Listen, My Children...

Every Little Helps

Monday, September 29, 2003

On Harvard


David Adesnik quotes some Harvard protest posters.

May I take this opportunity to state again how thrilled I am to be somewhere with more reasoned discourse?

Saturday, September 27, 2003

On Gambling


Are any of you knowledgeable about gambling? A friend of mine has decided that the wave of the future involves betting on sports games through offshore bookies. Apart from my moral distaste for the scheme and my belief that he stands to lose quite a bit of money, I am concerned about the legality of this plan. Is it legal? Does anyone know if he can get in trouble for this? Does anyone have personal experience -- or know of anyone who has, successfully or unsuccessfully, dabbled in the fine art of predicting game outcomes for cash?

Thursday, September 25, 2003

On Freedom of Religion


What the?
Officials at the Lynn Lucas Middle School in Willis, Texas, have been served with a lawsuit filed on behalf of three students who allege that one teacher forbade two teens from carrying their Bibles in school while another prohibited a student from using a book cover displaying the Ten Commandments.

The federal lawsuit, filed in Houston and served on school officials Monday, alleges that the school violated four provisions of the U.S. Constitution, three in the Texas State Constitution and two state laws.

The suit alleges that teacher Sara Flottman, on seeing two teenage sisters carrying Bibles to a Saturday morning make-up class March 11, led both of them to the principal's office, threw the Bibles into the trash and declared, "We don't allow this garbage here."

The teacher went on to threaten having CPS take the girls away, apparently only for the crime of having Bibles.

They mention a Houston Chronicle article on the subject. Anyone hear of this from a more consistently reputable news service than WND? Seems to be a few years old; I would have been out of the country when this took place; but I'd like to hear if this story is true.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

On Jury Selection, II


Jury of Peers -- what is it? What are your peers? I hear of juries being picked by race; what qualifies as peers? same socioeconomic status? same state? what?

This is discussed a mite further (with anecdotes similar to my own) on TalkLeft.

I knew a former trial lawyer once (currently repenting of common lawyerly sleaziness) who said that he and his fellows did all they could to make sure people with higher than a high school education were not on juries. They do not want intelligent and reasoned people, he said; they want gullible, easily swayed people who won't look for flaws in arguments. Probably people like those Jay Leno has on from time to time, like the girl tonight who identified the Kremlin as Creme Brulee and the guy who thought the GOP elephant was an Elmer's glue advertisement.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

On False Students


The big news at UT is that a Pakistani student faked a transcript and doctored friends' in order to enter the country. When questions arose, he vanished. Now that it has come to light, Pakistani student groups are hiding as well.

One very perceptive Muslim student harshly criticized that move on the news today. She pointed out that the group had even extra need to stay present and visible rather than furtive. I agree -- hiding, instead of distancing themselves from the student and openly emphasizing that this should not reflect on Pakistanis, seems to imply that they agree or that they are afraid others among them will be found out.

Back on Sept. 11 two years ago, Harvard was in the middle of its activities fair. Down the aisle of religious student groups was Hillel, right next to the Harvard Islamic Society. Come the news, before anyone credible had claimed responsibility, while the students were rushing around trying to grasp what was happening, the other religious student group leaders were still sitting at their tables, grim-faced, handing out their leaflets. The HIS table was conspicuously empty; it will likely be years before they will sit near the Jews again. (Similarly, the Society of Arab Students during the past two years has refused frequent requests from the Harvard Students for Israel for joint events.)

I had heard the news half an hour beforehand; I calmly proceeded to register for the semester before it sank in. Went to check the website of The Hindu to find out the actual story, such as it was, because of course CNN et al were clogged. Went out past the activities tables again, intending to do my regular yearly gathering of information from every student religious group, surprised at HIS's absence behind their flag. A few minutes later, I finally realized what had happened, and ran home to the TV I'd bought the day before -- stopping, like every other American who'd ever smelled tobacco before, for cigarettes -- my first in years, my last as well. If you think it's the end of the world, what does it matter?

Once it had all come down, and we were beginning to realize the magnitude of what had happened, Harvard did what Harvard students do and began to relieve the tension by organizing things. By then, we had a pretty good idea it was the work of someone using Islam as their reason for action. Harvard's Christian groups wrote all the other religious groups on campus, inviting them to immediate group prayer and requesting their presence at an open prayer gathering that night. Most groups came; HIS declined to attend. Several of us emailed members and begged them to come and show their presence.

