Week of 16 March 2009
Update: Sunday, 22 March 2009 10:11 -0400
Barbara just called to say she'd arrived at work after her early doctor
appointment at the orthopedic specialist. The news isn't great. The
doctor says she needs a knee replacement, but the doctor and Barbara
agree that she's too young to have that done yet. They're looking into
braces and other alternatives, but ultimately she'll need to get the
knee replacement. In the interim, they'll manage it with exercise,
painkillers, and perhaps a brace.
And it's time to start thinking about doing our income taxes, which means I'll be in a bad mood for the next month or so.
- Yuck. Michael Shermer interviews "creation scientist" Georgia Purdom at the Creation Museum.
Believe it or not, this woman holds a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from
Ohio State, which raises serious questions in my mind about the rigor
of OSU graduate programs in the hard sciences. In her own words,
when Shermer asks her how she would construct experiments to test her
hypotheses, she replies, "We wouldn't do that because we know there's
no point in doing that because the Bible has the answer." So much for
"creation science", which clearly isn't science at all.
In a related news story, a North Carolina judge has ordered a woman who is Christian home-schooling her children to enroll those children in a public school.
She and her husband are in the middle of a divorce, and the father
wants the children to be at least exposed to real science. All sides
agree that the children are thriving in the home school environment,
outperforming their peers by about two grades. That's typical for home
schooled children, and one of the reasons I'm a strong advocate of home
But the mother admits she's teaching them science
from a Christian perspective, which of course isn't really science at
all. The article doesn't go into detail, but it sounds like she's
using "science" texts from Bob Jones University, A Beka, or one of the
other Christian textbook publishers. In one sense, those Christian
homeschooling science texts are quite rigorous, more so than the texts
typically used in pubic schools.
Unfortunately, they fall down
badly by presenting religious propaganda as fact, for example by
pushing pseudoscience like "Intelligent Design" over real science like
evolution. Believe it or not, these so-called "science" texts present
as fact such wacko ideas as the earth being only 6,000 years old,
dinosaurs being present on Noah's Ark, the speed of light being
much slower now than it was in the recent past (to explain away
galaxies and other astronomical objects that are more than 6,000 light
years distant), and radioactive decay rates changing (to explain carbon
14 dates more than 6,000 years in the past). These books cloak nutjob
pseudoscience in the trappings of real science, which makes them even
more dangerous. The father is right to be concerned.
In general, MSM news reporting seems to be pretty consistent. That is,
if FoxNews and CNN both report on a story, the facts they report are
generally the same, although obviously their interpretations often
differ. So I was surprised to see the major differences in how Fox and
CNN have been reporting the Natasha Richardson story. Fox broke the
story yesterday. Soon after its initial story, Fox reported that
Richardson was brain dead and being transported from Canada to a New
York City hospital, where life support would be disconnected. CNN
didn't report the story at all for some time after FoxNew's original
report, and then reported only that Richardson had been involved in an
accident and was hospitalized. As of this morning, CNN had Richardson
"recovering in New York City hospital after ski fall".
the coverage from these two sources, it would seem that Richardson was
killed yesterday but is recovering this morning. One thing is sure.
Either FoxNews or CNN is going to come out of this looking very bad.
- As it turns out, Fox was right and CNN should be embarrassed by their coverage of the Natasha Richardson accident.
More on the decision by a North Carolina judge
to force children who were being home schooled to attend a public
school. As much as I support home schooling and as much as I support
the right of people to live their lives free of government
intervention, the judge made the right decision here. Assuming the
article has the facts right, this woman appears to be a nutter who
joined what amounts to a religious cult, abandoned her marriage, and
attempted to program the kids to be good little cult members, all
against the wishes of the father. In addition to ordering that the
children begin attending public school, the judge ordered that the
mother undergo psychiatric examination. If anything, the judge may not
have gone far enough. As it is, the parents have joint custody. I'd
have seriously considered giving the father sole custody and the mother
only limited supervised visitation rights.
Just so we're
straight here, I support the right of parents to educate their children
as they wish, and that includes providing only a Christian so-called
education. But, and this is a key point, the parents must agree on how
their children are to be educated. In a case like this, where the
parents completely disagree, to the extent that they've involved the
court system in the decision, that decision is out of their hands. This
case isn't about religious home schooling or church-state separation.
This case is about a judge having to decide what's best for the
children because the parents cannot agree.
People who try to
conflate home schooling and religion are doing no service to home
schooling. It's true that home schooling was in the past usually
done for religious reasons, but most of the recent growth in
home schooling has resulted from secular families taking up home
schooling. Even in bible-belt North Carolina, only about two thirds of
home school families are home schooling for religious reasons. Ten
years ago, it was close to 100%. Nationwide, home schoolers are
probably split about 50/50 religious/secular, and the trend is
definitely toward secular.
And the number of home schoolers is
large and growing. In Forsyth County, between 4% and 5% of our students
are currently being home schooled, with roughly the same percentage in
private schools. In other words, only about 90% of school-age children
are currently enrolled in the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Public
Schools, and that percentage is falling. It would be falling even
faster if it weren't for one particular nonsensical restriction
imposed at the behest of teachers unions, who will do anything to
prevent the growth of home schooling.
Mandating single-family instruction, which is to say prohibiting
unrelated children from being taught together or children being taught
by an adult to whom they are not related. For example, if the Smith
family and the Jones family are both home schooling, the restrictions
forced by the teachers unions prohibit Mr. Smith from teaching the
Jones children or Mrs. Jones from teaching the Smith children.
to themselves, the Smith and Jones families might decide to form an
informal teaching co-op. Mr. Smith, who has a strong background in
history and literature, might teach those subjects to the children of
both families, while Mrs. Jones, who has a strong background in science
and mathematics, might teach those subjects to the children of both
families. Under current law, that's not permitted. Obviously, it would
be in the best interests of the children to permit it, in fact to
encourage it. But the teachers unions are horrified at the idea,
because they understand that permitting this would cause home schooling
to explode in popularity, eliminating teaching jobs in public schools.
it's not simply a matter of sharing expertise. It's a matter of freeing
up adults to both teach home school and work a regular day job. Mrs.
