To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

I guess it's time to think about New Year's resolutions. F has one resolution that she makes every year: she resolves not to throw rocks at the Loch Ness monster, and so far she has demonstrated 100% compliance. While I am impressed by her record, I have to say that as a goal her resolution doesn't quite come up to S.M.A.R.T. standards: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and with a Time factor. It is all those things except relevant, although if F were to visit Scotland at some point in the coming year I suppose her goal could become that. (Or she might rethink it.)

As I have mentioned before, New Year's resolutions are a good time for examining one's life goals to make sure they are appropriate and on track. I usually try to think about mine in catagories: health, home, spiritual, personal development, finances, family. And I don't worry about finalizing my resolutions until February or so.

So I hope my readers (both of you) will have, or have had, a good New Year's celebration: a little bit serious, a little bit silly, and a good beginning to 2006.
This was fun.

Your Personality Profile

You are nurturing, kind, and lucky.
Like mother nature, you want to help everyone.
You are good at keeping secrets and tend to be secretive.

A seeker of harmony, you are a natural peacemaker.
You are good natured and people enjoy your company.
You put people at ease and make them feel at home with you.

Friday, December 30, 2005


I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said--"Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert....Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

- Shelley

And by the way, if you can find a copy of Tim Powers' The Stress of Her Regard, it's well worth a read. You'll never think of Byron, Keats, or Shelley the same way again. Or vampires, or Frankenstein, or standing stones, or a whole bunch of other things. F had quite a jolt when she found out that Shelley really did die in a sailing accident.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The question has been asked of me, why have I said I would never post about evolution v. intelligent design.

The answer is that I commented nicely about this subject on someone's blog and some other commenters jumped all over me and called me names. I see this a lot about this issue, and I have to say that when people react violently to other people's expressed opinions I think that is very telling.

Look at this thoughtful and interesting blog post, and then scroll down and look at some of the comments. Here is one sample sentence: "Perfesser, you are a lying sack of doo-doo." Charming, right? Mature and nuanced.

C.S. Lewis had a teacher in his youth who had this motto: "Let us never live with amousia, the absence of the Muses." That means that we should remember to include beauty in our lives, of course, in the form of art and music and poetry and what not, but it also means that we should avoid ugliness. I do not mind it when people disagree with me. I do mind when they tell me I am stupid and call me names because we disagree. It's unnecessary and I won't put up with it. Life's too short.

So I wish we could all (all of us who care) have honest and civil discussions about this issue. If we don't reach consensus, at least we may each develop our own understandings a little further, which would be a good thing.

And on a lighter note, I wonder how much of my tendency to want to see both arguments presented fairly and weighed against each other has to do with my being a Libra! Ha ha.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I'm going to post again about the thing I said I'd never post about. I have three thoughts to put forth.

1 - I've seen some discussion regarding the nature of "truth". Truth is what happened, end of story. If God created life on Earth, but 9 billion humans think it happened by chance, then the existence of the Creator is truth. Conversely, if 9 billion humans believe in existence of a creator God, but what actually happened was that everything on Earth developed by chance, then the truth is that we all developed by chance. I don't see what's so hard about that. If truth is what we are after, then no one should be afraid of asking questions. And I see fear in some of the arguments adamantly opposing one side or the other, sometimes hysterically and venomously and profanely. The truth will out, right? The truth will make you free? So chill.

2 - I have a book that I cannot find right now (got to straighten out those bookshelves) by Marilyn vos Savant, in which she talks about statistics. There's a fairly unpleasant example she gives that involves a reported statistic that the average rape victim waits one year before reporting the crime. All kinds of rationales were put forth for that. It takes time to come to terms with what has happened ... rape is such a stigma still in our society ... the turning of the seasons causes her to relive what happened ... and so on. But it turned out that in a sample of 10 women, 9 reported the crime to the police immediately, and 1 waited 10 years and then told a girlfriend. That averages out to one year, but no woman actually reported her rape after one year. All of the twists and turns taken to explain that one-year wait were based on a very basic misunderstanding of the data.

Evolutionists admit that they cannot rule out the possibility of a creator God. The question of whether God exists or not, or if he does exist, how he has acted and does act, simply isn't in the realm of science, they say. If in fact God did bring about life on Earth as we know it, and if ID proponents are right when they point out irreducibly complex features that they say are hallmarks of design, then for evolutionists to insist on trying to squeeze and bend their theories this way and that to account for those features without God is the same as those theorists who tried to figure out why a woman would wait one year before reporting a rape. They're trying to explain something that never happened. That isn't the path to truth.

3 - As for people on the other side, who say that evolution can't be true because it's not in the Bible, I invite them to imagine how God would have explained natural selection to the author of Genesis.

"Four billion year ago - let's see, that's 200 million score - hm. If you counted the fingers and toes of everybody on Earth, living and dead, even people you don't know about ...

Well, anyway. A very long time ago, I started with bacteria. Okay, bacteria are these little tiny animals. They're so small you can't see them, but they're everywhere. Yes, really. They're on your skin, and in your gut, even though you can't see them or feel or hear them ...

Okay, never mind. It's beside the point anyway. A very, very long time ago I created the Earth and everything on it."

Because that's the point, right, that he made everything we see and know? 'Nough said.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Another engineer story.

An engineer died and went up to heaven. But St. Peter turned him away at the pearly gates. He shrugged and went trudging down to hell.

St. Peter liked to call Satan up on the telephone every now and then, just to check up on things, and a few days after that engineer was turned away, he called - "What's up?"

"Oh, things aren't too bad, I guess," Satan said. "We've got an engineer down here now, and he's fixed the flush toilets. It's kind of nice."

Peter hung up a bit perplexed. A few days later he called again.

"That engineer you sent down here got the air conditioner working! It's cooling off already!" Satan said.

Well, that didn't set too well with St. Peter, so after a few days he called Satan again. This time he heard laughing and loud music in the background.

"Our new engineer fixed the refrigerators! We have ice for our drinks! Sorry I can't hear very well - we're having a party!" Satan shouted.

This upset St. Peter, and he told Satan that the engineer didn't belong there after all and he had to send him up to heaven right away.

"I don't think so!" Satan yelled. "We like having him here!"

"I'm telling you, a mistake was made! You have to send him up right now!"

"No!" Satan said.

"Send him up right away or I'll see you in court!" St. Peter shouted.

Satan burst out laughing. "Yeah, right! And where are YOU going to get a lawyer!"

Monday, December 26, 2005

We just got back from my sister's house in Tupelo. I guess that was the last hurrah of Christmas 2005 for my family. We did have church services on Christmas Day, in addition to the 11:00 PM C. Eve service. Also went to R's family in town here. Ate a bunch of stuff, including too many sweets. And there were gift exchanges of course. Among other things, I received a collection of short stories by Edith Wharton that I did not previously have, as well a book by Ann Rule, and from F, a gorgeous book about Queen Victoria's granddaughters. Q. Victoria and the next two or three generations after her are a hobby of F's and mine, although F is a little more interested in the Russian royals; of course, that's all connected. The picture on the dust jacket is so beautiful that she had to struggle to give the book to me rather than keep it for herself. I appreciate the sacrifice. From me and R and the cats, F received DVDs: "Gigi", "My Fair Lady", and "V: The Final Battle"; a collection of Katherine Anne Porter short novels; a nice leather jacket; gift certificates for iTunes and McDonalds; some appropriately nerdy t-shirts from; and some stuff for her computer. R's main gift was an overcoat that he needed, and he picked out one he really liked. F had some thoughtful gifts for him too. So we're set, and I'll go to bed soon, because somehow I have to go to work tomorrow.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Once in royal David's city stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby in a manger for his bed:
Mary was that mother mild, Jesus Christ her little child.

He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all;
And his shelter was a stable and his cradle was a stall:
With the poor and meek and lowly lived on Earth our Savior holy.

