Here is the closing portion of the Times obituary: ... no stage manager can take the weight of a singing horse. In the same “Falstaff,” Ms. Pierson recalled, the soprano made an entrance on horseback. One night, as she began her aria, the horse was moved to bray along in bold duet.
“What do you do when the horse starts to sing at the same time as the singer starts to sing?” Ms. Pierson asked.
There was only one thing for it. Mr. Connell fired the horse.
The strange and wonderful are too much with us. The protea of the antipodes--a great, globed, blazing honeybee of a bloom-- for sale in the supermarket! We are in our decadence, we are not entitled. What have we done to deserve all the produce of the tropics-- this fiery trove, the largesse of it heaped up like cannonballs, these pineapples, bossed and crested, standing like troops at attention, these tiers, these balconies of green, festoons grown sumptuous with stoop labor?
The exotic is everywhere, it comes to us before there is a yen or a need for it. The green- grocers, uptown and down, are from South Korea. Orchids, opulence by the pailful, just slightly fatigued by the plane trip from Hawaii, are disposed on the sidewalks; alstroemerias, freesias fattened a bit in translation from overseas; gladioli likewise estranged from their piercing ancestral crimson; as well as, less altered from the original blue cornflower of the roadsides and railway embankments of Europe, these bachelor's buttons. But it isn't the railway embankments their featherweight wheels of cobalt remind me of, it's
a row of them among prim colonnades of cosmos, snapdragon, nasturtium, bloodsilk red poppies, in my grandmother's garden: a prairie childhood, the grassland shorn, overlaid with a grid, unsealed, furrowed, harrowed and sown with immigrant grasses, their massive corduroy, their wavering feltings embroidered here and there by the scarlet shoulder patch of cannas on a courthouse lawn, by a love knot, a cross stitch of living matter, sown and tended by women, nurturers everywhere of the strange and wonderful, beneath whose hands what had been alien begins, as it alters, to grow as though it were indigenous.
But at this remove what I think of as strange and wonderful, strolling the side streets of Manhattan on an April afternoon, seeing hybrid pear trees in blossom, a tossing, vertiginous colonnade of foam, up above-- is the white petalfall, the warm snowdrift of the indigenous wild plum of my childhood. Nothing stays put. The world is a wheel. All that we know, that we're made of, is motion.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, here is a nice, straightforward video explaining how to make a worm composting bin. The video is the work of Canadian Bentley Christie ("the Compost Guy"), who runs RedWormComposting.
Illustration and opening lines from the portion of the General Prologue to Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales that describes the Clerk from Oxford. The full text of this section of the prologue is given below, first in modern English and then in the original Middle English.
A Clerk from Oxford was there also, Who'd studied philosophy, long ago. As lean was his horse as is a rake, And he too was not fat, that I take, But he looked emaciated, moreover, abstemiously. Very worn off was his overcoat; for he Had got him yet no churchly benefice, Nor he was worldly to accept secular office. For he would rather have at his bed's head Some twenty books, all bound in black or red, Of Aristotle and his philosophy Than rich robes, fiddle, or gay psaltery. Yet, and for all he was philosopher in base, He had but little gold within his suitcase; But all that he might borrow from a friend On books and learning he would swiftly spend, And then he'd pray diligently for the souls Of those who gave him resources to attend schools. He took utmost care and heed for his study. Not one word spoke he more than was necessary; And that was said with due formality and dignity And short and lively, and full of high morality. Filled with moral virtue was his speech; And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.
[lines 287-310 of the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer]
The original text: A Clerk ther was of Oxenford also, That unto logyk hadde longe ygo. As leene was his hors as is a rake, And he nas nat right fat, I undertake, But looked holwe and therto sobrely. Ful thredbare was his overeste courtepy; For he hadde geten hym yet no benefice, Ne was so worldly for to have office. For hym was levere have at his beddes heed Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed, Of Aristotle and his philosophie, Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrie. But al be that he was a philosophre, Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre; But al that he myghte of his freendes hente, On bookes and on lernynge he it spente, And bisily gan for the soules preye Of hem that yaf hym wherwith to scoleye. Of studie took he moost cure and moost heede. Noght o word spak he moore than was neede, And that was seyd in forme and reverence, And short and quyk, and ful of hy sentence; Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche, And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.
Last November, I wrote about the competencies required to be licensed by the US Coast Guard for working on a tugboat. Pretty dry (no pun intended) material, but the sort of detailed technical information I like because it creates a very specific picture of the topic.
This week The New Yorker has an entire article devoted to the details of what's involved in operating a tugboat. Naturally, the story that staff writer Burkhard Bilger tells is far more colorful than a set of competency matrices. Bilger reports on one family's involvement in running tugboats over a period that dates back to the sixties, meaning he covers the time both before and after the Coast began tightening licensing requirements.
