Thursday, January 31, 2008

Here's a Big Shout-Out To All the Other Inbred Mutants Out There!

I've commented before that Foxnews has this way of attaching really spectacular headlines to stories that are actually pretty mundane. It happened again today. This headline has been widely commented upon in the blogosphere, and it was rapidly removed by Foxnews. I suspect that someone got a stern talking-to. Nevertheless, it was good for a laugh while it lasted.

The headline was attached to a story that's been all over the news today, about how the blue-eyed gene only entered the human genome relatively recently. Judging from the genetic record--specifically, which other genes tend to show in people who also have the one for blue eyes--it appears that the blue-eyed gene originated in a fairly isolated community. That is, there was a lot of inbreeding in that original community that allowed blue eyes to become commonplace. This apparently happened before the proto-Indo-European people split up and spread into Europe and central Asia, when our ancestors were still living in communities north of the Black Sea, in what is now Ukraine. This gene is fairly common in Northern Europe, but still shows up occasionally in other ethnic groups descended from the proto-Indo-Europeans, such as the Pashtuns. (Remember that beautiful National Geographic cover with the Afghan girl with the haunting, piercing eyes?)

The headline on Foxnews.com now reads "Scientists: all blue-eyed people are related." But that's not what it read this morning.

Earlier today, it read "Scientists: all blue-eyed people are inbred mutants."

I must object to that, in the strongest possible terms. I'll have you know, I'm not a mutant. :-)

Well, not that I know of, anyway.

Alas, my lovely bride is something of an amateur Geneaologist, and she discovered that my parents are actually tenth cousins. (Oh, the shame....) And she didn't even fill in every nook and cranny in my family tree, which runs through Arkansas and a bunch of other really fun places, so, ummm... Yes, I have blue eyes.

But to be fair, since my three children all have blue eyes too, it means that my lovely brown-eyed wife carries the recessive blue-eyed gene as well. And her family comes from rural Alabama and southwestern Kentucky. I suppose we should be happy our children each have the right number of heads.

So to all my blue-eyed homies out there: Here's a big shout-out to all you glorious inbred mutants! Let those baby blues shine! And if you have red hair too, long may it wave.

Another Odd Snowfall

So first we had the story that Baghdad was hit by snow for the first time in living memory, and I made mention that I briefly wished I could see it in person (before regaining my sanity).

Then, came news that Silicon Valley got a healthy dose of the white stuff.

Now comes news that Jerusalem, of all places, had to shut down because of a major snowfall there.

By way of confession, my first thought was something pretty snarky: let's check the travel schedule of Al Gore and see where he's been lately.

But there's something else to all this that I've noted, in all the stories: There are many, many people out there--even as they face inconvenience (and even danger)--who say, "This is wonderful!" From the Jerusalem story:

The wintry wonderland which Jerusalemites awoke to after days of increasingly-enthusiastic meteorological reports forecasting the great Jerusalem snowfall of 2008 sent children and adults into the streets and parks for snowball fights as a holiday spirit descended on the city.

...

"It's so much fun, and the city looks so clean and white," said Galit Cohen, 11, of Rishon Lezion, who was making a snowman in the city's central Sacher Park at midday.

"We're freezing," her mother Sigal said, dutifully bundled up in hats and gloves as a wintry mix of snow and rain fell from the sky, "but it's wonderful."

And from the earlier Baghdad story:

"When I was young, I heard from my father that such rain had fallen in the early '40s on the outskirts of northern Baghdad," Abdul-Hussein said, referring to snow as a type of rain. "But snow falling in Baghdad in such a magnificent scene was beyond my imagination."

...

Talib Haider, a 19-year-old college student, said "a friend of mine called me at 8 a.m. to wake me up and tell me that the sky is raining snow."

"I rushed quickly to the balcony to see a very beautiful scene," he said. "I tried to film it with my cell phone camera. This scene has really brought me joy. I called my other friends and the morning turned to be a very happy one in my life."

Now, this may be a weird thing to contemplate, giving that half of America is currently freezing its collective tush off--but why is this? Why is it that snow, which from any rational evolutionary perspective should be viewed an absolute disaster, can evoke feelings of such joy and peace? Even among the part of the population that lives in snowy areas--and only with dread anticipates the season of sidewalk shoveling--that first, clean snow of the season nevertheless sure looks beautiful, pristine, peaceful.

And for those of us who have from time to time succumbed to the temptation to associate Middle Easterners with things that go boom, to read stories about long-robed Arab men laughing and getting in snowball fights, tends to re-humanize them, does it not?

So if you're one of those people who's sick of the snow, and this post feels like I have no clue what I'm talking about (and adding insult to your injury), I'm certainly sorry about that. But for all its trouble, I think there's something about snow simply worth celebrating. There's something about it that renews the vigor and uplifts the spirit--for the first ten minutes at least, until everyone gets cold and scrambles to get back inside like sane people.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

We Just Don't Want To Grow Up

Over at City Journal, there's an interesting article about men who just won't "grow up". Here's the way the article starts out:

It’s 1965 and you’re a 26-year-old white guy. You have a factory job, or maybe you work for an insurance broker. Either way, you’re married, probably have been for a few years now; you met your wife in high school, where she was in your sister’s class. You’ve already got one kid, with another on the way. For now, you’re renting an apartment in your parents’ two-family house, but you’re saving up for a three-bedroom ranch house in the next town. Yup, you’re an adult!

Now meet the twenty-first-century you, also 26. You’ve finished college and work in a cubicle in a large Chicago financial-services firm. You live in an apartment with a few single guy friends. In your spare time, you play basketball with your buddies, download the latest indie songs from iTunes, have some fun with the Xbox 360, take a leisurely shower, massage some product into your hair and face—and then it’s off to bars and parties, where you meet, and often bed, girls of widely varied hues and sizes. They come from everywhere: California, Tokyo, Alaska, Australia. Wife? Kids? House? Are you kidding?

I've been interested for some time in the topic of how people of different generations have matured--what was expected of people of different generations at certain ages. In 1900, at what age was a young man supposed to be able to care for himself and a family? What about 1950? 1980? Today? It's definitely changed. I've blogged before about related phenomenon, such as the fact that we're incapable of fixing things today (and often aren't permitted to anyway), and my theory that the age-segregated socialization model we use on our kids tends to retard (and occasionally disrupt entirely) the process by which our young people are matured into adults, who are willing and competent to accept the full range of adult responsibilities and liberties.

This new article is along those lines. Basically it argues that our society has systematically removed the incentives for men (in particular) to grow up. Men now have the option, in a way they didn't have in previous generations, to enjoy the benefits of adult life--good incomes, high-powered professions, frequent casual sexual relationships--without the responsibilities that were once associated with adult life--commitment to one woman for life, the need to raise children, the need to sacrifice on behalf of one's household. (Additionally: we have, through divorce laws and the family courts, given men a huge disincentive to start a family in the first place.) All this is impacting society in a number of ways--including the rapidly increasing age of first marriage, and a sense that it's a lot harder now for women to find good men who are willing to commit to them.

(I note with some chagrin the statistics the author lists about mens' use of video games, given that I played Sid Meier's Pirates! for a couple hours tonight. Really, I don't do this every night! I usually only play this kind of game once every few months. Tonight was just weird.)