And our eyes at last shall see him, through his own redeeming love;
For that child, so dear and gentle, is our Lord in heaven above:
And he leads his children on to the place where he is gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable, with the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in Heaven, set at God’s right hand on high;
There His children gather round bright like stars, with glory crowned.

Friday, December 23, 2005

I swore I would stop talking about Intelligent Design, but I've slipped up in comments elsewhere and stuck in a sentence or two. I guess I can say what I like on my own blog, though.

Something I have tried to impress upon my daughter is that sloppy language leads to sloppy thinking. I think this is particularly true in the whole evolution/ID - well, I can't call it dialog, because both sides are talking past each other.

Some time ago I read the sequel to Jurassic Park (and found it disappointing, shallow and stupid, unlike JP which was very good) and I found a statement that I will have to paraphrase, because I can't find my copy to quote directly. The statement was to the effect that dinosaurs evolved a family structure because they needed to.

Okay, the way natural selection works is that changes are constantly happening when DNA is passed from one generation to the next. The changes may be copying errors, or they may be caused by some mutagen, or they happen for some other reason. Anyway, sometimes those changes are disastrous, and the offspring can't live. Sometimes they don't make any difference. And sometimes when they happen in a particular species living in a particular environment, they give the offspring some advantage so that it is better able to pass its DNA, with that alteration in place, along to the next generation. Over time the changed DNA and whatever physical way it manifests itself becomes more prevalent in the group. That's it in a nutshell.

But the change has to happen first, in a strictly random manner, and then prove advantageous or not. To say that any characteristic evolved "because it needed to" is completely incompatible with the idea of natural selection. One could argue that it's just an informal way of stating that the environment was such that only the dinosaurs that randomly acquired family structure could survive. But the problem comes in with the ID debate.

I know there is more to the concept called Intelligent Design than "something or someone caused this to happen". I've read Darwin's Black Box, and I'm frustrated by the fact that my background in life sciences is insufficient for me to determine whether Behe's arguments hold water or not. But I will say that if, for example, God brought about the dinosaurs using whatever combination of natural selection and direct design he found appropriate; and then he thought that it would be interesting, and they would have a better chance of survival, if they formed family groups, and then he caused that to happen: that makes sense. It flows. It's internally consistent.

I'm not saying that dinosaurs didn't get their family structures from natural selection in its purest form. I don't know how they got them. I don't know that they did in fact get them. But I do know that if a scientist insists on excluding the idea of a designer with unmerciful rigidity, then he should be rigorous in excluding sloppy language. He should be able to state his ideas in such a way that they make perfect sense without the concept of a designer deciding something was "needed" or whatever. Otherwise it looks like he's trying to have it both ways.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Mad Gardener's Song

He thought he saw an Elephant,
That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
"At length I realise," he said,
"The bitterness of Life!"

He thought he saw a Bufffalo
Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
His Sister's Husband's Niece.
"Unless you leave this house," he said,
"I'll send for the Police!"

He thought he saw a Rattlesnake
That questioned him in Greek:
He looked again, and found it was
The Middle of Next Week.
"The one thing I regret," he said,
"Is that it cannot speak!"

He thought he saw a Banker's Clerk
Descending from the bus:
He looked again, and found it was
A Hippopotamus.
"If this should stay to dine," he said,
"There won't be much for us!"

He thought he saw a Kangaroo
That worked a coffee-mill:
He looked again, and found it was
A Vegetable-Pill.
"Were I to swallow this," he said,
"I should be very ill!"

He thought he saw a Coach-and-Four
That stood beside his bed:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bear without a Head.
"Poor thing," he said, "poor silly thing!
It's waiting to be fed!"

He thought he saw an Albatross
That fluttered round the lamp:
He looked again, and found it was
A Penny-Postage Stamp.
"You'd best be getting home," he said:
"The nights are very damp!"

He thought he saw a Garden-Door
That opened with a key:
He looked again, and found it was
A Double Rule of Three:
"And all its mystery," he said,
"Is clear as day to me!"

He thought he saw an Argument
That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bar of Mottled Soap.
"A fact so dread," he faintly said,
"Extinguishes all hope!"

- Lewis Carroll, of course.
So I walked past the bulletin board at work today with my coworker J, who is black. We paused to look at Christmas cards that had been sent by various vendors and so forth. I pointed to one card that had a photograph on the front showing about 30 people, all wearing red shirts and lined up in rows, and said, "Who's that?" J told me - it's a lab we do outsourcing to. We contemplated the card a moment, and then I asked, "Where are they?" "Minnesota," J said. "Oh!" I said. I nodded, and she nodded, and after another moment I blurted out, "Because I was wondering - where are the black folks?" J burst out laughing and clapped her hand on my shoulder and said, "See, that's why I stand next to you! I was thinking that but I wouldn't say it, but you would - you'll say anything! All I got to do is stand here!" And we both cracked up.

It's funny what you get used to seeing, and you don't really think about it until you see something different. Sometimes it takes me a moment to think about what that something different is.

But it's not really true that I will say anything.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

F wrapped Christmas presents the other day while R and I were at work, and she got lots of expert help. She grabbed the camera and got a few shots, and converted them to gift tags. Here are two of them.

I think they're the cutest things.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I've been keeping up with the stem cell scandal in South Korea. Here is an article about it. There are those who suggest that the solution to keeping this sort of thing from happening is to train young scientists in ethics.

I doubt that you can train ethics into a person. You can explain exactly what falsification consists of, so that a person doesn't falsify by mistake, thinking that what he is doing is OK. I have found crumpled pieces of paper in the garbage, that turned out to be someone's original observations (sample weights, for instance) that were copied over because the papers were torn or had solvent spilled on them, and had to explain that that is raw data and you never discard it. If the technician truly doesn't know that and never repeats the error, that's one thing. If the technician has done it before and excuses himself by saying that he thought no one would know, that's something else again. My mom says character is what you do when no one is looking, and I think she's right.

The cruelest thing in the stem cell case is this:

"When I had a spinal injury 21 years ago, it was a death sentence that I couldn't walk again," said Jeong, 50, head of the Korea Spinal Cord Injury Association.

But, with talk of stem cells, "I began to hold a string of hope. I want to keep holding that string of hope," he said.

It is so wrong to lie to people like that. I don't know how people who lie like that can live with themselves. I wonder if the lies start out small, and are rationalized because they could become true with enough support for the research, and eventually take on a life of their own. It's why it is so important to be truthful even in small things that don't seem to matter. That internal commitment to the truth has to be there. It has to be guarded, even when the truth is disappointing, or embarrassing, or obstructive to what we want to do. I just don't think you can train that into a person.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Villagers all, this frosty tide,
Let your doors swing open wide,
Though wind may follow, and snow beside,
Yet draw us in by your fire to bide;
Joy shall be yours in the morning!

Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,
Blowing fingers and stamping feet,
Come from far away you to greet--
You by the fire and we in the street--
Bidding you joy in the morning!

For ere one half of the night was gone,
Sudden a star has led us on,
Raining bliss and benison--
Bliss to-morrow and more anon,
Joy for every morning!

Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow--
Saw the star o'er a stable low;
Mary she might not further go--
Welcome thatch, and litter below!
Joy was hers in the morning!

And then they heard the angels tell
`Who were the first to cry NOWELL?
Animals all, as it befell,
In the stable where they did dwell!
Joy shall be theirs in the morning!'

- Kenneth Grahame

Friday, December 16, 2005

F and I are looking at pictures of Patagonia. ("We're nerds, you realize", she said.) We ran across this:

It's a cave painting where it looks like the inhabitants placed their hands on the cave wall and somehow sprayed paint to leave silhouettes. Look at their thumbs - they're not offset. What's up with that? Or is it our thumbs that are unusual? Are the hands of modern-day Argentinian and Chilean Indians like that? Any North American Indians? Polynesians? The internet answers many questions but it also raises others.

Here's the site.

