Sunday, November 30, 2008

The morning found me miles away...

With still a million things to say.

Isn't that always the case?  I'm always worried that I've forgotten to tell you guys something important.  But this IS important, so pay attention...

I don't know how many of you have seen Brazil already (it was on cable a couple of weeks ago), but if you have, PLEASE DON'T GIVE AWAY THE ENDING!!!

This is the only text that I don't want you to finish reading BEFORE we discuss it in class...but I'm going to link the script below so those who have already seen it can review it.  If you DO read it without seeing it, DON'T READ THE LAST PAGE.

Link to Brazil script.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Vocab Reminder

So, just in case anyone has forgotten that there is a vocab test on Monday, I'm reminding you that it's OPEN-NOTE, but the notes have to be handwritten.  AND you'll be required to attach your notes to the test for credit.  Don't forget!

Also, thanks to Daniel (who sent me an interesting Disney-is-evil link), I found an excellent sample essay, linked below:

Sample essay

Although this essay is comparative in nature, juxtaposing two texts rather than focusing on one, you can still see how it applies a close analysis of ONE scene in each film ("When I see an Elephant Fly" from Dumbo and "I Wanna Be Like You" from The Jungle Book, if you are unfamiliar with either of these songs, I suggest you look up a clip on YouTube so you understand what the writer is saying) to a larger critique of the film as a whole.

Notice how in addition to a detailed discussion of the specific scenes, there is reference to key elements from the rest of the text (ie. Dumbo and Timothy's accidental inebriation leading to "Pink Elephants on Parade"), the creator's personal life (Walt Disney's growing empire distracting him from supervising the filmmaking) and the historical context (African-American jazz culture of the 1930s-40s).  See how these layers add complexity to the analysis?

Finally, this essay uses a fair number of external sources, but doesn't cite them parenthetically.  Instead, the writer attributes all direct quotes, and then provides a comprehensive bibliography at the end of his essay.  I personally find this technique offers a much more fluid and engaging read than the usual clunky MLA format, but you may use either, as you see fit.

You should have a solid thesis for your essay by the time we have our next writing workshop if you want to stay on track.  If you're having difficulty, use this essay as an example...break it down so you understand what it does.  Identify the thesis.  How does the writer support it with evidence from the text?  Is it effective?  Why?  Then ask yourself how you can apply the same principles to your essay.

Good luck, enjoy the weekend, I'll see you on Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Historical Event

This is a rant.  It has nothing to do with class, other than that it is ostensibly about the English language (and I suppose it may tie into Pygmalion, when we get around to it). But it has to be said, so I'm saying it.

For the last few months, newspeople and other commentators have been going on and on about how this was "an historical election."  If you heard that, I hope you flinched.  I did, repeatedly.

Yeah, we all know that you use "an" in front of "hour," which also begins with an "H" (which, as you'll notice, is also preceded by "an" instead of "a"). BUT, since when do we, red-blooded Americans that we are, drop the "H" in "historical?"  So what the bleepity-blip-boop are these seemingly erudite pundits going on about?  

It'sItalic "a historical election" by any measure of standard American English.  Have the sixties become "an hippified era?"  Is Iran now "an hostile nation?" Do Mexican restaurants serve their food on "an hot plate?" 

No!  NO NO NO!

Sorry, I just channeled Ted Stevens for a moment. 

But seriously, what kind of pretentious weeniehead reporter does this?  It looks wrong, sounds wrong, plainly IS wrong and yet this error is saturating the airwaves.  Doesn't anyone check their work before going on the air? Even the AP Stylebook--theoretically "the journalist's bible"--says it's wrong, "We use the article "a" before consonant sounds."  Yeah, last I checked, the "H" in "historical" wasn't silent.  That makes it a consonant sound, doesn't it?

So...when legions of journalists don't follow the rules set forth by the organization they have designated as their own authority in how to use language, the media has totally lost all credibility as serious professionals.  How sad is that?

