Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Magicians and TANSTAAFL

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
--Arthur C. Clarke, 1961

It would be funny if the situation weren't so dire. Yesterday, against the advice of many economists, and with nays from the entire opposition party, the House passed the biggest spending package in history of the United States, and quite possibly, in history of the world. This, at a time when the country is in the red to the tune of almost ten trillion dollars, not counting our future unfunded obligations to Medicare and Social Security.

Insanity is too kind of a word.

And as I was trying to figure out what these guys could possibly be thinking, Clarke's Third Law of Prediction popped into my head and stubbornly took up residence.

First published in his essay Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination, in the book Profiles of the Future, published when I was just coming out of diapers. Last night, I tossed and turned in sleepless frutration, trying to figure out who it is exactly whose imagination has failed: the Pols or the Founders.

Most certainly it is the Pols, but before I go into that, I think a little background on Clarke's Third Law is in order. In his novella Against the Fall of Night, human civilization stalls out after a billion years of evolution. The remnants of the human race live among the left overs of the now defunct advanced civilization, and use the technology that they cannot understand or replicate. To them, it is magic.

And it occured to me, in the wee hours, that money and economics, is as inexplicable to politicians the world over, as those sidewalks that flowed like rivers were to the savages living on the edge of their ancestors glory in Against the Fall of Night. Economics is a technology. Money, derided by many as some fastastical evil force, is understood by civilized people as a tool for the purpose of trade. For civilized people, economics should then simply be the study of how money and trade work in reality.

But failing to understand the origin and purpose of money, the Pols treat Economics like magic. They believe that if they mumble the right words and make the right gestures, they can change reality to fit their fantasy of what the world ought to be like. They are like the primitive peoples of the South Seas during WW II, who upon seeing that these fantastic men came on airplanes with radios and canned goods, build straw replicas of the airplanes and waited for the Cargo to rain down from heaven.

The Fed, not recognizing that they are running on empty, has anounced cuts in interest rates that have gone almost to zero, and then express surprise that the banks don't lend. Like the Cargo Culters, they print money that has no meaning (our money supply has increased over 70% in the past three months), but because they have said the right words and made the right gestures, they cannot figure out why the economy does not right itself.

Meanwhile, the Pols in Congress have succumbed to the panic of DO SOMETHING and are borrowing against the funny money that is being printed over at Treasury, which is presided over by a tax cheat. And they believe their cause is just, and it MUST WORK because, after all, they are saying the right words and making the right gestures.

None of them has any clue as to what money is or how economies function.

None of them believe that they should know these things before they begin to fiddle with the ticking time bomb of economic collapse.

It HAS to work! They have had all the best intentions in the world as they said the right words and made the right gestures.

Reality does not care one whit about human intentions.
The natural consequence of Clarke's Third Law are upon us.

The technology of money and trade are apparently sufficiently complex to the Pols in Washington, and in the state capitals around the nation, that it is indistinguishable from magic.

It is like giving a thermonuclear weapon to barbarians. We'd be well advised to get out of the way if we can.

Failing that, it might be a good idea to make some preparations.

Because as the characters invented by Robert A. Heinlein in his novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress used to say, "TANSTAAFL*!"

Honey, should we put our money under your side of the mattress or mine? The magicians are at work.

*There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pictures of Princess Ruby Tuesday and the Old Dowager Zoey

Instead of waiting for the Chem Geek Princess to send me pictures--I have yet to receive any from her engagement--I took some of my own on Sunday.
I was going into town for Women's Torah Study, so I took my camera with me, and stopped by the CGP's little house on the way home.
Ruby Tuesday, her official name, is a little gem! She greeted us at the door, as her Grandpa Engineering Geek came just to meet her. So here's the pictures, bracketed by two of our Old Dowager Queen, Zoey. After all, the reason we took a second look at Ruby in the Animal Care Shelter, was that the Chem Geek Princess called me over, saying: "Oh, look, Mom! It's a mini-Zoey.

And here Queen Zoey lounges on her New Zealand
Sheepskin bed, showing off the Boychick's new floor.
(September 2008).

Her spots and ticking, once so black, are going white with age, and she likes to lounge in the sun more of late. She still plays, but less often during the day, and for less time.

And here, Little Princess Ruby lounges on
some of the carpet that was replaced by the
wood flooring at our house.
Now it provides a soft place in the CGP's
'Little House' for a puppy tired from
playing and performing for her hew family.
Here, Ruby demonstrated her newfound skill: Down. Stay.
Each time the CGP says it, she pushes her firmly down, and then rewards her by stroking her face while telling her what a good puppy she is!
Ruby is a calm, but curious dog who is happy to please her new mistress.
Ruby came home knowing a few skills already.
She can Sit. Stay.
She asks to go outside, being fully
housebroken, and she can shake
hand-to-paw when she asks for a biscuit.
We really don't understand why she was
returned to the Shelter. That lady's loss was our gain.

Ruby already has two toys.
A sheepskin giraffe for inside,
and a big purple squeaky ball for outdoor fun.

Here she demonstrates her play-bow, before she fetches the ball. It takes her a few tries to get it into her mouth, too.
And no matter who throws it, she always brings it back to the CGP. She knows the hand that feeds her!

And another look at our Old Dowager Queen.
You can see the resemblances and the differences
between the two.
Zoey doesn't have black ears, nor the black rings
around her eyes. Ruby does not have the big
black spot on her back.
Zoey is bigger, and her ticking is
fading with oncoming age.

But the two have uncanny similarities in personality.
They are both dainty Princesses, they hold their bodies and tails in the same way, and when Zoey was younger she had the same calm curiosity.

Both are a little on the thin side, too.
Ruby with the leggy thinness of late puppyhood.
Zoey with the stiff thinness of old age.

Ah, dear Zoey. Are you eleven? Twelve maybe. You were certainly at least a two when we rescued you in January 2000. But you were not yet three, according to the vet. Well, old girl, I know exactly how you feel on those cold mornings when the barometers falling and we both get out of bed stiff with arthritis.

But love is wasted on the young, they say.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My Medieval Profession

Thanks to RationalJenn:

You Are a Cartographer
You have a wide range of knowledge and you're very detail oriented.
You have a photographic memory, and you remember places very well.

Like a middle ages cartographer, you're also very adventurous and curious about the world.
In modern times, you would make a good non-fiction writer or scientist.

Fascinating, truly fascinating. Because in modern times I am indeed a scientist.
And I love maps.

Take the Quiz and find out your Medieval Profession.

Monday, January 26, 2009

BO! The Slave Mentality and Freedom

Often, as I study the weekly parashah, the Torah portion, it seems that myth and reality, fact and legend, and past and present become woven together as I struggle with the text on many levels: the plain meaning, hints of something deeper, allergory and myth, and maybe twice a year, transcendance.

This week's portion, Bo! (Go!) is one that I struggle with every year, twice a year.
And, no, there is no exclamation point in the original. The word Bo begins a sentence: "Go to Pharoah." But I see it with an exclamation every time I hear the parashah read.

This portion picks up in the midst of the ten plagues upon Egypt.
And, although the plain meaning of the text is clear, the plagues are a contest between Pharoah and G-d, I still feel the sting of injustice every time I read that "every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharoah to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the millstone." (Shemot 11:4-5). This is myth, of course, and it is the meaning that we draw from myth that teaches something.

