Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Keeping the baby's name a secret

Everyone wants to know what we're going to name the baby. Good luck with that. We're not telling.

Before Evangeline was born, we called her "Quaggy," short for "Quagmyra." That comes from a situation about four years ago when friends of ours were expecting their second child, and hadn't settled on a name. Since they were open to suggestions, I suggested Quagmyra, which became insanely popular afterward, even more than the other favorite, Lucifera.

The baby's current place-holder is Coyoge.

"Coyoge" comes from Wile E. Coyote, and is pretty much how Evangeline pronounces that name. She understands that Coyoge is in mommy's belly now, but for some reason she has decided that "Meep" is in my belly. (It's a learning process. Meep also has been known to zip from one belly to another.)

We have real names picked out for Coyoge, depending on whether the child turns out to be a boy or a girl. We're not revealing them until the baby is born because of the tsursis we got from relatives who didn't like the name Evangeline and kept telling us in hopes that we would change our minds.

My younger brother is especially distraught that we won't tell him the names we've picked since neither he nor his wife objected to "Evangeline," which they thought rather lovely anyway. I reminded him that two other members of our family registered their disapproval, and he should take his frustration out on them.

To be honest, when Coyoge finally is born, I'm tempted to repeat what I did when Evangeline was born and leave people in the dark a little longer. When I called my parents to share the news about her, I told my mother, "The baby was born at 3:36 p.m., and weighs 8 pounds 14 ounces. The baby is 22-and-a-half inches long, and both the baby and Natasha are fine."

I kept delaying telling her the baby's sex as long as I could. I think this time I'll let them know the baby's sex but not what we name him or her.

Copyright © 2002 by David Learn. Used with permission.

Friday, July 26, 2002

the learn family massacre

I believe this is by a third or fourth cousin of mine. I share it here for its value first as a bit of family history, but also for its account of a man's search for his roots.

The Learn Family Indian Massacre
By Paul Learn

"No Stone Left Unturned," an article by freelancer Ned T. Sooy in South Jersey Living (November 27, 1977) pointed up the fun of tracing your ancestors. It described the research of genealogist Ed Sherry, a Millville native who brooms the dusty tombstones of South Jersey cemeteries in search of his ancestral roots.

Genealogy has become the second-most popular hobby in the Nation, because the pursuit of your distant biogenetic past is for the most part entertaining. Sometimes, however, it can be disturbing and even downright embarrassing.

My absorption with tracing my family history had its seed on the farm of my great-uncle, Phillip Learn, in a village named Pond Creek in the hard-coal region of Pennsylvania. I was 7 years old, and I was standing on the porch of Uncle Phillip's farmhouse.

My Uncle Harvey Learn, father of Wayne Learn of Northfield and Arlene Clemens of Pleasantville, said with a laugh:

"Did you know that some of your Learn ancestors were killed by Indians? Your great-great-great-grandfather, Jake Learn, survived the Learn massacre by hiding in a haystack."

That wasn't very heroic of him, I thought. No wonder my cousin Buddy calls me a sissy. It's in my genes.

"Your great-great-great-great-grandfather, John Learn, was scalped."

"You also have an ancestor who I was hanged for murder," Uncle Harvey said, and laughed again.

Revelation that there was a Learn Massacre -- it's noted on a large mural giving historic events of Pennsylvania in the Penn-Stroud Hotel in Stroudsburg, Pa. -- fascinated me. In my child's mind, I envisioned the Learn wagon train being surrounded by whooping Indians and their fighting to the death to protect their women and their young.

It launched me on my years-long search for my roots: My search for heroes and heroic legend with which I could identify.

It was ego-satisfying to learn from The Pennsylvania Archives that when the John Learn family settled in Tannersville, Pa., in Monroe County outside Stroudsburg, it was the farthest northern white penetration into the Pennsylvania wilderness at that time. They were on the "point," so to speak.

My genealogical search through the Pennsylvania Archives revealed this account of the Learn Indian Massacre, which I'll paraphrase. It destroyed my childhood illusions of a John Wayneish fight to the death against insuperable odds behind the wheels of a wagon train.

