Wednesday, December 24, 2008

An unschooling post

Yes, I'm an unschooling dad and we're an unschooling family but I rarely write about that specifically here on my blog. Ronnie covers it so well, so thoroughly, on the ZP blog that I have very little to add. There's also the fact that I specifically try not to overthink unschooling because I tend to overthink everything in my life so pathetically that I want to allow unschooling to simply be. Nonetheless, Jon Gold, spousal unit of the Zenma, asked me to write an essay about unschooling for him.

It was an interesting exercise for me because I found it very difficult to actually commit myself on paper (in electrons, anyway). I wrote up to it. I wrote around it. I laid out paragraph after paragraph of preparation. I finally had to actually force myself to write something specifically about unschooling per se.

And I was very unhappy with it.

I don't think I'd be happy with it no matter what I managed to finally say, even if I took a decade to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite; so I went ahead and sent it to Jon just as it was, the entire thing I wrote, simply because I had to. I expect he can and will edit it down to the actual unschooling material with perhaps a brief paragraph or two of the introduction for context. The other 4000 or so words it took me to get to the place where I still couldn't really bring myself to commit to writing about unschooling can easily fall to the editing room floor. It was a fascinating emotional exercise for me and I now hafta admit to myself, and you, that I don't write about unschooling here, not simply because Ronnie covers it so well but because I'm intimidated to do so.

Therefore, because my preferred response to being afraid is to step into the fear and embrace it no matter the outcome, I'm gonna throw my essay out here in its raw form for the entire world to see. Alea iacta est.


And Now for Something Completely Different
a parable in five parts


There's a Latin maxim which could easily be the motto for unschooling: Nemo nisi per amicitiam cognoscitur. Vulgar translation: You can't learn unless you like what you're studying. Those ancient Romans were pretty sharp, huh?

Jon asked me to write an essay on unschooling by tempting me with this provocative prompt:

Say we were visited by ammonia-breathing Venusians (which really sucks for them because there is no ammonia on Venus). As soon as their offspring are born they are shunted away from their parents into an age-segregated academy for the next 22 years. How would you tell them what you do differently?

My first reaction was pure panic. No way! The responsibility was too great. I felt like I was being asked to write Principia Mathematica in place of Bertrand Russell; I wasn't up to such a Herculean task. Man! Just lemme clean the Augean stables instead, ok? Who did I think I was? Who did Jon think I was? Eventually I calmed down. Jon wasn't asking for an infallible multivolume Bible of unschooling, the Nomothesia Autodidaktos as it were, he just wanted an essay about unschooling from my point of view. Ok, that's perhaps achievable; I can take a crack at that. And you, dear reader, should constantly remember as you read along that this is just me, an individual like you, penning some thoughts. It is not holy writ.

As it turns out, Edgar Rice Burroughs (famous for his Tarzan series) essentially already addressed Jon's scenario nearly a hundred years ago, except his ammonia-breathing Venusians (Brief aside: I prefer the classical reference - Cythereans) were the 4~5-meter tall, 4-armed green Martians of his John Carter on Mars (Barsoom) series. ERB lived and worked before the specifics of Holt's unschooling philosophy coalesced, although he was after or contemporary with Adler, Neill, Binet, Piaget, et al. His depiction of the process and results of the Barsoomian (green Martian) method of crèche-based child-rearing (essentially as Jon describes for his Cythereans) pretty much did my work for me.

John Carter's (actually ERB's, of course) solution for the Barsoomians is parental involvement in child-rearing, not sending the kids off to be raised elsewhere by others. ERB himself attended a military prep school, the Michigan Military Academy. He was (in)famous for his rebelliousness. Soon after being sent there, he escaped boarded a train bound for his home in Chicago. He was punished by being sent back to the academy where he ultimately graduated in 1895. Perhaps we can see the roots of ERB's basis for opposition to nonparental child-rearing in his own childhood experience.

Having gone to a military prep school myself, I can empathize. Parenthetically, when ERB was graduating in 1895, my school, the College of the Immaculate Conception (founded 1847), which despite the name is a college-prep school, founded by the Jesuits as a Catholic school but also venerating Mars by virtue of being a dedicated Marine JROTC institution, would have been close to celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, making it thirty years older than MMA (founded 1877), and it is still in existence whereas MMA closed in 1908. Neener-neener!

Wow! I'm not sure where that came from but this is an essay by me so what's in my head goes into this narrative. Sorry. Many of us who have chosen to unschool with our children come from a thoroughly schooled background. I certainly do. Sometimes the most difficult thing to do in my personal unschooling effort is to let go of that baggage. We are explorers discovering and settling a new universe. While we may become reasonably comfortable there, our children are the true natives of this new reality. That's a difference which defies measurement. I'm ecstatic for them.

For the purposes of this narrative, I've used ERB's Barsoomians as a springboard/basis for my aliens but changed them to fit my needs. I apologize to his ghost and theirs for any depredations or degradations I've wreaked on his doughty green warriors. Dum vivimus, vivamus! Or as Tars Tarkas, the noble green Martian, would say, "We still live, John Carter!" Then, despite being desperately outnumbered, they'd go kick some crèche-reared butt!

Any errors, omissions, or inaccuracies herein are mine. All opinions expressed herein are mine and I take sole responsibility for them. Anything herein which is good or useful came from my nonpareil wife and our magnificent, unique children. Ok, some credit for the good stuff also goes to the brave educators who've gone before or who are currently examining the concept of education with an open mind and heart. Credit is also due to the first generation of unschoolers who shared their expertise and experience so generously with those of us who followed them. But like I said, all the bad stuff is my onus.

With that said, gentle reader, let us begin!

Liber Primus:
In the beginning was the void
(Say this with a Yiddish accent and it's an amusing allusion. Really.)

After that there was the Big Bang. The shortest, most infinitesimal tick of time after that put us in the Planck Era. Right after that our universe began to expand and take shape.

Ten billion years after the Planck Era, a star system was forming. It was a modest little system in a modest little galaxy. This particular nascent system was situated a good way out one of its galaxy's spiral arms in a decent but unprepossessing stellar neighborhood. At its core was a quiet, unremarkable main-sequence star, type G, class V, still young, still fresh, with probably an additional ten billion years of existence yet to go before its exhaustion as a yellow dwarf (G-V) and its transition and expansion to red giant status, followed by its collapse into a dense white dwarf - about the size of a planet but still retaining most of its original mass. Like I said, dense. And cooling because by that point it's no longer capable of producing the fusion which gave it and its system life for all those years. Finally, in its ultimate senescence, it will cool into a black dwarf, cold and dead, waiting silently for the end of this universe.

But that won't be for a long, long time and we were talking about its birth, not its death. Like most G-type systems in their early years, this one's accretion disc condensed into small dense inner planets and large gas-giant outer planets. Over time, the outer planets were the first to cool, which is, of course, a relative term. The gas giants by their very nature are sort of proto-stars and exhibit a matter-phase gradient to very hot interiors with no specific demarcation between atmosphere and surface, merely the aforesaid gradient from the thinnest outer atmosphere to the densest deep core. But the smaller, dense inner planets did cool significantly and they formed solid mantles over their molten cores, all enveloped by gaseous atmospheres. There were four of these which formed in this particular system.

Beyond the fourth inner planet and closer to the star than the first gas giant there remained a region of planetesimals which failed to form into a unified planet because of the gravitational effects of the large gas giant nearby. A few billion years later, the sentient and observant inhabitants of the third planet from the star would call this the "asteroid belt" and they would wonder if it might be the remains of a planet which had blown up, either by natural causes or as a result of the invention and use of a massive explosive device invented by the long-deceased inhabitants of that once-upon-a-time planet. These folks also named a similar formation beyond the outermost gas giant the "Kuiper belt." Sentient but not very imaginative, huh? Why do they have a thing for belts?

Because the inner planets cooled in a progression inversely proportional to their distance from the sun, number four was the first to cool to the point where life could arise. The later inhabitants of number three who invented those belt names called this planet MARS, after their god of war, because in their time from their planet's surface number four appeared reddish, the color of their blood, a prominent feature of warfare. Thus, the logic behind the applied name. Well, at least they didn't call it "something belt."