They responded with several reasons, largest among them being fear of angry students. Now, the only religious bigotry I heard in those first few days was from two South Asian students, at least one of them (the one wearing a skullcap) likely Muslim, talking about how the US deserved what it got for letting the damn Jews seduce it into supporting Israel. Anyhow: after quite a few emails explaining that, when people attacking America say they speak for all good Muslims, and other Muslims don't say they disagree, it would be rather understandable if people aren't sure whether or not said other Muslims disagree. A week later, the HIS website finally had a statement expressing disapproval.

Frequently repeated over the course of that week, both in Harvard discussions and over emails (and outside the University), was the claim that it was hateful and discriminatory to ask or expect Muslims to say they disagreed. Now, after the recent Episcopal election, every Episcopalian is asked whether or not he agrees with the ordination of rejoicingly homosexual bishops. Is that hateful and discriminatory? No, it's a reasonable request for information by people unsure of where their friends stand on issues where both sides claim to speak for the whole. Even without being asked, Christian organizations, both student-run and real-world, frequently disavow all support for people who kill those who carry out abortions. Is the assumption that a Christian might support what the killer says all Christians should support a hateful and discriminatory assumption? Not if it comes from true ignorance of the stance and concern for the future. If you have only a vague idea of what Christians believe, you have no reason not to believe the fellow who claims to speak for all Christians. If you have only a basic knowledge of Islam, you have no reason not to believe the people who claim to speak for all Muslims. If you want people to know what you believe, for goodness' sake, tell them!

So, UT Pakistani students: one fellow has faked his papers; when he gets found out, he goes into hiding. When the FBI comes on campus, the Pakistani student group goes into hiding -- how could they not think that would look like they have something to hide?? If you are open and honest, show yourselves; if there is any possible way in which you could be associated with those who have done wrong -- and they obviously assumed they would be associated with those students -- then don't hide and confirm people's ideas! Explain why you believe that person has unambiguously done wrong and then explain that you are different, it's that simple.

Quote of the Day


"When one his audience said,
“Convince me that logic is useful,”
he said, Would you have me demonstrate it?
“Yes.”
“Well, then, must I not use a demonstrative argument?”
And, when the other agreed,
he said, “How then shall you know if I impose upon you?”
And when the man had no answer,
he said, “You see how you yourself admit that logic is
necessary, if without it you are not even able to learn this
much – whether it is necessary or not.”"
Discourses of Epictetus, 101 A.D.

Monday, September 22, 2003

On Abstinence


Just heard the funniest thing. Some newsman just said, "abstinence prevents pregnancies. Studies have come out showing this."

I'm sure he must have meant to refer to abstinence-based sex ed. I'm sure.

On Fitness


Along with a much higher number of gorgeous girls than Harvard (and girls who spend a heck of a lot of time and money on being gorgeous), UT has a much higher number of seriously overweight girls. It's nice to go from being near the top of the pack, in New England, to being around the middle. I've never yet had to shop at Lane Bryant, unlike many of my fellow Longhorns.

In efforts to lower my rankings even further, however, I've taken Daniel's advice. He says he "loves Krav Maga" -- and he got me onto it. I'm loving it too, and heartily recommend it to all and sundry. It's intense -- someone whose main exercise has been weights and walking will have to take quite a few breathers -- but it's good stuff. Try it out!

Saturday, September 20, 2003

On Jury Selection


Could one of my more knowledgeable readers point me to a good source to find out about jury selection? The stories I hear about it distress me to no end.

A trial was thrown out a while back because one of the jurors had, quite literally, a gut reaction to the evidence -- it so disgusted her that she lost her lunch. She was therefore deemed unfit to be on the jury. Why? We only want people who are callous, who see depravity as just one of those everyday things and nothing special? Is it just me, or does that sound like stacking the jury in favor of the defendant?

A close friend was called for jury duty for a recent Houston case involving a police officer who kidnapped a woman. His tales of the selection process were disturbing. At one point, they asked, "who here doesn't mind being here; who here thinks being on a jury is your civic duty?" He and several others raised their hands and were told to go home, they weren't needed. Ok, so we only want people who are only there for fear of legal consequences. People who "believe strongly" that policemen are not above the law were also told to go home. People who think that there should be understandings made for those in stressful jobs like the police force were not told to leave. People who think that right and wrong are clearly delineated were also not wanted. What the??

