Friday, August 31, 2007

My Life in Pictures

Just a reminder to friends and family that I do have an online photo album. I have recently uploaded a bunch of photos, too, so check 'em out. You can make comments about them, as well.

Another One Bites the Dust

I finished reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova last night. In fact I stayed up much later than I should have because I couldn't put it down. Taking place in three time periods, it is the story of a girl who finds a strange document in her father's library. When she asks him about it, he begins to tell her a strange story about that most famous of vampires, Dracula.

Much of the story is told through old letters and historical documents. The amount of historical detail is amazing. Kostova makes the settings in her book, primarily Eastern Europe, come alive. She also cleverly weaves the stories from each of the three time periods together building toward a very suspenseful climax. This was a very enjoyable read.

The one problem with the book is the sheer number of coincidences. I'm normally forgiving of these because often if they were removed you wouldn't have a story at all. However, Kostova really stretches suspension of disbelief at times with the sheer number of coincidences. Because the book is a mystery, I kept hoping that some explanation for some of them would be proferred, but, alas, such was not meant to be.

I did like the book, though, and intend to buy my own copy (I borrowed this from Shawna) eventually. I look forward to more books from Kostova.

Geeks Are Good

We're going to save the world.

US Americans

I know this video has been all over the web and on late night talk shows, but I couldn't resist posting it here as well.

How beautifully ironic that in a question about education in America, Miss South Carolina demonstrates our education problems in this country. That, and the problems you get when you create a society that says it's okay to float by on your looks.

Fundamental Mistakes

Hilzoy has a devastating post on the Dish examining the mindset of Bush and his advisors on Iraq.

First, if it's true that "a fundamental error is a sure sign of not caring", then I think we have to conclude that neither George W. Bush nor any of the advisors he listened seriously to really cared about winning in Iraq. Some of their errors, even egregious ones, are not necessarily fundamental in this sense. But if ever there was a fundamental mistake, the failure to plan for the occupation of Iraq has to count as one.


Girls Just Want to Have Fun

Of course the games girls like the most involve playing with the minds of boys. I'm not sure why we put up with it exactly, other than...well, I guess we like it. *sigh*

Katie Joy volunteered on Tuesday, so I swung by and talked to her. I asked her when we could go out again and you'd think I'd asked her to solve Fermat's last theorem. She smiled and laughed as she said, "Well, I'm busy that night," and "That night won't work," and so on. I think we went on like that for twenty minutes before I said, "You tell me what you want to do and when." She suggested a movie and asked me to see what was playing.

She was volunteering again today. I printed out movie times for all of the theaters in town and we talked about what to see. We finally decided on Becoming Jane. That was fairly easy. We (she) still had to figure out when we were going to go. She pulls out her color-coded schedule and tries to figure out the "best night." She finally decides that tomorrow (Saturday) will work. I was starting to wonder if I would have look up movie times for the next week by the time she decided. I'm sure she finds this all wildly amusing.

That wasn't it, of course. She wanted to go to the 7:00 show which was fine with me. I said I would pick her up, but then she started going on about working and church. Katie Joy asked if I would go to church with her. Afterward, we could do dinner and then go to the movie. I found myself agreeing before I thought about it too much. I knew if I did start thinking about it, I would probably say, "No thanks."

Katie Joy is intelligent, but I also think she is naive about many things. It seems like she has led a very sheltered, charmed life. Maybe she hasn't, but I don't think my insight into people has failed me here. I almost get the sense that while she understands intellectually that their are different beliefs than hers in the world, she doesn't quite grasp that those beliefs are very real to many people. We were talking about school and I mentioned my upcoming class, God and World, examining the views of God/god/deities in religions throughout the world. The first thing she asked me was, "Well are you going to have to read the Bible?" Her tone of voice almost turned her question into "The only book you need to read is the Bible."

Anyway, my date, I mean "hanging out," tomorrow with Katie Joy is church, dinner, and a movie. Even if going to her church is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of something fun to do, I'm sure I will enjoy the evening. She is fun to be around even when she is playing her female games.

Back to School

It's that time of the year and I will be starting classes again myself in October. I have Introduction to the Old Testament, an 8 week class, beginning that month and God and World, again 8 weeks long, which starts in November. I am excited to get back into the mix. I checked my records and I am officially a junior now; I have 66 credits. I'm hoping to add 33 more in the coming year. Slowly, but surely I'm getting there. The light at the end of the tunnel may be just a freight train coming your starting to appear.

I hope that doesn't mean I have to grow up. I don't think I want to do that. One of my favorite quotes is from C.S. Lewis. "When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Topic Close to My Heart

Time recently had a cover story on child geniuses and the problems they face in school. As one of those kids who never struggled in school, never felt challenged, and never felt like I fit in, I have a first-hand account of what life is like for people like this.

AS A CULTURE, WE FEEL DEEPLY ambiguous about genius. We venerate Einstein, but there is no more detested creature than the know-it-all. In one 1996 study from Gifted Education Press Quarterly, 3,514 high school students were asked whether they would rather be the best-looking, smartest or most athletic kids. A solid 54% wanted to be smartest (37% wanted to be most athletic, and 9% wanted to be best looking). But only 0.3% said the reason to be smartest was to gain popularity. We like athletic prodigies like Tiger Woods or young Academy Award winners like Anna Paquin. But the mercurial, aloof, annoying nerd has been a trope of our culture, from Bartleby the Scrivener to the dorky PC guy in the Apple ads. Intellectual precocity fascinates but repels.

I loved learning, but I hated school. I convinced my high school administrators to let me graduate a year early, but even that was a joke. I could have easily had a college degree by then if I had been given the chance. Interestingly, the article noted a study that showed that kids allowed to skip grades do not suffer socially as has long been thought. In fact, they turn out better than those who are not permitted to skip ahead.

