17 September 2014

+JMJ+

"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 102

Last meeting, we focussed so much on the past that I think it's only fair to look more closely at the future. (Or should I call it the present?) Besides Snowman, the only other human beings (if we can still call them that) who still seem to be around are the so-called Children of Crake. And unlike him, they are thriving. After all, they were designed that way . . .

. . . [The Children of Crake] are not immune from wounds--the children fall down or bash their heads on trees, the women burn their fingers tending the fires, there are cuts and scrapes--but so far the injuries have been minor, and easily cured by purring.

Crake had worked for years on the purring. Once he'd discovered that the cat family purred at the same frequency as the ultrasound used on bone fractions and skin lesions and were thus equipped with their own self-healing mechanism, he'd turned himself inside out in the attempt to install that feature. The trick was to get the hyoid apparatus modified and the voluntary nerve pathways connected and the neocortex control systems adapted without hampering the speech abilities. There'd been quite a few botched experiments, as Snowman recalled. One of the trial batch of kids had manifested a tendency to sprout long whiskers and scramble up the curtains; a couple of the others had vocal expression impediments; one of them had been limited to nouns, verbs, and roaring.

Well, who could blame Crake for pursuing this line of research? We "Two or Three" Book Club members probably wouldn't blow our savings on NooSkins cosmetic treatments, but something like Wolverine's "healing factor" is something a bit more practical. Wouldn't you like the ability to heal your own broken bones or burns? The real question is whether you'd overlook the fact that several "trial batches" of "kids" had to go before you. During the last discussion, Sheila pointed out that sometimes we just have to accept that the past is the past. But how far in the past would, say, the measles and rubella vaccines have to be before we no longer mind too much that they were developed using aborted babies? When does the present stop being the present and finally become the past?


13 September 2014

+JMJ+

Locus Focus: Take One Hundred and Eight


"Our success," Sir Ken Robinson has said, "is always synergistic with our environment." As an education adviser, he was likely talking about schools, although he is best known for a talk in which he explained how they kill creativity. But if we've learned one thing from last week's trip to 1940s Monongahela, learning and thriving don't need artificial structures to coax them out. Never underestimate a good unschooling setting.

And now for a cover that the impeccably artistic Stilwell will never forgive me for . . .

09 September 2014

+JMJ+

"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 101

Pictured today is the cover of the Oryx and Crake edition I would have had if I had been willing to read it in uni. That "frenemy" whom I told you about was so eager for me to read it even after I told her I didn't think it would fit into my book budget, that she offered to buy my copy from me after the trimester, if it were very gently used, at a very generous price. But as I explained, it just wasn't worth it. On the other hand, I'm quite happy to be reading Oryx and Crake today with you all. So it worked out in the end, aye? =)

"We give people hope. Hope isn't ripping off!"

"At NooSkins' prices it is. You hype their wares and take all their money and then they run out of cash, and it's no more treatments for them. They can rot as far as you and your pals are concerned. Don't you remember the way we used to talk, everything we wanted to do? Making life better for people--not just people with money. You used to be so . . . you had ideals then."

"Sure," said Jimmy's father in a tired voice. "I've still got them. I just can't afford them . . . Anyway, [this research has] been paying for your room and board, it's been putting the food on the table. You're hardly in a position to take the high ground."

I just disliked Jimmy's mother at first, but now I see that she's more complex than I thought. While I'm still not happy that she just gave up on being a mother (and then complained about how her son was turning out--just like the parents I wrote about in my Reading Diary entry on John Taylor Gatto's Weapons of Mass Instruction), I'd love to know more about her. What was the incident that was just too much for her? Was there another incident that made her finally decide to take action so many years later? And did the latter have anything to do with Crake?

In the next three chapters we finally get to meet the two title characters--and it's easy to see why they continue to haunt Snowman's imagination long after they seem to be out of his life.

06 September 2014

+JMJ+

Locus Focus: Take One Hundred and Seven!

Welcome to the Unschooling Challenge!