The article is written by a woman (one who writes frequently on the state of marriage and relationships in America) who approaches the topic with something of a Jane Goodall outsider's viewpoint of the male phenomenon; but I think what she says has truth in it. After all, when she lists the kinds of things we men find interesting, I found myself thinking "Yep. What's so unusual about that? Cyborgs are cool, especially the female ones."

Anyway, check it out. Let me know what you think...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling is up!

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up over at Life on the Road. There's a lot of good stuff this week.

One post that caught my eye was entitled Arrogant Homeschoolers. It describes a phenomenon that many, many homeschooling parents experience--the fact that our decisions regarding the education of our children, which definitely can be described as the road less taken in our society, are often interpreted by those around us as implicit judgments about the way they are educating their kids. We homeschoolers come across as arrogant, even when we are explicitly trying not to give offense. I've written at length about this phenomenon as well, here and here.

My post entitled Thoughts on Banita Jacks, Homeschooling, and Liberty is also featured in this week's carnival, and there's a lot of other good stuff there. Check it out!

Imagine Waking Up One Morning...

...to discover there's a naked lady on your dining room table.

Yup, this was a Christmas present from my younger brother and his wife. It finally bloomed, and it came out rather nicely, if I do say so myself. The girls have been watching this thing every day to see when it does something new. (The boy doesn't really care one way or another; he'd probably eat it if we let him.)

Anyway, we like it. So to Andy and Carolyn, thanks!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My Daughter, the Rocket Scientist

As regular readers of this site know, one of the ways we get our kicks around here is interpreting the drawings of the Pillowfight Fairy, and trying to figure out what she's going to be when she grows up. So far she's either going to be an expert in siege warfare, or she's going to be an anarcho-capitalist, or she's going to be a writer of really depressing novels.

Or, as we were happy to discover over the last few days, she's going to be an aerospace engineer. I first learned of this possible career choice this week when I was informed over breakfast one morning of her decision that I was going to help her build a rocket.

And, silly me; I thought: "Oh, she wants me to build a model rocket with her. How fascinating! What a great father-daughter project! She's really a little young to be handling rocket motors and stuff like that, but I could handle the dangerous stuff, and she would still get to do a really cool craft project. And..."

No. When she says she wants to build a rocket, she means a real rocket.
This picture apparently depicts the two of us. Now those big round things on our heads are helmets (note the bow on the Pillowfight Fairy's head), but I must admit it took me a while staring at this picture to figure that out. For a long time it just looked to me like the two inmates were screaming in abject terror--not unreasonable, given the circumstances in the above picture.

Well, discerning readers will note the striking resemblance this rocket craft bears to that in the Wallace and Gromit episode "A Grand Day Out", right down to the parking brake on the floor next to daddy. So far as she's concerned, the essence of rockets, their very Platonic form, is what was designed and flown by the eccentric West Wallaby Street inventor and his dog. But lately there's been another source informing her notions of rocketry: this book. In What Friends Do Best, the main character sets out to build a rocket ship, but discovers that he is neither strong enough to lift the big pieces, nor small enough to sort through all the small pieces, by himself; to finish the project he needs help from his two friends (who, conveniently enough, are a bear and a mouse). At the end, the three of them are happily rocketing around in a craft that looks as though it was also inspired by Wallace and Gromit.

So! It would appear that the Pillowfight Fairy learned her lesson: in order to build her rocket, she will need some help from someone big and strong, to help her move the big pieces. That would be me, apparently. She also needs a diagram of all the parts required in the construction:

Note that I edited out the Pillowfight Fairy's real name from just above her self-portrait. And I don't have a widow's peak like that; that part should have gone on Mommy.

Hm. It appears the Pillowfight Fairy has somehow gotten the notion into her head that rockets are things that people build in their garages or basements. After all, that's where they were built in all the rocket stories she's been exposed to. And after all, Daddy has been making cobblestone walkways around here--why not rockets too? What could possibly be so hard about them?

Still, it really does make a Daddy proud to have his daughter think: "Well, I'm going to make a rocket, and I want my Daddy right there to show me how to do it, and then we're going flying together." Rather a happy thought, isn't it?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Some Short Thoughts on Children and Work

One of the dangerous ideas that I was exposed to when I started reading up on the ideas and memes floating around in the homeschooling community, had to do with children and work.

In a nutshell, there are many homeschoolers around who think that the child labor laws in this country are not an unmixed blessing. To be sure, when people think of child labor, they think of exploitation--young urchins shackled to the machines in dingy, dangerous urban factories. And I don't think anyone has a problem with banning that. But the child labor laws we have ban a whole lot more than that.

The problem, according to this argument, is that work--of the kind where you are actually doing something tangible and productive, where you are accountable to a customer, or on a farm where your work is directly what keeps you and your family fed--has some powerful positive effects on the young person. These effects include instilling a sense of accountability and a sense of competence and confidence--I can do what I need to do to get by, which makes up a big part of our senses of self-esteem. No normal person enjoys feeling like they're a burden to others.

Well recently I read an article that expands on these ideas, and I'd like to pass it along. With a big 'ol tip of the hat to The Anchoress, here's an article from InsideCatholic.com that talks about the labor laws--what they are, and how they've affected the way we raise our kids. Here's what I consider the core of the article:
Once you get past the exceptions, the bottom line is clear: Full-time work in the private sector, for hours of their own choosing, is permitted only to those "children" who are 18 and older -- by which time a child has already passed the age when he can be influenced toward a solid work ethic.

What is lost in the bargain? Kids no longer have the choice to work for money. Parents who believe that their children would benefit from the experience are at a loss. Consumers who would today benefit from our teens' technological knowhow have no commercial way to do so. They have been forcibly excluded from the matrix of exchange.

There is a social-cultural point, too. Employers will tell you that most kids coming out of college are radically unprepared for a regular job. It's not so much that they lack skills or that they can't be trained; it's that they don't understand what it means to serve others in a workplace setting. They resent being told what to do, tend not to follow through, and work by the clock instead of the task. In other words, they are not socialized into how the labor market works. Indeed, if we perceive a culture of sloth, irresponsibility, and entitlement among today's young, perhaps we ought to look here for a contributing factor.
Check it out.


P.S. There's a whole lot of other good stuff at The Anchoress lately, too. The post I linked to also included a highly interesting (and somewhat vulgar) rant from someone who's apparently a priest, that I suspect most ministers in most denominations can relate to. And she has another post up today with a youtube link to a performance of O Magnum Mysterium--the perfect, sublime motet by Tomás Luis de Victoria that is usually done around Christmas time. I'd forgotten just how beautiful it was. Our choir in High School did it, and I liked it then--although we frankly weren't very good at it (or anything else, for that matter).

Follow Up to A Whole Lotta Nothin'

Well! I haven't blogged in three days. Why not? Well on Thursday, we had other stuff to do in the evening. And yesterday, my lovely bride monopolized the computer from about 8:00 until after midnight, playing a game of Civilization IV.

Besides, I didn't have whole lot to blog about. I'd done a couple of really heavy posts earlier in the week--posts which had taken until way past midnight to finish--and I needed to get something resembling a life back.

So, in honor of the fact that I had a whole lotta nothin', I thought I'd refer back to last December's post about nothin'. In that post I just tossed up an interesting link from Popular Mechanics about a container ship that was being outfitted with a parasail to reduce the reliance on its engines (and thus its fuel usage).

I think it's therefore fitting that this post about nothin' should report an update: The ship has set sail.


