The grandparents of the Power Puff Girls

The grandparents of the Power Puff Girls are those big-eyed waif pictures from the 60s and 70s that went so well with Tang, the space-age powdered orange drink choice of astronauts. The prototype were those painted by Margaret Keane, and despite the cutesy factor, the world looked cold for those parentless children.

When I was a kid in the suburbs (age of 10 on) there were houses that always felt cold and looked cold in a way peculiarly suburban. In the past few decades, I’ve lived in ice cold mill houses and other old houses with inadequate heat. But the 70’s suburban chilly was an aesthetic almost of petrified disinterest. Something about the architecture (whether ranch or modern) and the big plate glass windows and a certain minimalism in decoration that bespoke a lack of imagination and epidemic confusion as to what “taste” meant and whether it directed or reflected lifestyle or had anything to do with one’s life at all. And, looking back, I can’t begin to tell you much about the lifestyle as the predominate characteristic was treading time’s water. All the rooms in most all these houses were like aquariums and we the fish floating, passing time until the box top opened at about 6:30 and dinner floated out of dehydrated packets onto the table. Didn’t help that monotony was a popular color for walls, sofas, chairs and curtains. I babysat quite a bit and it was this way at almost all the homes and at the homes of friends.

As far as the literal cold, it was energy crisis time which had something to do with it, I suppose. There was an afghan over the back of every sofa and everyone was turning down the temp.

Continue reading The grandparents of the Power Puff Girls

Will it still bounce (and we’re still lousy scientists)

Another We Are Lousy Scientists posting.

We made a bouncing ball. You need borax, cornstarch glue and water. The instructions also tell you that you need a lot of other things like a cup that you mark as having your borax mixture and a cup you mark as having your glue-cornstarch mixture and things like a watch with a second hand. I actually paid attention to some of this, like the watch with the second hand business. Who has a watch with a second hand? I don’t even have a watch. I still have in my purse the watch we timed my contractions with when H.o.p. was born (call me sentimental) but it was a cheap one and hasn’t worked in a long while. It had a second hand. I pulled it out and nope it still doesn’t work. I could have looked up some computer second-hand deal on the internet by which to do the timing but by then I’d realized you use the second hand to time the 10 to 15 seconds you let the borax and cornstarch sit together. Never mind. Just count it out.

Continue reading Will it still bounce (and we’re still lousy scientists)

Some people don't have to remember to dance, they just do

In the meanwhile, I try to teach H.o.p. about the earth’s yearly cycle. I’ve been telling him about it for several years and he’s been fed all the information through a number of enjoyable educational venues. Ms. Frizzle tells him about it. Astronomy disks tell him about it. He likes what the planets look like, likes that a lot, and thinking about rocket ships and Marvin the Martian scooting around the solar system. He sometimes says he’d like to be an astronaut, he thinks that would be cool, but he wants to be able to bring along all his toys and us. I see in Halloween an in to talking about the year and I inform him that if he’s going to really appreciate Halloween and its spooky history he needs to get a better grip on that yearly cycle and he’s all for that. I set up the room’s floor with an imaginary sun at the center and set out 12 points representing the months and emphasize the seasons. I figure walking it might help. Yes, yes, he likes that idea a lot. He’s already hopping up and down, excited. So I stand at the center and he stands at the place of the Winter Solstice and we start to walk out the seasons and months, my talking about the solstice and the equinoxes. He’s not paying a bit of attention, he’s grinning and hopping around. I ask him questions to see if he’s absorbing any of what I’m telling him. He looks at me and says, “We’ll say it together” which means no, and you say it and I’ll repeat it after you. He’s immediately hopping again, holding my hand, excitedly dancing from one month to the next. I get frustrated after several tours around the sun and tell him he’s hopping around, not paying attention and so he’s not going to remember a bit of what I say. And he stops and looks at me and says, “But I’m doing my dance of joy for the year.” And he’s totally serious.


I move away from what we’ve been doing. I remember everything I’ve told him about the cycles of life. I come back and tell him he’s right. He’s absolutely right. Pick back up with his joyful dance.

Talk amongst yourselves about Harriet Myers–we'll make hydrogen sulfide

Yeah, yeah, I know. Harriet Myers, Harriet Myers.

Whatever. We’ll see what the Bushtroll does next.

In the meanwhile, we made hydrogen sulfide!!! And it smelled real bad. Bad enough that it chased H.o.p. from our little science lab (kitchen). “Eeeeeew, yuck! That stinks!” and he ran. It’s tough doing science when your seven-year-old flees the room.

Kids like stuff that fizzes. In this case, the stink won out over the fizz and H.o.p. fled after a brief while. Did we learn anything? I dunno.

The idea is that silver tarnishes, combining with sulphur in the air, and forms silver sulfide, the black stuff on my jewelry.

