A Couple Of Things

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 02:00:44 pm

It's getting harder and harder for me to write these days. With two kids to take care of now, I have less free time than ever before, and even when I am able to get on the computer I'm usually holding Eva in one arm, making it difficult to type anything.

Erika and Eva are out of town for the day and Daniel is taking a nap, which leaves me alone for the first time in a very long while. So here I am, at the computer, with my hands finally free...and I have nothing to write.

Oh, I have some ideas floating around (most significantly an entry for NPR's This I Believe essay series) but it's going to take a lot of time for any of them to solidify.

So in lieu of anything worthwhile to say, here is a cute picture of my two great achievements of the summer.

2 Things


Election Musings

Filed under: Politicsjksterup   @ 03:31:06 pm

I'm excited about the presidential election this year in a way that I've been excited about no other election before.

For one thing, I actually love one of the candidates. Usually I have to settle for whatever bland, middle-of-the-road choice the Democratic party makes, but this time I actually get to vote for a dynamic leader who I agree with on nearly every issue. I genuinely think Obama is exactly what the country needs right now.

I also think Obama is what voters want. After eight years of unnecessary war, government corruption, and a dismal economy, people are desperate for something new. Obama ought to be the winner on every single major issue. All that stands between him and the presidency is five months of misleading political ads, vacuous TV commentators, and inevitable character assassinations.

But even in the dirty reality of political campaigns things look brighter for Obama than they did for previous Democratic candidates. I remembered recently something I learned from a college history professor. The recent trend in politics is for presidents to come from executive branches of government, rather than legislative.

It started with Jimmy Carter, who presented himself as a humble governor of Georgia and therefore a Washington outsider. He was followed by Ronald Reagan, former governor of California; George Bush I, Reagan's vice president; Bill Clinton, governor of Arkansas; and of course George Bush II, governor of Texas. Not one of them was a senator before becoming president.

The reason for this trend is pretty simple. Candidates who come from Senate careers have long voting records to deal with. As we saw with John Kerry in 2004, pundits have all kinds of ways to use a voting record against a candidate: counting votes on bills, amendments, and even procedural movements to come up with inflated figures on how often someone voted for tax increases (or failed to vote for tax cuts). Numbers lie, and when you're dealing with something as complex as Senate procedure, the numbers can be made to lie in ways most of us can't even comprehend.

So what does this have to do with the 2008 election? For the first time in decades we have two candidates from the Senate, which means they are on equal footing. Neither one has the advantage that the governor-presidents have enjoyed for so long. But also, Obama is relatively new, and so does not carry as much of a voting record burden, especially when it comes to the crucial vote to invade Iraq, whereas John McCain has been a congressman since 1982.


This is why it's great to have two kids

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 05:32:58 am

The long, sleepless nights and early mornings may be the death of me, but seeing this makes it all worthwhile.


Dear Scott McClellan,

Filed under: Politicsjksterup   @ 06:26:01 pm

I have little respect for somebody who kept silent during seven years of the worst government abuses of my generation, helped sell an unnecessary war based on false information and propaganda, and lied to the American public on a daily basis, only to suddenly develop a conscience long after the ship has sailed.

While I it's nice to hear that at least somebody in Bush's circle isn't pleased with what his actions have done to our country, your dissenting voice would have been far more helpful before the United States invaded Iraq, or at least while the president was running for re-election in 2004, to stop him from doing even more damage. Instead, you've chosen to speak only after the Bush presidency has reached total lame duck status and a vast majority of Americans have already drawn the same conclusions as you.

Yes, your book confirms what some Iraq war critics have been saying since the beginning, but in June 2008 it can serve no practical effect other than to relieve your own personal guilt.



Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 08:24:52 pm

It's been exactly two years since Daniel was born, which is a little hard to believe. But then it's also hard for me to remember a time when we didn't have kids.

And yes, that is a cake shaped like a truck. Daniel is fascinated with all manner of trucks, tractors, buses, and other large vehicles, so Erika decided to treat him to a special birthday cake that looks like a semi. It was cute to hear Daniel say, "Truck...Cake."

This is a very fun age. Daniel's starting to talk a lot and he tries to repeat everything we say, which makes us very self-conscious about the language we use.

I'm rambling, which is probably due to the lack of sleep that results from having a toddler and a newborn.

So anyway, happy birthday to Daniel.