The Indians who killed my kinfolk were known to them. The Learn murders were not the work of strange marauders lurking in the bushes who suddenly attacked. The archives do not spell out what lay behind the tragedy. There is a hint, however, that the Indians had been drinking liquor sold to them by whites. One Indian even is named in the archivist's account.

On July 5, 1781, the Indians attacked the Learn farming settlement and killed and scalped John Learn, the family patriarch, and killed his son, George; George's wife, and their baby.

The history records, but notes that the story is apocryphal, that either Jake Learn, my great-great-great grandfather, or his brother, John Jr., was chased by an Indian. The Learn boy hid in the bushes while the Indian stalked him.

During those days one-shot muskets were used, and after one shot was fired, the guns required reloading. Taking advantage of this, the Learn boy hiding in the bushes put his hat on a fallen tree branch, and (just like in the movies!) held it aloft to attract the Indian's musket fire. The ruse succeeded: The Indian fired, and while reloading his gun, my ancestor stood up and shot him dead.

His father wasn't so lucky. My scalped patriarch, according to the archivist, was shot and killed after he fired at his killer -- and missed. The Indian killed him while he was attempting to reload his musket.

After the slayings, Jake Learn and his brother, John Jr., went to Stroudsburg eight miles away to report the deaths and to get help. A posse was organized under the leadership of Colonel Jakob Stroud, after whom the City of Stroudsburg is named and whose equestrian statue is in the middle of the town square of Stroudsburg.

It seems that there was bad blood between the Learns and the Strouds. The colonel had accused the Learns of being Tories during the American Revolution, which perplexes me, because I have found the names of Learns in the Northumberland Militia, which fought on George Washington's side.

This Learn-Stroud feud may have been behind Colonel Stroud allowing the posse that was raised to carry along two jugs of booze on the chase. That was the mistake, the archivist indicates.

Riding their horses out of Stroudsburg, the posse followed the Indians' trail, along which they chanced on John Learn's scalp, and caught up with the Indians. But by this time almost all of the posse were drunk, and the archivist writes that when the whites attacked, there was "so much whooping and hollering" that the whites lost the element of surprise and the Indians escaped.

The posse's chase had turned into a drunken party, so the two Learn youths, disgusted, took off by themselves after the Indians.

They caught up with two of them asleep under a tree. Quietly, they approached them, shot and killed them, and, in revenge, hung their bodies upside down on a tree limb and mutilated them.

Later the Learn clan brought a lawsuit against Colonel Stroud, charging him with libel, but my search of the archives so far has failed to uncover the result of the court case.

Colonel Stroud, whose heroic equestrian statue stands in the city square, with pigeons doing their "thing" on it, was court-martialed for a variety of derelictions, including his conduct during the Learn Massacre and his pilfering of Army stores during the War. The court reprimanded him.

When I was a boy on the Pond Creek farm I had envisioned the Learn Massacre as a bloody battle in which hundreds had died, and for years I indicated such to my children when telling them about this family history.

I was therefore somewhat dismayed last year when my cousin, Wayne Learn, whose hobby also is genealogy, said, "As far as I can find, only four Learns were killed in the massacre, as church records show that John Learn's wife, Katerina, lived on long after."

Taken off guard, I cried, "Only four were killed? What kind of a massacre is that?"

Since Wayne's disclosure my son, Michael, disparagingly refers to the Learn Massacre as the Learn Mugging.

* * *

In our family history, too, has always been the story that one of our ancestors, Peter Learn, was killed in the War of 1812, shot off his horse while leading a cavalry charge.

I have always felt uneasy about that story, as I had never read of any cavalry charges in the War of 1812.

Wayne's genealogical research cleared up that story: The truth is that Peter Learn was killed while trying to stop a horsethief from making off with his farm animal.

* * *

One day, browsing through the archives in search of my roots, I came across it in an index. It. read: "Werkheiser, Karlos, execution of."

The sound of my Uncle Harvey's voice on the long ago farm echoed in my mind: "You also have an ancestor who was hanged for murder."

