Sunday, July 29, 2007

Work snippets 2

From the forthcoming revised companion website content for Solomon, Introducing Philosophy, 9th edition, Oxford University Press:
One of the most important basic rights is the presumed right to own private property. John Locke listed three basic rights that would become the main ingredients of both the American Declaration of Independence and a political philosophy called liberalism: “life, liberty, and the right to own private property.” For Locke, private property is the bulwark of freedom and the basis of other human rights. One’s own body is private property in the most basic sense; no one else has the authority to violate it or use it without permission. But then Locke adds that the right to own property that one has helped cultivate with his or her body is also basic to freedom and human dignity.
"One's own body is private property ... no one else has the authority to violate it or use it without permission."

I’m surprised I haven’t seen abortion pro-choice arguments that speak in these terms, in terms of the right to own private property and, ultimately, to own that which you cultivate. The argument tends to focus, instead, on other rights, such as the right to privacy. Are they connected? I suppose that they are.

I can well imagine some extreme conservatives arguing that to “cultivate” a woman’s body is to plant seed in it and bring that seed to fruition. But I think in the modern world where our babies are not ensuring our survival in the same sense as they once were, we ought to be able to recognize a woman’s body may cultivate other things – a woman may cultivate ideas, arts, sciences, knowledge, creations with her hands and her mind, rather than purely with her womb. But really it comes down to who we consider “real citizens” in our world. If each citizen has the right to own and cultivate property, and if one’s own body is considered “private property,” and if a woman is a citizen... then no matter who may plant the seed, a woman's body is her property to choose to do with as she wishes.

The ONLY problem worth discussion is the relative value to the society versus the value to the individual, where we withdraw individual rights for the greater good. I must consider these actions as viable, since there are many individual rights - such as the right to gun-ownership - that I do not embrace, in favor of concerns for the health of a wider society. Is there value to the wider society in denying a woman's right to her most private property, such that this value is greater than the value to the individual, or, in fact, greater than the value of the individual?

Fundamentalists are, I suppose, arguing for what they perceive is the greater good. The trouble is that they seem unable to prove, outside purely religious justifications ("God said so"), that denying women the right to decide what happens with their own bodies is "for the greater good." My suspicion is that the society they desire to protect is a society in which women are subservient. Women cannot be truly subservient if they own their own private property and cannot be forced to use it to their masters’ benefit. So if the "greater good" is a society in which women "know their place" and the value of individual freedom stops at the nursery door... then abortion cannot be allowed.

If, on the other hand, we actually believe in and intend to protect freedom and equality, the answer must be otherwise.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A lesson in physics

If the watched pot does not appear to be boiling, you have to ask yourself:

Is the stove lit?

Does the pot feel the fire?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Work snippets 1

28. When Aristotle wrote about the soul, he was referring to
a. the unconscious mind.
b. the form of the body.
c. the spirit within the body.
d. the bottom of the feet.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Breaking the spell

My Mom and Paul used to be pretty negative about some of my interests when I was a teenager. They didn't think much of science fiction and fantasy. I should really spend time on activities of better quality.

Somehow through my travels and college and all my friends as an adult, my world did expand. I still treasure some of the books, but they represent one of a million possible interests. Now, a book has to be really good. It's not enough that it's "the kind of stuff I love."

And now, I live with Wil. Wil likes fantasy and video games and Japanese-animated TV shows to pretty much the exclusion of anything else. I think fantasy is still amusing in small doses, but the "I am a devout follower" attitude Wil sometimes displays is... icky. We were at Target the other day, and he fairly snapped to attention when an ad for Harry Potter came on the TVs for sale. Good God, you don't have to swear your undying devotion. It's not like you hadn't heard Harry Potter was coming out.

Luther seems to pretty much hate it, too. From saying Japanimation "sucks" to Wil's face, to outright dismissing the fantasy and the games, he's pretty clear: "Real" things are better, and "fantasy" is not "real." If Wil had many interests, I think it would be fine. But the be-all-and-end-all thing is unacceptable.