Life's a treat with Shaun the Sheep

Filed under: Movies and TVjksterup   @ 06:23:33 pm

I've just recently discovered the TV show Shaun the Sheep. I love just about anything from Aardman Animation, and this show is a spin-off of Wallace and Gromit, featuring the little sheep from A Close Shave, so I knew I would probably like it.

I'm happy to say it's even better than I hoped.

The show is about the adventures of a flock of sheep on a quaint little English farm. Each episode is only 7 minutes long, and there is absolutely no spoken dialogue--even the farmer communicates in gestures, grunts, and mumbles--and what the show's creators manage to do using only visual jokes is excellent.

I decided to show it to Daniel to see what he thinks of it, and he also became obsessed with it immediately. He always asks to watch more, and after watching "Timmy in a Tizzy," he kept pointing to the TV and saying, "sad," meaning he wanted to see the sad baby sheep again. We watched that episode three times before I insisted we quit. Here it is:

Unfortunately, this show has not been released in the US on DVD (watch out for Region 2 DVDs that don't work in American players), but resourceful Internet users should know how to find it online.


New Old Messianic Prophecy

Filed under: Religion, Newsjksterup   @ 11:55:57 am

I saw this over at Ancient Hebrew Poetry. You may have already read it if you subscribe to my Google Reader shared items (it's a great feature--Sometimes I use it to share posts on other blogs instead of linking to them here).

While I haven't yet had time to read all of the minute details, it seems that researchers recently found a stone tablet, dated to the first century BCE, that contains language predicting that the Messiah would be raised from the dead after three days.

You can get a pdf of a scholarly article about it through this site (or use this direct link). Here are some essential excerpts of the document, translated into English:

By three days you shall know that, thus said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, the evil has been broken by righteousness. Ask me, and I shall tell you what is this wicked branch tzemah...

In just a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth...

By three days, live, I Gabriel command you, prince of princes, the dung of the rocky crevices...

Apparently, the experts say it is authentic.

So what does this mean? If you're a Christian, it's yet another example of details of Jesus' life being predicted by prophets before his birth, which reinforces what you already believe.

If you're an atheist, it's more evidence that the doctrine of the resurrection was in existence before Christ, and was later grafted onto the Jesus story by Christians, which reinforces what you already believe.

Whichever angle you're coming from, it's at least an interesting historical find.



Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 07:17:57 am

Last night, after Daniel had his dinner and his milk, I told him it was time for bath and bed, per our usual routine. We have a whole system that we go through each night without deviation: Daniel comes with me into the bathroom; I start the water and he dumps his toys in the tub; as the water is filling up, we go in his room and I help him undress; Daniel runs naked and laughing into the bathroom and I help him get into the now-full bathtub; I was him with a washcloth and brush his teeth; I drain the water; Daniel puts his bath toys back in their container while I count them one at a time; I lift Daniel out of the tub and dry him off; Daniel runs back into his room naked and laughing.

We go through this process every night without deviation, and it works well for us because Daniel really loves bathtime and he likes the comfort of regular routines.

Well, last night I told Daniel it was time for his bath, which is the cue to begin our ritual. Daniel didn't want to start it yet, though. He wanted to hug Eva, stroke her head, hug her some more, give her a kiss, etc. During all of this I patiently reminded him that it was time for a bath. When I finally got him moving in the direction of the bathroom, he turned to go down the stairs to look at something out the window.

Out of patience, I picked Daniel up and carried him into the bathroom. He cried and screamed and fought me the whole time that I started the water and dumped his toys in the tub. He continued crying and yelling, "NO!" as I carried him into his room, held him on the floor, and undressed him. He screamed when I carried him into the bathroom. He screamed when I placed him in the bathtub. He screamed when I shut off the water. He screamed and tried to push my hand away while I washed him. When I finished washing, I put the wash cloth in the water. And just like that, Daniel suddenly stopped crying, picked up the wash cloth, and handed it back to me. I said, "Do you want me to wash you some more?" He smiled and said, "Yes."

So I wiped his face and began washing him more, not because he needed washing, but because I wanted so badly to get back to our happy, loving relationship. Daniel looked up at me and said:


"It's okay," I told him and patted his back.


"I love you," I told him with a sad smile.


This is a new thing with Daniel: when he knows he has done something to upset mom or dad, he looks at us with those big eyes of his and says sorry. It was nice to hear him say it at that moment, and I think it was appropriate for him to apologize for the way he was acting, but at the same time I wished he would stop saying it. Someone once said that being a parent means wearing your heart outside your body, which is absolutely true. Kids can make us feel a love so big that it hurts.