While those folks on planet three were still only a quantum possibility for the distant future, life was developing and progressing rapidly on planet four. Because of the intensity of formation activity in this relatively young solar system, exogenesis began taking place, as life travelled between planets on fragments of asteroids and bits of planetary mantle blown into space by collisions. Number four, or Mars as the later inhabitants of planet three would call her, or Barsoom as her own sentient species labelled her, being right next to the asteroid belt, experienced a great deal of collision activity but luckily no hits by fragments of significant (planet killer) size.

Planet three, which its future inhabitants would call Terra (or Earth), on the other hand, had barely survived a massive strike not long after the basic formation of the inner system. Luckily it was a tangential blow which did not utterly destroy the planet but merely blasted away a small percentage of its mass. About two percent of that mass stayed within the gravity well of Terra and formed into a single body with an orbit approximately a quarter of a million miles out. While this body, later called Luna (or the Moon) formed, Terra recuperated from the collision damage and the exogenesis between Barsoom and Terra blossomed.

Thus, circa four billion years ago, Barsoomians and Terrans shared common greatgoogolgrandparents. The Barsoomians matured faster.

Liber Secundus:
On the Origin of Species

Barsoom is farther from the sun than Terra. It's smaller. It has a thinner atmosphere. It's closer to the asteroid belt. These factors all played a part in Barsoomian evolution progressing much more rapidly than Terran evolution.

Being farther from the sun than Terra, Barsoom cooled faster and was suitable for supporting life much sooner. Being smaller, it has only about 1/3 the gravitational pull of Terra. Lesser gravity allows for more possibilities in terms of overall size, rate of growth, and rate of variation in speciation. Concomitant with lesser size/mass, there is less ability to hold an atmosphere, which was thinner to begin with because of the size factor. A thinner atmosphere is less effective than a thicker one for blocking radiation of all kinds. Radiation contributes to a higher rate of mutation. Evolution proceeds faster than it would on a planet with a thicker atmosphere. Throw in the extra environmental stresses associated with the constant bombardment because of its proximity to the asteroid belt and you have a recipe for early, rapid evolution.

Life on Barsoom flourished… and evolved quickly. By the time the solar system was four billion years old (about a billion years ago, more or less), life on Terra had progressed to the point where there were simple animals, some even practicing sexual reproduction. Hope they had fun! By that point, however, life on Barsoom had evolved to a point equivalent to current-era life on Terra, including the appearance of sentient life.

Our Barsoomian cousins (distant cousins but nonetheless related by DNA because of the exogensis of the early period in our solar system's life) were four to five meters tall and bipedal, with two legs, two arms, and an intermediate pair of limbs which were mostly used as arms. Large heads with widely-spaced eyes and prominent tusks gave them a slightly insectoid look, which was added to by their overall green coloring. Their intellect was equivalent to that of homo sapiens, as was their curiosity. They rapidly discovered the basics of the physical sciences and developed a sophisticated technology. By the time their knowledge was approximately equivalent to that of sixteenth century humanity, they knew they were in trouble.

The Barsoomians' scientific exploration of their planet and system revealed certain dire realities. Their atmosphere was thinning fairly rapidly. That was certainly inconvenient but, more significantly, water vapor being lost to space was the most serious component of their atmospheric difficulties and their planet was drying up at an alarming rate. They'd be out of water long before they had to worry about breathability-related atmospheric density problems. What to do?

Like most sentient species in the known universe, the Barsoomians were anything but homogenous. Different cultures, different philosophies, different supernatural beliefs, etc. The culture with the strongest leaning toward exploring the physical sciences decided on a course of action and focused all their efforts in that direction. The other cultures… well, we'll probably never know much about them because our only contact with our Barsoomian cousins is with the technologically-oriented ones who travelled through spacetime to here and now, who are from that particular culture which was heavy on the physical sciences. The others were erased from our ken almost a billion years ago.

As Percy Bysshe Shelly said of Ozymandias in the eponymous poem -

Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The rusty red sands of Barsoom are all that is left of our cousins and their ancient culture, nothing beside remains. Except, of course, for our refugees whom this narrative is about; and we'll get to them in due course.

The techno-Barsoomians chose an aggressive plan of action. All children would be placed in a state-controlled crèche immediately after birth where they would be educated according to their demonstrated abilities, similar to the German Hauptschule-Realschule-Gymnasium system, with all education geared toward creating a survival plan for their species. Well, their tribe, anyway. Various lines of thought were pursued in search of a satisfactory survival solution but finally a serendipitous breakthrough in spaceflight technology pushed them toward pursuing an off-planet scheme.

Their two neighboring planets closer to the sun were not suitable for habitation within the Barsoomians' remaining timeframe, although they might be in the distant future despite their relatively heavy gravity (more than twice that of Barsoom), and the one closest to the sun would never be suitable; but the spaceflight breakthrough (Ironically, it was discovered by someone from the hauptschule-equivalent track.) allowed for FTL (faster than light) travel and that put other star systems within reach. Surely there would be Barsoom-like planets around other, nearby yellow dwarfs. Numerous small scoutships could be sent out to discover them and then, once those Barsoom-like planets were located, large colony ships could follow where the scouts led.

Liber Tertius:
If you build it, they will go.

Tars Tarkas was ten years out of captain's school, which followed a lengthy period of general schooling, and was followed by still more specialized schooling and training. He'd finished near the top of his class and was slated to captain one of the first scoutships to be commissioned. The building efforts on the scoutships were almost complete and he was anxious to penetrate the alien realms of distant stars and wrest their secrets from them for the survival of the Barsoomians. He and his wife, propulsion officer Deja (nee Thoris), were closing out their planet-based life and preparing for their Icarian adventure.

Like all children, Tars had been placed in a crèche soon after birth, beginning the long Barsoomian version of Schwarze Pädagogik (poisonous pedagogy). Even his early activities were directed play, activity with a purpose. By the time actual lessons began he'd already been tentatively tracked and slotted based on early testing, both passive and active. He was mentally and physically well above average and always met or exceeded those early metrics. Young Barsoomians competed at everything all the time.

In the classroom, he learned the material to be covered easily enough but he also learned the important unspoken lesson of discerning the teacher's desires and meeting those expectations. On the sports fields he was a fierce competitor. Early on, he understood that he had the potential to be on the officer track, perhaps even qualifying for captain's school. Therefore, even though he enjoyed individual competition best, he focused his energy on team sports in order to hone and demonstrate his group leadership skills.

His efforts were successful. He easily qualified for officer's school and performed there as well as he had throughout his previous schooling. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that he'd be sent to captain's school. And he was. Everything came together for him there - his mental and physical maturation, his rigorously-learned lessons, his intuitive understanding of what was expected of him and what was required to succeed, and his learned and refined ability to interact with and dominate others.

Tars Tarkas graduated from captain's school with honors and was assigned further specialized training as a scoutship officer, with the possibility of attaining an actual captaincy. The years passed and schooling intensified but Tars cleared every hurdle, weathered every storm, surmounted every obstacle, and defeated every puzzle. His gamesmanship in the educational universe was nonpareil.

Seven years into his post-captain's-school training, Tars met, fell in love with, and married Deja Thoris, a rising young propulsion engineer. Yes, he had personal time and interests. Some, anyway. And even an overwhelming schooling burden can't completely suppress an interest in sex, whether you're human or Barsoomian. Besides, by that time, he knew he would not only qualify for but actually be assigned as captain of a scoutship. By the ten-year mark after captain's school, all his efforts came to fruition. Tars Tarkas achieved the rank of Commander and was assigned as the captain of the recently-completed scoutship Loup-garou.

Loup-garou was a magnificent creation. An asteroid approximately a kilometer in diameter had been hollowed out to create room for a crew of fifty couples. The interior housed a complex mix of biology and technology. Atmosphere and edible products, both vegetable and animal, would come from a self-sustaining closed-system biological section. Cutting-edge technological devices were installed to support their mission of finding, categorizing, and exploring Barsoom-like planets. Most significantly, at the core of the asteroid was their hope for the future - the irrational engine which would propel them at FTL pseudovelocities. A fusion ramscoop engine and a photon sail backup for non-FTL maneuvering were anchored on the exterior of the asteroid-ship along with a scattering of planetary atmospheric-maneuvering craft. Sitting quietly in orbit, it looked like a potato with an inside-out umbrella stuck into one side and a nozzle sticking out the other. If the photon sail had been deployed, you'd have to add to that image a large scarf attached parachute-style.

