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July 2003

More Bad News about Standardized Testing

I've always hated standardized educational testing ever since I was in the 4th grade when I attended Herkomer Platz Kinderschule in Munich, Germany. (My father, John Cramer was on sabbatical and was doing research at Garching.) At the end of the school year we all took a series of tests. They didn't matter for me because I was going back to the US, but for all the rest of the children, the tests determined whether they were going to the Hauptschule, the Realschule, or the Gymnasium. Only the kids chosen to go to the Gymnasium were expected to go to college. As a 10-year-old I thought it was stupid and unfair that my peers were taking tests that would eliminate to possibility of a university education for two-thirds of them. I still think it was stupid.

My later experiences with standardized testing did nothing to change my mind. For the most part, I've always been a good test-taker, but this did not reduce my disdain for them and my upset at what they did to the educational environment. Thus, I was deeply suspicious of the emphasis on standardized testing in Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative: school would teach to the test and otherwise distort the ciriculum to optimize their pupil's scores.

I think a lot of the recent emphasis on "Kindergarten readiness" originates in the pressures on schools to make sure their pupil's test scores are up from the beginning; and following from that, the fashion for holding kids back a year, rather than letting them enter Kindergarten and First Grade on schedule. The pressure to perform is passed increasingly downward in age-groups. This is very bad for the kids and brings pressure to the early elementary grades that my generation didn't see until Junior High.

But I've just found out about a new way in which this testing pressure damages eduction:

To Cut Failure Rate, Schools Shed Students

Educators nationwide are waking up to the problem of pushouts. With the advent of high-stakes testing in dozens of states, and the fact that under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools with low graduation rates risk being deemed failing schools, schools are facing real temptations to make their results look good by getting rid of low performers.

Just this month, Miami school officials began investigating a principal who apparently tried to weed out low-performing students to bolster the school's test scores. And the Houston schools are mired in controversy after a state audit found that at some schools, more than half those discharged should have been classified as dropouts.

In New York, Mr. Klein said, the pushout problem was one he inherited, and became aware of only late last year. Since then, he said, he has been investigating the issue, and making plans for a new accountability system that will, among other things, keep better track of what happens to students who leave the system.

Mr. Klein said he was not aware that the discharge issue had been brought to the department's notice in prior years.
But two years ago, just before he left his post as chief of assessment and accountability, Robert Tobias recommended an audit after noticing a "heavy use of the discharge codes" under which students are no longer accounted for in a school's graduation rate.

The discharge codes can be misused, he said, by classifying students who drop out of the system as having left the city.  "It would be possible to inflate graduation rates and reduce your dropout rate," said Mr. Tobias, who is now an education professor at New York University.

Vote in the Hugos

Hugo Award voting closes at midnight Pacific Time on Thursday, July 31st. Be sure to cast your vote. The New York Review of Science Fiction, ed. Kathryn Cramer, David G. Hartwell, & Kevin Maroney, (Semiprozine) and David G. Hartwell (Best Editor) are among the nominees.

The voting deadline for the 2003 Hugo Awards is midnight Pacific Time on Thursday, July 31st. However, our membership team is not able to instantly process memberships and send back membership numbers and the mandatory voting PIN numbers. Therefore, if you wish to use the on-line web ballot to vote, please register on-line for your membership by midnight Tuesday, July 29th.

A personal identification number (PIN) is required to use the web-based on-line Hugo ballot. So far, nine electronic ballots have been rejected for incorrect PINs. You may not substitute a membership number for your PIN. Personal identification numbers were sent to all member households in a letter with the last progress report. If you cannot find this letter, please send a PIN request to Include your name, postal address, and membership number.

On the Homeland Front

I tried to have an intellectual conversation with David last night which distracted me halfway through diapering the baby. She's usually fairly reliable with her diaper off and is very difficult to dress. David and I conversed for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, Elizabeth crawled down the hall and around a corner, pooping as she went. I was a huge mess. Luckily, we have carpet cleaner on hand.

Speaking of poop, I've discovered a new way in which people out here outsource domestic tasks. There's an outfit called When Dooty Calls you can pay to pick up after your dogs. (I suppose one has to coordinate this carefully with the yard service schedule!)

During the last NYRSF work weekend, when I was busy working on the magazine, I gave Peter all the seeds in the house and told him to go plant them. Yesterday, I discovered beanstalks emerging from the lawn. Although we didn't intend to use the yard service this summer and David had been mowing our lawn, after David's heart adventures, we had to reengage their services. They come with enormous mowers and powerful weed whackers and are quite indiscriminate about what they mow, whack, or run into with the mower. So Peter and I built bean teepees yesterday, hoping this will protect the beanstalks from the yard service. Peter has been dead set against us using the yard service ever since they mowed his toy manta ray that a friend of his had tossed out of the kiddie pool onto the lawn. Peter's right, of course, but our options are limited for now.


