Tuesday, November 23, 2010

David Nolan 1943 - 2010

I had the pleasure of meeting David Nolan and watching him debate during the 2006 AZ CD-8 election where he sparred with Arizona Senator Gabrielle Giffords and former Arizona Rep. Randy Graf. Nolan was a delight to both see and hear, and I learned when we were young we shared very similar sentiments.

We were both avid science fiction fans during high school, in particular enjoying the works of Robert Heinlein, agreeing that Heinlein's best was, no, not the best selling Stranger in Strange Land (1961), but in fact Time Enough for Love (1973), which features the Notebooks of Lazarus Long, "Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house."

In high school we were Ayn Rand devotees (he more or less remained one). He chose what is generally considered the preferable sequence, The Fountainhead (1943) first and then Atlas Shrugged (1957). I started with Atlas Shrugged, which renders The Fountainhead rather unclimactic. Religion never came up, so only today did I learn that Nolan was also a Unitarian Universalist.

The growth of the Tea Party, the Nolan chart, and the comments in the video above all point to the need for more illuminating angles and perspectives regarding our political discourse. His frustration with the Libertarian Party sounds eerily familiar with what Tea has expressed about the GOP. Without question David Nolan was a truly free thinker committed to what he considered best for humanity and not focused on what was best for himself and his friends at the expense of others. He will be missed.


Anonymous Observer said...

David Nolan was the kind of opposition to the Democrats that I can respect. He was intelligent and highly educated. His arguments were based on reason and effort.

The absolute opposite of what we see taking over the Republican party as we speak.

Thinking of Nolan makes me even more resentful of the current Republican party's prostitution of itself with political whores like Sarah Palin, and yes, she is a whore, as is Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, and the rest of the money grubbing scum raking in a fortune pandering bat shit to morons.

Nolan came from a time when conservatives had more of a head and less of an asshole.

11/23/2010 9:01 AM  
Blogger Casey DeLorme, APR said...

Another tangential thought sparked by your musings, X4...

I'm a huge reader--even moreso now that ebooks are so easily available and relatively inexpensive--but had not yet gotten to Heinlein. (Not really big on Sci Fi except for Dune, which was a great stand-alone novel. Had always skipped "Stranger", as it seemed one of those like "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"; one that impacted a generation, but wasn't of interest to the next...)

However, your quote here from the Notebooks of Lazarus Long, "Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house." ...really jumped out at me. I immediately found and added both books to my Kindle.

You discuss from time to time your love of teaching. I've also encountered students who've benefited from your talents there. And you teach math, which, tragically, our school culture has a bad habit of declaring as "hard".

From what I understand, your ability to make comprehensible--hell, even enjoyable--often difficult-to-grasp concepts like dealing with polynomials interesting and fun is an aspect your students truly appreciate. They suddenly see the concept of something like tackling a quadratic equation as useful.

At the same time, you do these wonderfully reflective movie reviews. They're not so much about the movie itself, but what you found yourself exploring within the context of the movie. Even The Human Centipede, which was a horrid film, but something worth watching just to see how one reacts to an absolutely insane... well, notion. (And your personal nightmare would be worth making as a movie for exactly the same reason. How DO we respond when faced with atrocities that exceed our personal experience, imaginations, and concepts of what is right/decent in the world?)

But math... This is, of course, your blog. As readers, we all appreciate your sharing these thoughts as you go along. Partially it's entertainment. Partially insight into a tiny segment of current events; especially those related to Tucson. Partially it's seeing a fellow human grapple with the world.

And as a reader, I'd love to see you to experiment with something. Try a post that takes the same insight you've applied to movies--and apply it to math. Not to teach us math, but to illuminate your own experience with it. With parts that fascinate you or that you had to struggle with or found a unique way of getting students to grasp something they were struggling with.

I think that would be fun. Plus, we could appreciate what you're doing with your classes.

Case point: I remember you struggling through a freakishly-high-level statistics class for your PhD. You kept talking about the genius students could get this stuff that you really had to work at. But statistics is this amazing tool that often illuminates things we didn't even know could be illuminated. What did you have your eyes opened to?

(Personal) case in point: Took a (Newtonian mechanics) physics class in high school, but it was algebra-based and involved memorizing all kinds of formulas rather than learning how to actually solve the problems. Then I studied calculus and discovered how powerful differentials were. Once you got the concept, a single equation basically negated the need for all the formulas. Powerful tool, that. Eyes opened. Understanding statistics is powerful for the same reason.

