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Light My Fire February 3, 2010

Posted by Beth in Miscellaneous Musings.
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Quakers like to talk about the “Inner Light,”  a concept which when freed from the supernatural has always resonated with me. I like the idea of reserving a regular, scheduled time to sit quietly and contemplate, focusing on my own inner voice.  Centering myself on my values. Putting them in order and realigning my priorities. Sorting. Clarifying.

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Part of the concept is that each human being possesses an Inner Light –which for Quakers is the presence of God but for me is a symbol of the uniqueness of each individual’s life, and of each person’s right to that life without any requirement of justifying their existence. To anyone or anything.

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An important aspect this idea of the Inner Light is how it shapes the understanding  of community. Communities consist of individuals who come together as equals. No religious leader, sacred text or majority dictates.

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Decisions are made by consensus– meaning that each individual must be persuaded  to at  least abstain from objecting in order for a motion to proceed. This fits in well with my fundamental rule for social interaction: Convince me, or leave me alone.

Guidance for action is sought by looking inward. Substitute “reason” for reliance on “revelation” and the resonance increases.

Instead of an Inner Light, Ayn Rand wrote of  the inner fire.

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.”

– Ayn Rand, born in the USSR Jan. 2, 1905, excerpt from Atlas Shrugged

Dream.

Contemplate.

Think.

Focus on your spark…

then fan the flames,

and live your life

with all the flare you can muster.

(Thanks Rational Jenn for posting the Ayn Rand quote and triggering this musing!)

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What is it about High School? January 17, 2010

Posted by Beth in Education, Miscellaneous Musings, Personal.
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I am reading an interesting article pointed out to me by Janine Cate at Why Homeschool on the social experience in Jr. High and High School relative to the social experience in “the real world.”  This reminded me of some thoughts I have had tumbling around in the back of my mind about the high school experience in general.

I have watched my son go through high school and pretty much languish. Nothing seems to have inspired him. He started out gung-ho as a freshman, but each year since, he has seemed more and more apathetic about his classes, uninterested in actual learning or working to acquire skills for the future. Granted, he is in a government school, which is less than ideal, but when it became obvious that he needed to get out on his own away from me and homeschooling, that’s the alternative we chose. Where we live, any private school would have been a 30-45 minute commute each way, and both he and I wanted to stay within our community. I knew of good kids who seemed to have thrived at the school, so we thought it would be ok. I am not sure we made the wrong choice, but it definitely has its down sides.

Lately, it has struck me just how much like a prison the high school has become under the control of a new principal. The last one wasn’t so great either, but had a healthy dose of benign neglect that now I am missing.

So, what is it about high school?

I do think the social scene is better than in Jr. High. The kids are a bit more mature and not so cruel. There are definitely opportunities for growth—-although less so academically than in the extra-curricular activities offered. A passage from the article I mentioned above has a clue:

I think the important thing about the real world is not that it’s populated by adults, but that it’s very large, and the things you do have real effects. That’s what school, prison, and ladies-who-lunch all lack. The inhabitants of all those worlds are trapped in little bubbles where nothing they do can have more than a local effect. Naturally these societies degenerate into savagery. They have no function for their form to follow.

When the things you do have real effects, it’s no longer enough just to be pleasing. It starts to be important to get the right answers.

To this I would add, you also have a much greater degree of choice.

I don’t think that high school has to be like a prison—although I can see that avoiding this atmosphere would be very difficult for a government school whose main thrust is complying with compulsory attendance laws. I mean, what’s the big difference between a high school senior and a college freshman? I don’t think it’s the kids that change so much over the summer–but something is clearly different in the college environment that makes it a superior experience, while high school is marginal at best. A big part of that is the degree of choice college students have–not just in whether or not to even be there, but also in the classes they can take.

I have tried to do what I can to help my kids work outside of the box the high school tries to lock them in. Both only went half-time as freshman and both are taking advantage of courses offered at the local community college to better meet their unique interests. Both know that they don’t have to be there–that there are workable alternatives.

However, with the bulk of their curriculum uninspiring and with minimal alternatives, the emphasis in high school turns to the social scene. For those whose strengths are academic not social, it’s a tough ride.

At this point for my son (he’s a senior), I can only hope that once he gets to college, he will find a way to reignite his spark. My daughter, who has 3 1/2 more years left, has immersed her self in the extra-curricular activities and social scene. It will be interesting to see how she navigates her remaining time there.

In Honor of Heroes January 6, 2010

Posted by Beth in Miscellaneous Musings, Politics.
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I have been thinking about what I want to write in recognition of the changing of the year…so many things run through my mind.

What I accomplished.

What I didn’t accomplish but still want to.

Statements of gratitude and love to my family.

A political or personal summary or recap.

Yesterday’s news of an attack on one of the Danish cartoonists who 4 years ago caused such controversy helped me decide. I want to recognize and honor a set of people who have stood up for what they believe in–even when it meant risking public attack on their reputation and careers—and sometimes on their lives.  As I blog away in relative anonymity, I stand in awe of those who have had their integrity tested so severely, and who have faced the test with such  honor and courage.

Here are some of those heroes. Each image is linked to a piece of their story, providing just a sampling of why they are heroes.