I did get one fairly obscure question answered last year. When Molly came to us I wondered if the way her coloring is distributed on her body could be a map of her development as an embryo. Strangely enough, I found several websites related to cat embryology, and discovered that I was right. Here is an example.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

R and I are making fudge tonight. I add stuff and he stirs. We're making a batch each of chocolate and eggnog flavor. I have to take some to work tomorrow, and R probably will too, and I signed up to bring dessert to our Sunday School party Friday. Here's the recipe, for those of you who do not get it on the back of your marshmallow cream (excuse me, creme).

3 cups sugar
1-1/2 stick (3/4 cup) butter or margarine
5 oz (2/3 cup) evaporated milk

Stir this in a pot on the stove over medium heat until it reaches 234F. You really need to do this with a candy thermometer. We tried to wing it for years until we gave up, and it makes a huge difference. Once it reaches 234F, take it off the stove and add

12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 jar (7oz) marshmallow "creme"

and STIR. This is where R comes in - it's too hard for me to stir this until it's mixed thoroughly. While he's stirring, I'm lining a 9-in. square pan with aluminum foil. Once everything is mixed together, pour into the pan and allow it to cool. You shouldn't cool in the refrigerator, because if it cools too fast it will form crystals. Once it's mostly solid, you can dump it out and cut it into little squares, and then put that in the refrigerator.

Eggnog fudge is the same, except that you substitute eggnog for evaporated milk, almond bark for chocolate chips, and skip the vanilla flavoring; and I always sprinkle it with nutmeg before I cut it. Also, it won't really solidify enough to dump out and cut unless you refrigerate it first.

We'll make two more batches this weekend because R's family has come to expect it. Plus, we will want to eat some more. I don't know why we don't all gain 40 pounds and develop diabetes every December.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Audit's over. I think we did OK. They found Findings, of course, they always do, and we will have Corrective Actions. And so it goes.
I suppose the audit is going OK. They have found a couple of things but they're pretty minor. At least, I think they are. One more day of this, then on to the next thing. I'm trying to change some things about my job to make it less stressful. The most stressful thing to me is that I never get finished, or even to a reasonable stopping place. If I have to miss a day, I can get somebody to at least check data so that doesn't pile up on my desk. But if I go back into the lab for even half a day, I don't have backup with the data and it's a nightmare. And I need to be spending more time in the lab; that's my job and it stresses me that I can't seem to do it. Another stressful thing is that even the things I have time to do, I don't think I'm doing well enough. I'm spending too much time on stupid details and running down minor problems. I keep thinking about "the tyranny of the urgent", where urgent things take precedence over important things to the point that the important things never get done. It's kind of like "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" where the wrong wheel is squeaking. The Peter Principle comes to mind too, and I wonder if I am there. I have got to make some changes. Maybe I can learn from all this, how to be better organized, or delegate better, or prioritize better, or push back at my boss so that I'm not spending so much time doing inconsequential things. (She probably would say I do that enough). They tell me quality in the department is tremendously improved since I came in. I know it's still not really good enough.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Third Sunday of Advent

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day:
I would my true love did so chance
to see the legend of my play,
to call my true love to my dance.
Sing O my love, O my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

Thus was I born of a Virgin pure,
of her I took fleshly substance;
To knit myself to man's nature,
to call my true love to my dance:
Sing O my love, O my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

In a manger laid and wrapped I was,
so very poor, this was my chance,
betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass,
to call my true love to my dance:
Sing O my love, O my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The concert went well. My parents came up for it like they always do. The music included a very nice arrangement of "O Holy Night", some contemporary stuff and some carols and so forth, but as always my very favorite was the "Hallelujah Chorus" which we did last. I liked all of the other music, but the Handel just seemed transcendent, like if you were going to call the other stuff "music" you should invent a different word for it. It seemed that way to me anyway. I could do nothing but baroque the rest of my life and never miss the rest. It's the real deal.

Well, I enjoyed the orchestra's encore, too: Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride".

Friday, December 09, 2005

Back home. F is upstairs sleeping, of course. Sadly, my migraine did not go away, but woke me up in the wee hours. I hate when that happens. I woke R at 5:30 and he helped me get on top of it. I'm OK now but I always feel strange for a while after those things.

Tonight we have the company Christmas party, at a downtown hotel. Last year I wore a fairly dressy outfit, but there were those present in chiffon and sequins. So I'm a little spiffier this year. I found a dress at April Cornell that supposedly was originally $198 but was marked down to $20. Maybe I'll get a picture.

Tomorrow evening is the Christmas concert at church. I am in the choir, so I also have to go to the non-singing rehearsal in the morning. Sunday is church, of course, and Monday and Tuesday at work we are being audited by our biggest customer. They're very nice but they'll find something; they always do. They won't feel that they have done their job if they don't. I've joked about leaving something minor for them to find so they can stop looking, but I'm only partly joking when I say that. Facing these things is a little like Judgment Day. All your secret sins will be found out, even ones you didn't know you committed, and you can only hope for mercy and reasonableness. I have a little button that says "I just hope God grades on a curve". Maybe I'll wear it under my (freshly washed) lab coat.

There's something Wednesday but I refuse to try to remember what. Gee, I wonder why I had a migraine.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Here is a delicious short story by Edith Wharton: The Lady's Maid's Bell. It's a ghost story, first published in 1902.

Now I'm going to take my migraine to bed. We go to Mississippi tomorrow to bring F back for Christmas break.
When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer

WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

- Walt Whitman
A couple had been married for many years. They had no children, but they did have a poodle that they both loved dearly. The wife was a sweet, sensitive woman who had a lifetime dream of going to Europe. The husband loved his wife but he had a reputation for having no tact at all. This his wife took in stride, because she knew how he was.

Finally the woman was able to realize her dream of traveling overseas. She was very excited when she arrived in New York, ready to board her flight across the Atlantic. She called her husband one last time from the airport.

"Hi, honey!"

"The dog's dead."


The wife, crying, then accused her husband: "It's true what they say about you: you have no tact at all."

"What did you want me to say? The dog's dead." (He was upset about it, too.)

"Well, you could have told me the dog was on the roof. Then when I called from Rome you could have said the dog fell off the roof. When I called from Paris, you could have said, 'Honey, the dog's at the vet, and he's not doing well at all.' Then when I called from London on my way home, you could have told me the dog didn't make it."

"OK, I'm sorry! I know I don't know how to word things! You know how I am! Sorry!"

The woman's flight was boarding, and she had to get hold of herself and try to end the conversation on a positive note.

"How's mother?"

"Uh - she's on the roof!"

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I made a big pot of chicken soup yesterday to keep in the refrigerator and heat up bowls of as needed. It's cold enough now to really appreciate a bowl of hot homemade soup. I cooked the chicken first, then removed the bones and shredded the meat, then added broccoli, halved cherry tomatoes, diced onion, and rice.

BUT - I put way too much rice in. And I let it simmer too long. When I went to check it, I found that the rice had taken up all of the available liquid. It looked kind of off-putting, too. I had half a bottle of V-8 in the frig and I dumped that in and stirred it around. It didn't help much. I put it in the frig and picked up some bread on the way home from work today in case R looked at my creation and balked. I figured he could at least have a sandwich.

But actually, he didn't. He put some of that strange-looking glop in a bowl and added water, and cooked it in the microwave and stirred it all around, and then he ate it and pronounced it good. And in one of those funny Gift of the Magi moments, it turned out that while I was stopping on the way home to get bread for his hypothetical sandwich, he was stopping on the way home to pick up cornbread muffins to go with my soup. And R doesn't typically like cornbread.

I remember once when R and I were newly wed, I let the rice boil dry and when I served it, it was crunchy. I told R he didn't have to eat it, but he told me it was fine (crunch, crunch). I think his mama must have trained him well.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The sermon at church yesterday was about peace. Peace, of course, is not just the absence of conflict. The preacher said you can't have peace without justice, and that's true but it's not the whole story either.

William F. Buckley, in Happy Days Were Here Again, had this to say about John Lennon's "Imagine":

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace.

