Sunday, September 28, 2008

Like a vagabond with a fishing pole

Last week was the first week of class, and I'm wiped out. I'm taking one (1) class, a freshman geology course that has me in class a grand total of 7 hours a week and is an easy A, and I'm completely wiped out. I feel like I have the flu.

Its almost hard to believe that I'm seriously considering several years of this. Who voluntarily puts themselves through this much pain? I must be crazy.

My teacher is also crazy, and one of the worst things about the class is that she stands in the front spouting insane, impossible shit and I can't rebut and save the minds of the rest of the class from debilitating ignorance.

I know I have a tendency to exaggerate drama, but I'm really not kidding here. An example:

She is convinced that global warming isn't caused by human influence. Now, a lot of people believe this because they have a vested interest in doing whatever the fuck they want to the environment and their beliefs follow their interests, and she used to work for an oil company, so maybe that's all there is to it. However, the alternate explanation for global warming is so off the wall that her acceptance of it makes me wonder why she's a science teacher.

The cause of global warming, she says, is solar wind. Not directly, though- nothing as simple as solar winds heating the atmosphere and causing climate change. No, you see, solar winds have been less strong in the last 30-50 years than they were before that, which is a problem because solar winds exert pressure on the Earth's atmosphere, so when the solar winds are less strong, less pressure on the Earth's atmosphere means the atmosphere expands. When the atmosphere expands, the lowered air pressure allows the tectonic plates (and I guess the whole Earth) to expand, widening the space between plates and allowing magma to push up from the core into the plate boundaries under the oceans at the poles, causing an increase in undersea volcanoes which heat up the ocean water. The heated ocean water causes the sea ice to melt and affects the weather.

At least its a novel and exciting theory, right? Even if it does rely on a complete misunderstanding of gravity.

I guess in one sense, its encouraging that someone like this can get a job as a science teacher. It means I have a chance of finding employment, which is a thought that is at least partially appealing. I really hate doing things that make me feel this ill, but I also hate living in the room behind my parents' house. Enduring pain and fatigue and idiocy like this are all part of the plan to get me a crappy studio apartment of my very own.

My dedication to this plan gets more and more tenuous the more I think about it, so I've been not thinking about it. I've been knitting, and I read Kit Whitfield's Benighted yesterday, it's really quite good. I also started up a short story set in the Left Behind universe. Slacktivist finished LB Fridays, or at least finished the analysis of the first book, and I figure if there's any time to write a foefic for Right Behind, now is it. Although the story is looking a bit long and not showing any signs of ending, so it might be too long to post on Right Behind. We'll see.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A wicked wind will blow

There are spiders everywhere, and its cold and gloomy. I hate the weather in this state.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

cross your fingers, hold your toes

I complain a lot about my family and how they're a bunch of wacky religious fundamentalists, but really they're great people to hang out with. Yesterday I went out with my two little sisters and my mother and my sisters' friend to the Puyallup Fair, which is the biggest fair in Washington state and is apparently an annual outing for my family. Its a sign of how far away from them I've been the last several years that I didn't even know that my mother takes my siblings to the fair every year. Anyway, we went, and now I'm totally exhausted from walking around for five hours and eating too much cotton candy. I got some neat pictures.

There were cows

and goats

and more goats

and cuddly piglets

and gnomes

and I got a cane that folds out into a chair, about which I am very excited, and which is the reason I am able to function today and am not stuck in bed writhing about in pain.

This is my sister modeling the cane. She has homeschooled her entire life, is pro-life and goes to church a couple times a week. She is brilliant: she's 17, and will be getting her AA degree from the local community college in two quarters. Once she does that, she wants to go on a Mission Year, because she believes in service. As you can see, she has dreadlocks and a snappy attitude. What you can't see is that she plays the piano and the harp, paints and tutors a kid in math three times a week, reads science fiction and listens to obscure folk music while she bakes cookies just because she wants to. She really is one of my favorite people.

I forget, sometimes, that the people with whom I find myself disagreeing, on issues as important as the definition of truth, are real people. They are complex, with motivations I may not currently understand but would probably find sympathetic. They create beautiful things and mean well for the world and love and are loved. They may be ordinary, or be extraordinarily talented and brilliant and wrong about some things but not about everything.

Its easier to oppose caricatures, or at least, its easier to be angry with an enemy that is mad, unreasonable, greedy and evil. In a country as big as the US, it gets much easier to keep these caricatures close to our hearts, because with so many people around there is always a way to find the people who think like you do and shut out those who disagree. This is a false way of seeing the world, though. No one is actually a caricature, and in the long run holding on to an untruthful vision of the enemy contributes as much to the divisions between people as the actual differences of opinion do. I know my own enlightenment in this respect isn't going to change the state of society- I wonder if anything can change things, when a society is this big- but I try to remember it anyway.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Devil in Dover

I just finished reading The Devil in Dover, by Lauri Lebo, which I know I saw mentioned somewhere on a blog that I read recently, but now I can't for the life of me remember where I saw it. Its a great book, not just for the fascinating portrait of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial but also for Lebo's reflections on the nature of faith and truth.