Again, like I said in my earlier post, I rather doubt this sort of thing will get adopted wide-scale. There are always financial considerations to this thing that we armchair pundits don't take into account (like maintenance costs of the new system, added weight and complexity, structural issues for the ship, and so forth) that frequently prevent this kind of idea from being widely adopted. But it's still rather a neat idea, and I'm glad someone had the gumption to go ahead and try it to see if it works.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Illustrious Literary Genre of Potty-Time Books

So, the Adrenaline Junkie (age 3) had an accident today. And it was apparently a doozy*. Usually, I'd rather be at home with my family than spending all that time at work. Today, I'm not so sure.

Ironically, the accident came about precisely because the Junkie wanted to be a big girl, and wanted to do it by herself. And these are really good things! These are prerequisites to successful potty training; the fact that she's displaying these inclinations shows us that there is a light at the end of the diaper tunnel. (How's that for a mixed metaphor?)

The problem was, she already had a nasty diaper, and she tried to change it herself... and the bathroom apparently ended up looking a little like that episode of South Park that had Mr. Hankie in it. If you don't get the reference, don't ask.

So the Adrenaline Junkie wants to do what needs to be done; but she isn't clear on the proper sequence of events, which is actually quite complicated when you're only three:
  1. Notice that you need to go before it happens.
  2. Notify parents (optional, when the child starts to get the hang of the whole thing).
  3. Head to the bathroom. Hurry, if necessary.
  4. Remove all necessary articles of clothing.
  5. Sit.
  6. Allow nature to do its thing.
  7. Use the toilet paper.
  8. Get up.
  9. Restore all articles of clothing to their proper locations.
  10. Flush.
  11. Wash hands.
  12. Turn off light as you leave bathroom.
  13. Depending on the household in question, close the door behind you.
Additionally, there are contingencies that must be mastered in case one or more of these steps is impossible. What if the bathroom is occupied? What if you're out of toilet paper?

You know, spelling it out this way, it's actually a pretty complicated task. And importantly, all steps must be done in the proper order. Performance of these steps in the wrong order can get pretty messy. Alas, this appears to be the cause of the Junkie's troubles this morning.

So how does one teach a preschooler to do all of these things, in the right order, every time?

Well, some people use books to do it. And there is a veritable library of books available to children to do this. Some of these books have lovable, cute looking characters in them! Some of them have pop-up features, and flaps to be lifted, and sliders! Some of these books have buttons that make sounds when you press them! Some of them have Elmo! Who could possibly fail to learn how to use the loo when they have all this going for them?

Er, hm... except my wife (who is rather observant) noticed that these books have this self-defeating way of talking in euphemism when it comes time to explain how to do the deed.

Three-year-olds don't handle euphemism very well.

I mean, these books show their protagonists proudly declaring, "It's Potty Time!" as they march with joyful anticipation to the water closet. "It's Time to Use The Potty!"

But they don't often actually explain how one uses it. Use it how? As a fishbowl? Float some bath toys in it? Let the dog drink from it? What am I supposed to do with this thing? Throw me a bone here....

But part of the problem, of course, is that if you explain exactly how you're supposed to use it, and what you're supposed to make your body do while you're using it, you wind up with some seriously grossed out parents. Note: you don't wind up with seriously grossed out kids. They actually think it's pretty cool. But it's the parents that buy all the books about potty time. I suspect that if a book came out that really explained, in plain language that kids can understand, what it is that people are supposed to do--well, I remember my utter revulsion the first time I read something in the genre, and it was actually pretty tame. I can't imagine the a new title like The Truth About Potty Time moving off the shelves of the local Barnes and Noble in any numbers.

Thus, euphemism. You'll notice that even in my own list above, number 6. talks about letting Nature take its course. It just assumes that you know what I mean. I just let your own imagination fill in the blank, because I want to see my hit counter continue to rise after I publish this post tonight. I trust that you won't start thinking, oooh! I like nature. Waterfalls are part of nature. Deer and elk and bison are part of nature. Big pine trees are part of nature. I get to let all of this happen! How blissful.

You see the problem.

So yes, we've got a little problem with all the potty training books. And it seems the Sesame Street ones are the worst. After all, you don't want Elmo explaining in detail...

I'll stop.

Anyway, my ever-practical wife made a suggestion tonight: maybe we should write our own Potty Time manual.

After about a second or two to let the suggestion sink in, we both laughed. But it wasn't a natural laugh.

P.S. Tonya is just full of good suggestions tonight. We should let the Pillowfight Fairy write it! She's already pretty accomplished, you know...



*The amateur linguist in me is amazed how the name Duesenberg, once synonymous with such ostentatious luxury and wealth that it took one's breath away, has so changed in meaning that it can be used to refer to a potty-training accident. There's at least another blog post in that, if not a whole Masters' thesis.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Thoughts on Banita Jacks, Homeschooling, and Liberty

Update: I fixed a couple of glaring grammatical mistakes and unwieldy sentences. This is what happens when you finish writing an essay way after midnight; when you read it in the morning, you find surprises.




The latest Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Alasandra's Blog. My post, entitled The Whys of "Why" is featured along with a whole bunch of other good items. I was tickled by the one entitled Are Homeschoolers Wack-O? An Informal Survey--it appears that most of the people responding to the survey are homeschoolers, and the consensus appears to be that yes, we are all wack-o.

But there are a number of posts on a very serious topic that was raised last in last week's carnival. This was the Jacks tragedy, in which a mentally ill mother pulled her children out of school and used the "I'm homeschooling" trick to try to keep the child protective services off her case. Of course, when the abuse of her children finally culminated in their murders, this set off a huge debate regarding society's relationship with its homeschooling minority. This week's Carnival posts touching on this topic are here and here; and there were some posts in last week's Carnival as well.

...

But I'd like to touch on a rhetorical football that has been tumbling back and forth for a while now in this debate. The argument is being made that if these children had been in school, then perhaps the teachers and administration would have noticed that something had been going on, and this family could have gotten help sooner. The fact that society allows some people the freedom to homeschool, in this view, created a social space in which the Jacks tragedy could take place. Now some--including the two links listed above--have argued that this argument doesn't stand up against the facts of this particular case. After all, it has been pointed out that the troubled Jacks family wasn't flying under the radar, so to speak; it was on the radar screens of at least five different government agencies, and that they all dropped the ball.

But I think these kinds of answers, which do have their time and place, are ultimately self-defeating for the homeschooling movement. The fact is, many homeschoolers were motivated to homeschool precisely because of the increased freedom from government influence homeschooling makes in their lives. I'm willing to entertain the possibility that the homeschooling lifestyle does give people a bit more space between themselves and the government. And if a homeschooling parent did begin to abuse his or her children, the freedom that comes from the homeschooling lifestyle could be leveraged to keep government agencies from finding out about the abuse, at least longer than would occur if the children were enrolled in a government school.

But...

Something needs to be understood here, about the nature of liberty and the nature of governance.

Any time a large population possesses a liberty--and this includes any liberty, including not only the right to educate one's child, but the right to own one's own property, the right to associate freely with anyone one chooses, the right to speak one's mind about any topic that comes to mind, any liberty--it is pretty well guaranteed that someone in this population will use this liberty to make stupendously bad decisions. Let me just run down a few examples that come to mind:
  • If people have easy access to motor vehicles, someone is going to drink & drive, or will race on the public streets, or will run red lights; and people will die as a result.
  • If people have the right to keep and bear arms, someone is going to handle his or her weapons irresponsibly or maliciously, and people will die as a result.
  • If people have the right to vote whomever they wish into power, occasionally the people will put smooth-talking demagogues in power who will use the apparatus of the state to destroy, enslave, and impoverish the population.
  • If people have the right to adhere to any religion they wish, someone will pick doomsday cults or sects that promise paradise on earth, after everyone who opposes the sect is subjugated.
The list goes on, and on, and on. For every right you can think of, I suspect you can think of someone, somewhere who has abused the right and made a hash of his life and the lives of those around him.

