Monthly Archives: February 2003

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Last week, the assistant manager at my apartment complex asked if I could talk to a reporter. There had been a tragic incident (a woman was murdered) in one on the buildings. She wanted some long-time residents to speak to this reporter.

As soon as he started talking, I knew he had an angle--and a bad one. He told me that some residents referred to the apartment complex as a "luxury ghetto". I gave him nothing he wanted. I've never had problems here, and this is an absolutely great place to live. Nonetheless, I knew he'd write a smear piece.

I was right.

Today the complex actually distributed a letter of apology to every tenant, for the article, and for the people who were misquoted and misrepresented. The reporter made up the vast majority of the article from whole cloth. He spun, he twisted, and he lied. I'm sure he'll have a great career.

I could kick myself for not finding out about this sooner. One of my favorite childhood stars, Skeleton Warrior, was found dead last weekend.

My most vivid memory of Skelly is from Jason and the Argonauts. Leading the pack, no one could scare like that bonehead with the devilish expression. Did you know he trained for six months with fencing champ Albert Axelrod before shooting began? Skelly was the hardest working bag of bones in Hollywood.

A special tribute site has been set up. One of the most touching pieces is this flash movie, with highlights from SW's career.

We'll miss you, Skelly.

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Every few nights, my husband I and read (at the moment, philosophy) to one another, and discuss what we've read. We have to be careful to do this early in the evening, or we don't get enough sleep.

Right now, before we tackle anything in depth, we're going through Nigel Warburton's Philosophy: The Basics, and last night we came to Aristotle's Virtue Theory.

Aristotle believed that every human wished to achieve eudaimonia, or the flourishing of a complete, happy life. One accomplished this by the cultivation of virtues. Therein lies the rub. What are virtues? The trap in trying to define virtues is the tendency to codify either one's own prejudices, or the prevailing morality of the time. For example, if I like Mercedes Benz, I might define one virtue as appreciation of fine craftsmanship.

I decided I liked the idea of cultivating virtues, but not the nebulousness of said virtues. Couldn't one perhaps apply a brand of utilitarianism--look for those things which bring about the most good for the most people--and find our elusive virtues?

Another problem with Virtue Theory is that it assumes the existence of a human nature. If we accept this as a starting point, one way to define human nature is to look at what people actually do, then try to reduce these actions to their most basic elements. We would hunt for this objective example of human nature, and then, if possible, apply our utilitarian virtue.

We began with culture. Humans are social animals, and will always form some sort of society. In the establishment of a group, there will always be two basic processes: education to impart the culture, and the development of hierarchy. I thought these two might be expressions of human nature. Bill thought these things arose naturally as a consequence of cooperative group living. Perhaps the creation of a culture was human nature? Well, not really, because the creation of culture is more of a survival skill for humans. Nonetheless, the idea of cooperating with the group was integrated into our solution in a way.

More intrinsic, and certainly more individual, than the creation of culture is the expression of emotion. Unless we're seriously ill, we all express emotions in great quantity and variety. It is certainly a distinctive (though not uniquely) human characteristic. We decided it was a good candidate for a chunk of human nature.

So where is the virtue with which one develops this nature? The virtue is empathy. When one applies empathy to emotions, the result is mercy, generosity, fairness, and a number of other qualities that benefit humanity as a whole, as well as creating eudaimonia in the individual. When empathy is not practiced, the result is greed, selfishness, and the type of sociopathy that allows acts such as murder and robbery. Empathy informs our conscience.

We briefly explored the possibility of other basic aspects of human nature, and what virtue might be applied, but again and again, we came back to empathy.

Now I suppose we should actually read some Aristotle to see if he came up with something similar.

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I don't do this very often anymore, but sometimes I run across a site that simply must be mentioned.

Alas, A Blog is one of the best reads I've seen in ages. Entries are well-considered and even-handed. The writing is bright and easy to follow--especially for slackers like me to won't scroll unless they are compelled by the content.

For an added treat, the author is a cartoonist, and a good one.

So go heap praise on him already.

We were here this weekend:

Gorgeous Victoria, BC. The lit building in the shot is Parliament, as Victoria is the capital of BC.

We went with our friends Kelly and John, driving up to Port Angeles and taking the Coho to Victoria. The weather was perfect. Okay, cold, but perfect. We walked quickly. We had a great time wandering the Crystal Garden (where I fell in love with the pygmy marmosets); Miniature World (this place is cooler than you're thinking. I promise.); Royal London Wax Museum (they got the six wives of Henry VIII totally wrong!); and the Royal BC Museum (fantastic collection).

