Cast of Characters:

Enkidu (AKA Slim)
Beowolf (AKA Wolfie)
Blaze (AKA Blaze)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Population shift happens

Get over it! People have been moving since the dawn of time!

Cal Thomas is whining in a piece called "Vanishing England" about all the foreigners moving to England and all the English moving away. He also complains about Britons having abortions and immigrants having lots of babies.

He neglects to note that the Angles and the Saxons came from somewhere else...specifically northern Europe a long time ago and were not always Britons. Not to mention the Normans of 1066. What is his take on the Celts? They didn't originally live on the British Isles either. They came from somewhere else, though no one is really sure from where.

Also, being a colonial power, (historically) trading in slaves and goods from all over the world kinda makes it ridiculous to try to want an insular England. If you tell them that they're British, they probably would feel that they have every right to go to England. Brown skinned people are nothing new. With all the white Britons spread all over the globe, it's only natural that other people would go to Britain.

Migrations of people are ongoing. Establishing borders and trying to keep people in or out is just unnatural. Get over it. The character of the country will change. I agree. That's life.

It's kinda like all the children and grandchildren of immigrants, who were essentially squatters on Native American land, bitching about the most recent waves of immigrants.

And don't even get me started on language policy as it relates to immigrants!

Just stop being so xenophobic and get to know "them" as individuals. You'll find that people are people, regardless of their skin color, religion or language!

Choosing a major in high school

Phyllis Schlafly is all freaked out about a new trend in schools, in which students are required to choose a high school major. Let me quote a bit from her article "The Latest "Major" Fad in Public Schools."

Freshmen at Dwight Morrow High School in New Jersey, starting this fall, must declare a major, and they must take at least one course in that subject every trimester for four years. The major will be noted on their diplomas.

She complains that this is bad, because kids change their minds about everything a lot. She writes:

Most teens are not ready to lock into a lifetime career so early; they need to explore and investigate options and opportunities. Anyway, there are magnet schools for those who are ready for specialization.

See, I would argue that the major path would be an exploration of an option. I think that kids in high school are already required to take a number of classes that they might not enjoy, but at least if they are taking career oriented classes, they can see how what they have been learning might (or might not) fit in to actual future education/employment. I guess an important question to ask might be how this is fit into the rest of their schedules. Which courses are there besides the major track? How many are required and how many are elective? As far as magnet schools, I would argue that not all kids have the opportunity to go to magnet schools.

Another thing to consider, is that it is common in Europe for university bound students to have already selected a major, or at least a track in literature or science, for example, before they are able to graduate high school. Their high school exit exam (often named something very close to "Bachelors") is geared towards that field.

I find it odd that she ends her article with this:

Public schools should teach all first-graders to read by the time-tested phonics system, and teach all schoolchildren to know and use the fundamentals of arithmetic by the end of the third grade. This would end the shocking epidemic of illiteracy that now permits students to get into high school and even graduate without being able to read, write or calculate change at the grocery store.

Choosing a major won't solve the problem of high school dropouts who can't read, write, add, subtract, multiply, or divide. Public schools will remain a national embarrassment unless and until the fundamentals are taught in elementary classes.

How does a lack of literacy have anything to do with encouraging kids to explore career options? Yes, please teach children to read (and please do it before they reach high school!). I think that everyone would agree that this is important. However, learning to read and learning the basics about law, or physics, or literature are not mutually exclusive! In fact, if the students do find a field that they are excited about, maybe that would motivate them to hone their basic academic skills.

All that said, I think that it is important to strike a balance between letting kids be kids and helping them to find their path in life. I would advise observing the results of major based high school education, allowing some time for fine-tuning, and then decide whether it is a net positive or negative.

Civil Unions documented in medieval France

Thanks to, I have learned that there was an arrangement in medieval France, very similar to civil unions.

ScieneDaily reports on recent University of Chicago Journal article. Here is an excerpt:

For example, in late medieval France, the term affrèrement -- roughly translated as brotherment -- was used to refer to a certain type of legal contract, which also existed elsewhere in Mediterranean Europe. These documents provided the foundation for non-nuclear households of many types and shared many characteristics with marriage contracts, as legal writers at the time were well aware, according to Tulchin.