But yesterday, as I sat listening to the portion as it was read in Women's Torah Study, I heard a different piece. One that I have heard every year, of course, but one that my mind had not highlighted. (This is the reason that we tell and re-tell the great stories).

First I noted, as I do every year, when I read the Hebrew text, that when Moses and Aaron go before Pharoah, Moses says:

"Thus says YHVH, the G-d of the Hebrews . . . Send my people forth that they may serve me."

This brought my mind to a demonstration of idolatry that I saw on the internet the other day in which various actors and musicians take a pledge to do good in the name of the great and powerful Obama. (One wonders why these people did not until now do good in the name of their own free will.)

The part that I heard again in my head was toward the end of the video, when one of them says: "I pledge to serve Barack Obama . . ." and then they all say together, "I pledge to be a servant of Our President and all Mankind . . ." (you can hear the capital letters in their voices) as their individual likenesses all fade into the Che Guevara kitsch poster of Barack Obama's face.

Then I heard this part of the parashah:

"Pharoah's servants said to him: '. . . Send out the men that they may serve their god, YHVH. Do you not know that Egypt is lost? So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharoah and he said to them: ' Go, worship your god, YHVH! Who will go forth?" And Moses said: "We will all go, with our underlings and our elders,, we will go with our sons and daughters, with our flocks and our herds . . ." (Shemot 11: 7-9).

But Pharoah says no, that he would be a fool to let them all leave, when if this is just about a religious observance, then only the princes and elders should go. And he sends Moses and Aaron away.

And I began to think about the slave mentality. It is a way of thinking in which the slave's self is divided; someone else stands between a human being and her ultimate purpose. Someone else takes responsibility for the slave's will and being, making him less than a person.

Torah does not say, "Let my people go!" It says, "Send my people forth that they may serve me!"
Because in Egypt the people are servants to a man. They must worship his every whim. And by accepting their service, Pharoah commits the idolatry of seeing himself as above them in the eyes of heaven. He sees himself as a god. Thus the servant and the master both sacrifice to idols by the act of placing something lesser in front of their freedom.

And what is the sense of the "we will go . . ." piece? If the people are divided, so that some may leave to perform a religious duty permitted by Pharoah, they will retain the slave mentality. They will return to serve Pharoah. There is no half-slave and half-free. Freedom is all or nothing. People cannot choose the nice things about slavery, and refuse the hard choices that make up freedom and expect to remain free.

But if they all go forth, after seeing the signs and wonders, then in the wilderness, they will no longer be servants of Pharoah. And at Sinai, they can choose to make a covenant and accept Torah, placing themselves as servants of the Law of the Eternal.

And what of those signs? They are the plagues.
The plagues are a metaphor in this story for what happens to a land when people accept the slave mentality and must worship at the feet of a king, a master, an idol.
Then, even the innocent son of the slave girl behind the millstone will suffer. As will the mothers of Mitzrayim (the straits), who will mourn the destruction of the future generation in the name of the power of Pharoah and his priests and courtiers.

Free people do not place a person between themselves and the Eternal Law.
They choose to do what is right out of a whole self, not out of the half-being of servitude to others, be those others presidents or "all humankind."
A free human being may not worship at the altar of any man.

Thus I cannot, I must not, pledge to be a servant to Barack Obama or to all humankind.
To do so would be idolatry.
I serve a different covenant.
As an American, I pledge to uphold the Constitution.
As a Jew, I serve only the great I AM.*

*YHVH, the unprouncible Tetragrammaton, is a symbol for the root that conveys the meaning of being. It is a combination of three verb forms: I was, I am, I will be. The Name is unpronouncible because it is both infinite and incomplete. It comes from Moses question: "Who are you?" To which the Eternal replies something like: "Wait and see what I will do. Then you will know who I was, who I am, and what I will be."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Princess Ruby

I ask for congratulations. I have become a grandmother by adoption.
Today the Chem Geek Princess hauled me and the Boychick off the Albuquerque's East Side Animal Care Shelter to "look" at the dogs. "Now, we're just going to look today," she cautioned the Boychick as we went into the building.

We got three quarters of the way through the kennels in Building A. I was talking to a very pretty Shepherd mix on the female side when the the CGP, who had gone ahead a kennel said: "Oh, Mom, look! It's a mini-Zoey."

Sure enough, there in the next dog run was a small Zoey! She was looking at the CGP and tilting her head toward the outdoor part of the run. Then she sat down and looked positively fetching. We were cataloguing the similarities and differences:
  • look, she's half of Zoey's size
  • she has the same gestures and look in her eye
  • she holds her paw in the same way
  • her ears are bigger and they are all black intead of spotted

As we were talking, with many oh's and ah's, a kennel worker--I think they are trained to know when humans are falling in love with a canine--stepped forward and asked:

KW: "Can I help you?"

CGP: "Can I take her out?"

KW: "Before I do, do you have cats?"

CGP: "No, I don't."

KW: "What about birds?"

We must have looked puzzled, because the Kennel Worker then said: "This dog was adopted yesterday, and the lady was waiting here with her when I got to work this morning. She said the dog barked at her birds and chased her cat. She came in originally as an owner surrender because they were moving and couldn't take the dog. Now she's been adopted and returned. I don't think this lady tried very hard."

CGP: "If I take a dog today, I will make it work. Besides, dogs do chase cats sometimes. They're dogs. Anyway, I don't have any cats. I don't have any animals at all. But I have a house with a fenced yard and a dog run."

So the Kennel Worker slipped a leash on 'Dakota' and the CGP took her out of the kennel building. We walked her around a bit, then we took her into one of the enclosed bonding areas where we could take her off the leash and play. At first the dog made a circuit of the small space, sniffing at the toy ball. We settled on the floor to get at doggie level. Then the dog sat down in front of the CGP and put her paw up, just like Zoey. I think that was it, but we spent some more time with her there, throwing the ball, talking to the dog, who had somehow become 'Ruby.' We found that she had good manners, she let the CGP lift up her feet, and she seemed very anxious to please. So we slipped the leash back on and went out to find our friend the KW. It turns out that she was waiting just outside.

CGP: "I want to adopt this dog."

KW: "I think it was meant to be! We'll just put her back in her run, and then I'll write down her number and you can go into adoption couseling to fill out the paperwork."

But when we got back to the entrance to Building A, poor Ruby heard the barking inside, and shied away from the door. "Oh," the CGP said, "She doesn't want to go back in there. She's afraid we'll leave her again." So the KW let the Boychick and me sit outside with Ruby while the CGP went inside to fill out the paperwork and pay the fees. As we played with her, and let her sniff around, she got comfortable enough to climb right up on the concrete bench with us. As other kennel workers passed by, they kept saying "Hi, Dakota! I sure hope it works out for you." She apparently had made herself known and loved.

As she was filling out the paperwork, the Adoption Counselor said to the CGP: "I have to inform you that this dog chased a lady's cat . . . because, you know, she's a dog!" (I think they were rather disgusted with this lady's lack of any attempt to orient the dog at all). But it all the better for the CGP, because, as she told the Adoption Counselor, "She's so much like the dog I grew up with!"