The next thing you know, they'll all be saying "nucular," too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A couple of pre-Thanksgiving Break announcements

First of all, I hope you all will remember that you have a vocab test on the Monday you come back, December 1st.  It'll be IN-CLASS this time, and open-note (Yeah, I've given up on the online testing for now...but it might come back).  If you don't remember to bring HANDWRITTEN NOTES, you're out of luck.  And yes, I'll be collecting the notes this time...I'm not thrilled with the degree of preparation demonstrated in the last test.  Just because it's a take-home test doesn't mean that you can wing it, you know.  You're going to have a 50 question test in a 48 minute period.  The better your notes are, and the more familiar you are with the words, the easier it'll be for you.

UPDATE: Just so you know, I administered the vocab test to myself on Friday, sans notes.  It took about 25 minutes and I scored 47/50.  That should give you some idea of what to expect.

You will also have a sub that day, it should be Mr. Suri again.  Things seemed to go pretty smoothly last time, so I've requested him for the two other days I'm out this year as well.  Please be on your best behavior and treat him with the respect he deserves.

Secondly, I'm announcing the last extra credit assignment of the semester.  For TEN points, you can bring in a NEW, gift-quality children's book to donate to the Tales for Tots Holiday Drive.  It doesn't have to be expensive, but it has to be shiny and clean...there should be no wear or tear, and they shouldn't be obvious freebies (you know how many times I've had to say no to copies of The Foot Book?  You know, the one with the letter in front saying "we hope you'll enjoy this free copy of...").

All told, this'll make 65 possible extra credit points out of roughly 1200 points in the semester.  If you took advantage of every opportunity, it should help you a lot.

Finally, if you didn't grow up watching the Muppets, it's not too late to start.  In fact, I highly, HIGHLY recommend it.

Here's the most hapless carnivore ever, attempting to prepare a turkey dish:

This is Google's Swedish Chef interface.  Don't ask.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Vocabulary Test 51-100 Key

ALL ANSWERS SHOULD BE COMPLETE SENTENCES!!! You will receive no credit if the sentence does not have a subject AND predicate. Also, no credit if each answer isn't numbered and on its own line. My TAs were instructed to grade brutally, as I warned you they would be.

1. Why is Bill Maher opposed to certitude?
Bill Maher opposes certitude because he believes there is value in doubt, and faith is just an opinion.

2. What is the film La Chagrin et la Pitie (1971) about? Is it an appropriate title for the subject?
La Chagrin et la Pitie is a documentary about the Nazi occupation of a French village, the title is very appropriate.

3. Why did the writer of the new film, The Changeling, originally think he should change the title?
J. Michael Straczynski was not sure the supernatural connotations of changeling was appropriate for the film.

4. Look at these two pages of choleric personality traits:
Would you like to work for a choleric boss? Why?
Most people would not like to work for a choleric boss because they would be very driven and rigid, but they would also be highly productive, strong leaders...if you like that sort of thing.

5. Would you enjoy your visit to the circumlocution office?
No one would enjoy visiting the circumlocution office because you would never get a straight answer to your question.

6. In this article:
is being circumspect considered a positive trait? Why or why not?
No, being circumspect is presented as a negative trait, slightly cowardly, lacking a passion for life, etc...

7. Is this blog entry appropriately titled? Why or why not?
No, the blogger is not being very succinct in describing her life...understandable, seeing how complex her life has become, but that doesn't change the fact that the word is used incorrectly.

8. Why might Dan Johnson's life be without compunction?
Dan Johnson spends his life spreading the word of god, so he feels no guilt or anxiety.

9. Does this article recommend concomitant use of ibuprofen and low-dose aspirin? What is its position?
The article spends a lot of time and words to arrive at no concrete recommendation about taking both ibuprofen and aspirin, only an observation that the timing of the dosages has to be carefully monitored.

10. What 'condescension' is Peter Craven referring to in this article?
Craven is referring to the dumbing down of the literary curriculum to reflect texts that are easily relatable as opposed to having transcendent humanistic value.

11. According to this article, which parts of the brain are involved in confabulatory states?
The frontal and parietal lobes in the right hemisphere of the brain appear to be involved in confabulatory states.

12. Read this short story. Explain why the conflagration was 'imperfect.'
The conflagration did not destroy the evidence as intended.

13. Is this painting appropriately named?
Yes, this painting appears to depict two brothers, so Confrere makes sense as a title.