I have been thinking about truth, and Truth, myself lately. The school year started a few days ago, so I have overheard my religious mother reading aloud to the kids she homeschools about how everything they think ought to be guided by a religious perspective. Slactivist's post on "biblical worldview" brought up all kinds of memories of my own religious indoctrination, both ancient and as recent as this morning.

For a certain kind of religious fundamentalist, mostly the kind that uses the same keywords Slacktivist notices, nothing is more important than Truth. See for example Focus on the Family's "The Truth Project," a small group study which advertises with the question "Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?" and which aims to tutor average Christians in fundamentalist apologetics, transforming them into bigoted footsoldiers ready to fight for FotF's pet causes. The thing is, Truth and truth are not the same thing. FotF et al only advocate "truth" when they're able to change the definition of the word to something no regular person would call true.

From FotF's

The Truth Project begins by defining truth as “that which conforms to reality.” But it’s much deeper than that. It’s about one’s personal worldview, which we define as “the set of individual truth claims which I embrace so deeply that I believe they reflect what is really real – and therefore they drive what I think, how I act, and what I feel.”

Many people today – unfortunately, most people – don’t seem to think that there is any universal standard of absolute truth. But we believe differently. The purpose of The Truth Project is to develop a biblical worldview: “A formal worldview based ultimately upon that nature, character, and being of God as it is expressed in His infallible Word [the Bible] and His creation. It becomes the foundation for a life system that governs every area of existence.

For us, the “truth” is God’s truth, as set forth supremely and most definitively in the Bible – and we regard this truth to be absolute in the sense that it cannot be compromised and is not open to purely subjective interpretation. Ultimately, we cannot dissect the truth; we can only proclaim it.

Truth in their hands has nothing to do with observation of reality, and everything to do with parroting
a line received from religious elders. If their religious doctrine explicitly and provably contradicts real events, well, reality has to bend. Truth, after all, is the infallible Word of God Himself and is not open to interpretation by reality or any other damn thing.

Lebo came up against people with this way of thinking during the Dover trial. The devout Christians who tried to adopt a school policy teaching intelligent design alongside evolution lied repeatedly under oath, but seemed not to even be aware that they were lying. I have no trouble believing that they didn't recognize what they were doing as lying. If "trying to advance the kingdom of God" and "telling the truth" are synonymous, then as long as a person is convinced that what they're doing is right, what they say is true. The videotape proving that their statements are not true has nothing to do with anything; only God's will is relevant.

Truth- real truth, facts and proof and, you know, reality- is important to civil society. I may be one of the godless heathens the Truth Project accuses of "reject[ing] the value of rational thought, deny[ing] the existence of moral and spiritual absolutes, and affirm[ing] the right and power of the individual to invent his or her own reality," but I know that human interaction is predicated on a certain amount of trust. Yes, people lie and manipulate all the time, but when they deny the reality they're interacting in, communication is impossible. Efforts to indoctrinate people in denying reality, redefining truth as blind adherence to dogma, are efforts to destroy the fabric of interaction that makes society possible.

I know I don't know how to communicate with people who are sunk deep into this fundamentalism
, and it troubles me. I have been driven all the way back to my roots these past couple of months and I find, like Lebo, that my home is full of lies, and the only way to cope with this pernicious worldview is to just not talk about it at all. Its very isolating.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Freedom Isn't Free!

At the RNC last week Mike Huckabee made a speech about how great veterans (and therefore John McCain) are (/is). He told a story about a teacher who taught her students that their education had been earned by veterans who fought for the country. Here's the YouTube video. Its a standard sort of story to tell about veterans, and I must admit, there's a part of me that appreciates this sort of unthinking hero worship, both purely for the social approval and also because I suspect that, the more widespread this sort of emotional reaction to the concept of fighting for one's country is, the more likely I am to wrench a disability stipend large enough to live off out of the VA. However, as selfish as I feel about the topic, there is something very wrong about framing military service this way.

First of all, its just not accurate to say that all the good things in our lives, our freedoms and privileges and so on, are due to the heroic efforts of American soldiers. Most countries in the world have schools with desks in them. When I was fourteen, I went with a group of teenagers to Kenya for the summer to build an addition to a school building way out in the bush, and even there, in a place where some families had to walk hours each way to bring drinking water back to their homes and plenty of families had to choose one of several children to send to school because they couldn't afford the $1-2 for uniforms and books for every child, once the kids got into school they had desks.