"Well, we certainly want to imagine a world in which everyone lives in peace, but you see, that is only possible in a world in which people are willing to die for causes. There'd have been peace for heaven knows (assuming heaven exists) how long in the South, except that men were willing to die to free the slaves, and Hitler would have died maybe about the time that John Lennon did, at Berchtesgarden, at age ninety-one, happy in a Jewless Europe."

So is peace really the most important thing? THE most important thing? Patrick Henry famously said, "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? ... Give me liberty, or give me death." (Ironically, he was himself a slave owner, and he felt funny about that, but not funny enough to do anything about it.)

Suppose your neighbor was beating his toddler in his front yard - would you walk over and make him stop, or would you go in your house and shut your door, and tell youself, "After all, the important thing is for me to live in peace with my neighbor."

In a marriage, sooner or later one has to decide how much of his or her partner's bad temper, etc., to put up with silently to stay peaceful, and at what point he must speak up and risk conflict in order to adjust the relationship. This also happens between sibs, and between parents and their adult offspring. It's usually considered a sign of mental ill-health to put up with too much abuse in order to "keep peace".

So what is peace, really? And how important is it? What should we be willing to give up for it? What should we not be willing to give up for it?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

You young folks, like change destiny, can't fully appreciate how technology has changed in the lifetimes of even us not-yet-old ones. F asked me once what computer games I liked when I was a little girl.
There were no computer games when I was a little girl.
Remember the scene in Apollo 13, where Tom Hanks waves his hand at a building and says it contains "the computer"? And the scene where people in the control room were doing calculations with slide rules? I was 9 years old then. When I started college, you could play Pac Man and Space Invaders in an arcade, and that was about it. Papers were typed on typewriters. Research was done in the library, with actual books. A notebook was a three-ring binder with paper in it. The Internet was a subject for science fiction.

So every now and then I hear a phrase, or run across one in my surfing, and it gives me a little jolt to think about what we would have made of it when I was a teenager.
- I went to Office Depot to buy a little wheel for my mouse.
- A worm shut down the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles and the New York Times (this happened a few years ago, remember?)
- If you get email from the FBI, don't open it - it's a virus.
- The server has crashed. We might as well go home.
- I'm going to blog about this.
Second Sunday of Advent
O come, O come Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ayn Rand's name has popped up a few times recently, sometimes because I've mentioned her and sometimes because somebody else has. She is a woman of controversy, that's for sure.

I've read her major works and thought about them, and I've also read the two biography/memoirs by the Brandens. Here's what I think:

I think her ideas were not without merit. I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged when I was in my 20's and it helped me to crystalize a couple of things: that if you want something it's up to you to go after it and make it happen, and that you shouldn't look to other people to fulfill you as a person. We all like and need affirmation from others, of course, which is one reason why we like for people to comment on our blogs. But we should be OK without it.

I think her insistence on selfishness was fairly silly. I think everything we do is from a mixture of motives. If I give money to a panhandler, it's for several reasons. One is that I don't want a fellow human to be hungry. You can call that pity, or compassion, or fellow-feeling; I don't know what it is, except that it's as simple as that. One is that Jesus commanded us to feed the hungry. One is that I am expressing my gratitude to God that not only can I provide for myself, I have enough to share. It's true that I work very hard for my money, but it's also true that I was born with a certain amount of intelligence, parents who didn't screw up my psyche, the opportunity to get an education, and so forth, that I did nothing to deserve. One is probably a superstitious feeling in the back of my mind that if I don't help someone when I can, someday I will need help and won't get it. Kind of like karma. I don't really think that, but I can't say the idea isn't running around in my head. If Rand liked me, and knew that I gave money to a panhandler, she would try to excuse it on the basis that I did it to benefit myself somehow. No other reason would be acceptable. That's dumb.

And obviously I don't agree with her outright rejection of religion. In fact, I think that without meaning to she found herself at the center of a cult. Nathaniel Branden touched on something in his book that I think bears some reflection: he wonders if the hero-worship he and the other members of the "collective" bestowed on her didn't encourage her tendency to self-aggrandize. From reading about her actions during and after writing Atlas Shrugged, I wonder if they didn't help push her right over the edge into mental illness.

Her insistence on exaggerated moralism while semi-secretly carrying on an adulterous affair was nuts.

Plus the fact that she was a feminist's nightmare. No, I don't care for her attitude towards women at all.

Friday, December 02, 2005

R has a textbook entitled Modern Electricity: Science, History, Theory, and Practice. It was published in 1904. Here is the first paragraph:

The true nature of electricity has not yet been discovered. Many think it a quality, inherent in nearly all the substances, and accompanied by a peculiar movement or arrangement of the molecule. Some assume that the phenomona of electricity are due to a peculiar state of strain or tension in the ether which is present everywhere, even in and between the atoms of the most solid bodies. If the latter theory should be the true one, and if the atmosphere of the earth is surrounded by the same ether, it may be possible to establish these assumptions as facts. The most modern supposition regarding this matter, by Maxwell, is that light itself is founded on electricity, and the light waves are merely electro-magnetic waves [italics in the original]. The theory "that electricity is related to, or identical with, the luminiferous ether," has been accepted by the most prominent scientists.

Isn't that charming?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Had a brief discussion with M, my coworker, today. His son, who is in 3rd grade, is learning about animals; specifically, predators. Kids love that stuff, you know. And parasites. They talked about fleas and ticks at school, but M told his son about tapeworms. It took the kid a moment to understand what M was telling him, and then - oh my God.

You know, it's fun to gross out or startle a child like that. Usually it's the other way around with the bathroom humor and all. They think they have it all over their parents for outrageousness. They forget we were once kids, too.

Edward Gorey knew it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

There's some kind of horrible flu-like illness going around. I say "flu-like" because R refuses to admit he might have the flu: he had the shot, after all. Yesterday evening he suddenly announced that his throat was sore, and tonight he is prostrated.

A couple of years ago I made F get the flu shot. She'd had the flu every single year for, like, 3 years in a row. F is very fortunate in that she's only once been sick enough to need an injection other than her routine immunizations, so she wasn't thrilled about getting that shot. She was even less thrilled when she got the flu anyway. I semi-shouted at the doctor - "But we got the flu shot! WE GOT THE DADGUM FLU SHOT!" while he laughed at me and F whispered in her ruined voice, "I told you! I told you!" Last year she had the flu YET AGAIN. I hope that now she's out of her Petri dish of a high school she can dodge that bullet.

Echinacea. Vitamin C. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

This was our Molly a year ago, when she was still a kitten. She found a roll of paper towels and started ripping it up. We just put her on the floor and let her have at it. She had a lot of fun pulling off bits with her teeth and throwing them around - you can't see the whole mess she made - and alternately going into frenzies of ripping and clawing, and stopping to stare at us.

Well, Molly isn't a kitten anymore. Her newest trick is to jump onto the Canon i860 printer when someone is at the computer, and bite or slap at the "on" button until she turns it on. As soon as the light starts flashing she leaves the button alone and whirls around to stare intently into the slot where the paper goes.

Molly's always been fascinated by that printer. She just knows some tiny troll or something lives inside to make noise and pull paper through, and one of these days it's going to slip up and she's going to catch it. Now that she can turn the printer on, she figures she stands a pretty good chance of that.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Deep Thought time again, on the nature of honesty. How important is it for a person to develop an internal commitment to the truth? How important is it to be truthful even if no one else will ever know if you lied?

Suppose a friend gets a haircut that you think is the ugliest thing you've ever seen, and she asks your opinion?

Suppose the truth is X, but you couch it in such a way that any reasonable person would assume Y; and you know your listener understood Y, and you didn't correct him? Is that lying?

What would you be more likely to lie about: something you did that was wrong, or something you did that makes you look stupid and hurts your pride?

Could you ever trust someone you discover to be a facile liar? Suppose you only catch him lying about things that don't matter?

