Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai: For the Sanctification of the Name

Even as we have been fulfulling our obligation to give thanks for all of the good things that we have this Thanksgiving Holiday, we have also been watching with great concern the terrorist attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai. As the Editorial in The Albuquerque Journal stated today:

". . . Just as chilling, though, is the growing realization that in Mumbai we are witnessing a deadly progression in terrorist strategies and capabilities . The global disease of terrorism has metastasized since Sept. 11, 2001. This attack on innocent civilians, or "soft targets," in Mumbai will be remembered as a multiple-day event: Nov. 26 - 29, 2008.
It is as if al-Quaida, instead of blowing up the Twin Towers, had decided to take and hold Manhattan. . .
The challenges facing the incoming administration of Barack Obama have just been ratcheted up. "
--In Mumbai, World is Seeing Terrorism 2.0,
The Albuquerque Journal, Saturday November 29, 2008 p. A6

The challenges are grave indeed: There is great evil at work in the world, and it must be countered, as the Indian Army and Special Forces did over the last three days. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for those soldiers to confront the enemy in one of the great cities of their country; to see a city of progress and business transformed into a war-zone, where innocent civilians died and tourists fled their hotels in terror. These soldiers were the force standing between their country's desire for peace and economic progress and the terror and destruction of property brought by men with bombs and guns.

We were particularly saddened by the murder of our fellow Jews at the Chabad-Lubavitch Outreach Center. We watched with great fear as the commandos were lowered to the roof of the building and we prayed that the lives of Rabbi Gavriel Noach and Rebbetzim Rivkah Holtzbert, z"l (may their memories be for a blessing), would be saved by those brave men. Alas, they were brutally killed, although the quick-thinking cook saved the life of their two year old son as she fled the building.

But what are the lives of six more Jews to terrorists? What of their work to men who carry such hatred of their fellow human beings? The terrorists have a mission: to spread anger and death and destruction among human beings in order to destroy what they refuse to become. They claim that they do this in the name of G-d.. But they do not worship G-d. For by their actions, they demonstrate that they worship at the altars of such idols as hatred, destruction, and terror.

But Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg spent their lives in the work of Tikkun Olam--the Repair of the World. As our New Mexico Chabad wrote to us yesterday:

"Chabad's 6000 emissaries throughout 3500 centers worldwide are in their respective countries primarily to be of service and help, to each and every one of their Jewish brothers and sisters unconditionally, no matter what their affiliation or background, with whatever is needed, physically and spiritually, and to help all humanity with goodness and kindness in their respective cities, states and countries. In short, the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent the emissaries to help make every city, state and country and thereby the entire world, a better place for all mankind. Unfortunately there are those who try to hinder and destroy good."
--e-mail communication from Rabbi Chaim Schmuckler
sent Friday afternoon, November 28, 2008/1 Kislev 5769

And the Rabbi and Rebbetzim Holtzbert were murdered, as so many many of our people have been, because they were Jews. In contrast to the claims of their murderers, and of those who incite murder and destruction in the extremist madrassahs, it is the Holtzbergs who died al Kiddush ha-Shem, for the Sanctification of the Name.

Terrorism must be fought and evil must be countered.
The Indian Army fought terrorism with guns and force, and this is necessary.
But it is not sufficient.
The evil must also be countered. As Rabbi Schmuckler said in his e-mail:

"Chabad's answer is, as Gavriel and Rivky would have said, to bring more goodness and more kindness into the world. This is the lesson of the Chanukah candles. Just like the Chanukah candles, when it is dark, that is when we light the candles, and we are not content with just one candle, but we continuously add a light each night, ultimately illuminating the world with G-dliness, kindness and goodness."

In a few weeks, when the moon of Kislev wanes to new, Jews will celebrate Channukah, the Festival of Dedication, the Festival of Light. And at Channukah, we will, as we do every year, dedicate ourselves to lifting the sparks and bringing light into a darkening world. That is the job of all Jews, as it is the job of all menschen, all real human beings.

Here at Ragamuffin House, we are deeply saddened to learn of the senseless, violent murders of Jews, once again killed only because they were Jews. We did not know them, but we know who they were.

Here at Ragamuffin House, we also pray for the leaders of our own country, in whom we place the responsibility for our own defense against the destruction at work in the world.

And here at Ragamuffin House, we are also thinking about what small things we can do to raise the sparks here as Americans, and to build up the House of Israel everywhere, as Jews.

"And I tell you the good in us will win,
Over all wickedness, over all the wrongs we have done.
We will look back at the pages of written history and be amazed,
and then we will laugh and sing,
And the good that is in us, children in their cradles will have won.

Here I stand, the Jew, marked by history, for who can count how long?
Wrapped in compassion as in a Tallit, staring every storm in the face.
Write songs of pain, sing prayers of torment, refresh yourself with suffering.
Too much for one people, small and weak --
it is enough to share out among the whole human race.
But G-d has planted in me goodness, compassion, as a mother loves her children,
So I sing and weep, sing and weep,
For the blood knows the heart of the world is not made of stone . . .
And the heart knows that there is a day and an hour, and a Mountain,
And then all the sufferings will gather there and will all become song,
Ringing out into every corner of the earth from end to end,
And the nations will hear it, and like caravans in the desert will all
to that Mountain throng.

". . . Pour down, O heavens, from above and let the sky rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that deliverance may flourish, and let righteousness spring up."
--Siddur Sha'arei T'filah, The New Union Prayerbook, Gates of Prayer
CCAR Press, 1975, p. 707

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Quiet and Snowy Thanksgiving

Our Thanksgiving was a quiet one again this year.
The Chem Geek Princess is traveling. So it was the three of us,
plus the two dogs and two cats, for Thanksgiving dinner.

Just as we wrapped up food preparations, the rain we got yesterday turned to sleet and then snow. The Engineering Geek got the vehicles moved to the top of the impossible-to-climb-in-snow-and-ice driveway.

Then, with the turkey finishing the final two hours of it's nearly 24-hour slow-roast, and the stuffing, sweet potatoes, and green-bean casserole warming in the second oven, the EG and I repaired to our bath.