2 Ag + S becomes Ag2S

When you remove the silver sulfide with a polish compound then you are also removing some of the silver. But there is a way to reverse the chemical reaction and turn the silver sulfide back into silver. Which is one reason we were doing this. Easily available ingredients and a desire to get some tarnish off of some jewelry.

Our science experiment didn’t explain the whys of its materials so I looked them up.

Put aluminum foil in a pan. Pour in steaming water. Toss in some baking soda and salt. Place your silver in it and watch the black go. We were told to do all this but the experiment didn’t tell us what’s happening in the process.

Why do you need the aluminum foil? Because the sulphur atoms are being transferred from the silver to the aluminum in the process and this forms aluminum sulfide, which is yellow.

3 Ag2S + 2 Al becomes 6 Ag + Al2S3

The baking soda solution is the catalyst, carrying the sulphur from the silver to the aluinum. And the aluminum and silver must be in contact with each other (our science experiment material didn’t say this) because this causes a small electric current to flow between them, an electrochemical reaction.

“What’s that stench?”

“It’s from our little electrolysis lab.”

The stench was hydrogen sulfide gas formed from the reaction of aluminum and the sodium carbonate (Sodium hydrogen carbonate, NaHCO3). The aluminum sulfide formed hydrolyzed to form the gases aluminum hydroxide and hydrogen sulfide.

We heated the water to boiling. We lined a pan with aluminum. We poured in water, added baking soda (fizzzzzzzzzzz!) and salt and dumped in some of my badly tarnished jewelry. Then it began to stink and H.o.p. fled.

Why the salt (sodium chloride, NaCl)? That wasn’t told us so I looked it up and found salt raises the ionic conductivity of the water thus facillitating electron transfer. It’s a salt bridge.

If we’d had an electric volt meter we could’ve connected one end to a piece of jewelry and aother to the foil and when the jewelry was in contact with the foil we would’ve seen a small small reading on the voltage meter.

So everyone’s all ready to use electrochemical reduction to clean their silver. Except that many silversmiths don’t recommend it. They say the surface of objects cleaned in this manner will act like a sponge and more readily absorb moisture and tarnish-producing gases. If someone happens by who can tell me why this is so, I’d appreciate it.

Now, did H.o.p. appreciate any of this. He liked the fizz. He didn’t like the stink. He looked dutifully at the little yellowish particles left in the pan and said, “Wow!” because he wanted to run off and do something else, like draw. I asked him if he might remember that Silver is Ag. He said no. I said maybe he could remember Sulphur is S. He said maybe so but he wasn’t sure. He ran off and signed into Brainpop to watch a flash video. I love Brainpop. They have a flash on the Periodic Table. I encouraged H.o.p. to watch it. He said it would be boring. I said no it wouldn’t be. The flash started with Moby looking at the Table and falling over. H.o.p. laughed. He will watch that flash now repeatedly and eventually learn a little something from it. As in that it exists. Or maybe not. He says it made his brain explode and wants to watch instead the flash on “Vertebrates”. He knows what a vertebrate is but he loves their explanation.

I tell you, we’re lousy scientists and chemists. But at least I didn’t follow the experiment we were given and toss the ingredients together and go voila! and not tell him what had happened. At least I dug up all the explanations I could find to be able to tell him about the chemical reaction.

I am a lousy scientist – exploring inertia

Krampf’s science this week involved exploring Newtonian inertia via the simple experiment of putting a glass over a marble on a table top, pushing the glass in a circle which causes the marble to spin in a circle, and you should be able to pick up the glass and have the marble spinning within it as described below.

It has to do with inertia. If you roll the marble across the table, inertia
keeps it moving in the same direction, at the same speed, until something
else pushes or pulls on it. That push or pull could come from friction with the
table top, which would slow it down. It could also come from a bump or dip
in the surface of the table, or from the side of the drinking glass which could
change the direction of the marble. In the case of the drinking glass, it
could cause the marble to move in a circle around the side of the glass.

As you move the glass in a circle, it is pushing the marble, to keep it
rolling. The marble’s inertia tries to keep the marble moving in a straight line,
so the marble pushes against the side of the glass. The combination causes
the marble to zip in a circle around the inside of the glass.

But something else is happening too. Inertia is causing the marble to push
against the side of the glass. As the marble moves faster and faster, it is
pushing harder and harder against the side of the glass. When that push gets
strong enough, you have enough force to hold the marble against the glass,
even when you pick it up off of the table.


Science experiment! So H.o.p. and I dump out the contents of one of his jars and unearthed an ok green and white marble. We got first a plastic glass that had perfectly straight sides, because one is supposed to use a glass with straight sides. The experiment’s list of ingredients called for simply a glass. I didn’t know whether a plastic glass might effect the experiment, glass glass being presumably slicker and offering less resistance, but thought we’d try the plastic glass. Yeah, I know, sounds stupid.