Karlos Werkheiser (another family name) was hanged in the public square of Stroudsburg on June 21, 1783.

Like John Learn Sr., he also was the pioneer of his family, coming over from the German Palatinate after Henry of Navarre had devastated the land.

He immigrated with his wife and eight children.

Since spotting that line in an archive index, I found two more references to his execution. One was Governor William Penn's rejection of the plea for clemency, filed by his friends.

I have not been able to find out whom my other great-great-great-great-grandfather murdered, or why.

What annoys me about the two meager references is that his name is spelled two ways: Werkheiser and Workheiser. How ignoble it is to have your name, which is an important part of your identity, misspelled at your execution! Poor Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaddy, I thought.

In my pursuit of more information on the Werkeiser Execution, my wife, Connie, has said, "You better let that ghost lie. He might come back to haunt you."

"I'm trying to clear his name. Perhaps he was innocent, or perhaps he killed a man in a duel while defending his mistress's honor."

"A likely story," she scoffed.

I'm still going to pursue why my Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaddy was hanged in the public square of Stroudsburg.

I just hope he wasn't a horsethief.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

calvary chapel north plainfield

Isaac and I have gone a couple weeks to Calvary Chapel in North Plainfield, now meeting in the chapel of the Villa Maria on Somerset Street in North Plainfield.

It seems like a pretty standard evangelical church. They have a decent worship band, which leads the church in praise choruses. The teaching is solid, though in the services I've attended it was more expository and less application-oriented than I would prefer. (They're working on the gospel of Mark; the July 21 sermon was about the "abomination that causes desolation" mentioned in Mark 13, with a heavy emphasis on eschatology, prophecy and the Antichrist.)

The people are very friendly, they have a fairly large children's ministry in place, and it seems like an all-around decent place to go. I'm not planning to return, personally, because of the distance, but it seemed like a decent church. The chief downside right now is that no children -- not even infants -- are allowed in the chapel, under the conditions of their lease.

Saturday, July 20, 2002

words, words, words

I have a confession to make: I love words.

I don't know if I love words because I'm a professional writer, or if I'm a professional writer because I love words, but I love them all the same.

Mind, I'm not talking about words such as "concupiscence" or "erudition." Those words are fine and I'll use them from time to time — well, except for concupiscence — but by and large people use such words more to show off than to communicate.

I love the little bits of history you find in words — such as "candidate" having a Latin root meaning "white" because Roman candidates for office were required to wear white togas — and I love the way some words just belong with their definitions because their sounds match perfectly.

As a journalist, I'm supposed to keep my wordsmithing fairly straightforward, but I can't help it. As soon as I can find a way to use the following words in the newspaper without risking a lawsuit, I'm going to use them:

Skulduggery. A word used for behavior considered underhanded or unscrupulous — now there's another fun word — "skulduggery" is one of my all-time favorites.

If the meaning alone isn't enough to convince you to add "skulduggery" to your vocabulary, consider how it rolls off your tongue. Skulduggery the sound and skulduggery the word go together like a duck and water.

Whenever I hear "skulduggery," I picture a grave robber unearthing someone's bones. The image is of someone who is absolutely at home with corruption — a perfect match between sound and meaning.

How can you not love a word with that sort of synergy?

Flibbertigibbet. I probably never would have learned this word if my wife hadn't made me watch Rodgers and Hammerstein' s "The Sound of Music" with her last year. It remains one of the few things I gained from the movie, which otherwise sucked nearly three hours out of my life.

"Flibbertigibbet" first arrived in English during the 15th century, some time after Geoffrey Chaucer wrote "The Canterbury Tales" but more than 100 years before William Shakespeare ever wrote his plays.

The word refers to a silly person, a linkage boosted by the rapidity of its syllables, its repetition of the I and B sounds, and the lack of any hard consonants. It's soft, it's simple and it evokes images of a featherbrain who doesn't know when to stop singing. Another perfect match.

Gerrymandering. Even though I've known this word since my social studies class in ninth grade, I've never had the chance to use it — not even last year, when New Jersey Republicans and Democrats were squabbling over how to carve the state's legislative districts.

