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Thursday
Jul032014

Grammar Snobbery

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I'll be the first to admit it.  I am a grammar snob - and I am getting worse.

A sentence that ends in a preposition (Children are fun to spend time with.); a mismatched subject and pronoun (A teacher should always watch their language.);  non-standard word use (Irregardless, the show must continue.) and little things like using a qualifier with an absolute (The song was somewhat unique.) are all fingernails on the chalkboard* to me.

I am forgiving of spelling errors but not of homophonic errors (They're trip to the ocean was uneventful.) There are plenty of word usages that still confound me (lie and lay, ensure and insure, adapt and adopt).  I'm positive that I make errors that must drive other grammarphiles nuts. And even I will admit that many rules of language use are arbitrary, useless, and dated, adding little if nothing to the clarity of expression.

Grammar bigotry is probably a symptom of some deeper, more psychotic condition that compels a person to divide the world into acceptable and unacceptable levels of competence and therefore acceptable and unacceptable sorts of human beings.

I promise to do better to recognize my own biases in this area.

If you promise to use fewer language errors.

Oops.

*Another cliche that's rapidly becoming meaningless.

Wednesday
Jul022014

Fox News and ALA agree! Filtering is bad

  

"Studies and anecdotal evidence provide numerous  examples of blocked online resources dealing with a wide range of topics, from war and genocide to safer sex and public health." Kristen R. Batch “Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later” American Library Association, June 2014.
"... the Connecticut Republican Party website was blocked. The Connecticut Democratic Party website was not blocked. National Right to Life was blocked, but Planned Parenthood was not blocked. Connecticut Family, a pro-traditional marriage  group, was blocked, but LGBT Nation was not blocked. Andrew found that even Pope Francis was blocked from the school’s web service. But although he could not access the Vatican website, the school allowed him to access an Islamic website." ... "The National Rifle Association, Red State, SarahPac.com, National Right to Life, Second Amendment Foundation, Paul Ryan for Congress, Town Hall, TeaParty.org,  ProtectMarriage.com, and Christianity.com are just some of the websites the school blocked." Todd Starnes,  Jesus, Republicans and NRA banned on school website, Fox News, June 19, 2014.
Hmmm, something (finally) on which both conservatives and liberals can agree: Internet blocking based on political and social bias in a bad thing. At least it's a bad thing when the filter blocks points of view with which one agrees.

Here's the hard truth about intellectual freedom: you have to believe it applies to both the washed and the unwashed. To those whose values and beliefs you share and to those with whom you disagree. You have to actually have faith that when given a choice between your ideas and other's ideas, others will chose yours based on a fair analysis. And that most human beings have the skills to detect bullshit when they see it or read it. 

Scary stuff.

 

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Tuesday
Jul012014

Riding the KATY Trail

One or two of you may have noticed that the Blue Skunk's been quiet for a few weeks. I had a book manuscript to get done, had lots of work in the district to finish up at the end of the fiscal year, and wanted a break. Maybe the needed break was the primary reason for not posting.

This entry has nothing to do with education, technology, or libraries. Sorry. It's a personal post to help me remember a trip I took. Forgive my indulgence. I will say this, however: I find it sad that so many educators don't take a break, don't go on vacation, don't take time to decompress. What might look like dedication is an unhealthy decision - unhealthy for themselves, for their families, and for those with whom they work.

Take a break. We'll all appreciate it.

_______________________________________

I used a whole week to take an actual vacation rather than just tacking on a day or two with a speaking gig. My son-in-law Aaron and I joined 348 of our closest friends on the 2014 KATY Trail Ride June 16-20 sponsored by Missouri State Parks. Over the course of five days we biked about 250 miles from St. Charles to Clinton, camping in Hermann, Jefferson City, Boonville, and Sedelia along the way. Great weather, a well-supported ride, and a terrific trail along with fine companionship made the week enjoyable.

A few scenes:

Frontier Park in St. Charles is along the Missouri River and was the site of our first night camping. The historic district was directly across the street where we had a beer at a local brewery and some good Greek food. Weather forecast called for rain all week so we spent some time in nervous anticipation - unnecessarily.

The KATY riders were early risers. This was the waiting line for breakfast at 5:30. These bikers already had packed their tents and gear, did whatever ablutions they needed, and loaded their bags on the truck. Breakfast was served each morning between 6 and 7:30 and  80% of bikers were on the road before 7. The cool early mornings were less breezy and fine for getting in 40 miles or more before lunch.

