Monthly Archives: April 2009

Faith Fighter

Mohammad is one bad mofo. Invisibility is a hard power to fight against. I want to play this game some more, but I don’t want to screw up my laptop keyboard. I’ll have to remember this for later.

Category: Church, Theater

A little while back Phi pointed to a fellow pointing to two studies suggesting that attractive people make better violinists. Assortive mating is mentioned as the culprit. Assortive mating, of course, is the notion that more desirable people reproduce with more desirable people and less with less. This creates a convergence of beauty and talent. I wouldn’t be surprised if that did play a significant role in the correlation between violin-playing ability and attractiveness, but I have another idea as to what might be the cause.

It seems to me that becoming an accomplished violin player requires a great deal of discipline and a lot of focus. It’s not something that I would expect slobs to become very good at. While I know that a degree of natural talent is required, I don’t think that violining is more meritocratic than is, for example, singing. People are born with better and worse singing voices whether they get any formal training or not. Two people that have never received any sort of training will have vastly different abilities by the time they’re 20. Two people never trained on the violin will have the same ability.

So I expect that the discipline required to become a great violinist would carry over into diet and other things. I would also expect that the same parents that are more demanding of their children in regards to the violin would be more likely to police diet as well. So I would think that those, along perhaps with assortive mating, would be factors.

The fact that the same is true with singers throws me off, though. First, because much of my rationale with violins is not true of song. The second is because it runs contrary to stereotypes that seem to hold up in my personal life.

I remember a while back Clint met someone online and talked to them on the phone. He commented that she had a very attractive voice. This was, actually, a point of concern. He didn’t even have to tell me that because I knew. Heavy women, we had long since discovered, have the more attractive voices. We guessed – correctly, as it turned out – that his new online friend was overweight.

Maybe this is just the difference between speaking voices and singing voices, but we do carry images in our mind of the fat lady singing, don’t we?

But apparently this is not the case. Or maybe the listeners were tailoring their appraisals based on what they thought the person looked like. But that doesn’t realy make a whole lot of sense. Nobody is going to say “that nasally voice sounded great” because they internally associate nasality with attractiveness. So maybe assortive mating plays a bigger role than I’ve given it credit for.

The last thought is in response to Phi’s tangent about the island that his parents live on where there are many more women than then. It reminds me a bit of Episcopal Youth Church, where me and this other guy were in the youth group with a dozen or so females. You’d think that would be an ideal situation… but it really wasn’t. Instead the result was that there was a lot of girls talk that we were shut out of. They were nothing but nice to me, but there was a pretty obvious line that I was on the other side of this.

It also reminds me of a particular private university in Colosse, Gulf Christian University, known for its snobby women who only date rich men. There’s an email joke that makes the rounds every couple of years that lists jokey complaints from attendees of all of the local universities in the form of “What I want to know is…”. GCU’s entry was something along the lines of “What I want to know is why in a university that is 75% female it’s the other 25% that can never get laid!”

Category: Coffeehouse

I read here and there that one of the dangers of drinks with sugar is that they give you calories without actually filling you up. So they’re as empty as empty calories can be. I don’t doubt that much. Refined sugar and corn syrup and all that are definitely among the worst ways to spend one’s calories.

The claim, though, isn’t that they consume too many calories for too little in return. It’s that they do not satisfy hunger at all. That doesn’t seem to be true in my experience.

Whenever I’ve given up soft drinks in the past, one thing that I’ve noticed is that there is usually an uptick in my hunger. I don’t mean substituting sugar for sugar. That would make sense. Stop drinking coke, want candy bar. But stop drinking cokes, want any food you can get your hands on? I thought that maybe it had something to do with oral activity (the weight gain that often comes after quitting smoking gets attributed to that), but the hunger seems to come more from the stomach rather than the mouth. I do know the difference. Then I thought maybe it was psychosomatic, and maybe that’s part of it, but it’s usually something I notice in retrospect. I notice that I’ve been hungry for the last few days… then I look back and notice the soft drinks. False attribution, maybe. I also thought that it might be that I substitute soft drinks for diet soft drinks which contain antacids with can make you feel more hungry. Maybe that’s the case, though I’ve never noticed any difference based on whether or not I’m replacing the soft drinks with diet soft drinks or otherwise.

Then there was today. Today at around 6:30 or so I started getting hungry. I had half a Subway sandwich in the fridge, but I didn’t want to spoil my planned dinner for the night. So I decided to go to the vending machine and get a bit of beef jerky to tide me over. Except inexplicably there was a line at the vending machine six people long. So, realizing that I hadn’t consumed my daily quota of soft drinks for the day, I decided to go ahead and get a Mountain Dew and come back to the vending machine later.

