Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

September 04, 2004

Santana steamrolls Royals

Johan Santana had a no-hitter through six innings last night. Most impressive, however, was how he handled the seventh inning. The first batter got a hit, which spoiled the no-hitter. That is the time when many pitchers fall apart. Santana bore down and got the next hitter to ground to short, a perfect double-play ball--except second baseman Micheal Cuddyer missed the relay throw. Two on, nobody out.

Santana proceeded to strike out the next three batters. It was amazing to watch. He has quite a look in his eye right now. He's virtually unhittable, and psychologically, he's on top of his game. Streaks like this happen so rarely in baseball that we have to enjoy it while it lasts, we baseball fans. The rest of you can only sit back and wonder what we're all excited about.

I am somewhat exhausted from the first week of class. It is good to be back in the classroom. I am somewhat more equipped to teach than I was twelve years ago when I last taught. Even so, this is going to be a lot of work. I this week, I gave daily quizzes which measured how well the last lecture soaked in, as well as gave me some clue whether they were doing the reading outside of class. Most of the electoral college lecture soaked in on the government class, but a couple of points were simply missed. So, I have to go over them again.

Next task in government: To make sense of our presidential nominating process, the process which elevates Iowa and New Hampshire out of obscurity and into the forefront of the nation's consciousness every four years. Lots of "why? why? why?" questions, for the system simply makes no sense. Why don't they rotate states? Well, because there is no "they" controlling the primaries and caucuses. Why don't other states move their caucuses up ahead of Iowa's? I really have no idea--I will have to look it up.

We're covering the exploration years in American History--Vasco de Gama, Magellan, Columbus, John Cabot, Cortes, that bunch. The students caught on to the reading very well--they displayed a good grasp of the general concepts on the quiz, but had a little trouble with specific vocabulary. That's fine with me.

In World Civilization, the task is to make the ancient civilizations come to life. Performing CPR on King Tut, you could say. I am also dealing with the students' frustration over the sheer volume of materiel and dates. I want them to read, but I don't want them to be overwhelmed--so we will be discussing--what is relevant? What benefits us, and what do we merely have to know for tests? These questions have no definitive answers, but I think it will help to have the questions out front ahead of time.

These students were born in 1985 or so. They have no memory whatsoever of the Cold War, of Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter or Richard Nixon. To them, Clinton probably was president forever back into the early recesses of their memory.

YOU WONDER WHY Russian music is so dark, so sad, so haunted? So much of their history is tragedy of the sort that is going on there now with the school which was taken over by rebels and stormed by Russian troops. Russian history is truly brutal, from Ivan the Terrible to Josef Stalin. Their weather is cold, their winters dark. With the poverty and alcoholism that is so rampant there now, I just have to think that the conditions of life there would be shocking to us if we were exposed to it close up.

September 02, 2004

Radke rolls

The Twins won again against the heavy-hitting Rangers, 2-0. Radke was on. Last week, he was off against the Angels and gave up 9 runs. Tonight, he pitched eight shutout innings. He is poetry in motion when he's on--he makes it look effortless.

Tomorrow night, Johan Santana pitches for the Twins. Tonight it was announced that he was named American League pitcher-of-the-month for the second month in a row. Not many people have ever done that.

SPEND MUCH of the day preparing for classes. Although I enjoy reading the textbooks before class, it is obvious to me that there is so much information in them that it would be incredibly frustrating for a student to read them thinking, "which of these facts do I need to know for the test?"

That very question wrecks the fun of reading history for the students, I am convinced. I know it did for me when I was a student. How do you get around it? I try to highlight what they need to know in class. I also spent a little time preparing study questions today--questions they can have at their side when they do the reading so they have something tangible to look for in the sea of facts.

The history curriculum in this country, and I suspect everywhere, is completely screwed up. When you force freshmen to take survey courses, courses which purport to cover large periods of time but which usually succeed only in turning off students to history for good due to information overload and sheer boredom, you insure that students will hate history, perhaps for their entire lifetime.

Instead, I think history should be taught as literature. Students should read the very best history books, no matter what they are about. They should study the methods used by the historian. They should examine his or her biases. What did those biases contribute to the book? Usually, the more subjective history books are the ones with the OOOOMPH to pull the reader through. Those sterile writers who try to cover every base and cover their butt with endless qualifications succeed only in turning off their audience.

The textbooks from which I am teaching this semester aren't bad--but because they have to cover so many years of history, they inevitably skim over events which are much more interesting if presented in vivid detail. And they present numbers and events as fact which are in fact still open to debate.

SOME BLOGGERS--that is people who write weblogs like this one, but with a national audience--have discussed how very difficult it is to express an opinion of any sort about the presidential race without getting outraged emails from readers. If you criticize Bush, you are unpatriotic. If you criticize Kerry, you are going along with the sleazemonsters on the right. One blogger decided to call it quits. Another admits to erasing some of his more pointed observations because it isn't worth the trouble reading the mail.

I would say, toughen up, people--but I usually avoid politics, too--it just isn't worth the anger it stirs up. Irrational rage. I see it on people's faces, and you can see it in their emails--their is a lot of rage and hatred in this campaign.

Makes you want to shut it all off and not read a thing about it--except for that I am teaching a government class this fall. Makes sense to use the present situation as an object lesson, I guess. I have decided I had better learn what this 527 business is so that I can teach it to the students. Ugh.