Kurt Westergaard

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Wafa Sultan

Steve McIntyre

Richard Lindzen

Julian Simon

I am sure there are many others, but these are the ones who come immediately to my mind.

What about you? Who do you think deserves our admiration, recognition and gratitude?

In Defense of Scrooge December 18, 2009

Posted by Beth in Miscellaneous Musings.
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Many delight in Dickens’ tale of the conversion of the “greedy, heartless, capitalist”  Scrooge into a kind, and lighthearted philanthropist. Here is a different take on the story:

It is my purpose, in making this holiday defense of my client, to present to you a different interpretation of the story, that you will see the villainy not in my client’s character, but in Charles Dickens’s miscasting of the true heroes of the time of which he wrote, namely, the industrialists and financiers who created that most liberating epoch in human history: the Industrial Revolution…

On the basis of emotionally riddled allegations, coupled with pure economic ignorance, we have been asked to find Mr. Scrooge “guilty” of the most ill-defined wrongdoings…

The case against Ebeneezer Scrooge is nothing more than a well-orchestrated, vicious conspiracy to extort from my client as much of his money as can be acquired through terror, threats of his death, and other appeals to fear…

[P]ay particular attention to the utter contradiction underlying Dickens’s case: my client is charged with being a greedy, money-hungry scoundrel, and yet it is the conspirators against him who want nothing more than his money! Scrooge — unlike his antagonists — earned his money in the marketplace by satisfying the demands of customers and clients who continue to do business with him, and did not, as far as we are told, resort to terror or threats of death to get it…

Scrooge certainly is not a man to emulate. His obsession with money as a goal in-and-of-itself arises from a misplaced, empty materialism.  But the antidote is not the rejection of material goods and the physical well-being they make possible, but rather to embrace them as the means to the greater end: a life of happiness and fulfillment in all realms possible, material, physical and spiritual.

Let us rejoice this holiday for all aspects of good fortune, and for the loved ones who magnify our enjoyment.

Lest there be any readers who need reminding of the virtues of this period, let me quote from that eminent English historian, T.S. Ashton, who wrote of the impoverished conditions of England and other nations prior to the Industrial Revolution. As he expressed it, “The central problem of the age was how to feed and clothe and employ generations of children outnumbering by far those of any earlier time.” England, he went on, “was delivered, not by her rulers, but by those who, seeking no doubt their own narrow ends, had the wit and resources to devise new instruments of production and new methods of administering industry. There are today on the plains of India and China men and women, plague-ridden and hungry, living lives little better, to outward appearance, than those of the cattle that toil with them by day and share their places of sleep by night. Such Asiatic standards, and such unmechanized horrors, are the lot of those who increase their numbers without passing through an industrial revolution.”

(Quotes from “The case for Ebeneezer” by Butler Shaffer.)

Halloween Re-Cap November 5, 2009

Posted by Beth in Miscellaneous Musings, Personal.
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I had a great Halloween!

At the local thrift store, Twice As Nice, I stumbled on a spooky, fun and inexpensive find:eyball 69 cent electric eyeballs that fade from red to blue to green to orange and back. Initially I bought 10 for my daughter’s birthday to give away as a party favor, but we forgot to give them out. The day before Halloween, I went back, expecting them to be all sold out but hit the jackpot. Nobody else seems to have discovered just how cool these eyeballs are–so I bought the rest, about 40 in all. I placed them all along the walk and the stairs up to our front door, and then around the corners of our front porch. Here’s a part of the effect:

eyeballs on teh stairs

The rest of the porch is “decked out” with a variety of ghouls, ghosts and skeletons which I have purchased through the years–almost always the day after Halloween at 50% off. The pirate head is sound-activated and drops down on a string then slowly ascends while calling out gruff and nasty warnings: turn back or face your DOO-O-O-O-O-M. etc.  The bat actually flaps its wings and flies around in a circle. And of course there are the obligatory fake spider webs draped all over everything, conveniently sticking to the stucco and hanging potted plants. The more benign decorations are left over from when the kids were younger. It seems their fascination with ugly and dead has only grown through the years.
pirate headskull ladyspiderbatlamp lady - cropgreen witchpirate head cuvampire ladywelcome signskull head cufriendly ghost and witch

Just as last year, my kids had great costumes.  This year, Eva was a 1940’s pin-up girl, complete in black and white. Ben was another anime character, this time  Wolfwood from Trigun.
Eva's costume - cropped Ben

For the past few years, they’ve gone out on their own with friends while Jon and I get to stay at home and hand out candy, checking out all the creative costumes as the kids traipse through our neighborhood. For two hours, the doorbell is constantly ringing, and the street is flowing with trick-or-treaters. We probably had over 100 come to our door. I am always careful to buy lots of candy, saving all the good stuff (Heath bars, Reece’s cups, dark chocolate kisses) for last so if when I over estimate, it’s only another plus!

As a final treat for you readers, I link to an article that looks at Halloween as a lesson in economics: an opportunity to experience the value and benevolence of free trade!
Halloween and its Candy Economy

I know I sure got my share of enjoyment in exchange for the sweets I gave away!!