Monday, January 30, 2006


This isn't a dryer post; it's about history.

As Hamas negotiates its new position in Palestine, and the rest of the world decides whether or not to negotiate with them, I can't help but marvel that it was Jimmy Carter who led the team of 950 international election observers.

The same Jimmy Carter who secretly tried to bring Hamas to the negotiation table ten years ago.

The man who negotiated peace accords between Egypt and Israel at Camp David, paving the way for Israel withdrawal from occupied territory. Now the Gaza Strip is part of Palestine, represented in a democratic election by Hamas.

I wonder how the world looks through the eyes of the 81-year-old Carter. To have that kind of perspective and firsthand experience with the region--to have lived through the deaths of Arafat, Rabin--does that make the picture any more clear?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

shutoff valve

They say this a good thing to have before installing a gas dryer. Hmmmm. Wish us luck.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

the beginning

Furniture has traveled across highways, scarred the sides of stairwells, as of friends from work carried heavy loads into the winds of the California foothills. The boxes are brought in and their contents recklessly opened and dug through, shoes deposited in the back hall, a stocking'd foot descent made upon the great kitchen, stocked with donuts, bagels, and Gatorade. Having lifted and unpacked what we might, we retreat to a comfortable room on the second floor and come to rest, perhaps with a good book.

I will sleep well tonight.

Happy Year of the Dog!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

remote garage door opener

... is the pinnacle of adulthood, as far I'm concerned.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

Haven't seen the movie and don't have immediate plans to see it, but I'm amused to no end that an audience member in Kansas asked Bush what he thought of it. When our President looked utterly uncomfortable and awkward, the questioner said, "It's a great movie. I think you'll really like it." Story from NPR.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

save the words

Well, it's actually "sponsor" the words. The friendly Etta & Molly G. need your help. The Internet's best free etymology dictionary is short of funds to continue the site. If you want to help, go here.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


It's moving day. Tomorrow we get a refrigerator, so we'll probably be living in the new place, snuggled up in sleeping bags starting then. For now just lots of boxes, phone calls for changing addresses, and many trips to the local hardware store.

The house is beautiful and larger than three people could ever need. I swear, the kitchen has an echo. Number four will make things a little cozier, but we'll still be swimming in all the space.

Friday, January 20, 2006


My grandmother celebrated her birthday by going to the DMV and renewing her license. (Don't worry, she doesn't drive at night, on the highway, or basically anywhere other than the grocery store.) She went out to coffee with some friends, stopped by at her neighbor's house where another group had baked her a cake, and they played cards into the evening. At 9:00 she gave me a call to say hello and check on her youngest great-grandbaby-to-be. I hope my life is this good when I turn 79. Well, except the DMV part, I could skip that.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


To celebrate MLK day, our school of nearly 2,000 assembled outside. We're a motley crew, a little rowdy, but surprisingly respectful during an hour and a half of sitting in the chilly air.

We applauded the student cadet corps, who placed 2nd in our local competition (despite the fact that they're not very good at keeping in step, they take their jobs very seriously). We applauded the two dozen community members who came to show their support (including the local chief of police and the first black officer on the force who was a very young man). We cheered for the NFL players (yes, plural) who gave speeches about "winning the game of life." One guy (I'm really wishing I took notes on their names) crumpled up a $20 bill and stomped on it to make a point that you will always have value no matter what. And the keynote speaker, a current Oakland Raider and one of four brothers playing in the NFL (the largest record, we're told) talked about how he was raised by parents who dropped out of school. They decided that as a family they would break that cycle. Of 10 brothers (and 2 sisters), 7 boys went to college on football scholarships. He said, "If my momma were here, she'd tell you that what she is most proud of is not that 4 of us play in the NFL or 7 of us went to college. It's that she raised 10 gentlemen. None of us ever went to prison, we all carried ourselves with respect and treated others with dignity."

Actually he said "gentlemens," which kind of annoyed me as an English teacher, but made the point more strong to the students that each and every one of his brothers is a success.