Gael, a math teacher, began to research giftedness and found that high-IQ kids can become isolated adults. "They end up often as depressed adults ... who don't have friends or who find it difficult to function," she says. Actually, research shows that gifted kids given appropriately challenging environments--even when that means being placed in classes of much older students--usually turn out fine. At the University of New South Wales, Gross conducted a longitudinal study of 60 Australians who scored at least 160 on IQ tests beginning in the late '80s. Today most of the 33 students who were not allowed to skip grades have jaded views of education, and at least three are dropouts. "These young people find it very difficult to sustain friendships because, having been to a large extent socially isolated at school, they have had much less practice ... in developing and maintaining social relationships," Gross has written. "A number have had counseling. Two have been treated for severe depression." By contrast, the 17 kids who were able to skip at least three grades have mostly received Ph.D.s, and all have good friends.

The biggest problem our schools have is that they don't teach to individuals; they teach to the mass in the middle. No Child Left Behind only exacerbates this. What is needed, and what I envision in the school I want to open some day, is an individual curriculum based on each child's talents and desires. That is the only way to ensure each child can develop their full potential whether they are a genius or not.

UPDATE: Fixed formatting.

A Last Minute Stay

My brother, Shawn, has decided to hold off on selling the house for two years. I'm a bit shocked, I must say. While he has said a few times that the money is not his main reason for selling (it is the "burden" of owning it and Mom), he was just saying two days ago that he needed the money to make it in Missoula. The problem is that he really doesn't know what he needs. Love, or what he thinks is love, has clouded his mind and being with his girlfriend is all he can think about. I know exactly what he is thinking and feeling right now. I went through the same thing when I was younger. I just hope he learns more quickly than I did what is wrong with his current path.

I know my Mom is happy, but I can't help but feel that on a certain level this just prolongs the agony. Two years is not a long time and before you know it the time will be gone and once more my mother will faced with the soul-crushing experience of parting from a life-long dream. Perhaps something will change in two years. Who knows? I hope that whatever happens a decision can be reached that is not too painful for my mom.

In the meantime, it might get a little hairy making ends meet here. Shawn wants to be free of all responsibilities here including contributing to the house payment. Mom and I would be drained to the breaking point if we had to pay for everything on our own, so we are talking about finding someone who wants to rent a room. The obvious first choice would be one of my sisters, but I don't think that is feasible. Sheena, while deeply unhappy with her current boyfriend in many ways, in all likelihood does not have the strength of will or desire to leave him. Sharie is living here, but has not been subtle about her desire to leave as soon as possible. Shawna will not live here as long as Sharie is, but even after Sharie leaves, I don't think she would want to move back. Shawna is too antsy and she feels like a "loser" living with her mother.

That means Mom and I will have to look elsewhere and I can't say I'm excited about the idea. I'm not so worried about finding a decent person who pays the rent on time as I am having a stranger move in. I'm a fairly private person. The notion of a stranger living here, eating here, hanging out here is somewhat unnerving. We'll see, I suppose.

I am happy that Mom does not have to face moving out now. I hope everything works out down the road.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Recent Viewings

I have watched two fantastic movies in the last week, Pan's Labyrinth and The Fountain

Pan's Labyrinth is a Spanish movie from director Guillermo del Toro. A young girl visits a dark, fantasy kingdom to escape her tumultuous life as the step-daughter of a sadistic army captain battling rebels in 1940's Spain. Make no mistake, this is a fairy tale. It's not the Disney fairy tales we're used to these days, though. It is more akin to the older fairly tales, those that were dark and not always pleasant. And dark it is. There is a lot of graphic violence, but del Toro never makes it feel gratuitous. This is a story of good and evil and the evil is certainly very evil. Ofelia's journey to reclaim her birthright as the princess of a magical kingdom is heart-wrenching especially since del Toro leaves the reality of the kingdom ambiguous. Is Ofelia making it all up in her mind because her life is so disturbing or is it a real place? Bonus points for that, the rich cinematography (fantastic use of color), and for the beautiful, haunting score. Definitely one of the more enchanting movies I have seen in awhile. Highly recommended.

I also very much enjoyed The Fountain, though I can see why it was very divisive to critics and viewers. It is not a movie easily digested. Tom/Tomas/Tommy is a man unwilling to accept death and journeys through time searching for a "cure." Their are three time periods in the story - past, present, and future - and Aronofsky weaves them together in a non-linear fashion. The first half of the movie can be tricky to follow as you only feel like you have a partial grasp on the full extent of events. By the end, though, I was blown away at the power of the story. What begins as the story of a man battling the age-old villain of Death becomes...well, you'll just have to see it for yourself. Hugh Jackman does an incredible job; I feel he is one of the best actors working right now (see also The Prestige) and doesn't get enough recognition for it. Darren Aronofsky is also someone to watch. He has a very unique vision. I think that even if this is not a movie you like, Aronofsky deserves credit for making a movie quite unlike most churned out of Hollywood these days. I wish more movies aimed this high.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"...because it is right."

Hilary Bok (Hilzoy) has a post on The Daily Dish examining Obama's foreign policy views. It lays out clearly some of the reasons why I think Obama is the best candidate in the race right now.

Missing You

I took my daughters home last night. They had been staying with me since the 17th. I won't see them for two weeks because their mother is taking them on vacation to South Dakota and they won't be back until next Sunday. It's hard not being around them more. I miss them terribly, especially knowing how horrible their home life is. For those parents who do live with their children, count your blessings and don't take your moments with them for granted.

Weekly Secret

I chose a more amusing one this week than usual.