By the time we got out, the snow had stopped and the view from the bedroom looked like this. The setting sun was playing with the moving clouds to make a blue and white and gold sunset in motion. Beautiful!

Dinner was at five.
We got out the fine China for ourselves, and used our wedding crystal goblets for wine and cider.
After dinner, we watched Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life as our tradition demands.
Dessert and coffee followed the movie.

It was a restful day, overall.
In particular, I enjoyed the chance to cook at my leisure, and so I roasted two pumpkins for a pumpkin bread pudding.

This morning dawned with clouds spilling over the Sandias and racing across the sky.

I got the pumpkin bread pudding in the oven early on. It is for a more convivial Thanksgiving/Shabbat we will spend with friends this evening.

Walking the dogs this morning was an adventure.
The driveway was impossibly iced-in, and we could not walk up it for fear of breaking our necks. So we confined our walk to the meadow.

The snow still covered everything; individual blades of grass, pine and scrub oak branches, and this twisted Cholla cactus.

It has been a very nice few days.
And I am looking forward to having a feast with friends tonight.

And this is the time of year where I appreciate anew that I do not have to endure crowds and chaos for "Black" Friday.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving: A Rainbow Blessing

"You open your hand and satisfy the needs of every living being . . ."

--Birchat ha-Mazon (Blessing After Food)

This morning, as we were preparing for our Thanksgiving Dinner, we looked out and saw this bright rainbow over Rancho Verde. The rainbow came at the beginning of the approaching storm. It is a reminder that storms do come in our lives, but even in the midst of them there is beauty and blessing. As the storm approaches, we give thanks to the Creator who has blessed us with the strength and resolve to see each other through.

The rainbow is a reminder of our blessings, for in the Southwest, at least, rain is always a blessing! There are so many blessings that we have to be thankful for this year and all years, and it is our joy to share those blessings with family and friends, near and far. Our thanks extend to all of those who share this great land with us, and those who protect it with their unceasing vigilance. They are far from home, on the seas and at the borders, and our thoughts go out to them, too.

We are thankful for those who grow the grain, harvest the crops, and bring our food to us. By the work of their hands, we have bread to eat. We are thankful, too, to all of those bright minds whose innovations have improved our lives, and lengthened them, and we are thankful for the strength to share our work with all of them.

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday: a holiday on which productive people rejoice in the plenty that they have made, and give thanks for the riches they have earned.
And for me, the quintessential song for Thanksgiving is Woody Guthrie's Pastures of Plenty:

"Green pastures of plenty from dry desert ground,
From the Grand Coulee dam where the waters run down . . .
My land I'll defend with my life if it be,
For the Patures of Plenty must always be free . . .

Now, the rain is turning to snow. The turkey is browning in the oven, and the house smells of pumpkins roasting, and spices for the cider. We are warm, dry and safe. We have each other, and we each wake up every morning with joy in our hearts and work that needs doing.

It is our prayer that all of you have the same and do the same!

L'chaim! To Life!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Chem Geek Princess Moves (Out) In


If you have been wondering where Ragamuffin has been for the past week, well, we've been doing some exciting things, the most important of which is that the Chem Geek Princess has moved out of our house and into one of her very own!
You might not think that moving one young woman from one room would be that time consuming, but . . .

. . . it took a bit of maneuvering to fit the oversize pillow-top mattress and box springs into Henry.

Henry is a big, red truck, but the topper narrows slightly towards the top, and box springs don't bend.

It was 30 MPH down the mountain.

Henry, parked outside the CGP's "little house."
The Engineering Geek is getting ready to unload and one of our 'adopted' daughters has arrived to help.

The Chem Geek Princess and her Very Serious Man Friend wrestle the mattress onto the box springs.

The sunset coming in the south window of the den. The couch and loveseat, both found on Craig's List, match the wall color very well.

The bed, all set up.
It looks very large in the "little house's" master bedroom.
Until she has money to get a headboard, the CGP plans to use a body pillow at the head of the bed.

The Engineering Geek admires the club table with leather chairs we bought for the Chem Geek Princess as a college graduation present.

In the true spirit of frugality, we got it at the American Home Store close-out sale. There is some slight damage to one corner and a nick in the top. But, hey, we got the whole thing for about a quarter of the original price.

That's why the EG is smiling!

The CGP and her VSMF put the tile in last weekend.

So you can see that I was definitely too busy to blog.
The CGP needed almost everything for her new household.
Luckily, there is a Good Will store only a block away.

Never buy retail!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Proposition 8 and the Pursuit of Happiness

I have been thinking a good deal about the furor over Proposition 8.
That's the referendum on marriage in California that confines marriage to being between a man and a woman. It was proposed to counter the gay marriages that were beginning to take place among gays in that state. The argument for this ban on gay marriage that I have most commonly heard is that such a union degrades marriages among the straight population.

And being somewhat of an Aspie about this, I just don't get it.
I cannot figure out how my marriage to that wonderful man, the Engineering Geek, is in any way threatened by gays having a civil marriage contract. My marriage is what it is--the formation of a Jewish household. The fact that Catholics and Presbyterians have marriages that are not defined in the same way does not change the status of my marriage. And the fact that some people have civil marriages, rather than a religious covenant, does not change the status of my marriage.

In fact, I think it is downright responsible of gays to want to settle down and make a household together and protect that relationship by legal means. Marriage is not an easy proposition. It means standing "before G-d and everybody" and promising to live with another person who is not your flesh and blood for the rest of your life.
It is not a step to be taken lightly, though some do.
The legal contract and the rights and responsibilities that come with it encourage one to take it seriously.
And even among those that take it seriously, there are circumstances that cause a person to admit failure and dissolve the contract in divorce.

I do not believe that it is right for government to deny the civil benefits of a contract to any person. We are all equal under the law, different though we certainly are in a range of attributes that make us individuals. To say that one group of people have the right to make a civil contract that others do not because of a class attribute (race, gender, religion) is certainly discrimination. And when government fails to treat all persons equally under the law, it subverts the Rule of Law. This is not something to be taken lightly, either, because once the law begins to discriminate among citizens, then all of our rights are at stake.