Based on the name and practices of Elbridge Gerry, a former governor of Massachusetts, "gerrymandering" is the act of establishing election districts that favor one political party at the expense of another, often by carving the districts into truly bizarre shapes. The "mander" part of the word comes from "salamander."

True, Gerry probably wanted to be remembered for other accomplishments during his governorship, but he still attained lasting fame of a sort. It's not everyone who has a legacy carved into the substance of a language like that.

Formicate. Part of the appeal of this word admittedly is that it sounds a little naughty, but the truth is that it's about as far from that other word as you can get.

Unlike "fornicate," which comes from the Latin word for a brothel, the root word of "formicate" is "formica," or "ant." "Formication" therefore is the sensation of ants walking across your skin, and has nothing to do with whether you're married.

If you formicate regularly, you probably are suffering severe hallucinations and will need extensive help getting rid of your delusory insects.

Embrangle. Even if you've never heard this word before — it dates back to 1664, and doesn't get much use right now — its definition should be easy to grasp. Try saying it, and you'll sense its meaning just by what it does to your tongue.

I first saw "embrangled" several years ago in an article in Time magazine. It refers to getting caught in a situation outside your control, or being embroiled in difficulty or conflict.

Omphaloskepsis. A nice, long word that means "the contemplation of one's navel." It's also a good description of what goes into writing about words you find interesting.

church service

My thoughts have been exploring the question, should we even have a church "service" as such? Many people in Gen X -- and, I'll wager in Gen Y and Generation Indigo -- view authority figures with some distrust. My parents are satisfied with an expert's opinion; I'm more inclined to be skeptical and want to know why the expert thinks that way.

Part of me is wondering if it might not be more effective to dispense with the idea of a service as we usually know it, and base the church around the home church model used by the Chinese church. Home studies rely on the Socratic method of teaching rather than the lecture method and, as a result, are likely to be more interesting. Of course, any church needs to have such studies in order to develop the sense of church community, a solid understanding of the Bible, and so on, but I'm wondering in part if that might not be the way to go for the church as a whole.

The model we're looking at embodying turns out to be the home church. A number of reasons for it:
  • No overhead. Any money that's donated goes directly to address a need.
  • Strong relationships are what Gen X is looking for, not strong teaching. This allows the two to happen in tandem.
  • There's a general distrust of organized religion in our generation anyway. I'll avoid the silly remark that anyone who dislikes organized religion should have no problem with any church I've been involved with, and just say that a home church is something that has no trappings of organized religion. No choir, no pastoral robes, no expensive building or anything else like that.
  • Everyone should feel welcome in a home church even if they don't feel "worthy" to be in a big service or if they're from another denomination.
  • Language and clothing problems automatically resolve.

The idea here is to reach a postmodern generation with little or no experience in church. Committed Christians either have to be willing to put aside their own expectations of what church can be, or need to attend a different church.

Friday, July 19, 2002

inappropriate humor

As one or two people might have noticed, the Brothers Grinn mailing list recently started up again after a four-month hiatus.

The topic I decided to pick for our current series was a series of letters my partner sent to me detailing his trip to China to adopt a Chinese girl from an orphanage in Wuhan. Today we received a letter, which I will not post in its entirety, that objected to our recent installments.

"Such ethnocentricity, and lack of sensitivity to the unique cultural differences this little one will face as she grows are far more important than any humor to be derived from belittling the experience," our reader wrote. "One hopes that as this family meshes and grows together, the parents will come to understand and appreciate the culture from which she sprang. If they do not, there will be much heartache when she is of age."

The first letter
The second letter
The third letter
The fourth letter

I'm not particularly flummoxed by the criticism -- I've re-read everything in the series and don't see anything inappropriate -- but the writer is actually one of our longstanding readers and has always loved our wit.

The only specific comment was about Griselda (her real name is Alyssa) folding her napkin in origami. Origami is a Japanese craft and Alyssa is Chinese, but she nonetheless did fold the napkin in such a manner. I'm using David's letters as my starting point for the jokes.