Except that later I wasn’t hungry. Two hours later, I’m still not. This is not the first time that this sort of thing has happened to me. That I’ve been hungry, drank a coke, and then not been hungry anymore. That’s never happened with Diet Coke, and I didn’t drink the Mountain Dew with the expectation that it would fill me up, so it not really easy to chalk it up to my imagination.

So faced with the alleged fact that cokes do not satisfy hunger in any way, shape, or form… and faced with the alleged fact that Mountain Dew does seem to quench my hunger… I have no choice but to conclude that Mountain Dew has protein.

Category: Kitchen
A look at Watchmen, the Alpha/Beta Theory, and unusually isolated heterosexuals.

When I first read the Watchmen many years ago, some of the more frustrating aspects of the story involved Eddie Blake, the Comedian. Blake was an attempted rapist, the murderer of a woman bearing his child, Kennedy’s assassin and a ruthless plumber for Richard Nixon. Yet, throughout the entire story, all but two of the characters express some degree of admiration for him. Nobody calls him on it. The woman he tried to rape goes on to bear his child and becomes something of an apologist for him. Any reasonable reading of the character would paint him not as a hero but as a villain.

I don’t disagree with that, but as I’ve gotten older and repeatedly re-read and now watched the story unfold on screen, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the character and an understanding of why he is viewed as he is.

The hardest aspect of the story to fully grasp is his exoneration at the hands of Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre. The notion of a victim forgiving her would-be rapist is, on its face, abhorrant. How she could go on to bear his child and remember him fondly at his death is maddening. And, as I originally read it, seemingly unrealistic. But to understand their complex relationship means, in part, boiling it down to the relative simplicity of their characters.

Blake is the embodiment of unchecked masculinity. The prototypical “alpha male”, as powerful and forceful as anyone in the story whose skin isn’t blue. As morality and social propriety are primarily feminine contributions to society, he is naturally devoid of them. To his detriment, in the end.

Blake, in the end, loved Sally Jupiter. She is the only character throughout the entire work that he said even one positive thing about. The only person he allowed to emotionally injure him. As repulsive as the notion sounds and as much as it will sound like an apology that it is most definitely not meant to be, the attempted rape boiled down to a misunderstanding. He was sixteen (in the comic, 24 in the movie), intelligent but relatively uneducated and poorly socialized. In his way of thinking, if they both wanted sex (and he believed that they both did), the rest (such feminine things as morality and decency) were beside the point. When his initial move was rebutted, he flew into a rage and compounded the error.

This doesn’t make Blake an okay guy nor does it excuse what he did. More than nothing else, it exemplifies how dangerous he really is. A walking id with a mask and a gun. But with good looks and pure testosterone, a baser sort of woman could ask for little more.

Sally Jupiter, then, is exactly that baser woman. Whereas Blake embodies the dark sides of masculinity, she exemplifies that shallowness of femininity. Her beauty is her primary asset. Other than the ability to fight, her only asset. She becomes a hero not out of a desire to do good or instill justice, but out of self-interest and vanity. Whatever her physical strength, she displays almost no emotional strength whatsoever. Her sense of morality is based on little more than arbitrary rules built primarily to make herself look better and others (including her daughter) look worse. When she interceded on Eddie Blake’s attempts to introduce himself to their daughter, her primary motivation isn’t so much to protect her as it is to bury that which makes her look bad.

But just as Blake’s personality allows him to make a woman feel like a woman with his forcefulness, her (pre-bitterness) boisterousness and raw sexuality would almost certainly make a man feel like a man around her. He prized his masculinity; she prized her femininity. They brought it out in one another. The attempted rape is one of the darker scenes in a dark piece. But because it prevented these two people from being able to make the most of their shallow weaknesses, it was in its own way a tragic one.

If the love (and sexual tension) between Eddie and Sally was a case of two well-stacked people that should have been in love failing to partner up due to circumstances and their individual foibles, the romance between Dan Drieberg and Sally Jupiter’s daughter, Laurie Jespeczyk, was a case of two people only marginally compatible that partnered up mostly because circumstances allowed for it and neither was sufficiently flawed to blow it.

Neither the comic book nor the movie made a particularly convincing case for why Dan and Laurie were well matched. In fact, there is sort of the feeling you get when watching an action movie where the hero has a love interest mostly because he is supposed to and they run through the motions mostly because the genre requires it.

But I would argue that it was more significant than that. The complete lack of electricity in their relationship was indicative, in a way, of the situation that they were in.