Importantly, this is an inherent part of the nature of freedom. If you aren't permitted to make the really lousy decisions, it's because you're not really being permitted to think and act for yourself.

And it should be noted, in part because of this fact, those who hold political power in societies--and those who wish to hold political power--find the fact of liberty to be very inconvenient. Whatever views you have about any given political topic, rest assured there is a sizable chunk of the populace who you think holds the wrong opinions, and does the wrong things. This makes it very hard for any social reformer, any politician with grand social views, any petty bureaucrat to get things done.

After all, suppose you are a social reformer, hoping to bring about some positive change in society. If people have liberty, you cannot make them change their ways; you have to convince them, one person at a time. This is a lot more work than just passing a law and forcing everyone to do what they obviously should. Suppose, for example, that you are trying to eliminate smoking; if the only thing you can do is talk to people, to reason with them, it's going to take a whole lot longer to complete your goal, than if you have the power to write a raft of no-smoking ordinances and require everyone to obey them.

To many would-be social reformers, homeschooling is therefore a threat. After all, if you wish to make a large, permanent change in society, what more efficient way could there be of passing one's values on to the next generation en masse? If you want to save the environment, or teach about safe sex, or promote acceptance of other races or alternate lifestyles, it seems that the schools--where the next generation spends so much time in the care and keeping of government employees--are the perfect place to start. But homeschooling--which at its root, is an exercise of a particular liberty on the part of the parents--circumvents this mechanism.

...

So what, then, is the value of freedom? What is the value of letting people make their own choices, given in advance that some non-trivial percentage of them are going to make lousy choices?

Well, one possible answer to this is to point out the empirical fact that, although some people do make lousy decisions with the freedom they possess, there are plenty of others who use their freedoms responsibly and achieve great things with them. The evidence that exists shows that the liberties available to homeschoolers are, for the most part, being used responsibly. Yes, there may exist homeschooling parents who use their liberty as a cover for abuse and parental unfitness. But there also exist homeschooling parents who use their liberty to raise kids who can win the National Spelling Bee and National Geography Bee. Liberty tends to provide for both extremes, the catastrophic and the phenomenal. Social reforms that reduce liberty tend likewise to mitigate both extremes, the catastrophic and the phenomenal.

I said that this was one possible answer. But it's not an answer I particularly like, because it rests on utilitarian grounds. It is essentially saying that "we should be allowed to do this, because doing so produces these good results." Unfortunately, this kind of argument can be undermined by someone who defines good results differently, or by someone with an agenda who is willing to write and publish flawed studies about homeschooling. If the homeschooling movement (as it grows in popular appeal) attracts a bunch of bad parents, the argument will be made that even though some students do well in it, others do not, and that in aggregate, homeschooling results in a net loss for society, therefore the liberty to homeschool should be sharply curtailed.

The answer that I prefer is one based much more on a fundamental value judgment: liberty is a good in and of itself, regardless of whether or not people use their liberty responsibly. We have freedom of speech not because it is valuable to the government (it generally isn't), and not even really because it is good for society (it generally is, but there are exceptions); we have this right because it is a fundamental human right, and because no government can deny fundamental human rights without delegitimizing itself. (Incidentally, this is a variant of the argument Jefferson set forth in the Declaration of Independence.) While there may be cases in which harmful speech may be legitimately curtailed (falsely yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater is the classic example), the government can only do this after making an overwhelming case, and even then the curtailment must be narrowly tailored, or we as a society recognize the governmental action as underhanded and lacking legitimacy.

And the right to raise one's own children according to the dictates of one's conscience, in accordance with one's own wisdom and experience (the right upon which homeschoolers base their claims), is likewise a fundamental human right--the violation of which similarly deligitimizes the government that does the violating. Now, this isn't to say that a government can't step in when an unfit parent has become a danger to the lives and health of his or her children; but like the example about speech in the previous paragraph, the government can only stage such an intervention after making an overwhelming case, and even then the intervention must be narrowly tailored--or the government itself becomes an agent of injustice. One thing the government cannot do is to issue the blanket declaration: "Well, because so many people out there are misusing this liberty, we will issue guidelines by which all parenting will henceforth be done, and parents found not to be in compliance will face legal consequences." Were a government to do this, we as a society would (hopefully) recognize this as a severe breach of fundamental human rights, that would render the governing authority unworthy to govern.

Does this create a space in which the Banita Jackses of the world can hoodwink the authorities while destroying their own children? Probably; that's what happens when people have liberty. This is a genuine tragedy, and would be unconscionable--were the alternatives not so bad.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Beating It To Death

Several weeks back I saw this post at a Carnival of Homeschooling and I commented about it at the time. The post, from a blog entitled The Not Quite Crunchy Parent, recommended a way to get kids interested in great literature and great art. That method was to beat it to death. The idea was that kids--especially the younger ones--like the familiar much more than the unfamiliar. So if you present a story to youngsters that they like, then you can give them a slightly more advanced version of the story not too long afterward, then another. You start, perhaps, with a children's illustrated edition of the story, even in comic book form; then perhaps you move on to a children's novel; maybe you watch a decent movie version; eventually, the kids have become familiar enough with the whole story that they can take the real thing. The author of this post was having her son go through an Ivanhoe audiobook at the time, and was preparing her family for the Magic Flute. (Being a former opera guy myself, I'm quite interested in people's experiences of introducing kids to opera. If you have any stories--especially if your attempts were successful--I'd love to hear from you.)

(As a side note: check out this blogger's latest post, entitled Why We Eschew Kid's Productions; not to spoil too much of the post for you, but the big reason is that their kids know the story so well by the time they go that they start complaining about all the scenes these productions cut out.)

I've been tossing over this idea in my head, and comparing and contrasting with other approaches. For one thing, the approach the Not Quite Crunchy Parent presents is not universally accepted. There's a school of thought out there, especially strong among the Charlotte Mason and Classical Education factions within the homeschooling movement, that no literature or art should be given except the real thing; that anything else is to be considered twaddle, and is unworthy of the child being educated. This viewpoint can be read here--scroll down to the section entitled "Abridged Versus Unabridged Works" to get a taste of the argument.

Nevertheless, I think I'm seeing signs that the Not Quite Crunchy Parent is on to something, at least with the younger children. I have two observations I've made of the Pillowfight Fairy that seem to support her thesis.

Here's number one. We have a whole bunch of Baby Einstein videos. Yes, yes, I know; there are recent studies out that show that they're not particularly good for the development of young minds. Cut us some slack; most of them were given as a gift in a big set four years ago. And I don't mind the earlier ones, at any rate; the earliest Baby Einstein videos were little more than classical-music-delivery-devices. The images would hold the attention, while Bach or Mozart or Handel infiltrated the brains of the wee bairns. And with our kids at least, they remembered the music and can still recognize it. We throw on our CD with Handel's Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks, and the Pillowfight Fairy calls out: "That's from Baby Neptune!" We play Beethoven's Sixth, and she recognizes it as the music from Baby Galileo (and from Fantasia).

