Thursday, June 28, 2007

Take Me Out to the Ball Game!

I was brought up as a sports fan of sorts. My first religion was the Chicago Cubs. I didn't used to be able to catch a ball to save my life, but that was before Bruce.

Bruce loves the game of baseball. He was a little league umpire and coach when he was in college. So it's a good thing I understand the game.

In the summer of 2001, when Bruce and I were dating, he played on the Men's Softball League at Sandia National Lab.

I couldn't drive on base in my car, so I would park at a friend's house close to the gate and Bruce would bring me in to watch their games. At that time, there were quite a few spouses and children and girlfriends that would come to the games.

Then 9-11 happened. For a very long time after that, security was so tight that they checked the badges and ID of everyone in the car. You had to have a badge to go on base. Period.

So I could no longer go out to the ball games. And then we got really busy--our wedding, N.'s boy scouts, work and life. And Bruce only played as a substitute. And I didn't get to go watch.

This year, though, Bruce was able to get me a pass to go onto KAFB where Sandia National Labs are located. It is restrictive. But I can go watch the games. He has been a substitute player again--but this time for a Co-Ed SNL team.

So last night, with N. at camp, it was like old times. I was able to park at Home Depot and Bruce picked me up, and we went to the game.

Bruce was substituting for Earth, Wind and Fire. (They do Geotechnical Science--don't know what the Wind and Fire is about and I don't want to guess). It was the last game of the regular season. The whole EW&F team showed up, ready to play softball and then have a picnic.

The game was to start at 5:30. But only a few people from the other team made it. It turns out that just after we arrived, the Air Force guys were moving a weapon and closed the road out to the NTC area, where the softball field is. So the other team forfeited, but the players all decided to play a game for fun. So EW&F divided up and some played with the few on the other team.

I was the only fan. So I took pictures while they played.

Bruce's "team" was in the outfield first.

Here he is, playing first, running toward a line drive. He did tag the batter out at first. I think.

I took too many pictures and I can't remember the context for each and every one! But it was great to be out at the Manzano Mesa--enjoying the view across to Mount Taylor and watching the game. Just like old times.

Even though it's been a long time since Bruce picked up a bat, he managed to hit a home run!

In the picture to the right, he is checking out where the ball went as he gets ready to run for first.

And here he is crossing home plate!
By this time, someone had closed the dratted gate so I had to shoot through the fence. But I got the picture.
The other "team" won. But Bruce had fun anyway. Even though we have no idea where his baseball pants are! We've moved twice since he played on a team rather than as a sub.
After the game, we had hamburgers--"Dr. Dave" brought his grill out--and the usual picnic stuff to go with them. Since we were both driving, Bruce and I went to the "girl stuff" cooler. We thought we were drinking flavored water. Then I noticed the Absolut label. Well. Fortunately, I had consumed only about a quarter of the bottle. It was black-cherry flavored something that I don't usually drink. The rest went on the ground.
The moral of the story--always read the label. It's a good thing I had eaten a buffalo burger, a turkey dog, potato salad, slaw, chips and a cookie.
And drunk 16 ounces of good old H2O--before I had the "flavored water."
But we still waited a few hours before going home. Better safe than sorry.
It was a nice evening. Even if it was a little longer than planned. We stayed for the 8:30 game. And enjoyed the sunset and clouds and the cool evening breeze.
I think I have talked Bruce into joining the fall league. And he will be a regular player. Now that I can go watch.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Respect for Diversity? Calling a Spade a Spade

Doc got me thinking about the concept of diversity with her theme for the Country Fair this month. "As per usual," as N. likes to say, I didn't have anything to submit at the time. I'm a day late and a dollar short, Doc, as they like to say in my hometown. But I was thinking about it. And then I read this post from Big Mama over at Weaving Our Circle. And it reminded me of a story. And that reminder got me thinking about the whole issue of diversity in the United States.

This could turn out to be a two-part post. But first, the story. This is a true story and I think it says a lot about how comfortable the dominant culture is with differences and diversity in these United States. And that's not much.

The "Jews are Really Christians in Disguise" Story:

I used to be a member of a Jewish-Catholic Dialogue group. We would get together once a month to discuss an assigned reading and once a year, we ran an educational day to bring others in the community to discuss some issue or another. The more we met, the more I got the sense that the group did not want to discuss the hard stuff--like the role of Christian Europe in the Shoah, or even the differences between us. There seemed to be a sense in which the group wanted to get together and feel good about how diverse and accepting we all were. But differences? Well, they make people uncomfortable. Best not to talk about them.

This was confirmed for me when we got together to discuss two articles published in the Jesuit magazine, America. One article, by a self-labeled "conservative Catholic" archbishop, very matter-of-factly discussed some important theological differences between Catholicism and Judaism. And it was clear that the archbishop, speaking from his perspective, thought that Judaism had gotten it wrong about Jesus. This article was not suprising to me and some of the other Jews there. Nor was it offensive. After all, as a very small minority in the United States (somewhere around 2% if we are lucky), we are well aware that we think differently about the identity of Jesus than Christians do. The Archbishop did not express any contempt for Jews. He did point out the areas of disagreement. Strongly. And that had some of the Catholic members of the group falling all over themselves to show how very liberal and tolerant they are by refusing to acknowledge that we do, in fact, have very different beliefs about Jesus.

The second article, by a self-identified "liberal Catholic" was very different. Nothing was strongly worded at all. It appeared on the surface, that the writer was very "acccepting" and "tolerant." But I found his position to be extremely offensive. He argued that essentially Jews are really Christians who just don't know it yet, and therefore are worthy of "salvation." And the Catholic members of the group just couldn't get enough of it. They thought this neatly solved the whole problem of "salvation" for Jews.