We were worried that when Eva was born Daniel would be jealous of the new baby, but his response has turned out to be far better than we ever could have hoped. From the moment he saw her, Daniel just wanted to hug and kiss Eva over and over again. By necessity Erika has been spending more time with the baby and I have been taking Daniel out of the house more to give her a rest. A few days ago Erika felt like she hadn't been spending enough time with Daniel, so I took Eva and let the two of them sit and hug for a while.

Erika was telling Daniel how great he's been with the new baby and how sorry she is that she hasn't been spending as much time cuddling with him. Erika started crying and Daniel looked up at her with those big brown eyes and said:


Still crying, Erika told him, "You didn't do anything wrong."


"I love you, Daniel."


New Beck Album in June

Filed under: Musicjksterup   @ 04:19:54 pm

Rolling Stone

Little bits of news have been coming down the tubes for a week or so, but this is the most in-depth piece so far.

The resulting album, tentatively titled Modern Guilt, is full of off-kilter rhythms and left-field breakdowns, with an overall 1960s British vibe. Beck’s vocals float over the music as if he’s singing along to some mystical radio station in the next room.

Each song started with Beck playing acoustic guitar over a drumbeat: If it made the cut, they’d flesh out the music, usually with Burton playing keyboard bass and Beck playing most of the other instruments. There were just a few guests: Joey Waronker added drums to the epic “Chem Trails,” which would have fit in nicely on an early Pink Floyd record.

This sounds terrific. I can't wait to hear it.

And I must say I like this new trend of artists speeding up their recording and release schedules to come out with unanticipated albums.


Trent Reznor's revolution

Filed under: Music, Newsjksterup   @ 01:36:17 pm

While I'm not a huge fan of Nine Inch Nails' music, I love the way the last several albums have been distributed. I blogged about the exciting viral marketing campaign for Year Zero, but I haven't mentioned the far more significant news of the two releases that followed it.

You may have heard that earlier this year Nine Inch Nails (or Trent Reznor--I'll be using the two more or less interchangeably) released Ghosts I-IV for free on the internet. Following Radiohead's pay-what-you-want album, this release received much less attention in the press, even though Trent Reznor gave fans higher-quality audio files through his cooperation with bit torrent clients.

It may have been easy to overlook Ghosts I-IV because it didn't feel like a traditional album: it's a collection of instrumental pieces that probably wouldn't have been at all successful if released in a traditional medium.

But this past week Nine Inch Nails announced yet another release, and this time it's a more traditional, 10-track album with vocals and everything. Once again, it's given to everyone for free online, and in multiple high-quality formats.

All of this is pretty exciting, coming from a successful, high-profile artist. Yet I think the biggest news about this album is a detail that most people have overlooked. Both Ghosts I-IV and The Slip are released under a Creative Commons License. In other words, fans can not only download the music for free, but they can also freely distribute it, perform it, sample it, remix it, or incorporate it into any other work (This American Life has used music from Ghosts in two of their shows). The only conditions are that the original artist is credited and that the derived work is noncommercial and released with a similar license.

To understand the significance of this, consider what has been happening in our culture with music recently. In an attempt to reign in filesharing and to increase profits, music distributors have been claiming stringent control over what is done with music after it has been purchased. Fans are told they are not free to copy music for their own personal use or even rip CDs to an mp3 player. Coffee shops are getting in trouble for playing music in their stores without permission. There is talk of charging radio stations for each song they play.

While the mainstream music distributors are pushing toward greater limits on what consumers do with music, Trent Reznor has come along and given permission to not only download his albums, but to use them for any non-commercial purpose, completely free of charge.

So while Radiohead gets the big headlines for a one-time free album download (and they'll always be my personal favorite band), Nine Inch Nails deserves the real credit for leading the way to a whole new way of distributing and licensing music.

Good News

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 11:44:01 am

Evangeline: from the Greek euangelion (εὐαγγέλιον), meaning "Good News"


This is Evangeline Mae, born May 6, 2008 at 8:10 a.m. She weighed 7 pounds, 3 ounces.

We are calling her Eva.


Her mom and dad are very excited...


...and so is her brother.


byoons 2

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 07:59:08 pm

Here's the other video I mentioned below. I've been trying out Google Accelerator, but it seems to mess up YouTube. I keep getting messages about videos no longer being available and my files fail to upload. When I disable the Accelerator YouTube works fine again.

Anyway, enjoy the video.


Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 05:56:03 am

Daniel had a lot of fun playing with the helium balloons left over from the baby shower. I tied them to small weights to keep them from floating to the ceiling.

I spent a good twenty minutes removing tiny amounts of weight from one to try to achieve equilibrium, so it would just hover in midair. I ended up with a balloon that falls back to earth very, very slowly. As Daniel would try to catch it he would accidentally bump it back up into the air, and then wait for it to come back down again.

I tried uploading that video too, but YouTube won't take it for some reason. I'll have to try again later.


God In The Doorway

Filed under: Religion, Literaturejksterup   @ 01:36:07 pm

I've nearly finished reading Annie Dillard's Teaching a Stone to Talk, and I'll definitely be seeking out more of her writing after this.

It's hard for me to say exactly why I love her so much. She writes creative non-fiction essays, about which she says, "This is not a collection of occasional pieces, such as a writer bring out to supplement his real work; instead this is my real work, such as it is."

I had previously read her most famous work, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, first for a graduate English class and then a second time, more carefully, after I heard her mentioned as a Christian writer. The first time I read Pilgrim I didn't notice anything about Dillard's faith. The book is mostly observations on nature, and whatever spiritual reflections it contains are of a very general sort.

In Teaching a Stone to Talk Annie Dillard exposes her faith much more directly. She writes on a variety of topics and in a variety of styles, but what keeps me coming back to her is just the way she has with language. She often takes a very roundabout way to get to what she wants to say, but it doesn't matter because every sentence is enjoyable to read. Sometimes I get so engrossed in the way she writes that I don't care if she ever gets to the point. But she always does, usually in one great punch that ties together all of the little anecdotes and loose threads that she had carefully placed along the way.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about. It's called "God In The Doorway." It's one of the shortest essays in the book, but it is a great example of how she leaps from thread to thread, not showing the connections until the very last sentence. I also happen to love the point she makes here. This would be a great essay to read to the family on Christmas day.

One cold Christmas Eve I was up unnaturally late because we had all gone out to dinner-my parents, my baby sister, and I. We had come home to a warm living room, and Christmas Eve. Our stockings drooped from the mantle; beside them, a special table bore a bottle of ginger ale and a plate of cookies.

I had taken off my fancy winter coat and was standing on the heat register to bake my shoe soles and warm my bare legs. There was a commotion at the front door; it opened, and cold winter blew around my dress.

Everyone was calling me. "Look who’s here! Look who’s here!" I looked. It was Santa Claus. Whom I never-ever-wanted to meet. Santa Claus was looming in the doorway and looking around for me. My mother’s voice was thrilled: "Look who’s here!" I ran upstairs.

Like everyone in his right mind, I feared Santa Claus, thinking he was God. I was still thoughtless and brute, reactive. I knew right from wrong, but had barely tested the possibility of shaping my own behavior, and then only from fear, and not yet from love. Santa Claus was an old man whom you never saw, but who nevertheless saw you; he knew when you’d been bad or good. He knew when you’d been bad or good! And I had been bad.

My mother called and called, enthusiastic, pleading; I wouldn’t come down. My father encouraged me; my sister howled. I wouldn’t come down, but I could bend over the stairwell and see: Santa Claus stood in the doorway with night over his shoulder, letting in all the cold air of the sky; Santa Claus stood in the doorway monstrous and bright, powerless, ringing a loud bell and repeating Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas. I never came down. I don’t know who ate the cookies.

For so many years now I have known that this Santa Claus was actually a rigged-up Miss White, who lived across the street, that I confuse the dramatis personae in my mind, making Santa Claus, God, and Miss White an awesome, vulnerable trinity. This is really a story about Miss White.

Miss White was old; she lived alone in the big house across the street. She liked having me around; she plied me with cookies, taught me things about the world, and tried to interest me in finger painting, in which she herself took great pleasure. She would set up easels in her kitchen, tack enormous slick soaking papers to their frames, and paint undulating undersea scenes: horizontal smears of color sparked by occasional vertical streaks which were understood to be fixed kelp. I liked her. She meant no harm on earth, and yet half a year after her failed visit as Santa Claus, I ran from her again.

That day, a day of the following summer, Miss White and I knelt in her yard while she showed me a magnifying glass. It was a large, strong hand lens. She lifted my hand and, holding it very still, focused a dab of sunshine on my palm. The glowing crescent wobbled, spread, and finally contracted to a point. It burned; I was burned; I ripped my hand away and ran home crying. Miss White called after me, sorry, explaining, but I didn’t look back.