It parallels the situation with Laurie’s mother a little bit. As far as the Minutemen were concerned, Eddie and Sally were the only two verified straight characters there were. Captain Metropolis, Hooded Justice, and the Silhouette were verified homosexuals. There were hints that Dollar Bill and Mothman were close enough that Bill’s death precipitated Mothman’s descent into madness. Hollis Mason was established as straight in a companion to the movie, but in the comic book he is a life-long bachelor with no mentioned romantic asperations. So there you had them, the man’s man and the woman’s woman in a room full of homosexuals and/or people without sexual conviction or success.

As far as the Watchmen/Crimebusters are concerned, you have gay Captain Metropolis (in the comic but not the movie), seemingly asexual Rorschach and Ozymandias, and four heterosexual characters (Eddie Blake, Dr Manhattan, Laurie, and Dan). Removing Blake from consideration because he is the only female character’s father, you have two straight males and a straight female. And in the course of the comic book (and the movie), you have the female (Laurie) leaving one male (Manhattan) for the other (Dan).

Whether or not there are heroes outside of the east coast is never fully established, but if there were they were never mentioned as being in contract with the main characters of the story. So there you are with three characters that spent much of their lives doing things that only a handful of people in the entire country ever do and as far as Laurie and Dan are concerned, those people are not potential romantic partners (except Dr Manhattan, whom Laurie is dissatisfied with at the start and whose sexuality is dissipating with his humanity at any rate).

So that Laurie and Dan would end up together by process of elimination is relatively significant. The only thing they have in common is their costumes, but when neither of them have that central part of their existence in common with anyone else, it’s enough to give one another a second and third look and however many looks it takes to fall in love.

It takes fewer looks for Dan because he is at the outset the classic beta male who, even if he were willing to put away his childish things, would probably have some trouble with women anyway. Even at the height of his career, during the Crimebusters meeting, Laurie comments that nobody but Dr Manhattan interested her. Dan was a relatively uncompelling fellow even before being washed up and overweight.

But that he was sidelined by the Keene Act was devestating to him. He was deprived of the one thing that gave him purpose. He only lit up when he was able to reach back into his glory days. While Hollis Mason and Veidt had careers to go to and Eddie Blake found an alternate outlet for his activities, Dan lacked the drive and motivation to do much with himself.

And socially speaking, he had the same sorts of problems that a lot of nerds do. His rich history of excitement and intrigue was somewhat off-limits due to his secret identity. His amazing inventions are geek toys. Everything that he does have to offer, intelligence and physical prowess, had been spent in service of something that was stripped from him and that he cannot talk about. He is probably the nicest guy in the whole story, but his only two friends are his predecessor and Laurie, who lives mostly in isolation with her big blue boyfriend.

In the comic (though not the movie), Laurie finds a signed picture of a vice queen that Dan busted wherein the queen expressed romantic interest. So remote was he prior to Laurie’s split with Manhattan that I had to wonder why precisely it was that he didn’t pursue that. She may have been a villain, but she was there and she probably understood his life better than most. It was a good thing he didn’t, of course, because he found Laurie, which given the givens is probably the best he could ever expect to do.

But what about Laurie? After having slept with the Most Powerful Man in the History of the World, why would she end up with an introverted gizmonerd? The romantic explanation would be that she left the powerful man that didn’t really care for her (in a way she could appreciate) for the sincere beta. As you’ve probably figured, I associate it mostly with his availability and her relative isolation.

Apart from her attractiveness, of course, she didn’t have much to offer. She’s somewhat like the unattractive girl in the Anime Club, where it doesn’t take much to get some sort of interest from somebody. Laurie is beautiful, of course, but she’s also obnoxious. In a sense, though, she is also a creature of the path of least resistance like Dan is. The main differences are that she was raised by her wildly extroverted mother and she has the striking looks that he lacks. If you’re going to be listless and pretty, it works out a lot better if you’re female.

It’s a sort of by-the-numbers thinking that lead her to completely overlook Dan at the Crimebusters/Watchmen meeting. She also had the perspective of a sixteen year old. But Manhattan was the biggest, most powerful thing around. It’s not surprising at all that she would gravitate towards that, blue skin or no. In the world in which she was raised, he was the biggest thing there was. It was only after years of emotional exhaustion that she gave up on that and figured that Dan would do.

In the action movies I mentioned where the romantic storylines are by-the-numbers and present only because of genreic requirements, when there is a sequel it’s often the case that the leading woman from that movie is conspicuously absent from the next so that they can start from scratch with another (usually uncompelling) romantic plot. Despite, or maybe because of, the somewhat electricity-free nature that Laurie transitioned from the powerful Manhattan to the meek Owl, I would suspect that ten years down the line that they would actually still be together.