But if I throw on some music she's not familiar with, it often makes no connection. We have a CD with both the Nutcracker Suite and excerpts from Swan Lake, both by Tchaikovsky. She loves the former, because she recognizes it from Fantasia; but she has no patience for the latter. It doesn't matter that the music is by the same composer, and is of the same quality, or that Swan Lake even has a more coherent plot; she tolerates only the music she recognizes.

Well, just for kicks, a couple weeks back I threw on a CD of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. The Pillowfight Fairy of course recognized it as being from Baby Van Gogh. But then I began to narrate the scene, since Pictures at an Exhibition is a very visually evocative piece. I told her to imagine a great, majestic hall, with many paintings on the walls; and that main melody you hear, represents the viewer as he stands in the hall and walks from one painting to the next. But each separate movement represents what you see as you look at a specific painting. And as each movement would start, I would read the name of the movement from the liner notes, and have her imagine the painting that the music was describing: the Gnome, the Old Castle, the argument between the rich and the poor man, the "Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks" (her personal favorite, as I described lots of eggs running around on little protruding feet), Baba Yaga's hut up on chicken legs. The more the music played, the more the Fairy became enthralled by all these ideas.

(Side note; later, when I wasn't there, she asked Mommy to play the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks. Mommy had no idea what she was talking about.)

But this exercise wouldn't have worked if the Fairy hadn't already been familiar with the music. So while I don't particularly like the Baby Einstein videos, I have to give credit where credit is due; they helped introduce my little girl to some really great music in a nonthreatening form. Now that my daughter recognizes these pieces of music from a watered-down, oddly-orchestrated children's version, she is a bit more open to hearing, discussing and even contemplating the real thing.

Here's number two. Starting about a year ago--when the Pillowfight Fairy was four--I decided to try reading some chapter books to her, to see if she was mature enough to enjoy them. The results of this experiment were mixed. I read a few of books from the Chronicles of Narnia to her; and I started in on The Wind in the Willows; but it was very much hit-or-miss. Now, part of that could certainly be the fact that she had just turned four; but I think that much of what came out of these books was so strange and exotic that she had little point of connection with it.

But recently we obtained the recent Charlotte's Web movie on DVD, and the girls loved it. (Of course, they loved the antics of Templeton more than anything else--we've been trying to get them to stop pretending that they're jumping off of the sofa arms and into a big puddle of slop.) And we just happened to have the book on hand, though we hadn't been brave enough to try to read it to her. But since she took the movie so well, I decided to see if the five-year-old, at least, was mature enough to handle being read the book.

We're three chapters from the end, and the experiment has been a smashing success. Now again, this could be that the Fairy is finally mature enough to handle chapter books. But I think it also has to do with the fact that she already knows the story. The movie does follow the book pretty well, and we can tell that she is connecting the scenes in the movie with the corresponding chapters in the book (by, for instance, quoting movie lines at the appropriate places as I'm reading).

Now, I'm actually hoping that her acceptance of the book is more a maturity thing than a familiarity thing. After all, there are a whole lot more decent books out there than decent movies, and we don't want the girl becoming dependent on movies before she'll find interest in a book. We're going to run another little experiment after we finish Charlotte's Web: we'll launch into another E.B. White novel, Trumpet of the Swan, and see how she does. (Apparently there was a 2001 animated version of this book made, that wasn't particularly faithful; we don't have any desire to find it and show it to our kids.)

Anyway, it's all food for thought.

Alas, All We Got Here Was Hail

In a recent post, I said the following--in reference to the fact that the city of Baghdad had just been hit with a freak snowstorm, for the first time in about a century:
Very, very briefly this week, I found myself wishing I was in Baghdad rather than here. As you may imagine, the feeling went away very quickly. Still, I found that to be one of the happiest news stories I've seen in a long time.
Well! It appears that I need not have wished vicariously for such an exotic experience. Had my family and I not relocated to Sacramento from our previous home in Silicon Valley, we would have gotten to experience the wondrous white stuff ourselves. From the AP:

The caption accompanying this photo is "Hallie Faust, 5, of Palo Alto, Calif., plays during a rare snowfall in Saratoga, Calif., Monday, Jan. 21, 2008."

To be sure, this isn't as rare as the Baghdad snowstorm, but you don't need quite as much a sense of adventure to go enjoy it...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Hmmm... This Is Going To Be An Issue

I mentioned yesterday that we've got a privet tree in the front yard, with all these little blue-black berries that the birds like to eat, and then they hang out in the tree above the new patio, and nature takes its course....

Well.

Just to give you an idea of the scope of the problem, the patio was pretty much clean when I left for church this morning, just as it looked yesterday after the sealant dried. When I got back, it looked like this:

Ick.

You know, I feel like a sculptor of the Italian Renaissance must have felt after all those pigeons got done expressing their opinions of his latest opus. I can tell that during Privet Fruiting Season, I'm going to have a whole lot of cleaning to do. While I'm at it, maybe I can direct a stream of pressurized water into the tree above. Might not help, but it'll make me feel better.

Tonya and I have been having visions for what landscaping we want to do in the front yard, too. For the most part, we were hoping to hold off on that for a few years, as it will be a huge landscaping job as well, and we have changes we want to do inside, and in any event we want to get back into a better financial position first. But in our front yard landscaping dreams, somehow neither of us envision that privet tree making it through the landscaping intact.

After today, we're thinking that we should do the deed sooner rather than later. With the privet tree gone, the birds will go somewhere else to eat, and will poop over there. What good is a patio if no one wants to step on it? And after all, it doesn't take that much money to cut a tree down.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Unending Backyard Project: Sealant is Done!

Well, we happened to have a pleasant weekend in the midst of our rainy season, and I was able to get outside (two days in a row!) and put the sealant on the walkway and patio. I applied two coats of a lacquer-based wet-look sealant to the whole thing. It's a little difficult to tell from pictures posted online what the difference in color and look is now that the sealant is on, but take a look:

You'll notice that there is a bit of shine to the walkway in the above picture, as it reflects the light of the setting sun. Had I the opportunity to take this picture with full sun on it, the shine would have been really, really obvious.

Here's a close-up picture. Because of the lighting, it's not really obvious, but it does have a bit of a wet look to it. But it's completely dry. To show the difference, I sprayed a little water on it in the picture below. This is what it now looks like when it gets wet:

Prior to the application of the sealant the water would have wet the stones thoroughly, seeping in and darkening the stones until they had dried. They're porous; they're concrete pavers, after all. But now that the sealant has sealed up all the pores, the water is beading up at the surface.