Did this one get lost in the mail for a couple of years?

Memo Warns Of New Plots To Hijack Jets

Terrorists operating in teams of five may be plotting suicide missions to hijack commercial airliners on the East Coast, Europe or Australia this summer, possibly using "common items carried by travelers, such as cameras, modified as weapons," according to an urgent memo sent last weekend to all U.S. airlines and airport security managers.

The "information circular" issued July 26 was drawn from recent intelligence reports that detail the most specific terrorist plots involving passenger aircraft in the United States since four hijacked jetliners were used in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, crashing into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in western Pennsylvania.

Um, isn't this why we have all this additional security at airports and such since 9/11? Is there anything much new here? (A few very minor plot twists are suggested in the memo, but it think that to keep it from being too embarrassing.)

I think what's really being said here is BE AFRAID! BE VERY AFRAID!, probably with the thought that frightened people will support Bush.

Perhaps they feel people out there aren't scared enough if they're giving to Howard Dean? I haven't given him any money yet, but if I get more scared, I just might.

Assasination Betting Pool

Not wanting to be left out of the reality show trend, the Pentagon had a really bad idea.

The folly of running America like a business, part 14.

The Pentagon has abandoned a plan to create a futures-style market that would let investors bet on the likelihood of terror attacks and other events in the Middle East, a senior lawmaker said Tuesday

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., said he spoke by phone with the head of the agency overseeing the program, Tony Tether.

"We mutually agreed that this thing should be stopped," the Associated Press quoted Warner as saying. Tether is the head of the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA.

A day earlier, Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota lit into the Pentagon for its role in launching the "Policy Analysis Market," a futures-style trading system that would let participants bet on the likelihood of assassinations, terror attacks and other geopolitical events. The site invites participants to begin registering on Aug. 1, with the market set to begin trading on Oct. 1.

"Spending taxpayer dollars to create terrorism betting parlors is as wasteful as it is repugnant," the senators wrote in a letter to John Poindexter, head of DARPA's Information Awareness Office. "The American people want the federal government to use its resources enhancing our security, not gambling on it."

One objection to this plan that occurred to me that I haven't seen mentioned was the possibility of insider trading: Get paid to commit crimes! Bet on a long shot and then assasinate the guy or blow up the bridge your very own self! Who needs a job? Terrorism for fun and profit!

Censorship and the 9/11 report

Let's all call for the section concerning Saudi Arabia in the report on 9/11 to be declassified. (This would be a really good thing for the families of victims to file suit over.) From the sound of it, the reason it is classified is that it is very upsetting to the Saudi government, not because revealing it would compromise our national security.

Saudi Arabia has sent its foreign minister to Washington to meet with President Bush on Tuesday, an administration official said tonight.

The foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, is expected to raise with Mr. Bush and other administration officials his country's concern about reports that classified sections of a Congressional study about the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, found that senior Saudi officials had funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to organizations that might have helped pay for them. The foreign minister's hurriedly arranged visit reflects sensitivity in Saudi Arabia to the suggestions that, knowingly or unknowingly, it might have aided the terrorists who attacked the United States. Saudi officials have denounced any suggestions that they helped pay for the attacks. The visit could also add to the pressure on the administration to declassify a 28-page section of the report, which was deleted from the nearly 900-page declassified version released Thursday by a joint committee of the House and Senate intelligence committees. People who saw the section have said it focuses on the role foreign governments played in the hijackings, but centers almost entirely on Saudi Arabia.

It appears that by keeping this section secret, the Bush administration is trading our national security for the interests of the oil companies. If the Saudis funded and staffed the 9/11 hijackings, the American people should be able to read about it in the government's report on 9/11.

We have already taken over two other countries over the issue of 9/11. I am not advocating that we take over a third. But if the Saudis are really the nation most behind the attack, we deserve to be told.

Is the DLC campaigning for Bush, or what?

I follow a link that I expected to lead to a right-wing poll, and low and behold, the whacky folks at the Democratic Leadership Council are at it again. This isn't just a slap at Howard Dean. This is an attack on the entire Democratic party:

Poll Finds Democrats Lack Crucial Support to Beat Bush: Party Must Strongly Reposition Itself to Regain White Male Voters' Support, DLC Advised

PHILADELPHIA, July 28 -- Dramatic erosion in support among white men has left the Democrats in a highly vulnerable position and unless the party strongly reposition itself, President Bush will be virtually impossible to beat in 2004, according to a new poll commissioned for the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).