The constitutionality of Proposition 8 is being appealed to the California Supreme Court. And I believe it should end there because that court has a precedent in the case it decided in 1948, Perez v. Sharp (aka Perez v. Lippold). In that case, the California Supreme Court recognized that laws forbidding interracial marriages violated the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Other states were slower to overturn their bans on interracial marriage. Finally, in 1967, the United States Supreme Court ruled that laws forbidding interracial marriage were unconstitutional according to the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment in the case Loving v. Virginia. That case is particularly interesting because it is one of the few cases in which SCOTUS cited the right to the Pursuit of Happiness, which is asserted in the United States Declaration of Independence. That phrase has been interpreted to mean the right to property and its disposition, as well as the right to freedom of movement, and the freedom to choose a vocation and manner of life, so long as those choices do not violate the natural rights of others.

Most of the arguments I have seen for the legal ban on gay marriage are derived from the religious beliefs held by those who object to these unions. However, in the United States, the legal aspect of marriage is adjudicated by the state. In this form, civil marriage, it is a contract that is ultimately about household property and the forming of a legally recognized relationship that supercedes those recognized among blood relatives. (What I mean by this is that for a legally married person, the closest living relative is the spouse, not the parents or children). The states, in turn, have given the privilege of representing the state in this legal contract to the clergy of various religions as a matter of courtesy and convenience to the marrying couple. (And in fact, in some states, of which New Mexico is one, anyone may apply to be the formal state representative at a wedding, clergified or not). The religious covenant of marriage, which is very important for a lot of us, is entirely separate.
Thus the rabbi or minister or priest assumes the role of the state when she or he says:
"By the power vested in my by the State of _______, I now declare you husband and wife."

Some of us have two separate weddings. When the Engineering Geek and I were planning our wedding, we had already set the date for a June Kiddushin (Jewish Wedding) with our rabbi and cantor. Then in December, I found out that my insurance benefits were going to be raised by nearly half. So we had a January civil wedding before a District Court Judge. When we had our Kiddushin in June, the rabbi did not have to say the "by the power vested in me . . . shpiel. The religious covenant of marriage was recognized by the signing of the Ketubah (marriage contract) and the giving of the rings. But our legal status as a married couple had already been recorded and there was no change in our civil status. That had already changed in January.

Here's the deal: A person's natural rights are guarranteed by the state. They ennumerate what the state may not do to the individual. So the state may not interfere with an adult citizen's pursuit of happiness--that is her property, freedom of movement, and choice of vocation and manner of living, among other things. The state may not use force against a person to stop her from pursuing her own happiness, so long as she does not violate the rights of others. So if the state recognizes a civil contract between two people that makes them a special kind of corporation, then it cannot refuse it to others, so long as they have the standing (age of majority, of sound mind, and not coerced) to make a contract.

However, religious institutions and their clergy may discriminate. Since they are not governmental agencies, they can make any rules they want to regarding the covenant of marriage. My rabbi, for example, will not perform Kiddushin between a Jew and a non-Jew. He says that Kiddushin requires two Jews, a Chuppah, and a ring. He recognizes the validity of the civil marriage to the state, but he does not recognize it as a Jewish marriage under Jewish law. So, too, for those whose religious beliefs do not allow for gay marriage: They can join those religions that are of like mind. They do not have to associate with married gays (or gays at all, for that matter) in their personal lives. They do not have to accept gay marriage into their worlds.

To those who object: Yes, you have the right to be offended. And no, you do not have the right to not be offended.

But for the sake of Liberty, they cannot ask the state to violate the rights of others.
And they cannot demand that the state impose their religious beliefs on others. That would be the establishment of a particular religion by the state; that is a violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

To forestall certain arguments: Yes, Christianity is the most common religion in the United States. No, this is not a Christian country: There is no established religion in the United States; that would be a violation of the First Amendment.

West Downtown and The Fourth Ward


And the walking tour of Albuquerque continued as we left our unexpected tour of the Kimo Theatre, and walked west along Central towards the Fourth Ward neighborhood, which is situated between Downtown and Old Town.

The El Rey theater is on the western edge of Downtown. This is a live performance space that caters mainly to the over-21 crowd. I have not been there in a while, but I have seen such acts as The Cowboy Junkies, The Indigo Girls, Bayou Seco, and Los Lobos there.
I also helped organize a fundraiser for the New Mexico Greens there, and learned the intricacies of running a theater that serves alcohol.

West of downtown Albuquerque, there is a park at Central and 8th, that serves as the beginning of the Fourth Ward. This area, also developed by Huning, features the graceful mansions of the up-and-coming Albuqueque upper crust circa the late 19th and early 20th century. Here is one, now a law office, with the look of an antebellum southern plantation house.

In the park itself, just off of 8th Street between Central and Copper, stands the most amazing Valley Cottonwood.
One branch makes a near loop, and the old tree is gnarled and yet green and growing.
The students rested beneath it, speculating on how the branches were so bent. Then it on through the Fourth Ward.

Here is the home of one of Albuquerque's German settlers, done good.

Built in the late 1800's, the house features high ceilings, and a large single room on the second floor, the better to catch the summer evening breeze in the days before air conditioning. On the curb in front is a set of carriage steps, the better to alight from the buggy with long skirts.

Near 12th and Central is the location of the old Huning Castle. Built by the railroad tycoon and developer, it was build with a round turret and other features of a medieval castle, but it also had all the modern conveniences of the Gilded Age.

It has been converted into the Huning Castle condominiums, and very little of the original structure remains.

Albuquerque was also the destination of "health seekers," people with 'the consumption' (TB) who came for the clean, dry desert air at altitude. The Fourth Ward has many "TB houses" with the four-sided second floor room featuring nearly floor-to-ceiling windows on all sides, that served as a sleeping porch room for the sick one.