So here are a few random observations of this whole process:
  • The sealant really does bring out the color of the stones. In my previous posts on this topic, I often wet the stones down before taking the pictures that I posted, because it made them look much prettier. Well, now it has that color all the time.
  • In selecting the lacquer sealant, I (knowing nothing of sealant) went with the recommendations of the place that sold the stones. And while it looks like they recommended a good product, it was also very expensive. As I was perusing our local Lowe's today, they didn't have this stuff on their shelves; but the stuff they did have was about a third the price. For the four gallons of this stuff that I used, that was a lot of money. If and when I have to seal or re-seal stones in the future, I'm going to be using something a little less expensive.
  • I probably should have expected this and been prepared for the consequences earlier, but bird-poop is going to be a serious issue with the patio. Turns out there's a privet tree in our front yard with lots of little tiny dark blue-black berries that the birds love. And after they gorge themselves on the privet berries, they land on our neighbor's Chinese Elm (which has lost all its leaves, of course) and poop little blue-black bird poop all over the patio. And that color doesn't wash off easily...
  • Of course, I had to get all that bird poop off before putting the sealant down, unless I wanted to preserve it for all time. So I soaked it with a hose and then sprayed it down under pressure. That seemed to work, but it also removed some of the sand between the cobblestones. So, now one end of the patio has little open gaps between the stones. Oh, well. It still looks good.
  • In looking for rollers at our local Lowe's, I was at first bewildered by the array of choices. There were big fat ones, and thin ones, and spongy ones, all from different brands. C'mon here, I just need a roller! Well, I learned the hard way what the differences are. If you get a thin one, you'll save a little money, but it's only useful if you're not trying to roll your sealant down into the cracks between stones. My first coat didn't penetrate; it only covered the very tops of the stones, and left really obvious gaps where the stones came together. So this morning I got a really, really fluffy one--1 + 1/4" of fluff coming out from the central cylinder on all sides--to do the second coat, and it worked like a champ. Lesson learned!
  • Lacquer sealant is sticky, of course. And there is only loose sand between the stones. So as I'm rolling on the sealant, the roller is picking up sand. That sand is then subjected to some serious centrifugal forces as the roller rolls along. The result is that lacquered sand gets thrown everywhere. I found a fair amount stuck to my pants and the tops of my shoes. There's also a good deal of sand mixed in with the finish on top of the stones. This makes the finish look not quite so shiny, and a little bit dusty; but it has the virtue of making the final, finished stones really non-skid.
Anyway, the project is quickly nearing completion. The only phase that remains is the backfill--bringing the level of the ground up near the top of the stones, so that all those ugly side-barriers are covered up. This job will probably involve raising one of the sprinkler heads. But unlike the task that I finished yesterday and today, it does not require perfect weather. You can't put down sealant in a drizzle; you can shovel mud.

I mentioned in a previous post that I want to have this whole thing finished by the end of February so that Tonya can start her garden on time. It's actually starting to look--thankfully--like that won't be a problem.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Ah, to be Young and Stupid

I was a bachelor again last night.

You see, about a week ago or so an older friend of ours passed away. When Tonya was growing up, this lady was part of the church and did a lot with the kids. And when Tonya and I got married, she was our wedding coordinator. She was one of those people of whom everyone needs to have several of in their lives, if they hope to grow up without becoming psychopaths.

And the memorial was yesterday (Thursday), back in the hometown. I couldn't go because of my work schedule (and the fact that I've already taken so much time off). So Tonya took the kids, piled in the van and headed over. And because she really doesn't like driving at night, we decided that she would spend the night with her parents and drive back today. (By the way, I have today off because of my company's 9/80 work schedule. In case you were wondering, that's how I can get away with blogging at 9:16 in the morning on a Friday.)

So I was at home by myself last night.

Now, this is a very unusual circumstance in our household. Tonya and I are both homebodies; we like being at home; and we really like having each other around. Neither of us likes traveling without the other. The first night we spent apart after getting married, was the night the Adrenaline Junkie was born--four and a half years after we got married. (They didn't have the facilities to let me stay in the hospital with her, as they had when the Pillowfight Fairy had been born.) And then through much of 2006 my company sent me on numerous business trips to New Jersey, and for a while I seriously considered finding a new job, until they finally moved me onto a project that didn't require me to be away from my family like that.

So suffice it to say, it's been a long, long time since I've had the place all to myself.

Now, part of my mind was saying: Look, you should see this as an opportunity: there are now all kinds of things you can do that would be impractical if the wife and kids were around. Use your imagination! The world is your oyster! You have one night of freedom of a sort you haven't had in years! What to do?

Well, first I made myself a dinner of chili-dogs. Then I played Civilization IV until one in the morning.

I tell you, guys, we need our women. If we didn't have them, most of us would be dead long before we hit forty.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Interesting Article on Marriage, Divorce, Life, Death...

I just saw this article (hat tip: The Anchoress) that got me thinking. The author has put together a reflection on marriage and divorce, salvation and grace, that's one part theology, one part scripture, one part eschatology, and one part highly-personal anecdote. It's a bit of a long read, but very worth it.

The Whys of "Why"

Ever read in child-rearing books that such-and-such a kid is supposed to hit this-or-that milestone by such-and-such age? And then, did you ever have the experience of your kid (or plural, kids) not hitting those milestones?

(Tonya just piped up, "Neither of my brothers ever crawled!" Yes, that's exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about.)

Well, when all the books say he should be doing this by this age, and your kid doesn't, it can make you scratch your head and wonder if there's something odd about your kid. If none of your kids hit the milestone, it makes you scratch your head and wonder if there's something odd about you.

(Or, it makes you wonder about your spouse. But that's another topic, for another blogger entirely.)

Well, we in the Power household have identified one such phenomenon in our children: They almost never ask why.

The more I think about this, the more I'm confounded by it. Kids are supposed to ask why! Just about every kid who's ever existed asks why. They're supposed to ask you why the sky is blue, why the grass has the same name as Daddy (this supposedly happens when your name is Timothy), why cats lick themselves, why flour doesn't come from flowers ("Then why are they named the same?"), why do I have to go to bed, why did my sister get more than me, why, why, why until the parent calls out in frustration, "Because I said so! That's just the way it is! Eat your beets!"

Mine don't. Why?

I've considered a few theories, but I'm not sure what's up. One theory is that kids ages five and below don't go for abstract logic, and "Why" questions are all about abstract logic, cause-and-effect, and all that. According to the "Trivium" model that forms the basis of Classical Education, kids don't really get into that sort of thing until they approach age ten or so. But if we go too far in that direction, we have to conclude that my kids are the normal ones, and everyone else's kids are weird. While I like to muse on the ramifications of this point, it begs the next question: why are everyone else's kids so weird?

Ok, next theory: My kids--the Pillowfight Fairy in particular--have very strong tendencies to introversion. It's not so much that they're shy--the Fairy was introducing herself tonight to every adult and teen she met at church by loudly and happily declaring, "I'm Wilbur!*"--but rather that what goes on in their own minds is so much more interesting to them than what goes on in the world around them. They come by it honestly, of course--both Mommy and Daddy are like that. But it could be that they are so introverted that they simply don't care about why the sky is blue or why they have to eat their beets. In their own private world, the sky is pink and no one ever has to eat beets, and that's good enough for them.

(Note: I'm using beets as a rhetorical device, which is about all they're good for. I loathe them, and would never inflict them on a child. When I say beets, think any number of other perfectly good foods that they loathe with a loathing like my beet-loathing).

Well, my wife has offered a third theory: Kids ask why because they're trying to get attention from their parents. They want their parents to spend time talking to them, and they quickly learn that asking why is a really good way of provoking a response. Tonya, on the other hand,
has trained herself (contrary to her normally reserved nature) to talk about everything with her children. "Ok, now I'm going to wash this dish. See all this gunk? That's what's left over from lunch, and we have to wash it off before we use the plate again, or we'll get gunk on the new food." "Little boy, I'm going to take the diaper off now, and put a new one on. Oh, heavens, look at this! I'm glad I decided to check you." "That's a lovely horse you've drawn. Are you going to cut it out and put it up?" And so on, and so on. She jokes that she's gotten in the habit of talking, talking, constantly talking, to the point where the girls just want her to shut up. Ergo, they see no need to ask the "why" question.