Last, but not least, 17 boys in the after-school "academic all-star" flag football team crowded onto the stage, said their names into the microphone and got a new jersey and certificate applauding their work as athletes and academic successes. One student is mine currently--I'm thanking god he got his act together this afternoon just as I was a whisper away from sending him home on suspension today. Another two were formerly mine, they gave me hell in the classroom and are the very same ones who I know will always say hi with genuine interest when they see me. The last is the younger brother of my chronically truant student. I know that he was held back a grade, and his mom is deathly afraid of losing all three of them to gangs. I shook his hand and went home happy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

worthy of Wonka

I remember when there was only one type of Skittles. Before there were blue M&Ms. When toothpaste only came in one color.

Of all the radical ideas in flavored advertising, "extreme" and "herbal" should never be used together. I'm a sucker, so I tried the promotional samples of Crest's bizarre line of whitening expressions. Citrus toothpaste is far more difficult to think about than to taste.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

and this is how I spend my time*

...arguing about philosophy on a stranger's blog. I don't know which is sillier--falling into this trap or thinking that what I wrote is actually something worth reposting. ;)

1) The "goal" of philosophy is not singular, is not agreed upon, nor is it "discovering the absolutely fundamental reason everything is a mirage."

2) Philosophy is as necessary as art.
"Purely optional" you say. An important part of culture, nonetheless. Whether you are a critic, an artist, a museum patron, or a person walking by a publicly-funded sculpture, art and philosophy have been ingrained in our lives long before Aristotle wrote his Poetics. It is a luxury, perhaps, and one that should be valued.

3) Philosophy is as necessary as mathematics.
"A method of rational thinking ... people are born with," you say. And yet, not all of us would come up with the Pythagorean theorem on our own. Maybe you've stumbled across your own cogito ergo sum, but I've yet to find any who has discovered Godel's incompleteness theorems unaided. Who cares? Anyone who uses a computer should care.

4) Philosophy is as necessary as history.
"Countless many have lived full and satisfying lives without being exposed [to it]," you say. One could lead a relatively peaceful and satisfying life without ever knowing about the Holocaust, Gandhi, or the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. I'd like to think the world would be a better place if more people also knew about John Rawls, Immanuel Kant, and Confucius.

5) Is it necessary? Yes.
Should it be a mandatory part of a liberal arts curriculum for all students that includes Latin and Shakespeare? Not for everyone, perhaps. But don't you dare take Shakespeare out of school libraries or take philosophy classes out of colleges. Not everyone grows up to be a physicist, but that doesn't render quantum mechanics any less useful. Philosophy contributes to fields as wide as international relations, business ethics, medicine (bioethics), design, computer science, law, et al. Philosophy isn't just getting a kick by debating theology late at night with some friends over beers, it's a crucial part of our lives, whether we know it or not.

*This post has been post-dated to Tuesday because I'm anal and like to have one post per day. I'm also pretty sure that all this procrastinating is going to catch up with me.

Monday, January 16, 2006

forever King

April 16, 1963


While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may won ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there fire two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the Brat to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all"

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distort the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I-it" relationship for an "I-thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. Paul Tillich said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression 'of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to ace the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,


Sunday, January 15, 2006

spaghetti westerns

I've been watching the Denver Broncos and Clint Eastwood while grading papers. Good fun.

Best uniform: The poncho
Best defensive maneuver: Broncos stealing the ball and running 99 yards
Best offensive maneuver: The stare-down squint of the nameless man

Saturday, January 14, 2006

good timing

Woke up this morning to find something new on our back porch. We live on the second floor.

Thursday our water was cut off from 9 a.m. to "5 p.m." (meaning of course 7:30 p.m.).

Did I mention that I'm glad to be moving?

Even if that means we have to do our own caulking and plumbing, at least we won't wake up to find that a stranger has plastered our windows and doors in CAUTION tape.

Friday, January 13, 2006

closing time

Closing time - time for you to go out, go out into the world.
Closing time - turn the lights up over every boy and every girl.
Closing time - one last call for alcohol, so finish your whiskey or beer.
Closing time - you don't have to go home but you can't stay here.

