Saturday, April 24, 2004

being labeled gifted

My teachers in elementary school rarely had any idea how to handle students who were advanced. My third grade teacher actually let us advance at our own pace. By the end of the year, I was on a college reading level.

Then, I hit fourth grade and was required to stay on reading level. As a result I got so bored that my grades in reading started to slip and I was placed in an intermediate-level reading class. It wasn't until seventh grade that I had a teacher who realized that I was bored silly from being held to below my reading level, and I was moved up again.

I dunno. I've never been wild about most forms of entertainment that my peers embrace. I'm generally clueless about what's hot in terms of TV, and don't get much out of the popular stars and movies. I'm much happier reading books -- including well-written comic books -- than I am watching TV. Socially I'm a lot better adjusted than I was as a child, which is good, but I still feel out of place with most groups of people.

You know, this sort of reminiscence is convincing me more than ever that I want to keep Evangeline out of public school. She's only 4 years old, but she's already academically ready for first grade. She can write her own name and Rachel's, she's incredibly artistic, and if we applied her to it, she could probably learn to read by the end of the year.

Naturally the public school won't even let her attend kindergarten this fall, since her birthday is Oct. 30, two weeks after their cut-off date.

School easily can end up being a disaster for her

Monday, April 19, 2004

landover baptist

Satire is one of thos tricky areas, where you have to balance between pointed humor and just plain old-fashioned mean-spiritedness. Landover Baptist Church is a web site where I think the owners take their satire across the line quite a lot. It's especially bad when they get onto the issue of sex.

The church has had a lot of unnecessary histironics on sex, and it deserves to be lampooned for that, but I think the Landover people go too far. It just gets too vituperative to be effective. It's hard to quit, though, because the lowest common denominator is always going to appeal to a large group of people, as they found with their Jar Jar Binks sex toy article, and there is a perverse pleasure in raising the ire of your critics.

Smirkov and I had a debate on this subject with the Brothers Grinn one time. We were doing something with Jesse Helms, and I was going the same route the Landover people do -- take someone who's already a little loud and pushy, and turn him into a real fire-breather. As Smirkov pointed out, that's the easy road, and it's not particularly funny. Everyone does that with Helms, and it just gets mean after a while.

What I did in the end was to make Jesse Helms into a deeply sensitive man who always wanted to be an actors. It's his publicist who is so vicious, and scripts everything for him so that he has earned a reputation as a bit of a bulldog. As luck would have it, the interview with the Brothers Grinn was something he was able to arrange without his publicist's involvement, and our readers were treated to the rarely seen real Helms, including his soft tears over the people he's had to hurt because his publicist made him.

Much funnier, I thought. It'd be nice if the Landover people tried that too.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

cultural illiteracy

Americans have a despicable lack of awareness of their own culture. I knew one guy who was amazed to discover that the Good Samaritan comes out of the Bible, and I talked with a reporter once who thought that Pharoah sent the Ten Plagues on Israel because they wanted to be let go. (She swore up and down that that was what the rabbi had told her for her Passover story.)

I essentially grew up in a very different culture from my peers because I severely lacked the social skills to interact with them and survive. It wasn't really until I was an exchange student in 11th grade that I became comfortable enough with other people to reach out and make friends, and even then I greatly preferred the company of books, which don't delight in making you feel miserable. (Well, Dostoevsky's books do, but that's a different sort of miserable.)

You can learn critical thinking skills by studying quality TV as well as by studying Shakespeare, but when we ignore our cultural heritage and forget our own history, we also forget ourselves and forfeit our future.

Personally, I blame Reagan.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

tigons and ligers and bears, oh my!

And from what I was able to tell from the sites I read, all the great cats are interbreedable, although it's usually only the females that are fertile. Actually, even Felis domesticus, the common house cat, is interbreedable with the great cats, except primarily for difficulties involving size.

I find this terribly fascinating. It suggests to me that all the cats had a common ancestor, whether on the Ark on evolutionarily. If on the Ark, then speciation apparently can be a rather rapid process. Going with the young earth model, we're talking from one cat species into many in only 5,000 years or so.

Speciation would be fueled by adaptation and natural selection, as well as behavioral changes and various and sundry mutations and activations/deactivations of genetic sequences. Interesting, no? I've had to do some rethinking of my views on evolution as a result of this. Thank God my wife has a master's degree in it and can explain the different theories to me.

I find the whole thing interesting. For tigers, panthers, leopards, lions, cheetahs and so on to be interbreedable and capable of producing fertile offspring does suggest that they had a common ancestor. Evolutionarily that's what would be expected, but it's not exactly square with the standard creationist/young earth ideas, especially since it means that the species diverged that extensively in that short a time.

I'd also have to raise the question of whether this means the animals are evolving, or devolving. The Cat from which contemporary cat species are all descended presumably would have been one in which all the current genomes were present, which means the new species have lost a lot of their genetic diversity. It also means that the Cat was a versatile creature and spread to a number of very different habitats, and that many of its descendants or successors lack its adaptive ability. A panther can live in the rainforest, but a lion would have a hard time there, for example.