For me, that was the problem.
In order to prove how "diverse" they were, the Catholic members who approved of this notion, and not all did, were essentially erasing our identity as Jews. And so I said something like this:

"Look, some of you have a problem with the Christian doctrine that salvation through belief that Jesus was the Messiah is the only way to relate to G-d. This is a Christian problem. It is about Christian doctrine. It has nothing to do with us as Jews. We do not agree with you about that doctrine. And we understand that it is part of the structure of your belief. And it's a free country. You have the right to believe that if you want to. As long as you do not exert force against those who do not agree with you, I am not offended by your belief. But when you take away my identity as a Jew because you are so uncomfortable with the fact that I disagree with you, then I am offended."

As you can imagine, in that group my statement set off quite a---well, discussion. I took some heat. And ultimately, the subject was dropped. Probably because it was too uncomfortable for some of the touchy-feely types who wanted to feel good about how liberal and accepting of diversity they think they are.

And that is the nub of the problem. Accepting diversity means that one accepts that others are not exactly like you. It means looking deep within and recognizing that your way of seeing the world is unique to you. It's a lonely realization. It means recognizing that yes, we are all human beings and members of the same species, with the same evolutionary heritage and genome. We are all very similar. The words Shakespeare puts into Shylock's mouth are:

"If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
If you poison us,
do we not die?..."
(Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice Act III Scene I)
However, within this human species of ours, each of us has a unique combinaiton of alleles, making each of us an individual within populations that have different allelic frequencies, making us different enough that we notice. And we also have had handed down to us different cultural memes on what it means to be who we are.
I am sure that everyone who is the object of "diversity" has a story of feeling as patronized as I was in the story above. "Oh, I didn't notice you were black." "Some of my best friends are gay." " I just love the Jews." And so forth, ad nauseum. (To the last, I am tempted to say, "All of us? I don't even like all of us.)"
And we can make excuses for them. I have heard over and over again about how "well-meaning" these people are. About how they are trying to be inclusive, accepting, etc.
But they are not. They are people who, for whatever reason, cannot accept differences. For whatever reason, they are made uncomfortable by people who have different coloring, a different culture, different beliefs, different ways of being human. They are quite willing to erase the identity of another rather than recognize and acknowledge their own fear and discomfort. And that is not "respect for diversity." No, it is a pretense that differences do not matter. And that's a lie.
And it is a scary lie. Given enough power and the right circumstances, could people who tell themselves this lie to allay their discomfort go from erasing the identity of another to erasing the existence of another?
Hmmm. Anne Frank. Matthew Sheppard. Sand Creek. "Strange Fruit."
I think its time to call a spade an " 'f'...'in' " shovel.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Walking through the Meadow Early in the Morning

I could sleep late this week.

But the sun is up early of a summer morn.
And the cool of the night is still over the meadow. And in the meadow, the flora is burgeoning and blooming.

Staying in bed is just not an option with beauty like this just out of the door.
So I rise with the sun and walk with the dogs in the meadow--early in the morning.

The wildflowers look new and fresh--and very tall--in early morning.

Here is yellow sweet clover and purple "pinks" abloom where the road meets the meadow path.

The wet spring has given us an abundance of tall grasses and wildflowers, early summer blossoms.

And now at mid-summer, the grasses are flower in the meadow.

The morning sun slanting on the grass flowers makes them pale gold against the green of the grass stalks.

Here are yellow asters blooming in the rocky soil just where the meadow path intersects the forest trail.

They are in the sun, but the path is still in the long shadow of the ridge behind.

Although these asters are now in the bloom, the New Mexico sunflowers are not yet in bud. The stalks are growing, but they flower later in the summer.

Coming 'round to the house by the forest path, we get to pass by the Mexican Lilacs blooming in the dooryard.

Growing up in Illiniois, I loved the lilacs that bloomed in April and May next to my window. They had a wonderful, strong lilac scent that lasted only a few weeks.

The Mexican Lilacs bloom from mid-summer until fall. They have a more delicate lilac scent that lasts all summer. As the day progresses, the dooryard will hum with the activity of bees coming for lilac nectar. But in the early morning, the dooryard is quiet, waiting.

After our early morning meadow walk, the rest of the day is almost an anticlimax.

I can't imagine sleeping late and missing the cool freshness of the meadow in early morning.

On these summer morns, I come to breakfast with a heart full of wonder and graditude. I am so fortunate to be alive one more day to see the great sights of life around me, to feel the cool morning breeze off the mountain, and to hear the morning greetings of the birds.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Summer Field Studies Curriculum Has Commenced

The last twenty-four hours have marked the beginning of N.'s intensive "summer field studies curriculum."

Yesterday, after services we had several errands in town, so our Shabbat was, alas, somewhat abbreviated.

We had to visit the Boy Scout Shop to get a few things because N. was leaving for camp this morning, bright and early.
We had to drop off N.'s gear at Mrs. W.'s house, because he was assigned to her car. By packing her car a day early, she hoped to avoid accidently leaving anything behind. Smart woman, that one!

And finally, we had to go to one of the Big Box Home Improvement stores to rent a Superduty truck, go to the lumber discouter and pick up our Wood Flooring.

That was an adventure!

The pallet was stacked with 34 boxes, 4 across and 7-8 deep. It was loaded onto the drop-side bed of the rental truck with a forklift and put right in the middle. It was held together with plastic straps and shrink wrap.

Bruce assured me that it would not move. When we got to the I-25 south to I-40 east fly-over, I recommened to Bruce that we stay in the far right lane and go very slowly because there is a curve with a short radius. Bruce said, "Don't worry!" And took the curve at 50 mph in the left lane. The load shifted and two boxes appeared to be sliding off.

I reminded Bruce that there is a reason that G-d told Abraham, "Listen to your wife!"