We spun and spun and spun and spun the marble in the glass. The marble spun and spun and spun. We picked up the glass and the marble flew across the room. We did this three or four times and each time we failed.

So we tried a glass glass that has almost perfectly straight sides but not quite.

We spun and spun and spun and spun the marble in the glass. The marble spun and spun and spun. We picked up the glass and the marble flew across the room. We did this three or four times and each time we failed. (H.o.p.’s dad later tried and failed each time.)

We failed but what happened at least does follow the laws of inertia. Things at rest tending to stay at rest and things in motion tending to stay in motion (unless acted upon by an outside force). To exhibit this I finally just took the marble and sat it down and said look, we can depend on that marble to stay there, just sit there. That’s inertia. It’s not going to get up and roll on its own initiative. It is inert. When you place a toy on a shelf in your room you are relying on its inertia to cause it to be in the exact same place when you return to your room to look for it. If there wasn’t inertia assisting in helping to keep objects where you put them then the world would be a pretty unpredictable and messy place.

I told him how people once believed the natural tendency of an object is to come to rest of its own accord. When instead an object in motion is going to keep on going unless it’s forced to come to a stop.

I asked H.o.p. to roll the marble on the floor toward our magic marker chalk-type board. He did and it came to a rest against the board. Which had greater inertia? Then he lightly tossed the marble on the floor and it bounced and went flying off but I thought it a bad idea to muss things up with bringing in factors of momentum and gravity and opposite reactions and what all.

I got a slick scarf and a plate and we put the plate on the scarf after I had H.o.p. hold them both and tell me which weighed more. I yanked the scarf out from underneath the plate. I explained that inertia is dependent on mass or weight and that it was therefore going to be harder to get the plate to move than the scarf, as long as the scarf was yanked quickly.

It wouldn’t have been a mess if I had failed because I used a plastic plate, knowing I am a bad scientist. Then we put heavy books on the plate and I tugged the scarf out from underneath it. Then I piled several heavy glass bowls on top of the plate, which had H.o.p. jumping up and down. And I held my breath and yanked the scarf. Bravo! No broken bowls.

By then H.o.p. was ready to have a go at the trick. We used the plastic plate. He made several tries and grew increasingly excited, me coaching him on keeping the scarf level and pointing out the best grip points for him. And finally he slickly pulled the scarf leaving the plate sitting on the table.

I lie. It wasn’t a table. We used instead a chair because the table is piled high with books and drawings. It was easier to use the chair.

Our next exhibit

Pure poetry aided and abetted by Erik Satie, recommended by Norwegianity.

Every afternoon at four o’clock, he finds himself in a room where he sits and watches the passing of the telephone lines playing on the opposite wall.

The other day H.o.p. saw something that was only a positive archetypal figure in a brief story. I forget what it was. But he said to me, “That’s not the whole story.” I said why not, what did he mean, I thought it was very nice. And he replied, “Every story has a villain. Where’s the villain?”

Writing 101 via a seven-year-old.

Today he watches the above short cartoon with me, “Away”. Then of course he wants to see the other short animations archived at Monkmus. The symbolism was a bit complex for him. “A Day at the Park” had me explaining the meaning of being stabbed in the back. We were both entertained by “Orson”. He thought “Fender Bender” very amusing and laughed throughout and said he wanted to make his own cartoon. He was puzzled by “Basin Street Blues.”

The last one we watched was “Year of the Rat” and if you watch it too you will know at what point he started smiling and smiled to the end.

We are lousy scientists

I subscribe to Robert Krampf’s Experiment of the Week newsletter. Today Experiment #442 Melting Ice was the offering. H.o.p. is game for anything to do with water and ice. Perfect.

We were instructed to put an ice cube in boiling water and hold one under a stream of cold water. The question was, which would melt the ice faster, the boiling water or the stream of cold water? H.o.p. said the boiling water. Krampf says the stream of cold water. He explains that though the greater the difference between the temperature of the ice and its surroundings, the faster the heat will move into the cube causing it to melt…

When you first put the ice into the hot water, heat moved quickly in from the
surrounding water, causing the ice to melt. That left it surrounded by a
layer of cold water from the freshly melted ice and water that had given up a
lot of its heat as the ice melted. This layer of cool water insulated the ice,
slowing the melting process.

Even though the running water was cool, it was still quite a bit warmer than
the ice. It was flowing, so any melted ice was quickly carried away, and the
insulating layer of cold water did not form. The flowing water provided a
constant supply of heat to continue the melting process, so it melted the ice
much faster.


Ok. I set up with H.o.p. the boiling water, and for good measure a bowl of cold water in which to put a third ice cube. We took turns being the one to hold the cube under the flowing cold water. We did this seven times. We did the experiment seven times. At least. We kept repeating it because the ice in the boiling water kept melting faster. We kept hoping to get the correct result. We even tried it with water that was not actively boiling, which had been removed from the burner.