You can see a parallel in human development. We've settled into distinct racial or ethnic groups, but intermarriage is still possible among our many populations, probably because humanity has always been a free-ranging species and we're always going to other parts of the world and conquering the people already there. I mean, look at Europe: conquered by the Greeks, the Romans, the Germans, the Huns, the Moors, and that's still just the Middle Ages.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

liberal media bias

I was only 6 when Carter became president, and only 10 when he lost re-election to Reagan, but I remember quite clearly that he was viewed as a dimwit for several reasons, including his mangling of the pronunciation of the word "nuclear." Other great failings on his part:
  • Iran hostage crisis lasted over a year, had a badly botched rescue mission and American handling overall displayed a poor understanding of Shi'a Islam. 
  • Inflation was out of control.
  • Gas rationing, energy crisis.
  • Went by Jimmy instead of James or Jim.
  • His wife, Rosemary, had dandruff.
  • His daughter, Amy, read a book at the table during a state dinner.
  • Boycotted Olympics in Soviet Union to protest human rights abuses.
And the list goes on. Bush's problems with image and media treatment are hardly unique to him. Cast your memory back about six years and you might recall the media being accused of having it in for Bill Clinton in the way we covered the Monica Lewinsky affair. Clinton complained about a year into office that no other president had been picked on by the media as much as he had.

It's par for the course. Dring a president's term, he gets blamed for everything wrong and credit for little right. Most presidents come out all right in the long run once there has been time for the rabid partisans to move on to their next target or object of veneration. History's even been somewhat kind to Nixon.

There's a great scene in "The Paper" where a city bureaucrat is flipping out about the media treatment of his department as a total disaster. "I know it's a mess," he screams. "It was like that when I got the job. Why are you blaming me?" The reporter's answer? "Because it was your turn."

No, that's not really fair, but at least it's consistent.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

apocalypse of the chaldeans

Taken from the Forum of Iniquity:
1And as I looked, there arose from the sea a great dragon, and on the dragon were 22 heads. 2And the heads all lived in the basement of the dragon's mother.

3The blue head was made hip and with it, and it was given youth to taunt the older heads with their great senility, which flummoxed them to no end, because the older heads all believed they should be able to hold their own against a teenager.

4There arose against the dragon a host of trolls, and the trolls mightily assailed the dragon, but it cared not. 5And several of the heads tormented the trolls for their spelling mistakes and basic grammar errors, until the trolls fled in terror.

6And a voice from heaven said, "Woe! woe! woe! to the inhabiters of the earth. Behold! The heads of the dragon have eaten the fat of many nations, and still they are not sated!"

7And the people beheld it was true, as the twenty-two heads infiltrated the thirty-seven nations and there was defilement of the public forums therein 8and the stench did reach to the heavens.

9And a chartreuse angel came riding on a dappled horse, bearing with it a book containing the iniquity of the age. 10And the book was opened.

11The dappled horse read from the book. 12With the voice of authority, from the book the dappled horse read.

13"Behold," spake the horse, "I tell you of the coming of Fred, that all nations may behold his power, and speak his name with reverence and fear."

14And on the foreheads and right hands of those who follow Fred and count his heads there was affixed a mark. 15And those who refused to take the mark could not buy or sell cabbages, newspapers, pet lemurs or escargot. 16The mark looked like a Nike swoosh, but upon those with blue-dyed hair, it was barely noticeable.

17Now this requires discernment, plus a moderately elevated blood alcohol level: You shall know the 22 heads of Fred by his number: 42.

18Blessed are they who do not take the mark, and blessed also are those who do not listen to ccm, for their promos shall be delivered from the hand of Gunter, and they shall know peace.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

easter and pesach

A friend of mine and I today were talking about his visit home for Passover yesterday, and it hit me what a good thing the Jews have set up in the way they celebrate the seder.

The seder, as probably everyone knows, is a meal that is filled with structure, layered with meaning, and replete with teaching. The elements of seder, laid out in the book of Exodus and developed further in the Talmud and Midrash, remind children and adults every year about their Jewish heritage. Through the ritual, they remember the suffering of their ancestors in Egypt and the deliverance God brought them through Moses in exquisite detail. Each element of the meal from the horseradish down to the matzoh refers back to some element of the Exodus story. It's a fantastic way not only to educate children about the religion, but to keep the Jewish identity intact despite all the pressures to conform to a non-Jewish society.

By contrast, when we celebrate Easter this year, most of us are going to go to church like we do every other Sunday, although some of us might dress up a little more, and then we'll go home and eat an Easter ham with spend time with family.

That's nice, but I can't help but think what we're missing out on. When Jesus ate that final seder with his disciples on Maundy Thursday,1 he added new layers of meaning as reinterpreted each element of the meal to refer to himself, from the lamb to the glass of wine to the matzoh. I doubt the average Christian household would even know where to begin that process with our own Easter meals. Passover can tell the story of the Exodus and the Passion; my Easter dinner is mostly just a nice family time.