We had to pull over and check, but Bruce could not move the heavy pallet back into place. In order to relieve my worries for the rest of the trip, I used the situation as an object lesson for N. We discussed Newton's 1st law and what is actually happening as you accelerate around a curve. We talked about centripetal force and the issue of equal and opposite forces. There's nothing like real-life, high-stakes examples to cement an idea in a kid's mind! N. demonstrated his knowledge with diagrams and equations--algebraic, though. We are not up to calculus, yet.

Thank goodness, Bruce drove slowly and sensible for the rest of the trip and the boxes of flooring are now stacked in our living room where they will sit until Thursday, when we begin our work. If you look closely you can see Bruce resting in the recliner after we man-handled 34 boxes into the house in less than 30 minutes! We're buff. And tired.

Last night, we got the last-minute stuff together for the first unit in N.'s summer intensive field studies: Boy Scout Camp.

This year the troop is spending a week at a Boy Scout Camp near Fort Davis, Texas, and I did not have to drive. In fact, we did not even have to take N. into town. The caravan agreed to meet us at the I-40 Sedillo exit.

N. was so excited last night that he could barely sleep, but he was still "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed" (we are working on metaphors) this morning when we met the caravan as the sun rose over Sedillo Hill.

There was one little hitch. I had filled out the medical form required, but the troop leader had neglected to tell me that he needed N.'s insurance card. We are waiting for the camp to call with a fax number, although we did give the information on the medical form. Since no one has called, we are guessing that the information given is probably good enough. They should be there and eating dinner by now!

The camp will be a better field experience than anything I can devise. N. has signed up to work on the following merit badges:
  • Horseback Riding
  • Outdoor Survival
  • Rifle Shooting
  • Archery

Aspects of Outdoor Cooking and Camping skills will also be taught. That's a lot of learning packed into one, short week. As I looked at the requirements for each of these, I realized that he is going to be a very busy Boy Scout this next week. And he'll come home pretty tired. And this is only part I. He'll be home a short time before he gets to fly to Chicago by himself (non-stop). That's part II of the three part field studies.

I waved good-bye with a brave smile as the caravan pulled out. I know this is good for him. I know he will have a ball. And I know he is going to learn more in the next week than he has in the last month.'s going to be awefully quiet around here!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Summer Solstice: The Long, Busy Days of Summer

I woke N. up this morning saying: "Rise and shine, sleepy head! Today is the longest day of the year!"
He replied: "All days are the same length. Twenty-four hours." And buried his head under the pillow.
I said: "I mean, today is the longest daylight of the year. It's the..."

"...summer solstice," N. responded. "Yep." And he winked at me. "I may rise, but I refuse to shine!"

Do you get the sense that he is playing with our expectation of his 'Aspie" literalism? I do.
That's definitely progress. He is beginning to understand irony.

Here is a picture of the sunrise from our front porch today. Not only did the sun rise to the farthest north that it will for the whole year--but it is sure rising early. I got this picture at about 6:15 AM MDT.

The summer solstice is the beginning of astronomical summer in the nothern hemisphere in the modern calendar. It is the time when the sun shines directly on the Tropic of Cancer at noon and the time of maximum insolation of the northern hemispere. This is because the northern hemispere is tilted toward the sun at this point in our yearly revolution around our star, Sol.
To the right is a picture of the sunrise on the Vernal Equinox, three months ago. You can see from the position of Henry the truck that the location of the sunrise has appeared to move quite a distance since then.

In the old calendar, the summer solstice was Midsummer, an occasion for celebrations of fruitfulness. Weddings were common around the time of the solstice. This is the time of when the goddess was worshipped in her aspect of motherhood and fecundity. When Christianity came to Europe, the solstice became St. John's Mass. There is no Jewish holy day associated with the summer solstice since we have a lunar calendar. So we mark the solstice and celebrate the joy of summer, but it is not a holiday for us.

The long days of summer have traditionally been a busy time for human beings. We tend to sleep for fewer hours and there is light for many more hours in order to get work done.

We have been in the grand tradition this week!On Monday, we had a BSA Court of Honor for N.'s troop to attend. N. got his Totin' Chip for the use of knives, axes, and saws. Here he is, getting his award!

On Tuesday, I had to get the master suite and the guest suite ready for recarpeting.

Bruce and I then stayed overnight at our synagogue as volunteers for Interfaith Hospitality Network.

And yesterday, we had the master suite and the guest suite recarpeted. It was a long day, even though we had the 'carpet guys' come out to do the work. It was long because we couldn't really do the things we normally do, spreading all over the house. We had furniture in the living room and dining room, and the 'carpet guys' were tromping through to get the work done.

I spent a lot of time catching up on reading blogs, going through mail and trying to keep out of the way of the 'carpet guys.'

There were two of them and they worked most of the day, taking only about 20 minutes for lunch. One of them brought his son who spoke almost no English. But he and N. played on the swings together, climbed the tree, watched movie, and played Rollercoaster Tycoon. It is really interesting how well they got along, playing Horse...or is it Caballo? :)

At one point, I was talking to the little boy and said to him, "Como se dice...?" And pointed at the microwave. (He was heating up lunch for himself, his padre and his companero). N. turned to me and said, " I didn't know you could speak Spanish. I said, "Solamente un poco. But I used to be fluent. I had six years in junior high and high school, and then two more years in college. But I found I could no longer remember the past tense! Oy!

N. and I joined the 'carpet guys' and the boy on the porch for lunch. There was too much furniture in the dining room. They had the burritos. We had turkey sandwiches. I gave everyone root beer.
It was a long job. They were finally done at about 6 PM.

But they still had to move the furniture back inside! See it there outside the French doors?

I think the carpet looks pretty good, though.

Once they were gone and dinner was over, I still had to put the room back together. And I was really tired. So tired that I felt like I couldn't string more than two words together.