Is there a connection between being careful to be truthful to others, and being truthful with onesself? We're all familiar with Polonius's advice: "This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." But does it work the other way, too: if a person is scrupulously truthful to other people about how much she drinks, or smokes, or gambles, or wastes time surfing the net (ahem) is she less likely to drift too far down the garden path?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

First Sunday of Advent

The Glory of the Lord shall be revealed
And all flesh shall see it together
For the Mouth of the Lord has spoken it.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

We get snow in Memphis maybe once or twice a year - snow that sticks, that is. We get lots of flurries that melt right away.

Here's a picture we took a few years ago. The cat went out onto the deck and jumped up onto the rail as he usually did; then he realized that white stuff was COLD and we had to go out and get him. Interestingly, although the picture looks like a black and white with the cat colored in afterward, it really is a color picture.

Friday, November 25, 2005

I've been tagged by Change Destiny.

2 names you go by: Laura. Mom. My coworkers may have some more names for me, but I wouldn't know what they are.
2 parts of your heritage: Scottish, Welsh.
2 things that scare you: The thought of something happening to my daughter. Driving in Memphis.
2 of your favorite bands or musical artists : Canadian Brass. Neil Diamond..
2 things you want in a relationship (other than real love): Kindness. Loyalty. Those cut both ways.
2 physical things that appeal to you (in the opposite sex): Intelligence. Sense of humor.
2 things you want really badly: To fix my job so I can enjoy it again. To clean up my house. : (
2 places you want to go on vacation: Rome, the Gobi desert (not really). Actually, I'd like to see the Painted Desert, in the western US.
2 things you want to do before you die: Go to Mars. I'd go even if I knew I wouldn't make it back alive. If I can't go to Mars, I'd like to see my grandchildren (several years from now).
2 ways that you are stereotypically a dude/chick: I like pink. And I don't go out without my hair more or less combed and at least some mascara.
2 things you are thinking about now: That I don't have to get up early tomorrow although I probably will anyway. That I like having F home from school and I'll miss her when she goes back on Sunday.
2 stores you shop at: Walgreens. Macy's, although I window-shop more than I buy.
2 people you would like to see take the quiz?: Homer. Gosh, who else reads my blog?

Thursday, November 24, 2005

We had Thanksgiving dinner today at R's parents' house, with two of his brothers, his two sisters, and the youngest sister's children, who are 9, 7, 5, and 3 years old, respectively.

The 5-year-old, Ryan, is a fiend for trains. Two years ago at Thanksgiving my sister-in-law asked each child what he was thankful for. The oldest said "God." The second said, "My sister, Sarah, because she is so sweet." Ryan, who was 3 then, said, "Trains."

So today he and I sat together and looked through a picture book telling the story of the Nutcracker. We looked at all the pictures and talked about them. Each page had a pull-out and we had to work those. He was very interested and enthusiastic. Then we got to the last page. He looked at it in bemusement and said, "Where are the trains?" I said, "I don't think there are any." "Oh, man!" What a waste, you know, he had sat through the entire book for nothing. Then he remembered his manners - all these kids are excruciatingly polite - and told me it was a very nice book. And then he left it without a backward glance.

I wonder what Ryan would have fixed on if he had been born before there were trains.
In conversation with R, I used this phrase: "Let the devil take the hindmost.".

He stared at me and said he'd never heard it before. Of course, the meaning is intuitively obvious. I couldn't believe he'd never heard me say it before, because we've been married 23 years, but I suppose I'd never had occasion. I learned it at my mother's knee. She's very expressive.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

We got home this afternoon from picking up F from school, and we are all tired as dogs. F has been sound asleep ever since we got home. She virtuously brought home some things to study with, but I won't be surprised if she mostly sleeps before she goes back on Sunday. Don't know what it is about coming home from college ... but I seem to remember that I slept my head off every time.

So for kind of a late supper, we are going to have a very simple and easy-to-prepare although probably heartburn-provoking dish called "It's Bean Dip". We call it that because when you open a can of bean dip it sounds similar to the opening of a can of cat food. The cats can hear the difference now, but when I first began to prepare it they would all run into the kitchen and start hollering. I finally realized that R and F would go into the dining room when I went into the kitchen and wait for me to say, "It's bean dip! Bean dip, you dummies! You don't want this!" and they would die laughing.

How to make "It's Bean Dip":

Optional: Brown some ground beef.
Optional: Saute chopped onion and mushroom.

Open a can or two of bean dip and smear it around in the bottom of a glass bowl. I have a pretty bowl that has a flat bottom and fluted sides.

If you've browned beef, spread that over the dip.

Open a can of diced tomatoes, any flavor you like; drain and spread the tomatoes over the beef. Your cats, if any, might like to lick up the tomato juice.

If you've sauted onions and mushrooms, spread that over the tomatoes; also chopped black olives if you have them.

Microwave this until it's hot, about 3 or 4 minutes.

Dump a bunch of grated cheese on top and put it back in the microwave until the cheese mostly melts, about a minute or so.

Let it stand another couple of minutes unless you don't mind it being runny. It looks disgusting when you dip it out, but it tastes wonderful. Serve with tortilla chips.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Here's another poem for change destiny. This one is about how a person may change her destiny in seemingly minor decisions that she makes.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

--Robert Frost

Sunday, November 20, 2005

As kind of a follow-up to my post of yesterday, I want to talk about goals and what they should be.

Young people going off to college who are trying to decide what to major in, or who are trying to choose a career path, are frequently told, "Do what you love." Well that's fine, if "what you love" will pay the bills: if you are good enough at it, or it is in enough demand, for people to pay you to do it to the extent that you can support the lifestyle to which you would like to become accustomed.

But it doesn't always work that way. F loves to draw and do crafts. She's done some neat stuff, but it's not enough to support her and she's smart enough to know that.

Things that people major in that they "love" include English, esp. literature; history, art, religion, music, philosophy, psychology, and X studies (women's, or whatever), and I'm sure a lot of esoteric things I've never heard of. Now I'm not saying that people can't major in one of those things and do very well in their field. And I'm not saying that people can't major in one of those things and do very well in a different field. What I'm saying is that people major in one of those things and frequently end up teaching, which they may or may not have wanted to do, or working in a different field that they have no interest in and no career path in. The world, or at least this country, is full of twenty-somethings who majored in what they love, and are making $20K working at a bookstore and wondering when they will ever be able to afford a house or a car, or pay off the credit card debt they incurred in college when they were young and stupid. The answer is never, unless they pull up their socks and change course.

The advice that I gave F is this: Whatever you end up doing, it absolutely has to pay enough to put food on the table. Beyond that, it has to pay enough to support whatever lifestyle you will need to have to be happy. Some people are content to live their whole lives in a rented apartment and never have a car* but if that's not you, then you definitely need to take that into account. Or maybe you would like to spend your summers at archeological digs, to which as an amateur you would have to pay your own way - then pick something seasonal that pays a lot, like tax law.

Then, your choice has to be something reasonably honorable. I would not like to tell people you are an exotic dancer, for instance. It would be good if it's something that actually makes a positive difference in the world, although if it's legal and you pay your taxes that's probably really enough.

And finally, it must be something that you like and are suited to. Life is too short to spend 40+ hours a week bored and unhappy or overly stressed.

But - your job is not your true love. You should not look to your job to fulfill you as a person. That's where your love of art, literature, and music, your enjoyment of learning history, and so forth come in. They make you a cultured, interesting, happy, well-rounded person.

*I realize that in some places, like NYC, it may be possible to have a terrific quality of life in a rented apartment with no car, but not around here.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Well, let's see. Time for a Deep Thought, I guess.

How about the Meaning of Success.

I've heard it said that it's impossible to define success for another person. I disagree with that. The story is usually told that a businessman spends all his time and mental energy on making a lot of money, and in his old age is wealthy but estranged from his family. Could you say he is a success? Or not?

