Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Seventh Inning Stretch

I wish I could say that my mind has been occupied with critical theory and novel paths to world peace and lower gasoline prices, but I can't.

Only two and a half weeks remain before finals, and suddenly every student is conscientious. Keeping appointments. Wanting extra help.

And, in some cases, beginning to make significant progress.

One of my writing students made it to the "light bulb moment" this afternoon, the point when she realized that she actually was getting better. Believe me, she still has a long way to go and she knows it. But the look on her face when she said, "You know, I think this draft is just about ready, isn't it?" was worth every page of nonsense she'd produced all term. She went on, "I kept wondering when something was going to happen. What the point was in doing all these assignments."

Then, midway through the conference, she uttered the real magic words: "Hmmm...I don't think I even need that part." And she marked it out all by herself.

I'm sure this is a very tired simile, and almost certainly not original. But, like a perfect sweater from Goodwill, it's new to me. Teaching writing is like planting bulbs. All I do is put stuff in the ground when it's still could outside. I hope for rain and sun and do my best to keep predators away. I wait. Some bulbs bloom, and some don't. Some bide two or three years before they find their beauty.

Today I enjoyed a small garden in full bloom.

I'd like to give special thanks to the master gardeners over at The Lithia Writers' Collective. Their blog has inspired me this spring and provided many wonderful tips for yard work.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Frivolous Friday

What Your Taste in Chocolate Says About You

You are sophisticated, modern, and high class.

Your taste is refined, but you are not picky.

You are often the first to try something new.

You are driven and focused. You crave success.

A total perfectionist, you hold yourself to high standards.

While you life a charmed life, people feel like you are too hard on them.

You love to be the center of attention. You enjoy entertaining your friends.

You feel lost when no one is interested in you... You're too interesting to be ignored.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Two or more birds with one small stone

Most of my entries concern domestic issues.  I am, of course, interested in world events but I try not to write about things I don't fully understand and don't have time to research responsibly.

Last week, however, while driving around town on a domestic issue of my own I heard a BBC story about rice shortages in Haiti. Apparently, food prices are skyrocketing worldwide. Many farmers have converted to corn to profit from record crop prices for biofuels and high fructose corn syrup and such. One U.N. worker reported that the price of rice has tripled over  - I think she said - the last year and is now at $950 a ton. The headmaster of a Catholic elementary school, in a heartrending example of good news/bad news, told of families desperate to enroll their children - not for education but for the assurance of lunch. He is able, alas, to feed only about 1800 of the 2100 or so student in his care.

Rice.  We buy it for next to nothing in our megamarkets every day. And just across the Gulf of Mexico children are hungry for it.

Yes, I know that the rice shortage in Haiti is only one symptom of a troubled political regime.  But that does not change children's realities.

On the sidebar to the lower left, you will notice a link to freerice.com.  Through sponsorships, this organization provides rice to United Nations hunger efforts when people play a vocabulary-building game online.  

Small Child (who is eight years old) adores it, and I'm happy when she uses her screen time on words instead of Webkinz.    I set it on level one when she begins, but she always zips ahead. She beams as her difficulty level increases and the grains of rice build up in the wooden bowl. Reading! Vocab! Rice! What's not to love?

The game also provides vocabulary building skills for English learners. If you have a college-bound type around your house you should check it out. And a word nerd like me? Just try to stump me Freerice People....just try.

P.S. In the interest of full disclosure, I should report that, after this post went up, the freerice.com people did stump me, up around level 46, with natant. I am chagrined. 

Friday, April 18, 2008

Fatally Flawed Friday

Earlier this week, NPR's Morning Edition ran a piece about a case, Kennedy v. Louisiana, currently before the Supreme Court.  I strongly urge you to click here and either read or listen to Nina Totenberg's outstanding coverage.

I'm no lawyer.  I don't even play one on TV or in this blog.  But I'm going to take a stab at explaining why this case is a big old ticking time bomb for us all.

Facts:  In 1998, Patrick Kennedy called 911. He requested medical assistance for his 8-year-old stepdaughter who had been raped, Kennedy told dispatchers, by two boys. The girl concurred. Police, however, suspected Kennedy. Several months later, the girl was removed from the home by state social workers who, according to reports, made her return to her mother's care contingent upon the mother's implication of Kennedy as the rapist. She did so, and the girl then told authorities her stepfather was the perpetrator. Kennedy was charged with capital rape. He pleaded innocent, was convicted in a jury trial, and sentenced to death.  The prosecutors won their conviction with no forensic evidence and on the basis of contradictory victim's statements. 

In 1977, the Supreme Court ruled - by a 7 to 2 majority - that the death penalty for the rape of an adult woman was unconstitutional.  The Louisiana law is specific to the rape of a child.

It is specific in another way, as well.  A very dangerous way.

Individuals charged with capital rape of a child in Louisiana may plead guilty and avoid the death sentence; their plea buys their life.  The only people, therefore, who can possibly be executed for raping a child are those who maintained their innocence and were willing to do so before a jury of their peers.