I'm curious to find out what other people's experiences are. How much do your kids ask, "why?" What ages did they start? What kinds of questions do they ask?

I'm curious to know, because I'm dying to have the Pillowfight Fairy start asking me why questions, so I can answer her (a la Calvin's Dad in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip) that yes, the world used to be in black and white, but everything turned to color starting sometime in the 1940's....


*This is because she's really gotten into the story of Charlotte's Web lately. Could be worse: for a few days there, she was Templeton.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up

The Carnival of Homeschooling, Martin Luther King Edition is up over at Consent of the Governed. My post on what happened when I tried to teach Tic-Tac-Toe to the Pillowfight Fairy is featured.

There are a lot of other interesting posts there. I particularly liked this one about an Asperger's Syndrome boy who made a breakthrough in social reasoning.

There are also a few posts there dealing with an unpleasant phenomenon that has been occurring more and more frequently as homeschooling becomes more popular and widespread in society: that parents who are truly unfit as parents will occasionally pull their children out of school specifically to keep their unfitness from coming to light with the authorities. When this happens, of course, it gives all of us in the homeschooling movement a collective black eye. Anyway, there were posts about this phenomenon here and here.

The latter of these two posts also refers to another problem that's been popping up with increasing frequency lately, called "Push-Outs" within the homeschooling community. More details, and a definition of the term, here.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Fun With Limericks

So, the Happy Boy has a problem that we suspect most kids his age have: his shoes just want to be free. Either that, or his feet just want to be free. That is, his feet and his shoes don't mind their relationship, they'd just rather that it wasn't so... close.

And, the Happy Boy has another problem that many kids his age has: molars. Now for kids this age, molars are a big problem. They hurt. Here are these huge teeth trying to push their way up through the baby's gums! Ow. And as just about every parent will tell you, when the baby is teething, nobody's very happy. (Least of all, the parents who have to change the diapers. But this post is not about baby poop, so let's just leave that topic right there, shall we?)

So the Happy Boy has sore gums, which he likes to soothe by finding handy objects that he can cram in his mouth and gnaw upon. Or rather, he likes footy objects. That's right, this semi-mobile genius has discovered a use for shoes that don't stay on the feet.

His sisters think it's funny when he takes his shoe off and crams it in his mouth. Frankly, I do too.

So, in the spirit of the moment, I popped off with an appropriate Limerick I've known since childhood. (And Lord knows, there are plenty of inappropriate Limericks out there; I didn't pop off with any of those.)
There once was a man from Peru
Who dreamed he was eating his shoe.
He awoke with a fright
In the dark of the night,
And found it was perfectly true!
The Pillowfight Fairy loved it, and had me repeat it. Then she had me repeat it again. Then, when she wanted me to repeat it again, I turned the tables and had her repeat it. After all, she's pretty good at memorizing poetry, and I figured it was good to get her started on the Limerick form. So pretty soon we were taking turns spouting off about the Man from Peru.

Now I remember a melody that I was taught in my elementary school music class, way back when the earth was cooling, that we could use when singing Limericks. I don't remember the title of this tune. And I don't want to go through all the work of recording a sound file for you to download to give you a sense of what it sounds like. Instead, just imagine a bit of music sounding a little like the "Mexican Hat Dance" with the right number of syllables that one can sing a Limerick to it. Got that image in your head? Good.

So I sang about the Man from Peru to this very upbeat, silly melody that sounded like the Mexican Hat Dance, and the Pillowfight Fairy loved it. After about five or six repeats, the Fairy had the tune pretty much down, and was singing along.

But after a while the Man from Peru needs a little rest (not to mention a liquid diet), so I decided to pull out some other ones I knew. I started with the one that I composed way back here:
One thing I discovered is true:
It's quite a bit harder to do
A limerick that's pure,
Discrete and demure,
Than conjure a raunchy haiku.
Of course, I sang it to the same tune as the previous one, and I put in a little Satchmo growl on the last line. The Fairy loved it. So, on to the next one, which I learned from my dear Sister-In-Law, and which I now sang in a pirate accent (Arrrrgggg!):
The Limerick is furtive and mean.
You must keep her in close quarantine,
Or she slinks to the slums
And promptly becomes
Disorderly, drunk, and obscene.
We were having a great deal of fun now, so I started pulling out every clean Limerick I could think of, and singing them to that ridiculous Mexican Hat Dance tune:
A bather, whose clothing was strewed
By breezes, which left her quite nude,
Saw a man come along--
And unless I am wrong,
You thought this line was going to be lewd.
...well, not entirely clean. But she's five.

Well, this was a whole lot of fun, and I was running out of Limericks, so I pulled out my copy of Selected Poetry of Ogden Nash and started to mine it for gems:
There was a brave girl of Connecticut
Who flagged the express with her pecticut,
Which her elders defined
As presence of mind,
But deplorable absence of ecticut.
Ok, this was fun, but it was going on a bit long, and getting a wee bit too close to the edge. But the Pillowfight Fairy was loving it. So she decided to do some. Now the Fairy, when she wants to make up poetry, doesn't sit down and start working out rhymes. She doesn't say to herself: "Ok, I'm doing a poem about bunnies, so I need to find all the words that rhyme with bunnies, like funnies, and honeys, and monies...." No, when she writes a poem, she doesn't work out the rhymes in advance--she just starts freestylin'. And if the word she puts at the end of the line happens to be something like purple, she's just out of luck when she gets to the next line and can't come up with a rhyme on the spur of the moment. But then she'll do a little of the Ogden Nash thing and make up a word that fits, darn it.

And I was pretty impressed with what she came up with. I must apologize that I can't remember any of her Limerick creations; they had so many neologisms in them that it would take a team of linguists (and psychologists) weeks to figure out what was going on in her head. But I noted that, even though we haven't done any formal studying of poetry at all, she has the Limerick form down cold.

Of course, after this whole Limerick episode was over, and the Fairy had gone on to play with other things, I started finding and remembering other Limericks that would have worked beautifully in our little game. Another one from Ogden Nash:
There was an old man of Calcutta,
Who coated his tonsils with butta,
Thus converting his snore
From a thunderous roar
To a soft, oleaginous mutta.
I am, and shall always be, in awe of the genius of Ogden Nash, the man who could put "oleaginous" in a poem and get it to work. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that he woke up one morning and thought to himself: "Hmm. What should I do today? I think I'll write a poem around the word oleaginous."

Much fun. Anyway, I'll close out with one more poem from Nash--not a Limerick, and wouldn't fit with the Mexican Hat Dance song, but I came across it in my Limerick hunt and loved it:
Here is a dream.
It is my dream--
My own dream--
I dreamt it.
I dreamt that my hair was kempt,
Then I dreamt that my true love unkempt it.

I Really Do Have Excuses--Lots of Them

Well, when I started this blog, I was thinking I would try to keep up a pace of one blog post per day--that seemed reasonable. And then I found myself skipping days, and making up for it on other days with two or three short posts.

And then the holidays hit, and I was out of town. But I was able to keep up a reasonable pace there for a while!

But nothing could save my blogging from its latest challenge: ennui. Sheer, unadulterated ennui.

For one thing, I ran out of interesting things to write about. For another, my wife has been feeling under the weather, and needed more of my attention (and just more down-time in general), and this necessitated me not spending so much time on the computer. For another, we've had some videos lying around that we haven't finished watching yet, and we wanted to get to them--and we don't use a TV, we just play videos on the computer (thus no blogging). For another, Tonya has become addicted to playing Sid Meier's Civilization IV.