It was beautiful.

Tars fed power to the ramscoop and Loup-garou eased out of polar orbit, perpendicular to the ecliptic. They slipped the surly bonds of their natal star and climbed toward the high untrespassed sanctity of interstellar space, perhaps to touch the face of God. When all preparations were complete, all calculations made, and a few quiet prayers offered up, Tars took a deep breath and gave the order to engage the irrational engine.

Loup-garou shifted.

Liber Quartus:
or... Let's do the timewarp again!

The plan was for Tars, and other scoutship captains like him, to spend up to five subjective shipyears during a search mission. Most of that time would be spent exploring in realtime rather than in the time-contraction mode of FTL pseudovelocity and the expected overall time differential was estimated to be on the order of no more than two-to-one, i.e. perhaps ten years would pass on Barsoom for the five they experienced onboard. Crewmembers joked with their planet-bound friends about returning young and healthy to sneer at the aged and decrepit planet dwellers. Everyone had a fine laugh about it.

But no one is perfect, not Terrans, not Barsoomians. Machines break and/or malfunction, it's their nature. He goes by a different name on Barsoom but Murphy and his law are universal and inescapable. Things went wrong. Very wrong.

Not long after the irrational engine shut down after its initial use, Loup-garou's navigator knew there was a problem. The irrational physicists assigned to the ship scratched their heads and huddled together, exchanging phrases and concepts which sounded like gibberish to the rest of the crew. Days later, after an intense meeting with the tired, frustrated, and still irrational physicists, Tars Tarkas, experiencing an emotional kinship with the captain of the Terran sailing ship Flying Dutchman, reluctantly announced to the crew that the original mission parameters were no longer applicable and that they were in for a long haul.

Twenty shipyears later, they had used the irrational engine many times and explored several promising star systems but seemed no closer to being able to find their way home. During that time, the crew had established their own microcosm of the society they'd left. Couples had children who were raised in a hastily-established, not-perfectly-orthodox onboard crèche where they grew to near-adulthood. This new generation was a different breed, less compliant and more rebellious than their parents. It was, of course, one of them who solved the problem with the irrational engine.

The original crew members were ecstatic, their children less so. They were space-born and space-borne, explorers of the infinite; crèche-rearing and planet-bound life seemed terribly confining. They wanted more. They were reluctant to return to the Barsoom of their parents' birth; it was not their home.

Despite the sociological and psychological differences between the generations, everyone onboard was stupefied by the one incontrovertible reality that mathematics mercilessly imposed on them. Calculations, no matter how many times the results were rejected and the work redone, insisted that during their twenty shipyears of subjective time, something in the neighborhood of a billion years had passed on Barsoom. An inconceivable gulf of deep time resulting from a smorgasbord of factors, including time dilation, Lorentz-FitzGerald contraction, Uncle Albert's special relativity, and probably even wiggly spacetime. That one sounds kinda creepy, doesn't it?

What would they return to?

Ultimately, despite exhaustive discussions, there was never any serious doubt as to their course of action. Tars Tarkas was the captain and his mission was clear. Ten years or ten trillion, never mind a mere billion, his job, his purpose, was to report home. For the first time in twenty years (or a billion years, depending on your frame of reference), Loup-garou turned toward Barsoom and shifted.

Liber Quintus:
Tales From the Golden Vortex

"…so President Coolidge said, 'Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge!' and that's the story behind the phrase 'the Coolidge effect'." The laughter that followed that great punchline died abruptly as everyone in the group noticed the extremely tall and extremely green foursome heading our way with our host, Jon. We tried our best not to stare, especially given that one of them was distinctly pregnant, but seeing Martians, sorry, Barsoomians at the Unschooling Conference Center, nicknamed the Golden Vortex, was more than a bit unusual.

Certainly we'd all seen the Barsoomians and their asteroid-spaceship on the news and knew the whole story about their journey through spacetime from the living Mars of a billion years ago to the flourishing-Earth-but-dead-Mars of now but none of us had ever seen one in person. What was going on?

Jon arrived with his verdant visitors and gave an introduction and explanation. "Hey, how are you guys doing? I'd like you to meet Mors and his wife, Sola," he said, inclining his head toward the pregnant one. "And these are Mors' parents, Tars and Deja."

We managed polite greetings through our surprise as Jon continued.

"You know they're planning to leave the solar system again in the long term but meanwhile Mors and Sola have heard about unschooling and want to find out about it and compare it to their system. Frank, do you have time to chat with them a bit?"

I mumbled a blasé "Sure, Jon" while inside my head, I was whirling like a dervish. I'd always been a science-fiction fan and this was heaven for me. It was possible Jon knew this and relied on it to gain my cooperation. Signor Redux Machiavelli, sometimes known as Jon Gold, nodded his thanks and headed back to the main building as the group broke up while the Barsoomians found a comfortable place to sit.

Mors explained in barely-accented English that they'd heard about unschooling while studying human media as they reentered the Solar System and his generation found the idea fascinating, although it was anathema to his parent's generation.

"That's not exactly shocking to hear," I sympathized wryly. I may have put a little too much ham in my wry because Tars locked eyes with me and frowned, and a Barsoomian frown is a chilling thing indeed; but Deja touched his arm lightly and gave him a look. He settled back, albeit reluctantly, and I realized viscerally that we were indeed cousins in more ways than just some abstract ancient DNA link. I smiled in the quiet place behind my eyes and began, "Ok, here's my $.02 on unschooling…

If you remember nothing else from this polemic, remember this: Choice matters. Distilled to its sui generis, unschooling is unique by virtue of the fact that it is purely autodidactic or learner-controlled. Every other pedagogic process is didactic, authoritarian, homilectic, autocratic, and any other synonym you can think of for teacher-controlled. Every one of them. Yes, some more than others but, at the core, every other system is rooted in control of the student by an authority figure.

It may be the teacher. Socrates is famous for his elenctic method which I consider a prime example of education in its most Latinate meaning – to lead or draw out from. The teacher leads the student to the conclusion the teacher wants the student to accept by drawing the student out with a series of structured (leading) questions. It seems like the student is engaged in a meaningful intellectual exercise but it is, in fact, carefully choreographed and completely controlled by the teacher.

It may be the curriculum. Look at the nearest public school for this one. All teachers must teach to the curriculum, no exceptions, alternatives, or workarounds. And in recent years the curriculum has been strongly driven by standardized tests and the need to score well on them. This is even more pathetic than the basic idea of curriculum design where a bunch of soi disant experts get together to arbitrarily decide on what goes into the curriculum and what doesn't. Man! I am so reminded of the Council of Nicea, huh? Orthodoxy, orthodoxy, is our cry. O-r-tho-dox-y. Are we in it? Well, I guess! Orthodoxy, orthodoxy, yes, yes, yes!

It may be the structure or process. Steiner-Waldorf anyone? Not nearly as arbitrary as the public school system, geared to a realistic approach focused on actual child development stages unlike the public school system, and more focused on integrating the whole person into the learning system than the public school's concentration on memorization-type, abstract intellectual work. It is, nonetheless, structured, arbitrary, and ultimately controlled by authority figures. Plus, it's rooted in Steiner's anthroposophy, which is just kinda silly.

"But what about Montessori?" you ask. The Montessori method proposes that the focus is on the child, that the child learns with little interruption from the teacher (director), that children have rights, and that children should not be subjected to measurements like grading and testing. Well, that sounds pretty autodidactic and unschoolish, doesn't it? Except that all of those "autodidactic freedoms" occur within a rigidly controlled environment.

Children must learn according to the Montessori curriculum, using Montessori pedagogical materials in the way specified by the method and curriculum. Learning a Montessori activity only takes place after a teacher demonstrates it and activities using a Montessori device are restricted to the process demonstrated by the teacher according to the curriculum. Experimentation is discouraged. Play is strongly discouraged. Student use of Montessori devices and activities may resemble play but it is intended to be useful work; Maria Montessori insisted that her materials be used only for their designed purpose. Cleanliness and maintenance of the classroom by the students is required.