Presbyterian Hospital (just east of the Huning-Highland neighborhood) was founded as a TB hospital, and the original building was featured in the film Infinity, about the early career of Richard Feynman, whose first wife died of TB in Albuquerque during his time at Los Alamos.

Next week: Old Town and San Felipe.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

An Aspie Approach to an Unending Controversy

I think the flag of the United States is beautiful.

Upon returning to the US from foreign lands, I enjoy most hearing "Welcome home," when I go through the passport check, and the sight of Old Glory, bright and bold, gracing the skies of my homeland. There is a place in my heart that swells with love and pride when I see it, waving in the wind. It is the love of the ideals upon which this country was founded that moves me, as well as pride for the genius of the founders who crafted this intentionally oppositional system of government in order to safeguard my liberty.

And at the same time, I have never considered that flag to be more than a symbol of something else. "It's a flag," I think, "It's not a god, it's not the Constitution, and it's not the nation itself." I think about this every time a new flap about the flag or the pledge of allegiance to the flag in reported in the news.

It is not that I want this symbol of liberty to be treated with contempt. I get it when a fellow teacher who served in battle for the United States Army says, "I risked my life for what that flag symbolizes, and it angers me to see it treated with disdain."
But what I do not get is that disagreements about the flag and the pledge of allegiance can cause otherwise peaceful neighborhoods to go at each other's throats with an insane amount of venom. The Aspie in me wonders how in the world either "side" could be that important.

Today, I opened my Sunday Albuquerque Journal to the Dimension section to read about a Vermont school where this has happened. Neighbors are up in arms.
"Wouldn't it be more productive if you all spent your Tuesday evenings strategizing the remodel of your bathrooms and kitchens?" I want to ask.

Sometimes, I wonder if my study of the behavioral neuropsychology of ASD is really about psychopathology; this story seems more fraught with psychopathology than does the inability to lie effectively seen in AS.

In my years as a teacher in New Mexico, I had a wide variety of experiences concerning the use of "the Pledge" as we called it. Although it is part of the New Mexico Code (i.e. state law) that the pledge of allegiance will be given at the beginning of each school day, it was completely ignored in the state capital school district. The public address system did not work at the Santa Fe high school where I did my post-baccelaureate licensure internship, and I never saw any flag flying from the flagpole. On the other hand, at Rio Rancho High, the morning advisory came with "the pledge" to the flag, viewed by closed-caption TV in every classroom. At the private Catholic school where I was the only non-Christian teacher, I led my class in the pledge and then invited one of the students to come up and give the "Our Father" prayer. The kids tended to say it all in a perfunctory manner that fooled me into thinking that it was rote, until I asked them once what it all meant to them as part of a Socratic Discussion in their Advisory period. They were quite serious about the importance of both. But even though they said " . . . and to the republic for which it stands. . ." every day of their school careers, most of my students had no idea that they lived in a republic, not a democracy.

As a result of that discussion, we determined that in our class, we would not only give the prayer and "the pledge," but that we would recite the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, in order to remind ourselves of the mission statement of our government.
That was eye-opening for all of us, and led to some very interesting discussions about current events.

When I taught gifted education at an Albuquerque public school, I continued this tradition, sans the prayer, and again, that led to some very interesting discussions about the role of the federal government in our lives as Americans. It was particularly germane, given the content curriculum my 4th -5th grade gifted kids were studying with me, the William and Mary Curriculum about the founding of this nation.

Then I stopped teaching other people's children and began homeschooling the Boychick. We decided to hang the flag outdoors every morning that the weather allowed. We then had a discussion about "the pledge." Together, we decided that to us, pledging allegiance to a flag made no sense at all. It is not the flag that we owe allegiance to, nor the servant government that established the flag. Rather, it is the US Constitution that guarantees our liberty and is intended to secure our rights as human beings.

So we continued with the tradition begun by my class at the Catholic school of reciting the Preamble to the Constitution, sans the prayer and "the pledge." (We did have prayer in our homeschool--but we did the flag ceremony after the morning service). At first it felt a little ridiculous, the two of us, Boychick often still in PJ's, hanging the flag and standing at attention while reciting:

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

But just as it did among my high school class, and my gifted class, this custom sparked conversations about the role of the Constitution, the role of the people, and the proper bounds of government.

So here is my solution to all those neighbors going at each other over "the pledge."
Stop it.
Replace "the pledge" with a daily recitation of the Preamble to the US Constitution.
Instead of fights over the words "under G-d" and "indivisible," you can begin having interesting discussions about the role of government in the lives of We the People. And as teachers of our children, it helps to listen more than we talk. It's amazing how well kids can consider these things.

And anyway, the flag is merely and ultimately a symbol of something much greater than a colorful, if beloved, piece of cloth. It is the symbol of an idea. The idea that governments are instituted among us to secure our rights at our consent.
What a concept!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Machon: Two Steps Forward . . .Maybe

In the past few years, I have written quite a bit about the problems we have had with Machon--the teen religious education program at our synagogue.

This year, we enrolled the Boychick once again, and he has been attending on Wednesday nights, albeit reluctantly. It takes quite a bit of arranging to get him across the mountain each week. We carpool with his friend A., who also attends Machon. Every Wednesday he is picked up after school by A.'s mom, who drives both boys and a third who lives off of Frost road between the A. house and EMHS. They get to Machon in time to have dinner. This is a new feature this year: for $44/semester the kids can eat at the synagogue and have social time together as they eat. Then they have their Jewish Studies class for one hour hour, followed by an elective (another new feature this year), followed by a weekday evening service. It all ends at about 8:15 PM. I leave the COE Graduate Writing Studio at 7 PM, and I arrive at the temple at about 7:20. I wait in the lounge for the boys to be finished, and I drive A. home, and we arrive home after 9:00 PM.

There does seem to be a curriculum this year, though I have not yet got a written copy of it. This semester, the Boychick has a course on the history of Israel and Zionism for Jewish Studies, and his elective is Israeli Martial Arts. Next term, he will take A Jewish Guide to American Christianity for Jewish Studies, and Jewish Community Leadership for his elective.