We got a mean INS lady on the way back, but I'm trying not to think about that. No worries, Bill is fine. He'll just have to visit Aus one more time than we'd hoped would be necessary. Ah well, it's a good excuse to see the olds.

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I've been thinking about my ultimate school. The one I would found if I had unlimited resources. Just to be vain, we'll call it the Connor School. Here's my outline of raw ideas.

General

  • The Connor school would teach about 1000 students (or however many I could fund), K-12, plus daycare.

  • Teaching would continue year-round, with breaks of a few weeks each to allow for family vacations.
  • Students would attend class from 8-5, with an hour for lunch. Just like the real world. Class schedules would allow teachers time for class prep.
  • The school would be located downtown, in a well-appointed building.
  • The school would include an excellent library, with computers available, and a full-time librarian. Not a moonlighting English teacher.
  • Tuition, materials, etc, would be free, and admission to the school would be on a first come, first served basis, with only a few guidelines:
    1. The parent must read and agree to the curriculum. Any objections to the curriculum would be heard by the school board, but would probably result in the expulsion of the family. The family would be required to sign a waiver preventing them from filing suit on the grounds of curriculum.

    2. The school would prefer to teach all the children in one family, so the parents could concentrate on involvement with one school. Exceptions would, of course, be considered.
    3. The younger the oldest child in the family is, the better. Children in grade six or above would have a difficult time adapting. Exceptions would be considered.
    4. Parental involvement would be required. Missing more than two parent-teacher meetings in a row could be grounds for expulsion of the family. If the parent requires some assistance to attend meetings, all options would be considered.

Teaching and Teachers

  • The best teachers would be recruited, and paid $60-100K to begin, depending upon experience.

  • Class size would be limited to 20 students.
  • At the beginning of each year, all students would be tested for learning style. Classes would be divided into "tracks" according to style, so students would be taught in the manner most appropriate to their individual needs.
  • An adequate staff of tutors would be available to handle individual issues--weaknesses and strengths.
  • A staff of counselors would be required to make sure no student could fall through the cracks.

Student Environment

Two Big Rules:

  1. Do not prevent learning, for others or yourself.

  2. Treat others with respect.

Disruptive students would be helped through tutoring, counseling, and family involvement. If every attempt failed, the entire family would be expelled, with no chance for re-entry. Expulsion would be an extreme last resort. Other bits:

  • Student individuality is encouraged. Publish a paper or webzine, wear wild clothes, get your tongue pierced. Just remember to treat your teachers and fellow students with respect.

  • Students will be under constant scrutiny. They'll be watched for grades, behavior changes, etc. The idea is to head off problems before they become obstacles to learning.
  • A fixed number of students will serve on the school board, on a volunteer basis. A student may only serve one term on the board. Any other student leadership positions would be filled on a volunteer basis, rather than by election.
  • Locker rooms will be well supervised, and shower and changing rooms will be private.
  • Medical staff will be available on school grounds.
  • Students will get lunch plus two breaks. Food will be available during breaks. Lunches will be really good. No fast food or corporate vending machines will be available. After grade seven, students may leave campus for lunch.
  • No social promotion. A foundering student should be noticed and helped before they fail. If not, then they get a tutor and another try.

Curriculum

Required courses for all years:

  • Math

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Science
  • Physical Education
  • Current Events
  • Foreign language
  • Human Dynamics (dealing with people you hate, family dynamics, self esteem, sex ed., ethics, etc.)
  • World History

Required courses at some time (not sure when):

  • Critical thinking (learning how to learn!)

  • Adult Prep (finances, cooking, cleaning, etc.)
  • Spanish

My favorite on the list is Current Events--just discussing the events of the day and using this to bring in historical context, politics, law, etc.

Stuff that I, personally, want to see students learn:

  • How to decide what their personal ethics are, and live by them.

  • To understand how advertising works in our society, and make informed choices.
  • How to take care of themselves.
  • How to find the answers to their questions.

The goal of the school: to produce well-informed individuals who can express themselves, and make a real contribution to the world.

So, anybody wanna give me a few bil?

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In 1986, I was working for Circle Seal controls in California. They had many military contracts, among them one for seals for the space shuttle program. I was their international Telex operator when Challenger went down. January 28 was a day of little work, stunned news watching, deep guilt (though it turned out it wasn't our seal), and condolences in broken English from all over the world.

When I got up today I thought someone was doing a report on that tragedy. When I realized what had happened, I felt that horrified sadness again.

I know there are greater losses of life in the world, greater tragedies. But when a shuttle goes up, it's the loss of a dream.