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Saturday, March 18, 2006

I blame it on the French speaking sock puppets...

Teacher seeks new job after Faust flap
Despite support, educator sees no future in Bennett
By Deborah Frazier, Rocky Mountain News
March 10, 2006

(Additional background here, and here).

Tresa Waggoner, the Bennett School District music teacher put on paid leave for showing a video clip of the opera Faust, said Thursday that she's looking for a new job.

Waggoner, placed on leave Jan. 30, said she called superintendent George Sauter on Thursday after a local newspaper reported that she would not be allowed to return to the classroom.

She said Sauter said she'd remain on paid leave. Sauter confirmed that, but declined further comment.

"I'm applying for other teaching positions in schools and colleges," said Waggoner, a vocalist with two Christian CDs. "Maybe I'll become a church music director."

The video clip, narrated by opera star Joan Sutherland, featured sock puppets singing in French from the 16th-century morality tale.

Several parents complained that the video, which Waggoner got from the school library, contained references to abortion and Satan worship.

During the Feb. 16 board meeting, more than 53 people appeared to support her returning to the classroom and six opposed it, Waggoner said.

"Dr. Sauter told me it would be too disruptive to let me teach again," she said.

"I've done nothing wrong," she said. "I told him I would have to pray for him so he could live with himself for doing something so wrong."

The parents who asked that Waggoner be fired declined comment.

Waggoner isn't the only casualty in the culture wars in Bennett, an Adams County town of 2,500. Mayor Karen Grossiant resigned in late February and said Waggoner's removal was the "last straw."

"Tresa Waggoner was the last in a very long line of very peculiar situations," said Grossiant, an administrator at Regis University.

"Bennett has a mean-spirited undertone. I'd had enough," she said.

When the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built a meetinghouse in nearby Strasburg last year, there was a debate over whether Mormons were Christians, she said.

"The issue with Tresa Waggoner wasn't the opera, but that she had run the holiday pageant without Christmas songs," said Grossiant.

Waggoner said she taught the elementary school students a variety of songs for the winter concert, but didn't include the traditional Christian songs.

Cory Babi, the wife of school board member Mike Babi, called four days before the program and said there would be problems if there were no Christmas songs, said Waggoner.

"I told her we couldn't sing them because public schools didn't want to offend people of other religions, including Jewish people, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses," she said.

After Waggoner showed less than 12 minutes of the Faust videotape, Cory Babi said her daughter asked about abortion and suicide. Babi declined comment Thursday.

"The connection is transparent. They lied and said Faust is about abortion," said Waggoner. "The only thing I can do is expose this as the injustice that it is."

Faust: an old story

Faust, a legendary character in music and literature, dates back to a medieval morality tale of a deeply depressed man who sells his soul to the devil.

In all versions of the Faust story, the man obtains power and knowledge, but suffers dire and eternal consequences.

Early Christian teachers used the story to show the horrors that befall those who give in to the devil's temptations.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Comedian in Chief

Bush (or, more precisely, his writers) did have a couple good lines at the recent Gridiron dinner:

"Dick, I've got an approval rating of 38 percent and you shoot the only trial lawyer in the country who likes me."

"You know there are all these conspiracy theories that Dick runs the country, or Karl runs the country. Why aren't there any conspiracy theories that I run the country? Really ticks me off."

"The truth is that I do run the country. But Dick runs me and Lynne runs Dick. So actually Lynne runs the country. And Lynne, I think you're doin' a heckuva job. Although I have to say you dropped the ball big time on that Dubai deal."

"By the way, when Dick first heard my approval rating was 38 percent, he said, 'What's your secret?'"

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And a happy paradimethlaminobenzaldehyde to ye!

The only quasi-Irish story I know is from an old Isaac Asimov essay I read in a science fiction magazine in the early 60s.

The late professor was a student at the time and was working with the chemical paradimethylaminobenzaldehyde. He noticed the twelve syllable mouthful could be sung to the tune of the Irish Washerwoman's Song, the most famous of all Irish jigs.

Asimov was standing at a secretary's desk, waiting to enter a meeting. He absent-mindedly starting singing the jig, using the word paradimethylaminobenzaldehyde. The secretary was suitably impressed, and exclaimed, "Oh, you know it in the original Gaelic!"

Ah... Google says the essay is called "You, Too, Can Speak Gaelic." It doesn't appear to be online anywhere, but it's included is several of Asimov's collected works. This tale alone is worth the price of any book in which it's included.

(Actually, I do know one other Irish joke, but you've all heard the patio furniture line...)

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Speechless.

Sometimes words are simply inadequate. Too bad he's not wearing green. It would have been an ideal St. Patrick's Day leprechaun photo. (via Heidi N. on the ABC World News Now Discussion Group)

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

And the word is....

The single word most frequently associated with George W. Bush today is "incompetent," and close behind are two other increasingly mentioned descriptors: "idiot" and "liar." All three are mentioned far more often today than a year ago.