We are bad scientists. Only once did our flowing cold water melt the ice faster than the boiling water, and that was when the water wasn’t flowing, when it was instead turned up to a pelting furious rainstorm blast that would scour off your top layer of skin.

It is not "real life" – it is what we’ve been educated to believe is "real life"

I don’t often post human-interest type stories like this one below, from CNN, but aside from my wanting to note that had this been an anti-war demonstration gone wrong, in which case I think a lot of people would have ended up in jail (I don’t believe any arrests happened), I wanted to hear some response to this. Because I know there are going to be a number of different ways of looking at it as regards America’s cultural idea of alpha/beta types and the drive to get what you desire.

I comment below.

Panic ensues in rush for cheap laptops

Tuesday, August 16, 2005; Posted: 2:05 p.m. EDT (18:05 GMT)

I took my chair here and I threw it over my shoulder and I went, ‘Bam.’
— Jesse Sandler

RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) — A rush to purchase $50 used laptops turned into a violent stampede Tuesday, with people getting thrown to the pavement, beaten with a folding chair and nearly driven over. One woman went so far to wet herself rather than surrender her place in line.

“This is total, total chaos,” said Latoya Jones, 19, who lost one of her flip-flops in the ordeal and later limped around on the sizzling blacktop with one foot bare.

More than 1,000 people turned out at the Richmond International Raceway in hopes of getting their hands on one of the 4-year-old Apple iBooks, which retail for between $999 and $1,299. The Henrico County school system was selling 1,000 of the computers to county residents.

Officials opened the gates at 7 a.m., but some already had been waiting for hours in line. When the gates opened, it became a terrifying mob scene.

People threw themselves forward, screaming and pushing each other. A little girl’s stroller was crushed in the stampede. Witnesses said an elderly man was thrown to the pavement, and someone in a car tried to drive his way through the crowd.

Police would not immediately comment on the number of or extent of injuries, though witnesses said they mostly had scrapes and bruises.

“It’s rather strange that we would have such a tremendous response for the purchase of a laptop computer — and laptop computers that probably have less-than- desirable attributes,” said Paul Proto, director of general services for Henrico County. “But I think that people tend to get caught up in the excitement of the event — it almost has an entertainment value.”

Blandine Alexander, 33, said one woman standing in front of her was so desperate to retain her place in line that she urinated on herself.

“I’ve never been in something like that before, and I never again will,” said Alexander, who brought her 14-year-old twin boys to the complex at 4:30 a.m. to wait in line. “No matter what the kids want, I already told them I’m not doing that again.”

Jesse Sandler said he was one of the people pushing forward, using a folding chair he had brought with him to beat back people who tried to cut in front of him.

“I took my chair here and I threw it over my shoulder and I went, ‘Bam,”‘ the 20-year-old said nonchalantly, his eyes glued to the screen of his new iBook, as he tapped away on the keyboard at a testing station.

“They were getting in front of me and I was there a lot earlier than them, so I thought that it was just,” he said.

History books and the airwaves are filled with “dogged desire” wins out scenarios, the heat of competition winnowing out the losers from the daring-do winners, the glory of attaining hill’s crest, the reward of never-say-die. “God helps those who help themselves” is one of the big platitudes. “There is no second place.” “To the victor go the spoils.” Etcetera, etcetera. Some of us will look and say, “Well, it’s a stretch applying the platitudes to an Apple ibook, ” to which I wonder then where is the invisible cut-off line as to what is worthy, which for some is perhaps what their pocketbooks qualify as a perfectly redeemable effort. Because some who say, “Ugh,” may only be saying “Ugh” because they can afford the Apple ibook, and may find such a free-for-all perfectly legitimate if the stakes were higher.

Never mind the mismanagement that made the event a coliseum gladiator affair. Because it was certainly mismanaged. There were, I read, only 1000 ibooks available. Camping out for a good place in line was said not to be permitted. But of course people began showing up as early as midnight. Then when the time came to open the gates, the authorities said that vehicles would be first permitted to enter. Those who had first arrived went to their vehicles, and a rush was made on the gates by those who stayed on foot and those who had arrived later (whence the story of vehicles attempting to drive through pedestrians). Then once the people were inside there was a second line to form and weather. And the authorities didn’t close the gates until there was a line inside of several thousand people. For 1000 ibooks.

We perhaps have never thought of wealth in terms of poverty. How many thousands of the poor does it take to support a single millionaire? How many more thousands of impoverished has society generated to support its newly minted billionaires? We fail to recognize poverty as the sustenance of wealth. We may see the homeless and occasionally encounter the impoverished, but we never see ourselves as a cause. We are too busy, too preoccupied with ourselves, to reflect upon our collective generation of wealth as a cause of poverty.