My best guess is that the letter-writer was either in a bad mood, or has some other baggage she's bringing into the situation that has made jokes about the situation seem ethnocentric, even though the bulk of the jokes have been at Smirkov's expense. (LIke him being too dull-witted that a mob is after his head, not out to say hello and give him a welcome party.)

Ah well. In standard satirist approach, in the most recent mailing I included a link to Human Rights Watch and their report on human rights abuses in China.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

church plants

It's entirely possible within the next few months that I may be involved in starting a new church here in New Jersey. Knowing the other people involved, we're talking about a church that would be seeker-friendly by design; i.e., it would be a church that anyone off the street could walk into and feel at home in, even if they had no church background. Rather than creating a church with its own subculture, we would be trying to create a church with Iowa's culture.

So let's talk about this. If you were starting a church completely from scratch, how would you do it in a culturally sensitive and culturally relevant way so that people won't find it weird as soon as they step in the front door?

A few areas that have occurred to me:
  • worship style
  • sermon style
  • language spoken in church
  • structure of service
  • Is there a central meeting place, or would the church facility be discarded as outdated for a postmodern culture?
  • use of visual and performing arts
  • sermon topics
  • personal appearance/clothing
  • areas of ministry

Let me give you an example. If I were starting a church explicity to reach Arab Americans, I would try to structure the church service to be like a mosque. No musical instruments. People leave their shoes at the door. Up front would be a copy of the Scriptures in their original languages. Pastor would be called an imam, and we would use Arabic names like Allah, Isa, Musa and so on. And of course we would try to tap a core group of Arab Christians to help us launch the church.

That's the basic missions approach -- you design your church so it is as nonalien to the nonbeliever as it can be.

So how would you tailor a church to our contemporary culture? I await your thoughts.

Sunday, July 14, 2002

iq test

I just took an IQ test online, and I think my IQ might have slipped since I last took one of these. No doubt it's all those years in the media, taking their toll...

Congratulations, David!
Your IQ score is 138

This number is the result of a formula based on how many questions you answered correctly on Emode's Ultimate IQ test.

The even better news is that at Emode, we've taken your IQ test one step further. During the test, you answered four different types of questions — mathematical, visual-spatial, linguistic and logical. We were able to analyze how you did on each set of those questions, which allows us to shed light on the way your brain uniquely functions.

At the same time, we compared your answers with others who have taken the test, and according to the sorts of questions you got correct, we can tell your Intellectual Type is a Visionary Philosopher.

The first thing we can tell you about that is you're equally good at mathematical and verbal tasks, and learn best through experience. But that's just scratching the surface.

To find out more about how your brain processes information and where your intellectual strengths lie, buy your personalized, 15-page for only $14.95.

Obviously they forgot that if I'm bright enough to score a 138, I'm also bright enough to know that an online assessment isn't going to be worth spending $15 on. I'd be better off getting a real test administered professionally.

Still was kind of fun, though. Haven't done that much algebra in years.

Natasha took the test and got a 135, which seems to be the mode score for the group where I found the test. (Which means we're an above-average group, I guess.)

Anyway, here's what she told me after taking the test (and yes, we do have a true marriage of the 21st century -- we regularly e-mail each other from the same computer):

You can look at portions of a sample report, which shows you a bell curve of the scores. The highest on the graph is 160, although I couldn't tell if the curve actually went past 150 or not, so it may be 150. At any rate 135 and 137 are in the 97th or 98th percentile.

I'm gathering the curve is generated by people who actually took the test. If Mensa starts taking it, they could throw it to the right. On the other hand, if "Gilligan's Island" and "Power Team" devotees star taking it, we'll all be in the 99th or even 100th percentile.

Saturday, July 13, 2002

back to work

Once again I am underemployed in the newspaper business where I am trying to provide for a family of four (soon to be five) on an annual income of $35,000 (before taxes).

I recently accepted a job at WCN Newspapers in Union, as the managing editor of the Crane's Ford Eagle and the Quakertown Eagle. No, I have no idea why they are called the "Eagle." Up until June, The Princeton Packet was the oddest name I'd ever heard for a newspaper.