And so it has been going well. Or so I thought from my perspective from the chair in the lounge where I waited for the boys to finish. Or so I thought until the day after the election. I arrive quite late that evening, it was almost 8 PM when I strolled into the lounge. C. was waiting there for me. She is the Special Education Liason for Machon. She pulled me aside and began:

C: "We need to talk about your son."
Me, to myself, parenthetically: (Why does he cease to have a name whenever there's a problem).
Me, out loud: "Oh?"
C: "He doesn't want to be here you know."
Me, to myself, parenthetically: (Tell me something new, lady).
Me, out loud: "I know."
C: "He has been disruptive lately, and K. (the new director) called me in to deal with it."
Me: "How long has this been a problem?"

To make a long story short, I was floored to find out that the Boychick had supposedly been disruptive from the beginning of the year. Why is the parent the last to know?
That led to this conversation with K., the new director of education.

K: "He has been disruptive since the first day, according to the teacher."
Me: "Why wasn't I told immediately?"
K: "Mr. S is a very dynamic teacher, and we decided to try a few things first."
C: "I think they wanted to call me in first . . ."
Me: "I see. (I really didn't see at all). Why wasn't I told about this at the beginning?"
K: "Sometimes we like to try some things first before we involve the parent."
Me, to myself, parenthetically: (Wow. Involving the parent is the last priority?)
Me, out loud: "So can you please tell me what the discipline policy in the classroom is? What interventions did you try?"
C: Mr. S is a very dynamic teacher, and there are a lot of discussions. This should be right up the Boychick's alley. But he's very angry. He wouldn't even look at me."
Me, using Premack's Principle*: "What is the discipline policy in the classroom? What interventions did you try?"
C: Tonight, when Mr. S. asked the Boychick what he thought of the election, the Boychick put his foot up on the desk and said: "This is all a bunch of crap!" He was very disrespectful."
Me, to myself, parenthetically: (I'm getting none of my questions answered. Hmmm. The election, I wonder if that's the trigger?)
Me, with one more try at Premack: "So what did you say the discipline policy in the classroom is? And what interventions have you tried with the Boychick?
K, defensively: "We really can't allow him in the classroom if he continues to be disruptive."
Me, to myself, parenthetically: (Wow! They just now tell me there's a problem and they want to kick him out. It is apparent that they haven't tried anything at all, and it is clear that this new director has not been on top of this. I wonder if the teacher even told her about it before last week? I bet not).
Me, out loud: "Well, I will talk to the Boychick and he will get a consequence for his disrespectful remark this week. But I really cannot punish him for anything in the past since I am unclear about what exactly he did, which classroom norms he violated, and what was done in response. In the meantime, it would be very helpful if you could find out exactly what has been going on in the classroom. Has this teacher had any classroom management training?"
Me, feeling steamed from being blindsided: "I'll take the silence to mean 'no.' "

First, the Boychick did have his computer internet privileges removed for a week. The restoration of said interent privileges was contingent on a good report from the next class. C. was to be in there to monitor.

Then I had a long talk with the Boychick to find out what was triggering the behavior, which I learned was mostly a passive refusal to participate, with occasional dramatic refusals to participate. I knew there had to be a trigger. And sure enough, there was. It took awhile to get the story out of the Boychick and in an understandable sequence (that's an AS characteristic)but on the first day of class, Mr. S. had a discussion about the election (this was in September). When asked, the Boychick, a proud NRA member, said he was rooting for McCain.

Digression: I should have warned him about that. His AS blinds him to the fact that many Reform Jews are well to the left of Bill Clinton. And many of those also have the that "but of course everyone with a brain agrees" mentality. Aspies do not even begin to understand those vibes, and they also tend to be naive about the nature of political disagreement in the post-20th century world.

Note: The Boychick's support of McCain was entirely his own decision. In our household, we have one registered Democrat who votes like an independent, one registered Libertarian, who votes third party and write-in, and one too young to vote. The Chem Geek Princess is our only major-party voter, and the only one registered Republican in our family in five generations.

Anyway, the teacher was surprised, and the other kids--mostly supporting Obama--determined that the Boychick was a pariah from that moment on. A new kid in the class, one who did not know the Boychick, became the ringleader of a clique who decided to convince the Boychick of the error of his ways. Failing that over the next few weeks, they decided to snub and ridicule him. Being an Aspie, the Boychick's all-or-nothing thinking kicked in, and he decided that nobody there liked him, and that everybody hated him, including the temple administrator. "She glared at me, Mom."
Probably not.
But that was his impression.
And beneath that Aspie exterior, the Boychick has tender feelings. So he responded badly whenever the class discussed the election.

Last week, I e-mailed K. and requested a meeting. In my e-mail I made it clear that I understood that the Boychick's disrespectful remark was unacceptable and that he had received consequences for it. And I also pointed out that had I been told of the problem immediately, we could have intervened before the bullying situation had a chance to become routine. And finally, I said that I expected the politically motivated bullying to be ended immediately.

And then the Engineering Geek and I began to consider other options.
I really expected that nothing would be done. Past experience set my low expectations.
The Chem Geek Princess endured over five years of bullying there. And despite numerous attempts on my part to put an end to the situation, nothing was done. The chief bully was the son of some of the rabbi's groupies.
Finally, the Chem Geek Princess became fed-up enough to slap the bully in the face one day during Confirmation class. That was the last time anyone made a cutting remark about her or anyone else in her presence.
But she has also determined not to darken the door of this synagogue again. Too many bad memories.

When I came into the office this past Wednesday however, K. apologized for leaving me in the dark. Further, she confessed that the teacher had only come to her recently about the Boychick, and that this teacher was inexperienced and had no classroom management skills. C. told me that she had gone in and helped the teacher set up the classroom to include all of the kids, as a few, including the Boychick, had been sitting on the fringes.