It doesn't have to be that way, though. When missionaries brought the gospel to our pagan ancestors, they used elements of the pagans' belief systems to explain the gospel. The renewal and new beginnings that the Anglo-Saxons looked forward to with the arrival of Easter met its fulfillment in Christ, and so the trappings of Easter celebration -- like eggs and rabbits, symbols of beginning and fertility -- were reinterpreted along those lines.

Last year, I turned the question of Easter eggs over and over in my mind and sought a way to use them to teach my children. I finally hit upon the egg as a type -- when we boil the egg, it changes from being runny to being hard. In the same way, Christ uses the trials of this life to change our inner being. And, just as dipping the egg into the dye changes its color, so we can be changed to look like Christ when we immerse ourselves in him.

The Easter basket I turned into a living parable. We search for Truth and when we find it we're glad and we treasure it, just as we search for the basket and are happy for what it gives us.

I'd like to do more with the Easter dinner, though. Some of the family traditions we have are nice. Eowyn likes to eat holiday meals by candlelight, just like I do; and there's the foods we "must" have or it's not Easter, like the ham and the mashed potatoes and what have you.

But I really want to see if we can do what the Jews do with Passover, and turn the day into more than just a family get-together and meal to feel good over. Easter is a different day for us too. It marks the day we were set free from slavery to sin and really experienced the joys of God's love and forgiveness. If Passover can be a meal to pass the faith down through the generations, so can Easter.

But I'm stuck for how to do it. Any suggestions?

1 I did point out to Josh, and he agreed, that Christians have much neater names for the individual days of Holy Week than Jews have for the days of Passover. Although we have the lame and predictable "Palm Sunday," we also have Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday.

Of course, as I also mentioned, Jewish holidays have much nicer-sounding names than Christian ones. Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and Advent just can't hold a candle namewise to Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashana, Hanukkah, Sukkoth and Pesach.

Plus, if Constantine had converted to Judaism, we'd get three weeks of vacation every year, since Passover, Hanukkah and the High Holy Days each run about that long. We really shot ourselves in the foot by making sure that Easter always lands on a weekend. What management stooge thought of that?

Sunday, April 04, 2004

mars in the news

1) What was Mars like when it had water?

2) What happened?

Somebody pulled the drain plug and let the water run out. There was a terrible glug-glug-glug noise that caused widespread panic across the planet, and Osayra was forced to unbody millions of hrossa, sorn and other creatures, including the funny frog ones with the P name and the humanoids from Edgar Rice Burrough's "John Carter" series.

No, seriously, the world tree drained all the water resources of Mars, and nearly did to Earth as well, but for the quick thinking of Hanville Svetz. If you don't believe me, read Larry Niven's historical novel, "Rainbow Mars," which provides an in-depth account.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

A troll over at CHRefugee is entertaining us with some proofs that Mars used to be earthlike planet until a meteor changed its orbit, and that people used to have advanced flying technology.

It's all because of the aliens. Naturally.

His argument cites the book of Ezekiel as one example of an ancient encounter with a UFO. UFOlogists love that book because Ezekiel details a vision of a wheel on fire in the sky. Clearly, a UFO sighting. Why? Because they want it to be. A pothead might look at that same passage and say that Ezekiel was smoking dope, just as someone else could look at the book of Revelation and say that St. John the Divine was eating psychadelic mushrooms. Each group is looking at the passage to see support for their own position, without stopping to weigh the passage on its own merits and evaluate the claims it makes about itself. This is the kind of logic that allowed Aristotle (?) to prove that women have fewer teeth than men and some Christian fundamentalists to prove that women have one fewer ribs than men.

That there have been flying machines long since before Jean Picard or the Wright brothers is pretty well documented, even if it's not something the average schmoe is aware of -- but that's a "machine" in the simplest sense of the word; i.e., a hang-glider. I'm aware of one myself from medieval Europem and I think Ray Bradbury wrote a story based on an old Chinese legend about a hangglider a few thousand years ago. The idea of a technologically advanced flying machine is an anachronism that is supported only by raping the text to see things not contained in it.

The UFO interpreation Ezekiel passage, for example, takes a pretty dim and condescending view of the ancients, that they would see something advanced and unfamiliar and automatically try to force it into a superstitious worldview. Come on, really. Are we honestly supposed to think people were so stupid that they couldn't tell an encounter with corporeal entities from one with incorporeal ones?

As for Mars being knocked out of orbit, well, I think what we're missing here is the notion of a cosmic billiards game. Picture it: God says, "Red planet in the corner pocket," and shoots a giant meteor through the solar system. It strikes Mars, knocking it into a highly eccentric orbit before ricocheting off the fifth planet. This planet it shatters, leaving a belt of asteroids, and then swings back and hits Mars again, giving it that second orbital thrust to stabilize the orbit again.

Unfortunately, God misunderstood the nature of a gravity well and failed to sink Mars into any such well but its own.

Game ends, God loses. A fight breaks out in the pool room, and we have a war in the heavens.