Friday, July 27, 2007

There is a "Simpsons" for everything (spoiler alert)

While I thoroughly enjoy The Simpsons my husband, John, not only loves the show, he has filed away dialog from most of the 400 episodes of the show. No matter what the situation in life, John an dredge up a line from The Simpsons that is perfect for the occasion -- even if it is just "d'oh!"

So of course, we had to take the afternoon off today and go to see The Simpsons Movie. It was utterly delightful, and utterly "Simpsons". My all time favorite Simpsons episode was one in which Marge and Homer in an attempt to rekindle the romantic spark, are making love inside the windmill at the minature golf course, and lose their clothes. They sneak home through town with strategic objects covering their "naughty bits", with a hysterical climax in which Homer, hanging from a hot air balloon, slides naked up the glass ceiling of the Crystal Cathedral in view of all the parishoners. This obviously must have also been one of Groening's favorite moments, because he does a funny, fresh and equally hysterical homage to it, this time with Bart as the naked body fliting through town.

The best part of our movie viewing experience, however, was utterly unscripted. A large family with several children, including one small girl about 6 years old was viewing the movie with us. The little girl was clearly delighted with the film, and laughed frequently. There is an important dramatic pause in the movie, where the action comes to an abrupt halt, and suddenly we hear this little girl piping up plantively: "I wanna see another one." Clearly Maggie was her favorite character, and towards the end of the film, when Maggie helps to save the day, this little movie gower actually whooped and cheered with glee.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A brief reflection

Thank G-d, life is not like a game of checkers. It seems that computer scientists have verified that "there are no surefire winning moves in checkers, just mistakes that lead to losses."

Of course the primary way in which life is not like checkers is that life is made up of infinite variations of "moves" that cannot be cataloged even by the most sophisticated of computers. The other way that life is not like a game of checkers, is that the "mistakes" we make are often our pathways to discovery, growth, wisdom, and enlightenment. This has certainly been true in my own life, where many of the "bad" or "wrong" choices I made in relationships, school and career, led ultimately to deeper self-knowledge, awareness, and greater enjoyment and happiness.

In the mornings as I walk Rosie the dog at dawn and listen to the rumbling and clanking of the strip mining equipment just over the hill from my holler, I am filled with fear that we (humans in modern industrial societies) are making terrible, irrevocable mistakes. Despite growing knowledge and awareness of climate change, we (in the collective societal sense) seem locked into mistaken actions that will inevitably lead to losses; losses of an entire world as we now know it.

Then my imagination kicks in, and I ponder the possibility that perhaps we (humanity) will be better off, happier and saner, in a world where the illusions of economic growth and technological gadgetry have finally been shattered.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

what is happening with polar bear populations?

This morning Conscious Earth had a short piece about the English swimmer who took a dip at the North Pole, and linked to the Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail's article about the event. More interesting than the article itself was the comments section (more than 115 comments at the time I looked). The majority of the comments appear to be from disbelievers in AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming -- which means "man made global warming" for any of my students who happen to be reading).

One particular comment caught my attention, this poster had doubts about the whole global warming idea, because she maintained that polar bear populations were growing not declining. She asked readers to "google 'taylor polar bear'". So I did that, and found a brief piece by an academic wildlife biologist studying one specific polar bear population that he claimed was increasing in numbers. This peaked my curiosity, so I googled "polar bear populations" and found some sites that should interesting any one curious on this topic.

The most detailed information about actual polar bear populations is found at IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Polar Bear Specialist Group, which brings together polar bear scientists from around the world to share information. summary of the data from the most recent conference in Seattle, posted in April 2007, provides maps, detailed explanations, and a table on the status of polar bear populations.

Polar bears are not one huge homogeneous population roaming around the Arctic, but rather live in geographically limited ranges or areas in bounded populations. Information about these geographically differentiated populations differs in quality and timeliness. Some populations have not been counted in decades, others have be surveyed often and recently. Some of the populations appear to be growing, others appear to be declining. Some appear to be stable, for the present.

The detailed explanations for each population area or range makes it clear that the impact of humans on polar bears is not limited to and perhaps not even primarily due to climate change. Polar bears are hunted by indigenous peoples and others. There is evidence in many of the geographic areas such as Baffin Bay, that the "harvest" is exceeding the reproductive capacity of the polar bear population.

The warming of the polar regions, with thinner and less extensive ice, is believed by these scientists to be contributing to declines in reproductive capacity. But equally significant is the impact of humanly created environmental toxins. "High levels of PCBs have been detected in samples of polar bears from this area [Barents Sea] which raises concern about the effects of pollutants on polar bear survival and reproduction."

So those concerned about polar bears, or any other species survival, should be focusing not just on global warming, but on other human activities such as hunting and industrial pollutants such as PCB's.

For an over view of polar bear popuations issues, check out NOAA's Artic Theme Page for the great essay by Scott L. Schliebe.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Other people's thoughts

When I first began blogging all I was interested in was getting my own thoughts on the internet with the goal of enlightening others with my ideas. No one read my ideas. I lapsed for a while, then started again, then lapsed again, and started again.

On my third start I stopped caring so much about what I had to say, or whether anyone read it, and started being interested in what other people had to say on their own blogs. My world has become so much richer as a result.

I've found a few that I want to go back to regularly:
Conscious Earth -- an evironmentally oriented blog by a British Columbia resident. I like the insight into Canadian politics as well as the environmental information.
The Influence Machine -- an eclectic mixture of thoughts about the environment (in the broadest sense), living simply, rural life, poetry, and other everyday yet profound things. E. R. Dunhill is the kind of neighbor I'd like to have but since he's in Maine and I'm in Kentucky, I'll settle for reading his blog regularly.
Biology of the Worst Kind -- a writer's blog about the writing life, nature and life in general from France. The most recent post (Tuesday July 10, 2007) has a wonderful poem created from 60 lines found on page 60 of 60 novels. Amazing stuff!

As I find more I'll add them to my list.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Education and Economic Justice

My first reaction to Thursday (June 28, 2007) Supreme Court decision on race and education was dismay. It seemed, to a life long leftie like me, to be a horrendous step backward. But over the past few days, as I read articles from various papers around the nation, it occurs to me that this is instead a tremendous opportunity to turn the focus where it really should be -- on issues of social class.

The Christian Science Monitor today noted that many of those concerned about issues of equity in education feel "it would be more practical for districts to shift toward balancing school populations on the basis of factors such as income level."

Cited in the CS Monitor article:
"The socioeconomic approach offers two advantages," says Richard Kahlenberg, author of a new report detailing such plans and a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive policy group in Washington. First, districts that have done it most successfully give families a choice of magnet schools with special programs, "so there are incentives for middle-class people to buy into socioeconomic integration," says Mr. Kahlenberg. Second, "as a legal matter, it's clearly fine to use income to distinguish people."
If we are honest about it, the only reason for anyone to be concerned about inequities in education is because education has consequences for the material and economic conditions in which people live. Concerns about racial segregation were never about an abstract access to "knowledge," but rather about practical access to power (political and economic) and the pathways to full economic opportunity.

It is time now to focus on making sure that our schools are integrated by social class, and use things like income, home value, and neighborhood residence to create diversity in the schools. If we have social class diversity, then racial and ethnic diversity will happen as a matter of course.