The family of Latham Smith, which now has two factions each operating its own tugboat, bases its operations in Morgan City LA. Here are some excerpts from Bilger's report, focused on the contrast between old-style and new-style tugboating:
The Smiths are from Florida originally, of Irish and British extraction, but the Cajuns have accepted them as their own. Latham is something of a legend in the towing world. When he and [first wife] Elsbeth first took to the sea, in the late sixties, they seemed like characters from a picture book: the little tugboat family, island-hopping across the Caribbean, homeschooling five children as they went. Together and separately, Latham and his children have weathered cyclones on the Atlantic, towed barges up the Amazon, and circumnavigated the globe, even as the industry around them has grown ever more regulated and safety-conscious.
. . .
"When we started out, you could do anything," Elsbeth says. "You could pick up your crew from the homeless section of the DuPont Plaza parking lot and take 'em out and sober 'em up." ... "The other tugboats, they always went for the old alkies and the deadbeat people," Elsbeth says. "We took a different approach," ... Latham took to hiring any sailor or surfer who wandered past and whose conversation he could half abide. "It was the time of the flower children, the Beatles, and the long skirts," Elsbeth says. "We found people everywhere, just everywhere beautiful young people. These hippies would come down on a one-way ticket from Florida to Rincón, Puerto Rico, and they'd run out of money and get desperate. So we'd hire them just for the ride back to the States." ...
When regulations began to tighten, in the seventies, and a minimum of two licensed sailors were required on every tug, Latham and Elsbeth both put in for captain's licenses.
. . .
... the footloose spirit that once sent sailors to sea has been slowly starched out of the business mostly with good reason. Beginning with the Exxon Valdez oil spill, in 1989, regulations have ratcheted up with each high-profile accident ...
Most tug captain's licenses now require at least three years' training at sea, if not a four-year degree from a maritime academy. Background checks, safety inspections, and drug and alcohol tests are mandatory, as are certifications in radar, firefighting, first aid, and social responsibility. As a result, in the past decade oil spills have decreased by more than eighty per cent compared with the nineteen-nineties, and crew fatalities and injuries have been nearly cut in half.
... the tramping days of Latham's youth, when a sailor could spend his shore leave exploring the markets of Bangkok, the bars of Panama City, are gone.
. . .
Technology has taken some of the risk out of the business. Many new tugs can be steered by joystick though most captains disdain it and trainees often learn to operate them on land, in mock wheelhouses surrounded by virtual harbors. (When I tried my hand at this recently at the Maritime Simulation Institute, in Middletown, Rhode Island, I spent an hour doing doughnuts in Los Angeles Harbor; I couldn't seem to stop ramming my bow into the container ship I was towing and that was before the computer called in the heavy fog and twenty-foot seas.) But a virtual storm is still no substitute for a howling gale, or the mad tilt and groaning steel of a ship on rough seas.
If this story of one family's life in the the tugboating world appeals to you, by all means get yourself a copy of the April 19 New Yorker and read the whole thing. The entire issue is dedicated to the theme of travel, so if that's your cup of tea, you'll find other articles of interest as well. The table of contents is here.
In a January post I talked about the simulation center at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. As a follow-on, I'd like to mention an article in today's Wall Street Journal that describes another approach to using simulation to train medical personnel, namely creating virtual environments, such as hospitals, in Second Life and then having trainees deal with various scenarios designed to hone assessment, diagnostic, and treatment skills.
In the main example described by reporter Stephanie Simon,
ER nurses log in to the virtual world, where each assumes control of an avatar a cartoon rendering of a nurse wearing crisp blue scrubs. The nurses can walk their avatars through hallways, up and down stairs and through doorways using keyboard or mouse controls. They can give voice to their avatars by typing their words pop up as a text box or by speaking into a special microphone. Headsets let each nurse hear ambient noise from the virtual scene and listen to the other avatars talking.
In the drill, which lasts three hours, the nurse-avatars must create a triage system, assess each patient and figure out how to isolate the most contagious.
Some patient avatars are controlled by instructors ... Other avatars are preprogrammed; they speak only phrases that the instructors have prerecorded ("I can't breathe!"). Nurse-avatars can click on the patients' bodies to pull up text boxes with vital signs and a list of symptoms.
At any point, the instructor can "throw a wrench into the system," Dr. Greci [the simulation's developer] says, by setting off a virtual earthquake or blackout or dumping rain on the patients waiting outside.
The above gives you an idea of how a Second Life medical simulation can be set up. You can check out the look and feel of one such simulation in the video below, which is an overview of Second Life training prepared for paramedic students at St. George's University of London.
As part of a volunteer project I do every year, I have contact with a number of local high schools. This year's project began last week, and, in checking online to see whether there had been any changes in the administration at Springfield High School of Science & Technology, I came upon a rubric (pdf) for critical thinking and problem solving that seems worth sharing.1
The rubric evaluates five dimensions of critical thinking and problem solving:
For each dimension, the rubric specifies distinguishing characteristics of mastery at the Exemplary, Accomplished, Developing, and Beginning levels. These characteristics are reproduced below (with some editing).
Exemplary Creatively and thoroughly demonstrates complete understanding and the relationship of complex concepts, hierarchical thinking, and multi-faceted problems, employing evaluative synthesis.
Accomplished Completely demonstrates understanding and the relationship of complex concepts, hierarchical thinking, and multi-faceted problems.