Before I go any further, I want to be crystal clear. People who rape children are evil, evil scum and should be locked away for the rest of their lives, never to see the sun again. Furthermore, it is my personal hope that, while incarcerated, they experience punishment befitting their crime. To paraphrase a line from Pulp Fiction, fellow inmates should go medieval on their asses.

From what I've read, Patrick Kennedy sounds pretty guilty.  But is "sounds pretty guilty" a sufficient standard of proof for execution?

Back to my argument.

The Louisiana law, then, can go wrong in two very bad ways for someone who is falsely accused. An innocent man could chose to plead guilty to avoid a trial that he or his attorney is certain he would lose. He could go to trial and be found guilty.  

Think this never happens?  Ask one of the 215 people who, in the last 16 years, have been exonerated by DNA evidence. Just this week, Thomas McGowan is set to be released after serving 23 years for a rape he did not commit. But surely he did something bad, you might ask. After all, the police don't just arrest normal people, right? Wrong. McGowan was misidentified in a photographic lineup. His photo was in the criminal justice system as the result of a minor traffic violation. 

A less obvious, but no less harmful, result of capital child rape laws is the likelihood that reports of abuse will decrease and fewer rapists will be brought to justice. The relationship between abuser and abused is complicated. Children are often afraid to report abuse out of fear, not only for their own safety but also the safety of those they love or think they love. Feeling "responsible" for sending someone to jail is scary. Imagine feeling "responsible" for sending someone to die.  I realize that theories of jurisprudence do not extend this far, but putting that burden on a child could conceivably border on "cruel and unusual punishment" of the accuser.

I hope that, even if you support the death penalty (believe it or not, I do respect your right to do so and, in fact, may well understand your reasons), you see the flaw in this legislation.

Given the current make up of the Court, its majority may not. Such a decision would harm children and reduce the state's burden of proof when a person's life is at stake. Neither result should be taken lightly.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Faster than a speeding bullet...

go the hours in my days!

Between transitioning from Faulkner to Fowles in my literature class (by way of degenerate art), finding eighteen 45-minute conference times each week for the students in my expository writing class, figuring out next year's school options for Small Child, and finding time to wipe my snobby, ubiquitous - ummm - self, I've dropped the blogball in a big way.

If you're at all interested, here's what's brewing in my writerly brain:

1) Something about why defense lawyers are absolutely necessary, even when their clients are such obvious scum that even a squishy liberal like me wishes that bad things would happen to them (the clients, not the lawyers). A very disturbing assault case -happened just around the corner - has set me to thinking. Lord knows that's dangerous.

2) I gave my writing students a prompt about the American flag as a visual text. Every time I talk with one of them about the prompt, I find myself all twisted up over the way the image has been appropriated as an icon for war support. Just makes me steam.

3) How does one create pleasure?

4) For the last ten days, Small Child has been "enjoying" various standardized tests, among them the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Pretty normal stuff, I know. But every frigging day for WEEKS her homework has involved coloring in circles or ovals on scantrons. No Child Left Behind = Every Child Left Behind. But when one is constitutionally unsuitable for homeschooling or Private Christian Indoctrination, what remains?

And I'm just getting started......

Friday, April 11, 2008

Frivolous Friday

In between students this morning, I took a quiz. What do you think?

You Are French Food

Snobby yet ubiquitous.

People act like they understand you more than they actually do.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Et Lux Perpetua Luceat Eis

Yesterday, I received word that someone for whom I felt a great deal of affection, Dr. Roy Melugin, had died. Roy lectured in one of my undergraduate courses, "Heritage of Western Man" (later renamed "Heritage of Western Culture" and later expanded, graciously, to include the rest of the world); a fond memory of that course is of Roy - then Dr. Melugin to me - literally taking a Blue Book out of my hands as time ticked away on an exam. Years later, when I had the privilege of being his colleague on occasion, he always teased me about that.  

Roy was a dear and compassionate man, a good scholar, a graceful writer, and a wise mentor to many students. The course of his pancreatic cancer was, thankfully, brief. He believed in an afterlife, and if heaven exists he is "Melugin-ing" the prophet Isaiah at this very moment. I smile to think of their mutual joy.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The New Addition

At Juvenescence's request, here is a link to info about my new baby.

Here is her (Miss Mac's, that is...not Christy's) picture:

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Best FedEx Ever

The Second Miss Mac arrived today.  I've been tracking her every move all the way from Shanghai until one of our work-study students fetched her from the mail center and placed her, gently, just inside my office door.  She is sleek and oh-so-lovely.

I am forcing myself to leave her downstairs, however, while I retreat to good girl world and prep so that I do not look like a total fool in front of my students tomorrow.  I don't think that, "Sorry, I'm unprepared because I was up late with my new cool machine." will fly, given the cost of their tuition.

Soon, my sweet silver dream....soon......