Then I mentioned the bullying behavior that had started all of this.
I insisted that there needed to be an intervention about bullying for all the students, done in such a way that the Boychick is not singled out as the complainant. I also insisted that the students be taught about the First Amendment to the US Constitution, with an emphasis on freedom of speech, and the need for tolerance of political viewpoints. I pointed out that this particular Constitutional Amendment is very important to American Jews, because of the protection for religious expression. It was agreed that this special topic would be covered in a special session in February. (December's special session had already been planned).
In the meantime, I was told, K. would pull the New Kid aside for a personal talk, and the teacher would be instructed to give a short, general talk about political speech and bullying.

This is very interesting. A new reaction to an old problem.

Although letting the problem grow and keeping me in the dark was one step back, the interventions could be two steps forward.
That would mean that we are making some small progress at Machon.

I am cautiously optimistic.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Kimo


It is late, and I am going back to work and school tomorrow, after being sick for five days. So this post will be more nearly wordless than most!

As we were doing our walking tour of Albuquerque last month, we stopped in the Kimo Theater Office, and the people working there graciously gave us a spontaneous tour of one of Albuquerque's oldest theaters. It was designed as a tribute to the Pueblo revivial style on the inside, and it's name is an acronym for goodness and blessing in the Tewa language. It has been recently remodeled, and the interior is stunning.

The entrance features a ceiling with petroglyph-like native symbols, and a tiled ticket box and walls. This is the original, lovingly restored as it was, but shinier.

A grand stairway leads up to the mezzanine seating.
At the mezzanine level, the lighting, replete with pueblo culture symbols shows off retablos set in nichos, and the beamed vigas of the ceiling. These are more visible than they were prior to restoration.

On the mezzanine level, theater goers can enjoy replicas of sand paintings.
Original sand paintings are not permanent art, but are made and then brushed away as part of Navajo healing ceremonies.
Notice that the circle is broken to the south.
In Native American art, there must always be a flaw, in order not to capture the spirit in perfection.

The high ceiling above the stage is done in strong colors and more native symbols. The stage is framed by dream-catcher like symblos that include thunderbirds, war shields and other symbols.

In an alcove in the lobby, mission style chairs and table are an inviting place to rest under a skull, and colorful geometric wood design above.

Even the carpet has a New Mexico native colorful geometrical design.

A colorful retablo-like mural of a cliff dwelling is set back in a nicho above the cast-iron rails of the grand stairway to the mezzanine. These are the beloved touches of the Pueblo revival style, tucked away and yet quite spectacular.

The Kimo used to be a movie house, and is now owned by the City of Albuquerque. It is rented out for stage shows and other entertainment. I have seen Phillip Glass perform Koyyanaskatsi on that stage, and the Chem Geek Princess once participated in a performance of an original work to commemorate the Holocaust there.

It is so Pueblo Revival, that one might think it would seem overdone--Another Death by Santa Fe Style. But the scale of the place makes it simply beautiful.

I love it. It's such a piece of the real Albuquerque.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Clarification Based on a Comment and a Link

I thought I had said everything I wanted to say about the election and my response.
But I do have something further to discuss.
It was provoked first by a comment to my post last Wednesday, The Morning After.
In that post, I embedded a video from You Tube that featured a parody of the old Soviet national anthem. The parody pokes fun at the Obamaniac's rather messianic view of him, among other things.

The anonymous commentor--aren't they always anonymous?--thought that my post was "disrespectful" and that it is "One thing is being unhappy with the politics of the winner. Another one entirely is bashing the candidate that won."

I think I answered the issues well in follow-up comments and in my more reasoned post Making Ready. The tendency of Anonymouses towards no sense of humor aside,I had the sense that there was something wrong with the idea that the conclusion of a presidential election is necessarily like that of a football game, and the consequences of the ideas are just as fleeting. But I have had a bad virus, and clarity has also been fleeting. Fortunately, Kathy Jo in What He Said, found someone who said it better than I can! This is very good.

And that's the last of the links for the day!

Snows Are Falling On Sedillo Mountain . . .

". . . snows are falling so deep.
Snows are falling on Sedillo Mountain,
putting all the bears to sleep."

Of course, the song is really called "Douglas Mountain" but I couldn't resist changing it to fit our snug little house in the mountains.

I took the picture this morning as I walked the dogs. Neither rain, nor snow nor darkness of night . . . or bad virus, can keep us from taking care of them.

I did go to work at the university this morning. For a total of one hour. And then I went home. This is a nasty virus. I spent the afternoon in bed, listening to the radio, a rare pleasure in my busy life. (Listening to the radio in the middle of the day, that is. Being in bed because I am sick is less than a pleasure).

Now I am in the recliner in the Great Room (as the realtor called it), with a cup of tea--two teaspoons of honey--and the laptop. I am having a hard time thinking about much, and I am feeling so tired that I am not even feeling guilty about the fact that I can't study well. It would take too much energy. So, as the snowfall continues off and on, I have been catching up with some of my favoite blogs.

Sarah, over at Homeschooling the Doctorate, shared a very interesting discussion about the value of a college education. I have enjoyed Sarah's blog over the years, since she and her husband are both getting doctorates while homeschooling. Here at Ragamuffin house, I was getting the doctorate and homeschooling.

Then I stopped by Farmer Ernie's place, Deliberate Wanderer, to see how things are going over at Tanglewood Farm. It seems that Ernie was in an elevator in Chicago this weekend, and he ran into some celebrating Obama supporters. Just one comment: Ernie, didn't you think: "Oh, to be young and naive again!" And over at Tanglewood Farms, on Kathy Jo's blog, irony prevailed when Liberty and Justice (the chickens) died on election night, and Ernie tells us that Heidi the Cow had a bad day!

Perusing right along, I learned that I am not the only one who has seen a child attain a milestone lately! Farmer Ernie and Kathy Jo's eldest has turned 12! And Frankie, over at Kitchen Table Learners, has a new teenager in her house! (Sorry, Frankie, I had to get sick to catch up with you. It was also very good to hear that the new furnace is now installed. I hope you can catch up with your sleep). And over at The Common Room, they have just celebrated a wedding!

Sandy, over at Junkfood Science, recounts a different kind of milestone. The death of one of my favorite authors, Dr. Michael Crighton. May he rest in peace.