So we took Ruby home to the CGP's house. She had a snack and played with the Boychick in the backyard while the CGP and I went to the pet store to get a few things. When we got back, decked out in her new collar and leash, Ruby accompanied us on a walk to the park. There, she ran around the park (on leash of course!) with the CGP and the Boychick. My knees are in the grandma stage and I prefer a brisk walk. After that, it was time for a bath--the dogs come home pretty dirty from the pound, er, I mean the Animal Care Shelter. So the Boychick and I left the new dog owner to her work.

I had forgotten to take my phone to town with me today, so I don't have a picture of Ruby. When the CGP sends me one, I will post it.

Now I have a granddog! Zoey and Lily have a niece.

This was not what I expected when I took the CGP's desk to her house this morning.

Life is full of those little surprises that make us smile. Princess Ruby has joined the extended family. What a happy day for us and for her.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Problem with Geithner

The problem is his integrity.

He did not pay taxes that the IMF clearly informed him that he owed, and when he was audited, he still did not make good on all of the back taxes. He also continued to play fast and loose with the system.

And his name has just been sent to the full Senate for confirmation.
The committee passed him, despite all of this, because he's the genius that will fix our economy. Even though he couldn't understand Turbo Tax. (It's pretty simple, really. You hit the prompt that says "self-employed"). Not to mention the fact that the IMF not only apprised him of his tax obligation each quarter, but also wrote him a check intended to cover his tax obligation. So he kept the money from the IMF and did not pay the taxes.

Now many of us ordinary citizens have trouble with our taxes, but if we made this mistake we would pay fines, back taxes, and interest on what we owed. We might be terrorized by the IRS for years to come. Geithner has not experienced that. Apparently, there is not one law for the citizen and the politician in the United States.

What concerns me the most, though, is not Geithner's lack of integrity, although that is a big concern. What concerns me, is that our Senators and Representatives do not think it matters. After all, Geithner is the genius that came up with TARP, which was such an innovative solution that it was not used. So the congress critters have persuaded themselves that he is the only person who can save our economy from certain crash. And this bothers me quite a lot more.

First, the assumption that any one person can save an economy, any economy, by spending money we don't have defies common sense. It is what F.A. Hayek called The Fatal Conceit. Secondly, is it really possible that among a population of more than 303 million people this one, clearly flawed man is the only person who is qualified to be Secretary of the Treasury? This man who can't get his taxes right is the only person to put in charge of the IRS, the bailouts, and the printing presses at the US Treasury?

This kind of desire for a magic solution to all our problems is the same idolatry that made the Obamaniacs so nauseating. Our founders did not set up our system of government to depend on one man. As Thomas Jefferson wrote:

"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

Ours is a government of law, not of men.
Should we then give the power over our money, which was unconstitutionally given to the Secretary of the Treasury by our venal politicians last October, over to a man who violates that law? Who, at best, is a genius who cannot understand the portions of the law that he will be charged with enforcing by virtue of his position over the IRS? Should this man have the power to deprive citizens who violate the same code he did of their rights to liberty and property?

I cannot believe that this is practically a done deal.
We have been told today that although his tax code violations would have been a problem in more ordinary times, these extraordinary times make his lack of integrity unimportant.
What? Does this mean that since these times are so extraordinary, the law does not now apply? Isn't it precisely in extraordinary times that character and integrity become extraordinaryly important? In The Crisis, Thomas Paine wrote:

"THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value." (December, 1776).

Will a man who, when times were good, did not pay his taxes, and kept the money given to him by the IMF for that purpose, have the integrity to make lawful decisions about our money in these extraordinary times? I think his soul has been tried and found wanting.

We the People of the United States, deserve and should demand accountable leaders who have the courage of their convictions, and the integrity to uphold the Constitution. No one man is the solution to all of our problems. We make the solutions. And as for our leaders, we must "bind [them] down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution."

And we lack wisdom if we do not protest the placement of a man who has already done mischief with his own money in charge of the national purse.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Catching the Rhythm of Spring 2009


Ragamuffin Studies has missed two Nearly Wordless Wednesdays in a row!!
It may return next week, or another type of weekly photo post will be substituted.

It has to do with scheduling nightmares.
And with catching my rhythm as the new semester begins.

Last week, I returned to my tutoring job at the COE Graduate Writing Studio. I changed my GA from .5 (20 hours per week) to 0.25 (10 hours per week) because I found that I needed much more time for managing the Boychick's education, working on my dissertation proposal and studying for my classes. I set up my 10 hours over two days, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. These were also class days for me, so that I have three week days that I donn't have to drive into town.

The courses I had signed up for were Functional Neuroimaging (For Behavioral Neuropsychology), and Doctoral Seminar (for Special Education). Alas, when I signed on to my account last Tuesday, I had a message: the Doctoral Seminar class was cancelled. That would have been fine with me, except that I need six hours to keep my GA. Sigh.
So it was back to Loboweb, where the course catalogue turned up nothing in Special Education that I wanted/needed to take. So I arranged with my Special Education major professor to take a course in directed readings that would follow the plan, more or less, that I had been developing for the Doctoral Seminar. It took some effort to get a hold of Dr. N to get this all done, as she was traveling to Washington D.C. to attend the Inauguration. By Thursday, however, the necessary waiver had been made, and I was able to register.

Classes began yesterday, and so I came in to work and then was planning to attend the first meeting of Functional Neuroimaging. It was scheduled for 2-4 PM in the afternoon. However, when I signed in to my account, I had a new message. The course had been rescheduled, the students had been dropped, and we all had to sign up again. The new time, 3-5 PM could not have been more incovenient. But I really need this class. So just for yesterday, I had to leave work early in order to go up to the Boychick's school and drop off his Taekwondo bag, then swing by home to let the dogs out. Then it was back to campus for class. The Engineering Geek was persuaded to leave work early to pick up the Boychick and take him to Taekwondo. It worked out, but I had 10 minutes to inhale my lunch on my roundtrip to the East Mountains and then back to campus. We're going to have to figure something else out for the rest of the semester.

Did I mention that I really, really need this class?

When I went to the class, I found out that all of this was done at the behest of the Department Chair in order to accomodate undergraduates. This course is a 650 level course. I hope it doesn't get watered down like the course I took last spring. It was similar in that it was orginally a graduate level class, but then changed to accomodate undergraduates. And it meant much less depth for those of us taking the graduate version.

I am skeptical. But did I say I really, really, really need this class.

Of course, life outside the Ivory Tower continues. The Boychick needed a root canal and now the general dentist cannot finish it because the site is still draining. So tomorrow, it is off the consult with an endodontist. I have been at a dentist's office twice last week (once for the Boychick and once for me), and with tomorrow's appointment, it will be twice this week. We have been working on the Boychick's IEP. And getting him settled into a routine for school and scouts and Taekwondo.

I hope next week we'll catch the rhythm. And I'll figure out when to do the Nearly Wordless Wednesday post!

The good news: the days are getting perceptively longer!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Tuesday

Today, the United States witnessed a transcending moment.
That this happens every eight years makes it no less unique or special.
For today, we saw the peaceful transfer of the office of President of the United States from one man to another, as we have seen in ordinary times and extraordinary times, from 1789 until now.