In my opinion, it depends. I think success can be defined as achievement of goals. If the businessman in the story wants to be wealthy and doesn't much care what his family thinks of him, then he is a success. If he always thought his twilight years would see him surrounded by loving children and grandchildren, then he is not a success.

I think people slip up when they never take the time to ask themselves what their goals really are, or whether they are on track for meeting them. New Year's resolutions are a good venue for having exactly that take place, and they are conveniently prompted once a year.

Friday, November 18, 2005

This makes me ill. It's an article about summarizing classics in text messages so kids will read them.

Okay, first, this is stupid. I remember that when F was reading Jane Eyre and we were talking about it, R mentioned that he had never read it. (It is kind of a chick book.) I began summarizing the plot for him, thought I would do it in a few succinct sentences, and you know what? That is one complex piece of literature. And they are going to reduce this to text messages?

Second, I'm not sure it's a good idea to encourage kids to read this way. I have come to the conclusion that written and spoken English are really two different languages. If I recall correctly, it's been determined that people who sound words in their heads read more slowly than people who let the words go straight from their eyes into their brains. When words are spelled phonetically, rather than the way we are used to seeing them, it forces us to sound the word as we read.

(I have to say, though, that sometimes when I read something written by someone I know, I can hear their voice in my head, especially if the wording is very colloquial.)

Here's proof:

Acocdrnig to an elgnsih unviesitry sutdy the oredr of letetrs in a wrod dosen't mttaer, the olny thnig thta's iopmrantt is that the frsit and lsat Ltteer of eevry word is in the crcreot ptoision. The rset can be jmbueld and one is stlil able to raed the txet wiohtut dclftfuiiy.*

You can read that easily, right? Try pronouncing it and see if it's understandable.

Finally, if things are to be simplified and scrunched together, I vote for this.

*This has been all over the internet, and I don't know how to credit it properly.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The poem I quoted below is, of course, William Blake's "The Tyger". It's the "Songs of Experience" counterpart to "The Lamb" in "Songs of Innocence".

"The Lamb" starts like this:

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?

Here's the full text.

It's a child's view of creation, written in a child's simple language.

In contrast, here's "The Tyger":

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


Here is an excellent discussion of the poem. The point it appears Blake was making is that as adults we have to confront the fact that creation isn't benign all the time. Some things we have trouble reconciling with the idea of a loving, omnipotent God. Blake's grown-up poem doesn't end with any answers, only unanswered questions. Some questions will never be answered... at least, in this lifetime.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Well, I got a kick in the pants today.

We had a dinner at church, for Thanksgiving, and the choir sang Rutter's arrangement of "For the Beauty of the Earth". I knew I wouldn't have much time to eat before choir practice at 7:00, but I hurried over right after work. The line was far too long to get food before we sang, so I asked if the kitchen would still be open afterwards - "Of course!" I was really hungy and the food smelled great. Everybody else either got there early enough to get food or had someone get a tray for them - R had to work late and couldn't be there. After we sang I stood in line forever, and right before I got up there - they ran out of food. I went straight to McDonald's, cursing (!) and feeling sorry for myself. I knew it wasn't anybody's fault; we had a much bigger turnout than expected. But dang.

After choir, I had to stop off at Walgreen's to get some cat litter because we were out, and when you have 3 cats... well, anyway. So I got back to the car, and there stood a little hunched-over woman with a blanket wrapped around her. She asked to speak to me, and in a soft voice I had to lean over to hear, she asked me to give her a ride to Piggly Wiggly. She was cold, her feet were soaked, etc. I just never let a stranger get in the car with me or come in my house, but I did tell her I would give her a ride. It turned out she was going to PW to beg enough money ($7) for a night in a shelter - not much luck begging at Walgreen's. I pulled into a parking lot and felt around in my pockets and found $7 and gave it to her. But she still was going to have to beg, because she'd had nothing to eat, and she really wanted enough money for 3 nights in that shelter. There was a lot of other conversation, you understand. So I went to the ATM and took out $30, and told her we'd get her some supper and she could have the rest. She started crying. I asked myself if I was thoroughly ashamed of myself for whining about having to have supper at McDonald's, and concluded that I was. We went by KFC and got her some chicken, and then I took her where she needed to go. When she got out of the car she gestured for me to lock my doors, then waved goodbye.

So, attitude adjustment. I hope it stays with me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

We have an unauthorized household animal that has moved in, probably to get away from the cooler weather. Probably either a raccoon or a really large rat.

We've had the smaller roofrats before, but you can barely hear them scampering and gnawing on whatever it is they gnaw on. They come in through the basement, we guess, and up through the walls and into the space between the kitchen ceiling and F's bedroom upstairs. R puts the live-animal trap up there when we think we have a visitor and within a day or two we hear it spring. He has to put on heavy gloves and climb the ladder to get the trap down, with the trapped rat lunging at him through the bars, then walk through the house with the cats trotting alongside - "Let me have him! Just for a minute!" (We're very glad to have those cats, because we think their presence deters the rats from coming into the living portions of the house.) R sometimes baits the trap with peanut butter crackers, but sometimes he doesn't have to bait it; they have a little path they like to run along, for whatever reason a rat ever does anything, and all he has to do is line the trap up with it and in runs the rat of the moment. I don't know what R does with the rats he traps; I suppose he turns them loose somewhere. He's too softhearted to kill them.

But our current unauthorized animal doesn't scamper and gnaw. We wake up at night hearing sounds like furniture being dragged, or heavy balls rolling. And we can't make out where it is. We thought it was in the crawl space next to F's bedroom upstairs, but R put an infrared camera in there and that's not it. We have got to figure out what and where it is and get rid of it before F comes home for Thanksgiving. I do not want to be in this house if she wakes up and hears that.

The strange thing is that the cats don't seem to notice.

...trying very hard not to think of Stephen King's "The Rats in the Walls"...

Monday, November 14, 2005

I'm pretty sure F never reads my blog. So I'm posting the self-portrait she drew on her tablet PC when, smack in the middle of reading the latest Harry Potter tome, she came to a startling realization: that after 4 years of Latin in high school...

That's Molly in the corner, and it's a very faithful reproduction, right down to the droopy left eyelid.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Name the poem:

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

edit, 3/4/06: The whole poem is here.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Here is an article about restaurants where the misbehavior of small children is discouraged.

I think this is a significant quote:

"I love people who don't have children who tell you how to parent," said Alison Miller, 35, a psychologist, corporate coach and mother of two. "I'd love for him to be responsible for three children for the next year and see if he can control the volume of their voices every minute of the day."

You don't have to control their volume every minute. What you do is, you teach them that there's a time to run around and scream (and I hope her kids have such a time, at a playground or in the back yard) and a time to be quiet. This is how children start to learn self-control. People do their children a real disservice when they don't start working on this during toddlerhood.

And here:

Kim Cavitt recalled having coffee and a cookie one afternoon with her boisterous 2-year-old when "someone came over and said you just need to keep her quiet or you need to leave."'

"We left, and we haven't been back since," Ms. Cavitt said. "You go to a coffee shop or a bakery for a rest, to relax, and that you would have to worry the whole time about your child doing something that children do - really what they're saying is they don't welcome children, they want the child to behave like an adult."

Ms. Cavitt isn't taking into account that other people go to the coffee shop or bakery to rest and relax, too, and they don't want to hear her screaming kid. And I say this as the mother of a wonderful person who once was a screaming kid on occasion. I had to put up with her screams because I am her mother, but other people are under no obligation to do so and they do not find it charming.

Here's one more quote from a parent:

"The litmus test for me is if they have highchairs or not," said Ms. Dehl, the woman who scooped her screaming son from his seat during brunch, as she waited out his restlessness on a sidewalk bench. "The fact that they had one highchair, and the fact that he's the only child in the restaurant is an indication that it's an adult place, and if he's going to do his toddler thing, we should take him out and let him run around."

In other words, the world doesn't revolve around her son. How about that.