Heck, I've become addicted to playing Sid Meier's Civilization IV--but not like Tonya. Unlike her, I can stop any time I want. ;-)

Just kidding; I'm just as bad as she is. Last Thursday, after I put my kids and my then-ill wife to bed, I found myself starting up a game and losing all track of time--not shutting the thing down until 12:30 or so. Tonya didn't do much better last night (Saturday); she didn't shut it down until 12:15. I think the pattern is that I don't play as often as she does, but when I do play, I just... can't... stop....

I say, that is a truly evil game. Too bad I can't find more time to play it.

But this week was spent getting back into a normal routine, and Tonya and I are very happy about this fact. We're getting our strength and sanity back. And this was the first normal weekend we've had in a very, very long time. No traveling! No performances! Not even any rehearsals, for crying out loud! We had time to lounge about and have one of those Sabbath thingies, the lack of which I've lamented before.

Oddly enough, the off-schedule-ness of the last few weeks has hampered my blogging, not enhanced it. You'd think that a person would run out of ideas while living in a regular, daily routine, and would come up with new ideas while doing new and exciting things while off the routine. I find that this isn't the case. When I'm on my routine, I actually have the chance to learn lots of new and interesting things, and I have some time to myself so I can think. Furthermore, my children's homeschooling progress and antics are major sources of ideas for blog posts. If all these wellsprings of ideas are disrupted, I quickly run out of things to say. Those of you who don't blog (or don't blog regularly) would be surprised how hard it is to come up with even one interesting thing to say each day, every day. I find that when I'm blasted out of my routines, I'm often out of touch with my regular muses, so to speak--or that when I do come up with something interesting to say, I'm away from my computer.

Anyway, now that the routines are starting to be re-established, hopefully we'll all get back to being ourselves, and I'll be blogging a bit more regularly again soon.

In the meantime, here are a few items I found noteworthy over the last few days:
  • Very, very briefly this week, I found myself wishing I was in Baghdad rather than here. As you may imagine, the feeling went away very quickly. Still, I found that to be one of the happiest news stories I've seen in a long time.
  • We got our minivan back from the body shop! We are now using our own set of wheels again. The kids are once again fully separated and unable to play the "quit touching me!" game. This goes back to the idea of we're finally back in our own routine. And this is a wonderful feeling. Now if we can just drive a little more carefully, we'll be OK.
  • For those of you who are wondering: no, Tonya's not pregnant yet. We were wondering when she got sick this week if that was the case, but it's not. We think she was done in by some overripe thousand-island dressing she put on a salad. As for me, I stay healthy by avoiding the salads entirely. :-)
  • The Pillowfight Fairy keeps bending the English Language to express her mighty will. Two from today: while trying to coax her out of bed this morning, the mostly-still-asleep five-year-old intoned: "I'm unawakeable." Then about dinnertime tonight, while contemplating the pad of paper where we write our grocery lists, she said, "You need to write love here. We need more love."
We explained to her that you can't buy love; but we had to concede that yes, more love would in general be a good thing.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Unfortunate Pattern

There's a great scene in the 1984 comic movie All of Me (starring Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin) in which the Swami (who's been brought to America to perform this weird soul-transference ritual, but who knows nothing of life in the west) is exploring his hotel room. He happens to flush the toilet, and is rather startled and confused by the weird noises the thing makes. But right at that moment one someone calls the hotel room (trying urgently to reach one of the other characters), and the phone rings. The Swami looks up, and the light of comprehension goes on: so he immediately flushes the toilet again... and of course, the phone gives another ring. So he happily flushes a third time, and the phone gives another ring, and so on....

This is an example of what people mean when they say "Correlation is not proof of causation." Of course, normal people don't say stuff like that in everyday conversation, but if they did, this would be an example of what they mean.

Of course, that doesn't keep us from speculating. If we see A happen a lot, usually followed by B, it makes us suspect that A has something to do with B. If the correlation is strong enough, it usually means that there is some kind of causal mechanism. The trouble is that we tend to jump to conclusions before we have a meaningful sample. After we've seen A and B happen together two or three times, we tend to start thinking that A and B are linked--even though there's still a good likelihood that it's a false correlation, caused by random chance.

So why do I bring this up?

In part, that's because I'm not a normal person, a la Paragraph 2.

But, Tonya observed a pattern today that is simultaneously really annoying, and downright hopeful. You see, Tonya and I have been considering trying for a fourth kid. After all, we really like the three we have, and we've decided that we could really use a little more chaos in our lives.

Ahem.

So here's the annoying pattern. Every time Tonya has gotten pregnant to date (with all three kids, and with the pregnancy that we miscarried), she has always come down with some hideous feverish plague of some sort within a month or so before conception, that causes her to lose any interest in food for at least a week. Every time, her weight has taken a huge drop within the month before conception--and this isn't the kind of weight loss that one feels good about. (Tonya was one of those women who as a young lady had trouble keeping weight on--and before you ask: no, she did not consider that a blessing.)

So, now that we're trying to get pregnant again, Tonya has come down with some kind of evil bug that's pretty well laid her out flat. The very smell of food--the mere thought of food--is turning her stomach. She tried to take the kids to the library today, but thought better of it just as she was approaching the library door--so they dropped the books off in the depository, turned around and came straight home. She tried to do her nails today (since the girls wanted theirs done too)--and the smell of the polish nearly wiped her out after she'd only finished one hand. She had no dinner; only a little water to keep herself hydrated.

Now, there is no rational reason to think that this sickness presages another little bundle of joy. I am completely unaware of any reasonable mechanism that might link a nasty bug and sudden loss of weight with fertility. But darn it, when something as yucky as one of these bugs comes around, it's very tempting to reach for any reason at all that can possibly justify the suffering. After all, Tonya had this stuff happen to her four times already just before getting pregnant; why shouldn't it happen like that again?

As I've said before, reason is overrated. :-)

And do keep Tonya in your thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Craft Time Just Got a Lot More Interesting

Well!

We thought it was very interesting when our five-year-old developed an interest in Thneeds, but that phase passed, as these phases often do. But you'll be happy to know that she is still interested in making things that everyone, everyone, everyone needs. Well, half of us, anyway.


Can you guess? Take a moment and guess. Hint: I decided to pose them here next to the Naked Lady we have on our dinner table.

Ok, time's up.

Out of the blue today she announced that "I need some paper. I'm going to make a bra." And she did--she made the pink one.

And that was so much fun, she decided to make a whole set, in different colors! And as if that wasn't enough, her 3-year-old sister decided she wanted in on the act too, so the Pillowfight Fairy made her the one in white (obviously, since it has a smaller cup size than all the others).

Actually, given the lack of cleavage involved here, these bras would work just fine. If they had some sort of clasp mechanism involved, that is. And if they weren't made out of construction paper. (Like a lot of fine lingerie, they'd just fall apart in the wash, don't you know...)

So we had a rather amusing evening tonight, as my two daughters were running around the house wearing these things. Of course, they couldn't get them around their bodies, due to the aforementioned lack of clasp (and the fact that they would have been really really tight); so they were running around the house wearing them on their necks, which made for really weird visual images when you imagined that those were supposed to be bras. It prompted me to comment to my wife something along the lines of "We appear to have a serious outbreak of boob-on-neck plague in here tonight."

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned....