Jul 31, 2006

distance from July

When the events have faded out of immediacy and into history, maybe then I'll publish something about this craziest of months, a tangent wave of joys and sorrows and busted dreams. I have been an observer, suspended in an awkward space between sympathy and objectivity, never quite comfortable with either, frustrated by my inability to do anything but offer a few words, hold my wife's hand, and try to "be there" as her side of the family has been wracked by tragedy.

Distance from July, though, comes in a few short hours. The other side of the family will begin its journey to Alberta tomorrow, and the wife and I are included.

For now, this blog is grinding to a pause. While I'm gone, visit all the links on the sidebar. You'll be glad you did. If I get the chance, I'll say hallo from Hanna.

catching literature fresh and alive, daily

Dear Folks at The Threepenny Review,

Please take a moment to review my blog, decorabilia, and sample the excellent range of writing I offer here.

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This is an unbeatable price to pay for an internationally respected daily like mine, and I guarantee you'll love the witty, wide-ranging, cosmopolitan writing that decorabilia will bring you nearly every single day.

But don't take my word for it -- check out the website first. If you like what you see, you can offer me a chance to publish my grade-A material in your quarterly, thus launching me on a voyage to literary fame, and, maybe someday, blurb-worthiness.

Or, if you prefer more oldfashioned methods, I'll send you some unpublished manuscripts which you can accept with bioluminescent praise. Either way, I'll provide you my pecks of prose absolutely free.

All best,

Jim Anderson

P.S. How did you know I'm cosmopolitan? Is it my Harper's subscription?

fact-checking for fun and prophets

Note to would-be prophets: if you're going to make prophecies, don't post them in a place where they can be easily dismissed after they don't come true.

Take, for example, the 2001 prophecy page. Go ahead. Read 'em, and see how pathetically vague or utterly wrong they are.

I'd suggest reading the updates posted September 2, 2001, nine days before a truly earth-shaking event. No, not the never-to-occur eruption of Mount Rainier:
The Father yesterday spoke to me about speaking forth this word about his judgement coming quickly upon the earth. I have had several words from the Holy Spirit on what is about to transpire on the earth in the coming days since the beginning of this year. This is the first time the Father has told me send it forth to the people, with a specific warning to those in the Mt. Rainier area of Washington.

The Father is about to unleash a series of events upon the earth that will set men's heart failing. These volcanoes and earthquakes will be set in motion by the Father for the purpose of bringing men's heart to repentance in this hour, and bringing many to Christ. For those who will not heed, they will mean destruction and devastation in the days to come. For truly God's judgement is coming upon the earth in these days that are coming very quickly.

A year and a half ago, the Father showed me a string of volcanoes that would erupt at the same time on the earth. Then about 6 months ago or more, He spoke to me about Mt. Rainier, specifically. He confirmed it through another prophet friend of mine, Jim. Well this past week, He told me it is about to happen, between the next 30-60 days. Pray for what is coming upon the earth, was what the spirit spoke to me.
(Secondary note: when prophesizing, don't link to a website that can't tell the difference between a volcanic eruption and a landslide as "proof" of your about-to-go-unfulfilled "prophecy.")

You'd think at least one of the prophets would've seen 9/11 coming, but no. The closest one mentions a "coming storm" and something incomprehensible about The Taliban and "Burning Man," but nothing about twin towers, Al Qaeda, New York, Iraq, Osama Bin Laden, George Bush, or John Kerry.

After the cataclysm, things were looking bleak for the month of November:
Steve, as I have expressed earlier I feel November 1-5 and also November 11 are key strategic dates to keep in prayer. I see a definite ploy of the enemy to come in and render us defenseless, vulnerable and to catch us off guard. I believe they are planning some things that will surprise us and render us incapacitated.

One of the areas I believe we need to cover in prayer is our satellite and communication systems, both in and outside the United States. I continue to see suitcase bombs being deposited throughout the United States. Some of these are literal bombs as well as biochemical. My prayer sense is to pray that these are neutralized, exposed and rendered harmless.

The other thing I am seeing is our Military. In one vision I see a nuclear submarine. This particular submarine is in a strategic location. I see this submarine intercept the plan of the enemy. It is a chance meeting. I see the enemy trying to take the submarine out before they can submerge and communicate to headquarters.
Yeah, and Tom Clancy is divinely inspired.

Looking "ahead" to 2002, what do we get?
2002 will be known as the year of salvation, saith the Lord. The gospel will be preached to the whole world. Salvation will come to Africa, to Russia, to China, and to the third world countries. You will hear of crusades where as many as 1,000,000 are saved in a single service.
I remember when that happened.

Time and again they're wrong, and time and again they continue prophesying as if they have a direct line to the Holy Spirit. Sic 'em, Jeremiah:
"Therefore," declares the LORD, "I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me. Yes," declares the LORD, "I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, 'The LORD declares.' Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams," declares the LORD. "They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least," declares the LORD.

Jul 30, 2006

Aldo Kelrast anagram

Everyone knows that Aldo Kelrast's last name is an anagram for "stalker." But that's just too obvious for the ingenious writers of Mary Worth. The "Kelrast" anagram is a false lead. Fellow MW fans, you have to look at Aldo Kelrast's entire name.

Here's where it gets murky. Which anagram is intended? Dollar steak? Stalled okra? Darkest Lola? Karate dolls? Okay, ladle tsar? Least old ark? Dr., let's koala?

The possibilities are endless--and frightening.

the court order of a federal judge availeth much

Ed Brayton's thoughts on the futility of public prayer reminded me of a little-known urban-legendish anecdote:
On February 18, 1986, U.S. district court judge Samuel King, unhappy at the absence of some jurors due to heavy rains, decreed, "I hereby order that it cease raining by Tuesday." California then suffered five years of drought. In February 1991 King rescinded his order and ordered instead that "rain shall fall in California beginning February 27, 1991." Later that day, California was deluged with four inches of rain, the heaviest in a decade. Judge King proclaimed that the events of the day constituted "proof positive" that the U.S. is a nation governed by laws."
The story originally comes from the Los Angeles Times' "Only in L.A." column of March 5, 1991, though the first half of the anecdote is most notably recalled in Vincent Bugliosi's true crime classic And the Sea Will Tell.

Problem is, the Times piece doesn't provide corroboration for the second declaration, only mentioning as evidence a letter written to the paper by Judge King, known for his "roguish" sense of humor. Whether a hoax, a miracle, or just a remarkable coincidence, we'll likely never know for sure.

Even if King's decree loosed the floodgates, wracking the state with horrendous storms, the drought didn't officially end that day for all of southern California. The Seattle Times reported in February of 1992,
Avalanche warnings went up for the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, and funnel clouds formed off San Diego. Up to 2 inches of rain was expected through today, the weather service said.
Meanwhile, the state's largest water supplier said yesterday it will halt deliveries to the Central Valley, one of the nation's richest farmlands, because the drought is moving into a sixth year.

The announcement, despite the torrents in Southern California, affects parts of the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. It marks the first time in its five-decade history that the federal Central Valley Project has had to eliminate supplies to any of its customers, said Don Paff, operations director.

"There is just no water available," said Roger Patterson, regional director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which runs the project.

In Southern California yesterday, people took no chances after storms that have left eight people dead and five missing.

Los Angeles closed 651 schools, and most of the 133,000 sandbags city fire stations had on hand Thursday night were gone by yesterday afternoon.

The region suffered its most serious flooding in a decade, Gov. Pete Wilson said in a tour of the muddy Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area, a flood control basin where the Los Angeles River overflowed Monday.

Early damage estimates tallied about $23 million in private and public losses in Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, Wilson said. Some jurisdictions, including Orange County, hadn't yet reported, he said.
Be careful what you hereby order. You just might get it.

trickle to flood: growth expected in South Sound districts

South Sound schools are growing as the wider population booms.
[I]n Pierce County, the Steilacoom Historical School District is expecting about 350 more students this fall than there were last fall, bringing total enrollment to about 2,500 students. That's a roughly 16 percent increase....

Meanwhile, North Thurston Public Schools and the Olympia and Tumwater school districts all are projected to enroll more students this fall. But the growth isn't expected to go far beyond a 1 percent increase, district officials said.

"We're having a small increase," said Courtney Schrieve, a spokeswoman for North Thurston, which is expected to double its 12,800 enrollment by 2025. "Over the next 10 years, we'll see significant growth, but right now, we're not seeing a huge jump."
Transfers to Fort Lewis accounts for part of the projected gains, as do a boom in housing with a concomitant increase in service sector employment. (Have you been out by Hawks Prairie lately, and traveled down Yelm Highway? Crazy growth.)

If you have friends finishing ed school in the next couple years, tell them to keep their job-seeking hopes up.

Jul 29, 2006

Johnson enters race; is he just a tool?

According to local muckraker Stefan Sharkansky, late-entering judicial candidate Michael Johnson just might face a class B felony charge for conspiring to confuse voters. The relevant statute:
Any person who with intent to mislead or confuse the electors conspires with another person who has a surname similar to an incumbent seeking reelection to the same office, or to an opponent for the same office whose political reputation has been well established, by persuading such other person to file for such office with no intention of being elected, but to defeat the incumbent or the well known opponent, is guilty of a class B felony punishable according to chapter 9A.20 RCW. In addition, all conspirators are subject to a suit for civil damages, the amount of which may not exceed the salary that the injured person would have received had he or she been elected or reelected.
The Seattle Times' report that Michael Johnson "...said he will not raise any money or seek any endorsements..." leads Sharkansky to call Michael Johnson's campaign "transparently bogus," and it's tough to disagree with that assessment.

His other claim, that Susan Owens and Christine Gregoire are somehow behind this, is offered without evidence, and without a smoking gun, a conspiracy charge won't stick.

With an independent judiciary, we could avoid this sort of nonsense.

Update: Merely entering with an intent to confuse is also a class B felony. Thanks to Richard Pope for that one.

I don't want to join any club that will accept me as a member

So said Groucho Marx, on more than one occasion.

The inverse is found a a case currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, after a federal district court ruled that Kentridge High School can refuse to recognize a Bible club that won't give heathens full voting membership.

A little research shows that this ruling repudiates the decision in Hsu v. Roslyn Union Free School District No. 3:
We conclude that the club's Christian officer requirement, as applied to some of the club's officers, is essential to the expressive content of the meetings and to the group's preservation of its purpose and identity, and is therefore protected by the Equal Access Act. This application of the Act is constitutional because the school's recognition of the club will not draw the school into an establishment of religion or impair the school's efforts to prevent invidious discrimination.
I'll be interested to see how the 9th Circuit responds to that (nonbinding) line of reasoning by the 2nd District.

Update: Stupid error confusing the 9th Circuit and the district court corrected. That's what I get for trying to play legal expert.

a codependent judiciary

Bert Brandeburg tallies this fall's various measures to shackle state courts.
The good news is that as slogans go, the call for common people to vote to rein in rogue courts rings a little phony. Every judge in these states—indeed, 87 percent of judges nationwide—regularly stands for election. Jurists in Montana can already be recalled for incompetence or unfitness. And judges everywhere can be impeached for misconduct.

The problem for anti-court activists is that Americans can't be trusted to fire judges. That's why these self-styled Jimmy Stewarts quickly move to divisive wedge issues. To rile up voters, they demand vengeance for a familiar litany of hot-button decisions on cases involving immigration, school vouchers, zoning laws, criminal sentences, and gun control. Underneath this populist clothing, there's an awful lot of back-room politics.
Go forth and read, you policy wonk, you.

John Lizza against the "biological paradigm"

(a work in progress)

Persons, Humanity, and the Definition of Death
John Lizza
The Johns Hopkins University Press
212 pages including index

Introducing his work, Lizza writes,
Whereas the paradigm treats human or personal death as a strictly biological matter, I hope to show that human or personal death is no less a metaphysical, ethical, and cultural matter than a biological one and that such considerations are necessary to justify any particular definition and criteria for death (ix).
Over the course of the book Lizza sets out a carefully constructed argument against the biological paradigm, and discusses policy implications of a nonreductionist framework in combination with value pluralism.

It is widely understood that technology forces us to make difficult choices about the end of life, choices predominantly framed in biological--more specifically, neurological--terms, since, as Lizza notes, modern ventilators and transplantation allow a human body to "live" indefinitely in the absence of higher neurological function. The former biological criteria of death--circulatory and respiratory stoppage--and their replacement, "brain death," both presume that
...[d]eath is a biological concept and not one that is socially constructed; the event of death is an objective, immutable biological fact that can be studied, described, and modeled but cannot be altered or contrived (2).
Lizza contends that this reductionist view ignores the complex tangle of metaphysical, moral, and social factors that define human existence. Lizza points out the ironic claim of the 1981 President's Commission's report that declared death to be "fundamentally a philosophical matter," but defined death in terms of mere organismal disintegration (via brain death). The "hard cases" such as Permanent Vegetative States, postmortem pregnancies, "locked in" patients, and anencephaly challenge this simplistic view.

The sum of Lizza's critiques of the various biological perspectives--all of which implicitly rely on a notion of organismal unity--is found near the end of the second chapter.
What we mean by as a whole is up for grabs. Many would argue that a person ceases to function "as a whole" when it irreversibly loses consciousness and sentience, even though other biological, integrative functions remain. Thus, what it means for a person or human being to function "as a whole" is tied to views about personhood and humanity and is not something that can be settled on purely biological grounds (32).
Lizza goes on to explain what those other grounds are.

The third chapter, "Concepts of Person," is highly useful. Lizza teases apart the three meanings of "person." First, "species meaning," the person as biological organism. (Those who hold that "person" and "organism" are synonyms most often argue that life begins at conception, though the reverse isn't necessarily true.) Second, "qualitative meaning," the person as functional characteristics such as the capacity for consciousness. Third, "substantive meaning," the person as individual, either as an immaterial soul in a body or as a material being with psychological properties. Lizza then explains how even bioethicists confuse or conflate these terms, often "talking past each other." Introducing the next chapter, Lizza notes, "The fundamental issue of what it is that dies has not been engaged" (51).

Lizza sets out two major contentions: that persons are substances (here he follows Peter Strawson and David Wiggins), and that persons are constituted by human organisms. To the first, Lizza adopts Strawson's view that only a substance view coherently explains why "my experiences are nontransferably mine" (55). Applying Strawson's analysis that both material and psychological predicates apply to the person, the loss of either means the death of the person. Lizza admits that this brings up a problem of relative identity: if a person is not identical to a human being, what are we to make of someone stricken by total amnesia or persisting in a permanent vegetative state? If a "person" is a substance, a "primitive," irreducible term, and not merely a phase of human development, then we must "construe the relation between the person and human organism as one of constitution" (62). But what, exactly, does this mean?

(more to come)

another quixotic candidate

What is it that drives a man (and they're most often men) to run a hopeless political campaign? This time it's Gene Chapman, seeking the Libertarian, Constitutional, and Southern Party nominations for POTUS. Chapman is a former truck driver and trucking safety activist with some big--and kooky--ideas for transforming politics. The best one:
Require by law all public officials, elected and otherwise, to blog all official daily activities, allowing reader comments in order to maintain a two way dialogue between We The People of The United States and our servant government.
The worst ones:
The Elder Court System: To return law back to the community, I propose to return most or all of the American court system back over to supervision by religious communities in the local areas where the crimes and many of the criminals reside, so an individual may be tried and judged by those holding the same theistic or non-theistic values as the accused.

The Checkerboard Plan: If a world conflict is serious enough to risk the life of one American footsoldier, it's big enough to use a nuclear bomb, I say. Therefore, I propose to call our troops home from the 130 countries around the world where they are now, reassign footsoldiers to other jobs and form a global nuclear web, allowing the President and other top military personel to target and destroy 50 quare mile areas of the planet, when absolutly required to stop a larger problem. (This should all but end low level conventional tinkering by the U. S. Government around the world.)
The kookiest one:
The King Solomon Solution: As King Solomon proposed the division of the item in dispute between two people while allowing neither the upper hand, so I propose that the international community buy out the Jews and Palestinians and move their land on barges to opposite ends of the earth to shut down the conflict. This will allow a two state solution at a distance. It is the only solution short of unending war between the parties that does not seem to me to violate the religions of any party.
These might be okay ideas in a brainstorm, but when making the leap to official platform status they require refinement or rejection as implausible, impossible, or insane.

Have I mentioned how much I love American politics?

(No, I'm not on a vendetta against one-man political parties. I stumble into them by accident, honest. Read about local quixotic candidate Jed Whittaker here.)

Jul 28, 2006

hushing the ghost of Victor Smith

Whatever happened to the great rivalries between cities? Nowadays we have races to the bottom for corporate tax breaks, battles over sports teams and stadiums, water rights conflicts, and suburbs reaching for autonomy. These differences, though, even when bitter, even when racked by fraud, are settled without violence.

Ah, for the good old days.

In his Moon Handbooks: Washington, Don Pitcher describes how in 1861 Victor Smith, a "duplicitous customs inspector," worked with Treasury secretary Salmon P. Chase to steal the Custom House and Port of Entry from Port Townsend and bring it to Port Angeles.
[I]t was only when Smith sailed into the harbor aboard a warship and pointed the guns at the city that the citizens relented. He later added insult to injury by returning to force the hospital patients and staff out of Port Townsend and onto his ship, which became a floating hospital till a new one could be completed in Port Angeles.
Kathy Weiser tells what happened next:
Incensed, Port Townsend citizens soon traveled to Olympia to protest Smith’s actions to the governor. Though a federal grand jury indicted Smith with 13 counts of embezzlement and misuse of public funds, the Treasury Department quashed the indictment after their investigation.

In the meantime, Smith was constructing a large building in Port Angeles which served as both his family home and the Customs House. But, the Port Townsend citizens were not done fighting and began to build a case denouncing Smith and the transfer of the Port of Entry to Port Angeles.... In 1866, the Customs Port of entry was returned to Port Townsend, among great rejoicing by the citizens.
As Pitcher notes, before Chase's disgraced resignation and Smith's ouster by Lincoln in 1864, the unflappable wheeler-dealer got the president to designate Port Angeles the "'second National City,' in case Washington, D.C. fell to the Confederate Army, even though the town's population at the time was only 10."

Today, Smith's bravado would be unthinkable--imagine Christine Gregoire calling out the National Guard to keep the Sonics in Seattle. Unsurprisingly, Port Angeles's website makes no mention of Smith's antics. Port Townsend's site also whitewashes the incident. I think I know why: the two port cities coexist peacefully only in the bliss of historical ignorance.

photos of Ruby Beach

What is the final answer to everything?

It depends.

[113th in a series]

only dopes vote for DOPA

[be sure to check out the update below]

Via Mark Kogan, news that 410 members of the U.S. House voted to block "social networking sites" from all libraries and public schools. (Guess who defines which sites are in or out? The FCC. FCC, why won't you let me be?)

Not only is it an unenforceable, unmanageable waste of government resources, it's impractical. It simply won't keep kids from accessing crap if they really want to. You see, there are these things called proxy servers that can route you around blocking software. You'd better believe that high school students know how to use them. And tell their friends how to hack the system. And sneak MySpace into their classtime when teachers aren't watching.

What really makes me mad is that we use "social networking" sites like Blogger for classroom purposes, and this bill might impede our hip, fresh, relevant instruction.

Kogan opines,
Instead of limiting our freedoms for absolutely stupid reasons, the governments needs to help educate parents and teachers to keep kids off these sites or at the very least, warn them about certain dangers of networking sites and chat rooms. Most of it is common sense and rather than now turning it into "forbidden fruit" they would be much better off with helping parents and teacher do their jobs and take care of their kids as they deem fit.

It's time for the government to stop telling us how to live our lives and stop making decisions for parents. This is why bad parenting abounds - more and more now, parents wait for someone else to fix their problems or blame their poor parenting on someone else. That's a poor trend to be encouraging.
When we need TV nannies to tell us how to raise our kids, is it any surprise that we need a nanny state to govern us?

More on DOPA here and here and here. Don't just pray that the Senate will refuse to go along with this political grandstanding. Call or email your senator today.

Update: My anger is mollified on one front after research into the proposed changes to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. There's a codified exception for use "for an educational purpose with adult supervision," so my teaching (hopefully) wouldn't be affected. But I stand by my assessment that the measure is largely ineffectual and a form of political grandstanding. From the floor debate, I quote the words of Rep. Jay Inslee of Bainbridge Island, Washington:
Mr. Speaker, I hate to spoil this garden party, but this is not, in truth, suburban legislation, it is substandard legislation. And the reason for that is that it is, in effect, a good press release, but it is not effective legislation addressing a huge problem threatening our children.

The reason I say that is, after sitting through many hearings in the Commerce Committee about this enormous problem, I reached one conclusion.... What we learned is that the problem is not in our schools. These kids are not hanging in the library with these sexual predators. They are hanging around in their dens, in their basements, in their living rooms, and in their upstairs bedrooms. That is where we have to get to the problem.

If you look at the problem here on this chart, only 10 percent of the abused kids are online and hardly any of them from schools. A tiny, tiny, infinitesimal portion. This will not solve the problem.

Now, there are things we can do, but, unfortunately, this legislation doesn't do a single one of them. I used to prosecute cases, so I know a little bit about law enforcement. I raised three kids, so I know a little bit about the terror of worrying about your children. But what this legislation does not do is the three things we need to do.

Number one, we have to give resources to law enforcement to prosecute these horrendous monsters. We had detective after detective come to our hearings and say, give us some money; we can prosecute these people. This doesn't give them a penny.

Number two, we need to protect the data. What the detectives told us is that this data, once it disappears, they can't find the culprits. Now we could require the data to be maintained for a year or two, like we are trying to do. This bill doesn't do that.

Third, what this bill could do is provide some real meaningful tools for our schools to educate our children on how to avoid these monsters on the Internet. This doesn't do that....

Now, why is this such a pathetic wave at trying to do something? Why has Congress failed so miserably here? There is a reason for that. The reason is we want press releases, without having to do the hard work to do legislation. That is why we didn't go through the Commerce Committee to have a markup on this bill so they could rush this thing to the floor and have their suburban agenda.

Well, speaking as a parent who represents 650,000 people, and probably 200,000 parents in suburbia, I think suburban parents, urban parents, rural parents, big-city parents and little-city parents deserve real legislation to stomp out the monstrosity that is going on on the Internet and not these little press releases. We can't go home and just say that we are heroes without having really done something.

When I go home, I am going to tell my constituents that, yes, maybe there are some headlines, but there wasn't real relief. And I look forward to the day when this Congress gets down to the nitty-gritty and really does something about this terrible problem.
Well said, Mr. Inslee. Now, if only you'd had the guts to vote against it.

why Washington State needs an independent judiciary

If this Seattle Times article doesn't convince you, I don't know what will.

Jul 27, 2006

are you ready for the revolution? the Virtual Academy takes off

Part I, online academies
Part II, the Google PC
Part III, homeschooling

Steilacoom's "Washington Virtual Academy," discussed in Part I, has triple the students its administrators expected.

Applications to enroll in a new Washington Virtual Academy have ballooned to more than 600 students....

And there’s slightly more than a month until the 2006-07 school year begins Aug. 31, meaning more students probably will apply to enroll in the free statewide K-8 public school between now and then.
The advantages are obvious: flexible times, individualized pace, freedom from the classroom's limitations. Parents, too, are happy with the curriculum offered.
Kerri Lund lives within the Olympia School District's boundaries but educates her two daughters at home. The girls will be in the fifth and seventh grades this fall. For six years, Lund has used the K-12 curriculum offered through the Steilacoom academy and has had her children enrolled in the district's online program since it started in 2004.

"After researching the different curricula out there, we decided this was the most thorough and comprehensive foundation we could give our kids," she said. "It was the most up to date and the most cutting edge."
But now the district has to figure out how to provide enough instructors to meet the demand, something neither Olympian article mentions. I'm going to contact the Virtual Academy to see what they say about their embarrassing riches.

personhood: not just a matter of biology

(a work in progress; click "read more" to see the whole thing)

Biological unity. Despite earlier doubts, Joe Carter argues that life begins at conception, end of story. Human identity is sewn up by a matter of biology. Carter quotes Robert George, who writes,
Human embryos possess the epigenetic primordia for self-directed growth into adulthood, with their determinateness and identity fully intact. The adult human being that is now you or me is the same human being who, at an earlier stage of his or her life, was an adolescent, and before that a child, an infant, a fetus, and an embryo. Even in the embryonic stage, you and I were undeniably whole, living members of the species homo sapiens. We were then, as we are now, distinct and complete (though in the beginning we were, of course, immature) human organisms; we were not mere parts of other organisms.
But is it really that simple? No.

First, George's tale of the zygote omits an essential component: the mother. Embryonic growth (and consequent fetal development) is not "self-directed," but rather is a complex interplay requiring maternal contributions. (See here and here for just two examples.) An embryo grown in vitro will die after nine days unless implanted. This is what leads Thomist philosopher Jason Eberl to declare that an embryo must implant in order to reach its full potential and become intellectually ensouled.

Second, consider a common human experience: two sperm penetrate and fertilize two ova, spawning two zygotes. At this point, George would have to agree that two human beings have been created, with "determinateness and identity fully intact." But here's where it gets weird. In rare cases, the zygotes fuse, and form a single entity: a tetragametic chimera.
As the organism develops, the resulting chimera can come to possess organs that have different sets of chromosomes. For example, the chimera may have a liver composed of cells with one set of chromosomes and have a kidney composed of cells with a second set of chromosomes. This has occurred in humans, though it is considered extremely rare.

Affected persons are identified by the finding of two populations of red cells or, if the zygotes are of opposite sex, ambiguous genitalia and hermaphroditism alone or in combination; such persons sometimes also have patchy skin, hair, or eye pigmentation (heterochromia). If the blastocysts are of the same sex, it can only be detected through DNA testing, although this is a rare procedure. Thus the phenomenon may be more common than currently believed.
Regardless of its rarity, tegragametic chimerism strikes a fatal blow to the embryo-as-person concept.1 When heterozygotic twins fuse, George would have to admit that a human being gets lost in the combination, and, mysteriously, 1+1=1.

Robert George's position is a form of reductionist physicalism.
Thus, what each of us refers to as "I" is identically the physical organism that is the subject both of bodily actions, such as perceiving and walking, and of mental activities, such as understanding and choosing. Therefore, you and I are physical organisms, rather than consciousnesses that merely inhabit or are "associated with" physical organisms. And so, plainly, we came to be when the physical organism we are came to be; we once were embryos, then fetuses, then infants, and so on.
This is what surprises me about George's--and, by extension, Carter's--adoption of a solely biological criterion for establishing personhood. Carter, in a piece attacking reductionism, writes,
Whereas the Christian believes that all aspects of reality* (physical, social, biological, spatial, physical, etc.,) are dependent upon God’s sustaining power and can therefore be interdependent, the unregenerate thinker will eventually claim that one aspect is identical with or depends on another.

In the previous post we saw how this worked out in the field of mathematics. Leibnitz related all aspects of reality to the mathematical. Mill reduced not only the mathematical aspect but all pretheoretical experience to the sensory aspect. In a similar manner, Russell folded the mathematical aspect into the aspect of logic while Dewey reduced it to the biological. These examples are typical of the way that presuppositions about the way that aspects of reality relate to one another control the theory-making process.

Examine any theory from the social or natural sciences that were later discredited and you will find a common thread: they all reduce at least one aspect of reality to another and treat one aspect as primary. The problem with this, as philosopher Roy Clouser notes, is that it assigns some part of creation the role of lawgiver to creation. Because the non-theists denies a role for a self-existent creator and sustainer, they must invoke some aspect of creation to perform those essential functions.

Naturally, such attempts to treat an aspect of creation as “divine” will prove futile. But the non-theist has no other choice. Forced to explain one aspect as a reduction of another (i.e., the “mind” reducible solely to the physical brain) they must necessarily embrace either absurdity (e.g., eliminative materialism) or logical incoherence (e.g., how does a physical object “know” another physical object?).

*These aspects of reality are more thoroughly explored by the late Christian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd and his “theory of modal aspects.” Dooyeweerd believed that God created certain laws and norms of reality that were both irreducible yet interrelated. Though the list wasn’t exhaustive, he spelled out 15 “spheres of human life and experience”: Spatial ; Kinematic, Physical (energy + mass), Biotic (life functions), Sensitive (sense, feeling, emotion) ; Analytical (distinction) ; Formative (deliberate shaping: history, culture, technology, goals and creativity) ; Lingual (meaning carried by symbolic) ; Social (social interaction) ; Economic (frugal use of resources) ; Aesthetic (harmony, surprise, fun); Juridical (due) ; Ethical (self-giving love, generosity) ; and Pistic (vision, aspiration, commitment, creed).
As John Lizza writes about the "biological paradigm of death,"
Only the nonreductionist view of persons "takes people seriously" in an ontologically and morally charged sense.... [A]ny strictly biological definition of death assumes some materially reductionist view about humanity or personhood.... [S]ince any strict biological definition of death assumes some reductionist view, those who reject such views ought to reject the idea that defining death is a strictly biological matter (Preface, xi).
Lizza goes on to explain that the same principles hold for considering life's beginning--and that we should take a "constitutive view" of human persons. Human persons are constituted by, but not coequal to, human bodies.

There are other ways of approaching human identity that attempt to use biology to inform a non-reductionist view of the human person. Jason Eberl's Thomist perspective mentioned above combines Aquinas's view of the three types of souls--vegetative, sensitive, and intellective--with biological reality.Eberl writes,
Once implantation occurs, twinning is no longer possible, and cell differentiation between the embryo proper and extraembryonic material is complete, the instance of matter that is the embryo proper can be said to be an individual instance of matter, informed by one form, viz., the intellective soul.

At the formation of the primitive streak, there is a living biological organism, capable of nutrition and growth, developing the earliest biological tools necessary for sensation, imagination, and rational thought (being that all of these powers are tied to the brain and spinal cord that develop from the primitive streak). Therefore, at this point, the powers proper to the vegetative type of soul are actualized (life,
nutrition, growth) and the powers proper to the sensitive type of soul are informing the biological organism to develop the tools necessary to actualize the powers of sensation and imagination. Also, the powers proper to the intellective type of soul are informing the same development in order to actualize the power of rational thought. The specific powers of sensation and intellection are not themselves actualized until the required organs begin to function. However, the soul itself is active by informing the body to develop the required organs. Therefore, I conclude that the human person is instantiated as an individual complete biological organism with the powers of life, sensation, and rational thought (i.e., a being with both a body and a human intellective soul) at the moment the primitive streak begins to
form, division of the organism (i.e., twinning) is no longer possible, and cells which form the embryo proper are determined to that end and no other.

1Daniel Gazzaniga attempts to make this point, writing,
Additionally, even divided embryos can recombine back into one. The happy result would be a person who has emerged from two distinct fertilized eggs but is otherwise just like you and me. The "person = zygote" theory would have to say that he is two people!
Though he confuses "divided embryos" and "two distinct fertilized eggs," he's on the right track.

state law, intent, and the Defense of Marriage Act

If you're not convinced that the purpose of Washington state's DOMA is exclusionary, not inclusive, read the RCW it created:
RCW 26.04.010
Marriage contract -- Void marriages.
(1) Marriage is a civil contract between a male and a female who have each attained the age of eighteen years, and who are otherwise capable.

(2) Every marriage entered into in which either the husband or the wife has not attained the age of seventeen years is void except where this section has been waived by a superior court judge of the county in which one of the parties resides on a showing of necessity.

[1998 c 1 § 3; 1973 1st ex.s. c 154 § 26; 1970 ex.s. c 17 § 2; 1963 c 230 § 1; Code 1881 § 2380; 1866 p 81 § 1; 1854 p 404 §§ 1, 5; RRS § 8437.]


Finding -- 1998 c 1: "(1) In P.L. 104-199; 110 Stat. 219, the Defense of Marriage Act, Congress granted authority to the individual states to either grant or deny recognition of same-sex marriages recognized as valid in another state. The Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage for purposes of federal law as a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife and provides that a state shall not be required to give effect to any public act or judicial proceeding of any other state respecting marriage between persons of the same sex if the state has determined that it will not recognize same-sex marriages.

(2) The legislature and the people of the state of Washington find that matters pertaining to marriage are matters reserved to the sovereign states and, therefore, such matters should be determined by the people within each individual state and not by the people or courts of a different state." [1998 c 1 § 1.]

Intent -- 1998 c 1: "(1) It is a compelling interest of the state of Washington to reaffirm its historical commitment to the institution of marriage as a union between a man and a woman as husband and wife and to protect that institution.

(2) The court in Singer v. Hara, 11 Wn. App. 247 (1974) held that the Washington state marriage statute does not allow marriage between persons of the same sex. It is the intent of the legislature by this act to codify the Singer opinion and to fully exercise the authority granted the individual states by Congress in P.L. 104-199; 110 Stat. 219, the Defense of Marriage Act, to establish public policy against same-sex marriage in statutory law that clearly and definitively declares same-sex marriages will not be recognized in Washington, even if they are made legal in other states." [1998 c 1 § 2.]

Severability -- 1973 1st ex.s. c 154: See note following RCW 2.12.030. [emphasis added]

Dale Carpenter on the DOMA decision

[following up on on a previous post; link via Ed Brayton]

Dale Carpenter's nuanced (and more learned) take on Washington's DOMA decision is worth reading. I have one major dispute with his interpretation, though, that aligns with the Court's claims. Carpenter writes,
The court explains – unlike the New York court — that the issue is not whether excluding gay couples from marriage advances these interests in any way (the exclusion of gay couples does not plausibly advance them) but whether including straight couples in marriage advances these interests (it clearly does) [emphasis in original].
This is undermined by the intent and purpose of the law, as even the title attests. The Defense of Marriage Act was never intended to include heterosexuals, but to exclude homosexuals by definition. It baffles me that the Court and reasonable readers like Carpenter missed that obvious point.

rational basis review: the key to the Washington State DOMA decision

From the decision [pdf]:
DOMA does not grant a privilege or immunity to a favored minority class, and we accordingly apply the federal analysis. The plaintiffs have not established that they are members of a suspect class or that they have a fundamental right to marriage that includes the right to marry a person of the same sex. Therefore, we apply the highly deferential rational basis standard of review to the legislature’s decision that only opposite-sex couples are entitled to civil marriage in this state.
Let's assume for the moment that the court is correct on its grounds for relying on the rational basis standard. The decision continues:
Under this standard, DOMA is constitutional because the legislature was entitled to believe that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers procreation, essential to survival of the human race, and furthers the well-being of children by encouraging families where children are reared in homes headed by the children’s biological parents. Allowing same-sex couples to marry does not, in the legislature’s view, further these purposes. Accordingly, there is no violation of the privileges and immunities clause.
As the decision explains later,
Moreover, the correct inquiry under rational basis review is whether allowing opposite-sex couples to marry furthers legitimate governmental interests.... Granting the right to marry to opposite-sex couples clearly furthers the governmental interests advanced by the State.
Notice the missing word: "only." Clearly, allowing heterosexual couples to marry advances state interests. But consider an analogy: a "Defense of Voting Act." The State decides to ban gays from voting, claiming that "allowing heterosexuals to vote furthers legitimate governmental interests." Certainly true--but would it then follow that disallowing homosexuals from voting would also further the State's interests? No. The chain of reasoning is a non sequitur.

Nonetheless, in its deference to the Legislature, the Court claims to sit under a massive burden of proof. To defeat the rational basis, the Court would have to show that there is no "conceivable set of facts" to support a legislative decision, even if it is contradicted by empirical evidence presented at the time the bill passes. The Court, by its own reasoning, is not allowed to review the evidence or testimony presented.

According to the Court, the mere existence of an argument--no matter how flawed, fallacious, or unsupported--that gay marriage somehow dilutes heterosexual marriage is enough to say "hands off."

Fairhurst, in her dissent, repudiates this gutless view of rational basis testing [pdf].
Despite the deference afforded to the legislature, the rational basis standard is not without teeth--“the court’s role is to assure that even under this deferential standard of review the challenged legislation is constitutional.” [DeYoung, 136] Moreover, this court tends to afford more deference to the legislature when considering economic statutes than it does when considering regulations curtailing personal civil liberties....
Thus armed, Fairhurst continues, echoing my logical critique:
First, the plurality identifies encouraging procreation as a legitimate state interest.... But there is no logical way that denying the right to marry to same-sex couples will encourage heterosexual couples to procreate with greater frequency. Second, the plurality points to encouraging marriage for relationships that result in children as a valid state interest.... But denying same-sex couples the right to marry also will not encourage couples who have children to marry or to stay married for the benefit of their children. Finally, the plurality declares that DOMA may be rationally related to the State’s interest in encouraging the raising of children in homes headed by opposite-sex couples.... Even if such a goal is valid, which seems unlikely, denying same-sex couples the right to marry has no hope of increasing such child rearing. The denial of the right to marry to an entire class of persons is completely unrelated to the proffered state interests. Thus, DOMA is not merely underinclusive and/or overinclusive, it is wholly irrational.

photos of Cape Flattery

it's never too late to say you're sorry

A few years ago, while my dad and some of us kids were picking up camping foodstuffs, he gestured to the front of the grocery store and said, "Go get me some frozen ice."

"What other kind is there?" I cracked, and my siblings laughed. It was resurrected in applicable moments for years afterward.

Well, Dad, I was wrong, and you were right. There really is Frozen Ice. I hope you can accept this belated apology.

Jul 26, 2006

slippery slope noted, ignored

Joseph Fuiten, a Bothell pastor, claimed back in November:
"There's no such thing as de-facto parent; you're either a parent or you aren't.... They've changed the definition of parents today; they'll change the definition of marriage tomorrow."
So much for that. Next fallacy, please?

photos of Dungeness Spit

from Sequim to Olympia, with excursions to Neah Bay and Lake Wynoochee

The best vacations are a mix of planning and moment's spurs. We had an open itinerary: leaving Monday morning and back by Wednesday evening. Beyond that, it was up to us, the guidebook, fate, and the weather. Us: myself, my wife, and my mother- and sister-in-law. The guidebook: Moon Handbooks: Washington. Fate: unemployed. The weather: mostly good.

After setting up camp in the Sequim Ramada--"You do have a room here, you know," said the attendant, "And your tent is messing up the ceiling fan."--we surveyed the downtown, noted the copious lavendar sprigs, and ultimately decided to head north to the fabled Dungeness Spit. We walked the first half mile, arriving too late to attempt the 5.5 mile trek to the lighthouse. Didn't matter: a splendid view of the Olympics, waves battering the spit, balmy breezes. (Photos here.)

Dinner was decent homestyle pizza at Tarcisio's, where we enjoyed "Cookie on the Road to Chimacum," the true story of a dog rescued from death's door, which for some reason the management finds fit for dinnertime reading. Overwhelmed, we returned to the hotel to rest up for another day's adventure.

Ominous clouds hung over Sequim as we left camp, heading for Neah Bay, the Makah Museum, and Cape Flattery. As we drove down 101, branching off at 112, approaching the northwesternmost point of the lower 48, the sun broke through, but quickly retreated behind dense fog.

The Makah Museum was well worth the $5 admission ($4 for students). A nice treat for me was seeing the work of Alex McCarty on display. (I first learned of his craft back in my Evergreen days, since he was in my MIT cohort.)

After lunch, we drove eight miles out to the Cape Flattery trail, a half-mile jaunt through rainforest to the edge of the world. (Photos here.) Unfortunately, the fog obscured Tatoosh Island, but closer views of sea stacks, crashing waves, and a golden eagle more than made up for the disappointment.

We eventually drove back to Sequim, this time taking a chance on Danny's Country Place, proclaiming itself to be the Best Barbecue in Western Washington. Do not eat there. No self-respecting barbecue joint plays classical music or has pictures of wine bottles and pasta on the wall, not to mention wallpaper from grandma's bathroom. Mediocre food. Avoid at all costs.

"Why not." A motto for minimal planning, the order of the day. We decided to return to Olympia by driving all the way around the Olympic Peninsula, passing by Lake Crescent (gotta vacation there someday), breezing through Forks, detouring to see the world's largest (almost dead) Duncan Memorial Cedar, and stopping for lunch at Ruby Beach (photos here).

Roadbound again, we passed the most expensive gas station in Washington, 3.79 per gallon, regular unleaded, at the Kalaloch Lodge. (It's forty cents cheaper fifteen minutes down 101. Suckers.) As we approached Hoquiam, I saw a sign for Wynoochee Lake. "Why not skip Hoquiam?" I asked aloud, and no one said "because," so we braved the dirt road and spent a half hour driving to the southern reaches of the Olympic National Forest. Once we arrived, surprise of surprises, my parents were there, hanging out with some friends. After my mom revived, we spent an indolent afternoon in the sun, eventually leaving via the western exit to cross paths with Highway 12, the road home.

Jul 24, 2006

Sequim beckons

The last time we tried to take a vacation, we failed. The last time we tried to make it to Sequim, we failed. But we're trying again, and vacationing in Sequim for the next two days. Hasta pronto.

Update: While the girls are lounging in the hotel hot tub, I'm blogging from the lobby. (Fifteen minute limit? Are you crazy?) We visited the Dungeness Spit today--longest sand spit in the world, mind you--and tomorrow, per my decision, we're headed to Neah Bay, the extreme northwest corner of the peninsula. Should have some great photos by Wednesday. Meanwhile, behave yourselves.

Jul 23, 2006

polly want a quiz?

Peter points us to this story of an African grey parrot who lets you know when he's sick of standardized testing:
"He'll generally perform with almost perfect accuracy for about the first maybe 12, 15 trials, and then he just does not want to do it … he'll sit there and he'll preen, or he'll give me all the wrong answers in a row, which takes a lot of intelligence because he's avoiding the one correct answer," the Professor said.

"If he's giving me six wrong answers in a row, you know he's avoiding that seventh answer carefully.

"So you know he knows it, because by chance he couldn't do that."
The empirical evidence for varieties of animal sentience grows every day. I'll quote myself:
It's a credit to humans' basic anthropocentrism that this--the idea that other animals might be as wily, deceptive, and crafty as we are--comes as a surprise.
The research is being put to practical use as well.
"I've been working with a colleague, Diane Sherman, who's in Monterey at New-Found Therapies, and she's been adapting our training procedures for work with autistic children, with very good results," Professor Pepperberg said.

"She's helped these children immensely. None of the children have reached completely normal stages, but all of them have progressed significantly."
Peter remarks,
How's that for a great intersection of humanity? On the one hand, we're finding that a bird has an impressive level of intelligence, on par with a human child. On the other hand, we're taking that knowledge to help human children who have a cognitive disability. It's an odd triangle of intelligence between an adult human, a disabled human child, and an intelligent parrot.

See also...
animals are smarter than you think
eat, crow
the crows seem to be calling my name

color commentary

Watching baseball with the women of the house is a treat. You never can anticipate what they're going to say. Especially Mom.

(after the camera switches from the back view of Ichiro, who's warming up on deck, to the batter)

"Ichiro doesn't look Japanese anymore."
"He looks black."
"Mom, that's Adam Jones."

(after several minutes of merciless ribbing, and another choke-strikeout by Adrian Beltre)

"Is Adrian Beltre the pitcher?"
"No, Mom. In the American League, pitchers don't bat."
"They don't?"
"Then why did Ichiro bat?"
"Mom, Ichiro isn't a pitcher."
"He isn't? I thought he was."
"Did you see Ichiro pitch anytime today?"

(my younger sister, at another point, observes as the Red Sox pitcher throws it in the dirt)

"That's a ground pitch."
"Yes," I say, "Also known as a 'lander,' 'cause it scoots along the land."

gay marriage makes everything better

Based on these numbers (and let's not forget these numbers), we have a moral imperative to support gay marriage.

(I never knew just how much fun it is to hyperbolize. Thanks, Bill Frist, you've opened up a whole new world of wonder and discovery.)

Joe Carter on the definition of personhood

I've been reading Joe Carter's thoughts on the beginning of life in order to address his position that personhood human life begins at conception. I've catalogued the most salient pieces here, for the purposes of memory and to allow others to access the full range of his arguments. (It would also be an easy way for Mr. Carter to point others to the sum of his own work. You're welcome in advance.)

Update: Carter notes,
To clarify, what I would argue is that what begins at conception is a new human being and the inherent value of that being, its human dignity.

The first is a simple brute fact of biology while the second is the implication of being made in the image of God and being the property of our Creator. While I find the concept of "personhood" valuable and useful, I think it becomes problematic when used to determine bioethical questions of life and death. Personhood, like rights, has become something that must be given or at least recognized by society rather something that is inherent and inalienable. I find this to be one of the most dangerous ideas in history.
Point taken, and the post is revised to reflect Carter's clarified thinking.

Being a Person: Why Personhood is Not Enough

Hype and Hypocrisy: Kinsley, IVF, and Embryo Destruction

The Embryo Eaters: Part I -- A Bioethical Thought Experiment

The Embryo Eaters: Part 2 -- PZ Myers and McEmbryos

Analogies and Artifacts: Can Embryonic Stem Cell Research be Morally Acceptable?
Analogies and Artifacts: Can Embryonic Stem Cell Research be Morally Acceptable? (Part II)

Fertilization or Implantation?: Reconsidering the “Morning-After Pill”
Fertilization or Implantation?: Pt. II -- The Case for Conception

Seattle elementary schools are weensy

So saith the Times:
Twenty-nine of Seattle's 61 elementary schools — almost half — enrolled 300 or fewer students this past school year. No other Washington school district with more than 2,000 students had that many schools that small. Many neighboring districts don't have a single elementary under 300. Some start at 400.
More surprising to me is this statistic:
One big reason Seattle has small schools is because it didn't close enough schools to keep pace when enrollment declined from about 100,000 students in the late 1960s to about 46,000 today.
A graying population? Unaffordable real estate? Industrialization? All of the above?

Jul 22, 2006

waiter, there's a bug in my salad

How does life spread from planet to planet? Comets are one potential vector, as are meteorites, space ships, and now, electromagnetic fields.
Dehel calculated the effect of electric fields at various levels in the atmosphere on a bacterium that was carrying an electric charge. He showed that such bacteria could easily be ejected from the Earth's gravitational field by the same kind of electromagnetic fields that generate auroras. And these fields occur every day, unlike the extraordinarily large surface impacts needed to eject interplanetary meteorites....

Charged microbes could also be propelled outwards from a planet at high speed by “magnetospheric plasmoids” - independent structures of plasma and magnetic fields that can be swept away from the Earth’s magnetosphere. Hitching rides on these structures could accelerate microbes to speeds capable of taking them out of the solar system and on to the planets of other stars.

And because of the potential for a steady outflow of the particles pushed by the electric fields, a single life-bearing world might seed an entire galaxy with life, claims Dehel.
The evidence cuts both ways: it makes the panspermia hypothesis more plausible, but also makes it likely that life discovered elsewhere in our own solar system--say, on Mars--could have originated on earth.

See also...
tossed salad in space
tossed in space

fetomaternal chimerism in glowing mice

Regardless of your beliefs regarding stem cells, you have to grant that this is profoundly weird.

There's more here.
Mind-blowing as this finding may be, little is still known about this phenomenon. The development, mechanism, function and evolution of this process is just beginning to be explored. But it already raises a whole range of questions: can we measure a difference between mother’s and “non-mother’s” brains, both structurally and functionally? Does this “fetomaternal microchimerism” lead to any advantages (i.e. survival) in mothers? What is the range of variation in this kind of expression: are there “good” and “bad” fetuses? Are mothers of many children better off in any respect of those with fewer children? Or is this process just a question of striking the energy balance, the child “paying back” what it deprived the mother of during pregnancy?
Learn more about chimerism here.

are you ready for the revolution? part III, homeschooling

Part I, online academies
Part II, the Google PC

Homeschoolers and school districts have a new way to strengthen their sometimes uneasy alliance, through the continued expansion of online learning. It's happening right here, right now.
The Olympia School District plans to start a distance learning program late this fall that would reach out to students receiving home-based instruction.

The district is exploring ways to start an online learning program that would be accessible to all Olympia students, starting with those in middle and high school....

Avanti High School Principal Joy Walton is working to develop the distance learning program, which initially would join up with parents who are educating their children at home.

It’s likely parents could seek a range of educational options, from simply receiving materials or guidance from an Olympia teacher to having their child receive regular instruction at a school learning center.
Some homeschoolers see it as a threat to homeschooling, but I see it exactly the other way. It's the potential homeschoolization of public education, an increasing emphasis on individual learning fostered by IEPs, alternative schools, and now, viable online programs. (Note that the new Olympia initiative will eventually be available to in-district students.)

The Skyward program we use for attendance--or something bigger and/or better--will someday be the place to post grades and comments on student performance, with access for parents, possibly linked to other online programs. The software and hardware are already in place, and the wider culture is ready for it. Are you?

missing, remiss

Naomi is back, at long last, with an explanation for the absence: a hospital stay to diagnose and correct a heart condition.
After three days, it was concluded that the enzyme level was a lab error—four subsequent tests came out flat normal—and I have a slight electrical abnormality in my heartbeat pattern (in the T-wave, for the medically inclined among you) that amounts to nothing more than a harmless quirk. I was diagnosed with costochondritis, which is a viral inflammation of the cartilage in the rib cage, and sent home with a prescription for 800mg ibuprofen horse pills. (They did three chest X-rays, an echocardiogram, several more EKGs, a chest CAT scan, and tons of bloodwork to rule out all the more serious possibilities, hence the $22,000+ tab.)

There are two codas to this story. Coda the first: In the midst of all that testing, they also uncovered a very slight degree of mitral valve prolapse, undetectable by stethoscope, which is basically a fancy name for a certain type of heart murmur that many people go their entire lives without discovering. However, since stimulants have a way of making it worse over the course of a lifetime, I am henceforth ordered off caffeine. Yes, that's right. No more caffeine. Ever. And there's nothing like eliminating caffeine cold turkey to make you realize how dependent you were on the stuff. But this amounts to a minor annoyance at worst and a great excuse to stop consuming something that isn't very good for you under the best of circumstances, plus a very strong incentive to get more sleep. I am content.
Good to know.

In other blog inactivity news, we wonder whatever became of Mere Orthodoxy. I'd hate to de-link what was once my number one read, since my brother and his blogging pals were consistently posting good stuff about philosophy, science, relationships, and everything else from a thoughtful Christian perspective. We were friendly adversaries in the iron-sharpens-iron way, and I miss that. I know that my brother's absence (he's finishing a book, teaching, running GodBlogCon, and being a good husband) is a major loss, but there are four other guys on staff. Fellas?

Jul 21, 2006

Weezer's long decline halted

So long, Weezer.
Cuomo, 36, said he has been writing songs, but said, "I don't know what'll happen with these songs — if anything. ... I certainly don't see them becoming Weezer songs, and I don't really see the point of a solo career. So we'll just have to see."
The last two Weezer albums haven't contained any Weezer songs, either. I'd rather remember Young Weezer, like Young Elvis, before mediocrity set in and the magic disappeared.

preservation and transposition

We're pulling out of the Albertsons parking lot when I notice a vanity plate attached to a Chevy Suburban that reads "CRE8MEM." "Through scrapbooking," says the license plate holder. How clever.

Except when I first see it, I think it says "CREM8EM," which is just a little different.

we all have a parking meter story to share

But we all haven't published a book of parking meter stories, like Jack Fawcett has.
He's got lots of stories, most of them funny, and this summer, the Birmingham Historical Society has collected them in a memoir titled "Parking for a Nickel," released by JCarp Publications of Ann Arbor.... The book also contains stories unrelated to meters about silly little things Fawcett and other Birmingham police officers used to do.
I'm sure it makes for great reading, full of pithy wisdom and hilarious hijinks.

He'd better watch out, though. A parking attendant across the pond, already blogging, is planning on writing a book, too. A preview:
It has been almost intolerably hot on patrol today. Fortunately my beat was the leafy suburbs with lots of limited waiting and plenty of opportunities to duck into the shade. Drank a hell of a lot of water and even returned to base twice for extra supplies. I reek of sweat and the moment I have posted this am off for a nice long cool shower.
A sure-fire hit.

Writing a history of parking meters, though, is another matter entirely. Join the effort and help this guy!

[First link via Obscure Store]

you can't help but stare

ESPN has an great batch of ugly uniforms to kick off its Uni Watch Hall of Shame. I can't believe, though, that the Denver Nuggets' rainbow squad look from the eighties didn't make the initial list. There has never been a worse uniform in any sport, amateur or professional.

putting it all together

Before you click "read more" to access the entirety of this post, check out this MySpace page [pdf], and answer these questions:

1. Is there anything interesting or noteworthy?
2. Is there anything that stands out, making this an unusual page?
3. Is there anything troubling or disturbing?

As I type this, my wife lounges on the couch behind me, soaking up another Ann Rule true crime tome. Rule's books are popular in part because she draws upon her experience as a police investigator to ask the right questions, to consider evidence and motives, and to use the right terminology. (As a writer, she's competent, which is rare in the genre.)

The Ann Rules of the world have one more piece to add to their narrative puzzle: the tell-tale MySpace page. The example you just saw belonged to the prime suspect in a shocking Seattle quadruple homicide. For a storyteller like Rule, the clues are all there: the struggle with alcoholism, the crying, the Freudian fear of becoming like his father. But my hunch is that if you knew nothing about its creator, you'd shrug and say it was just another profile.

put to the test

Does Measurement Measure Up?
John M. Henshaw

An engineer and teacher with wide-ranging interests and a vivid style, Henshaw is the ideal candidate to bring the logic of measurement to the masses. GPS, S&P, ETS, AVG, IQ, DNA, MRI: Henshaw connects them in a way that makes sense. Learn the origin of the overhead projector. Learn why "weighted averages" are a crock. Most important, learn why humans are so fond of dubious measurements--85% of us are in love with them, according to my research.

Since this is a blog about education and politics, rather than a detailed summary, I'll quote a passage that stood out to me.
... one of the most difficult adjustments of going back to school was taking written tests again. As the clock ticked away while I desperately tried to solve some intractable math problem on my first test in graduate school, I remember thinking how contrived it all seemed. Only a few weeks earlier, I had been a respected engineer, making daily decisions that affected quality, safety, productivity, and profitability. How did I make those decisions? Certainly not by going into a room all by myself, cutting myself off from all sources of information except what was between my ears, and scribbling furiously on a clean sheet of paper for a rigidly defined (and always too short) period of time (p. 105).
Henshaw goes on to describe the tension that all teachers feel about grading and testing, fitting students into narrow expectations while still trying to instill a love of learning. Which isn't measurable. "At least, not yet."

Jul 20, 2006

Jesus sends out his twelve games

Matthew 10:43-48

43 After he had sent out the twelve disciples, Jesus turned to the games gathered around him and spoke, saying, 44 "Go, therefore, and make merry the minds of men. Bring joy and delight to children, and bemused smiles to their mothers' faces. Fill up the hours of the elderly, the inmates, the road-trippers. 45 Many will be bored by you and seek amusement elsewhere, but you must not let their weariness and ennui get you down. 46 For others, you will cause long arguments and set brother against brother and nerd against nerd. But great will be your reward for doing my Father's work."

After he had finished, Jesus blessed them, 47 and sent them into the lands surrounding Jerusalem. The names of the games were Connect Four, Scrabble, Chess, Checkers, Cranium, Pinochle, Texas Hold 'em, 48 Air Hockey, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Trivial Pursuit 90s Edition, Backgammon, and Tic-Tac-Toe.

[112th in a series]

to the idiot who left broken glass on the beach at Ocean Shores

Melting your beer bottle in the fire must have seemed like a pretty cool trick to your drunk friends. Whoa, cool, they must have said. It bubbles. Then they returned to their beers, pounding them down until overcome by the urge to vomit into the rising tide. You kept poking at the bottle, watching it slowly melt into nothing, even in your drunkenness recognizing the metaphor for your own deliquescing dreams.

Later, sober, you buried it and metaphor in the sand.

There were two unanticipated problems with your scheme, though. First, the bottle didn't melt all the way. Second, it broke in pieces, leaving a jagged edge that could slice through a defenseless foot like glass through skin.

Which it did.

Thanks, jackass.

déjà vu on demand

From NewScientist (subs. req.):
The researchers showed volunteers 24 common words, then hypnotised them and told them that when they were next presented with a word in a red frame, they would feel that the word was familiar, although they would not know when they last saw it. Green frames would make them think that the word belonged to the original list of 24.

After being taken out of hypnosis, the volunteers were presented with a series of words in frames of various colours, including some that were not in the original 24 and which were framed in red or green.

Of the 18 people studied so far, 10 reported a peculiar sensation when they saw new words in red frames and five said it definitely felt like déjà vu.
From NewScientist (subs. req.):
The researchers showed volunteers 24 common words, then hypnotised them and told them that when they were next presented with a word in a red frame, they would feel that the word was familiar, although they would not know when they last saw it. Green frames would make them think that the word belonged to the original list of 24.

After being taken out of hypnosis, the volunteers were presented with a series of words in frames of various colours, including some that were not in the original 24 and which were framed in red or green.

Of the 18 people studied so far, 10 reported a peculiar sensation when they saw new words in red frames and five said it definitely felt like déjà vu.
(Just messin'.)

skepticism, Scooby-style

The Skeptics' Circle turns 39 today by taking a page out of the Scooby Doo playbook. (Is that close to middle age for a carnival?)

Jul 19, 2006

you saw it first... on The Simpsons

Someone may have already pointed this out, but here goes.

Remember the fury over the unprecedented search in the William Jefferson case that began a couple months back? The historic first--the Congressman's office being raided by the FBI?

Well, if people had paid attention to The Simpsons, particularly Season 3, Episode 8F01, "Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington," they would have seen it coming. Congressman Bob Arnold, who has already taken a bribe to allow logging in the Springfield National Forest, gets busted when an FBI agent plays that he's willing to fork over cash to drill for oil on Mt. Rushmore. As Arnold takes the bribe, agents crash into his office, completing the sting.

Pure television prophecy.

(Incidentally, Chief Wiggum's famed quote in "Bart the Murderer"--"I'm not gonna stop until one of us is in jail... You!"--presages Bush's "Either you disarm, or we will" by over a decade.)

Bush Exercises Veto For First Time, Pulls Muscle

July 19, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Bush today vetoed legislation that would have relaxed rules prohibiting federally-funded research on embryonic lines created after 2001. While penning the no-go, Bush tweaked his left teres major, a little-used muscle on the shoulder.

"This bill would support the taking of innocent human life of the hope of finding medical benefits for others. It crosses a moral boundary that our society needs to respect, so I--oh, s---," said Bush. "Cramping. Should have stretched."

It was the first veto in Bush's presidency. The president ignored the advice of White House physician Dr. Luanne Jenser, who had encouraged him to veto at least once a year. "The teres major is sensitive, prone to strain with intermittent use," said Jenser.

Asked if he would veto again in the near future, Bush responded, "Hell no. Once is enough."


So "e-mail has become the new snail mail," passed like it was standing still by instant messaging and texting and MySpace.
"It used to be just fun," says Danah Boyd, a doctoral candidate who studies social media at the University of California, Berkeley. "Now it's about parents and authority."
This is what we deserve for goading our grandparents to get with the digital program.

Of course, in a few years IM, text, and MySpace will be just another place to get nagged about missing homework. What then?

Jul 18, 2006

Watershed Park on a Tuesday afternoon

the feel-good story of the day

... is a real-life version of American History X.

welcome to the club

TRP celebrates his 500th post:
I just looked over the entire history of this blog and thought I'd pick ten posts I especially like for you guys to revisit if you'd like.

Much to my pleasant surprise, it was hard to do...I've written a lot of stuff that I wanted on the list. Nonetheless, I pared it down, figuring the peanut gallery can call attention to whatever favorites I've omitted that they have on their refrigerators or taped inside the front covers of their Bibles.
I affix them to my mirror, and read them in my best Harry Shearer voice before shaving--what are you doing here? Get over there and congratulate TRP for his Ruthian achievement.

Update: He's reached 30,000 hits, too. Not even Ruth could do that.

OSD recommendations following Monday's meeting

OLYMPIA - An additional Olympia High School counselor and a curriculum director are two new positions that the Olympia School Board gave tentative approval to Monday night....

The district also plans to adopt new textbooks in other areas in the future.

Under the district's existing structure, the curriculum adoption process largely is the responsibility of the executive director of K-12 teaching and learning - an administrator whose duties extend far and wide across Olympia schools.

"It would take twice as long given the staff we have," Lahmann said.

Meanwhile, the complete list of Olympia School District recommendations for new spending on curriculum, special education, teacher training and more also appears poised for board approval. No board members suggested eliminating any of the recommended items, which will be up for a vote in August.
Read the article for a rehash of the recommended items, which have been discussed here before. Read it also to find out why parents of special education students still aren't satisfied, and why spending cuts may be necessary in the near future. Welcome to the zero sum game of educational funding.

Jul 17, 2006

Whitehead vs. Whitehead in a fight to the coda

A little over two weeks ago I mentioned upcoming litigation in the Everett School District, as the Jackson High School wind ensemble was barred from playing an instrumental (!) version of "Ave Maria" at commencement.

Today, papers were served, the Rutherford Institute (John Whitehead presiding*) representing saxophonist Kathryn Nurre. Quoth the other Whitehead, no relation, who nixed Nurre's musical ambitions:
"I don't make decisions based on personal philosophy. I make decisions based on what I agreed to do here," she said.
Which, apparently, is still "standing up for the stupid."

*Yep, it's a strange world when a Christian Reconstructionist sounds like the voice of reason.

same difference

Remember the little joke about ad hominems, the one your fourth grade buddy told you? "When you point a finger at me, you got three pointin' back at you."
Regarding embryonic stem cell research, and responding to a commenter, Joe Carter demonstrates the principle.
Let’s first distinguish the terms “human being” (a scientific term) and “human person” (a philosophical concept). The creation of a new human being occurs sometime in the period between the processes of gametogenesis and fertilization. Two distinct parts of other human beings (the sperm and the oocyte) combine to create a new, genetically distinct, whole living human being at the embryonic single-cell stage of development. This is, as far as I am aware, an uncontested scientific fact.... After fertilization occurs, the human embryo (regardless of the number of cells) doesn't become another kind of thing. It simply continues to grow and move through the various stages of human development until adulthood.... Sure, you can claim that it is not a "human person." But to claim that it is not a "human being" is to go against scientifically verifiable facts.
A quick scroll down the page, and we see Carter making the observation that "Also, isn't it odd that the only times people make distinctions about 'human being' and 'human person' is when they want to treat members of the human species as sub-human?"

I'm going to save a discussion of the philosophical and empirical import for another post, since I'm reading John Lizza's Persons, Humanity, and the Definition of Death, a summer reading choice sparked by this conversation in which I tried to empathize with the embryos-are-people perspective.

it'll happen here, too: Teachers Under Siege

Teachers Under Siege
Sandra Leaton Gray
In the 1988 Education Reform Act, there was political impetus to see education marketised, allowing good schools to compete against bad ones for pupils, theoretically forcing the bad ones to close. There was a political desire for increased centralisation of education, which eventually led to Local Education Authorities being systematically undermined, mainly by allowing schools to opt out of local authority control, and become directly-funded, or 'Grant Maintained,' from central Government. A National Curriculum was introduced, as a further standardisation measure, along with new public examinations, called the General Certificate in Secondary Education.... Further assessment and quality control mechanisms were introduced, including Standard Assessment Tests, aimed at assessing pupils' progress in relation to the National Curriculum at ages 7, 11, and 14.... This undermined the status of the professional and turned the teacher into a technician, delivering a model for education that had been developed elsewhere.
If the above words seem eerily familiar, it's because you recognize the same themes in recent American education reform. Standardization. Centralization. Dehumanization. Control. Teachers Under Siege explains how British education got that way, and where it's headed in the future.

The book is a qualitative study based on interviews with 40 educators from various and diverse British locales, addressing the political, economic, social and technological future of teaching. Participants were asked to envision education in 2020, and their visions are largely cynical. Gray establishes a theoretical framework for the study, presents the methods and results, and then interprets the data to recommend conclusions.

It's heavy going, and not for those who aren't comfortable with sociological jargon and a baseline familiarity with British education. However, the conclusion is a clarion call.
Until teachers grasp the oppportunity to attend professional association meetings, stand for election and use the democratic process to give themselves a voice, they can expect to people policy but not to influence it.... Education needs to learn to value its human face over its organizational one, and teachers need to be at the vanguard.