The new "brothers" pledged to live together sharing 'un pain, un vin, et une bourse' -- one bread, one wine, and one purse. As Tulchin notes, "The model for these household arrangements is that of two or more brothers who have inherited the family home on an equal basis from their parents and who will continue to live together, just as they did when they were children." But at the same time, "the affrèrement was not only for brothers," since many other people, including relatives and non-relatives, used it.

The effects of entering into an affrèrement were profound. As Tulchin explains: "All of their goods usually became the joint property of both parties, and each commonly became the other's legal heir. They also frequently testified that they entered into the contract because of their affection for one another. As with all contracts, affrèrements had to be sworn before a notary and required witnesses, commonly the friends of the affrèrés."

Tulchin argues that in cases where the affrèrés were single unrelated men, these contracts provide "considerable evidence that the affrèrés were using affrèrements to formalize same-sex loving relationships. . . . I suspect that some of these relationships were sexual, while others may not have been. It is impossible to prove either way and probably also somewhat irrelevant to understanding their way of thinking. They loved each other, and the community accepted that. What followed did not produce any documents."

He concludes: "The very existence of affrèrements shows that there was a radical shift in attitudes between the sixteenth century and the rise of modern antihomosexual legislation in the twentieth."

Here is a reference to the full article: Allan Tulchin, "Same-Sex Couples Creating Households in Old Regime France: The Uses of the Affrèrement." Journal of Modern History: September 2007.

Another book down

I just finished reading another book, Dragon and Phoenix by Joanne Bertin. This book is interesting, because it sat on my shelf for so long without getting read. It was a a birthday or Christmas present from the boyfriend that I had in 1999. I had just assumed that I had read it before, but decided to read it again anyway. The first chapter was familiar, but I guess that's only because it had been printed at the end of the previous book, The Last Dragon Lord, as a teaser and I had read it there. The further I got into it, the more I noticed that I had no idea what was going to happen. It was a pleasant surprise, since I usually remember the ending of a book that I decide to re-read about half way through.

Happiness is lounging around and reading fantasy fiction...not that that is all I did all day. I also did legitimate work, uploading worksheets and such a a lesson-share site for other teachers to work with.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Really hungry ferrets

In the past, the ferrets have been satisfied with one ice-cube worth of ferret gruel. Just this morning, they've finished off three. I'm wondering if I didn't put enough of something in the mix on this batch. I'm surprised that they're still hungry. Maybe there is too much water and not enough kibble or chicken. I guess I'll just feed them until they stop eating.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Arabic and Islam - are they the same?

A couple of recent pieces on have prompted me to comment a bit on the relationship of Arabic to Islam.

Ken Connor has written to express his concerns about a new Arabic school in NYC.

Abraham Lincoln once famously observed, "The philosophy of the school room in one generation is the philosophy of government in the next."

The truth of Lincoln's observation is, no doubt, at the core of the apprehensions that New Yorkers have expressed about the Khalil Gibran International Academy scheduled to open next month in Brooklyn. Adding to their apprehensions is the fact that KGIA is just three blocks from a mosque which has a history of employing radical imams and which was frequented by one of the terrorists implicated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

It takes a lot to rankle Gotham City dwellers, but, given their experience with radical Islam, one can sympathize with their angst. Mind you, KGIA is a public school and will be funded with public tax dollars, some of which will come from families of the victims of 9/11. World Net Daily reports that the school's curriculum "will integrate intensive Arabic language instruction and the study of Middle Eastern history and historical figures," including the life and teachings of the prophet Muhammad. WND also explains that field trips will include destinations in the Middle East and that "teacher materials will be adapted from publications supplied by the Council on Islamic Education." New York City school officials have tried to assure the public that the school will be "non-religious" and will not promote a political or religious ideology, but skepticism abounds.