The gloomy prognosis came despite evidence in the poll and in the assessments of Democratic elected officials attending the DLC's "national conversation" here that the economy alone makes Bush vulnerable for reelection. But Mark J. Penn, who conducted the poll, said that the party's image has regressed since former president Bill Clinton left office and that those weaknesses put Democrats in a weakened position.

Is this just pouting from the Lieberman camp dressed up as political data? Nope. This is outright campaigning against the party with which the DLC claims affiliation. Also, it clearly seems to be an attempt to counter the news stories of Howard Dean's fundraising successes.

Where is the DLC's money coming from? Enquiring minds want to know. If the DLC quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. It quacks like one of those industrial lobbying organizations that masquerades as a citizens group. Who is funding the DLC? Let's call for an investigation of the DLC's finances.


My technical difficulties seem to have cleared up while I was gone to Pennsylvania. The problem I was having was that (1) new comments wouldn't show up on the main page where it lists the number of comments, and (2) I couldn't rebuild pages -- thus no new entries, no corrections. (I was getting error messages when I tried to rebuild.) I discovered the problem Thursday night when we were half way across Pennsylvania, at Jim and Kathy Morrow's, on our way to Confluence in Pittsburgh. Since I hadn't been doing any tinkering, I figured the problem was probably server-side and I was dreading trying to solve it. I'm in luck: it's gone now.

I have many other things I'd like to write about right now, but having just arrived home, I've got a lot to do, like cook dinner.

Bunyip Stamps

Peter asked me today about bunyips, an Austrailan mythological creature. I typed bunyip into Google and we found a web site with pictures of four Australian Bunyip stamps, with widely differing portrayals.

Australian aboriginal stories describe the bunyip as an evil spirit which dwells in creeks, swamps, and billabongs. The bunyip's loud bellowing cry terrifies the aborigines. They avoid water sources where they believe a bunyip might live. Some stories suggest the bunyip emerges at night principally to prey on women and children as well as animals.

Peter says The Bunyip looks like a lama, a megatherium, a dragon, a beaver, and a dog (because of it's nose).

See also the Cryptozoology and Philately site.

Ideas Should Know Their Place

In this week's NYT Sunday Book Review Jeff Turrentine has written a most unkind and condescending review of Sarah Smith's Chasing Shakespear. Since I just spent five days staying at Sarah's in Maine and haven't read the book, I'm not in the position to provide an objective defense. However, I cannot help noticing the similarities between Turrentine's arguments, and those of Sven Berkert's attack on Margaret Atwood a while back. Certainly, Smith's novel focuses on the past and Atwood's on the future, and Smith's is a mystery novel, whereas Atwood is accused of writing science fiction. Nonetheless, their alleged literary crimes are apparently the same: privledging ideas over character. Don't these guys ever get tired of that argument?

A Bad Day

Peter had a bad day yesterday. He did something impulsively which had much more severe consequences that he would have anticipated even if he had stopped to think before he acted. He felt just miserable last night. Elizabeth came over to him and patted him on the head and said, good. This cheered him up some and was very meaningful to him.

Cat and Baby

Elizabeth tackled the cat and was lying on top of her. I said gentle, to try to get her off and moved in their direction. Elizabeth looked meaningfully at me and petted the cat with her open hand (without getting off) to show me she was being gentle. She's been tackling those she loves lately, especially me.

The cat adores her, and so puts up with a lot.

The View from Above

I added the GeoURL thing to the sidebar, but there aren't many blogs around here (see ). The nearest one it listed was 8 miles away. But I clicked on a link that said map and got a satelite photo of the neighborhood. Pretty wild. Here we are!

Babies on the Beach

It occurs to me on rereading my post from the other day that about 3/4 of what I was thinking about infants and evolution and the beach stayed in my head and didn't make it to the page. Here's a bit more:

I've been watching all these Discovery Channel/BBC nature programs -- Walking With Cavemen, Walking With Prehistoric Beasts, etc. -- which all have a very strong evolutionary themes: lots of action focused on predators and prey, hunting, breeding behaviors, etc. Relatively little attention in these stories is given to how infants and juveniles survive long enough to have the opportunity to do these things. As nearly as one could tell from these series, young creatures survive by hiding and sticking close to their mothers, and occasionally by watching their mothers do something and imitating.