14. What kind of trial is the CONSORT Statement designed to report?
The CONSORT Statement is designed to report medical trials.

15. Why would the flower arrangement cause consternation?
The arrangement caused consternation because it resembled a swastika.

16. Do you agree with this writer about the Red Sox? Why or why not?
Since the Red Sox won, despite the odds against them, the headline is appropriate.

17. What is the focus of this theater company's work?
Point of Contention seeks to illuminate the human experience.

18. After reading this article, answer the questions in the last paragraph.
Although the questions seek an opinion, for a student in AP English, there can only be one answer: Newspapers SHOULD seek to challenge their audience by using higher level vocabulary. (If an AP student doesn't value vocabulary growth, they don't belong in AP English.)

19. What native North American mammals are crepuscular? Name at least two.
There are a LOT: rabbits, foxes, possums, deer, etc... Most likely, any answers given are correct, BUT make sure the animals named are birds or reptiles.

20. What is the cuckold's name in Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Miller's Tale?"
The cuckold's name in "The Miller's Tale" is John.

21. Read the poem, explain what Whitman's describing.
Whitman is describing eagles mating in mid-air.

22. Which vocabulary word best describes the first picture?
The vocabulary word that best describes this picture is corpulence.

23. What happens in the denouement of Brave New World?
John the Savage hangs himself in the denouement of Brave New World.

24. What kind of music can you deduce this band plays?
Deride apparently plays some sort of death metal/thrash/punk...something aggro.

25. What is the common name for desiccated cow flesh?
The common name for desiccated cow flesh is beef jerky.

26. Who runs this website? How can you tell?
No one appears to operate this site because none of the links actually DO anything.

27. Is this a good name for the game? Why?
Yes, Desolation is a good name for a post-apocalyptic video game.

28. Does this man's life really seem desultory? How?
Yes, this man's life is desultory, he bounces from one random job to another, with no real plan. (While this site appears to have been deleted by aol on 10/31, the original vocab test was due on 10/27 and I announced the extended deadline on 10/30, so if you missed that window, it's on you.)

29. Is this a good name for this site? Why?
Yes, Detritus is a good name for a site that "recycles culture."

30. Is the title of this painting appropriate? Why?
Evolve to Devolve is an appropriate title for this painting because it depicts two sources of power, wind and oil. One is considered primitive, but is also the wave of the future. The other brought about much of our current technological advances, but is non-renewable and thus, not a viable source of future power. If we want to survive, as a society, we must evolve...yet in this case, evolution requires that we go backward, to a simpler source of power.

31. Do you agree with the author about refusing to accept the dichotomies imposed by our society?
I would hope that everyone would refuse to accept the limiting labels that society imposes on us.

32. What is the legal definition of "DICTUM" (or, in its singular form, "DICTA")?
Dicta are judicial opinions expressed by the judges on points that do not necessarily arise in the case.

33. What reason does this person give for choosing the name of his farm?
He "liked the idea of using a mythological place as a herd name because it gave me such a huge selection of names to chose from when naming my animals."

34. Copy the first stanza of Carroll's parody.
How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!
(This one was tricky...most people copied Watt's original poem, not Carroll's parody. Always read instructions carefully.)

35. Is Rob Fishman complimenting Cornell's diffidence in this article? Why or why not?
No, Rob Fishman is saying that Cornell should be more proactive about offering financial aid, like the other Ivy League schools mentioned.

36. Would you say the creators of this site have been dilatory?
Yes, the creators of have done absolutely NOTHING with the site, lazybutts.

37. Do you agree or disagree with the disapprobation theory presented in this comment? Why?
This question should have open-ended answers, but the reasons given ought to make sense.

38. Which definition of effete is this headline invoking? effete/
This article is referring to the meaning "Marked by self-indulgence, triviality, or decadence."

39. Based on this information, give an example of a dissolution we encounter in everyday life.
We may encounter sugar water, salt water, or any number of other dissolutions in everyday life.

40. Listen to a few of the sample tracks on this site. Do you agree with the characterization of Midge's voice as "dulcet?"
The answer may agree or disagree, this one's wide open. But again, the answers should make sense.