Today was an extraordinary time, as Barack Obama was sworn in as the first Black President of the United States, standing on the same Capital Mall as MLK did, when he said, "I have a dream . . ."

For many Americans, this is a dream fulfilled.
Tomorrow, Mr. Obama begins to govern.
Tomorrow, Americans will begin to argue about the wisdom of his government, the policies he proposes and the vision he works to make a reality.

Even that vision will be trasmuted from within and from without. From within, it will change as Mr. Obama confronts the realities that his administration must work within. From without, the change will come from the push-and-pull of politics, as through their representatives, the people of the United States demand to have their unique and diverse voices heard.
This is what our founders intended: not the efficiency of a well-oiled collective, but rather the push-and-pull of a government of, for, and by the people at work.

Tomorrow, where the rubber meets the road, Mr. Obama will begin to get the reality of the change: that his vision will not remain what it was as Candidate Obama.
Tomorrow, we will begin to pick apart the new President's policies. We will agree with some and vehemently disagree with others.

But for today, we have the satisfaction of taking pride in the Republic and in the enduring grace with which the Office of the Chief Executive is transfered. We saw it in 1789. We saw it twice in 1865. We saw it in 1974, when in the midst of division and scandal, a president resigned, and we could smile through our pain because our system worked.

Tomorrow, Mr. Obama must begin to earn our criticism and our compliments.

But for today, just for today, we can stop and rejoice in this peaceful transfer of power mandated by the Constitution.

Congratulations, President Obama.
Best Wishes to the United States.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Our First Bridal Show

The Chem Geek Princess and I attended a bridal show today down at the Hotel Albuquerque at Oldtown. This one was small, with about 20 vendors, and we were able to get to every booth. There was also a band playing almost continuously, and a bridal gown fashion show.

We spent a good amount of time at the Pennysmith's Paper Co. booth, looking at invitation papers. The Knight Errant has a calligrapher friend who has offered to do the invitations by hand, so we need nice paper. We also tasted wedding cake, and walked around munching on Hors d'ouvres, as we looked at photgrapher samples, videographers, and tuxedos.

At several booths, the Chem Geek Princess was asked to show her engagement ring so that the vendors could admire it. (I imagine they do quite a bit of ring admiring at these events). One photographer oohed and ahhhed, and then said, 'That diamond cut is European, isn't it?" The CGP allowed that it is. It turns out that this woman photographs weddings all over the world, and showed us many lovely photographs. As we talked, the CGP told her engagement story. The photographer told us that this was the most unique engagement story she had heard. She called her husband over, saying: "Can you believe this? Her fiance flew her to London to propose in a castle!"

Currently, the CGP is considering being married at the Loretto Chapel, in Santa Fe, but they are also considering a destination wedding within the United States. She wants a beautiful, elegant, and very small wedding; their guestlist has only 50 people on it, including the wedding party. I like the idea of the Loretto Chapel, which has a beautiful wooden spiral staircase to the choir loft that was built by a mysterious stranger.

I think the CGP and her Knight are leaning towards the destination wedding, since most of the guests will have to travel anyway, so it does not matter where we hold it. The destinations all have beautiful wedding chapels and packages that do make the planning easier, and in many of those places, the whole wedding can be done at a reasonable cost.

It will be interesting to see what they decide, and I can live with either option.

But I do lean towards Loretto in Santa Fe . The well-traveled photographer does also, and after hearing what she wants, thought that would be best, unless we can make a wedding trip to Prague in the Czech Republic!
Mmmm. Hmmm. Prague is nice for a destination wedding. Maybe we can get the Altenushul?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Judenfressers: The Oldest Hatred

I have written about the current Israeli war with Hamas twice on this blog. The entries are:

They Wanted War and Unknowing Propagandists for Iran. In both of these entries I discussed the moral justification for the war, and also who is really behind the terrorists groups Hamas and Hezbollah. Yesterday, I ran into several more discussions, including a talk given by John Lewis, that clearly lay out Israel's right to defend her citizens, and an Objectivist way to think about the moral issues of making war on terrorists. An excellent analysis on the topic of responding to terrorist is Dr. Lewis' No Substitute for Victory.

This week, as the war in Gaza continues, my attention has turned to another issue, the incidents of antisemitic speech and action that have begun to surface here in the United States and in Europe, during rallies in support of Hamas.

We have seen increasingly ugly incidents, including the firebombing of synagogues in Europe, the expulsion of Jewish children from schools in Finland, and calls for Jews to "go back to the ovens!" in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The hatred of Jews, which is perhaps the world's oldest ethnic and religious prejudice, has been the organizing principle of many of these ostensible protests of Israel's defense of her borders and her citizens. We are told over and over again, that anti-Zionism is not the same thing as antisemitism. This assertion is shown as a lie by the words on signs and banners equating Zionism with racism and with Naziism, the holocaust denial, the shouted words, and the destruction of Jewish property and lives worldwide, all excused as "protest". These protests are not in response to a particular action of the State of Israel. Rather, they are in opposition to very existence of Israel as a nation-state. Further, they are not attacks on policies, nor are they only attacks on Israel, they are attacks on all Jews.

Modern antisemitism has its origins in 19th century Europe, and Germany and Autria were the center of the spreading poison. The German version of the word antisemitism was coined by Wilhelm Marr, the man who founded the Antisemitic League. His writing later influenced Hitler and the National Socialist (Nazi) movement. Some historians suggest that modern antisemitism differs from European Christian Jew-hatred in that it is directed against Jews as a people or a race, rather than against the Jewish religion. However, the Spanish concept of Limpieza--pure-blood--that differentiated between Christians of Spanish descent and the Conversos, who were Christians of Jewish descent, indicates that this concept had been around well before the 19th century.

Christian antisemitism began in the Christian scriptures, many of which depict Jews as responsible for the murder of Jesus, and the martyrdom of his followers. It was institutionalized in Christianity after the council of Nicea, and the first anti-Jew laws in the Christian Roman Empire were codified by the Emperor Justinian. The early Christian church (east and west) was particularly concerned about Judaizing--the act of bringing Jewish practices into Christianity--and virulent Jew-hatred can be found in the writings of many of the desert fathers and early Christian theologians, such as Justin Martyr, John Chrysostom, and later, Augustine. The idea that Jews were collectively responsible, apparently across space and time, for the crucifixion of Jesus; and that they reject the deity-status of Jesus as the Christ, led to the concept of deicide, the idea that Jews killed a god.

Islamic hatred of Jews has its origins in the Koran and the Hadith (tales of Mohammed). When Mohammed lost tribal battles in Mecca and fled to Medina, the Jews were the first to give him hospitality, but later, when they refused to accept him as a prophet, they were accused of spying for his enemies, and whole tribes of Arabian Jews were murdered in the name of the prophet and Islam. Although the application of collective responsibility against Jews is clearly stated in some early Islamic texts, however, the hatred of Jews as purveyors of some cosmic evil (akin to the Christian charges of deicide) was institutionalized in the 19th century, at about the same time as modern European antisemitism. Nevertheless, the Koran itself clearly gives Islam justification for killing Jews only because they are Jews.