It turns out not to have caused too much of a difference -- he was convicted anyhow -- and now I know how to make sure I don't have to serve jury time if it's too much of a bother. Problem is, I'd like to -- both for the experience and also as part of that civic duty thing. Unfortunately, it seems that I'm not the kind of person they want -- I won't move to "a table beyond the place of right and wrong" like certain other Episcopalians. And that's worrisome.

Girly Moment


Ohmygosh, there's no Macy's in Austin! What in the world am I to do? J. C. Penney? Nordstroms?

UPDATE: Jacques Pennet is remarkable. Macy's, you have been supplanted.

Friday, September 19, 2003

On Despicable Beasts


This is good news: a man has been arrested for lying to his sexual partner about his HIV status and willfully exposing his partner to the disease without said partner's knowledge.

Blogger


...keeps eating posts. Had a nice long one on differences between Austin and Boston a few days back; no go. Oh, well.

On Texas Chivalry


Texas is incredible. Whenever the shuttle is full, men stand up and offer their seats to any women who haven't got a place to sit. Guys walking behind me will often reach in front of me at doors to let me through. I've even met young gentlemen who rise when a lady approaches their table. I feel like I've gone back fifty years in time -- it's great!

I've been known to brag on Bob for opening the car door for me and refusing to repeat unsavory stories in front of me, but these products of good breeding put him to shame!

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

On Nationality


Owen has a post on some fellow whose family has been here beyond all memory but still considers himself Mexican, emphatically not American. Why doesn't he renounce his citizenship and move there, then?

Anyhow; not feeling too sympathetic to Mexican patriots after the drunken party outside my window at 3:45 AM rife with singing and shouts of "Viva Mexico!!!" Almost called the police on them. But that would be ethnocentric or some such.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Difficulties


Been having some difficulties. An old cat has decided she's eaten enough in her life and has decided to starve herself to death. A fairly young aunt has decided she no longer needs liver or kidneys so her body has shut them down. It's a bit strained here.

UPDATE: Yes, it was her kidneys; and the cat's gone. They don't do kidney transplants for aged cats, it seems.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

On Pakistan


David Adesnik is right, and Pakistan isn't exactly the kind of place we should be rejoicing to call our ally. Then again, I'd have to say that Musharraf, while not exactly the kind of man we should be rejoicing to call our ally, is the best person to have been in charge of the country for quite some time. I'd take the fact that his people don't like him much as a point in his favor. They've loved the corrupt and more-warmongering ones.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

On the News


What kind of a sick, twisted, inhuman being do you have to be to get on a plane with a boxcutter or get on a bus with a bomb, look around you at babies with their mothers, and rejoice to know you are going to bring about their deaths? No "cause" whatsoever can rationalize that in any way. How can people be so depraved.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

On Supernatural Power


Every once in a while, it's nice to come across something concrete that confirms your belief in a power greater than yourself. A lady at my church this past weekend, a lady who has suffered from cripping shoulder pain for five years, was prayed for and healed on Saturday. Praise God!

Oh, I know, it's a coincidence; she had a pinched nerve and during the prayer it got jostled to be unpinched, right?

But I've seen quite a few people with similar muscular/nerve problems, as well as with migraines, who were suddenly healed during prayer. But that's all psychosomatic; they were emotionally tense, and they expected to have that physical pain relieved, so it's all just a product of their minds, right?

But I've seen a girl with a visibly deformed leg be visibly healed during prayer. People I know and trust have seen gaping wounds closed, have seen people raised from the dead, have seen the blind since birth gain sight and the deaf since birth hear. It's hard to fake those things.

Sure, this may well be the work of some benevolent supernatural power who doesn't jibe with my conception of "God," but it's quite clear that there's something beyond what science can explain going on in the world.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Bill White For Houston!


First, see the comments on this post. The first 2, if more have arrived.

Then: vote for Bill White if you're registered in Houston! (I'm not.) I know this man personally and know many people who have interacted with him professionally. Sure, he may have worked for the liberal side on national things, or even state things, that have squat to do with Houston. This is an extremely honest man, one who actually will work against graft instead of just promising to, one whose supporters include board members of Character Education, non-profit Houston lawyers, a museum founder, and other such people who work to help their fellow man rather than profit off of him. Michael Berry can't say that.

Sanchez is going to be a no-show, I'm predicting. Pretty much all of River Oaks is politically liberal and throws their big parties in honor of people who vote Democrat, no matter what their platform for Houston. Houston's not going to get a mayor who would be a Republican if he were in DC.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

On Immigrants


Gray Davis, making fun of Arnold's accent. Ridiculing him for being an immigrant. How open, accepting of people with non-American backgrounds, and tolerant.

On Reconstruction


What needs to be remembered in the reconstruction of Iraq is that we are not simply rebuilding things we have bombed; we are also trying to create a functioning country out of the chaos that existed before we went in. All the water and electricity wasn't there before we went in, either.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Lemuria II


For more bizarre info on Lemuria, my professor's obsession, click here.

Questions, anyone?


If anyone at any point has any questions about India, modern or ancient, religious or political or historical, or about Sanskrit, do ask me; I'll fire off a two page email or so answering you in depth. I live but for to serve.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Ask Jeeves!


This is hilarious.

Monday, September 01, 2003

Linkage


Both of the below links come from Owen Courrèges, who also has some good stuff on the new and excellent abortion law. After spending time with my mother counselling women who were distrait and heartbroken after having their children killed, most of whom said that they regretted making such a quick decision and not even thinking about it, I think a waiting period is quite a good idea. What is a day going to do to hurt the pro-choice people, unless they're truly pro-abortion people?

On Imaginary Politics

You are a moderate Whig.
Moderate Whig


Whig vs. Federalist Quiz
brought to you by Quizilla

Well, then.

Hell


Scientologists, Objectivists
Circle I Limbo

Parents who bring squalling brats to R-rated movies
Circle II Whirling in a Dark & Stormy Wind

Militant Vegans
Circle III Mud, Rain, Cold, Hail & Snow

PETA Members
Circle IV Rolling Weights

Qusay Hussein
Circle V Stuck in Mud, Mangled

River Styx

Osama bin Laden
Circle VI Buried for Eternity

River Phlegyas

Saddam Hussein
Circle VII Burning Sands

Uday Hussein
Circle IIX Immersed in Excrement

NAMBLA Members
Circle IX Frozen in Ice

Design your own hell

On Teachers


Something is obviously wrong in our schools. Students are going through school and coming out illiterate; teachers complain of drug and sex problems in classrooms; many bright children with potential are, despite the President's programs, being left behind.

Bob was telling me a few days ago how he sees a reduction in class size as the solution to most of the problems. Rush Limbaugh is arguing for increased teacher salaries today. The Houston Chronicle a while back said that stricter teacher hiring standards would be the way to go. Another popular solution is more tax money directed to school districts. While all of those are nice, none will fix the problem alone.

Smaller class size can be helpful in some areas. If a teacher has twelve misbehaving, undisciplined children, it's a lot easier than having thirty such children. Additionally, for the same reason I love being in tiny academic departments, there is more opportunity for one-on-one attention, attention which can really make a difference. Legally mandated small class sizes, however, can do more harm than good. Teachers are forced to give passing grades to students who have not made any progress whatsoever, because, if they hold the students back, their class size will be over the limit. Further classes end up with a larger and larger gap between students who are making the grade and students who are being passed through to keep class size down (or being passed along to keep the school's statistics up). Especially in districts where teachers are told to teach at the level of the slower students (to help self-esteem or what have you), this situation is highly detrimental to overall academic achievement. Comparative studies, in fact, show very little difference between districts with small class sizes and those with larger classes.

One other drawback to reducing class sizes is that it necessitates more teachers. Simply put: if you have sixty students, and classes can have twenty students, you need three teachers; if classes are limited at fifteen students, you need four teachers. There are teacher shortages all over the place, so simply hiring more teachers (ceteris paribus) is not feasible.

Why is it so difficult to find more teachers? Many quite qualified people who would otherwise be teachers are in other professions because they need a higher income than a teacher's salary provides. I quite agree that public school teachers ought to be paid more -- not purely because they work hard and deserve more money, but also because a higher salary would induce more people to apply for jobs.

Many teachers have spouses with higher-paying jobs. When the spouse is relocated to another state (or sometimes even another part of the same state), the teacher often must take a year-long teacher certification course, a course the teacher has already taken in the previous location. These teachers frequently find it easier to take off time, spend it at home with the kids, or find another line of work -- often teaching at more tolerant private schools -- especially if they find it likely that their spouse will be moved again in the next few years. That restriction is counterproductive and should be dropped (while I know that there are differences between school districts, a simple examination or brief training session could pick out which teachers are capable of making the transition without a new certification).

There are also many students who apply to Teach For America; large numbers of those students are rejected. Why? They may not be qualified (a Harvard graduate with a Sanskrit degree is much less useful than a Houston Community College graduate with a Spanish or Early Childhood Education degree). Many schools do not like taking in TFA teachers, as they have no teaching experience, often burn out quickly, and rarely stay beyond their two years, so have minimal lasting impact.

What about inept teachers? Stricter hiring standards for teachers are extremely necessary. Public schoolteachers -- and superintendents -- are failing basic literacy tests. Something like one in four Houston Independent School District teachers are teaching subjects in which they have no university-level training (yes, I am aware that that number sounds higher than it really is -- a first-grade math teacher needs no college math to tell people how to add -- but this number does also include high school teachers; unfortunately, the report with that figure did not break it up by age level). Teachers should be adequately trained and sufficiently educated themselves. But there is a drawback here as well: stricter hiring standards mean fewer of the applicants can be accepted as teachers, and we are stuck with the teacher shortage. Back to higher teacher salaries to counteract that, then.

And what of higher school funding? Useless. Yes, yes, there are schools where teachers are buying pencils and paper for their students out of their own pockets because the students can't afford them and the district either can't or won't provide them. Obviously, there does need to be enough school funding that textbooks and school supplies are available for students who cannot afford them. But huge government grants for all sorts of fabulous doo-dads to enrich learning experiences (which one must not restrict to pencil-and-paper classroom lessons)? They don't do much good. DC and NYC have quite high funding per student and they do quite poorly. We have hugely more funding per student today than we did fifty years ago and students do much worse. Obviously, school funding does not help students to learn more. OK, OK, field trips to all sorts of places may help students learn about crayon factories (just watch Mr. Rogers!) or conservation or whatnot, but I'm talking about mathematics, grammar, traditional science, history, and so forth.

There are several programs already in place that I believe to be much better than smaller class sizes or more school funding (not teacher salaries, school funding). One program in Houston goes around giving lower school students eye exams and providing them with glasses. Several students just can't see the blackboard, so they can't read what's on it, so the teachers and their classmates tell them they're stupid, so they goof off and misbehave and drag their classmates down with them. Friends working with this program say they have seen huge improvements in student behavior and performance when the students can finally see what's on the board and realize they're capable of learning after all. It sounds ridiculous, but it's remarkably simple and seems to work.

Another program, one my family is quite involved in, is Character Education. In many schools, students have not been brought up in involved families and have had no positive role models at all. They have never been taught basic manners or how to behave. Teachers are punished for calling down students or sending them to the principal. Students physically and verbally assault teachers and teachers cannot defend themselves for fear of a lawsuit. Joshua Kaplowitz's well-circulated article is simply a well-written and elaborate version of the story I hear from many teachers disgusted with the the district-enforced lack of discipline in their schools. Character Education and several similar programs attempt to teach students the merits of respecting their teachers and each other; they teach both teachers and students the importance of trying to merit respect themselves -- and of respecting themselves by treating themselves well; they try to improve students' self-image not by approving everything they do, right or wrong, but by pushing them to do what is right and telling them they can do what is right. These programs get yelled at by New England liberals for promoting old-fashioned "morality" (CE is not a religious program but does hold that certain things are right and wrong), for promoting cooperation over individualism, and for teaching children to obey authority figures rather than fighting against them -- what higher praise could a program have? Such programs work better when they start at the youngest age of schoolchildren, but even high schools have been turned around in just a few years. Violence drops precipitously while performance soars. This without shrinking class size, having expensive field trips or state-of-the-art technology, or changing teacher salaries or hiring practices.

Even the most talented teacher cannot teach a class of students who do not want to learn and who are taught by the example of their parents, their peers, and their life experiences that they do not have to do anything they do not want to. Smaller classes, fancy ornaments, and well-educated and -paid teachers are all good things but are all useless without the right environment.

Parents are another problem, and I believe parents should be held accountable for their children's behavior. Low-income parents should be paid to attend parenting classes and should be given financial incentives to be involved in their children's education. Houston has programs where parents under 21 are paid (minimum wage, but that's better than nothing) to go to classes teaching them how to care for their infants; the eventual economic benefit of such programs makes them worthwhile. There are occasional proposals to extend these programs both in number and to older children. There is hope for the future, if only parents can be involved in their children's life, children can be brought up correctly, and we make it possible to pick talented teachers.