Source: Loyola Poverty Law Journal, Spring, 1999, SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND RESPONSIBILITY, Kenneth Ehrenberg, referencing, William J. Curran III, After 100 Years: A Disquieting Discourse of Poverty and Wealth, 35 N.Y.L Sch. L. Rev. 1031, 1033 (1990).

The truly impoverished likely were not among those in line for the ibooks. Perhaps some were. I’m just looking at the continuum here. Probably didn’t have “wealthy” individuals involved in the brawl, nor people who are truly disenfranchised. But you’ve got a lower end on some scale who have determined that these are the proper rules of engagement and they are really the same rules of engagement that result in the class structure defined in the above quote.

Which results in everyone being a loser.

One of the central premises of our capitalist system is the condition of “scarcity.” That is, capitalism claims to represent a solution to the problem of scarcity. [FN17] Capitalism is supposed to be the most efficient way of dealing with this condition. Indeed, this condition is often cited by those who wish to defend our economic system against the attacks by the adherents of other systems. However, what this term means is far from clear in our society which has such an abundance of wealth.

By “scarcity,” most of us mean that goods are in short supply: there isn’t enough of something to go around. While there often is no clear-cut understanding of what constitutes “enough,” the simple fact is that there is more than sufficient food to sustain everyone on the planet. The same is true of land and renewable energy. The important question, then, is why the staples of life are so egregiously maldistributed – why, for example, the United *13 States, with a little more than 5 percent of the world’s population, uses something like 40 percent of the world’s resources. What appears to be a problem of scarcity usually turns out, on closer inspection, to be a problem of distribution. [FN18]

The upshot of this realization is that a characteristic upon which the economic system is based is perverted in our society to justify the inequitable distribution of resources. How does this come about? First, and perhaps foremost, is the fact that the term “scarcity” does not mean the same thing to economists as it does to the rest of the population. [FN19]

Generally, when the term is used to bolster capitalism, economists are talking about either that in certain circumstances the choice of one product or commodity precludes the choice of another, or the presumption that, as a matter of human social nature, people will never be satisfied with the amount they have – no matter how much that is. [FN20] When we hear the word used in casual conversation, however, we usually think that the speaker is talking about a condition in which there are not enough resources to meet the needs of every individual. This latter condition certainly is no longer the case in the United States (if it ever was), and may not even be true of *14 the world taken as whole. [FN21] One problem with the economic definitions is that the first condition (one which, when taken as a premise, no system will alleviate) may give rise to the second. That is, if we are in a situation where the choice of one commodity precludes the choice of another, people will always be faced with what is just beyond their reach, making satisfaction of all “needs” (natural and artificial) next to impossible. This point is made more clear by its application to the competitive system.

When we combine the competitive aspects of capitalism with the condition of scarcity (economists’ first sense – the choice of one good precludes another), we end up with the familiar problem of the unequal playing field: The fact that choosing certain commodities will preclude the choice of others leads individuals to try to maximize their opportunities for choice. The more choices one has, the less likely one will find oneself in the position of having to choose between mutually exclusive commodities. In a competitive system, however, the only way of accomplishing this maximization of choice is essentially to take away the choices of another. Because certain circumstances will arise where the choice of one good will preclude the choice of another, and since we are in a competitive economic system, the drive to maximize one’s own choices necessarily entails minimizing the choices of others. Because one choice may exclude another, and there are a limited number of those mutually exclusive choices (“scarcity”), the most effective way to maximize one’s choices is to take away those of another. Yet the more choices one already has, the more power one has to maximize future choices; the fewer choices one starts with, the harder it is to avoid loosing one’s choices to others.

“Whoever has more resources is far more likely to win a contest, thus giving her even more resources for the next contest, and so on until the opponent is utterly vanquished or someone steps in to stop the competition.” [FN22]

*15 One of the upshots of our particular brand of competitive capitalism is that it is not marked by fair competition. People do not start out on the same starting line; some start miles ahead of others. Yet, we still see ourselves as in competition with each member of society for “scarce” resources. As a result, we have strong structural disincentives from trying to rearrange our institutions so that individuals may at least start from similar points. Included here is the point made above: that we are unwilling to help those far below for fear that others, in closer proximity to us, will surpass us. Furthermore, this point helps to explain why it is so difficult for our system to arrive at a more equitable distribution, or for the winners of one generation to be the losers of another. Generally, those on the bottom in one generation will be on the bottom the next, at least without the intervention of an extraordinary amount of luck. [FN23] While it is true that certain segments of the population are able to better their condition through slow and steady improvements across generations, they are still doing so (for the most part) at the expense not of those above them, but of those below them. Hence: “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