He seems to be concerned about the school training terrorists. He also insists that is duplicitous to suggest that one can separate Arabic culture from the religion of Islam. That's like trying to square a circle. It can't be done. In Islam, there is no separation of church and state. Islamic fundamentalists do not draw a distinction between religion, culture and politics. The three are united under Sharia law. These religious zealots see the state as a primary vehicle for advancing Islam. Indeed, the coercive power of the state is essential to spreading the teachings of the Koran. ...
I suspect that we can't really know what the aims of this school are until its curriculum can be reviewed. I would have to agree with Connor that a public school should not teach Islam any more than a public school should teach Christianity. However, I do believe that the school should be able to teach ABOUT Islam, Christianity or any other religion in order to enable students to understand others and other religions. (Perhaps Connor would have benefited from a unit on Islam in his schooling.) The biggest problem with a curriculum about religion is determining who should teach it and what the 'truths' are that should be taught, since there is so much variation even between different denominations of the same umbrella religion. (Try asking a Roman Catholic, a Southern Baptist and a Jehovah's Witness what Christianity is, and you will get 3 very different answers once you get beyond belief in Christ as the Savior.)


Another right-winger, Doug Giles, has written to insist that "Allah" should not be used to talk about the Christian God, because he ignorantly believes that it is only used by Muslims. Giles goes so far as to personally attack a Dutch bishop, who suggested using "Allah" in Christian ceremonies. Giles writes:

Tiny Muskens, a Dutch Roman Catholic Bishop in Amsterdam, released another nifty idea this week upon his wooden shoe wearing sheep. Minister Muskens, well-known for stupidity aplenty, came up with a fresh game plan of which he said would aid the Dutch, yea, the entire world in getting along with Muslims Gone Wild. Tiny proposed “that people of all faiths refer to God as Allah to foster understanding.”


According to the Netherlands' biggest-selling newspaper, De Telegraaf, Tiny, after tabling his plan to reporters, said he had no further comment. He simply smiled, did a pirouette, stripped down to his pink boy shorts, put on a spaghetti-strapped yellow sun dress which he had in his exorcist kit and then started skipping down the cobblestone street with Boy George blaring from his iPod mini.

Well, I'm not sure where Giles gets his copy of De Telegraaf, but I read the two articles that come up on when searching for "Tiny Muskens" and "Allah" ("Muskens: 'God' vervangen door 'Allah' -" and "Bisdom: Muskens sprak niet namens bisschoppen -") and found no reference to 'no comment' (or to what Muskens might have been wearing - maybe De Telegraaf should sue for misrepresentation) and even found that some other Dutch bishops disassociated themselves with Muskens' suggestion, but noted the following:

Het bisdom wijst erop dat Allah in het Aramees, de taal die in de tijd van Jezus werd gesproken, Heer betekent. In het Arabische taalgebied is het voor zowel christenen als moslims en joden de meest gangbare naam om God aan te duiden. Oosterse christenen, vooral de kopten, gebruikten het woord Allah al, voordat de islam in de zevende eeuw ontstond.

For those who don't read Dutch, this can be translated as:

The bishopric notes that Allah in Aramaic, the language spoken in Jesus' time, means Lord. In Arabic language region, it is the most common name used to refer to God for Christians as well Muslims and Jews. Eastern Christians, especially the Copts, had already used the word Allah before the inception of Islam in the seventh century.

While it is true that many of the idioms used in Arabic are tied to the Islamic faith, it is not necessary to believe in Islam to learn Arabic. When I was learning Arabic over the summer, 'Alhamdu-llah' and 'Ensha'allah' were very common phrases that everyone picked up. They made an atheist student feel weird, because they referred to God. They made me feel weird, having grown up in a Protestant tradition, because it sounded too much like taking God in vain. However, we have the same idioms in English: 'Thank God' and 'God willing'. It's really not that you have to become indoctrinated into Islam; it's just that you need to become more comfortable with hearing 'God' frequently.

It is also important to note that the Koran is written in Arabic, so Muslims consider the Arabic language to be sacred. For a copy of the Koran to be considered legitimate, it must include the original Arabic, even if there is another language translation provided.