Even now I wonder: if I meet God, will he take and hold my bare hand in his, and focus his eye on my palm, and kindle that spot and let me burn?

But no. It is I who misunderstood everything and let everybody down. Miss White, God, I am sorry I ran from you. I am still running, running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge. For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain. So once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid.


Earthen Vessels

Filed under: Religion, Politicsjksterup   @ 12:46:38 pm

For now it seems that the hubbub over Jeremiah Wright has quieted some, although I'm sure we can expect it to resurface in the general election, assuming Obama receives the Democratic nomination (here's hoping!). In case you don't know what I'm referring to, some of Barack Obama's political enemies have been making a big deal out of comments by the pastor of Obama's church. Apparently, when people can't find fault in a candidate's platform, voting record, or personal life, they will try guilt by association.

The whole thing got me thinking: if I were running for political office (God forbid) what kinds of quotes would they dig up from my church's pastors in order to cast aspersions on my character? There would certainly be a lot to choose from.

Erika and I first started attending our church because it closely supported the campus ministry we were involved in. We also liked the small, personal atmosphere of the church and its democratic approach to worship and teaching (meaning the church relies primarily on individuals' personal reading and interpretation of scripture).

The church is an evangelical Christian church in small-town Missouri, which means that about 99% of the members and 100% of the leaders are Conservative Republicans, which doesn't bother us so long as people don't preach politics as gospel truth. Mostly we get along great with these people and come away edified from Sunday services. However, with the Christian Conservative movement stepping up its activity in the last several years, there have also been a number of awkward moments at church.

When we first started attending this church the minister was a dimunitive Christian version of Jeff Foxworthy, only much more likeable. I don't want to use his real name here, so let's call him Mark. He had a good teaching style and usually preached valuable lessons for Christian living. Occasionally he would bring up current events and issues in a very vague way, but we learned to tolerate it because, like I said, this is just what it's like to be a Christian in Missouri.

There was one Sunday, though, when Mark started preaching about Galatians chapter 3. I'm sure he made several points about the passage, but the one he spent the most time on (and the one I remember most vividly) was verse 1: "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified." I say he focused on that verse, but really it was the single word "bewitched" that he latched onto. He followed it onto a long tangent about the TV show Bewitched and how we think it's harmless entertainment, but what we're laughing at is witchcraft, which is the work of the devil. Then he started talking about the evil of Harry Potter (yes, this happened when all that silliness was going on).

I thought this was already bad enough, but then Mark began reading quotes from a newspaper story that he had read in an e-mail newsletter. There were members of the congregation tutting and shaking their heads when Mark read quotes from children like

"Hermione is my favorite, because she's smart and has a kitty," said 6-year-old Jessica Lehman of Easley, SC. "Jesus died because He was weak and stupid."


"I used to believe in what they taught us at Sunday School," said Ashley, conjuring up an ancient spell to summon Cerebus, the three-headed hound of hell. "But the Harry Potter books showed me that magic is real, something I can learn and use right now, and that the Bible is nothing but boring lies."

I immediately recognized these quotes from The Onion, having been a loyal reader for years. When I showed Mark that they were from a fake story in a satirical newspaper he assured me he received it from a trusted source. This source eventually admitted its mistake, and Mark was good enough to say so in the next week's sermon (although he still maintained that Harry Potter is witchcraft).

Some time later Mark left the church over a personal scandal, and we were all very upset over him leaving, especially under those circumstances. The church quickly found a replacement in a man named Michael. He was a family man and a farmer who had just recently entered ministry after attending bible college. It's very difficult for me to talk about him without bitterness. Frankly, some of his sermons made me nostalgic for Mark's quaint attacks on Harry Potter. Michael believed that there is One Truth, which is the Truth he learned in bible college. He believed all Christians must believe in that One Truth, and any deviation is heresy.

I'm not exaggerating.

One of his first sermons was about the importance of baptism. At one point he actually said these exact words: "If you don't believe baptism is necessary for salvation, then I question whether you're really a Christian." I do no believe baptism is necessary for salvation, so you can imagine what it felt like to hear him saying that on Sunday morning. That was the first time Erika and I considered leaving the church. There would be others.

Michael was pastor at our church during 2004, which was the darkest year for Christianity I have seen in my lifetime. The religious right went into overdrive trying to convince Christians to reelect George W. Bush. Some churches began to resemble political rallies and there were reports of Democrats leaving their mega-churches en masse. We saw a little of this in our small church, as on the Sunday when Michael gave a sermon on abortion (as if he needed to convince anyone there that abortion is wrong) and after the service he handed out pamphlets about each of the presidential candidates' positions on the matter.