Via Joanne Jacobs.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Oh, and the poems, which are about to drop off the bottom, are Lochinvar, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and The Cremation of Sam McGee.

Sam McGee would have been another good one for Hallowe'en.
I want to talk about document validation. Now, I don't know anything about document validation, but that doesn't seem to stop anybody else, so here goes.

If I were asked to validate a document, my first question would be: "Where did this come from?" If the answer was that it was faxed from an unknown source, I would stop right there. It is so easy to cut and paste just using a pair of scissors, a roll of tape, and a simple copy machine. I've done it myself (not on anything official). I don't believe there is any way to validate a document that is not an original.

If I had the original, not a fax or photocopy, and if a reasonable chain could be made from, say, a file drawer in a Texas National Guard office to the paper in my hand, I would next look at the formatting of the document and compare it to any contemporaneous documents that could be found. Are the headers placed on the page the same way? Are dates formatted the same way? Are acronyms and abbreviations, and general wording, consistent with those other documents? Again, if I saw significant differences I would stop.

I would also examine the overall physical atttibutes of the document. Since I would not accept a fax or a photocopy, I would be able to compare the appearance of the paper and the ink with those contemporaneous documents. Is the paper the same size? Same color and weight? How about the ink?

But for pete's sake, if the letters on the document in question are formed differently than those contemporaneous documents, if in fact they were shown to be identical to the output of MS Word in its default settings, right down to the line returns, and especially once I noticed the little superscript "th", I would laugh my head off and throw it in the garbage.

Is that so hard?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Two men walked into a bar. The third man ducked.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Moral question here.

Suppose there were frequent break-ins in your neighborhood. Somebody is going into houses when no one is home and cleaning them out. You notice a car whose driver you don't recognize, going up and down the street and slowing down when it passes your house. You believe your house will be next. The police don't seem interested in having a visible presence in your neighborhood.

On a weekend, you send your family to a relative's house. Park your car around back. Keep the lights off. Don't collect the newspaper or the mail. And sit silently in your dark house with your shotgun, waiting. When the thief breaks into your house, you shoot to kill. Then you turn your lights on and call the police. While you're waiting for the police to come, you pick up your newspaper and your mail.

Legally, you are allowed to use deadly force if you are in fear of your life. If someone breaks into your house it is usually assumed that you are, although it would probably be frowned upon if your housebreaker was shot in the back ... although not necessarily. So putting law aside, is this scenario morally OK?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The cats are running through the house like mad things. I wonder sometimes what thoughts they could have in their tiny brains. It's true that their brains don't have to manage language or opposable thumbs, but they do have to process input from their whiskers, independently direct their ears, and control their tails. And they constantly make scentscapes of their surroundings. They are good at figuring out and exploiting our schedules. Our tomcat, whose picture I posted the other day, knows that I am first up in the morning, and that I always deal with the litterbox right before bed. So he watches me to see when I am going into the bathroom - he's watching me now - because he will want to jump into the bathtub and meow at me to turn the water on so he can wet his whistle. The cats' water dish in the kitchen is freshened daily, and he drinks from that, but the water in the bathtub is different.
I passed the citizenship test!

You Passed the US Citizenship Test

Congratulations - you got 10 out of 10 correct!

Now I have to go back to work.

Monday, November 07, 2005

How about some more controversy.

I find myself at odds with my fellow conservatives over a handful of issues. Public education is one. I keep reading comments on conservative blogs to the effect that everyone must pull their kids out of public school, now. And some hope for the day when there are no public schools, only private ones. News articles like this make this idea hard to argue against. Still, I just really differ about this issue.

Let me say first that I have no problem with people homeschooling or sending their kids to private school. F attended a parochial school for K-6. Our kid, our choice. I do think it's silly for people who want vouchers to point to the fact that politicians send their kids to private school and claim that they don't want others to have that choice. No one tried to stop us from sending F to private school. Yes, we had to pay tuition. She's our kid; who should have paid it?

The idea that we should have gotten our taxes rebated to the extent that they would have paid for her public school education is also silly. You don't pay taxes to educate your kids; you pay them so that you can live in a society in which people have at least a minimal education. Otherwise you're surrounded by an illiterate, unemployable permanent underclass. I can see people saying, "So how is that different from what we have now?" It's a lot different.

I remember listening to Ken Hamblin back when he was on the radio. This must have been years ago. A caller was complaining that black people are not given opportunities like white people are; no one helps them; no one gives them a hand up. They are excluded from the American dream. Here is a paraphrase of Ken's reply: "You're right. But I have an idea that is so radical, so far-reaching, that it will knock your socks off: Let's offer every child a free education in a public school." There was a moment of silence, then the caller started chuckling and said, "You got me. Tip of the hat to you, bro', " and then he hung up.

There are those who say that if all schools were private, and parents got vouchers, the parents would pick the best schools for their kids. I don't want to speak ill of parents; I am one. But some parents are completely out to lunch when it comes to making decisions about their kids' welfare. I'm not talking about parents making bad decisions about where their kids go to school, I'm talking about parents not giving a damn about their kids' welfare AT ALL. I remember reading a letter to the editor in the local newspaper that was written by a teacher. She noticed that one of her students had missed three days of school and she asked the office personnel to call his home and check on him. It turned out that his mother had sold all of his clothes to pay for drugs. All he had to wear was a bedsheet. Of course Social Services was called and the kid removed from the home. That public schoolteacher was the only person in that child's life who cared enough about him to come to his rescue. But according to some people, his mother was fully capable of deciding which school he should attend, or whether he should attend school at all. And even given this exact story, they still would shut down the schools although it would mean leaving this child in misery and sacrificing his chance at any kind of future. Situations like this one come up every day in schools across the country. And I keep coming back to the fact that these are American kids, who deserve the best we can do for them. They deserve their crack at the American dream every bit as much as F does, or any other child whose parents carefully plan their education and their future.

I know there are problems with the public schools. But we need to fix them. We certainly don't need to abandon them.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Name the poem:

The bride kissed the goblet; the knight took it up,
He quaffed off the wine, and he threw down the cup,
She looked down to blush, and she looked up to sigh,
With a smile on her lips and a tear in her eye.

And this one:

He holds him with his skinny hand,
"There was a ship," quoth he.
"Hold off ! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

And this:

And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.”

Saturday, November 05, 2005

How much do you dress up for church? (or whatever.)

The older ladies at my church wear pastel suits and shoes and carry matching purses. Some go for more serious colors. I remember that once one of my dad's sisters mentioned wearing pants to church - on a Wednesday night - on a really cold, miserable evening - and she felt AWFUL about it. I wear a dress, or a skirt and blouse, and try to match my shoes to some degree, but I carry the same purse everywhere I go until it wears out so sometimes it doesn't match at all. Some women wear nice pants outfits, and more and more I see blue jeans. I have a problem with that, and I have a problem with the fact that I have a problem.

During the week, I wear jeans and a t-shirt every day. You don't dress up in a lab, if you have any sense. If we have visitors I might switch to khaki pants. It's true that when I get home from church I switch back over to the jeans and t-shirt right away. But I don't WANT to wear jeans to church. It's partly about being respectful, and partly about trying to look like you know how to act, and partly about keeping up some kind of standard, and partly about keeping some nice clothes in the closet in case of weddings and funerals, and partly about not wearing the same clothes and having the same look ALL the time. So I don't like to see those jeans at church, especially when I know the people involved can afford different clothes. (If they can't afford anything else, of course I want them to attend church in their jeans rather than think they are not welcome.)

I honestly don't think God cares what we wear to church. That's why it bothers me that it bothers me.

Friday, November 04, 2005

I guess I'm not through with Hallowe'en.


by: James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916)


To all the little children: -- The happy ones; and sad ones;
The sober and the silent ones; the boisterous and glad ones;
The good ones -- Yes, the good ones, too; and all the lovely bad ones.