Not all Muslims are Arabs. Many Muslims have only a very limited knowledge of the Arabic language; just enough to read from the Koran. Sometimes, they don't even understand what they are reading; they may have just been trained in recitation. One might consider the relationship of Christianity to Latin, particularly during the Middle Ages (though this is also not the best characterization, since the Bible was not originally written in Latin).

The Bible exists in Arabic as well and is used by Christians throughout the Arab world.

So, I think that it is safe to say that Arabic is spoken by non-Muslims, and Muslims don't all speak Arabic. Therefore, there can be a distinction made between the two.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Elbow Room & Lebensraum

Has anyone watched this (School House Rock - Elbow Room) since developing social awareness??? "Manifest Destiny" is the same as the "Lebensraum" policy of Hitler as far as I can tell. How can we still glorify this mentality? No wonder we are having trouble with the rest of the world!

One thing you will discover
When you get next to one another
Is everybody needs some elbow room, elbow room.

It's nice when you're kinda cozy, but
Not when you're tangled nose
to nosey, oh,
Everybody needs some elbow, needs
a little elbow room.

That's how it was in the early days
of the U.S.A.,
The people kept coming to settle though
The east was the only place there
was to go.

The President was Thomas Jefferson
He made a deal with Napoleon.
How'd you like to sell a mile or two, (or three, or a hundred or a thousand?)
And so, in 1803 the Louisiana Territory was sold to us
Without a fuss
And gave us lots of elbow room,

Oh, elbow room, elbow room,
Got to, got to get us some elbow room.
It's the West or bust,
In God we trust.
There's a new land out there...
Lewis and Clark volunteered to go,
Good-bye, good luck, wear your overcoat!
They prepared for good times and for bad (and for bad),
They hired Sacajawea to be their guide.
She led them all across the countryside.
Reached the coast
And found the most
Elbow room we've ever had.

The way was opened up for folks with bravery.
There were plenty of fights
To win land rights,
But the West was meant to be;
It was our Manifest Destiny!

The trappers, traders, and the peddlers,
The politicians and the settlers,
They got there by any way they could (any way they could).
The Gold Rush trampled down the wilderness,
The railroads spread across from East to West,
And soon the rest was opened up for - opened up for good.

And now we jet from East to West.
Good-bye New York, hello L.A.,
But it took those early folks to open up the way.

Now we've got a lot of room to be
Growing from sea to shining sea.
Guess that we have got our elbow room (elbow room)
But if there should ever come a time
When we're crowded up together, I'm
Sure we'll find some elbow room...up on the moon!

Oh, elbow room, elbow room.
Got to, got to get us some elbow room.
It's the moon or bust,
In God we trust.
There's a new land up there!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Done with Arabic Camp


I'm at my parents' house after the 8 week experience in...I don't know...right now the memories are just calling up a sense of dread.

After the initial shock of being in control of my life again wears off, I hope to be able to write an academic article about the experience in "intensive immersion" (the exact definition and what I actually experienced might not quite jive). Other first year students in the program said that they'd be interested in co-authoring such a project. (Originally, I was thinking that I would write it and would interview my fellow students as participants/subjects in a study, but I'm having trouble getting a professor to sign off on the human subjects committee protocol, because they don't want to risk upsetting their colleagues / bad publicity for the program if the subjects report too many negative experiences.)

Right now, I can say this: I learned a lot of Arabic, but I could have learned a lot more and been a lot farther away from a mental breakdown if things had been administered differently.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

More hawk photos

Here are some pictures of a younger hawk. Unfortunately, I didn't zoom in close enough to get really good shots. This one was also a lot further away than the other one.

squirrel pictures

I like taking pictures of squirrels and stuff. Completely random, I know.

The squirrels in the first picture are not doing what it looks like they might be doing. Really, they had just run up about 3 feet on a 7 foot tree to escape any threat that they thought that I might pose and are climbing over each other to get out of the way.

This squirrel was shrieking at us for a long time.