That day was the closest Erika and I have ever come to leaving the church.

Ultimately we decided to stay, for the same reason that we endured previous offenses. We were loyal to our church and not its pastor. We started attending there because of the people and the atmosphere. During the years we had been there, we had grown to love those people even more, and we did not want to leave them. We felt that these people are what make the church, and not the man who stands on stage and talks for 45 minutes each week.

I'm very glad we stayed. Eventually Michael left over disagreements with the elders on theology, meaning that his interpretation of scripture was too narrow even for our church's very conservative leadership. We've hired a new pastor since then, and we like him pretty well. He's not perfect (no Christian pastor is) and there have been a few things he's said that I've taken issue with, but overall I think he's a good teacher. Even if he weren't Erika and I would still stay in our church because we know that being Christian doesn't mean we embrace or even accept the words of whoever happens to be preaching at the moment.


The Friday Random Ten and the Half-Blood Prince

Filed under: Musicjksterup   @ 10:39:55 am

The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power) - The Flaming Lips
A Day in the Life - The Beatles
What Planet Is This?! - The Seatbelts
Imagine That - Ani Difranco
Pink & Blue - Outkast
Green River - Creedence Clearwater Revival
Beercan - Beck
Scatter Heart - Björk
Cling to the Cross - Lost and Found
Do You Realize?? - The Flaming Lips


Spring Cleaning

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 12:33:14 pm


It's April, which in Kirksville means it's time for everyone to haul out all of the large trash that has accumulated over the last year and set it on our front lawns. At some time during the week the city trash collectors will come by and pick up whatever oversized trash would go uncollected in a normal week. The unusual thing about it is that we don't know what day they will visit each street, so we all set our trash on the curb on Monday and wait up to a week for it to be taken away.

Full story »


Filed under: Movies and TV, Literature, Linkagejksterup   @ 04:55:02 am

The Onion: Stop Making Movies About My Books (by Dr. Seuss)

It's icky, it's tacky, it's awkward, it's wrong.
The Whos look like ferrets, it's an hour too long.
What a rotten idea to spend millions destroying
This masterful tale kids spent decades enjoying!

But still you keep making them!
Just how do you dare?
Sell my life's work off piecemeal
To every Tom, Dick, and Har'.

This must stop! This must end! Don't you see what you're doing?
You're defiling the work I spent ages accruing.
And when it's dried up and you've sucked out your pay
There'll be no going back to a simpler day,

When your mom would give Horton a voice extra deep,
And turn the last page as you drifted to sleep.
Instead you'll have boxed sets, shit movies, and… well,
You'll have plenty to watch while you're burning in hell.



Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 12:16:32 pm

This is a post inspired by the 10 weird things I do post by Lonnie aka PHSChemGuy.

I have to warn you: the first two are so weird that I don't normally tell people. If you want a glimpse into my strangest habits, read on.

1. I use numbers I see to play a bizarre number game in my head. I started doing this about grade school or junior high when I would walk home from school. To entertain myself I would take each house number I walked past and add, subtract, multiply, and divide the numbers to try to come up with zero. When that became too simple I started using exponents as well and made it my goal to generate strings of numbers that can then be recombined and repeated without end. Weird, I know. This little mind game actually turned out to be pretty useful because it helped me to remember addresses and phone numbers. I still do it to this day, although I think about it so much less that it's almost become a subconscious act.

2. I mentally rearrange letters in words to conform to patterns on the keyboard. This is kind of like number one in that it is a mind game for my own amusement that I don't really share with people for fear of being thought weird. I think it started when I learned how to type and I began typing letters in my head. Again, that didn't entertain me for long so I created a set of configurations on the keyboard where each finger is used in order from left to right, striking keys in alternating rows, as in awcftnji, zwdvthmil, etc. Sometimes when I am struck by a particularly interested word I see how many of its letters align with one of these patterns. If I find one that fits well, it gives me a secret nerdy thrill.

3. I put off shaving as long as possible. I'm not sure if this is really weird so much as lazy. I just don't like to shave, so I let my facial hair grow until it becomes completely unsightly, and then I shave it off. This is usually three or four days. If I'm feeling particularly lazy or stressed out I'll let it go a week. Trying to shave at this point is very painful, so I may just shave the sides of my face and let my goatee grow. This usually lasts only a month or so, at which time I shave it all off.