Being in charge of the well-being of an infant nearly 24 hours a day, I observe a lot of behaviors that don't fall into these limited categories. The one most relevant to our beach experience is how infants constantly put things in their mouths: shoes, rocks, paper clips, dust bunnies, twigs, cat hairballs, grass, leaves, and paper. From baby books, I'm given to understand that this is an oral exploratory stage and is (presumably) neurologically necessary. As parents, we are strictly instructed to keep anything out of the baby's mouth that might be a choking hazard or might have germs on it. This is because babies can very easily die by choking and also because one wants to keep them from getting diseases. The mouthing behavior comes with a very high evolutionary price tag. Even in our pampered, mostly post-evolutionary environment, it still carries a heavy cost and consumes a lot of my time and attention every day. What are we to make of this?

I do not buy the idea that this is simply a neurological side-effect of other aspects of human development. The baby is very clearly foraging in addition to exploring and teething.

I've been a lot less orthodox about keeping stuff out of Elizabeth's mouth than I was in this struggle with Peter. When we're in the grass, I let her pick grass and leaves and put them in her mouth and then I tell her don't eat that, because as her mother I am supposed to be teaching her what to eat and what not to and -- it seems to me -- she'll learn faster this way than if the grass never makes it to her mouth in the first place. Over the past two months, she has developed at least five distinct modes of mouthing: sucking (rocks on the beach which taste salty), exploring (a paper clip, a dried leaf), teething (putting something in her mouth for the purpose of exerting counterpressure in the area where she has teeth coming in), tasting (establishing whether prospective food is actually good to eat), and eating. Over time, the distinctions between these behaviors has become clearer (which I think decreases her chances of choking by a lot), and things she seems to be tasting or actually trying to eat are much more likely to be actually edible or close to edible -- dandelion leaves, a fallen crab apple, a clover blossom, and, of course, seaweed.

A baby let to go her own way on a suburban lawn will find some nutrition, but not much. By comparison, a baby on a sheltered beach with tide pools and tide flats rich with life will find a whole lot more nutrition: not only highly nutritious sea vegetables, but also snails and small crustaceans. (When Peter was just under 2, I took him to the beach. I caught a tiny crab and gave it to him to hold in his hand. Peter popped it right in his mouth and ate it.) Because of water pollution, overfishing, and other factors, our beaches today are much less rich in life than beaches were several hundred years ago. What might Elizabeth have found to eat on the beach in Maine in 1600?

At some point, babies mouthing behavior would have to have been strongly selected for for it to be this strong and indefatigable. Here is my thought -- the mouthing behavior of babies would have substantial evolutionary value in a tidal beach environment, perhaps more than enough to overcome it's evolutionary cost.

In general, I think, evolutionary pressure on the young is much stronger than evolutionary pressure on adults because it is a bottleneck: you cannot reproduce unless you reach maturity. Certainly, adults exert a lot of effort to keep their progeny from dying. But young creatures do a whole lot more than hiding, clinging to their mothers, and imitating. And what is missing from this picture may be more important than what adults do.


Mouthing books is really an important early literacy skill.

This literary skill is strongly discouraged in our household. Handling books, yes. Mouthing them, no.

Home Again

Peter's question of the day: Do all the continents of the world float on the ocean?

I'm not sure I'm glad to be home. I think I'd rather still be in Maine. But we have a NYRSF work weekend. We're expecting Kevin Maroney shortly.

There's nothing like going to the beach with an infant to make you believe the aquatic ape theory of human origins. Elizabeth, foraging for seaweed and small edible creatures looked like she was born to do it. She did not seem to be eating the rock she put in her mouth, but I'm pretty sure she was eating sea weed, nutritious stuff that it is. (She seemed just to want to suck on the rocks, probably because they tasted salty.) I was, of course, following closely, prying rocks and the occasional snail out of her mouth. At first I tried to keep her from eating seaweed, but after the two hundredth time of saying don't eat that, I got worn down.

CONFUSION: A headline from CNN: U.S. kids living longer. Also, a sentence in this evenings weather report from explains Thunderstorm activity will be associated with cloud-to-ground lightning. (This last is gone now, but was up a half hour ago.)

The only thing we know for certain is these are bad people.

There was this Bush line in a CNN story earlier this evening that was badly placed so that I couldn't figure out the context:

"The only thing we know for certain is these are bad people," Bush said.

I thought, is Bush saying that the war with Iraq is all just a matter or good vs. evil? Or is he saying none of our intelligence on Iraq is any good? Or what? I got as far as copying the line but not pasting it and went off to the beach. Now it's gone from the CNN story.

Did Bush say it or not? If he said it, in what context? And what could he have meant by it?

Since I couldn't figure out the context of the quote, clearly the news story needed work. But presumably Bush actually said it, since it was there in the first place. CNN seems to have made Bush make a bit more sense in the intervening two hours.

Anyone know anything about this?