I know who I want to take me home ...

Closing time - time for you to go back to the places you will be from.
Closing time - this room won't be open 'til your brothers or you sisters come.
So gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits - I hope you have found a friend.
Closing time - every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.

I know who I want to take me home.
Take me home...

A shame this is such a dumb song. Today we close on our first home.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

alternatives to ID

No, I'm not going to spout my own creation story. This is just a humble suggestion for some short, elective classes that would be far more interesting and legal than the "Philosophy of Design" class (see below).

  • Philosophy of Science
  • Where did the Ether Go? A History of Science
  • The Design of Everyday Things
  • Historical Roots of the Establishment Clause
  • Religion, Education, and the Law
  • Introduction to Anthropology
  • Creation Myths

    Feel free to suggest your own.

  • Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    love of wisdom?

    An LA Times article (requires registration if you want to read it) tells the latest battle against Intelligent Design in a California school.

    A rural town is doing its best to bypass the Pennsylvania court decision by naming an ID course "Philosophy of Design". According to the course description, "the class will take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological and biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid. The class will discuss intelligent design as an alternative response to evolution. Physical and chemical evidence will be presented suggesting the earth is thousands of years old, not billions."

    If it were truly a philosophy of science class, that might actually be pretty cool. Unfortunately it's not, as shown by the biased description and the last sentence that implies the bulk of the class will be explaining ID "theory".

    The part that really gets me, though, is the qualifications (or lack thereof) of the teacher: Sharon Lemburg is a special education teacher with a bachelor of arts in physical education and social science, according to the lawsuit. "[She] has no training or certification in the teaching of science, religion or philosophy," and is "the wife of the minister for the local Assembly of God Church, a Christian fundamentalist church, and a proponent of a creationist world view."

    So much for a philosophy class; this is blatant theology.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006


    My favorite part of the confirmation proceedings so far--and I admit, I'm only listening in commuter snippets at the beginning and the end of the ten-hour day--was when Senator Leahy slipped and called him "Scalito," not once but twice. It just makes me happy to know that made it into the congressional record.


    My New Year's resolution this year is to play more videogames. I need a good mindless activity that involves virtual killing to unwind from work.

    The Ratchet and Clank series is very destructively satisfying (with cool weapons to boot). I really want to like Prince of Persia, but I keep getting stuck when I can't jump, twist, and bend at just the right angle to get past this trap or those bad guys. I OD'd on Final Fantasy when I was a stay-at-home mom last year.

    My favorite videogames will always be the online RPGs. I cancelled my too expensive and too little used subscription of the highly addictive World of Warcraft. I think this year I'll be playing a lot of the handmade Neverwinter Nights modules in small piecemeal games with people around the world.

    Sunday, January 08, 2006

    man vs. mouse

    Speaking of the underdog, er, mouse . . .

    FORT SUMNER, New Mexico (AP) -- A mouse got its revenge against a homeowner who tried to dispose of it in a pile of burning leaves. The blazing creature ran back to the man's house and set it on fire.

    Saturday, January 07, 2006


    Is rooting for the underdog a cross-cultural phenomenon?

    Friday, January 06, 2006

    someone should slap you

    Parent meeting today with the family of the boy who told me this. Suspended for three days. Harsh, but if I even remotely thought he was a threat, it would be grounds for expulsion. He was just mad, saying things under his breath he wished I hadn't heard. Sometimes, though, you gotta cross that line and it opens everyone's eyes to finding out just what is going on in this kid's world. It's like sending up a flare.

    Another such meeting yesterday (for an eighth grade girl who doesn't know what 2x6 is) turned out fantastically. The mother had been trying for years to get her daughter tested for a learning disability and met resistance, hostility, and plain silence from the administration. She came in for a meeting in September where two teachers didn't even show up; the psychologist never returned her phone calls; and when she found out the school had lost her daughter's cumulative record, she was livid (rightly so). With a little persuasion, she came in for another meeting with me, the VP, and the psychologist. I showed her the research-documented math interventions we're using, showed her samples of student work, and persuaded the psychologist to begin moving on the testing. In the middle of it the mother turns to me and says: "I know you care about my daughter. You call me, you understand her, you work hard to teach her. Are they going to keep you?" It made my day.