4. I am a completionist. Okay, so this is probably not that unusual, but Lonnie included it on his list so I figure I can too. When I decide I like a musician or a writer I begin to collect all of that person's works, beginning with the most readily available, and gradually moving to the nearly impossible to find. The Internet has made this much easier so that if I decide I want to hear a basement recording made by Beck in 1992 of which only one copy was made, all I need is a computer and a fast connection. In this way I have been able to acquire every available recording by Beck, The Flaming Lips, Radiohead, and Sufjan Stevens, plus everything written by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.

5. I refuse to carry a cell phone. This probably arose at first from my general disdain for telephones. I don't like the idea of an invention that allows anyone to interrupt me in my home at any time--why would I want to carry such an awful device around with me? If I'm honest, though, I have to admit that it has become an issue of personal pride. As cell phones become more commonplace, I become more special in my refusal to carry one.

6. I meticulously organize my computer desktop, but let my physical desktop be completely messy. Don't ask me why. For some reason creating order on my computer is intrinsically rewarding and I will spend time organizing it that is totally disproportionate to whatever time I save when looking for a file later. Of course, this is another reason I love Google Documents so much.

7. I make up songs to sing to my son and my dogs. I blame my wife. I don't think I ever did this before we were married, but now we create songs for everything: making dinner, giving Daniel a bath, getting in the car, or just to be silly.

8. I watch every special feature on every DVD I own. Although I do enjoy behind-the-scenes documentaries and director's commentaries I suspect this has more to do with the idea of completeness again. It bothers me to think there could be some valuable information that I am missing out on.

9. I carry a book with me everywhere I go. Okay, I know this may not sound that unusual. But when I say I carry a book everywhere, I mean everywhere: the bathroom, the backyard, the dentist's office. If I'm going to wait somewhere for ten minutes I will make sure I have something to read. I think I have fostered in myself a need to be entertained at all times, and I get bored if I don't have anything to do or read for even short periods of time.

10. I eat french fries two at a time. I have no idea where this comes from, but my wife and I both do it. Maybe I picked it up from her. When we eat french fries we put exactly two in our mouth at a time. Erika even goes so far as to pick two fries that are similar in size, but I'm not that picky.


I ♥ Google Docs

Filed under: Home and personal, Computersjksterup   @ 11:47:54 am

I've been letting Google pretty much run my life for some time now. Gmail contains all of my correspondences and personal contacts; Google Reader tracks all of the blogs and websites I read; Google Calendar keeps track of all my appointments for me; I even use iGoogle to bookmark all the important websites I need. Google owns me.

But for the last year I've become even more reliant on their services via Google Docs, a free online word processor. I started using it for work because it was easier than transferring files from home to work and vice versa with a flash drive. I was always dealing with multiple copies of documents on two computers and I could never remember which one was more recently updated. With Google Docs I discovered I could start writing an assignment at school, save it online, then go home and open it immediately on my personal computer, knowing that any revisions I then will show up when I access it from school the next day.

Since then I've uploaded all of the files on my school computer to Google Docs, and I'm in the process of uploading all of my home documents dating back to things I wrote in high school. It feels good to have everything I need in a single program that I can access from any computer at any time. I love that I can tag a document in multiple folders, further eliminating the need for duplicate copies. Then there's the search feature that makes all of Google's services special: I can search for a document I created five years ago, even if I don't remember the name of it, just by searching for a few keywords that I remember about it. This is especially helpful as my document account is approaching 1000.

As services like this are increasingly moving to web-based programs I'm getting to a point where a computer's actual disk storage is irrelevant: everything I do for school, including planning, creating assignments, grading, and writing IEPs, I do in a web browser. My home computer I use to store my media: music, movies, and the like, and I wouldn't be surprised if someday even these, like all information, are stored online and accessed remotely.


Winter Soldier 2008

Filed under: Newsjksterup   @ 08:45:03 pm

Somehow this event escaped my notice until today. Maybe I'm not reading the right blogs.

Over a week ago an event was held to give Iraq veterans an opportunity to tell about some of the atrocities they witnessed and committed during our ongoing war.