( FN23: Some might bristle at the suggestion that it is only luck which separates the “haves” from the “have-nots,” preferring to believe that with a little hard work and ‘gumption,’ anyone can become a millionaire. This belief is patently flawed. There are plenty of examples of individuals who make it big without a significant amount of intelligence or business acumen. While there is an even greater number of examples of people of intelligence well above the norm, and the appropriate applicative ability, who nevertheless languish in poverty simply because they never get the genuine opportunity to apply themselves to personal improvement. In fact, this “work ethic solution” is so counter-empirical that I would venture to claim that it is a prime example of radical self-deception in the face of what is perceived to be an intractable problem. As Curran somewhat derisively put this position:

Capitalism’s generation of poverty motivates us. It inculcates life’s hard lessons, sustains institutions, and supports principles. Thus, we believe that poverty can be avoided, that hard work and determination will always benefit the poor, and that wealth will reward them and poverty will discipline them. Poverty, we well know, can be defeated by every able individual in this, the world’s richest, most democratic and open nation.

Supra note 7, at 1034. Just as Job’s friends denied reality in claiming that only the evil are punished and the good are always rewarded, adherents to this false belief are denying reality in claiming essentially that everyone who deserves to be rich will be. )

Source: Loyola Poverty Law Journal, Spring, 1999, SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND RESPONSIBILITY, Kenneth Ehrenberg

American society tends to think of life in terms of a competitive sport.

It isn’t.

When you rule life as a competitive sport and accept greed as the essential bottom-line for “self-improvement” (which is the free capital way, where goods and wealth signify status) or greed even motivating basic survival (which again is the free capital way of interpreting history as certain gene sets winning out over others through that essential greed) is when you disqualify life as relationships, whether between humans or humans and nature in general. The rules of good sportsmanship are just a way of making the irrational sound reasonable. Such as 18th and 19th century warfare where good sportsmanship was qualified as lining up leagues of men in proper rows and marching them into battle, hordes dropping as guns felled them from a distance. Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” illustrates this insanity, as does Kurosawa’s “Ran”.

Our systems tend to define self-esteem on free capital values. Ehrenberg notes the importance of self-esteem and sees it as an alternative system from one that is competition-based.

As a concept, self-esteem is extremely useful for those trying to understand why people act as they do. As a reality, the importance of high self-esteem simply cannot be overstated. It might be thought of as the sine qua non of the healthy personality. It suggests a respect for and faith in ourselves that is not easily shaken, an abiding and deep-seated acceptance of our own worth. Ideally, self-esteem is not only high but unconditional; it does not depend on approval from others, and it does not crumble even when we do things that we later regret. It is a core, a foundation upon which life is constructed. [FN36]

Given this importance, it is a wonder we do not do more to build a robust sense of self-esteem in our educational system.

Source: Loyola Poverty Law Journal, Spring, 1999, SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND RESPONSIBILITY, Kenneth Ehrenberg

Now, this ends up sounding as if self-esteem and individuality is to a certain extent based on an isolationist sort of greed where the rest of the community be damned, one’s own goals are paramount. But this isn’t the case, because the type of self-esteem Enrenberg is writing about is found with the support of the community and the person finding their place in giving to the community. And a reason it’s hard to come by is that our communities do not support this.

Perhaps of prime importance will be revamping a sense of individual uniqueness and worth. Individualism has not been the cause of our ills. Rather it has been the increasing sacrifices of our individual spheres to economic and social pressures which has contributed to the internalization of “intentional competition.” While it may appear, with a casual glance at our society, there is a surplus of cacophonous calls for individual rights (at least this is the complaint of some right-leaning Congress members), there is such a loud call, and it is so conflicted, precisely because of the incursions of society (hence the misplaced call for individual responsibility among many politicians). That is, many of the rights which we feel are protected by government or Constitution in our society, are given up “by choice” when we go to earn a livelihood, or in order to get our needs met if we are impoverished. We have conditioned the exercise of our rights so that they are in opposition to the ways in which our needs are met by this society. Free speech rights are sacrificed at work; reproductive rights are sacrificed for welfare; dignity and integrity *21 are sacrificed for an education. [FN33]

The basis of any possible revitalization of society must begin with a revitalization of the individual. At first that might sound like an empty platitude. It cannot be necessary to revitalize the value of the individual – a fundamental tenet in our society. However, it is this value which is being lost in our society as it is presently constructed. To value the individual cannot simply mean to protect a limited sphere of rights against government incursion, while leaving these rights, and other central aspects of our personalities, open to the interference of and determination by non-governmental outside influences. To be an individual implies a certain uniqueness that these limited rights protections cannot capture. To be certain, these protected rights are exercised in somewhat different ways by different people. However, this range of choices in how to exercise one’s rights is constantly shrinking on two sides. On the one side our options for exercising these rights are shrinking as a result of government’s failure to prohibit other outside sources from placing limits on our range of choices. On the other side our options are limited by advertising, and other forces of market socialization which seek to convince us that a particular choice or set of choices is in our own best interest.