Certainly this method is less rigid and more child-centered than the basic public school concept of classrooms of students working through an inflexible curriculum in lock-step but it is only child-centered and child-controlled within the larger context of absolute despotic control by the Montessori teacher and curriculum.

I could go on and on for method after method. In every case, it's one thing or another and that thing is always ultimately that the control of the student rests in the hands of an authority figure who is not the student. Unschooling puts control into the hands most capable of exerting that control in the absolute best possible manner – the student's.

"But, Frank," Tars interjected, "'unschooling' is just a negative. It's not something it's simply not something. Where's the sense in that? Where's the positive connotation?" Hmmmmnnn, ok, I agree that words are important and powerful. If the Latin borrowing sounds too negative or passive to you, howzabout a Greek one? Would "aschooling" sound more pompous, I mean, positive and active? Is it negative to be uninhibited, unfettered, undiluted, or unbiased? If it's merely the label which is a sticking point for you, try using autodidacticism; there's a powerful, positive, Greek-rooted mouthful of a word for you. Cato (the elder) was negative and even used a passive construction when he declaimed to the senate after every speech, "Carthago delenda est." The result of those negative, passive-formation words was the very positive act of the total destruction of Carthage to the point where historians report that no stone was left on stone and the fields were salted. As a result, Rome became the preeminent, uncontested power in the Mediterranean. That's a pretty active result from "negative, passive" words.

How can a mere, ignorant child know what they wanna learn? Ya can't know what ya don't know, right? This is an absolutely sensible and valid question. However, it is one level (at least) too shallow. The more important question is: What is the core purpose of any education? Why are we learning, even in general, beyond the specific task of learning a particular thing. Before you can ask questions about which things are important to learn, you must ask yourself why. Predicate your phenomenology. Elucidate your epistemology. Tally your teleology.

Once you've determined your own beliefs, then you're ready to compare and contrast curriculum design ex cathedra vs. autodidacticism. Consider this simple example from recent human history: web design. This skill set was developed by people working in the medium who figured it out on their own (autodidactically!). Only after it existed in the world of reality, did colleges begin to design curricula and offer courses in web design. Think about how many other subjects came TO structured education FROM the real, workaday, autodidactic world.

I won't belabor this point. It's something you must consider for yourself and examine within your own internal framework. With that said, let me return to the concern that a child can't know what they don't know. There's a conundrum. How do we expose our children to the universe of knowledge without teaching them important things in a set order? Well, now you understand intuitively the roots of how curriculum design comes about. Somebody sits down and makes subjective decisions about things and prescribes it for us to consume as CURRICULUM. That makes it easy for those who are insecure in their own ability to decide for themselves what's worth knowing and what can happily be left on the shelf. The experts have handed down the stone tablets and all's right with the world.

Bah humbug!

The famous mechanic (quantum mechanic/physicist) Wolfgang Pauli was once asked to review a paper. When he was done, he proclaimed, "That's not right. It's not even wrong!" It may be thoroughly and rigorously prepared. It may be beautifully written and presented. It may be strictly logical within its own context. Nonetheless, it springs from a root which is so essentially incorrect, so far from valid, that it would have to improve immensely to be merely wrong. It's so ridiculous that it's "not even wrong." I would apply this criticism to the modern concept of curriculum.

Unschoolers self-select what's important to them and what's not. But HOW? you say. Here's how. They're able to self-select meaningfully because unschooling parents expose the universe (as much of it as they can) to their children in as broad and inviting a smorgasbord as possible. We call this strewing. In a sense, it's the unschooling equivalent to curriculum; but rather than being dictated to the student, it is simply introducing things to the student for their selection or rejection.

Give someone a fish and they eat for a day. Teach them to fish and they eat forever. Give them some choices and they might decide they like something other than fishing. One man's meat is another man's poison, right? I know people who love to garden. Ick! I'd rather clean public toilets. Seriously. But that's the beauty of individual choice. They're free to choose gardening and I'm free to avoid it.

Strewing itself is not some magical, transcendental thing. A smorgasbord is a wonderful analog. Or dim sum. I love dim sum! Hey, let's go get some lunch when we're done chatting, ok? Essentially, strewing is any sort of hint about what's available in the wide world which might act as a springboard for their curiosity. Sure, books are good. A book on astronomy left on the coffee table can lead to a mini-career, or even a professional career!, for the right child. However, books are not the be-all and end-all of strewing. Seeing a cup of water expand when it turns to ice in the freezer can lead to a sophisticated exploration of chemistry. Why the hell does water expand when it freezes while almost everything else contracts? Wow! I never heard of triple points before. That's cool! And they're off on a wild race to knowledge, where they soon discover, if they haven’t already, that there's no finish line and that it's a lifelong pursuit. For another child, finding an interesting pebble on a hiking trail might open a path that leads all the way from that small trail to the entire universe of geology.

But will all children have an equal experience when unschooling?

No. Not if you're using that word in its usual (dumbass, meaningless) sense.

Whoever told you that life is equal or fair was trying to sell you something. Nobody, nohow, nowhere ever has an "equal" experience to that of somebody else, somehow else, somewhere else. Every individual's experience is unique, whether they're unschooling or attending public school or matriculating at some upscale private institution. Some families have more money/resources than others. Some have more opportunities than others. They're all simply different. "Equal" is a chimera. Forget it, it's neither important nor realistic. Unique, individually-tailored experience is the important concept here. It doesn't matter that my experience in life is not equal to yours. What's important is that mine's mine and yours is yours.

But how can the child in that first example learn all about astronomy if unschoolers can't take classes?

Oh my dear, sweet, gherkin-colored friends! Who said taking classes is forbidden to unschoolers? Remember my original comment: It's all about CHOICE. Consider this scenario which is chosen to avoid the context of school per se but which needn't be so neutral. Turn the example into a school class, if it makes you happier.

There are two kids in the same group in an aikido dojo. Aikido, like most Japanese martial arts, is rigorously structured. Every motion is dictated by the sensei. Practically every breath is choreographed. It is indisputably a very controlled experience. Superficially, an observer might say that both kids are having the same experience. An equal experience, if you're brave enough to use that word after my previous comments about it; but, of course, they're not having an equal experience by any stretch of the imagination. It's not even a similar experience in any meaningful sense.

Kid one, Mac, is there because his folks consider him undisciplined and they're forcing him to attend to improve himself. He hates being there. He hates his folks for forcing him to go. He hates wearing the stupid, strange outfits. He hates the ranking system which is even more blatant than that of his school classes because you wear a colored belt which precisely describes your status at the dojo. He resents every stinking minute he has to be there. Mac is being taught aikido but he ain't learning a damned thing, if he can possibly avoid it.

Kid two, Leda, is there because she's heard about aikido from reading manga and decided it was something she wanted to learn more about it. She finds the gi interesting compared to her usual T-shirt couture and looks forward to improving her skills to the point where she can also wear the hakama of senior practitioners. The ranking system is something she's unused to but she has no strong feelings about it; it's just another new and intriguing thing. She enjoys the novelty of the experience and delights in learning the complex physical skills. She looks forward to progressing in this odd-but-fascinating art. Leda is learning aikido and she's unschooling, despite the abstraction that she's in a rigorously structured class in a highly-disciplined martial art.

Their experiences are clearly neither identical nor equal and I don't see them as evincing any realistic similarity, either. Despite the superficial sameness to the casual observer, these two experiences are utterly antithetic. Coercion vs. choice is the difference.

Choice makes it completely different."

I stopped talking for the first time in a while to take a deep breath and, after a brief caesura to inventory my brain and my guests' energy level, I declared to the berylline Barsoomians, "That pretty much sums it up for me. 'nuff said!"

Tars and Deja maintained polite poker faces but Mors and Sola looked at each other with inclined eyebrows and barely-perceptible nods. Sola rested her secondary hands on her burgeoning belly, glanced up at the achingly blue sky, and declared to the cool, green hills of Earth, "Perhaps it's time for something completely different."