There are many reasons given, historical, social, and psychological, for why Jews are hated world-wide, and why antisemitism exists, even in places where there are no Jews. However, the basis for anti-semitism is always the concept of collective responsibility.
Antisemitic speech and behavior always assumes that all Jews are responsible for the ideas and actions of any other Jew, and individual differences among Jews are always discounted.

This idea of collective responsibility is profoundly anti-Western and anti-modern. This is why it is very troubling to observe it being applied in Western Europe and the United States, as antisemitic speech rears its ugly head yet again in response to this war. To fully understand why this is happening, it is important to remember that the concept of Jihad in Islam has its origins in the herem, the ancient Middle Eastern concept of Holy War. Jihad is fulfilled in the spread of Islam by force across the whole earth, until everyone either submits and accepts Islam, or becomes a dhimmi-- a second-class citizen with no rights in Islamic society. This is the goal of Islamic terrorist organizations such as Al Quaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. This culture of Islamization by the sword is diametrically opposed to Western concepts such as the Rule of Law and Individual Rights. Driving the Jews into the sea, which is the stated goal of Hamas, or wiping Israel off the face of the map, as Achmadinijad threatens to do, is only the beginning of the radical Islamists agenda to destroy the West.

The response to the Israeli war against Hamas is telling, as protests against it become attacks on Israel, and finally, attacks on Jews.

The bottom line here is that the State of Israel is being singled out in a way that no other modern state has, as a state that must justify its right to exist. (See for example, Mark Steyn's essay A Spreading Sickness ; the essay compares responses to Pakistan's creation with that of Israel). Why is Israel singled out this way? Because it is the Jewish state.

Prior to Marr's coining of the term 'antisemitism', Jew-haters in 19th century Germany and Austria were called Judenfressers, which literally means Jew-eaters; the sense of the term is that these are people who get their spiritual sustenance, their sense of themselves, from their hatred of Jews. As I watched footage that showed the transition of some of these protest rallies into anti-Israel rallies and then into antisemitic rallies, I realized that we are seeing the return of the Judenfressers, in a still more modern guise. And it is particularly disturbing to see this happening once again in Europe, a place that many Holocaust survivors call barbaric, although it is the seat of Western Civilization. It is even more depressing to see Westerners, and particularly Americans, join in the feeding frenzy.

I wonder if Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel, will ever be considered a nation-state like any other?

I fear for the State of Israel. Israel is a Western democracy that espouses, however imperfectly, the value each individual life, and recognizes Individual Rights and the Rule of Law. In a very short period Israel has established a modern society, high technology, and made the desert bloom, all due to adherence to these Western principles.

I fear for the people Israel, who are again coming under attack worldwide for no other reason than that they are Jews. A small people, granted status as a world religion, more for our influence on the West than for numbers, Jews have bequeathed much to world civilization; a historical perspective, the concept of personal responsibility, the idea that time has direction, are among many other ideas.

And I fear even more for the survival of the principles and values of Western Civilization. When I see American and European young people marching in support of Hamas, using their free speech to subvert free speech, I see the fruit of two generations who have not been educated to understand and respect the achievements of the civilization that gave them their liberty.

I fear that by dishonoring our Western heritage, we have sown the wind, and will reap the whirlwind.

Edited: 1/17/09 for spelling and clarity.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Why I Am Contributing to the Great HDTV Crisis

On Saturday, when I read my local newspaper, I discovered that I am contributing to a great crisis. In an editorial entitled Courage, Couch Potatoes the editor of the Albuquerque Journal wrote:

"On Feb. 17, U.S. television goes digital and those who are not prepared will go without until they get the converter gizmo . . . a prominent part (of the government program for this conversion) are the coupons that the federal government has made available to defray much of the cost (to consumers).
"The coupons have run out before an estimated 6.8% of households with TVs took advantage of them . . . The administration-in-waiting, not blind to a disaster of such proportions, is urging Congress to delay the switchover from analog to digital signals that has been in the making since 2005. Or maybe National Guardsmen could deploy truck-mounted flat-sceens in the hardest hit areas . . ." (Albuquerque Journal, Saturday, January 10, p. A6, parenthetical statements mine)

The assumption of the editor is that if you have not got your coupon, it is because you are too lazy to get up from watching TV to get it.

In the Sunday paper, there were two separate articles about the converter gizmos, how to get them, and a big warning to get them right away, even if you don't have the coupon, so that at least one TV will be available in your house for watching broadcast TV. Apparently, the government says that New Mexico is one of those hardest hit areas, with something like 12% of us being without the HDTV Converter Gizmo Coupon Bail-out. (I wonder where the New Mexico National Guard will deploy those truck-mounted flat-screens?)

Maybe the Admin-in-Waiting is worried that New Mexicans are going to miss out on the new season of 24? That can't be it. I heard that Jack Bower talked back to Congress on last night's season opener.

I admit it. Ragamuffin House is one of those dead beats with nary a coupon or a converter box in the house. It is not because we have cable or satellite TV. And it is not because we are too lazy to turn off the TV to get one. It is because we rarely watch broadcast TV.

Now before you call Child Protective Services, we have not neglected the one child in our household. We actually own a TV. And it is in line-of-sight with all the pretty antennas up on Sandia Peak. It is a rather nice TV, in fact, although it is an older model (2003) and would need the converter box to pick up HD broadcast TV. But why bother? The last time we all watched broadcast TV was in the fall of 2007, when PBS ran the Jewish Americans series. Thus the following imaginary conversation between the administration-in-waiting (AIW) and us:

AIW: "But, but . . . how did you watch the DNC?!"
Ragamuffin House: "We didn't. We listened to selected speeches from both conventions on the local talk-radio. Our favorite was Sarah Palin. She didn't sound much like a politician. She was actually funny."
AIW: "Talk radio! We know who you are! You must be one of those bitter people, clinging to your god and guns!"
Ragamuffin House: "Nope. Not bitter. And that's G-d with a capital 'G', smart aleck! Hmm. We are card-carrying members of the NRA. We just bought more guns and ammo in case Obama Messiah raises the taxx (it's always a four-letter word) on them. But didn't you note that we watched PBS for six whole Wednesday evenings in 2007? We can't be conservatives. We're just libertarians."
AIW: "But how will we invade your home with propaganda for immoral government programs, ads for trans-fats that we want you to crave before we make eating them illegal, and political double-talk about how we can spend our way into recovery?"
Ragamuffin House: "I guess you'll have to deploy the black helicopters. We'll be waiting, our tin-foil hats firmly on our heads. We'd love to show you that beautiful Winchester 30-30 we just bought. Just look for the 'Sedillo Welcomes the Ministry of Truth' sign on the Sedillo Hill Road bridge over I-40. You can't miss it. That's the bridge that had the 'Wanted: Osama Bin Laden, Dead or Alive' sign back in the fall of '01. The American flags are still there. Wah-hoo!"

But seriously, we do not use our TV for watching television. We use it to watch DVD's that we select. I wonder how many of the other 6.8 percent of households in the US (and the slightly larger percentage in the west) who have not got the "gizmo" have the same reason that we do?