Ehrenberg ends in saying,

Furthermore, competition as it manifests itself in our capitalistic system has lead to particular economic and social woes which capitalism, because of its very nature, is unable to combat. Therefore we have the responsibility to temper our competitive social institutions with other systems which correct for the disadvantages and inculcate a robust sense of individuality, not dependent upon relative social position. This is not to argue for the complete casting off of all of our present social edifices and economic systems. Rather, it is to note the importance of building social systems which will generate a recognition of our responsibilities toward each other. If we are secure in our own selves with who we are and where we are going, we will be much more likely to desire that security in others. This, in turn, will give rise to a sense of social responsibility which does not infringe upon anyone’s individuality, and yet will ensure that every individual’s needs are met.

Source: Loyola Poverty Law Journal, Spring, 1999, SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND RESPONSIBILITY, Kenneth Ehrenberg

Our communities are competition-based and education is set up to regulate children according to its current creed and definitions as to who are winners and who are losers. From A to Z, in its process of grading, of rewards, of punishments, what is prioritized as having educational value, it is set to feed an ill system rather than honestly benefit a child and provide them a sense of their own special place in the community.

And we’re told that this is preparing a child for the “real world”.

I know I’ve been told this often enough by people who question homeschooling and our fairly eclectic way of homeschooling.

When I look at the above story on the free-for-all over the ibooks, I know I would have eliminated myself early on as a “competitor” because I would not have seen the value in hand-to-hand combat over a computer. I also would not have subjected my child to it. Just as the other night at the “Stand with Cindy” vigil, I had also thoughts of protecting my child to consider, and didn’t permit him to stand curbside. Everything looked great and things were upbeat but my seven-year-old, going down the sidewalk, walks inside me so that if someone comes up off the curb I’ve a chance to shove him out of the way. I had my same thoughts at the vigil, stand him to the rear. I wanted him to experience the community of the people at the vigil, but I also didn’t know if some nut might not decide to clip a few people, I had that concern.

I view myself as offering my child these same protections when I don’t subject him to an educational system that is set up to do nothing but defeat the majority of children. Nor do I see it as depriving him of some essential training ground for “real life”, not when I don’t think of school as “real life” training but a preparation for a competition-based game that eschews individual dignity and a real sense of community. That isn’t any kind of a “real life”.

Several weeks ago I was a little astonished at a couple of remarks made to me at the benefit for the oak tree which was also my husband’s birthday party. An old friend who I rarely see, a photographer, upon leaving, came to me and said she had been watching our son, watching him dance, and she had been at the point of tears because she had never seen a child so free and spontaneous. And then another individual, a DJ/musician who I didn’t even know, came up and said so that’s your son, and I said yes, and he said he was a very free-spirited child and was going to be a great artist. I said I knew yes he was free-spirited, and he was, yes, an artist. The man said, you have to protect that, a lot of people don’t see that as a good thing, they crush it. I said yes, I realized that. And he was adamant, he said again, you have to protect that, don’t let the system crush it. And I replied that’s one reason we were homeschooling, so it wouldn’t be crushed. And he seemed finally to be somewhat relieved. Several others said similar things to my husband, watching H.o.p. spontaneously regroup objects into sculptures. It’s just what he does. He sees a group of objects and in his mind he sees where the man or robot is and he matter-of-factly goes over and regroups to form the sculpture.

In fact, almost all artists, actors and musicians we know, from the time we decided to homeschool H.o.p., have expressed nothing but relief and have only been supportive. Maybe that’s because those who think alternatively, who thought alternatively as youths, were not only undervalued by the system but experienced the fight to keep self-esteem in a system that is geared to defeat alternative thinkers from the beginning, and defeat children who learn in different ways and different speeds with ostracizing labels, report cards and grade levels.

My son deserves more.

We all deserve more than to be viewed as units motivated only by greed, rewarded by greed, competition the only driving force. Life is relationships. Relationships with nature. Relationships with people. It’s not just school. It’s not just a job. It’s relationships and should be about respect and balance in those relationships, discerning the intricacies of our connections and the broad reach of cause and effect. And not in the “A smile brightens everyone’s day” bank’s way of teaching, “Give a smile to get an investor”.

True self-respect is difficult in the culture and systems that presently overwhelm us. And we are in need of it, desperately. In need of it and in need of bolstering it rather than feeding the competition game that is a flashy, fake respect and self-respect which people accept as their authority.

It is not “real life”. It is what we’ve been educated to believe is “real life”.

That it is “real life” is one of the first of the lies that needs to go.

The War of Reds and Greens

The above picture of a frozen lake of water on Mars was taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft. The story is here. I tell H.o.p. about it and he goes, “Wow!!!!!!!” and we get rather excited.