Consummatum est.
In pacem per aspera ad astra vadete.

Merry Christmas

and happy holidays.

Hope you have a swell time wherever you are and whatever you do.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I'm dreaming of

Who'd'a thunk it? A white Christmas in New Orleans. Here's the St. Charles streetcar on 12/11:

Looks like it's our turn tonight; the forecast is for snow down to sea level here. Oh well, it's beautiful.

She's in the credits

I haven't thought about it in a while but recently my pal Bob's girlfriend, Anita, saw the movie Zoo. I heard the report secondhand from Bob and didn't get any direct feedback from Anita, who is a dedicated animal person, currently caretaking 200-ish cats and a more than a dozen dogs. I'm curious to hear her comments; I'll hafta talk to her soon.

The title of this post and the reason this movie is interesting to us is because MJ's in the movie, which opened at Sundance in 2007 to a lot of buzz, and she's listed in the credits. She plays the girl who winds up at the end of the movie owning the horse which is the central focus of the story. Well, it's difficult to precisely define the horse's status.

The movie is based on a case here in the Seattle area which took place in the Summer of 2005 when a man died after having sex with said horse. The rest, as they say, is history - legal, social, moral, whatever kinda history interests you. As a result of these events, the horse was placed with the rescue group Hope for Horses where MJ has spent a lot of volunteer hours. The filmmakers had some of the HfH people play themselves and MJ played the girl who adopted the horse after it was all over.

Not a fun family movie to watch with the small kiddies but an interesting, well-crafted movie which is topical in the context of the recent spate of right-wing crap equating gay marriage with zoophilia. Please!

If you watch the movie, MJ appears very near the end.

Friday, December 05, 2008

In the year 2012, tax rebellion, food riots, and revolution? Oh fuck!

My unschooler friend Laureen who is a sailor and a birth advocate, among many other things, referenced this post in a recent post of her own. If you don't wanna bother to go read the link, it's a response to the ravings of Gerald Celente who, aside from being your basic nattering nabob of negativism, is probably a closet Scientologist cuz one of his primary beliefs about his the coming revolution is that it'll be fuelled by people who are "wrecked on drugs" [He's speaking of legal, as well as illegal, drugs.] and having a hard time getting more drugs, presumably because of the ruined economy (He predicted that the dollar would drop 90% in value in 2008. Oops! Well, we have a few more days to go. He may yet be proven right. Maybe.), resulting in "a huge underclass of very desperate people with their minds chemically blown beyond anybody’s comprehension."

And these people are supposed to conceive and execute a successful revolution? What a maroon!

These are my responses to Laureen, made public here for your edification or amusement:

Gerald Celente? The "amazing prophet" who predicted that Bush would lose in '04? Yes, he is kinda the Nostradamus of our age. Of course, Nostradamus' "predictions" were all so generic and unspecific you could *interpret* them to mean anything, whereas Celente is just one of those right-wing apocalyptic wackos who spends his time on Faux pseudoNews and the UFO-friendly Coast-to-Coast show spouting endless doomsday predictions and tooting his horn when one of them hits the mark. Hey, a stopped clock is right twice a day, huh?

Added material for this post:
Fun math digression first proposed by Rev. Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll. Which is correct more often: A stopped clock or one which loses five minutes per day? The proof is left as an exercise for the reader. Feel free to assume a 12-hour clock or a 24-hour clock, as you prefer. Enjoy. Extra credit: Which clock is more useful to the average citizen? Proof?
End post-specific inclusion. Back to original comments.

Celente predicted increasing American apathy and reduced voter turnout in the years after '04 and painted a picture of an increasingly apathetic populace. The '08 turnout was significant and voting was biased toward change and hope. Celente was wrong. Again.

We control our future and it's not set in stone or delimited by the rantings of psychotic chiliasts who are hoping for Ragnarok. As a father, I say, "No!" No to paying attention to the rantings of idiots. No to nihilists.

Yes to life.

(and subsequent comments to a response from her...)

Although I decry the cawing of dystopian crows, I do believe in learning from history. IIRC, the first half-dozen (or more) attempts to colonize what is now California failed because of lack of water. Water is currently provided by our dam system and much of that water goes to irrigation. All of that is creating fields which are being salted (by a variety of salts) over time, not to mention all the agribusiness chemicals added to the mix. At some point, such a system is doomed to failure on any of several fronts.

The Saraha was once fertile. There are a number of rivers which have dried up in the last coupla centuries. And so on. I'm anything but a utopian visionary seeing a rhododactylos eos on the horizon but I do have a basic faith in the "good" side of humanity's makeup. For every Hitler, there's a Gandhi. For every Mengele, there's a Schweitzer. For every Bush, there's a flamethrower. Waitaminit, that's not parallel! Oh well, you get my drift.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Christmas meme

Yeah, I know, it's another meme. Everyone in my online tribe is writing meaningful, beautiful posts about unschooling and the meaning of life but here I am doing silly memes. Well, my only excuse is that life is sometimes silly and perhaps it should be silly more often. Also, I am writing a multithousand word essay about unschooling in the background. One day it may come to light. Or not.

Meanwhile, taken from Holly, here's the Christmas Meme.

1. Real tree or artificial? Real. We're not sturdy, historically-appropriate "vegetarian hunters" like the grandparents, who go out into the mountains to stalk and bring down their own tree every year but we do have our own little tradition of going to the nearby tree place and picking out an affordable piece of greenery.

2. When do you put up the tree? When we get around to it. Some years it's right after Thanksgiving, some years it's pretty close to Christmas itself. No consistency.

3. When do you take down the tree? Again, no consistency. Mostly when it becomes too much trouble to work around it. Might be right after New Year's, might be on the Epiphany, might be in time for Chloe's birthday in March.

4.Wrapping paper or gift bags? Historically paper. Might switch to reusable/recyclable bags this year.

5. When do you start Christmas shopping? Depends on the year and what's going on. In '05 we finished shopping before August when we moved aboard the Zombie Princess. This year, we did some shopping in Europe in September. Even if we start (and theoretically finish) early, we always wind up shopping right up to Christmas. Ronnie does most of it.

6. Who is the hardest person to buy for? Me. If you're talking about me shopping for others, Ronnie.

7. Easiest person to buy for? Friend Anita (girlfriend of my BFF Bob), the original "crazy cat lady." Anything feline-related will make her happy.

8. Angel on top of the tree, or star? Being atheists, we have a huge, beautiful, lighted-from-within angel, of course.

9. What is the worst Christmas gift you ever got? School uniforms. Doubly nasty cuz it was clothes, usually a loser of a gift per se, and to compound the tragedy it was *school uniform* clothes. Ick! Yeah, thanks, folks. That's just what I wanted for Christmas, more stylish Marine gear! I'll treasure that shit for years. Really.

10. What is the best gift you received as a child? Books. I've always loved books.

11. What is your favorite food to eat at Christmas time? Rosie's Christmas Cookies (Click the phrase to go to the recipe post.).

12. What do you want for Christmas this year? I want the Constitution back! I think I might even get it, starting after January 20th. On a more immediate level, although I don't know what's more immediate than my rights as a citizen, I want an mp3 player, not an iPod.

Play along if you want! If you decide to play, leave me a comment and let me know.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Fours majeure

Ok, I couldn't resist taking this e-mail meme from MIL Mary, giving it this name as a play on force majeure, and doing it here in the blogosphere. Join in if you feel moved to do so.

A) Four places that I go to over and over:
1. Priest Point Beach Club
2. Caribbean
3. New Orleans
4. San Diego

B) Four people who e-mail me regularly:
Hmmmmnn, I'm not very social but stretching it a bit...
1. Ronnie
2. Aunt Jo (she of the mojo!)
3. My old music pal, Big Daddy O
4. Recently, cousin Sonya cuz she's putting together the family cookbook

C) Four of my favorite places to eat:
1. Antoine's
2. Commander's Palace
3. Captain Humble's
4. Dooky Chase's

D) Four other places I would rather be right now:
1. Virgin Islands
2. St. Martin/Sint Maarten
3. Caymans
4. Grenada

E) Four people I think will respond:
Maybe a coupla my infrequent, sparse readership will play along. If they all respond, I might make it to a total of four.

