December 27, 2004

Christmas Report

We had a great Christmas! Lots of presents, snow on the ground outside, plenty of cookies, our gas fireplace purring in the corner, and the excited wonder of children to make it special.

However, we did not anticipate how much our 1.5-year-old Graham would want 5-year-old Simon's toys. Our usual rule is that they don't have to share toys on the first day of receiving them, but Graham was squealing and squealing for Simon's livestock truck and the toy Winnebago. So we made an exception to the sharing rule, since Simon had plenty of toys anyway. Graham finally opened up his own school bus and happily played with it for an hour. What a good little guy.

The Bane of Fathers On Christmas Day has changed from lack of batteries, to those pesky wires that they use to attach toys to their packaging so strongly that Jimmy Valentine himself couldn't separate them. Why do all four wheels have to be tied into the box? There was also a Hot Wheels dual racetrack with a hundred parts that I had to put together, but eventually I was able to follow the instructions to their successful conclusion. Good thing my brother sent us that package of sausage, cheese, and crackers from Hickory Farms!

By 10am our living room was completely filled with wreckage, so Christmas must have been a success.

I took Isabel (7) and Simon ice-skating yesterday on her new ice skates. She's a natural! I had to hold up Simon, since he is a little wobbly on his first time out. Me, I haven't been ice skating for 25 years. But I did okay. Ice skating comes back quicker than differential equations.

I played "O Holy Night" on my guitar for church on Sunday morning, all three verses. I even hit the Bm chord successfully a couple of times! I need to play with a group in order to get better, though, like I did for the Christmas Eve service. We had: me on 12-string guitar, a six-string guitar, a bass guitar, a harp, a cello, a flute, a bongo drum, and three singers. That makes good combo for Christmas carols.

Posted by Carl Drews at 11:10 AM | Family

December 20, 2004

The Palestinians Need an Orchestra

(Whew! After singing in three Messiah concerts in 27 hours, it's time for some non-vocal communication.)

I want to go back to something Kevin said on May 5, 2004 (post: "The State of Diplomacy"):

It means that the palestinians won't get a state until they get serious about being a nation and not just an odd cross between victims and terrorists.

This statement is insightful, profound, and (best of all) true.

About a year ago I was reading the book: "Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East", by Michael B. Oren, Oxford University Press, 2002. On page 3 Oren is talking about the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine:

"By the 1940s, the Yishuv was a powerhouse in the making: dynamic, inventive, ideologically and politically pluralistic. Drawing on Western and Eastern European models, the Jews of Palestine created new vehicles for agrarian settlement (the communal kibbutz and cooperative moshav), a viable socialist economy with systems for national health, reforestation, and infrastructure development, a respectable university, and a symphony orchestra - and to defend them all, an underground citizen's army, the Haganah."

When I read that paragraph I thought, "What? An orchestra??!!!" I had thought of the early Jewish community in Palestine as a bunch of huddled refugees, hunkering down in the basement shelter and trying desperately to avoid being annihilated!

Well, I was wrong. The Yishuv did have somewhat of a siege mentality, but they also found time and enough violins to create a symphony orchestra and give concerts. That's very interesting.

Victims don't have orchestras. Terrorists don't give concerts.

Nations do both of these things. And that's a big difference.

I also remember reading sometime in the 1990s about the newly established Palestinian Authority. If I remember correctly, the article in Time magazine stated that the P.A. managed to collect even less money in taxes from the Palestinian areas than the Israelis had during their authority. If true, that's pathetic!

Victims don't pay taxes. Terrorists don't pay taxes. Nations do pay taxes, and that's partly how they build themselves into a functioning society and respectable member of the family of nations.

The Palestinians' fate is not in their own hands. Their unhappy situation is partly a consequence of their own actions. That is reality. Behaving like a nation would go a long way toward changing their perception in the eyes of the rest of the world, where it really matters. Having an orchestra, and paying taxes, would also change their own self-image.

(I'm aware that the P.A. was corrupt, and perhaps Palestinian individuals avoided paying taxes that would just go to line some official's pocket. If true, this would be a profound betrayal of a people's hopes and dreams by Yasser Arafat. 'Nuff said.)

So if you Palestinians want a state, you should start an orchestra and pay your taxes. Continue in that theme, and renounce your destructive intifada and the Hamas terrorists. After two generations of failure, it's time to try doing something different.