 

SAG stops at trailheads appeared every 10-12 miles. Water bottle refills, snacks, and welcome break from the bike seat were the primary attractions. Oh, along with warnings from attendants and other bikers about the horrors of the trail ahead - hills, bridges, mud, and open trail where one would be subjected to harsh sunlight. Of course the reality never really lived up to the warnings. 

Missouri is wine country. We had great German food and not-bad wine at the restaurant at Stone Hill Winery in Hermann after our longest day of biking at 64 miles. Many small towns along the KATY cater to bicyclists, Hermann among them. We toured the wine cellars after supper where mushrooms were grown during Prohibition. 

The entire trail is composed of crushed limestone rather than a concrete or asphalt surface. But the shade (I'd say 85% of the trail was through big trees that also blocked the wind) and lack of any steep hills made the path fairly easy going. Very little loose gravel and no rain which softens the path allowed me to use regular road tires on my 15-year-old Cannondale the entire trip. Are we in Missouri or in Middle Earth?, I found myself asking.

This ramp was how to get up to (or down from) the bicycle lane on the highway bridge into Jefferson City. Seemed like climbing a bridge and a couple miles with headwinds ended most days of biking. We toured the capitol in Jeff City with the mural by Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri's social history being one of the highlights - along with getting my photo taken with the bust of native son Rush Limbaugh.

The re-charging station at the campground was well used. All the city campgrounds we used were very nice. There was a shower truck, shade, and usually a place nearby to have a cold beer at the end of the ride. I used the MapMyRide app daily. A bit of battery suck on the iPhone, but fun to have a record of the miles, traveled, speed, elevation, etc. Aaron and I agreed to bring only out phones and Kindles - no iPads or laptops. Good decision.

KATY Trail is the oldest and longest rails-to-trails project in the U.S. - and once in awhile you'd see something like this that reminded riders of the trail's origins. The KATY going west ends in Clinton which is about 80 miles short of Kansas City with tentative plans to extending it. The KATY Trail Ride alternates between going west to east with east to west (we did east to west) with the west starting point being the most popular, booking up within hours of opening the online reservations. Riders I spoke to thought prevailing winds tended to be from the west (they were out of the south on our ride) and felt the trip seemed more downhill following the fall of the Missouri River. Personally, I think it's hooey with so little overall elevation change over so many miles it wouldn't be noticeable. 

We followed the Missouri the first three days. Signage that indicated incidents in the Lewis and Clark expedition were frequent. Daniel Boone had a presence in this area as well. We saw no barge traffic - really very few river craft at all - quite a change from the busy Mississippi. Loved the beauty and serenity of the Mighty Mo.

We traveled through surprisingly beautiful rolling farm land for the last two days - from Boonville to Sedalia. Areas of prairie restoration were common as were fields of corn and soybeans - all a lush green. While there were more elevation changes the last couple days, these were railway grades, not hills - very long at times (one about a mile and a half) but gradual. Not sure which I prefer - the long slow climb or a fast steep hill. 

Most days were short enough (and we left early enough) that even at my slow biking pace, we arrived in camp early in the afternoon, leaving time for some sightseeing, seeing a movie, or just reading a book. The afternoons actually felt like vacation! Johnson's first rule of travel: Always have a book to read.

Both Aaron and I found Sedelia surprisingly interesting with its history as a railhead for cattle drives. (This is where Rowdy Yates of Rawhide fame was headed.) Nice little museum in the old railway station. The Sedalia booster who gave the guided tour suggested an Amtrack adventure back to Sedelia over a weekend from Kansas City. It's now on my to-do list.

The last day of the trip, between Sedalia and Clinton, we encountered a few long grades and the "peak" of the trail. We finished happy and proud on our accomplishment. Of the many multi-day bike trips I've done, the KATY trail ranks high on the list. 

And I am especially happy to have completed this ride for another reason. Last summer, after three very long days of 20-25 mph head-winds in western Minnesota on the Minnesota River History Trip, I called to have the LWW rescue me. It was the first time in 40 years of multi-day biking that I quit early. So I needed this to be a successful trip if biking were to remain a part of my summers. I'm thankful for the son-in-law's encouragement and support.

I'm looking for another ride next summer!

Lessons learned from bicycling...