FINALLY, some hot weather. Hot weather here, hurricanes in the Carribean. The gift shop manager at the nursery, Dot, went to the Bahamas this week for a vacation--according to an email from her daughter, who is also there, she will be spending tonight in a shelter. Poor Dot!

September 01, 2004

Twins 4 Texas 2

A big win for the Twins tonight. After being dominated by Ranger pitcher Chen Ho Park for 7 2/3 innings, they broke through in the eighth inning to take the lead. Old-timer Terry Mulholland pitched 6 strong innings. Newcomer Terry Tiffee, forced into action because the Twins have about 4 injured 3rd basemen, got hits in his first two major league at-bats, once again highlighting the depth of the Twins. If one guy gets hurt, they have two more.

Has to be heartbreaking for the Rangers. They have had a great year, and they are still in the hunt. It makes you wonder: After Seattle let "the greatest player in the game," Alex Rodriguez, go to the Rangers, they immediately won 117 games in a single season. Meanwhile, with Rodriguez, Texas spent three years in last place and looked completely hopeless. Last winter, they dumped the best player in the game and his $230 contract on the Yankees, and now they are winning again. Hmmm.

YESTERDAY SAW some progress on the house--the Wild Rice Electric Cooperative plowed in the underground electric line 4/10s of a mile across the soybean field into the house site. It was impressive to see them go. They started at 8:30 am, and by noon, there was a nice electric meter on a little pole near the future site of the house.

I called the cement man to let him know that there was power for his tools, and his wife assured me that he was a little behind, but was on the way. I am glad I am busy teaching or else these inevitable delays and waiting periods would drive me nuts.

SECOND DAY of teaching was as fun, perhaps moreso, than the first. I took pictures of the students standing in front of the chalkboard (or eraser board, as the case may be) where I had them write their name and hometown. That worked until the third class when the camera's battery ran out. They'll be up for pictures Friday. I told them to dress up.

After the first day of American Government class, two girls from Canada came up to me and said, "We don't have a clue!" They were worried because they knew nothing whatsoever about American government.

Well, they came today loaded for bear. Their assignment had been to go on the internet and find out all the information they could about the Electoral College. They were to understand it enough to be able to calculate how many votes each state had in the College. They said they had worked for 1 1/2 hours, and they had it down. I was proud of them. Most of the other students did fine, too.

Attempting to explain the Electoral College required me to think about it enough to give me renewed admiration for the genius of the Founding Fathers--I am sure the Electoral College didn't work out as they intended, but it has prevented many big problems over the years.

For example, what if we elected a president by popular ballot and the election was within a couple of thousand votes? We wouldn't just be looking for hanging chads in Florida--it would be all over the country. The lawyers would be digging for votes for months, years, it would never end.

August 30, 2004

First day of class complete

I was pretty shot after I got done with the third lecture today. I was forgetting what I had said to which class about what, and I think I started to repeat myself.

The students seem quite different from when I last taught. Perhaps it is because UMC has changed its clientele since I last taught, I don't know. They seem a bit more worldly and a little less innocent, although that probably doesn't translate into having some background in history. I sensed today that we were pretty much starting at zero, which is fine.

It is fine to start at zero if the students are bright and energetic, which they seemed to be. I got some strange looks when I told them that if they didn't show up for class that would be fine with me because then they won't be wearing out the chairs, and the school will still get their money so they can pay me--and hey, I need to give out a few F's so people don't think I am a pushover.

WHAT A PERFECT day today. After teaching inside all day, it was particularly nice to get back out to the nursery and walk around the gardens. I went out to the house site (no action on that front yet) and saw that I had better cut down a couple of trees which seem to be dying right near where the house will go. Easier to get them down now than after there is a house in the way.

Then, I came home and went for a run. Perfect weather for that. I have been running two miles about three or four times per week. I used to run four, but have decided to run just two and try to shave down my time. I don't keep track, I just imagine that I am running harder and faster each time I go out and leave it at that.

New office

I am sitting in my new office at the University of Minnesota in Crookston. I am sharing it with a fellow adjunct lecturer. I finished my first class an hour ago.

There were more people than chairs, so two girls had to sit in the corner on top of an unused table. Most of the students looked very young. I had expected more older-than-average students.

After class, it was time to stand in line for my new laptop computer, issued by the University. I have one at home, but I had just as well use theirs when I am here. It has a wireless connection on campus, so I can sit in the library and write on the weblog if I want.

I'll probably be too busy trying to keep ahead of the students. You have to learn history before you can teach it.

WELL, I wrote a column about the election this morning. I swore I wouldn't, but then I did. If anything is striking about this election, it is how terribly humorless people are about it. Both sides. It's like walking on eggshells. People either hate Kerry or they hate Bush--there seems to be no middle ground at all. I find it very unpleasant. Neither side seems to think there are people of good faith on the other side. People are snarly.

It is difficult, if not impossible, I suppose, to lighten up when war becomes the issue. People's nerves are quickly frayed, either by their opposition to this or that war, or by their irritation of critics of this or that war. Because lives are at stake, humor necessarily falls by the wayside.

I don't think I've seen things this testy in my memory.

PLUS, THE TWINS lost again yesterday. They are teetering a little bit. Santana came through on Saturday night, but Radke got pounded on Friday and the bullpen fell through yesterday.

TIME TO get ready for the next class, World Civilization. I have to at least get the room number right this time-this morning, I waltzed in to a Biology class and said good morning to everybody before getting the boot. First days of school never change!