And we still weren't done...
Because today, Henry the Little Red Truck got a brand new look!
Just in time for the solstice.
Tomorrow I plan to do laundry. That's it. I'm not going ANYWHERE.
Except out to look at Henry.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling # 77: Roadtrip!

I'm late! But I won't miss the road trip!

The weeks Carnival of Homeschooling Roadtrip is up over at Consent of the Governed.

I have all sorts of excuses, including an overnight in town last night.

Bruce and I had a commitment to spend the night at our synagogue as volunteers for the Interfaith Hospitality Network.

Today I am having carpet installed in the two bedroom suites--the master and the guest suites. So before I left yesterday, we had to get those rooms ready for the installers.

You know: remove lamps and breakables and the small furniture and throw rugs. Remove clothing from the lower closet racks---etc. Just so we can put it back again tonight!

And I stayed up too late last night. My fault. I reached the climax of Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears at 10 PM. My husband sensibly turned in on our roll-away in the volunteer classroom.

I foolishly read on in the synagogue library until worldwide nuclear holocaust was averted.

So I think that this afternoon, I will sit out on the porch with an iced tea and take a virtual roadtrip! It will be fun! It will be relaxing.

I need that.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Return of the Country Fair

It's back!

The Country Fair, a carnival of homeschooling voices, is back again.
This means summer is really up and running!

I'm getting a cherry limade at the concession stand in my kitchen and heading on over for the 7th Country Fair: How We Celebrate Diversity.

You can go there, too and get diverse wisdom from a wide-open homeschooling community.

But, first, read on below...
As usual, I missed the deadline with "Neither Left nor Right..."
but I think it fits in with theme!

Neither Left Nor Right...

"I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean.
I love the country but I can't stand the scene.
And I'm neither left nor right, I'm just stayin' home tonight
and getting lost in that hopeless little screen..."
----Leonard Cohen, Democracy

Last week, when I blogged about some political issues related to homeschooling in Creeping Fascism, my political thought juices began flowing again. It helps that I have recently read several books of fiction that have political themes or subthemes, as well as a biography of John O'Niell, the FBI Assistant Director in Charge of Counterterrorism, who died in the Twin Towers on 9/11. That book is called The Man Who Knew: The Life and Death of John O'Niell by Murray Weiss. It was a good but disturbing read.

Another book that I finished last week is Empire: A Disturbing Look at a Possible Future by Orson Scott Card. I was hooked on Card when a friend lent me Ender's Game in 1991. I started reading at about 1 in the afternoon, and continued reading in between picking my daughter up at pre-school, attending a class in Cell Biology, making dinner and so forth. I finished next morning at about 4 AM. (I was younger then...). I read it over again immediately, over the next week or so. Although I generally re-read good books eventually, it takes a really good book, one that causes me to enter "alternative reality," so to speak, to get me to re-read it immediately.

Empire is a novel released in conjunction with a computer game with the same name. The premise is a civil war based on political divisions ("red" v. "blue" ideologies) in the United States in the not very distant future. It is, as usual for Card, an excellent read. And it is as disturbing as the O'Niell biography. And for similar reasons.

In reality, and the science fiction based on our reality at the moment, there seems to be a growing understanding that ideology is getting in the way of truth. In the case of John O'Niell, the political wonks in the FBI were unwilling to see clear warnings about American vulnerability to terrorist action on our own shores. Their ideologies from the past made it difficult to imagine terrifying possibilities that were just around the corner. In dealing with a maverick like John O'Niell, they used rules and procedures to ultimately force him out of the FBI during the summer before 9/11. This was at the time that people in the field were beginning to gather information that suggested that commercial passenger planes might be used as terrorist weapons. But the person who might have been able to connect the dots and get the politicals to listen to him was being forced out. So the dots were never connected.

This was not about negligence on the part of one political faction or another. It was about the very human tendency to ignore the imagination and also the equally human tendency to bureaucratize and routinize use of information. This tames the imagination and makes us feel more in control of it. Life is a lot less scary if we ignore certain, not-within-our-world-view information, but it is also a very dangerous thing to do.

This was also about a very real unraveling of our national institutions, in which thought has been replaced by an increasingly complex web of procedures and regulations. A "systems" approach to running institutions rather than a personal, problem-solving approach. And what is even more alarming about this, is that we do not seem to have learned from it, yet; we seem to prefer to stay within the boundaries of world-views that are stereotyped and out of date. And this brings me to the "left-right" culture wars still continuing in our country, even 6 years after 9/11.

Last week, I wrote: "...I'd like to see the words "conservative" and "liberal" banned from polite discourse so that citizens could talk to each other on the level of issues rather than shout at each other from ideological positions," (Creeping Fascism).

Sometimes, serendipity is really amazing! I wrote the above on Tuesday. On Thursday, I was reading the Afterword in Empire and came across the following:

"But any rational observer has to see that the left and right in America are screaming the most vile accusations at each other all the time. We are fully polarized--if you accept one idea that sounds like it belongs to either the blue or the red, you are assumed--nay, required--to espouse the entire rest of the package, even though there is no reason why supporting the war against terrorism should imply you're in favor of banning all abortions...; no reason why being in favor of keeping government-imposed limits on the free market should imply you also are in favor of...banning nuclear reactors." (Card, pp. 341-342, emphasis in the original. Ellipses mine--I edited to reflect my own supposedly "contradicting" veiwpoints).

I quote Card at such length because he says it even better than I can! It is absolutely irrational to make assumptions that pigeonhole ideas such as the examples above within ideologies, and yet you can turn on almost any talk-radio show or look at any newspaper editorial and see these irrational assumptions being made.