Developing Demonstrates understanding and the relationship of complex concepts, hierarchical thinking, and multi-faceted problems.
Beginning Does not demonstrate understanding and the relationship of complex concepts, hierarchical thinking, and/or multi-faceted problems.
Exemplary Clearly identifies specific problem(s) and integrates complex ideas. Employs formulas, procedures, principles, or themes accurately and/or creatively. Selects sufficient relevant data/information.
Accomplished Identifies specific problem(s) and integrates complex ideas. Employs formulas, procedures, principles, or themes accurately. Selects sufficient relevant data/information.
Developing Does not necessarily identify specific problem(s) or integrate complex ideas. Employs some formulas, procedures, principles, or themes. May have some inaccuracies and/or insufficient or irrelevant data/information.
Beginning Does not identify specific problem(s) or integrate complex ideas. Inaccurately employs formulas, procedures, principles, or themes. Has insufficient or irrelevant data/information.
Exemplary Insightfully and accurately interprets and comprehensively evaluates information, positions, or perspectives that balance opposing points of view.
Accomplished Accurately interprets and comprehensively evaluates information, positions, or perspectives that balance opposing points of view.
Developing Provides weak or incomplete evaluation of information, positions, or perspectives.
Beginning Misinterprets or incorrectly evaluates of information, positions, or perspectives.
Exemplary Gives exceptionally clear, coherent, and cohesive solutions, incorporating the most effective method to solve the problem. Explains multiple solutions, anticipating questions.
Accomplished Gives coherent and cohesive solutions, incorporating effective methods to solve the problem. Explains solutions clearly.
Developing Gives simple or abbreviated solutions with some minor inconsistencies or omissions. Explains solutions with only partial clarity.
Beginning Gives simple or abbreviated solutions with significant inconsistencies or omissions. Presents ideas in a fragmented manner with no clear or coherent order.
Exemplary Conclusions are accurate, detailed, complete, well-supported, logical, consistent with the available evidence, and often unique.
Accomplished Conclusions are generally accurate, complete, logical, and consistent with the available evidence.
Developing Conclusions are imperfectly accurate, complete, logical, and consistent with the available evidence; there may be minor inconsistencies or omissions.
Beginning Conclusions are inaccurate, incomplete, illogical, and inconsistent with the available evidence.
__________ 1 Previous posts dealing with critical thinking rubrics are here, here, and here.
If you've been following discussions of the players involved in the financial crisis, you're aware that broker/dealers in the headlines, such as the now defunct Bear Stearns, are referred to as members of the "shadow banking system."
The shadow banking system consists of nonbank financial firms that borrow funds often through the short-term money market and commercial paper market and then lend those funds to borrowers such as corporations or use the funds to purchase relatively long-term assets such as mortgage-backed securities.
A key point is that such firms do not take deposits and, therefore, are not subject to the regulations that depository institutions commercial banks, savings institutions, and credit unions must adhere to.
In a July 2009 paper (pdf), Tobias Adrian, an economist at the New York Fed, and Hyun Song Shin, a professor of economics at Princeton, analyze in reasonably accessible fashion, how financial regulations might be revised in order to reduce the potential for the shadow banking system to exacerbate financial instability in the future. Adrian and Shin note that, as of the end of June 2007, the shadow banking system's $16.6 trillion in assets stood well above the assets of the conventional banking system, which amounted to $12.8 trillion.
After detailing the way in which leverage of financial firms grows to an excessive level during a boom period, Adrian and Shin argue that this market failure should be mitigated through regulations that constrain systemic risk, especially since systemic risk has risen substantially as a result of burgeoning securitization.
Adrian and Shin explain:
One element of improved regulation will be a ... systemic regulator who could take on two important tasks. First, the system regulator should gather, analyze, and report systemic information. This will require reporting from a broader range of financial institutions, such as hedge funds, and the shadow banking system. Second, the systemic regulator will operate capital rules [rules regarding how much capital a firm must hold relative to the amounts of various types of liabilities on its balance sheet] with a systemic focus. ... Given the central bank's intimate connections with the financial market through its monetary policy role, it is likely to have the best market intelligence in performing the role of the macroprudential regulator. Furthermore, the fact that the central bank is the lender of last resort (LOLR) gives it the capacity to intervene in the market when necessary. ...
In the new, post-crisis financial system, many familiar features of the system before the crisis will cease to be in place. The role of securitization is likely to be held in check by more stringent financial regulation and the recognition of the importance of preventing excessive leverage and maturity mismatch [short-term liabilities funding long-term assets] in undermining financial stability. Institutional changes and the conduct of monetary policy will flow from the recognition of the role of the financial system as the servant of the real economy, rather than an end in itself. In particular, we might see the return of a more staid "utilities" version of banking based on the model of banking as a support to the real economy.
Adrian and Shin emphasize that the effectiveness of regulations such as those they discuss depends on the diligence of the regulators. It remains to be seen exactly what new US regulatory legislation emerges from Congress, which is currently working on Senator Dodd's proposed bill, a more strict bill having already passed in the House of Representatives.