On the homeschooling front, Amie has new pictures of her boys and girl over at Boy Story . . . And Beyond! And I love the pictures of the fall that Mom in Madison has put up. Her Wisconsin photos often make me homesick for the midwest! Christine has been thinking a great deal about serious children's novels over at The Thinking Mother, and Susan, over at Corn and Oil, has kept me up with the latest homeschooling politics.

And of course, speaking of politics, I follow blogs across the political spectrum. Since election day, the opinions have flown fast and furious. Some, like Doc, Frankie, and Magpie Ima, were happy about the election results. Others, like me and Rational Jen did not vote for traditional people in the election, although we are still concerned. And many, Farmer Ernie, Kathy Jo, Amie, the Headmistress, and Judy Aaron are deeply concerned about the future of the Republic.

And for a large dose of rational discussion, I checked out the Objectivist Roundup, as I do every week.

And now, as the darkness falls on Sedillo Mountain:

"Trimming the wicks on Sedillo Mountain,

Shining the chimneys so bright,
Trimming the wicks on Sedillo Mountain,

So that G-d can bring on the night . . ."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sweat Equity: Chem Geek Princess Update

The Chem Geek Princess called us as we did the walking tour of Albuquerque to tell us that she had just closed on her first house.

It is a foreclosure, so she got it for a song.
It is also an older home at the edge of a reasonably good neighborhood in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights, so with some sweat equity, the CGP should be able to resell it for more than she got it when she decides to get married.

Now, every day after work, and for long hours every weekend, she and her Very Serious Man Friend are doing some extensive remodeling. But by putting in their own work, and buying at bargain basement prices, they are converting their time and frugality into equity that will serve the CGP well. What does the VSMF get out of it? Well, he did say that he thinks it very likely that the house will become one of his rentals.
I was tempted to ask when, but, as the future mother-in-law (I hope!) I wisely refrained.
Very unusual for me.

Take a look!
The 'before' pictures were taken the day after the CGP closed.
The 'after' pictures were taken on Thursday evening, when the Boychick and I stopped by after Taekwondo.

Here is the living room before the remodeling began.

The house was entirely white on the inside, and rather dirty, but it has, as the CGP puts it, "good bones."

The CGP wanted a tree in front and she got that. There is also a grocery store within walking distance, and a very fine group of kids on the block.
The CGP loves children, so when she told the last, I was tempted to say, "So, nu? What about my grandchildren?" But with the VSMF in the room, I bit my tongue and smiled.

Here is what the CGP and her VSMF did to the living room. They painted the bottom a green-gray slate color, and put a warm cream colored Venetian Plaster textured paint above. They then installed the chair rail.

This picture is taken looking in from the door, because the chair rail was already up there! I need to get a daylight picture of the walls so that the texture is more visible. It is really stunning.

On Thursday, the carpet was not yet in. This afternoon, I stopped by, sans camera, (alas!). The CGP and her VSMF had taken our old carpet--a very good wool berber--and installed it yesterday. They got a good, albeit not perfect, carpet for free! I am currently looking for fabric to make new curtains for my breakfast nook and dining room windows, and the CGP is going to take my old ones for her front room. Again, a penny saved . . .

This is the den, before the remodeling began. It is the largest room in the house, and the CGP liked the added space it gives her.

The wood on the floor was on the wall across from the door. Very 1970's. They removed it, and textured that wall as well. The wood is going to be made into a small deck just outside the back door in the picture.
Kids these days are so much more sensible than I was! Why throw it away, if it is useful.

This is the back wall of the den in the midst of remodel. You can just see the window next to the back door on the left.

The deep cherry color really warms up the space, and the nearby walls--a warm cream--pick up a bit of the pink. The carpet was not in there yet, either, but it makes the room look even better.

The CGP moved the ordinary ceiling fan to another room, and installed a garage-sale funky fan in its place. It looks just right for the room.

Here is the master bathroom before sweat was applied.

You can see that it is very small and very white. It is really a three-quarter bath, no tub. But the CGP had plans. The VSMF has friends that own one of the local flooring companies. They contract with some of big, semi-custom home builders in town, and they have left-overs. So the VSMF was able to get an MOT discount above and beyond that gained from buying remnants of big orders.

The CGP believe firmly in the old Jewish maxim: Never buy retail.

Here is the shower with much of the tile installed. The floor of the shower has complimentary smaller tiles, and is ready for two shower heads: one in the ceiling and one on the wall.
Frankly, I'm envious!
The walls are being painted a very faintly pink cream color, but the new low-flow custom toilet (a floor model from Lowes--$25.00 plus tax, plus a water-bill rebate) has yet to be installed. The tiny new sink fits "cunningly" on the wall opposite. It has a real marble top. Another floor model, the backsplace was cracked. No matter, it can be glued. She got it all for 75% off. That's my girl!

Glass block will be used to fill in the now empty wall next to the (not yet installed) toilet. They will go up to two feet below the ceiling, and a glass door will be installed across from the sink.

Today, when I stopped by, I saw the floor tile. It is tan with a hint of pink, and the CGP had made the VSMF install some of the small shower floor tiles at every-other intersection of the floor. It was a great deal more work, as the VSMF pointed out, so he really must love her! (Which is good for my prospects for beautiful grandchildren). The kitchen tiles (the same) were also being installed, as was the small entry area and the hall.

She thinks she'll be moving within the next two weeks.

I am very excited about the empty guest room at our house. I have plans!

But . . . there's an empty spot already in the making in our house and in my heart.

Children! They grow so quickly.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Making Ready: Cross Quarter, the Election, and Saecular Winter

Christine over at The Thinking Mother made the following suggestion in her post Election Outcome a few days ago:

"Now that we have elected a new President I have an idea. How about if we all write down our thoughts about our futures and our hopes or worries?"

In her post, she says that is is not necessary to blog it, but just to write it down for our own future reference. I am going to blog it, though I certainly understand why Christine and others might want to be more circumspect.