I experienced this when attempting to comment on a blog supporting patriarchy. (The writer's word and definition). I wanted to point out why some of us might be uncomfortable with some of his proposals and also to widen the conversation. But the author made assumptions that if I believed X (what I wrote), then I also must believe Y and Z (irrational assumption). And he attempted to shift the discussion to an argument about the minutia of Y and Z. After several go-arounds, I called it quits because it was bound to become an ideological argument rather than a broader discussion.

And that is the problem. When people cannot have a conversation about some proposal X, without the irrational assumption that if you support X, you must also support unrelated proposals Y and Z, it is difficult to speak and listen to each other about the real merits and problems surrounding X. It becomes an ideological argument in which neither party to the discussion can express doubt, shift their position, or amend the idea. When this happens, no real listening can happen, no respect of opposing viewpoints can be tendered, because it is no longer a discussion of reality. It has become a discussion of ideology.

As Card says (again better than I can):
"...A good working definition of fanaticism is that you are so convinced of your views and policies that you are sure anyone who opposes them must either be stupid and deceived or have ulterior motives. We are today a nation in which almost everyone in the public eye displays fanaticism with almost every utterance." (Card, p. 342, emphasis in the original).

This is scary. Although there are many important issues that we as a nation need to confront and resolve as we move toward a crisis period, we are distracted by disrespectful and divisive ideological "culture wars." As citizens, we must ask ourselves, who benefits from this fanaticism? I believe that those who benefit are those who want to concentrate power into the hands of a few in government rather than remain public servants of We the People of the United States. Whether they are "right" or "left," "liberal" or "conservative," "red" or "blue," those who continue to foment this divisive rhetoric are anti-democractic. They are like sociopaths who stir passions and create controversy so that their own grab for power and fame is not recognized.

As an ordinary citizen, I have frequently felt powerless in the face of the hatred and anger expressed by the fanatics on either end of the political spectrum. And I have often felt angry that the issues that are of importance to the rest of us are lost in a sea of nasty rhetoric. It has gotten to a point where Congress is unable to compromise on bills that are of vital interest to the nation.

Fortunately, though, we do have the power to change how our political discourse is conducted in this nation. And our individual discouragement at what we see can be allayed through the community of ordinary Americans. Although I have personally been feeling pretty discouraged, I got this message from another citizen that I have not met personally.
Susan of Corn and Oil Blog wrote this comment to Creeping Fascism:

" I hate labels. Just hate 'em unless they're telling me what I'm putting in my mouth or on my body. (And then it's still sorta questionable whether those labels are fully accurate.) A lot of labels are so derogatory in usage. Fundies, et al..." (June 14, 2007, 9:38:00 AM MDT).

And that's the answer. We must refuse to have ourselves labeled as A or B. Or whatever the label is. We must insist that we are not that simple-minded. Our ideas and our views are multi-dimensional and complex. They are individual. And we must also refuse to label people we are talking to or about. We must develop the patience to really listen to what they have to say. To ask ourselves, "What is true about what this person is saying? Where are the points of agreement here?" And build on them, no matter small or fragile.

And as for the fanatics in the "public eye"--well, we are the public. We can take them out of the public eye, the public ear and the public vote. We must refuse to give them our valuable time. We must insist that we will not participate in their staged "debates" and simplistic division of ideas. We must not support their access to the "public eye."

In a way, I think we are doing this already. According to the ratings gurus, the ratings of all the talk-shows and news shows and news analysis are down this summer, in the print media, in radio and television. They are down more than usual in the summer. Instead we are focusing on diversions, like the arrest of certain "celebrities" for drunk driving. So we are removing the fanatics from our eye, albeit in a solipsistic sort of way, by "staying home tonight and getting lost in that hopeless little screen."

But we could choose to do it in a more outward looking, positive way. By refusing to let the fanatics define us. By talking to each other directly. By refusing to let the fanatics label us and draw us into to their tidy but irrational set of divisive definitions. They may control the TV and radio stations and the print media. But we have the internet, the blogosphere and You-Tube. It is possible. The psychologists tell us that the best way to change bad behavior is through extinction. We can ignore the fanatics, bypass them and carry out discourse for ourselves.

We can do this. If we choose it. And make no mistake about it, we are choosing what we do even if we do nothing.

"...I'm as stubborn as those garbage bags that time cannot decay.
I'm junk, but I'm holding out this little wild boquet.
Democracy is coming to the USA."
---Leonard Cohen, Democracy.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Summer Reading: The Joy of Frequent Library Trips

I mentioned a few weeks ago that N. has gotten excited about the Bernalillo Public Library System's summer reading program.

We are finding ourselves going to the library several times a week because they dole out 1 ten-hour reading card at a time to be filled out and turned in. N. has been reading between 20 and 30 hours a week now, and has been reading a variety of genres. Part of the reason is that we are not doing any major projects for the summer. And part of the reason is that each 10-hour card he turns in is entered into a drawing for a new techno-gadget of some kind. I-Pod? SPS? I don't remember--but something like that.

And I have expanded my reading as well.

Part of the reason is that when I am done with the UNM semester, I have time to read more for pleasure. And part of the reason is that I have discovered that the library has a summer reading program for adults as well! And the grand prize in the drawing is two round-trip tickets to anywhere Southwest Airlines flies. I read anyway. Might as well try for the trip.

So we are driving the eight miles to the library at least three times a week.

My philosophy for reading for my kids has always been simple. They should read real books that interest them and plenty of those! I eschew booklists, workbooks, vocabulary worksheets, phonics drills--or anything else that would convince them that reading is a means to some other end. Reading for readings sake! That's my motto.

So reading is not a "subject" in my house.

And yet everybody reads most of the time. We read for pleasure and information.

We read indoors, outdoors, sitting at the breakfast table, and sprawled out on the floor. And we read in the car (not the driver, of course), at the bookstore, at the library and under trees at the park. We read aloud to each other and silently. A dinner conversation often starts with, "By the way, I read today that..."