(Pew Research Center, March 15, 2006)

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Quotes of the day

(Daniel Patrick Moynihan, March 16, 1927 - March 26, 2003)

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts."

"Secrecy is for losers."

---

"Along the way [Moynihan] wrote more books than some of his colleagues read, and became something that, like Atlantis, is rumored to have once existed but has not recently been seen-the Democratic Party's mind."
-George Will

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Another Comcastrophe averted...

My Comcast broadband internet died about 6 pm last night. This isn't unusual; there's an service interruption at least one every four or five days.

But since I'm in Pittsburgh and my employer is in Chicago, a net outage has an immediate and nasty effect on me. Typically, I'd deal with a late-day failure like Tuesday's by eating dinner, watching the news, and returning about a half-hour later to find the connection restored.

But I had a customer with a problem last night, and I really needed to get back on line. A call to Comcast revealed, according to the service person, that mine was one of only two modems in the area that appeared to be offline. Power cycling was useless; the modem would boot through its startup, but the green "Online" LED would never illuminate.

Comcast said they'd send a technician sometime Thursday before noon. Exasperated, I asked if I'd get more responsive service if I upgraded to a business account. "Oh, yes," came the response. "With business service we guarantee a response within 24 hours."

24 hours?

Time to dig out the phone cord for the laptop's modem. Or rent a table a Starbucks.

(The service came back up at about 7 pm. I didn't cancel the service call, though- I want to find out why my modem was reporting itself offline.)

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Times are tough...

Report: Many Jobs Lack Benefits To Cut

(From this week's Onion)

March 13, 2006

NEW YORK- According to a report published in the February issue of Forbes magazine, employers are reporting difficulty finding job benefits to eliminate. "Health insurance, matching 401(k) contributions, lunch breaks, and various allowances and reimbursements are all fair game for cost-cutting- that is, when they are offered by employers in the first place," staff writer Jason Smills wrote. "By not extending these perks to their employees in the first place, however, American business owners find themselves lacking the crucial ability to take them away." Smills noted that 97 percent of the possible benefit cuts in American jobs had already been made, reducing the potential for greater company profits and executive-level benefits to "alarming" lows.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

No comment.

Miss Deaf Texas Killed by Train

(AP) AUSTIN (March 14) - The reigning Miss Deaf Texas died Monday afternoon after being struck by a train, officials said.

Tara Rose McAvoy, 18, was walking near railroad tracks when she was struck by a Union Pacific train, authorities said. A witness told Austin television station KTBC the train sounded its horn right up until the accident occurred.

McAvoy, who had been deaf since birth, won the state title in June and represented the state "with dignity and pride," state pageant director Laura Loeb-Hill told The Associated Press via e-mail Monday night.

McAvoy was to represent Texas at the Miss Deaf America pageant this summer, Loeb-Hill said.

McAvoy graduated last year from the Texas School for the Deaf, attended Austin Community College and then started at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., in January, but had returned to Texas, Loeb-Hill said.

(via Kevin Brabant on the ABC World News Now discussion list.)

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Mind-blowing concept of the day...

Our universe is one big honking quantum ­mech­anical computer.

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Quote of the day

I think the mistake a lot of us make is thinking the state appointed psychiatrist is our "friend."
-Jack Handey

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The other side of the coin...

The deaths from the cartoon riots have demonstrated to the Western world not our love for our Prophet (peace be upon him), but the flippancy with which we regard human life. What benefit has the loss of another fifty Muslim lives brought? What good has the burning and vandalism of embassies done? For what fault were the Nigerian Christians attacked and their churches destroyed? We speak of the non-Muslim world's need to respect Islamic sentiments and yet we cannot reciprocate the same toward other religions. Sadly, it seems the scope of our tolerance extends only to those who tolerate us. And in doing so we appear just as bad as those whom we criticize.

Where is our vociferous condemnation of the killings of innocents, be they in Bali, Beslan or in Baghdad? Have we ever demonstrated our outrage at the mass killings perpetrated by Muslim terrorists with the same ounce of protest that we reserve for the death of our own? Where was our outrage when the bodies of American civilians were being dragged across the streets of Baghdad, or the ones of Israeli soldiers being desecrated in Gaza? Can we honestly compare our muted head-shaking over the beheadings of Westerners with our ongoing violent protests against the cartoons? Yes, we do express "concern" or "disapproval," but this by no means matches the zeal with which we decry such injustices inflicted upon our own.
-Faisal Sanai, "Danish Cartoons and Muslim Reaction: Two Wrongs and No Right", The Arab News, March 13, 2006

(via the Sanity Inspector on the alt.quotations Usenet newsgroup.)

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The government listens...

From "The Middle Seat," Scott McCartney's air travel column in The Wall Street Journal:

"On May 10, the Federal Communications Commission will auction radio spectrum that will allow telecommunications companies to operate wireless Internet and cellphone services for air travel."