Even when you look at things less easy to identify than school desks, things like freedom and prosperity and other abstract nouns, its hard to imagine an alternate history that would have resulted in a nation that was completely unrecognizable. If, for example, the colonies had lost the Revolutionary War, there would never have been a United States, or a US Army, but there would still be people living here where we are now, and are Canada and Australia so alien and oppressed? Or maybe if we had never entered World War II- Europe would be a somewhat different place, and so would Southeast Asia, but does anyone seriously think that the North American continent would have been invaded with any success? Or if we had declined to fight the Cold War, does anyone really think that people in Kansas would be speaking Russian now, let alone learning Russian without the benefit of a school desk? There are a multitude of factors that contribute to a nation's identity. Military action is only one, and probably not even the most important when considered against things like basic geography. Attributing everything great about America to our military is just incorrect, and that irritates me.

However, there is a result of this attitude that is even worse than being factually wrong. When people believe that our comfortable American lives are directly due only to the action of our military, it is too easy to slip into thinking that any action our military takes benefits our comfortable American lives. Saying it like that makes it seem like a ridiculous belief, but people hold onto it. For some, it is even an essential part of patriotism. Freedom isn't free, you know, so if we're spending trillions of dollars and unmeasurable human agony in a foreign country, we must be paying for freedom. The military takes action to protect us from threats to our way of life, so if the military is taking action there must be a threat to our way of life. Fight them over there because the fight is all that stands between us and Iraqi tanks rolling down the streets of Wichita and Seattle and Houston.

Of course this is logically ridiculous. The only direct relationship between the occupation of Iraq and school desks in Tennessee is the lack of funding for school desks due to the cost of body armor. John McCain served honorably at great personal cost, but the war in Vietnam, like the war in Iraq, was not in any sense necessary to the survival of the United States and had nothing to do with the opportunity to attend middle school in homey, small town America. Anyone with a grasp of the most basic details of history should be able to see that. This particular brand of fuzzy thinking is so prevalent, though, that Huckabee gave his silly speech and got all kinds of applause for it.

Liberals, at least of this generation, tend to feel just as obliged to engage in this silly soldier worship as conservatives. This last Sunday afternoon I attended a meeting at the local library of a group of anti-war activists, and when they found out I was a veteran they all made a point of thanking me for my service. I really wouldn't prefer to be spat on and called a baby killer, but there must be a middle way. Deifying soldiers is barely a step away from mythologizing war, which is a direct cause of violent atrocities orders of magnitude worse than being insulted by some random jerk, and until these attitudes change I can't help but think that an anti-war group isn't going to be successful at all.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

a tiny prayer to father time

I was going to write a bit of a rant about the framing of Gov Palin's decision not to abort her youngest son, who has Down's Syndrome, but this post at Shakesville pretty much says it better than I was going to.

Instead of my fascinating thoughts on politics, then, here are some pictures of my latest project, Lion Brand's #1100. The yarn is so thick that it only took me a few days to knit it, even though my first version ended up too big and I redid the front and back pieces. The sweater is still pretty bulky, but its oh so warm, and it suits me.

Now that that sweater is done, I'm starting on another one, for my little brother. My grandmother used to knit quite a bit, and when she died my mother inherited a half-finished sweater, which has been sitting in the closet for at least fifteen years. My mother never did anything with it, because there isn't enough yarn to finish the original sweater, but I have a new pattern (Durrow) and I'm excited to start working on it. The cables on this pattern are much more difficult than anything I've done before and the yarn is antique and if I keep this up I may one day produce a sweater that's actually stylish.

I am becoming quite the knitting geek. I have an account on Ravelry (my username there is Tayi also) and the last few books I got from the library are books on tape so I can listen to them and knit at the same time. I wonder if this is some flaw inherent in my personality, that I am apparently unable to do anything part-time, even knitting.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

well everything is eclipsed

So Elizabeth challenged her readers to do two things over the holiday weekend: go outside and have some fun, and give someone something. I'm still working on the second part (I need to go to a yarn store, but that means getting gas and driving and finding my way around an unfamiliar part of town and I just haven't done it yet), but yesterday I went up the mountains with my dad and my little brother to pick out a truck full of rocks with flat surfaces so my dad can pave a walkway in his back yard. As you can imagine, I wasn't much help with picking up the rocks and carrying them to the truck, but I spotted some good ones, carried a few little ones, and stood around taking pictures.

The pictures are really the exciting part. We drove several miles up an old logging road to a spot where a rock slide came down almost to the road. There are quite a few slides on top of these mountains; whether they're from clear-cut logging or occur naturally I'm not sure, but they're all over the place, even in spots where the old clear-cuts have grown in over twenty-five years or so. The rocks here are mostly granite, with some kind of shale in spots, and there is at least one gravel quarry across the mountain from where we were.

Anyway, the view from the rock slide was really great. There were no trees in the way, so we could see down into the valley for miles. It was freezing, and for a while we were inside a cloud, but these pictures are worth it.

When we got home, we went over to a neighbor's yard and picked plums off their plum tree, and today we're canning and drying peaches and plums. So maybe, if helping with a project counts as a gift, I've got that covered too.