F) Four TV shows I watch:
1. The Daily Show
2. House
3. Heroes
4. Countdown (Keith Olbermann)
Coupla bonuses here since I stiffed you on E)...
5. Rachel Maddow
6. Dexter (kind of a cheat cuz we're too cheap to pay for premium channels so I watch Dexter on DVD when the season is over)
7. Bones

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

We celebrate this day as a generic day of thanks. However you celebrate it, enjoy yourselves; but I do wish our schools would teach the reality of the fucking Puritans and their equivalence to all the other fundamentalist monsters throughout history and in our present reality. We unschoolers certainly learn it. And don't get me started on Columbus!

Enjoy today but behave yourselves or the religious police will get you. Remember, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Monday, November 24, 2008

20 questions meme

The rules:
A) People who have been tagged must write their answers on their blogs & replace any question that they dislike with a new question. I replaced one, #14.
B) Tag 8 people to answer the questions. I don't tag people. If you find this interesting, take it and lemme know.

1. How many songs are on your iPod?
Eye-pod? I doan got no steenking eye-pod. Fucking Apple crap. I still like to listen to 33rpm wax/vinyl albums on my belt-driven turntable with a Stanton 681EEE cartridge on a weight-adjustable tone arm. Or 45s. 45s are good, too.

2. What music would you want played at your funeral?
Aside from a coupla older Black gospel tunes like Mornin' Train ("That evenin' train might be too late! I'm goin' home on the mornin' train!") I want a serious all-night party of hard-driving blues, r&b, and rock 'n' roll! Wouldn't mind a classic Noo Awlins second-line strut when it's all done. My full funeral plan is in this post.

3. What magazines do you have subscriptions to?
None. That was easy.

4. What is your favorite scent?
Best: Ronnie after sex. Runners-up: Uptown New Orleans in the early Fall. Offshore sea air. Cool, fresh N2O from a full-coverage mask. 100LL avgas. Crawfish boiling.

5. If you had a million dollars that you could only spend on yourself, what would you do with it?
Pah! A million doesn't really go very far these days. I'd buy a used Fountaine-Pajot sailing catamaran and keep it in the Caribbean. I'd also buy a Velocity airplane (kitplane - but built by a professional shop for me) and keep it hangared at AWO. I'd invest the remaining (approximately) half million to pay for maintenance of these two items and the costs associated with travelling with the family between the two locations in my Velocity. Frequently. Depending on their progress, I might sneak $100K out of that remainder to buy a ticket on a VirginGalactic suborbital flight but I'd really prefer to wait for an orbital opportunity.

6. What is your theme song?
Mmmnnn, I guess I'll go with Keep On Rockin' In the Free World by the inestimable Neil Young, except that my historic choice of theme song would hafta be Big Chief by Professor Longhair.

7. Do you trust easily?
No. And I never forget. Never. I am trying to work on the forgiveness thing, however. Especially for myself.

8. Do you generally think before you act, or act before you think?
I think before I think. I overthink the shit out of everything.

9. Is there anything that has made you unhappy these days?
The philosophical and ethical destruction of our country, and physical destruction of other countries, by the neopuritans, starting with Reagan and finishing with the current Bush. I have tenuous hope for improvement in the future.

10. Do you have a good body-image?
No. I'm so fat that I detest looking in reflective surfaces.

11. Is being tagged fun?
Sure. It means someone is thinking of you when they're doing something interesting and fun. That's nice.

12. How do you spend your social networking (Facebook, etc.) time?
Reading newsgroups and blogs and occasionally writing posts for this blog.

13. What have you been seriously addicted to lately?
My core addiction is the same as it has been all my life: I want to know everything. I'm addicted to learning.

14. What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is? Original question. Since I wasn't tagged, I'm changing it to: Why do people still believe in the supernatural?
I would have thought we were in the process of outgrowing that as a species starting with the Age of Reason but here we are in the 21st century and people still believe in stuff like Young Earth Creationism and The Secret. I just don't understand it. Hell, forget the Age of Reason, Lucretius wrote De Rerum Natura more than two thousand years ago and look what good that did. Instead of seeing ignorance and superstition wither on the vine, we've had a lotta new religions created since then. Sometimes I just wanna weep for humanity.

15. What’s the last song that got stuck in your head?
Kung Fu Fighting. Every time that damned commercial for that dumbass Kung Fu Panda movie comes on tv, and it comes on often!, that song sticks like superglue.

16. What’s your favorite item of clothing?
Shorts and T-shirt with Crocs. Individual item? My ItalFly jacket, given to me by Gianguido.

17. Do you think Rice Krispies are yummy?
Barely edible as Rice Krispies Treats. The cereal itself is horrid.

18. What would you do if you saw $100 lying on the ground?
Is this a trick question? Pick it up, of course. If its source were obvious, e.g. I saw it fall from someone's pocket, I'd return it. Otherwise, hooray for me.

19. What items could you not go without during the day?
Coke (Coca-Cola, that is. Cocaine is not a drug of choice for me.) Something to read. Some TV. Interacting with Ronnie and the girls. Hot malt-flavor Ovaltine with marshmallow creme is good.

20. What should you be doing right now?
Accomplishing stuff. Busy week coming up.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Happy birthday, Dad!

My dad turned 90 on the 18th. To parallel Gail's post, he and I are 150 added together! Wow!

My dad is one of those guys from "the greatest generation." I might disagree with that overweening generational assessment but, individually speaking, my dad's definitely one of the greatest guys ever. Yes, he survived the Great Depression. (We're getting our turn for that now. Maybe.) Yes, his family was wiped out in the dustbowl which exacerbated that financial insanity. (He's talked about drinking hot water for breakfast cuz they couldn't afford coffee! I get pissed that I can't afford to buy Kobe beef when I want a steak for dinner.) Yes, he and four of his brothers served in WWII (Ferdinand, the youngest, was too young to serve at all. Moritz, the youngest who did serve, didn't reach his 20th birthday until after the war ended.) and they all came home. (Hooray! Now if we can just get all our young people back from VietNam-in-the-sand.)

But most significantly, he and people like him, generational status aside, are the ones who comprise the essential warp and weft of society. He and his ilk are the salt of the earth, the glue that holds society together, and the lubrication which keeps the machinery of society functioning. Pick your metaphor, mix as you will. He is one of the millions of ordinary people who go through life trying their damnedest to do their best every single day. A life not of quiet desperation a la Thoreau but of quiet dignity and individual effort to create a better world than the one they inherited.

He's the kind of guy who, when he gets socked in the mouth by life, swallows the blood and moves forward without complaint and without hesitation, despite the fact that he knows he'll probably get socked again. That, dear readers, is deep courage. Not the "paper empiricism" of bombastic blusterers who claim what they would do under circumstance X, that's cocktail party courage. Not even the adrenalin-fuelled one-time action of the kind undertaken by people in extremis, although that certainly is one type of courage. I'm talking about the quiet, continuous courage to do the right thing day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. That is an impressive feat and I stand in awe because I sure can't meet that standard.

No, he's not perfect, he's human. We're not cut out for perfection, it doesn't suit us. We're messier than that. Me, I like it that way. Perfection is boring; even if it were attainable, I'd eschew it. In the context of mere humanity and imperfect reality, he's a proletarian Herakles, primus inter pares.

Happy birthday, dad! I love you with all my heart!

P.S. Mister Martin Joseph Maier ("Marty" to the au courant cognoscenti, sometimes-PITA oldest brother to his siblings, or "sarge" to his 1940s Pacific theater brothers in sweat-stained khaki) celebrated his 90th birthday at Hooters. Word on the street is that he had a coupla drinks, ogled a coupla waitresses, and generally had a pretty good time; but I'm kinda glad they didn't take him to Bourbon Street for a strip-club crawl, an idea which was discussed but ultimately discarded. Harumph! I though *I* was the wild, heterodox one in the family! Ahhhh, life in The Big Easy, cher!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rated "R" for zombie content?

I did the blog rating thing like Zenma and Ronnie. It gave me a rating of R because it found sex (5x), abortion (2x), and zombie (1x).

They did not mention and therefore apparently have no problem with my constant use of words like fuck and asshole.