That big, expensive TV set? It gets used. For Netflix. Maybe once or twice a week.

It would be nice to win the drawing, of course...
But we'll read anyway.

We are a family of readers. A nice family.
The only problem is that I have trouble keeping the booklist up to date on this blog...

Saturday, June 16, 2007

On the Death of a Modem

We knew it was getting old and cranky.

Our ActionTec DSL modem from Quest has required frequent restarting, factory resets, and in the past few months, frequent rest periods before it would consent to giving us a green light for wireless internet.

And there was the time after the lightning stike and power surge, where we thought it was a gonner, but after a full 24 hour rest period, it managed to gather its wits about it and give a green light again.

But on Tuesday afternoon, it finally gave up the ghost quietly and completely. I was researching something online and suddenly had no internet.

Wondering if this was the real thing, or just another coma, I unplugged the power cable. Later Tuesday evening, I tried it again.

The red power light came on and then got stuck there. No blinking to green, no other lights to be had. Well, we could be dealing with the need for another overnight rest period.

But on Wednesday morning, I tried plugging in the power cable again.

Red light, no blinking, no other lights at all.

Nothing but a little spark of static electricity at the joining of the power tab to the slot.

Persistant Vegetative State?

I left if alone for a while. Upon checking on my patient on Wednesday evening, there was still no change. Solid red power light. Not even a spark when I disconnected and then reconnected.

We pronounced it dead on Wednesday night, but since it had given us five years of faithful service, and since we were planning to go into town on Friday, we allowed it to lie in state for all of Thursday and into Friday afternoon.

On Friday morning, we went to get a new modem. A sleek young thing wearing modern colors, with room to network by wire 4 devices.

Welcome to our new modem. Not quite the same as the old modem.

I realize now that the old modem was being very crotchety for some time.

It has gone on to a well-deserved rest.

And we are happy to be connected once again.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Creeping Fascism: Are We Servants of the State?

I admit it. Late May and early June is usually a time of the year in which I actually avoid deep thinking, prefering to celebrate the end of the semester by reading thrillers and working in my yard. And still the world of homeschooling turns, even though I am preoccupied with watching the sunset and sunrise from my little piece of paradise.

So today, I finally feel compelled to discuss some issues that have been developed on other blogs and tie together some ideas that have been rumbling around in my head for a while--even as I watched wonderful sunrises and sunsets from my front porch.

In Connecticut, their version of Child Protective Services (DFS) has been enlisted by certain school districts to force parents who wish to homeschool their children to keep the kids in school. Judy Aron over at Consent of the Governed has blogged extensively about what is happening there. I am linking to her first recent post on the issue here, but you should look also at today's post, as well as one about the press conference, which can be viewed here. It is well worth viewing.

There is no question that the school districts that have reported these parents to DFS for "education neglect" have abused their power. What is very interesting is that in the cases discussed during the press conference (linked above), the parents were removing their children as a last resort after reasonable attempts to work with the schools to get their children a public education. In these cases, another issue stands out--the children had health problems that should have resulted in some form of an individual educational plan--either an IEP (under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) or a 504 Plan (under Americans with Disabilities Act). The IDEA in particular mandates that the schools must work as a team with parents/family in order to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to a child with a disability. In the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA, Congress found that " strengthening the role and responsibility of parents and ensuring that families of such children have meaningful opportunities to participate in the education of their children at school and at home" can make "the education of children with disabilities...more effective." (IDEA 2004 601.c5B). It is also stated in the law that all members of an IEP team must agree to educational interventions. And yet, in the Connecticut cases, parents were dictated to, bullied and threatened with loss of their children if they did not comply with unilateral plans put forth by the school districts involved.

These abuses most likely have a number of causes, including money--because school districts get federal money for each child with disabilities educated under IDEA, and they can use this money in their general funds--that is they do not have to show that the money goes specifically for special education. Although this is a loophole that taxpayers ought to be concerned about, I believe there is a more insidious idea being promulgated here. This is the idea that the state has a kind of ownership of the child and merely contracts to the parents the duties of raising the child as a servant of the state. This is not an American value. Neither is it a democratic ideal; it is, rather, a fascist concept. The Constitution of the United States clearly demonstrates that a government governs at the pleasure of the citzenry. Government is the servant of the citizen, not the master. Citizens are not the servants of the state, rather they direct their government to do certain, constitutionally defined jobs in order to protect their liberties and live their lives.

The abuse of power represented by the actions of the Connecticut school districts and the DFS--which apparently is allowed to ignore certain basic constitutional rights of the accused--appears to stem from the idea that a petty bureaucrat or school official knows better than we do what is best for ourselves and our children. That these people are often more poorly educated and have less information than the parents they are harrassing would be laughable if they did not have so much power to disrupt lives and waste public resources doing so.

Another example of this "creeping fascism," has been making the rounds of the homeschooling blogosphere recently. I found out about it at this post on Corn and Oil. (By the way, Susan, I hail from your part of the world and went to school with your state congressman, Bill Brady. Don't know why, but I have been unable to comment on your blog because the registration never goes through). In a forthcoming article for California Law Review, professor Kim Yuracko of Northwestern University, essentially argues that the state has the constitutional power to dictate the ideas that parents teach their children in the course of homeschooling them. The article is called Illiberal Education which can be accessed by clicking on the link. Home Education Magazine has posted the abstract, commentary and links to other analysis here.

Although acknowledging that homeschooling is a "diverse" phenomenon, Yuracko incorrectly states that it is controlled by fundamentalist Christians who want to isolate their children from "secular influences and liberal values" (Yuracko, 2007, abstract). How, well, illiberal of Yuracko. The paper is poorly written and has numerous factual errors with regard to the diversity and philosophy of homeschooling. It also uses numerous logical fallacies in the pursuit of the argument. It is the central point, however, that demonstrates another example of fascistic thinking that I want to address.