If you search on Google for "Palestinian orchestra", you will get some hits. Some of those links appear to refer to the early Jewish orchestra mentioned in the "Six Days of War" book. But there are also some references to an orchestra in Ramallah. It appears that some musicians had this idea before I did, and a few Palestinians aspire to play in the orchestra or to conduct it!

I wish them the best of success. Perhaps they could start with the opening Tenor aria from Messiah:

Comfort ye.

Comfort ye, my people, saith your God.

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem,

And cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished

That her iniquity is pardoned,

That her iniquity is pardoned.

Posted by Carl Drews at 1:09 PM | International Politics

December 15, 2004

That's Me In The Corner

There's somebody out there even more harried than me; more overwhelmed by the Christmas season than inspired by the Christmas spirit. We received a Christmas card today that lacked a return adress on the envelope or any writing (including who it was from) on the card. The funWife thinks she might possibly recognize the handwriting on the envelope. Actually, this is a nice gesture on somebody's part because now we can't tell who didn't send us a Christmas card this year. Not that that matters, we're relentless on sending out cards in the Murphy Family.

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 7:34 PM | Comments (1) | Family

December 13, 2004

Getting Paid for Grades

Back in high school a few of my classmates got paid by their parents to get good grades. I remember some guys said they would get $5 for an 'A' and $2 for every 'B'. Then I heard much higher figures from some non-honor roll students: 20 bucks for every 'A' and $10 for every 'B'! Wow! I would have cleaned up at the end of every marking period! I coulda had that ten-speed bike in no time, instead of painting our house that summer (Of course, if I hadn't painted the house I would never have learned the words to "Road to Shambala", by Three Dog Night, listening to my transistor radio up there on the scaffolding while slapping white paint against the shingles.)

The odd thing is that the rates for good students were a lot lower than for the kids that rarely made the honor roll. "Biff" might earn 20 clams for every 'A', but he rarely got one. So the net payout from the parents was pretty minimal, whether their kids had high GPAs or low.

Now that I'm in graduate school, I realize that I am getting paid to get good grades. And it ain't no small potatoes, either! My company has an educational assistance plan that pays for tuition, usually about a thousand spondulicks for a three-credit course. I also get 5 hours per week to attend class during the day, which is a good benefit! But here is the catch: "To continue in the Educational Assistance Program, you must receive grades of "C" or higher for undergraduate course and "B" or higher for courses taken in a graduate degree program."

I took my final exam on Saturday night. I think I was between an 'A' and a 'B' in the course; not bad for a guy who four months ago would not have recognized a partial differential equation if one had fallen into my lunch! I think I did okay on the final. But if I blew the final, and I get a 'C' in the course; I am out of the Education Assistance Program. Sudden death! One strike, and you're out!

I have heard that professors will bend over backwards to give their students at least a B-. Other sources say no - their profs are strict that an 'A' is 90 or above, a 'B' is 80 or above, and so on. I don't think I'm a slacker, but I did sign up for the Atmospheric Dynamics course a little weak on the prerequisites.

So I'm getting paid a thousand dollars for every 'A' or 'B'. If I get anything below a 'B', I'm out of the program. Maybe I can still try to get a Master's Degree on my own, but it will be a lot more difficult.

The stakes are high. This game is for keeps.

Posted by Carl Drews at 1:07 PM | Comments (3) | School/Education

December 11, 2004

A Real Corker

Perhaps I'm easily amused, but I broke out laughing at the corrections in today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch -- which won't be online until they're good and ready in a few days. But they were correcting a typo in a letter to the editor (not present in the online version), and announced that the correct title of Marshall McCluhan's book is "The Medium is the Massage". Maybe they should spell check with a human and not a program, or maybe I applaud an editor slipping one in on a slow Friday night.

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 10:59 AM | Comments (1) | Fun

December 8, 2004

Not Dead Yet

When I've had the time, I haven't had the inclination, and when I've had the inclination, I haven't had the time to post to the blog. Seeing as how this is the Christmas season which is the most stressful time of the year, well, no doubt I'll be posting up a storm.

On a blog related note, I didn't have to change my colors to show my solidarity with Ukrainian Freedom and Democracy, I've always been orange. It's the Scotch-Irish in me (along with a like of the blue/orange color scheme that dates back into childhood). I wonder how my college chum Modest Osadsa, who used to verbally berate the communists when they tried to talk/leaflet at meals, feels about it.

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 4:18 PM | Inside Bloging