Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Thursday, February 19, 2009

President Obama's signature

A CNN puff piece about President Obama being a left-handed overwriter.

Former Giants Linebacker Brad Van Pelt Dies at 57

I remember him so well as a player. He was a real bright spot for our team.

February 19, 2009
Former Giants Linebacker Brad Van Pelt Dies at 57

Brad Van Pelt, a stalwart linebacker for the Giants who was perhaps the best player on their woeful teams in the 1970s, died Tuesday in Harrison, Mich. He was 57 and lived in Harrison.

The cause has not been confirmed, his brother Kim said, but the suspected cause is a heart attack.

A fleet, athletically gifted player who was a safety in college and was converted to linebacker as a pro, Van Pelt excelled in pass coverage, intercepting 20 passes in his career. He was especially recognizable on the field for two reasons: his rangy physique, unusual for a linebacker, and his uniform number, 10.

League rules usually reserved such low numbers for kickers and members of the backfield, but because Van Pelt was listed as the Giants’ backup kicker when he was a rookie, the league allowed him to wear it for his entire tenure with the team.

He played 11 seasons with the Giants, from 1973 to 1983, and for five consecutive seasons, from 1976 through 1980, he was named to the Pro Bowl. The Giants named him their player of the decade for the 1970s.

Only once in Van Pelt’s career, however, did the team have a winning record, in 1981. By then he and another hard-working but little-rewarded player, Brian Kelley, had been joined in the linebacking corps by Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor, and together they were the strength of the team. In a sense, Van Pelt was born just a few years too soon; as his career waned, Carson and Taylor became stars, and they, along with Carl Banks, who was drafted as Van Pelt’s replacement, provided the backbone of the defense that helped the Giants win their first Super Bowl after the 1986 season.

Van Pelt finished his career playing two seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders and one with the Cleveland Browns, retiring just as the Giants were becoming champions.

Brad Alan Van Pelt was born in Owosso, Mich., near Flint, in the central part of the state. He was a high school hero, making the all-league team in basketball, baseball and in football on both defense and offense; he was an all-state quarterback for Owosso High School. At Michigan State University, where he was twice an all-American safety, he played basketball and baseball as well. The Giants made him their second-round choice in the 1973 draft. He was not chosen in the first round because he was also considering a career in baseball; the St. Louis Cardinals had drafted him as a pitcher.

Van Pelt always felt the tug of home, even as a Giant. After a few years on the miserable Giant teams of the 1970s, he asked the team several times to trade him to the Detroit Lions. He went back to Michigan State in the 1990s and earned a degree in kinesiology, the branch of physiology that deals with human movement.

His two marriages ended in divorce. In addition to Kim Van Pelt, who lives in Owosso, he is survived by his fiancée, Deanna Ireland of Harrison; his mother, Bette Van Pelt of Harrison; a brother, Robin, of Owosso; and three sons: Brian, of Boulder, Colo., Bret, of Santa Barbara, Calif., and Bradlee, also of Santa Barbara, who has played quarterback for the Denver Broncos and the Houston Texans.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Writing On The Wall

...and here we have an earlier Newsweek article from 2007, which takes a different tack to the post just below it...

Good penmanship is more than just a quaint skill. A new study shows that it's a key part of learning.

Raina Kelley
From the magazine issue dated Nov 12, 2007

For most people, the written thank-you is your best bet for an expression of warm, heartfelt thanks. The last thing you want is for someone to be disappointed when her hand-knit scarf is acknowledged with a loud, animated e-card." So says the Emily Post Institute, founded in 1946 and still an authority on principles of politeness in today's digital age. And while, in the era of Gawker and YouTube, its earnest advice may seem old-fashioned and out of touch, it does raise the question: does handwriting have a practical use today, or is it just a relic of a bygone era when children listened to their elders? Certainly, notes written by hand have the retro appeal of, say, a gift of homemade apple butter, but apart from the odd scribble of gratitude or condolence, do we really need it?

Many educators say yes, for reasons having nothing to do with thank-you notes. Handwriting is important because research shows that when children are taught how to do it, they are also being taught how to learn and how to express themselves. A new study to be released this month by Vanderbilt University professor Steve Graham finds that a majority of primary-school teachers believe that students with fluent handwriting produced written assignments that were superior in quantity and quality and resulted in higher grades—aside from being easier to read. The College Board recognized this in 2005 when it added a handwritten essay to the SAT—an effort to reverse the de-emphasis on handwriting and composition that may be adversely affecting children's learning all the way through high school and beyond.

How much instruction do kids need in cursive writing? In the 1960s and 1970s, the Zaner-Bloser Co., which has been publishing penmanship curriculum since 1904, recommended 45 minutes a day. By the 1980s, it was suggesting just 15 minutes. Today the average is more like 10 minutes, according to Handwriting Without Tears, whose penmanship curriculum is used by 5,000 school districts around the country. "We haven't added more hours to the school day or the school year, yet we've added more content, and something had to give," says Dennis Williams, national product manager for handwriting at Zaner-Bloser. In Zaner-Bloser's 2005 national survey, a majority of primary-school teachers said they spent an hour or less on handwriting a week. And Graham's study found that only 12 percent of teachers had actually taken a course in how to teach it. And, he says, educators are noticing a significant decline in the quality of students' handwriting and an increase in the frequency of problems such as letter reversals. We've forgotten one of the first rules of pedagogy: mind your p's and q's.