    "At-risk" kids are so much fun to teach. They break your hearts, but every one of them is worth it ten times over.

    Thursday, January 05, 2006

    go team!

    Hey! I won something.

    This photo of Bush the cheerleader was taken during his college days at Yale. My caption (under the pseudonym "kiddo"): Hello? Is this thing on?

    I feel a little guilty that my caption was a low blow. I'm told Bush is actually quite intelligent--just inarticulate, incompetent and, well, an idiot.

    snitch in the endzone

    Quote from the Rose Bowl announcers: "It's a game of quidditch! He's got the snitch in the endzone. No question."

    God, I love pop culture.

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006

    smart guys

    Two new links: Guy Wonders and Gypsy Scholar. Good stories about saints and mind-altering substances. You get to figure out which is which.

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006


    Russia cut off the natural gas supply to Ukraine. Ukraine hints it can make it difficult for Russia's supplies headed over to Europe. Now the EU is involved, though staying "neutral" on the situation.

    Yushchenko doesn't have an easy job. First the contested orange revolution, the whole dioxin poisoning, and now Russia is doing their best to freeze everyone to death--oh yeah, in the name of profit.

    In the midst of this all, I learned that "the Ukraine" is actually pretty offensive to Ukrainians. Under Soviet control, saying "the Ukraine" was like saying "the west" in the U.S. circa 1847. By declaring independence, Ukraine said we are our own sovereign territory, (call it Westville, if you want to really put a strain on the analogy)*. So anyone saying "the Ukraine" is tacitly acknowledging it as still a part of Russia. Understandably, Ukrainians and Russians aren't getting along very well these days.

    *Can you tell I don't speak Russian?

    Monday, January 02, 2006


    There's something schlocky about tags, but maybe that's the appeal?

    Four jobs you’ve had in your life: carwash kid, bookstore cashier, copyeditor, sous chef (for my better half)

    Four movies you could watch over and over: Smoke Signals, Ghost Dog, No Man's Land, Curse of the Jade Scorpion

    Four places you’ve lived: Columbia, Mo; Minneapolis, Mn; New Brighton, Mn; Redlands, Ca

    Four TV shows you love to watch: Like is a better word than love--CSI, Simpsons, Postcards from Buster. Only three, I know.

    Four places you’ve been on vacation: Bay of Fundy, Monterey, Monemvasia, Branson

    Four websites you visit daily: Gmail, LA Times, CA state education standards, USGS (everytime our neighbor slams a door)

    Four of your comfort foods: strawberry & gorgonzola salad on romaine, making my grandma's onion bread (the kneading, the rolling, the braiding), brats with fried onions and my husband's saurkraut, pad thai

    Four places you’d rather be: my new-home-to-be, rowing on the Mississippi under the railroad bridge just past 94, Stell's, in a bigger classroom

    Four albums you can’t live without: This is my biggest character flaw--I'm not a music person. I own only a handful of CDs. Literally, you can hold them all in one hand.

    Four books that changed your life: Because books outrank music, places, and food in my life, I added this one. A Wrinkle in Time (the first novel I ever read), Gravity's Rainbow (the book that introduced me to the most amazing people), Mates (I took every logic class that was offered in college), and The Baron in the Trees (simply a good book).

    Sunday, January 01, 2006

    rain, rain

    When I was a kid, we had some wicked thunderstorms in mid-Missouri. I remember the rain leaking through our roof and the sounds (I imagined) of a screened-in porch being split apart by its timbers and washed away. Part of the excitement was that we were surrounded by an old woods, and trees fell or were struck by lightning on a regular basis.

    I was hoping for one of those heart-thumping, raging storms this morning when I woke up. Planning to watch the rain through our window and sip hot tea. Nothing like a downpour to wash in the new year. Instead, it was surprisingly clear. Kind of disappointing, really.