Later in the column, McCartney notes:

"Do travelers really want to gab inflight? Of 8,000 comments to the FCC when it proposed dropping its ban, only two or three were in favor. The rest, except for the 50 or so technical reports, were from travelers vociferously opposed, arguing that airplanes should be a refuge from calls and emails. Flight attendant unions are also opposed, fearing obnoxious phone habits could lead to air-rage incidents."

So the answer is: Yes, the government listens. It just ignores you.

And the ongoing controversy regarding the potential of interference with critical navigation systems? Hey, they have that covered as well:

"If cellphones are allowed on airplanes, Granger Morgan, head of Carnegie Mellon's department of engineering and public policy, would like to see one other change: Flight-data recorders to track electronic emissions should be modified so that crash investigators can document a problem if trouble develops."

There, don't you feel better?

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Storm Team 11 didn't say anything about this...

(From those rocket scientists at NASA.)

It's official: Solar minimum has arrived. Sunspots have all but vanished. Solar flares are nonexistent. The sun is utterly quiet.

Like the quiet before a storm.

This week researchers announced that a storm is coming--the most intense solar maximum in fifty years. The prediction comes from a team led by Mausumi Dikpati of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). "The next sunspot cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the previous one," she says. If correct, the years ahead could produce a burst of solar activity second only to the historic Solar Max of 1958.

Dikpati's prediction is unprecedented. In nearly-two centuries since the 11-year sunspot cycle was discovered, scientists have struggled to predict the size of future maxima?and failed. Solar maxima can be intense, as in 1958, or barely detectable, as in 1805, obeying no obvious pattern.

The key to the mystery, Dikpati realized years ago, is a conveyor belt on the sun.

We have something similar here on Earth?the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt, popularized in the sci-fi movie The Day After Tomorrow. It is a network of currents that carry water and heat from ocean to ocean--see the diagram below. In the movie, the Conveyor Belt stopped and threw the world's weather into chaos.

The sun's conveyor belt is a current, not of water, but of electrically-conducting gas. It flows in a loop from the sun's equator to the poles and back again. Just as the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt controls weather on Earth, this solar conveyor belt controls weather on the sun. Specifically, it controls the sunspot cycle.

Solar physicist David Hathaway of the National Space Science & Technology Center (NSSTC) explains: "First, remember what sunspots are--tangled knots of magnetism generated by the sun's inner dynamo. A typical sunspot exists for just a few weeks. Then it decays, leaving behind a 'corpse' of weak magnetic fields."

Enter the conveyor belt.

All this happens with massive slowness. "It takes about 40 years for the belt to complete one loop," says Hathaway. The speed varies "anywhere from a 50-year pace (slow) to a 30-year pace (fast)."

When the belt is turning "fast," it means that lots of magnetic fields are being swept up, and that a future sunspot cycle is going to be intense. This is a basis for forecasting: "The belt was turning fast in 1986-1996," says Hathaway. "Old magnetic fields swept up then should re-appear as big sunspots in 2010-2011."

Like most experts in the field, Hathaway has confidence in the conveyor belt model and agrees with Dikpati that the next solar maximum should be a doozy. But he disagrees with one point. Dikpati's forecast puts Solar Max at 2012. Hathaway believes it will arrive sooner, in 2010 or 2011.

"History shows that big sunspot cycles 'ramp up' faster than small ones," he says. "I expect to see the first sunspots of the next cycle appear in late 2006 or 2007?and Solar Max to be underway by 2010 or 2011."

Who's right? Time will tell. Either way, a storm is coming.

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Quote of the day

Man is the only animal that photocopies his buttocks, or needs to.
-The Covert Comic

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He's worth $3.3 billion...

...and, with the name Anurag Dikshit, deserves every penny. (from Zay N. Smith's QT column in the Chicago Sun-Times.)

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Quote of the day

Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Susan Ertz

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So there.  
The kgb@kgb.com e-mail address is now something other than kgb@kgb.com saga.
kgbreport.com used to be kgb.com until December, 2007 when the domain name broker Trout Zimmer made an offer I couldn't refuse. Giving up kgb.com and adopting kgbreport.com created a significant problem, however. I had acquired the kgb.com domain name in 1993, and had since that time used kgb@kgb.com as my sole e-mail address. How to let people know that kgb@kgb.com was no longer kgb@kgb.com but rather kgbarkes@gmail.com which is longer than kgb@kgb.com and more letters to type than kgb@kgb.com and somehow less aesthetically pleasing than kgb@kgb.com but actually just as functional as kgb@kgb.com? I sent e-mails from the kgb@kgb.com address to just about everybody I knew who had used kgb@kgb.com in the past decade and a half but noticed that some people just didn't seem to get the word about the kgb@kgb.com change. So it occurred to me that if I were generate some literate, valid text in which kgb@kgb.com was repeated numerous times and posted it on a bunch of different pages- say, a blog indexed by Google- that someone looking for kgb@kgb.com would notice this paragraph repeated in hundreds of locations, would read it, and figure out that kgb@kgb.com no longer is the kgb@kgb.com they thought it was. That's the theory, anyway. kgb@kgb.com. Ok, I'm done. Move along. Nothing to see here...

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