We do not need Uncle Sam to help us buy the gizmo. We can choose our own technology, thank you very much. We are not lazy. We are not couch potatoes. And you don't have to send in the Marines. We can choose to buy the previous season of 24 on DVD.
And if we really want to see Hillary's $3,000 pant-suits, there's always You Tube.

We're just not huge fans of the TV wasteland.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Joel Stein Throws Numbers Around

I read several blogs written by mothers of children who have food allergies.
The food allergies are incidental to the purpose of their blogs for all of them.
Nevertheless, I have seen each one need to defend their concerns for their allergic children several times. Most recently, my blog-friend Rational Jenn wrote about the juxtaposition of a (thankfully) false alarm with her son, and a mocking diatribe by LA Times columnist Joel Stein suggesting that allergies to nuts are a figment of the Yuppie-Parent-Who-Wants-Attention's imagination. (You can read Rational Jenn's blog entry I'm Not An Attention-Seeking Psycho by clicking the linked title).

I followed the link Jenn provided to the Joel Stein piece, entitled Nut Allergies--A Yuppie Invention, and I read the column and the comments. According to some of the comments, the Stein column is supposed be witty and humorous. I failed to see either characteristic, but then I believe that humor and wit require more skill than was demonstrated in the writing I found. In fact, the Stein piece did a lot to help me understand why newspapers around the country are crying for a government bail-out. Stein cannot write well enough to clearly explain the facts he was throwing around, and the so-called humor was on the level of the TV sit-com that combines a continuous stream of put-downs and foul language with a laugh track and calls it funny. (This is why I have helped the Feds and the press go into crisis mode because I have not yet modified my TV for HD reception . . . but that's another blog entry).

Since I fail to even begin to see what is funny about Stein's column, I will instead put on my scientist hat and discuss his uncritical and uncomprehending way of throwing scientific language and statistics at the reader. Being an Educational Anarchist, I also discussed how to read and critique this kind of nonsense with my 15 year-old budding scientist, because even really bad writing can be an educational experience. So here we go . . .

NOTE: I will use quite a few biological terms below that are second-nature to me. Since they might not be for you, I will provide definitions at the bottom of the post.

Stein says: "genes don't mutate fast enough to have caused an 18% increase in childhood food allergies between 1997 and 2007 . . ."

There are two problems with this statement.

First, Stein is attributing an increase in childhood food allergies to mutations only, and he is thereby assuming that all food allergies are caused by one gene. In so doing, he is also applying the unstated assumption that no food allergies are polygenic (in which the phenotype expressed is created by a number of genes) or that there are epigenetic factors (the phenotype is created by gene-by-environment interactions). He is also assuming that all food allergy traits found in the population are attributable to genes alone (the heritability is 1), meaning that there is no environmental influence on the gene expression whatsoever. Given what we know about allergic reactions, and the number of proteins involved, as well as the variety of food allergies diagnosed each year, he is almost certainly wrong about every one of these assumptions. Finally, the statement indicates that Stein also assumes that there is no difference in gene frequencies among different populations, an assumption he states again, as we shall see. This statement, as Stein makes it indicates that Stein is ignorant of genetics and of evolutionary theory.

Secondly, Stein not only betrays his ignorance of genetics and evolution here, but he also demonstrates that he does not think critically about the numbers he throws around. Statistics do represent something real, and in bandying them about, it makes sense to think about what they mean. Let's look at the numbers he uses and how he uses them. I will repeat the statement he made to refresh our memories:
". . .genes don't mutate fast enough to have caused an 18% increase in childhood food allergies . . ."

First off, Stein does not provide the mutation rate for the genes in question. This may be because he does not know what genes are mutating, and if there is more than one gene that is mutating, and if so, how many genes he is talking about, and which genes are responsible for each food allergy, and if each gene is solely responsible for that particular food allergy (see above). But even if we give him all of this, his statement implies that an 18% increase in 10 years is a large number. However, to understand whether or not this is true, Stein should have asked himself this simple question: "What is the original number that has been increased by 18% ?" If the number of childhood food allergies is a small to begin with, and if we multiple that number by 18/100 (18%), we would get a very small number that represents the increase.

For example, although I do not know the number of total food allergies in the population, I do know that the number of peanut allergies diagnosed is about 1% of the population in the United States. That's a very small number. 18% of 1% (here you are multiplying two fractions) is smaller still. It is 0.018. This means that the actual increase is 0.118 per 100 individuals. That number is quite small, and since you can expect variance in the number of peanut allergies diagnosed from year to year, such an increase is not even statistically significant.

The statement quoted above also discusses all food allergies and the title of the article refers to nut allergies alone, but in the text Stein switches between these two and allergies to peanuts as if these three terms were interchangable. This verbal sleight of hand reduces the clarity of the writing further, and obfuscates the real meaning of the numbers Stein throws on the page.

Although much of the article is, in Stein's own words, "saying something outrageous to get attention," he does throw another sentence at the page that shows his abyssmal ignorance of population genetics:

"A study of Jews of similar demographics and genetics in Britain and Israel found that British kids were 10 times more likely to have peanut allergies than Israelis."

First, the clarity of the writing suffers in that the reader must assume that he means "British Jews" rather than the more general "British kids." But more importantly, although he states that these two populations have "similar genetics" (by which he likely means that both are Ashkenazi), they are still separate breeding populations. This means that the founding gene pool of each was not identical, and that changes in the gene pool since the divergence between them have taken different trajectories due to natural selection, migration into and out of the gene pool, mutation, and genetic drift. The two populations are therefore diverging genetically with each generation. Joel Stein clearly does not have even an introductory-level understanding of genetics, population genetics and evolution.

And of course, my arguments above are made assuming that the phenotypes for food allergies are the result of genes alone. It is much more certain that they are not, which means that many other factors can account for changes in the frequency of the phenotype in question. Genetic expression in the somatic cell can be influenced by a whole host of environmental conditions that themselves change at the cell level, the organismal level and the population level. And on top of that, the frequency of diagnosis can change dramatically due to better analysis of symptoms, more efficient testing, and more widespread public understanding of a condition. With respect to this last, it is very likely that disparities in access to diagnosis (health insurance coverage, regular physician visits) could account for the class differences seen in the numbers of diagnosed food allergies.

Overall, Stein's column shows his ignorance of science, his woeful innumeracy, and his inability to critically think about what his sources are telling him. He also demonstrates a remarkably mean ill-will towards upper-middle class parents. It could be spite or envy, but whatever it is, the meanness obscures the feeble attempts at humor.

