty close to providing the flavor.

Fascinating stuff. It's certainly true that many people learn subjects like maths and science more easily if they can relate it to their real life experience. But isn't part of the benefit of studying mathematics that it does train the mind to deal in abstractions? The deeper one delves into science and maths the more one is dealing with the abstract, and the harder and harder it is to relate eveything back to day to day experience.

Well, certainly that is part of the value of studying mathematics. But in the process of learning to do so, it helps to have some visual or other contextual help. It's a bit like learning to ride a bike: it helps to have training wheels (or your dad holding on t the back of the bicycle seat) the first few times out, and you get the hang of it, and gain confidence, the training wheels can come off. Sometimes physicists and other scientists give the impression that they think one explanation should suffice, the get frustrated when laypeople don't automatically "learn" things and retain it. That';s just not how learning works, IMHO, and I was pleased that these studies are looking into that. Learning is a lifelong process, a series of stepping stones. Project Albegra, from the SEED description, appears to be an important first step in getting students to embark on a lifelong learning process for mathematics.

You can't argue with of learning from experience. Though I did well in my academic training, I feel that the only physics ideas that I understand well are those that touch my own research. It's fine to have memorized the lensmaker's formula, but so much better to have designed, constructed and aligned an apparatus using real lenses!

Memorization is often an obstacle to understanding, not an aid to it. Too frequently students believe that because they can solve a homework problem, they understand it. I felt this way about statistical mechanics in school. You had to guess the right ensemble and then take a bunch of partial derivatives, none of which required any real insight into the problem. I only feel like I'm starting to under statistical mechanics now, after 20 years out in the trenches.

Too bad about Project Algebra. School bureacracies appear to be the major obstacle to real education.

Speaking as an applied mathematician, I can safely tell you that the problem of abstractness extends even unto the most advanced mathematical topics. I can also tell you that it is holding back progress not only in mathematics, but in virtually every science. It's a serious problems mathematicians simply won't address.

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    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.