Jones may not be able to work full-time as a home school teacher, but
she may well be able to arrange flex time at her day job so that she
can work there four days a week and teach home school one day a week.
The nightmare of the teachers unions is that Mrs. Jones and Mr. Smith
will form a co-op with three other families, with each adult teaching
one day a week and working his or her day job four days a week. If that
idea ever caught on, the teachers unions are in deep trouble, and they
know it. Worse still, what happens if ten families get together,
reducing the teaching burden to one day every two weeks, or, if both
parents from all ten families participate, one day a month each? Or,
shudder, what happens if those ten families decide to pool their
resources and hire a full-time teacher to take on most of the teaching
So, all of us who support home schooling should be
pushing hard to eliminate such ridiculous restrictions. The decision
about how to educate their children should rest solely with the
parents, whether they choose to do so individually or cooperatively.
Barbara has been watching the NCAA basketball tournament. College
basketball is big in North Carolina. I'm not entirely sure about the
rules for fans, but I think it goes something like this: (a) if your
team is playing, you cheer for them to win; (b) if your team is not
playing but another North Carolina team is playing, you cheer for them
to win; (c) if no North Carolina team is playing, but a non-NC ACC team
is playing, you cheer for them to win; and (d) if no ACC team is
playing, you cheer for them both to lose. These rules result in some
odd things happening, such as UNC fans showing up yesterday to cheer
for Duke. The ideal outcome from the North Carolina fans' perspective
is an all-ACC final four.
I just read while Barbara watches the
games. She keeps the sound turned down, and she doesn't scream. On the
other hand, I sometimes think I hear faint female screams coming from
the direction of Paul's and Mary's house, which is only a couple miles
Speaking of athletic events, here's an amazing Youtube video of Extreme Shepherding, starring a cast of Border Collies.
I forgot to run my daily backup yesterday. It's funny. Most people
never back up at all and never worry about it. I do daily backups every
day and weekly backups every Sunday, and if I forget to do a backup it
bothers me. Even though the skipped backup was immaterial because I
hadn't done anything worth backing up since the Friday backup except
stuff that was already backed up to the remote server.
hitting on all cylinders yesterday because for the first time in months
we'd taken the telescope out for an observing session. For the first
time in a very long time, everything came together. No clouds, good
transparency, reasonable temperature, and no moon. We got to bed well
after midnight and, as usual after an observing session, I wasn't able
to go to sleep immediately. I remember Barbara's clock radio indicating
3:15 a.m. Then, about 8:00, Malcolm decided it was time for us to get
up. I took the dogs out so that Barbara could sleep in a bit. With less
than five hours sleep, I wasn't at my best yesterday.
ran errands. Home Depot for a new toilet seat and an appliance bulb for
the dryer (I ended up buying an LED nightlight, which puts out about a
tenth the light of a 15W appliance bulb, but suffices for emptying the
dryer in the dark), Wal*Mart for various things Barbara needed, a run
by Paul's and Mary's house to pick up and drop off some stuff, and a
stop at Walgreen's to pick up a couple of cans of butane lighter fuel.
By the time we got home, I'd completely forgotten about backing up.
night, Barbara watched basketball games while I finished the Val
McDermid mystery I'd started the night before and started the new Peter
Robinson mystery. Speaking of basketball, Paul tells me I was wrong
about UNC fans showing up to cheer for Duke. That's what the TV
announcer said, but Paul and Mary were at the game. Paul says the UNC
fans showed up, sat with the fans from the other team, and cheered
And Duncan thrashed the whole time. His back end
is so weak that he can't get up from the hardwood floors. We have throw
rugs scattered all over the place, but he simply refuses to lie on them
most of the time. So, literally 50 to 100 times a day on most days, I
hear Duncan thrashing and have to go help him up. Whereupon he goes
somewhere else, flops down, waits five minutes or so, and starts
thrashing again. Yesterday, he was worse than usual. Literally every
couple of minutes either Barbara or I would have to go help him up.
turned 14 years old on New Year's Day, which, interpolating the
vet's weight chart, makes him about 100 years old in people years.
Still, despite the thrashing, he's enjoying life. He still eats pretty
well, is usually up for playing ball (slowly, but he tries his best),
and is always up for going for a walk. The previcox seems to work for
controlling pain. Knowing that I'm home all day dealing with it,
Barbara has asked me once or twice if I think it's time to have Duncan
put down. But Barbara and I agree that we won't put down a dog for our
convenience. It won't be time until Duncan is no longer enjoying life.
asked Barbara the other night if I should check with the vet about a
do-it-yourself euthanasia kit, which she agreed would be a good idea.
We're concerned for two reasons. First, Duncan rear hips are so weak
that he could break one or both joints at any time. If that happens,
he'd be in agonizing pain and even attempting to move him would make it
worse. Second, even if we make the decision in a non-emergent
situation, Duncan is now terrified of car trips. Just getting him into
the back of Barbara's Trooper would be difficult. He panics and starts
thrashing around. We'd have to muzzle him, because he will bite when he
panics. We'd like to spare him the terror of that last vet trip if
Unless the vet has a better idea, I'm going to ask him
for enough barbiturates to put Duncan down painlessly when the day
arrives that it needs to be done. We'll see what he says.
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