I have not been paying much attention to the news since Wednesday. The Engineering Geek and I have both caught rather bad colds for the first time in three years. We believe it is a function of the Boychick's return to school and my return to work. More contacts with random people means more viruses we haven't yet had.

But I have been paying attention to the light and the turning of the season. Winter is coming to Sedillo, and Thursday night was the last cross-quarter day of Common Era 2008. Friday morning, the temperature at 5:45 AM was 16 degrees F.

As the sunrise appears to move south of east, the meadow grasses are dried and waving in a cold north wind.

And just as we go through the seasons of the year, our civilization goes through cycles and seasons: summery seasons of civic and economic growth, and winters of civic and economic crisis. In their book The Fourth Turning, Strauss and Howe predicted that at about this time in our history, we'd be entering another winter in the cycle, another crisis in our history, comparable to others such as the American Revolution, the Civil War, or the Great Depression-WW II.

We have elected a new president, and his election is historic, not only because he is the first black president of the US, but because he has been elected at a crucial moment in our history. It is a time of war and economic uncertainty, and a time when our Constitution is in peril. The problems that he has inherited are grave, and they are not the result of the trends of the last eight years, as the campaign rhetoric would have us believe. the man we have elected to this office is relatively inexperienced: he has no executive experience and served in the US Senate for less than one full term. His campaign rhetoric about foreign policy was naive at best, and his progressive economic ideas are unseasonal and out of step with the reality that the Federal government is not only broke, but the valueof the dollar is in question due to the printing of billions, and the economies of developed nations across the world are in trouble. He is, however, a good orator, and he gave a good speech in Chicago on the night of his election. In it he said:

"And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn – I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too." (B. Obama, Nov. 4, 2008).

I am one of those Americans whose support Obama has not yet earned. I am waiting to see whether this high-flown rhetoric is real, or whether the nastiness of his supporters towards those who disagree with them is going to be the order of the day. I hear the words, but I am waiting to see how well Obama can work within his own party to quell the "partisanship and pettiness . . . that has poisoned our politics for so long", (ibid.) as well as how readily he will reach across the aisle to work with those who have different ideas. Will they be supressed or will debate be allowed? The Democrat majority in Congress has, during the last two years, been every bit as willing to supress debate as have the previous Republican majorities. And we are going into this new administration with the same leadership, only more so, of the most disapproved of Congress in the history of the United States.

Here, I need to clearly state that my concerns and views have not been represented in this election by either major-party candidate. The disenfranchisement that I feel comes from the fact that other voices were shut out by the press and the major parties, and that many important issues were not discussed. We got sound bytes and debates in which the argument was about who did not vote or did vote for specific bills, but with no indication of which earmarks or unrelated language decided their votes. Thus the trading of accusations was meaningless. And I was further unimpressed by the treatment that Sarah Palin received from the Obama supporters. Although I disagree with Palin on many issues, I was apalled by this kind of behavior. It makes me wonder what Obama means by the word 'unity.' Does it mean forced, lockstep agreement, or does it mean bringing consensus from varied viewpoints and within the mandate of the Constitution? I hope for the latter, but given the vituperative nature of the campaigns, I am prepared for the former.

As an American who loves and respects the Constitution of the United States, I accept Obama as the Constitutionally elected President of the United States. However, my loyalty must be to the US Constitution, not to his person, or the person of any president or government official. Government is our servant, not our master; the duty of government is to protect our rights, not to save the world. I am uncertain as to whether Obama and his supporters understand this. (I am certain that his predecessor did not). I will know by what he does and not what they say. At his inauguration, he will swear to preserve and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in this duty I wish him success and resilience. The Presidency is an awesome job and a great responsibility, and so I wish him health, long life, and good courage. But I do not promise him unquestioning loyalty or unwavering support. That would be inappropriate. I am a citizen, not a subject.

I believe that the crisis that is coming could not have been averted no matter who had won the presidency. As I said in response to a comment on a previous blog entry:

"Sooner or later you have to pay the piper; he is at the door, bill in hand."

The longer we try to stave off the pain, the worse it will be when we finally face it. So, just as the birds are gathering their seeds for the coming winter, we have been preparing for the coming hard times. Not with panic, but with purpose. We have stocked up reserves of food and other necessary items, in case the current printing blitz at the US Treasury leads to inflation. We have moved investments out of the country, because Obama has promised much higher capital gains tax rates. Such high tax rates have historically supressed investment, profit-taking, capitalization, and trade. We have also purchased a hunting rifle and ammunition for the Boychick, because Obama has promised to raise taxes on them. Hunting is a good way to supplement the food supplies if the recession deepens or a depression comes. The Boychick has passed his BSA badges for the rifle and the shotgun. The Engineering Geek, being a veteran, already has a rifle and a side-arm.

Frankly, I remember the Carter years, and his economic policies (which were a deepening of Nixon's and Johnson's) led to stagflation and misery for the middle class and working people. Obama's economic plans are very similar to Carter's. So I am expecting an economy like the '70's or worse.

But even though I am expecting hard times, I am not unhopeful about the future of the country. My hope does not rest upon the president, nor upon the leadership of the government; rather it rests in the wisdom of our forefathers and in the Constitution. As Thomas Jefferson said:

""It would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights... Confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism. Free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence. It is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power... Our Constitution has accordingly fixed the limits to which, and no further, our confidence may go... In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." --Thomas Jefferson: Draft Kentucky Resolutions, 1798. ME 17:388

And so, as we pass the fourth cross-quarter, and move into this year's winter, I believe we are also passing into the Saecular Winter, a time of testing and crisis. The Spirit of America has been there before, and has come forth stronger.

As Judy Aaron says in the sidebar of her blog, Consent of the Governed:

"The answer to 1984 is 1776. Teach your children well . . ."

Our Constitution is in peril. If we are to emerge from the hard times ahead with our values in tact, our children must know what the Constitution says, and they must see us prepared to act upon threats to it. The greatest threat to it is the unqualified trust we have put in our government of late. We must let them know who is the servant and who is the master. It may be that the historic nature of this election can be useful for teaching our children more carefully about their rights and the proper way for Americans to secure them.