Fuckin' assholes!

It's like that other site that rates "readability" which rated my blog "elementary school" level.

Really? You gave me that rating right after my math rant and therefore presumably the rating is based mostly on parsing that. Elementary school? Really?

Fuckin' idiots. I am completely confident that there are flesh and blood humans out there who can NOT pass the Turing test.

Bah, humbug!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

I'm a 1989 Supercharged MR-2

As you can tell from the header but...

I usually don't like this kind of online quiz cuz they're typically waaaayy stupid. However, I was amazed that this one nailed it on the head for me. By far the most accurate quiz of this type I've ever taken. If I had the spare nickles, about the only car I'd realistically want to purchase to replace Mister-Two [It's got a blower, Max! - Name that movie reference and win a prize.] would be a Lotus Elise. Toyota powerplant and Lotus handling. What could be better?

Actually the MR-2 was originally planned as the same sorta deal, a collaboration between Toyota and Lotus. When Lotus decided not to put the vehicle into production, Toyta slapped that not-exactly-beautiful body on it and sold it as the Toyota MR-2. It's a helluva pocket-rocket but with Toyota dependability. What could be better? Oh, did I ask that already? Sorry.

Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.

I'm a Lotus Elise!

(So quick, it's already going out of frame!)

You believe in maximum performance and minimum baggage. You like to travel light and fast, hit the corners hard, and dance like there's no tomorrow.

And I even like the color! [Name that movie reference and win a prize.]

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Have you?

Bold the things you’ve done. (Stolen from Sandy Feet.)

1. Started your own blog Duh!
2. Slept under the stars Many times.
3. Played in a band Read all some about it here.
4. Visited Hawaii I prefer the Caribbean.
5. Watched a meteor shower High on a glacier on Mt. Rainier in my bivisack. Exquisite.
6. Given more than you can afford to charity - Can I half-bold? I'm not sure about "more than I can afford."
7. Been to Disneyland/world Been to both; hate 'em both.
8. Climbed a mountain Real mountains, not those East coast hills.(Mt. Mitchell, highest point East of the Mississippi is 6600 feet. Snicker!)
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables - And I hope never to do so.
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill Hell yeah!
24. Built a snow fort - Ha! I grew up in New Orleans.
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon - 10K was my limit and that's when I was younger.
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice - they were too freaking expensive! We walked or used the vaporetto.
29. Seen a total eclipse Solar and lunar
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset Beautiful at sea, completely away from land.
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise - Only on private sailboats. I'll never do one of those commercial cruises.
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors Ireland but not Germany.
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing - Dropped a line off a sailboat out of sight of land. Does that count?
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person - Not that interested. Saw other stuff in Rome instead.
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling - certified PADI Divemaster
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business - sole-prop co-ownership of Orchestrations with Ronnie
58. Taken a martial arts class Kendo and iaido. And does European fencing count?
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching Not on a commercial vessel.
63. Gotten flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check Lemme tell ya about the time we bounced a check for teens of thousands of dollars to the freaking IRS cuz our bank dropped a decimal point on a money transfer!
68. Flown in a helicopter US-licensed PP-ASEL, maybe I'll get a rotorcraft add-on one day.
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle If you ain't in three figures, you ain't having fun!
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person Hiked to the bottom and back up, too!
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible Hello? Educated by the Jesuits! Studied the entire Bible.
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating - Ick! That's why they have packaged pieces of meat at the supermarket.
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life - As first responder, I failed to save a guy who had a heart attack and crashed his car. We kept him alive til the aid car took him but heard that he was DOA at the ER.
90. Sat on a jury - Rejected because it turned out that I knew one of the witnesses.
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one Several
94. Had a baby Well, Ronnie had two!
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone Reluctantly
99. Been stung by a bee

And...I VOTED FOR OBAMA!!! Duh! You bet your ass I can bold that one!

Lies, damned lies, and, ummmnnn, lies

Ok, I gotta get this off my chest. We picked on Craig, Gillian, Effie, and Fergus terribly about noncon and I wanna come clean. When I offered to fly y'all down, I posted those lovely photos of that beautifully painted Velocity and quietly said that I might not be able to get that particular plane but a similar one (sister ship).

The plane I tempted you with:

The actual plane I had in mind:

The guy in the blue lab coat looks worried, doesn't he? But it's ok. That photo is a bit dated. The plane has actually flown since then. A FAA check flight with a professional test pilot counts as "actually flown," doesn't it? The concomitant engine fire was really very small. Hardly worth mentioning.

However, I freely admit that there was some exaggeration involved in my attempted bribe. Egregious exaggeration is really just a LIE and I do confess it.

I wanna start this new world with a clear conscience and my Catholic upbringing led me to confess to y'all. Now I'm off to say a coupla rosaries and make a flying novena for my penance; I hope that will suffice. Maybe I'll add a coupla ejaculations for good measure. A heartfelt ejaculation is always nice.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Breaking news

I'm so happy I could plotz!

More later...


Your favorite alter cocker (Me!)

Monday, November 03, 2008

Neopuritan Nosh – November 4, 2008

A recipe and a story! How cool is that? The recipe follows the story. Be patient.

Remember the first myth (lie!) we all learned about American history?

Q: Why did the Puritans come to America?
A: They were seeking religious freedom.

Oh gawd! Gimme a minute to stop laughing cuz that one always cracks me up. Ok, I'm in control again. Let's take a brief stroll through that time period, why don't we? Since their inception, the Puritans/Pilgrims/Separatists desperately wanted to establish a Puritan theocracy in England. (From now on I'm gonna call 'em all "Puritans" just cuz it's my recipe/story and I can do what I want.) They tried their damnedest to overthrow the established government. In the early 1600s, some Puritans decided they'd never succeed and they left England for Amsterdam on The Continent. They had no better luck there than they did in England. Then some brilliant thinker had the idea to move the whole shootin' match to the "new world." Very little active government on that continent made for a fabulous opportunity to create a theocracy there, nurtured by the blood of opponents rather than patriots. Pressing is just so messy. Ick!

So, like Paul Simon's song told in a later century, they left their home in the maritimes (Well, the Netherlands, anyway.) and headed to New England, sweet New England. Once there, they made good on their ideals, creating first one, then several colonies which were absolutist and merciless in their rigid theocracy. Before too long, they branched out and took over other colonies, first building up their own population of believers there, then voting out any ideals of freedom or equality and imposing their own rigid theocracy. Hey, classic Republicans, does this tactic sound familiar? Neopuritans worming their way into control of your party?

Meanwhile back in England, Oliver Cromwell demonstrated that the American Puritans had moved just a bit too soon by taking over England in the mid-1600s, with the execution of King Charles in 1649. He and his non-fun-loving roundheads (Puritans) ran roughshod for the next decade. (You know the snide definition: Puritanism – the fear that somebody, somewhere might be having fun.) They destroyed churches and statues. (No "graven images" ya know! Kinda reminds you of the Taliban and their destruction of those beautiful old Buddhist statues or John Ashcroft covering up the semi-nude statue of Justice. Wow! How metaphoric is that?) Cromwell turned Ireland into a charnel house, killing thousands, except of course, for those they sold into slavery. Ask any Irishman about Cromwell!

On the other hand, maybe the American Puritans made the right decision after all. The monarchy, in the person of Charles II, was returned to power around 1660 by a populace seriously irritated with roundhead rule. Because Cromwell himself had died in 1659, he was put on trial post mortem in 1661. His body was exhumed and hanged. After a while, it was thrown on a garbage heap but his head was left on display on a pole until 1685.

Hey, Ronald Reagan, are you paying attention? Don't get too comfy in that posh grave, you bastard.

And speaking of things American, the Puritans generally over time lost most of their political clout as many other people came to the new continent, people who were actually looking for a little freedom and elbow room. When radical, ultraright, neopuritan, fundamentalist anarchocapitalists speak of this country as being founded on "Christian" principles (meaning, of course, solely their brand of radical puritanical, anarchocapitalist Christianity), I just hafta shake my head. Our founding fathers were educated, intelligent men who were capable of learning from history. They had seen the effects of roundhead rule in England and Puritan efforts in American. They absolutely wanted their new country to NOT be that kind of entity. But as Santayana (No, not the musician!) said, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." For the last coupla decades, the Republican party has been the victim of the neopuritans (soi disant neoconservatives or neocons – inaccurately so labelled, IMO) who are trying to replicate the efforts of the original Puritans.