Yuracko argues that education is essentially a "public function" that states delegate to parents and that parental power over their children's education is therefore limited. This law professor has it exactly backwards. The state may have an "interest" in the education of future citizens, but by sending their children to public schools, parents are delegating their responsibility to educate their children to the state. Not the other way 'round. Our children are not servants of the state. In a Constitutional Republic, such as the United States, the state is our servant.

In reading the entire article, it is clear that Yuracko would like to have the power of the state to limit the freedom of certain classes of parents (namely fundamentalist Christians) to pass their own beliefs and values on to their children. Rather, Yuracko would like force her own values on all of us. This would be a violation of our liberties under the United States Constitution. It also smacks of an incredible amount of elitist chutzpah on the part of a law professor.

It should be clear to anyone who has taken more than a cursory look at my blog that I am not a fundamentalist Christian. In fact, I strongly disagree with many of their ideas and beliefs. I am not a political conservative, either. Rather, I'd like to see the words "conservative" and "liberal" banned from polite discourse so that citizens could talk to each other on the level of issues rather than shout at each other from ideological positions. I do, however, remember the words of Martin Niemoller:

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

(New England Holocaust Memorial Version)

Either the rights of citizens belong to all of us, or they will belong to no one.
Disagreement is protected and even encouraged in our American values. Supression is not.

Maybe someone like Yuracko is afraid of homeschooling and homeschoolers precisely because most of us have made a choice to teach our children their rights as citizens of the United States.

And, no, I don't do the Pledge of Allegiance with my son in our homeschool. Rather, every day we stand before the flag of the United States and recite the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States:

"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." (From Findlaw).

My son is not a servant of the state. He does not owe allegiance to a specific government, office, or person. He owes allegiance to an idea. The idea that "governments are instituted among (human beings) at the consent of the governed." The idea that the government exists to serve the citizens. If he chooses to run for office or serve in the military as an officer--and himself becomes a servant of the citizens, then he will take an oath of fealty. Not to a government, flag, office or person. Rather, he will take an oath to "protect and defend the constitution of the United States." To protect and defend an idea. The idea of liberty.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Fifth Anniversary: Finding the Bashert, Finding Good Fortune

Five years! Sometimes it seems like we have been married all of our lives, and sometimes I feel like we are newlyweds.

We still hold hands like lovers.
We work together like partners.

Our Brit Tena'im (engagement agreement) states:
"Whoever finds the Bashert (the person intended for you) finds good fortune..."
And so it has been.

Some of us find the Bashert early and some, late.

Sometimes, love found late is sweetest.

Five years ago, June 8th, 2002,, Bruce and I signed our Ketubah, our marriage contract.

A Ketubah is a legal document that states specifically what the Chatan (bridegroom) and Kallah (bride) are agreeing to do. We agreed, among other things, to establish a household "in Israel" (meaning among the people Israel--not the the nation-state), and to support and love one another according to the tradition and laws of Moses and Israel.

A Ketubah is also a work of art, scribed by hand, and adorned with art and illumination. Hiddur Mitzvah means to "beautify the commandments." It is a commandment to marry with a Ketubah, and to adorn it according to the personalities of the couple makes it beautiful. Ours is a limited edition called Erev shel Shoshanim, Evening of Roses, that depicts the night sky (Bruce is an amateur astronomer) and roses growing in old Jerusalem (my first career was as a type of botanist).

Five years ago, Bruce and I joined our lives together under the Chuppah, the marriage canopy, surrounded by family and friends.

The Chuppah (the "ch" is a gutteral, like the "ch" in the German "Bach") symbolizes the household that is being created by the marriage of two Jews. It is open on all four sides, to show that the Jewish household is open to hospitality toward all.

Our wedding occured very near to Shavuot, so the greenery in the synagogue was our decoration for it. Since our theme was "Evening of Roses," we had rose petals strewn on the aisle in the synagogue. Not only was it beautiful, but it smelled like roses as we were brought to the Chuppah. I don't remember a whole lot of what was said under the Chuppah, but since there is tradition, I know what occured there. A blessing was said over wine, the symbol of joy. Seven wedding blessings were chanted. Rings were exchanged and we said, each to the other, in Hebrew, "Behold, you are made holy unto me according to the laws of Moses and Israel." Marriage is called "kiddushin" in Hebrew, meaning holiness. Joining together in marriage is a holy act in Judaism; it is the fulfillment of a commandment and the highest calling to which human beings can aspire. It is an act of tikkun olam, repair of the world. I think it is so because the joining of two separate people, who undertake to live together despite their differences is an opportunity for the creation of Shalom, wholeness, blessing and peace.

Our first dance. After we had some time alone together, we joined the celebration of our wedding in progress.

We chose to dance to the Louis Armstrong tune, "Wonderful World." What a wonderful world is made from the blessing of finding the Bashert!

A story: In January of 2001, I went to a family retreat. The theme was "blessings." At one point, in small groups, the adults were asked to ask for and receive a blessing from another. I thought it was pretty schmaltzy, and I was shy about asking. But something overcame my reserve, and I asked for my heart's desire. "Please ask for me the blessing that I might find my life's partner, my Bashert."
Fast forward to May, 2001. Bruce and I, on our seventh date, were driving up to Ojo Caliente to spend the day soaking in the healing waters there.
I asked Bruce, "What is your Hebrew name?" He said, "Baruch ben Leib Hersch haLevi v'Rina. ('A Blessing' the son of Leib Hersch the Levite and Joy). " I definitely heard the sound of the two-by-four swishing through the air! Here was my Bashert, my Blessing that I had asked for!
Sometimes blessings are very powerful. Be warned!

