Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Internet-based Moral Systems

You’re just coming home from football practice and you need to shower, eat dinner, and do homework before hopefully falling into bed before midnight. You’ve got a test tomorrow on 1984. Crap. You’re on page 10. Nevermind that the book started on page 7. Nevermind that you had two hours before practice to do homework instead of playing dollar flip (you won $2, so that was time well spent). Chances are, when you sit down and open up your book you’ll find yourself falling asleep by page 11. But wait, there’s a savior for you: Sparknotes.

                Sparknotes is a widely used resource for “too busy” students everywhere. Its fan base alone is testament to its power and quality. The hard job of thinking is done previously, by people who have time to do so, and all you need to do is use your meme-filled, twitter-condensed mind to lap it up, from the comfort of your own home. Surely, if it’s found on the internet and free, it must be worthwhile!

Instead of spending the next three hours reading a book you won’t enjoy for a test riddled with trick questions by your conniving English teacher who hates you anyway, Mrs. Jackson, you could spend two hours on Facebook and perhaps 20 minutes skimming through the chapter summaries for this book. It hits all the important issues and is written, probably, by underpaid expert English teachers who need to sell their souls for rising costs of living, so it’s got all the answers. You could even spend ten more minutes on Yahoo answers jotting down some of the more important quotes which might be on that test, if you really want to impress someone. By that time, you’d be in bed a half an hour early, and it’s widely known that students need their beauty rest, because teenagers’ growth hormones need sleep to generate (www.facebookfeednews.com).

                Pesky morals may haunt you. Students have moments of weakness when they think that using Sparknotes might be dishonest, but in the long term you need to go to college. You know you could do it, you know you would do it, if you had to, if you were in college, if you didn’t have to sleep/go on FB/read all these BOOKS you don’t have time to read. That’s what matters. You just need to be able to do it, and you are a completely capable person with a lot of skill. You got a B on the last test and you only read the first chapter anyway. That shows you’re doing something right. What’s dishonest is getting grades based on what you know because you don't have time to show what you really know.

                You are important, and you are worth it. Your future is worth a little untruth. You still clearly know the difference between right and wrong and when it matters, you will make the decisions that matter. Just like you will know the answer when it is important for you to know the answer. The only people that actually read the book have no lives and are not well-rounded, so it’s completely fair that Johnny, who you know read the book, got a B on the last test, too.  He is obviously not as smart as you.

Reading books is not what makes you smart. What makes you smart is getting passable grades without even trying. If you really tried, you would get A’s. Talent and brains is what makes millions; Bill Gates was so lazy he dropped out of college (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Gates). You can almost hear Mrs. Jackson lecturing “It’s the thinking that’s important, not just knowing what the answer is!” or similar silliness about education being more important than grades. You can’t go about life worrying about what other people think.

 Isn’t that what she taught you?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Unpopular Truth

Last Sunday I was in church during an uncomfortable political discussion. I wrestled with whether speaking up would be fruitful. I don't believe that standing up for your beliefs is always liberating, helpful, or admirable, even if it is true. Truth isn't perceived as true by all your audiences.

Sometimes people think that you're only courageous if you're willing to martyr yourself for a principle that you believe in. This justifies all kinds of ugly talk, political or not. They think, "Well, if you can't handle the truth, I don't care that I'm insulting you."

I've had a hard road in learning this. I don't always stay quiet when I should, and it's not so much that I've learned my lesson, because some topics make me see fire first, but I've been in enough arguments that the reassuring thought of "Well, I'm right," isn't really comforting enough.

I'm a political liberal in a largely politically conservative religion. I see this as a difference of opinion rather than religion. I don't understand how others find devastating ends to this difference of opinion. Too many people I care about and love believe that We, the liberals, are sending this country to Hell in a hand-basket. It's shocking to me that ideals that I care about in the way society should run can be seen as morally wrong rather than just plain old political difference.

Because REALLY, it is political difference of opinion. I do think that politicians are extremely good at their jobs and at emotional skewing. This ends up making us all little sound byte clips of who is right and who is wrong and fear mongerers. Yes, there are political issues that directly oppose LDS values, but there is no party that aligns perfectly with LDS values. So my choosing a political affiliation based on alignment to religious values is a false notion, as even most left wing and right wing politicians are much closer in agreeing with each other morally than with any LDS member. You may champion a specific issue as more important than others. It's still your opinion which is more morally important.

If this country is going to Hell in a hand-basket, it's because we let politics mask our beliefs in how we should be dealing with each other if we do have a disagreement, not because we disagree on who should have access to government subsidies for healthcare. Rumors of government plots and conspiracies outnumber the possibilities that people are trying to make decisions based on actual ideals.

Choice lies with an individual, within certain laws and bounds. We shouldn't think that this freedom is what is going to ruin us. That's the exact thing we believe makes us divine beings. Having truth does not mean we can say hateful or isolating words, even in moral disagreements.