All this matters, educators say, because evidence is growing that handwriting fluency is a fundamental building block of learning. Emily Knapton, director of program development at Handwriting Without Tears, believes that "when kids struggle with handwriting, it filters into all their academics. Spelling becomes a problem; math becomes a problem because they reverse their numbers. All of these subjects would be much easier for these kids to learn if handwriting was an automatic process." That concern, in part, prompted the addition of a written essay to the SAT, which is graded for content, though not legibility. "If you put something like a writing test on the SAT, children's skill level will begin to be addressed," says Ed Hardin, a senior content specialist at the College Board. The trickle-down effect to middle schools should eventually reach third grade, where the trouble so often begins.

No one is predicting, or even recommending, a return to the days when children obsessively practiced the curlicues on their Palmer Method capitals. Beauty seems to be less important than fluidity and speed. Graham's work, and others', has shown that from kindergarten through fourth grade, kids think and write at the same time. (Only later is mental composition divorced from the physical process of handwriting.) If they have to struggle to remember how to make their letters, their ability to express themselves will suffer. The motions have to be automatic, both for expressive writing and for another skill that students will need later in life, note-taking. "Measures of speed among elementary-school students are good predictors of the quality and quantity of their writing in middle school," says Stephen Peverly, a professor of psychology and education at Columbia University's Teachers College. "I don't care about legibility."

Predictions of handwriting's demise didn't begin with the computer; they date back to the introduction of the Remington typewriter in 1873. But for at least a generation, penmanship has seemed a quaint and, well … schoolmarmish subject to be emphasizing. Now, backed by new research, educators are trying to wedge it back into the curriculum. After all, no one has suggested that the invention of the calculator means we don't have to teach kids how to add, and spelling is still a prized skill in the era of spell check. If we stop teaching penmanship, it will not only hasten the dreaded day when brides acknowledge wedding gifts by e-mail; the bigger danger is, they'll be composed even more poorly than they already are.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Curse of Cursive

Well, I liked the penultimate sentence.

Penmanship, like hieroglyphics and the IBM Selectric, has lost its purpose. Let's erase it for good.

Jessica Bennett
From the magazine issue dated Feb 23, 2009

In all my years of school, there was only one time I cried in class. It was the first week of first grade—Mrs. Scougie's room—and we were learning cursive. Q. I hated the letter. But it wasn't that I couldn't get the strokes right. It was the way I held my pencil: with four fingers around the base, not three—an apparent crime against writing protocol. And though I still write that way, thank you very much, I haven't used script since elementary school. I type, I Twitter, I Facebook and IM. I e-mail co-workers who sit feet from my desk, and text rather than call. The only time I pen a handwritten letter is when I write to my grandmother. So when I hear people say that penmanship is dead, my response: it's about time.

It's precisely people like me who prompted Kitty Burns Florey, a longtime copy editor, to write "Script and Scribble," in which she argues that there's simply too much to be lost by allowing the written word to fade into irrelevance. Penmanship, Florey believes, is about more than pretty loops and strokes. It's a way to understand our past, reflect ourselves in the present and maybe even improve our cognition in the future. "I know that in the digital age, forming perfectly sculpted letters on paper can seem pointless," says Florey, 65. "But I think there are a lot of people who just can't stand to see handwriting die. And it's not just old people!"

No, but they may be out-of-touch people. The folks who want to make us script conscripts have formulated all sorts of rationalizations. Chief among them: education. Some studies have shown a link between good handwriting and improved academic performance. A recent one found that the majority of primary-school teachers believe that students with fluent handwriting produce better work, though it seems just as likely that the teachers might "believe" that because legible handwriting makes their jobs easier. And you could just as easily argue that cursive can be a disincentive to learning for Q-phobic kids like me (though even I believe kids should still learn block lettering). That was the case for Anne Trubek's 9-year-old son, who struggled so much with penmanship that he now hates writing altogether. "His school's policy is that you must learn cursive because you need to learn how to write and read it," says Trubek, who is a professor of English at Oberlin College. "I understand that you need to know how to write, but I think cursive could really just go." Teachers seem to think so, too. Penmanship was once taught for close to an hour each day; it now warrants less than 15 minutes, according to a 2007 study. Keyboarding has replaced cursive as the priority in most schools, and most kids don't use it when they have the chance: in 2006, just 15 percent of SAT takers used cursive on the written test.

Then there's the history argument: if we can't read script, we'll lose a link to our past. How will we study the Declaration of Independence, or make sense of letters from the Civil War? Will we no longer be able to translate the diaries of our ancestors? They're valid concerns, except that no ordinary person is hitting up the original text of the Declaration anyway. And if reading "The Diary of Anne Frank" in translation is good enough for most every student in America, what's so wrong with a pocket-size transcription of the Founding Fathers' words? Sure, handwriting can be a form of individual expression; if there were no cursive, John Hancock would be just another name on a legal document. Yet if Princess Diana—who was accepted into secondary school on the strength of her penmanship—were alive today, she'd probably be typing in a lovely custom font.

If you think about it, penmanship has been edging toward oblivion for years. Between the printing press, the typewriter and now, of course, the computer, it's a "historical blip," as Trubek puts it, among writing technologies. By the 1890s, even Henry James was dictating his novels to a secretary. The fact is, the push to save cursive isn't so much historical or educational as it is emotional. Which means there's a reason people such as Florey are worrying about handwriting's disappearance right now. As historian Tamara Plakins Thornton, the author of "Handwriting in America," explains it, penmanship represents a simpler, prettier way of life—slower and more personal, much like the handwritten note. In times of particular anxiety—war, recession, change—we tend to cling to these simplicities of the past as a way to maintain order over the present. So if loops and swirls make you feel better, be my guest. In fact, go buy a fountain pen. The economy needs all the help it can get.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Dylan does Pepsi

I was a bit surprised to hear 'Forever Young' sung during a Superbowl commercial!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Transformers 2

Here's the first trailer I've seen for the film that Teresa was an extra in this past summer. Didn't catch her? Neither did I.