I also had applied for a position at Focus on the Family for a web-based position. Unfortunately, they decided they could save money and get better results by giving the job to a trained lemur from Pasadena, Calif. No, seriously, I wasn't told why I was turned down (aside from the standard say-nothing explanation), but I suspect it's because I'm unable/unwilling to relocate to Colorado until the situation with my foster son has been resolved.

A couple people I know think I made a mistake in taking that position, but it doesn't seem fair to a kid who was abused for two years to throw him to the wolves just to give my career a massive boost in terms of exposure and higher-profile writing.

Besides, the fact that I was considered at all is nice in itself, and if I can get my fat butt in gear I think I should be able to swing some free-lance writing gigs at Focus.

'correct' english

From an article on grammar myths:
Those examples make it clear that a split infinitive is sometimes not only permissible, but necessary. While the notion that split infinitives are wrong has wide currency, another language myth seems perpetuated chiefly by the journalistic community. That's the odd and insupportable practice of unsplitting perfectly clear and natural split compound verbs (should probably go, will never be). Like the split infinitive, the split verb phrase is not an error. Good writers and speakers split them all the time.
Well, duh. Split infinitives and split verb phrases have a long, proud history in the English language, as do most other grammatical constructions that one group or another perceives as erroneous.

"Correct English" is a myth; what matters is the standard you adhere to. I'm a journalist, so for my writing the last word on good grammar is the Associated Press stylebook, even when I think they're dead wrong (as I do with split infinitves, split verb phrases and leaving out end series commas).

The truly bizarre grammar rule everyone "knows" is one that's not found in any style book I know -- not the MLA, not the AP, not the Chicago Manual of Style, not even one stinking grammar textbook. And that rule is: "Never end a sentence with a preposition."

That rule is actually a grammatical rule for Latin, not English. It's never been observed in English, was never established as a rule in English, and is the cause of more awkward grammatical constructions than the "no split verb phrases" rule I think the Associated Press should drop.

Sunday, July 07, 2002


My foster son is almost 30 months old, and one of the greatest challenges he presents us with is finding a way to discipline him in a way that will register and help him to understand that what he's doing is wrong.

Persistence (and consistency) are important, but I've found with our foster son that often those are not enough, at least not when a time-out is what I'm using. I'm curious what sort of creative discipline techniques other parents have found that work with their children. For example, my brother and sister-in-law eventually took everything out of their son's room except a bed and a desk because if there was anything else in there, he would distract himself with it rather than do the work he had been sent to his room to take care of. Getting things back in his room was a privilege he had to earn.

Although he's made progress, he's still nonverbal for the most part. We're not sure how much he really understands when we speak to him.

Time-outs really don't seem to faze him -- he'll just keep playing in the chair, completely oblivious to the fact that he's in time out. He was getting out of the chair for the longest time, but he's finally realized that he's supposed to stay there.

He's not a bad kid as much as he is undisciplined and dealing with two years of neglect from his biological parents. We're looking for something firm enough to drive the point home that what he's doing is wrong, but not so unpleasant that we end up adding to his problems. (Obviously.)

Isaac has been to a speech pathologist twice in the seven months he's been with us, and is showing remarkable improvement in language. He's still behind, of course, as he is in every area, but he's improving.

The doctors I've spoken with seem to believe it's possible he has a learning disability, but they're also quick to hedge their bets. Since Isaac has been severely neglected, it's hard to tell where the one problem begins and the other picks up.

My concern is that once he goes back to his parents -- and it's looking more and more likely these days -- they're not going to hesitate to use some of those terms on him.

Personally, I don't think Isaac is hyperactive. He often displays a short attention span and is always running about, but that's because so few people have taken the time to show him why he should pay attention to something. When it interests him, he has an incredible attention span.

I don't even like the term "learning disability," to be honest. All that often means is that he doesn't learn according to established methods of teaching. When that's the case -- as I suspect it might be here -- the fault isn't with the student, it's with the teacher who won't research ways to communicate with him better.