Where else could they possibly go?

Category: Coffeehouse, Theater

-{The following is a speech that I might give my future daughter. It hasn’t been run by my wife, so in the intervening decade or so before giving it, it would be subject to change on that basis (as well as others). I also use some abstract ideas here, which presents a big of a problem as to when exactly I would give this speech. I would like to give it before boys even become a serious consideration, but I may need to simplify it if I’m going to give it to a twelve year girl and then give her the more high-falutin’ version when it becomes more pertinent. Given that any daughter of mine will have my wife and I as her parents, I figure that will be around 26 15 or 16.}-

The funny thing about money is that, in the end, it’s pieces of carefully crafted paper. It used to represent gold that you could withdraw from Fort Knox, but now it doesn’t represent anything except what we believe it represents. That doesn’t make it worthless. It’s value, though, is in the meaning that we attach to it. We mostly give it out only when we need to or when someone is willing to give us something in return for it. We mostly only get it when we contribute something. But the paper itself only represents the values that we attach to it and the difficulty required in obtaining it. If there were more green paper and fewer things, the money would become less valuable. You would need more money to do less. Money and the things that you can buy with them are valuable only insofar as they are not easily obtained.

Sex is sort of like this. Or at least it is for boys. The physical gratification of sex is something that a guy can simulate on his own if that was what he was mostly after. Even setting aside what he can accomplish on his own, the physical stimulation that comes with sex is largely the same whether a boy is having sex with a girl that he finds desirable or someone that he doesn’t even want to look at. And yet many boys will scour the earth to find the most attractive and popular and desirable women to have sex with. And most will refuse to have sex with someone that repulses them despite the physical pleasure they could get. The reason for this is that most of the value in sex – for boys and girls – is in the meaning and value that we attribute to it. Like money.

For a variety of reasons, boys are less discriminating than girls when it comes to sex. How pleasurable sex is varies far less from encounter to encounter for boys than it does for girls. Boys don’t face nearly the social penalties for being sexually indiscriminate that girls do. They don’t get pregnant and they’re less likely to catch an STD. And for whatever reason, boys are less likely to believe that they need to have any romantic attachment to the person that they are having sex with than do girls. And, of course, his hormones are rapidly approaching their peak. Girls, on the other hand, are more discriminating. They face penalties and repercussions that men don’t. Whether due to social custom or evolutionary psychology, they overtly assign more romantic meaning to sex.

So what this creates is a situation where for boys, there is a natural scarcity of girls that are willing to have sex with them. Sex is harder to get, so it’s more valuable. So when a boy is bragging about how much sex he has, he is sort of saying to the other boys that he has easy access to something that they don’t. He is valuable. He is impressive. He is awesome. Guys sort themselves out from first to worst a number of different ways, but one of the big ways they do as they get into adolescence is by whether or not they can get sex, how frequently they can, and how impressive the person they are having sex with is. This isn’t something reserved for horndog jocks. Guys all up and down the popularity spectrum know that they’re being judged this way. Most of the time they’re judging themselves this way. Some ignore it and come up with alternative ways that they think they should be measured, but it’s pretty rare that he is oblivious to how other people are looking at him and it’s not at all rare that he would incorporate these measures into how he sees himself.

You don’t just have to worry about the horndog jock that’s bragging about all the girls he’s sleeping with. He’s the most loud about this because it presents him in the best light. But there’s as good a chance as not that the quiet kid in the back of the class doodling on his notebook is measuring his worth in the same way. Smart boys will get some solace in their intelligence and the doodling kid – if he’s good – will take some solace in that. But they will also know that in a rather important way – important because their peers believe it is important – they are coming up short.

In fact, in some ways you may have less to fear from the popular kids – unless they are overtly pointing to their sexual desirability as their selling point – than you do those for whom sexual desirability is a source of insecurity. It’s like how money is most important to two groups of people: Those that don’t have it and those that have money but little else going for them except what money can buy. Similarly, sex is most important to the guys that have a lot of trouble getting it and those that don’t have much else going for them. Some guys are so insecure about it that they are like vampires, seeking out sex as a natural urge and a way to try to fill the black hole within their self-esteem. That, like the horndog braggart, is an extreme case, though. Even for guys where it’s not an overriding factor, it still clouds their vision and warps their judgment.

I’m not saying that the only reason a boy would want to sleep with you is to feed his ego. His motives may be as pure as the driven snow. Or they may be questionable. You won’t really know which. Even seeing a side of guys that girls don’t usually see, I’ve been surprised sometimes. I am saying, though, that the younger you are and the younger the guy is, the more likely it is that he doesn’t have a clear idea of his place in the world and the more likely he will desperately seek validation any way that he can find it. As you get older, it will become less of an issue. Some men never really work past these warped priorities, but as time passes more and more of them will gain the perspective of experience and will have more worthwhile ways to establish their identity. Unfortunately, before they’ve established themselves and figured out who they are and what’s really important to them, they are much more likely to be emotionally dangerous.

I wish I had better advice on how to spot the guy with good motives and the guy with bad ones. It’s tough. The more of them you choose to share yourself with, the more likely it is that you will get burned. Even if you’re cautious, though, unless your judgment is flawless, you will probably still get burned. I’m sure what advice I do have will spill out when as I say here and there, “Not that guy!” Beware most those that believe that the world owes them something because they believe either that they are just that special or because they’re unhappy. Take note of how they treat people that they don’t need something from. Don’t waste your time on someone that can’t even pretend to be as interested in you as they are interested in themselves. And beware the person whose self-description is too far at odds with the person you see doing to talking.

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of friends tell me about some first sexual experience that they’ve had with someone I know or have met. Often, at the end, they’ll say something to the effect of “She told me not to tell anyone, so keep tight-lipped.” When they do this, it’s important to take note that they had sex, she told him not to tell anybody, and he told someone anyway. This happens even when he values her a great deal. This happens even when he is generally a pretty honest guy. If a guy lies to a girl about nothing else, he will lie to her about that.

Remember that.

Remember that partly because it reinforces what I’m trying to tell you. He will tell because part of the value of sex is to be able to tell someone. He may even tell it because he wants to share something very special that happened with him and a girl that he cares about a great deal. But also remember that he’ll tell because you will have to live with the consequences of his sharing your most intimate moments. He may share it only with his trusted friends or he may share it with anybody that will listen. It will tell you a lot about him that you will hopefully – but not necessarily – have figured out ahead of time. But the friend that he trusts may be more casual with the information than the guy. Word may get out.

You want to ask yourself some questions before you get intimate with a guy. Are you only willing to do it if absolutely nobody finds out? Would you be surprised if he turns around and tells a lot of people? If the answers are yes and no, think twice. If it does get out, though, will you have the strength of your conviction that you did nothing wrong or will you wonder what the hell you were thinking? If word gets back to us, exactly how horrified will you be that we find out that this is the guy you chose to share yourself with? If you think about these questions beforehand, I think you’ll find that you have more judgment and foresight than you think.

One other thing I want you to ask yourself before moving forward is whether or not you will regret what you did even if things don’t work out. I don’t mean that you’ll regret it the same way that you might regret that expensive birthday gift you got him for your 9-month anniversary. I mean will you regret it in a more fundamental way. Will you feel used. Will you feel like you were a point on his scoreboard. I had a friend who was saving herself for marriage once ask my advice about whether or not she should have sex her boyfriend since she really wanted to marry him but couldn’t at that time in her life. I told her to only do it if she would not regret having done so if they don’t get married. She said that it was a moot question because of course they were going to get married. When he dumped her six months later, she was twice-devastated.

The thing about this game that boys play with themselves and one another is that you are not an active participant. You can’t play and win. If a girl tries to use it to her advantage, to give a guy sex so that his ego will be fed and that she is the one that fed it, he will tire and move on. If she withholds it on the basis that it will become more valuable to him, he will aim for some lower-hanging fruit that he can grab. She is not a partner or a player. She is the ball being batted around in the course of the game.

You are not a ball. You are not currency. You are not a notch in someone’s belt or a point on their scorecard. Don’t willingly allow yourself to be reduced to that. You were not put on this planet to feed the egos of men. You were not put here to please them. Your value is not dependent on your willingness and ability to do that. You have your own wants and your own needs. If you demand that they be met, then you will share yourself on your own terms and in ways far less likely to leave you feeling spent and used.

When you meet the right guy, you won’t be “giving” him anything. You’ll be sharing it. Sharing yourself. It will be mutual. He won’t have to beg, guilt, or needle you into doing something that you don’t want to do. The right guy won’t necessarily be exempt from the urges and psychology of the game, but he will consider being with you, being loved by you, and your happiness to be more important than the scorecard. He will be willing to work with you and your needs, not to the exemption of his own, but in accordance.

Waiting for this, and even knowing that it’s out there, won’t make you any less lonely when you’re being ignored while the boys are off playing their games. But remember that not all attention is good attention and mistakes not made can be as valuable as opportunities missed are frustrating. On the other hand, don’t let your fear shut the rest of the world out. You’ll need to make mistakes so that you can learn from them. But whatever you choose to engage in, make sure that it is in at least equal parts for your benefit, your education, and your self-esteem. If that’s not your aim and if you decide you’ll settle for less than that, you will end up with a lot less than you think.

I’m not going to tell you not to have sex. Your mother and I want you to wait until you are absolutely ready. Ideally, we would like you to only move forward with a man that you love and treasure who feels the same about you. But I’m not going to tell you what to do because we’re not going to be with you when you make that decision. Except to the extent that we deny you the opportunity we won’t be there to stop you from making the wrong one. We are not going to be able to force you to see things how we see them. Besides, your mother and I may not even see things the same way between ourselves. Whatever you do, though, we will hope that it was the right thing. Right by us, of course, but also right by you.

Category: School

If you don’t have any plans for dinner, consider eating at Subway tonight. There’s apparently a movement on to get as many people as possible to eat at Subway today in an effort to save the NBC show Chuck, which just keeps getting better and better. So if you like the show or are amenable to eating there for those of us that do, I recomment it.

I meant to say something earlier. I heard about this last week. I decided that I haven’t eaten at Subway in forever and it sounded good. One of the main reasons I haven’t eaten at Subway recently is that it’s rarely convenient to. The one that exists on my drive home from work often doesn’t have any parking available.

So wouldn’t you know it, since deciding that I was going to eat at Subway today, I have had one opportunity after another to eat there thrown at me. Every chore I went on over the weekend, there’s been one right there. And the one on my drive home actually had parking available when I stopped at a nearby gas station. But each time I had to forego so that I would be sure to eat there today.

Makes me wonder if Subway isn’t losing money on the deal.

Update: I decided to get two subs. Considering that my current eating habits only allow me to eat 6″ at a time, I know what I’m going to be eating for the next couple of days. That, combined with the left-overs from the Mexican restaurant we ate on Sunday night, will prevent me from eating much in the way of ravioli and Spam for a while.

Category: Kitchen, Theater

Over at Least I Could Do (a webcomic as well as a blog), a post about the abysmal education numbers recently announced from Washington DC:

They’re telling us that only 12% of DC’s 14 year olds can read proficiently.

That’s insane, that’s ludicrous. Hell, it’s bloody criminal.

That statistic keeps rattling around in my head, and I admit I’m having a hard time accepting it. In a day and age when media, the internet and literature are so freely distributed, how can this be the case? This is a statistic I would expect in a developing country, and not in the United States of America, not the nation’s capital for Christ’s sake.

These kids need to put the drugs away, lay down their right to bear arms, leave their gang, stop going to war and pick up a book.

Can someone honestly tell me what we’re teaching our kids in school, if not how to read?

I really want to know.

As the thread goes on, there’s a lot of left-wing “Evil Dubya Bush and the No Child Left Behind program” attacks, but very little substance beyond that. A few teachers have weighed in, to point out inherent problems in the national education system, some of which are connected to NCLB and some of which have other causes.

I’d like to offer up a few points from my perspective – having gone through public schools and private schools, and in my current employment with an entity that tries to train the next generation of teachers.

#1 – Teachers really don’t get the support they need.
#2 – Regional and social factors aren’t helping.
#3 – Insistence on “self-esteem” hurts the system.
#4 – Insistence on keeping all kids together hurts the system.

In my mind, the last is the worst portion of the problem – (public) schools in America have largely done away with the idea of having more-advanced and less-advanced classes, except for the required “remedial ed” courses based on teaching kids with severe mental handicaps or psychiatrically determined learning/behavioral disorders. If you see a grade school with 3 classes per grade (small, I know), you will never see them arranged by previous academic achievement, with the smartest kids all in one class. No, you’ll see them arranged by random lot, with the smartest kids in each class bored stiff while the teacher desperately tries to educate the idiots who don’t even want to be there and whose parents don’t care about their kids’ education. Add in the socially promoted kids (those whose parents threatened to sue the school district for daring to suggest Johnny repeat a grade or three), and pretty soon you have an entire 8th grade class that’s reading on a 3rd grade level – the idiots because they’re idiots, the rest because they’ve never been given anything better as each successive teacher simply taught to the idiots’ level. Just to cap it off, a teacher who actually fails a kid is to be punished, and no thought ever given to culpability on the part of the kid (who goofs off, doesn’t do homework, makes spitwads with his books, etc) or parents (who, blissfully clueless, insist that the teacher “just hates our little Johnny” when his conduct and lack of study are brought up in conferences).

This is a system that completely fails kids on a psychological level, trying to force-feed “knowledge” without experience or learning. For the kids who respond best to being challenged, being stuck in a “pace of the slowest idiot” class is the surest way to teach them that school is worthless – why should they explore and learn and experiment, when they’re spending 8 hours a day being re-taught something they already absorbed years ago? In the current system, the overachiever will soon learn that going above and beyond is going to be punished; the rest of the kids in the class will see them as a “showoff”, teachers will peg them “disruptive” for getting off the lesson plan, and independent thought… well let’s face it, in the edjamacashun factery, that’s just not to be tolerated. The lesson to the overachiever is simple: overachievers are not the good little drones the system wants.

For the kids who are naturally competitive, they completely lack a reason to compete and a proper metric by which to measure it; grades are quickly noticed to be meaningless, and class ranking means nothing either. Since the overachievers are being beaten into submission, they don’t have anyone in a “top tier” to compete with anyways. When half of the school system are “honor students,” and the other half don’t care about it, competition loses its meaning. And of course, in the name of “self-esteem”, direct competition between students is to be avoided.

For the kids who are natural underachievers, the unstratified system provides no notice whatsoever; quite the contrary, there is a complete lack of attention to them. There is no “congratulations, you’re in the dummies class” shock that might wake a few up and make them realize that they should work harder. There is no definitive attention on how they got where they are. There is no drive, however small, to get out of the “dummies class.” The system assumes every kid is just like them, and makes everyone else wait for them to catch up. If that weren’t enough, the system specifically (in the name of “self-esteem” again) denies all but the barest identification of just which kids it is that are holding the class up.

Stratify the system, and you can get some marvelous results. Yes, you have a whole class of kids who are moving at the slow pace… but you also have classes that aren’t. A class full of geniuses, semi-geniuses, and just average-but-competitive-natured kids will do wonders, the geniuses and semi-geniuses with their natural love of learning and exploration, the competitive ones in trying to keep up with their peers. The teacher in the class with the remedial kids will have a more solid reason to urge that a kid be held back (they’re already underperforming), and won’t have to deal with the disruptions caused by bored-out-of-their-skulls kids who already learned today’s lesson three years ago. It’s a win-win situation.

Just to be clear on this point: when most kids were sneaking in comic books to read during class behind their real books, I was sneaking in the works of Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, and Anne McCaffrey. Did any of my schools support this? Far from it. I was actually told at one point by a school counselor that if I deliberately scored poorly on a couple tests, so as not to be on the top of the GPA list, my classmates would probably like me more. It seems the school system had decided to “grade on a curve”, in that they took the top score of the class on each test (and the aggregate homework grades) and “recentered” it so that the top score was the “new 100.” If the top score was an 80? Everyone got a free 20 points to add in. Unfortunately for the school, each class had 1-2 kids who threw the system off; we were scoring consistent 99-100’s while everyone else got 85 or less.

Category: School

When determining things like child custody and child support payments, the law generally considers what is in in the best interest of the child. I wrote a post on the late Bobvis blog about how the law should approach cases where the husband of the mother turns out not to be the father. Generally speaking, the law doesn’t care. At least not past a certain point. As far as the law in concerned, if he’s been acting as the child’s father, he becomes the legal father. This means in the event of a divorce that he can’t cease making child support payments and it means that she can’t use his lack of paternity as a reason to deny him custody or access to the child.

This strikes a lot of men as being unfair. If we find out ten years after the fact that a child is ours, we’re told that biology is destiny. If we find out ten years later that it isn’t, well biology isn’t so important after all. The counterargument is that fairness to the father (real or purported) is not the issue so much as the welfare of the child. The child did not choose to be born into that situation, after all. And it’s possible that the non-father knew. In the discussion, guys were taken to task for even considering that his rights might trump that of a child, his or otherwise. The welfare of the child trumps all (within reason, which this is).

My general sense of the issue is that both sides do have valid points. The attachment between an adopted child and adopted parent is real. If the law were to state that upon finding out that the child is not biologically his that he loses all custody rights would strike me as fundamentally unfair. The notion that, upon discovering non-paternity, the entirety of the choice of the non-father as to whether to continue or sever the relationship does seem fundamentally unfair to the child, who (support payments aside) has probably grown attached to two parents. It makes what would already be a traumatic experience even worse. All for the sake of allowing a man to save some money.

I should also say that in a good portion of the cases, a man put into this situation would gladly trade support payments for access to his putative son or daughter. Except in particular cases, I strongly believe that is the moral thing to do. Finding out that the child isn’t yours has to be heartbreaking, but your love for him or her should not be fundamentally changed by that fact. Parents love their adopted children all the time.