Although my theme for September is "Dystopia", the settings I have chosen for September's Saturdays are as anti-dystopian as can be. No, that doesn't mean they're utopian--not when every utopia is a dystopia waiting to happen. You could say they're real-world-ian, just as "unschooling" is real-world-ian.


03 September 2014

+JMJ+

Reading Diary: Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto

"It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced," wrote G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy. For the more reasons you have to stand by something, the harder it is for you to sum all of them up. Which kind of explains why The Last Psychiatrist blog has been all over the place in the last year or so. Well, there's also the obvious fact that coherence is no longer a high priority for Alone, even when he's painstakingly spelling everything out. But I confess that I didn't get what he was saying about Randi Zuckerberg until I started reading John Taylor Gatto.

. . . seeing the connection between long-term legal confinement of children and the nation's business gives us an essential perspective in rethinking the role of mass schooling. Classical business values corrupt education, they have no place in education except as cultural artefacts to be examined.

For the first two centuries of [America's] existence, such an institution would have been unthinkable--the young were too valuable a part of economic and social reality. Indispensable, in fact. But when the young were assigned to consume, not produce; when they were ordered to be passive, not active, as part of the general society, the schools we have were the inevitable result of this transformation. As soon as you understand the functions it was given to perform in the new corporate economy, nothing about school at all should surprise you. Not even its Columbine moments.

Strong words, aye? Can you guess which part hit me in the face like one of Alone's brickbats? It was the line: ". . . when the young were assigned to consume, not produce . . ." Which is just another way of describing the very handicap that Alone observed in a child who "had been well trained to want things but not control things." And now everything is so amazingly obvious to me that I would be all over the place, too, if I tried to explain it. Consider me that "ordinary intelligent man" whom Chesterton says would be unable to come up with an impressive answer to the question "Why do you prefer civilisation to savagery?" if you dropped it on him without warning.

But I've obviously had some warning, or else this post wouldn't be so nicely formatted. =P So perhaps I am now an "ordinary intelligent woman" who just gets a little impatient at anyone who tuned in too late to hear all her stories about those two years as a high school teacher and the next three years as an after-school tutor, while they were happening, and who no longer cares to explain herself. I also have a personal bias against conversion-based apologetics, remember? (Trick question! Because if you've just tuned in, then you don't.)


01 September 2014

+JMJ+

"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 100

We're in the triple digits!!! =D Was anyone else around during our very first meeting? But regardless of when you "joined"--and even if you have since "left"--I'm grateful to have had your company at any point along the way. If you're also feeling nostalgic and have any "Two or Three" Book Club memories that you'd like to share, please let me know in the combox. =) But now that my copy of Oryx and Crake has finally arrived, I shouldn't keep you waiting any longer . . .

"Snowman, oh Snowman," [the children are] saying . . . To them his name is just two syllables. They don't know what a snowman is, they've never seen snow.

It was one of Crake's rules that no name should be chosen for which a physical equivalent--even stuffed, even skeletal--could not be demonstrated. No unicorns, no griffins, no manticores or basilisks. But those rules no longer apply, and it's given Snowman a bitter pleasure to adapt this dubious label. The Abominable Snowman--existing and not existing, flickering at the edges of blizzards, apelike man or manlike ape, stealthy, elusive, known only through rumours and through its backward-pointing footprints. Mountain tribes were said to have chased it down and killed it when they had the chance. They were said to have boiled it, roasted it, held special feasts; all the more exciting, he supposes, for bordering on cannibalism.

Oh, look! An unlikely and unexpected connection to the ending of State of Fear. LOL! (Sorry, Amy. But you know I couldn't resist. =P Let's just hope it's not foreshadowing!)

24 August 2014

+JMJ+

Blast from the Book Boyfriend Past!


Meet Shea Adler and other book boyfriends
@ Stuck in Books

While waiting for my copy of Oryx and Crake to get here (and yes, it may be a while yet), I decided to work on a few old drafts and get them published before the Dystopian theme that we're going to have soon means they'll have to wait a little longer. 

Please note that today's featured characters are over 150 years old, so there are going to be spoilers here. I hope that this post's being a "two-fer," just like the book that inspired it, will make up for that somewhat.