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Week of 16 March 2009

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Monday, 16 March 2009
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09:22 - 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.


Tuesday, 17 March 2009
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09:02 - 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 schooling.

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.


Wednesday, 18 March 2009
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08:38 - 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".

Combining 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.


Thursday, 19 March 2009
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09:06 - 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.

What restriction? 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.

Left 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.

And 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 duties?

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.


Friday, 20 March 2009
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08:43 - 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 away.

Speaking of athletic events, here's an amazing Youtube video of Extreme Shepherding, starring a cast of Border Collies.


Saturday, 21 March 2009
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00:00 -


Sunday, 22 March 2009
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10:11 - 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.

I wasn't 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.

Then we 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.

Last 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 against Duke.

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.

Duncan 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.

I 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 possible.

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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