I am glad my local, independent newspaper, The Albuquerque Journal, buys syndicated columnists across the political spectrum that reflect much higher writing standards and much more sophisticated senses of humor. I would certainly not pay to read Stein's drivel.


genotype--the actual genes the individual carries on their DNA

phenotype--how those genes are expressed, or more commonly, what traits the individual displays due to the combination of genes inherited

gene expression--the transcription and translation of the genetic code in the cell, which results in the making of proteins; gene expression is influenced by environmental factors and ultimately results in the phenotype

polygenic--a trait influenced by more than one gene

epigenetics--the combination of genetic and environmental influences on the expression of genes

heritability--the proportion of phenotype in a population that is due to genetics. A heritability of 0 would mean that the trait is question is entirely environmentally determined, and a heritability of 1 means that the trait is entirely determined by genes. Most traits of interest in a population are somewhere in between these two extremes.

allele--an alternative form of a gene that is located at a specific position on a specific chromosome

gene frequency (a.k.a. allelic frequency)--the number of alternative forms of the same gene in a population. If the allelic frequency of a gene is changing in a population, we can say that the population is evolving with respect to that trait.

mutation--a change in a gene (alleles are the result of mutation)

genetic flow--the movement of genes into and out of a breeding population (this occurs by migration of individuals into and out of the population)

genetic drift--the accumulation of random genetic changes that change the gene pool of a population

natural selection--the process whereby heritable traits become more or less common in a population due to their influence on survival and reproduction (some traits may be undergoing selection in an environment whereas others are not); also natural selection acts on the traits--that is the phenotype NOTE: the level of at which natural selection occurs is the population, individuals do not evolve

biological evolution--a change in gene frequencies in a population over time

divergence (divergent evolution)--when one gene pool becomes two due to some physical separation, the combination of natural selection due to different environmental conditions and gene flow, genetic drift, and mutation, changes the gene frequencies in each population independent of the other

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Aspie Ups and Downs

Going "back to school" after the winter break is much more abrupt and complicated now that the Boychick is actually going to school. With Homeschooling, the transition was suble and gradual in feel, whereas the transition to the new EMHS semester was accompanied by a countdown to when we return to reality--on a certain day at a certain hour.

The entire end of last semester and the begining of this one was also affected by some academic and social concerns that have added to the stress for both of us. One change was made in November when, in consultation with the Boychick's doctor, we decided to withdraw one his medications. This medication, given at sub-clinical doses, has a subtle but powerful effect on the quality of social interactions and also tends to blunt the cognitive, social and emotional apraxia (that sense of getting stuck at a decision point) that is common to people with AS. The medication in question regulates the neurotrasmitter Dopamine, which in the frontal lobes controls the flow of information from other parts of the brain. Thus Dopamine dysregulation in the pre-frontal cortex causes problems with memory, attention, and problem solving.

What we had noticed starting a few weeks after the medication was completely withdrawn (there was a process of gradual withdrawal), was that the Boychick was beginning to withdraw from social interactions more often, experience more episodes in which he would get stuck at a decision point, and shut down. When these experiences occured, however, he would "throw attitude around" (as his special education coordinatory so tellingly put it), as a substitute for action. During his winter break, the social pressure of needing to perform for peers was reduced, but we still saw these things happening.

The first day back began on a positive note, as Boychick reported it. He was excited about his guitar class, and on the way to Taekowndo, we stopped to get strings and a pick, and again to get notebooks. But as the week progressed, the notebooks in their bag stayed in the car, and on our drives to and from school, Nate listened to music on his I-POD. On Wednesday, he said that he hated his special ed math class. I told him that he needed to continue working on math even though it is hard for him (due to short-term memory issues), but that by doing it with a tutor, there is the opportunity to take frequent breaks when he gets cognitively tired.

On Thursday when I picked the Boychick up to go to Taekwondo he was very quiet. He seemed to have a very good Taekwondo session, and we stopped at the store on the way home. But when we got home, he put his ear-foams in and didn't respond to us at all. It turns out he and the vivacious L., she of the Winter Ball date had an argument. So I commiserated about the ups and downs of a woman's mood, and thought he'd be better after a good night's sleep.

Friday morning began in a rush, and the Boychick was once again not talking to us. But the Engineering Geek and I were rushing to get us all out the door so that we could attend Coffee with the Principal while the Boychick attended his first hour class. We spent about an hour discussing the re-chartering process for the school, and how the charter would be handled. It was interesting and informative, and I then had plans for the rest of the morning at home.

We arrived home, and I had barely poured my cup of tea when the phone rang. It was the Boychick's special education coordinator. He was having a bad day, she told me. He was incommunicative and throwing attitude around when he and Mrs. H., the EA, were trying to help him. As we talked, I checked his meds box, and discovered that he had not taken them. I told her so. We went on to talk about the problems he had been having that week. It turns out that there were several:

  • He had not taken the notebooks we had purchased into school. They were trying to help him get organized and off the a good start for the new classes, but he had no notebooks.
  • He was using his ear-foams all of the time, and was missing important instructional information. Since it is hard enough for him to process auditory information, missing parts meant he had no comprehension of what was happening
  • He had a library fine for an overdue book from October. Since he had not paid it, his account (including his computer account) was suspended and he could not use school-net for his academics. The librarian had spoken to him numerous times, but he had not told me about it, nor had he asked his teachers for help dealing with it.
  • In the despised math class, he was refusing to try the work, and when the special education teacher or the EA tried to engage him, he would shut down or give a display of attitude. The other kids were getting tired of it and trying to let him know.

In short, he was using a new strategy to deal with his apraxia. When he could not solve a problem or make a decision, instead of asking for help or shutting down, he was covering by putting on either the devil-may-care or class clown attitude. We had seen some of this during the last few weeks of school in December, but now the behaviors were coming out in spades.

As we talked, I developed a few hypotheses about what was going on. First, freshman boys tend to come to their first semester of high school using a bit of the tough-guy act to cover for their sense of nerves and inexperience. But by the middle of the year, most of them have discarded that attitude and have gained an understanding about how useful adult help is. But the Boychick, as is often the case, was perseverating in the behavior long after the others had figured out that there were more useful ways to navigate the high school experience.

Secondly, for the Boychick, the glass is not only half-full (the Aspie tendency toward a negative world view) but cracked and dingy as well. Things clearly weren't working for him socially, so he decided that everybody thought he was uncool. So once again, instead of asking for help, he covered with the teen-angst attitude. This exacerbated the social problem, but since he does not read others very well, he was not aware of it.

Finally, by Friday, the Boychick was completely overwhelmed. He could not access the computer. He kept forgetting to take money to pay his fines. He had no notebooks to collect his papers in, and L. wasn't speaking to him. When his Humanities teacher asked him to take out his ear-foams, he did not respond at all. The teacher, thinking he was being oppositional, got angry with him. Thus the phone call.

In discussing the situation with his special education coordinator, I determined that this was a situation in which I needed to take some steps to take the pressure off. So I called the school librarian and determined how much money he owed. I gathered his meds box and the notebooks and drove over to the school, expecting to find a shut-down and very unhappy Boychick.

When the Boychick came from his class to the office, he came bouncing in. I asked him if he was having a bad day. No. He was great, he told me. I pointed out that he had not taken his meds that day and gave them to him. Good. Then I gave him the notebooks and the advance of a few hours on his allowance (he usually gets it on Friday after school). The Engineering Geek and I shrugged at each other and then went to post office. Great? Clearly the Boychick has no clue about how he affects others.

Sure enough, after completing our errands, I returned to the school to bring the Boychick home for Shabbat. The beginning of the conversation was interesting:

Boychick: "You know, Mom, I didn't have my meds and I was completely focused!"

Me: "That's not what your teachers and peers thought, Sweetie. Mrs. R. called me and told me that you were pretty unfocused and having a bad day."

Boychick: "Hmmm. Well maybe I was but then L. made up with me at lunch. So now I am awesome."