I get that it is difficult, sometimes, to reconcile truth and showing your commitment to it. It confuses how we speak and deal with others, and even how we want others to respect that commitment.

Jake told me about how Ethan said he likes growing bananas because it's easy to share with everyone that way.

Fred said, "You are such a socialist."

Ethan answered, "You mean you don't want any?"

Fred decided that he did.

I'm voting Ethan for President, even if he is a socialist.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Pronunciation is a Matter of Opinion

Did you know that there are three ways to pronounce the letter A?

Ah, uh, and A.

The three possible pronunciations of the letter A, along with every other vowel, and the number of sound changes that letters make when combined with other letters are all painfully clear to you when you are still trying to teach your almost 7 year old to read after two years of Kindergarten. On a good day she pronounces the letters F, T, and other random letters like the letter H. There are lots of “huh” sounds when we read.

Part of me wishes that the word “with” really was pronounced “wuh, eye, tuh, huh”. Then maybe we could move on wuh-eye-tuh-huh our lives. It might take a little longer to get there, but at least we’d be swinging in the hammock, running after chickens, and living up the summer like we’re supposed to be, and not mad at each other for an hour because that’s how long it takes to go through every possible pronunciation of a vowel in ten words.

If there is an alternate sound, she’ll find it first.

She’s testing it out to see what alien languages we’re trying to teach her.

It also takes so long to get to the end of the word that most of the time she can’t remember what sounds existed at the beginning of the word if the word is longer than four letters, so she has to sound it out again. If she looks up once while reading a word, she has to start over with the word. If she finishes figuring out what a word is, and then looks up, she’ll forget that she already read that word and start reading it again.

I said, “Amaya, what does ‘t-h-e’ spell?” It took a year to teach her this word, and she can remember it orally, although when she sees it she still sounds out ‘tuh-huh-eee’.

“The,” she said, grateful to know an answer.

“Ok, so the letters t-h sound like ‘th’. Just put that at the end of the word. The sound ‘th’,” I said, with emphasis. “Like, this word is, wuh, ih, th.”

“Wuh, eye, tuh, huh, ‘the’. Why-tuh-huhhhhh-the. Whytuhhuhthe. WHAT?! I don’t know that word! That makes no sense! This word is so complicated! I can’t do this!”

We know that her brain works differently than other kids’. Even different from Mozely. It’s like we’re sitting down every day with an almost totally erased brain slate when it comes to reading. Yet her memory for anything that is not letters, numbers, when to be quiet, or what I sent her into the other room to put away is amazing and her ability to notice small details is beyond her age.

There are three pronunciations of the letter A.

Ah, uh, and A.

There’s also AAAAAHHHHHHH! as you run away screaming from yet another failed reading lesson.

But who’s counting.

That’s the next hour.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012



Amaya had the flu two weeks ago, and then she admitted she had swallowed a quarter in an unrelated medical emergency.

As a side effect of these events, Amaya briefly became very introspective. She faced her imminent death. She compared her misery to better moments, asking me if I could recall times when quarters were not in danger of being removed from one’s intestines. We reassured her over and over again that she would feel better eventually. When she woke up on the third day, she cried because she knew she was still sick and she knew it was unfair. She hugged and cuddled and spoke quietly for about five days. She didn’t enjoy eating and mealtimes were made of tears. I let her watch Phineas and Ferb for longer than anyone should.

amayaboots15 Jake and I remembered how endearing she could be. Even her tantrums had good reason. She slept with our picture under her pillow so she “could always remember us.”

Then she got better. We washed the vomit off the car. The quarter was not present at the xray. Her tantrums started making us shake our heads and send her to time out again. She lost a tooth and the tooth fairy remembered to visit, this time. The hole in her smile is hopefully as momentary as her new inability to smile naturally.

Temporary and fleeting hardship is the sweetness of childhood. Recent tragedies make me so amazed and grateful at the constant change and impermanence that exists in my life.  Children deserve that.

Enjoy now. Merry Christmas. amaya boots 12

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Imaginary Numbers

Amaya is probably the only person who truly considers positive integers to be as abstract as metaphors.

When she started Kindergarten last year she couldn’t count to ten. When she finished Kindergarten she could sometimes count to twenty. Now half way through the second time around she can count to 39, and then she says “twenty”.

I’ve tried to explain how this works to her. Four comes after three, and therefore, forty. If I help her get past 39, she gets stuck at 49 (back to twenty) and so on.

Today we were counting and she said, “I don’t think anyone can count to 100.”

I said, “Lots of people can count to 100. I can count to 100.”

“WHAT?! I thought it was almost impossible!”

I said, “Once you learn how to count it’s like a pattern, and you can count as high as you want.”

“But no one can count to a million. It’s a sploder!”

“A ‘sploder’? What’s a ‘sploder’?”

“It’s like 33,000. Or a really long car ride.”

Only Amaya can create a simile about a number with an imaginary word compared to a number, and it still makes some kind of strange sense.