If I were king, I would probably still like to give the non-father more discretion than he currently has, though. I wouldn’t put all of the responsibility on the purported father to determine whether or not he is the biological dad in a timely fashion or else say that he has lost any right to object being held legally responsible for the mother’s deceit. I’m not sure that I could sign on with automatic paternity testing at birth. I don’t like the idea because of the disruption it would cause when the vast majority of the time there is nothing to be concerned about, but the arguments against it are pretty thin. It would have the benefit of giving the non-father the right, early on, to decide whether or not he wants the role and if he does then he could adopt.

The alternative might be a paternity test requirement prior to payments having to be made in the event of a divorce. In that case, the question of whether or not he knew he was not the biological father and usurped that role anyway (thus making him a party to the lie) could be brought up and if the mother could prove that was the case then he could be left on the hook. But all of that could make a traumatic time in the kid’s life even moreso. “Your father and mother are splitting up. Oh, and your father ain’t your father.”

An argument I reject, though, is the notion that the child support payments should be required on the basis not of fairness (it’s hard to argue that the cuckolded fellow deserves it… though some do make that argument), but rather because that’s what’s in the best interest of the child. It’s an argument that sounds solid (bulletproof, even) at the base of it, but it’s an argument that is frequently jettisoned in the name of practicality. In fact, rather than being based in the moral conviction it’s often clothed in, I think it’s mostly based on pragmatism. Somebody has to help the mother take care of the child. Might as well be this guy.

So when do we ignore the Best Interest of the Child arguments in favor of the rights of the parents? Sperm donation, primarily. And I mostly agree with that. In fact, I think that some of the fundamentals there ought to be expanded to cover other areas, as well. That’s going to be another post.

Addendum: In the comments, Phi points to another conundrum: What if the birth father, kept in the dark, comes back to claim what’s biologically his? This tilts me slightly more in favor of mandatory DNA testing. Ironically, the more I think about it the more the strongest argument in favor of it is “the best interest of the child”. To disrupt these sorts of things from happening down the line, test early. And maybe, at least in cases that don’t involve anonymous adoption and/or sperm donation, the right of the child to know who his or her father is.

Addendum II: Here is a good rundown of the laws in Illinois regarding paternity, custody, and a slew of other issues. I found it very instructive.

Category: Coffeehouse

I can’t find the post (I held on to the quote below when I found it but stupidly did not save a link), but Capella wrote the following a while back:

I will never see the train people again and therefore will not have to participate in endless debates about whether “a couple hours” is or is not much less than four, the obvious answer being that “a couple” is “two”, and that if you are going to tell someone you will call them and not do so you should be prepared for towering rage.

A “couple” for me actually isn’t two. I mean, I realize that’s the definition, but I consider it an approximation wherein it is more than one, but could be more. In fact, I used to think that couple, except when specifically referencing a male-female paring, did explicitly allow for three. Here are some other definitions I tend to go by:

Couple = 2 or 3 (maybe four)
Few = 3 to 5 (maybe six)
Handful = 4 to 6
Bunch = 6-15 (maybe more, depending on the scope of the reference)
Several = 7 to 9
Ten = 10
Dozen = 11 to 13

What do you guys think when you hear someone make a reference to these quantities?

Category: Coffeehouse

Dear Fresh Step people:

Thank you SO much for eliminating your best-working product (Fresh Step Cedar) in favor of perfume-laden monstrosities that work maybe half as well, smell like butt even when not freshly used (“lavender valley” and “mountain forest”? More like “Soap” and “Really Annoying Soap”) and are highly likely to set off anyone with perfume allergies, like my roommate. Really.

Dear Makers of the Generic Cedar Stuff:

Thank you for continuing to make your product, even though I can’t find it because Petsmart refuses to stock it and it usually sells out from Kroger within 12 hours of their getting a shipment, forcing me to look for alternatives or risk a “protest pee” over a not-clean-enough litter box.

Dear Makers of “Feline Pine Clumping”

Thank you for trying. I tried your product on the idea that pine, being at least wood, would work somewhat similar to the cedar in combating the aromatic assault of the litterbox. Cedar does a very good job at this. Unfortunately, you advertise on your product that “Ammonia is naturally neutralized by Pine.” Ammonia is also naturally neutralized by a number of other substances used by other clay clumping litter products, products which also clump and dry far faster than your product.

I also need to inform you that “Feline Pine Clumping”, after use, does not smell like “pine.” It rather smells like “pine-scented cat pee.”

Category: Market