The other night, Luther's channel-surfing landed us on C-Span, for a speech Garrison Keillor was giving to a library association. It was a really good speech. Garrison was talking about the magic refuge of a library in the face of all the horrors of his youth, and that magic extended to all kinds of books, and I thought about how great it would be if Wil developed a passion for something like reading in a library. Normally I can't stand how Garrison Keillor talks, but this particular speech was so good, it was casting a kind of spell. It wasn't just me; Wil made some responsive noises. He was actually listening.

Then I made a big mistake. I got up to see if I could coax the cat inside. When I came back in, Wil was putting his shoes on to go try to get the cat. He'd stopped watching. I'd broken the spell. I insisted we stay on C-Span, hoping Wil would sit back down. But after he came back inside, he went and got his laptop computer.

Right now, as I write this, I am sitting in front of the TV. But I'm beginning to think laptops should be banned in front of the TV. Do one thing or the other. You cannot do both, and there is something... rude about pretending. It's like the old headphone thing. I don't know you can hear me, and I assume you're not listening to me or don't find me interesting enough to put the headphones down. It's rude. And I'm just as guilty of this, with the computer and the TV.

In Wil's case, he is patently not watching TV. With shows he actually likes and used to watch constantly... he turns them on, but he's not looking at the TV, and he's not listening to the TV sound. And the other night, he was no longer listening to Garrison Keillor's speech. He was playing a game or looking at his favorite web sites.

And I'm torn. (If nothing else, one must consider the irony of being frustrated that a kid is not watching the TV.)

I know that I learned a lot from my interest in sci-fi as a teenager. I met a lot of people, and I gradually broke out of my shell while leaning on the safety of limited challenges. "Limited challenges" says it all. You didn't have to try hard to be accepted among - I'm sorry, but sci-fi and fantasy fandom isn't exactly brain surgery. It didn't take long for me to figure out that I could do better, but it was easy. It was safe.

So I say to myself, "it can't be bad that Wil has interests. Encourage him to pursue them, and he'll meet people, make friends, and learn. And then he'll move on, just like I did."

But it's so frustrating. It turns out, when you live with a young person, you want to share things that you think have value. And the blank stare, the dutiful "okay," and the completely false "I'm going to go to bed now" [I'm going downstairs to watch shows I like and play games that interest me] are all so disappointing.

And now I'm faced with a new problem. I'm only just turning 40, and I am honestly beginning to dislike "all these newfangled gizmos and technologies."

The laptop in front of the TV is a prime example. Wil doesn't ever have to really pay attention to anything that isn't in his interest area. We can watch a TV show, and he can "be with us" but enjoy his own interests. Now if he reads the news at all, he accesses it by using his Wii video game - and the stories are so obviously already filtered for what a Wii audience will likely find of interest. In the past few days, I've been pleased to discover that Wil is playing one of his video games while on the phone with a friend. I was thrilled that he actually was socializing. And this evening, I heard the name of his friend - and unless I completely misunderstood, it's his cousin in North Carolina.

The cell phone makes it possible for him to have a playmate without going out and making new friends. He doesn't even have to use the internet and make computer friends! He can just use the old friends that were given to him by family.

These technologies were supposed to bring us together. They were supposed to make things easier. And they are, they are! But... they also make it increasingly easy for a kid to completely surround himself with his safe zone.

So... I'm not sorry I had the fun I had, when I was younger. And I know that I learned some wonderful things and read some great books that Mom and Paul would still never consider reading. And maybe if Wil comes with us to Florida, where there are nutty things like sci-fi and fantasy conventions that he could go to, he'll stretch a little and see a bit of the world. But I have to say, I have a newfound understanding of the challenge this stuff represents.

I broke one spell the other night, clumsily. The Garrison Keillor speech was cool, and I broke it. But Garrison was also talking about running away to a safe zone. Hiding among the books. I'd like to see the larger spell broken, now.

Thank goodness it's Luther's problem and not mine, eh?