41. Is this a good example of duplicity? shore-drilling
Yes, this is an excellent example of duplicity.

42.  Which vocabulary word best describes the person's expression in the second picture?
This person's expression is best described as doleful.

43. Who composed this thought-provoking aphorism?
"It is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane." --George Orwell

Identify which parts of speech these two words are, and identify the root word:

44. Efficacious : Adjective

45. Efficacy : Noun

The root word for both of these is effect.

46. Would a solution of mustard and warm water work as an emetic?
Yes, apparently mustard and warm water will make you puke.

47. What is the cognitive dissonance implicit in this product?
Sound coming out of speakers that look like eyeballs is cognitively dissonant because they are evoking the wrong sensory organ.

48. Read these two entries in Jeff Goldstein's blog, does he actually elucidate his haiku for the concerned reader?
Yes, Jeff Goldstein does elucidate his haiku for the concerned reader, although that doesn't make it any more logical.

49. Find a product or service that is named "Elan." Copy and paste the link, and explain whether the company named itself appropriately or not.
Again, answers may vary greatly...and again, it's the EXPLANATION that counts. If it sounds logical, give them credit.

50. Identify at least THREE types of effusion and identify their location on the human body.
Pleural: Lungs/Chest cavity
Pericardial: Heart
Parapneumatic: Lungs (inside)
Subdural: Brain
Tympanic/Otitus Media: Ear
Joint: Various Joints

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Helpful Hints

Now that the first quarter is over, I’m sure everyone is either very relieved or very anxious about how it went. As I’ve mentioned, within the last month or so, your test scores are starting to split into two distinct groups: those who are showing obvious improvement, and those who are stagnating.

If you feel you’re not improving, here are some ideas that may help you boost your scores in the coming months...

1. Get a prep book! Use it! Regularly. I don’t make this a “requirement” for the class, since there’s no way I can enforce it without wasting a lot of time playing cop, but it’s quite clear who has--and who has not--been taking additional practice tests on their own. The strongest students in previous years are the ones who prepare for the in-class tests by taking a test at home the night before. It’s a good idea, even if it’s not an assignment.

If a prep book is not available to you, there are many websites that offer bits and pieces of AP prep materials. Google books has a few, as well. There’s no reason you can’t find stuff if you try. Be proactive. Success is your responsibility, not mine.

2. Study the list of literary terms. The one I posted is not necessarily the best one, it’s just what was available online. There should be a list in every prep book, too. Knowing these terms is a key part of building a vocabulary with which you can intelligently discuss any literary work.

3. Know how to scan a poem. I’ve posted a website on the blog that discusses this in detail, but again, a prep book should also cover this basic skill (you can also google “scan a poem” and TONS of sites pop up). It is useful on both the MC poetry passages and the poetry essay prompt.

4. Do the assigned readings ON TIME! I can tell that a fair number of you aren’t staying caught up on the readings. You tend to be completely quiet and avoid eye-contact during lectures. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the same students who sheepishly avoid looking at me and never have anything to say are often also the ones who score low on tests. Cause and effect,’s simple.

The readings aren’t capriciously assigned. I chose these texts for very specific reasons, and I genuinely believe they will help you do well on the AP test. If you don’t read them BEFORE the assigned dates, then you are simply not getting everything you can from the lectures because I am going on the assumption that you’ve done the reading.

5. Refer to the blog regularly. Subscribe to it if you can (it may require a Gmail account...I like Gmail in general, it works. And no, I don’t get a kickback from Google). I post a lot of information on the blog, if you don’t bother keeping up with it, it’s like being absent from class. Because our time is so tight, I use the blog to disseminate materials and review administrative details. It is an INTEGRAL part of the class, you cannot afford to ignore it.

6. If your exam scores are stagnating, work extra hard to boost your grade on the essays and vocabulary tests. Honestly, folks--and I hope I’m not being mean here--not everyone came into the class with the same skill levels or prior knowledge. Some students are simply less well prepared than others for the challenge of rigorous AP-level critical reading. But that doesn’t mean those students are weaker writers, or less capable in vocabulary development. If you feel that you’re in over your head on the practice tests, apply your energies towards doing your absolute BEST on the other elements of the class. They will carry you through even if you continue to struggle with the exams.