It does seem to me that their success has been similar in its progression. Their subversive takeover tactics worked for a while but eventually ordinary, sane people stood up and said, "Waitaminit. I ain't likin' this a whole lot." Seems to me that we're currently in that phase parallel to England of 1659-60. Ordinary people who just kinda-sorta went along, making the neopuritans feel like they were a majority, are pulling back, leaving these nutbags exposed for what they are – a small, vicious, cancerous part of the body politic. Nobody wants cancer.

I haven't talked much about the anarchocapitalist aspect of these cretins' belief system. Let's hit that briefly. They frequently cite Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill but have obviously never read either of those men in anything other than neocon excerpts. Both sternly warned against the excesses of a "pure" free market, an entity which is about as realistic as a "pure" Marxist state. They glibly ignore John Forbes Nash, Jr., who proved mathematically a half-century ago that the concept of anarchocapitalism is flawed to the point of unrealistic unworkability.

To my "classic Republican" friends, I wish you luck in reconstituting your party by excising the cancer in its gut.

For you neopuritans (neocons), here's something to chew on.

Neopuritan Nosh

½ cup Abiotic oil (obtained from the limitless supply contained in an oilwell owned by a YEC) [Briefly, YECs believe that the Bible is completely literally true and the earth is only about 6000 years old. Petroleum (oil) was produced as a side-effect of Noah's flood and it is self-renewing; it does not come from prehistoric sources. They believe that all oil wells are constantly refilling as we speak. Also referred to as biotic or abiogenic oil.]
1 onion (chopped medium) (Don't forget to collect your tears as you chop. They can be used later in the accompanying drink.)
Coupla stalks of celery (chopped) (Because celery sounds like salary and we know every Republican strategist's salary is gonna get chopped so it's kinda like a metaphor, huh?)
1 whole garlic (chopped fine) (helps fend off the blood-sucking socialist vampires)
1 lb. free-range wolf meat (boneless rump) from a wolf shot by Sarah Palin riding in a state-owned helicopter
1 potatoe [sic] from Dan Quayle's retirement farm ('nuff said!)
3 eggs (beaten - obtained from any Fox pundit's face after the election)
Bowl of flour (made from amber waves of grain – no substitutes)
2 oz. bile from Sean Hannity (Ok to substitute Bill O'Reilly's)
2 oz. red blood from G. Gordon Liddy, the genuine, original, psychotic unrepentant anti-American terrorist
A dash of Essence of Marxism squeezed from the U.N. by Ron Paul with the help of his John Birch cohorts
OxyContin stolen from Rush Limbaugh's stash (powdered, to taste)

Chop the veggies medium. Cube the wolf meat. Dredge the wolf meat in the egg, then in the flour. Cube the potatoe [sic].

This dish is best cooked over an open fire made from books you really, really want to ban/burn: Das Kapital, works by John Forbes Nash, Jr., Candide, Grapes of Wrath, Where the Wild Things Are, Paradise Lost (Well, actually, as far as I'm concerned, you CAN go ahead and burn that one. Enjoy.), and on and on ad infinitum. There are lots to choose from. Once you have a good bed of coals going (or after you turn on your stove)…

In a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, bring the abiotic oil to the point where it almost smokes. Add the wolf meat, potatoe [sic], and veggies. Saute til the veggies start to look clear then add the bile and blood. Reduce heat and simmer a few more minutes. Then add the Essence of Marxism and season to taste with OxyContin.

Consume! After all, that's one of the main tenets of your philosophy. However, before you do, please have an invocation by a suitable preacher. John Hagee could do a riff about God destroying New Orleans cuz it deserved it or one of his classics about the pope as the antichrist and the Roman Catholic Church as the whore of Babylon. Then again, Rod Parsley could do his shtick about the US being founded for the purpose of destroying Islam and how the next president must wage a new Christian crusade against Islam. That's always good for a laugh stuff.

And now the accompanying drink. Why not make a pitcher while you're at it? You know you're gonna need it!

Neopuritan Number (pronounced "num-er" or "num-ber," depending on your mood - as in, it makes you more numb to help dull your pain and/or your number is up!)

2 jiggers of bitter tears (Preferably Pat Robertson's or Jerry Falwell's but due to scarcity, feel free to substitute your own tears collected while chopping the onion for the nosh.)
Dash of Angostura bitters (cuz neopuritans just never seem to have a limit on bitterness, and bitter tears alone are simply not sufficient total bitterness for this drink)
1 jigger of cheap vodka (from the bar where Nobel-prize-winning economist/mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr., first conceived his theorem which utterly disproved the theory of anarchocapitalism a half-century ago. Despite that, ideologues still cling to this bankrupt philosophy. Well, here's your drink!)
10 drops of yellow food coloring (because when it mixes with your blues it'll turn them green which will aid in the coming efforts against Global Climate Change. Thanks for your help on this important issue! )
Soupcon of hemlock (enhances the self-pity factor. Go ahead, wallow. You know you want to.)
Broken parasol (symbolizing the rending of the evil powers which cast a shadow over this country during the last eight years, the rips in the parasol covering allowing in the light of sanity and constitutionality which were previously blocked by the penumbra of neopuritan rule)
Bent straw ( symbolizing a reduction in the ability of neopuritans to suck the freedom out of this country)
Lemon twist (try to find an exceedingly bitter one)

Fill a 12-oz. glass with ice cubes as cold and hard as Dick Cheney's heart. For extra-special accuracy, dye them black. Add the tears, bitters, vodka, and yellow food coloring, then stir. Float a soupcon of hemlock. Garnish with the broken parasol, bent straw, and twist of lemon. Drink. Copiously. It's ok, you have nothing to do but sit around on the trashpile of history and fantasize about what might have been. Sounds a lot like the original Puritans, huh?

Fun election-day activity

While enjoying your nosh and number, why not try this fun activity? Take the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, all of which have been torn apart during the last eight years, and piece them back together like you would a puzzle. It's much harder when you don't know the original form of the thing you're trying re-create, isn't it? A wonderful challenge and a true learning experience for neopuritans.

Have a GREAT election day!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Armadillo fun

Ask and you shall receive. This one's for Mary, mostly, but I hope everybody enjoys it.

Just finished this tonight and it's in the fridge chilling for the trip to Corvallis tomorrow. Crab mousse mocked up as an armadillo.

The "bloody death puke" is remoulade sauce with chunks of shallot and cracker. Really pumps up the old appetite, huh?

Dorsal view:


Photos courtesy of MJ. Thanks, baby!

We have our costumes ready and we're (mostly) packed. Hitting the road early tomorrow. Ok, "early" in Maier terms. Grin! Hope we don't shake up Mr. 'dilla too much on the drive.

If you're interested, here's my crab mousse recipe:


Ingredient list:
1-1/2 envelopes gelatin (plain)
Celery – coupla stalks (chopped fine)
Onion – about a cup (chopped fine)
Shallots – 1 bunch or about a cup (chopped fine)
Garlic - several toes (chopped fine) (more is good)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
8 oz. Philadelphia cream cheese (substitute generic brand at your own risk)
1 tsp. horseradish (I like to use wasabi) (more is good)
1 tsp red pepper (more is good)
salt and white pepper to taste
16 oz. crab meat (substitute krab or similar at your own risk)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I like Hellman's. Please don't use MiracleWhip et al.)
1/2 cup creole (stone ground) mustard

Chop all veggies fine. Dissolve gelatin in 1/2 cup of water in a mixing bowl of a size sufficient to contain all ingredients. (If you have crab water, either from cooking or because you used canned crab, use that.) In a saucepan, melt cheese and soup together. Mix everything together. Chill, preferably in a whimsical (crab-shaped would be excellent!) mold. When doubled, this recipe fits pretty well into a bundt pan.

Serve on a pretty platter with some green garnishes and a variety of crackers. Complement it with a nice white wine, for example, Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne (a delightful white Burgundy).