Survey about childhood

I haven't filled out many of these surveys lately, but it's that kind of Monday and I need a little break. So here we go:

1. Are you a child of the 70s, 80s, or 90s?
60s and 70s

2. Where were you born?
St. Joseph's Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

3. What city did you grow up in?
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

4. Did you have a good childhood?
Yes. (So far this is a pretty boring survey, I must say.)

5. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A famous author or an astronaut. A hero.

6. What do you want to be now?
Rich. It would be nice if I could get to that point by being a famous screenwriter, an actor, or an astronaut.

7. Name the first memorable vacation you took as a kid.
Vacations were all memorable - they were VACATIONS. Feeding squirrels and chipmunks in my lap in a campsite at Silver Lake definitely ranks right up there, though. Any trip by myself by bus to Ottawa was cool. England and France and Scotland with Mom and my sister when I was 10. Easter egg hunt on Easter weekend in a posh apartment hotel in New York City. That kind of thing was always great.

8. What was your first best friend’s name?
I'm not sure. I guess maybe Dina, though we weren't friends for long. There were the kids on my street, but we were just thrown together by geography and ageism.

9. Are they still your friend?
Not a chance. My oldest friend is Liz Bischof, from grade 6.

10. Can you name all the schools you ever attended?
Nope. I don't have a clue what the name of the Montessori school might have been [edit: Dad wrote to tell me it was York Montessori School]. And I went to a couple of different High Schools for summer and evening classes, but I only remember West Toronto for sure. Other than that, let's see...
Alpha, Toronto, Canada (free school)
Dewson Public School, Toronto, Canada (elementary)
Hillcrest Public School, Toronto, Canada (elementary)
Lord Landsdowne Public School, Toronto, Canada (intermediate)
Harbord Collegiate Institute, Toronto, Canada (secondary)
Subway Academy II, Toronto, Canada (alternative secondary)
West Toronto Collegiate Institute, Toronto, Canada (secondary summer school)
Central Technical School, Toronto, Canada (secondary)
Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada (post-secondary, undergraduate)
Southern Polytechnic State University, Marietta, Georgia (graduate school)

11. Were you closer to your mom or dad as a kid?
I really think it was about the same. We each had things that we shared independently.

12. What was the first record, tape or CD you remember buying?
The first I remember... probably Star Wars, on vinyl.

13. How old were you when you first heard of Chuck Norris?
No idea. Twenties? I am not a fan.

14. Are you scared of anything?
Yes. Every time Luther is working with the saw or a big knife, I am completely unreasonably afraid. I'm terrified of the unseen under-the-surface environment of water, especially murky, muddy, weedy water. I'm scared of a lot of things, actually.

15. How old were you when you wanted to get your ears pierced for the 2nd time?
A couple of weeks ago I thought about it. I was 39.

16. Did you buy school lunch or bring your own?
There was no such thing as school lunch, until the cafeteria at Harbord. I brought my own, or bought a sandwich or pizza slice at the store, or went home for lunch. Sometimes at Lord Landsdowne I would buy a sandwich (bologna on a fresh, crusty kaiser roll with mustard, yum) and trade it in the schoolyard, usually for fried rice.

17. Broken any bones or had any freaky accidents as a kid?
I fell off a swing once and went to the hospital. I'd hit my head pretty badly. I was very little...

18. Were you a mean kid?
No, I was a sucker. I didn't even want to be mean. I wanted to save everybody.

19. Favorite board game of all of all time?

20. Did you play house or pretend to be a super hero?
We put on plays in the back yard, and we pretended to be in the Lord of the Rings. Long before the movies, I might add.

21. What was your favorite class in elementary school?
Ancient History. Although I liked math quite a bit. Actually, I think I liked all my classes. Except maybe gym.

22. Seriously, are you still just a kid at heart?
No. Yes. Uh... yes. I still think I'm a little kid and everybody else knows more than I do and is more confident than I am.

23. Did you ever come close to dying?
I thought so at the time. I had pneumonia. In the emergency room, I tried to give messages to my Mom to give to my friends when I was gone.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A recovering book-a-holic

In 30 seconds flat, Diane Wright got me hooked on Library Thing, and the funny part is, I don't read.