One of "the obligations without measure, the reward of which is without measure," is to "rejoice with bride and groom."

A custom is to show the depth, the "measurelessness" of that rejoicing, is to lift the brude and groom up on chairs as part of the dancing.

Here Bruce and I "dance" together on the chairs, joined in the "handkerchief dance", lifted by friends and family, while others dance the Hora.

The New Shtetl Band and the dancers were singing: "There shall be heard in the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride." (...kol sasson v'kol simcha, kol chatan v'kol kallah!")

The wonderful thing about our wedding was that we enjoyed it so much! We handed over the details to the rabbi, cantor, caterer and the synagogue event planner. And we let go and had a wonderful time. We were the last ones to leave our wedding.

Our marriage has been sweet and tender and good for both of us. We have grown into more love and understanding.
Of course, there are differences between us, from time to time. Both of us can be stubborn and headstrong and intense. Real life brings challenges to all of us! But there is a fundamental basis of love and respect that is different than our previous relationships.

As we sit on our rockers on the porch holding hands, we sometimes turn to one another and say: "Love is truly wasted on the young!"

Five years! Sometimes it seems like we have been together all of our lives. Sometimes we feel like newlyweds.

We have each found the bashert. We have each found good fortune.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Close, But No Cigar!

Yesterday, I got three more steps done on the 300 Million Year Stonework Project.

Here they are--close to the top. But...not...quite...there.

It was a beautiful afternoon, albeit warm, so after working three hours in the sunshine--I left the shade behind at the bottom of the steps--I called it quits.

It is taking a bit longer toward the top because the hill is steeper there and it takes longer to clear the dirt that I have to dig out to make a step.

N. planted his pumpkin patch as I was working.

Then he rested on the porch. Then he read in his "hidden spot for reading in the tree." Smart kid--he plans projects that can be completed within his attention span.

Here is the curved path of stairs from the top. Another reason for slower time at the top is that I have hit the "B" horizon. Clay and pebbles, fixed with plant roots. I am running into tree roots, so the curve is a little greater than I had planned.
I just can't bear to pull out very small Ponderosa pines recruited since last year. I plant o transplant them in the fall instead.

I figure maybe one more step and a secure landing at the top.

But not today. I got this message from the National Weather Service:


Southwest wind will reach sustained speeds of 35 to 45 Mph with Gusts around 60 Mph by

early afternoon and Continue through early this Evening...Blowing dust may reduce Visibility Suddenly...

Strong Winds will be Hazardous to Trailers and other High Profile Vehicles...

Take Action to Secure lawn furniture, trash cans...stong winds can Topple Trees...Blow Weakened Roofs off Houses...Down Powerlines...

The NWS has quaint capitalization rules, no?

Anyway, I don't think I want to be out in this. It is gusting already. Today is a good day to get inside work done.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling: Buzzing Your Way

The latest Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Homeschool Buzz.

There are 30 articles to choose from on a variety of topics.
I don't have an article--I missed the deadline.
But there are some good reads. Spend a summer afternoon browsing and enjoy!

Work Update

We are getting a lot of work done.

Yesterday, Bruce took a few hours of leave and came home at about 3 PM. He and N. undertook to finish unloading the wood chip mulch for the dog run.

N. seemed really enthusiastic yesterday. Maybe because at that point, they were able to open the tailgate without spilling half the mulch on the ground. That meant they could rake the stuff out.

N. likes using tools to do work. It's a guy thing.

They got the unloading done in about half-an-hour.

N. did most of the raking.

Bruce did the wheelbarrow job.

They dumped the mulch in piles in the dog run.

Bruce had prepped the dog run before we picked up the mulch. You see, last summer and fall, the dogs had dug some pretty good holes near the gate and at places along the fence looking for an escape route.
Hounds are amazing escape artists. And both dogs have hound in them.
But the contractor had sunk the CMU three units below ground level, and so the dogs went nowhere. But the holes were there. Bruce weeded the run and leveled the ground inside.

Then, when they had unloaded all of the mulch into the dog run, Bruce and N. got in there and raked it level.

N. had calculated the approximate volume of the mulch in the truck bed. Then he calculated the area inside the dog run. He predicted that the mulch would cover the that area to a depth of about 4 inches if raked evenly.

He was very close. Although it took a while to rake it evenly.

I had begin working on the 300 million year stonescape steps at about 1:30.

As the guys were unloading mulch, I was still hard at it, getting the sixth step in place.

IMHO, it is much harder than the mulch job.
I have to carry heavy rocks, measure steps, get rocks to fit and make the border. Every so often, I have to take the wheelbarrow into the woods on our property in order to collect more rocks. And wheel it back--uphill.

This is close work that takes time. Plus I am learning from my mistakes as I go.

A summer afternoon shower blew up about when the guys finished unloading. I had finished the sixth step.

It was a chance to sit on the porch and take a break.

N. decided that "just in case," he would fetch the wheelbarrow under the porch. No need to have a puddle in it!

Bruce and I sat in our rockers, sipped water--thirst provides the best taste to it--and enjoyed the respite.

As it turned out, it rained for about 10 minutes--we got about 1/100th of an inch all told. Just enough to wet the ground.

Then we were back at it. The guys raked the mulch in the dog run. I worked on my seventh step.

In the picture, you can see that the sixth and seventh steps make a small curve.

According to the landscape books, this adds interest to the steps. In my eyes, it allows me to construct about two fewer steps than if they went up in a straight path.

However, the ground is steeper, so digging out the steps is more work. Gotta move the dirt somewhere else!
But I think it is turning out pretty well.
On Sunday, it rained hard on my steps and there was no shifting. I must be doing something right.
Today, I am hoping to actually finish the steps.

Then maybe my blogs will be more varied and interesting.