Case in point: A very enjoyable book called "The Number Devil". It was designed as a kids book to excite them about numbers. It demonstrates all kinds of oddball number tricks that aren't necessarily taught in math classes, but help kids find numbers interesting.

It's just a thought. And take it as you do with other suggestions/ideas I've proffered. Use it if worthwhile. Discard if not. I'll always have more.

11/23/2010 10:56 AM  
Blogger Cigar Man said...

I know people who have had Matt as a teacher. It is more accurate to call him a "course leader" because he actually has those skills. I know some people whose life changed because of taking his class.

Matt contributed more to this community in a single math class than Snell or Walker will in their entire lives. The people who get what SAIAT was realize the unbelievable atrocity that was committed when they let Snell steal its funding and destroy the place.

It will never be seen or calculated, but the value of the skills it injected into the local workforce easily climbs to $100+ M. Just one program (HTHW) well surpassed $5 M per year, and keeps going. Sadly, the power brokers in Tucson either 1) don't know jack shit about workforce development or 2) deliberately want the workforce to be unskilled and cheap.

Tucson has one of the lowest skilled workforces in the nation for towns that have a flagship university. We know what happens when someone starts to actually make a difference about it.

Somewhere long ago at this blog, students wrote a comment to Matt about what his courses did for them. It made me cry.

For the money the city spent on a stupid video, SAIAT could have run for four years.

All of that now said, I say "Hell no!" to the notion of making a movie of x4mr's recently disclosed nightmare. Anyone watching such a film would require years of therapy for PTSD.

11/23/2010 1:21 PM  
Blogger Cigar Man said...

I should say a little more about workforce development economics. When it is done right, it directly translates to higher productivity in the workforce, which either increases output for the same costs, or reduces costs for the same output. This economic gain ripples outward.

Forgetting about the gains seen by their employers, which are huge, the HTHW students doubled and in some cases tripled their wages. We are talking about going from $20K at Big-O Tire to $45K at EOST or Lasertel. That's 25 grand into the economy from ONE student.

Matt's math class was a small, 3 month program, but its people averaged $7500/yr or so in increased wages PER STUDENT. He personally taught that himself to 80-100 or so a year. (Right, x4mr?) That's $700K/yr in higher wages for people who would spend every penny.

I could go on and on, and it was all REAL. We didn't have the word "cloth" back then, but I remember some of the meetings at PCC. If you only knew.

PCC can train tons of people, but real success only occurs if they find the jobs that require/use the skills they just got. How many times have you heard about people getting all this training and then can't get jobs?

The GENIUS of what Matt did is that he trained people ALREADY employed with skills the EMPLOYER said were needed. The return on investment occurs immediately or almost immediately for both employer and employee.

11/23/2010 1:50 PM  
Blogger The Navigator said...

Well, it isn't hard to figure out what lights Cigar Man's, uh, Cigar.

I agree with Observer that David Nolan represented the decency and sanity wing of those who oppose liberal ideology. Unfortunately, as Observer has observed, the Republicans have been hijacked by the worship of DumbFu**.

Time Enough For Love is a great piece of science fiction. Heinlein is one of those science fiction authors that explores the interesting human angles of the altered realities made possible by science fiction. The first Heinlein book I ever read was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

It makes sense that x4mr, who was a libertarian while in high school, and David Nolan would be Heinlein readers. Heinlein is recognized as one of the most influential libertarian fiction writers. Libertarian themes are throughout all his books.

Okay, Sirocco, where are you?

11/23/2010 7:51 PM  
Blogger The Navigator said...

Forgot to add that Casey's idea about x4mr expanding his sharing of insights on film to include mathematics might be fun. I remember a particularly thought provoking post where x4mr presented, "The Wine Problem."

Casey, suggest you search this blog for "wine problem." You will like.

No film should be made of that nightmare.

11/23/2010 7:58 PM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

Heh - I was a sci-fi and Heinlein fan as well, although I recall most enjoying Starship Troopers ... which, just thinking off the top of my head (I.e., not putting a whole lot of reflection into it), may have been the least libertarian, and most authoritarian, of his novels, at least the ones I read.

11/24/2010 8:58 AM  

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