I am not a reader. But I used to be one. I could play one on TV, given half a chance and perhaps some plastic surgery.

When I was much younger, I shared a library with my Dad. People we knew, and people they knew, would come to our house, browse our collection, scrawl their names on a sheet of paper, and go away with artifacts from our bookshelves. Often, they returned them.

I learned to see books and bookshelves as reflections of myself. Other people might put photographs of their grandchildren up, or set out their fine collections of miniatures, or decorate their kitchens with cute cow-print items. For me, good bookcases full of books I decided I liked enough to keep offer an opportunity to say something about myself to visitors.

Alas, Luther and I do not do whatever it takes to have visitors, and my books and his are in cupboards and closets. And my book collection has shrunk, due to the pressures and necessities of moving. And, since I don't read, and since when I did read, I read almost exclusively science fiction... my book collection is not what you'd call "impressive" among the literary set.

Still, the books say something about who this Becky person is, or was before she became bekbek, certainly before Georgia. And when there's a newer edition in the mix... they say a lot about how much I loved them, when I was a reader. Enough to buy them again, even though I don't read them again, because they simply ought to be on my shelves.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Now it is July Ninth

I am finished my summer semester. Luther has three or four weeks left to his summer semester. Wil has been on summer vacation for several weeks, and goes back to school in almost exactly a month. It is tempting to insert some dig about what he may have accomplished in that time, but whatever. Why shouldn't he look bitterly back upon his first 20 years and wonder why he wasted them just like the rest of us?

I still don't know about the blog thing. I am about ready to purchase a couple of domain names. I'm tempted to move to Wordpress because that's where all the cool templates reside. I still don't have a purpose for keeping a blog, and I don't "keep" it regularly in any case.

But I am a semester away from having my Master of Science in Bullshit*. So I figure it is time to celebrate.

Bring on the dancing monkies.

*I have had some questions about this statement, so allow me to explain: I am essentially getting my degree in rhetoric, which is not quite the same thing as bullshit. However, on most days I feel like I'm pulling a fast one, just tricking my way through it all, just like when I was a kid and discovered that as long as an exam required an essay answer, I was getting an "A" regardless of whether I ever read or studied the class materials. I do study, now. I do work hard. I have somewhere developed high standards for myself and for others. On the really good days, I remember this and am proud. Most other days... ~shrug~ Bullshit.

Friday, July 06, 2007

I have this idea that the movie, Pleasantville, is like... an American studio version of Antonioni. I shall pursue this. But there is all the joy of reality and chaos... in a controlled and tied-up tale. All the ideal with none of the... experience.

Thinking about it. Percolating, if you will.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

An exceptional mind

Luther is doing some work for me, revising a supplement for a textbook on African-American History. Meanwhile, in my class on Medical Communication, one of the ongoing discussions over the past few weeks has been about race and children's learning materials, prompted by our analysis of an asthma management simulation prepared for black kids in Atlanta. This morning, once again, our activities crossed paths in a little discussion.

I was a bit fired up (I know, it's difficult to imagine, right?) about the whole idea that a kid wouldn't "see herself" in the simulation unless there were a kid of the same skin color in that simulation. Why wouldn't a kid identify with another person, regardless of skin color?

The whole thing brings to mind how often I heard, growing up, that "girls don't have any good role models." The idea was (and still is, no doubt) that a girl couldn't aspire to be an astronaut, school principal, mayor, or mob boss unless she saw women in those positions. THIS DROVE ME NUTS. When I saw an astronaut, I never thought, "wow, if only I was a man so I could do that." Kids don't limit themselves like that unless we tell them to, such as when that guidance counselor told me I was being ridiculous for choosing "fireman" on my careers survey, because that's a man's job.

Luther listened patiently. And then he said: "You also have to take into account that you have an exceptional mind."

I said: "But I really don't believe that!"

And he said: "Well, that's because you're stooopid."

Wise, wise words for a Sunday morning.