That's my Boychick. Everything is black and white. When it's good it's very, very good, and when it's bad, it's aweful. To make a long story short, on the ride home we talked about his apraxia, what it means, why it happens to him, and how it affected every one of the problems he had been having that week. We also talked a lot about the social-language problems that come with AS. We then began to consider how best to deal with these problems. We developed a picture about how to act in class and how to get the best out of the people that are there to help him learn. We talked about the struggle with math,and I explained that the Engineering Geek and I understand that the Boychick does indeed know how to do the operations, if he sees the problem rather than hearing it. We talked about a great many things.

When we were talking about the differences in how an Aspie brain works, and why the Boychick might need to resume taking the medication we had just discontinued, he turned to me and said: "You know, this is the digital age. I wish that instead of needing to tweak my meds, we could just have Intel make a tiny chip and put it in my brain so that it would work like everybody else's."

To myself, I said: That may be coming sooner than you think, kid. But to the Boychick I said:

"You know, those of us whose brains work differently will really have to think about whether that would be a good thing. Although our brain differences create many challenges, they also provide us with great gifts. People like Albert Einstein, the great pianist Glenn Gould, and the inventor Thomas Edison all had Aspie-like characteristics. Our unique ways of seeing the world make us capable of doing great things. Should we want to be just like everybody else.?"

Boychick: "I don't know for sure. But when I'm left alone, I do like the way I think, sometimes. And I think Bill Gates is an Aspie. I think about that when I'm using the computer. And he's a billionaire."

Bill Gates? I think the Boychick may be right. Maybe someday I will be another kind of MOB--Mother of the Billionaire. Sweet!

And if he's a bit like Einstein, that would be great. But I am every grateful that I have never been called to school because my kid threw a chair at his violin teacher. Like Albert did.

I am suddenly feeling sorry for poor Mama Einstein.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Unknowing Propagandists for Iran

Yesterday, I opened my local newspaper to the weekly Letters to the Editor, and was unsurprised to count two letters (one by my rabbi) supporting Israel's Operation Cast Lead, and seven or eight letters accusing Israel of violations of international law and war crimes or worse.

We know where we stand. Whenever Israel responds to a violation of her borders, the anti-Israel propaganda machine gets going, and we can expect Israel (and by proxy, Jews) to be called all of the old names and some new ones. I am not going to reiterate the tired and the new epithets here. As Jonah Goldberg says in today's column (I read it in my paper but you can click the link to find it at the NRO), you can simply go to You Tube or do a web search to find them.

We know where we stand, but I wonder if those who write letters to the editor in support of Hamas really know who they are supporting? One letter said:

" . . . Israel's response is excessive and disproportionate to the handful of homemade bombs fallen randomly upon the Israeli-Occupied territories of Palestine . . ."

Let's unpack this in view of the facts. A handful? There have been more than 8,000 missiles lobbed into Israel over the past eight years. Homemade? The terrorist organizations Hamas and Hizbollah receive weapons, funding, and ideological support from Iran. The weapons are smuggled across the border into Gaza by Hamas for the purpose of attacks upon Israeli sovereign territory. Fallen randomly? Here the writer would have us believe that these weapons simply fall from the sky. They have been targeted to schools, daycare centers and other areas where civilians gather in southern Israel. Hamas intentionally targets civilians. So far, it has been a very good thing for Israelis that Hamas has very bad aim. Upon Israeli-occupied territory? These rockets have been fired into Israeli sovereign territory. Israeli citizens in border towns like S'derot have 15 seconds from the time of launch to seek shelter.

Several of the letters stated that Israel had not ended "occupation" of the Gaza because it controls the borders. Occupation? Actually, the Gaza strip, which was partitioned to Palestine by the UN in 1947 was occupied by Egypt following Israel's War for Independence in 1948, just as the West Bank was occupied by Jordan, which was also supposed to be part of the Palestinian state. Neither of these Islamic states established the UN- mandated Palestinian state in these places. In 1967, Israel was threatened by numerous surrounding states with a war of conquest. In June of that year, Israel pre-empted that attack and in six days, took the Sinai, Golan, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza. These lands were conquered by Israel in response to threats (aired publically from many places including Radio Damascus) to "drive the Jews into the Sea." It took some time, but Israel withdrew from the Gaza in 2005. Israel did what Egypt and Jordan did not, ceding both the Gaza and the West bank to the Palestinian state. The West Bank is controlled by the PA/Fatah, but the Gaza is ruled by Hamas, following a coup in which Hamas killed and tortured Palestinians who supported the PA. Hamas has since turned the Gaza into an armed terrorist operation, to the detriment of any state building or support of the residents there.

Israel does control the borders between Gaza and Israeli territory, just as any country controls its own borders. And Israel has shut the borders using sanctions in an attempt to stop the flow of arms into the Gaza; arms that are then used to attack Israel. Egypt does the same with its border with the Gaza. Apparently, they don't want Hamas crossing into Egypt any more than the Israelis want Hamas in Israel.

None of these letter writers appear to have a grasp on even the recent history of the area. One claimed that this war has been ongoing for 4,000 years. That is also untrue. The Palestinians of today are not the Canaanites of the Bible. The movement of peoples across the Middle East (and across the face of the earth for that matter) has been ongoing for a very long time. It is possible to make the case that Islam's war against Jews has been ongoing since Mohammed's flight to Medina, where Arabian Jews were first massacred for not submitting to the messenger of Allah, but that was also before the Palestinian's time.

In any case, who are these people really supporting? Whether they know it or not, they are supporting Achmadinejad and Iran. It is Iran that tells Hamas and Hizbollah what to do, and it is Iran that supports these Islamist terrorists groups morally and materially. In the summer of 2006, Hamas raided Israeli territory, killing Israeli soldiers and taking two hostages. As Israel responded, Hizbollah then began incursions across Israel's northern border, starting what Israelis call the second war with Lebanon. Iran was in the background, orchestrating it all.

The president of Iran, Achmadinejad, has publicly called for the destruction of Israel, and has said many times that he will "wipe Israel off the map." (In the West's current bout of Chamberlain-style appeasement, no one wants to admit that Iran might actually do it). In the past few weeks, the French President Sarkozy has received a report that Iran will pass the nuclear threshhold this year, and will be a full-fledged nuclear power by 2011. The report, based entirely on open-sourced material that Iran freely verifies, also states that this year is likely the last in which the world has the opportunity to stop Iran from getting the bomb and ICBMs to launch it. There are some commentators who believe that Iran's decision not to back Hamas with Hizbollah this time may be a diversion. Whether or not this turns out to be true, the stated purpose and only goal of Hamas is to destroy Israel, and to kill not only "the Zionist Entity", but Jews everywhere within their reach.

And Jews are just the appetizers. The stated goal of the Islamist Jihad is to make every human being on the face of the earth submit to Sharia law as Dhimmis or to become Muslim. Israel is seen by the Jihadists as "the little Satan." It is the United States that is "the Great Satan."

And the Palestinians? They are pawns in the current ambitions of Iran.
Hamas and Hizbollah are both content to use them as human shields.

FYI: A short video about Operation Cast Lead from IDFdesk at You Tube.