LITTLE Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Ef you

Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn't say his prayers,--
An' when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wuzn't there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An' seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an' roundabout:--
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

An' one time a little girl 'ud allus laugh an' grin,
An' make fun of ever' one, an' all her blood-an'-kin;
An' wunst, when they was "company," an' ole folks wuz there,
She mocked 'em an' shocked 'em, an' said she didn't care!
An' thist as she kicked her heels, an' turn't to run an' hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side,
An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'fore she knowed what she's about!
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

An' little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!
An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray,
An' the lightnin'-bugs in dew is all squenched away,--
You better mind yer parunts, an' yer teachurs fond an' dear,
An' churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,
An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you


And here is the story of the real Orphan Annie, as told by Riley. I've loved that poem all my life, but I never read this story until today.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

I participated in an online discussion once that turned into an attempt to define "literature", which it was felt that Stephen King's work was not. (I love Stephen King's work. The Stand is one of my favorite novels, and Salem's Lot scares the stew out of me every time I read it.)

Here's basically what I said.

Sometimes a book is so rich that you feel that you know the characters and you're reluctant to leave that universe, even though it may be culturally very different from the one you live in. Middlemarch is like that for me. I always feel like I've returned from a long journey when I put it back on the shelf.

And sometimes a character is so richly drawn that by contemplating it, you actually get insight into real people and situations; I think that's significant.

Sometimes a book engenders so many thoughts that I feel that I have to discuss it with somebody. My husband was kind enough to read Ethan Frome a few years ago, after I'd read it for the first time, just so I could talk about it with him.

I'm not sure these things constitute literature (whatever that is). They raise a book in my estimation, though. And I do value a good story; in fact, a strong, original plot can cover a multitude of sins for me.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Here's a picture F took of one of the cats.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The recent news about Charles and Camilla visiting the U.S. makes me think of the time that F asked me about that whole Charles - Diana - Camilla thing. I think that if people are going to get married they should make their vows in good faith, which I don't think Charles did in his first marriage, and then they ought to stand by them. So I was probably a little less-than-favorable toward Charles when I told her about all of that. But then she asked me why, after all those years, and his marriage, and her marriage, he still wanted her, and I had to say, "I guess she really is his true-love." Too bad he didn't have the guts to put his foot down in the first place.

There are people in our Sunday School class who have been married for 50 or 60 years (we go to the old folks' class) and they are so sweet to each other. They look at each other tenderly and speak of each other with affection. They're good role models for R and me. I hope someday we're a couple of old folks setting a good example for the young'uns.

Married love, of course, isn't all about feelings. Feelings change, inevitably. A woman in our church who does pre-marital and couple counseling says that young folks don't want to hear that after the initial spark blows out, love is about behavior. I know that's true. R and I are always polite and respectful to each other. We say "please" and "thank you". He fixes my dinner, I wash his underwear, and so forth. Some people think that home is where you can let down your facade and act any old way you want to. I think that home is supposed to be a haven for everyone, and that means you have to reserve your best behavior for your family. After all, they deserve the best you have, right?

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." - I Corinthians 13

Monday, October 31, 2005

In between handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, I'll post the poem I referenced below:


by Edgar Allan Poe

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;--
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

She was a child and I was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love--
I and my Annabel Lee--
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her high-born kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me:--
Yes! that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of a cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we--
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in Heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I see the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling-- my darling-- my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea--
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

-- THE END --

The story, of course, is "The Tell-Tale Heart"

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Engineer joke:

A rabbi, a priest, and an engineer were sentenced to die by guillotine. The priest went first. The executioner asked if he had any final requests.

"Yes, I do," he said. "I want you to put me in there face up, so that the instant that blade falls I can see the face of God." No one could see anything wrong with that, so the priest was positioned face-up and the guillotine was activated. But the blade didn't fall.

"It's not your day to die," the executioner said. "Go your way."

The rabbi was next, and when asked if he had any final requests, he replied that what the priest had said sounded pretty good to him, so he wanted to go face-up also. Once again, the blade didn't fall.

"God has spared your life," the executioner said. "Go your way."

When the engineer was brought up, he was asked if he wanted to go face-up. "Sure, whatever," he said. But as the executioner prepared to try to drop the blade one more time, the engineer, who had been staring up into the apparatus, called out - "Wait! I see the problem!"

Saturday, October 29, 2005

We get an extra hour tonight. I wish they would leave it alone. I remember F's indignation the first time she noticed losing that hour in the Spring - "Are they going to do something about that?"

R and I visited F at school today. We took her and a friend to McDonald's and to WalMart, walked around campus a little, looked at old yearbooks in the library, ate dinner in the cafeteria. It's right for her to be away from home so she can separate from us and finish growing up, but we miss having a young'un around the house. I've read that "freedom is when the last child leaves home and the dog dies" and I think that's funny in a limited kind of way, but maybe the person who came up with that statement didn't have as nice a kid as we do. Besides, we have cats, ha ha. Molly is leaning on the keyboard right now. She's gotten too sophisticated to try to catch the cursor, like she used to do.
In honor of Hallowe'en, identify the poem:

Whenever there's moonlight, I dream about my beautiful dead wife. And the stars remind me of her eyes.

And the story:

He killed him because he thought his eye was gross.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Okay, time for more controversy. Went to lunch with some co-workers today, and we started talking about the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue, which is quite large and depicts him on a horse, and stands in the eponymous city park. Earlier this year there were some people trying to get that statue, and the bodies of him and his wife, moved back to historic Elmwood Cemetary where they originally were. There were demonstrations, and counter-demonstrations by the Sons of Confederate Veterans or some such, and in the end the park was unchanged.

We had quite a lively discussion about that statue. My contention is that it needs to be moved yesterday, and that park renamed. Why? Because Forrest was (a) an army general in a country (C.S.A.) that was at war with my country (U.S.A.) from its conception to its demise; (b) a founding member of the KKK; and (c) a slave trader. Not just owner, trader; he made his fortune from buying and selling black folks. And possibly (d) a war criminal too, depending on your take of the Fort Pillow massacre. One of my coworkers argued that slave trading wasn't different from slaveholding (I disagree) and that if we get rid of the Forrest statue we have to go after the Washington Monument next. My answer was, tell me something positive that Forrest contributed to the world, that means he needs to be honored by the City of Memphis. The statue's been there 100 years, isn't that enough? And further, white folks like to tell black folks to quit griping about the legacy of slavery, 400 years of oppression, Jim Crow, and so forth; let go of the past and get with the program. If I were black, all I would have to do in response is point to that statue and ask why black people have to let go of the bad old days when white people clearly refuse to.

I feel the same way about the Confederate flag. When Ole Miss banned the waving of that flag at football games many years ago, I thought that they were throwing away an old tradition. Turns out that flag only started being waved when Ole Miss was desegregated. That puts a totally different spin on the whole thing, and it's what started me down the path of disliking displays of those things.

If people want to have the Confederate flag displayed in their home or business, I wouldn't stop them. I think it has no place as part of a state flag, or flying on government property (except military parks like Shiloh).

And I consider myself a Southerner, yes, I do. Those years from 1861 to 1865 do not define the South. I've lived here all my life and I never want to live anywhere else. "American by birth, Southern by the Grace of God"; I feel that way, and I'd wear the shirt if I could get one without that cottonpickin' flag.

So why do so many white Southerners insist on holding on to that stuff? And why does racism persist so? C.S. Lewis wrote that people have trouble forgiving people they have wronged. If that sounds backwards, it's not. I think being a white person who is not a racist means not sharing the guilt of those who were responsible for slavery, Jim Crow, and so forth. That doesn't mean defensively saying "I didn't enslave anybody!" It means letting go of all that old crap and not identifying with it anymore. Slavery was and is an evil thing. Horrible and wretched. There's no excuse for it and there never has been. I refuse to defend it. I'd like to think that if I had lived in the antebellum South I would have had the moral clarity and the guts to be an abolitionist, like I am an abolitionist about abortion now. It would have taken a lot of courage, that's for sure.