I’ve just finished showing H.o.p. a few more Photoshop tricks after my illustrating for him tales from Unscrewing the Inscrutable, science for the layman, on what the skies looked like billions of years ago and the cyanos and what not. The Billions Years War. Nicely related. But I ended up needing to rephrase quite a bit and speaking in terms of balance because H.o.p. started to get the wrong idea of greens and the reds, thinking in terms of good and bad and getting confused by that. “Are they evil?” “No, no, they’re not evil!” And so I did some mighty rephrasing. We covered a few paragraphs, my painting in Photoshop the story while I told it to him, and that was that and then he wanted me to teach him some more filters I’d used and now that he’s off stapling pages together to make another one of his books, drawing, I’m going to borrow back my new metal art mousepad that I gave him this morning and get back to the work that’s waiting for me. The new metal art mousepad really is nice, makes things a little bit easier. One of these days I’ll get myself a Wacom tablet. One of these days…

Mark your calendar to buy this book in October

Or rather marking my calendar to buy this book. You may mark your calendar to do whatever in October.

Pam’s House Blend has a post on a new book by Jim Loewen that’s due to be released in October, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of Segregation in America”.

A quote that Pam supplies from Publishers Weeky:

Located mostly outside the traditional South, these towns employed legal formalities, race riots, policemen, bricks, fires and guns to produce homogeneously Caucasian communities—and some of them continue such unsavory practices to this day. Loewen’s eye-opening history traces the sundown town’s development and delineates the extent to which state governments and the federal government, “openly favor[ed] white supremacy” from the 1930s through the 1960s, “helped to create and maintain all-white communities” through their lending and insuring policies.

“While African Americans never lost the right to vote in the North… they did lose the right to live in town after town, county after county,” Loewen points out. The expulsion forced African-Americans into urban ghettoes and continues to have ramifications on the lives of whites, blacks and the social system at large. Admirably thorough and extensively footnoted, Loewen’s investigation may put off some general readers with its density and statistical detail, but the stories he recounts form a compelling corrective to the “textbook archetype of interrupted progress.” As the first comprehensive history of sundown towns ever written, this book is sure to become a landmark in several fields and a sure bet among Loewen’s many fans.

One of those sundown towns was Highland Park, Texas, which didn’t have a home-owning black family un til 2003. Highland Park, Texas is home to G. W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and the book reports that eleven Presidents and recent presidential candidates came from sundown towns.

So did Spam.

Spam? Really? Should I confess that sometimes as a child I was fed Spam and that I liked it? And I liked it a whole lot when it was fried? Should I confess that I never bought a can of Span after the age of 17 because (a) it was too expensive (b) I was horrified by the idea of it but also horrified that I might still like it and then (c) horrified to open the can and look at what I used to eat as a child.

We have both James Lowen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong on our bookshelves. “Lies My Teacher Told Me” is fairly well known, but the less popular “Lies Across America” is worth having. Following is a sizable excerpt from the introduction.

Continue reading Mark your calendar to buy this book in October

Eclectic homeschooling with blogs

Klondike Kate’s Aurora continues her watch on the sun’s antics. Her enthusiasm is catching. “Science is cool” she writes, and if H.o.p. was a little older and interested yet in the sun and sun spots then I’d be reading to him her entries.

A sample:

There is an intriguing picture in the film strip on the lmsal solarsoft page , the green strip, count from the left to the 7th or 8th box in and look at the curly cue of gas then the spike explosion — usually things don’t happen that fast in space, it takes hours to see changes because it’s space, a vaccum, the pictures we are receiving are covering millions of miles across, we are only looking at our tiny puzzle piece of the Big Picture, our miniaturized inset, within our own solar system.

But this was a spike, a volcano erupting in a thin laser line pointing straight up like an antenna, a beacon, a silent scream and then it released a big ball of fire the size of Jupiter. Scroll down to the bottom of the solarsoft page to see the location and incredible size of the M-4 flare. The sunspot group responsible hasn’t rotated around enough to be numbered yet (maybe 792?)

Two or three hours later, looking at the C-3 lasco photos, this plasma ball is still traveling…Usually, these things disintegrate, are absorbed into space, but this guy has kneepads and is roller-blading, keep on truckin’, dude…

Go to Klondike Kate’s for more and pictures.

Continue reading Eclectic homeschooling with blogs

Transitioning to Homonyms as Hurricane Emily weakens

And suddenly from Gumby we go to homonyms. “M-e-a-t and m-e-e-t. Meat and meet, two words that sound the same but aren’t spelled the same,” H.o.p. informs from out of nowhere, stepping away from Gumby.

“Yes, homonyms,” I take the opportunity to inform him.

“I know!” And H.o.p. in a matter of Internet seconds is over at PBS and playing for me the “Between the Lions” music video, Homophones.