From The Nation:

While on tank patrol through the narrow streets of Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad, Pfc. Clifton Hicks was given an order. Abu Ghraib had become a "free-fire zone," Hicks was told, and no "friendlies" or civilians remained in the area. "Game on. All weapons free," his captain said. Upon that command, Hicks's unit opened a furious fusillade, firing wildly into cars, at people scurrying for cover, at anything that moved. Sent in to survey the damage, Hicks found the area littered with human and animal corpses, including women and children, but he saw no military gear or weapons of any kind near the bodies. In the aftermath of the massacre, Hicks was told that his unit had killed 700-800 "enemy combatants." But he knew the dead were not terrorists or insurgents; they were innocent Iraqis. "I will agree to swear to that till the day I die," he said. "I didn't see one enemy on that operation."

I think it's important to listen to them not because I think our nation's soldiers are particularly cruel or immoral, but because this is reality. Whenever reports have entered the news about American soldiers committing atrocities our national leaders have assured us that they are isolated incidents committed by a few bad seeds.

"This is not an isolated incident," the testifiers uttered over and over, to the point of liturgy, insisting that the atrocities they committed or witnessed were common. The hearings were not organized to point fingers at "bad apples" or even particular squads, several testifiers said.

The truth is that war can cause normal, decent human beings to do inhumane things. War is by nature cruel and immoral, and the Iraq war is no exception.


Blowing Bubbles

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 07:49:31 pm


Pi-Day Random Ten

Filed under: Musicjksterup   @ 03:01:11 pm

Because today is Pi Day (3.14) I decided to try something different: In my iTunes search bar I typed the word pi so that I would see only the tracks that have those two letters together in either the song title, artist name, or album title. I then set iTunes to random and hit play to see what popped up.

Sunship Balloons - The Flaming Lips (from Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell EP)
Like Spinning Plates - Radiohead
The First Full Moon - Sufjan Stevens (from To Spirit Back The Mews)
Cassiel's Song - Nick Cave (from Faraway, So Close: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
My Dark Life - Elvis Costello and Brian Eno (from Songs in the Key of X : Music from and Inspired by The X-Files)
In the Flesh? - Pink Floyd
Inspiration - Gipsy Kings
The Spirit - Jandek
All We Have Is Now - The Flaming Lips (from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots)
Sit in the Middle of Three Galloping Dogs - A Silver Mt. Zion


The most dreadful beauty

Filed under: Literaturejksterup   @ 02:42:41 pm

I finished reading The Road today. I can't remember the last time I found a book this engaging. For the last two days I've spent nearly every spare moment reading.

I know the book was a huge bestseller, won the Pulitzer Prize, and was even given the official endorsement of Oprah's little book club, so I doubt I have anything to say about it that hasn't already been said. All I'm going to point out is that Cormac McCarthy simultaneously writes some of the most horrible scenes I've ever read and the most tender, in a way that reminds me of John Steinbeck.

I'm going to have to read some of McCarthy's other books now. Thank you to Melanie and Andrew for turning me on to him.


What Cormac McCarthy taught me about grammar instruction

Filed under: Education, Literaturejksterup   @ 07:47:00 pm

Yesterday I started reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road (It's a wonderful book, by the way--the kind I would stay up all night reading if I didn't have to take care of my 1-year-old son the following morning). Here is the first paragraph:

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he'd wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.

As I read this opening what really stood out to me was the grammatical style, and I couldn't help thinking what kind of comments this book would receive if given to a high school English teacher for an assignment. "Fragment. Fragment. Fragment. Don't needs an apostrophe. Fragment."

When I first started teaching English I thought it was important to strike a balance between the necessary evil of teaching formal grammar and my desire to make language exciting and creative for students, although I wasn't always sure of how to do it. I think that one tactic I settled on was teaching students about using different writing styles for different occasions: what is appropriate for a novel may not be appropriate for an academic paper. I still think this is true, but I've always felt there's more to it than just that.

While reading Cormac McCarthy's writing (this is the first novel of his I've read and now I'm wondering why I waited so long) I've figured out a different reason for teaching grammar. What I've realized is that while McCarthy breaks the rules of formal writing, it is not at all chaotic or disorganized. In fact, I would say that he writes in a very consistent style that has its own consistent set of rules. This kind of writing must be very intentional. I'm sure there's a reason he leaves the apostrophes out of contractions like cant, dont and wont, and I'd love to hear him explain what that reason is.

I think that intentionality is the difference between good writing and bad writing. If a student is going to choose to use sentence fragments, it must be a deliberate choice, which requires knowledge of the formal rules of grammar and a clear purpose for violating them. And above all, grammar should be taught with the understanding that any stylistic choices must be made with the audience's reaction in mind.

I think I'll show my students this passage from The Road next time I teach about sentence fragments in a regular education English classroom.

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