UPDATE: The quote seems to have been revised back in in a context (or maybe I temporarily lost the ability to read):

The fate of the Guantanamo detainees has generated concern in Britain, which does not have the death penalty. Blair has been pressed by members of Parliament to lobby Bush to turn the prisoners over to face British justice, rather than a U.S. military tribunal.

"We will work with the Blair government on this issue," Bush said. "The only thing I know for certain is that these are bad people."

OK, this makes a bit more sense than it initially seemed to. I don't agree with him, but the quote no longer seems to be a general satement about the whole mess.


Here's the whole exchange from the Bush-Blair news conference as reported in the NYT:

Q I wonder if I could ask you both about one aspect of Iraq and freedom and justice, which, as you know, is causing great deal of concern in Britain and the British parliament -- that is, what happens now in Guantanamo Bay to the people detained there, particularly whether there's any chance that the president will return the British citizens to face British justice as John Walker Lindh faced regular American justice?

And just on a quick point, could the prime minister react to the decision of the foreign affairs committee tonight that the BBC reporter, Andrew Gilligan is a, quote, "unsatisfactory witness"?

PRESIDENT BUSH: (To Blair.) You probably ought to comment on that one. (Laughter.)

PRIME MIN. BLAIR: Well, can I just say to you on the first point, obviously this is an issue that we will discuss when we begin our talks tonight, and we will put out a statement on that tomorrow for you.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah, we will work with the Blair government on this issue. And we're about to -- after we finish answering your questions, we're going to go upstairs and discuss the issue.

Q (Off mike) -- the people detained there?

PRESIDENT BUSH: No. The only I know for certain is that these are bad people. And we look forward to working closely with the Blair government to deal with the issue.

PRIME MIN. BLAIR: On your other point, Adam, the issue here is very, very simple. The whole debate for weeks revolved around a claim that either I or a member of my staff had effectively inserted intelligence into the dossier we put before the British people against the wishes of the intelligence services. Now, that is a serious charge. It never was true. Everybody now knows that that charge is untrue. And all we are saying is those who made that charge should simply accept that it is untrue. It's as simple as that.

The quote remains a little mysterious, as it is unclear exactly what question Bush was responding to. Also, in the rewritten CNN story, they've cleaned up a bit of Bush grammatical wandering. He seems to be saying that we are confident that the Guantanamo Bay detainees are bad people without much confidence in any other information about them. This is somewhat at odds with the American legal tradition.

Note that in the quote that initially caught my attention, CNN appears to have added a word to make the sentence grammatical.

Blood in the Water

By way of explaining the current fuss, Timothy Noah argues in Slate that Washington holds its liars to a higher standard than the Bush administration is able to supply:

Is it wrong to lie? Reporters tend to shy away even from that moral judgment. But at least in Washington, reporters take a very dim view of incompetent lying.

Only the finest lies will do for the Washington Press Corps, apparently. Choosy reporters choose -- What?

I have to say that part of my political commentary burnout here is caused by the willingness to the press to continue to play along with the Bush administration's very public lies. Where are the reporters who swarmed all over Clinton's lies about his penis? Isn't this more important?

But now the blood is in the water. As a reporter, all you have to do now is ask Bush a question and he'll just make something up. Instant scoop! Developing story. Pictures at 11. Now we're getting somewhere.

And can we get Cheney to resign over asking for more forward-leaning intelligence?

The president's most trusted adviser, Mr Cheney, was at the shadow network's sharp end. He made several trips to the CIA in Langley, Virginia, to demand a more "forward-leaning" interpretation of the threat posed by Saddam. When he was not there to make his influence felt, his chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was. Such hands-on involvement in the processing of intelligence data was unprecedented for a vice-president in recent times, and it put pressure on CIA officials to come up with the appropriate results.

(From the Guardian.)

And what about these Republican Attorneys General who appear to have been selling protection to corporations in legal trouble with the states in exchange for GOP contributions? This is really interesting. What do you make of it, Mr. Ashcroft?

(Via Technorati.)

Eating the Rose

It rained very hard in the late morning and early afternoon. We set out in a northerly direction exploring, but turned back when the weather got too bad.

After lunch, I took the kids to the Portsmouth Children's Museum. Peter's favorite part we the yellow submarine climbing structure (on which he spent at least a half hour). Elizabeth's favorite part was the infant area in the top floor loft, though as the parent of a fast crawler, I could have done with some gates at the tops of the too-near stairs -- I didn't dare look at their selection of parenting books for fear of losing Elizabeth overboard.

We had dinner at Warren's Lobster House, which has a terrific salad bar and also has (of course) really good lobster. After dinner, we dropped of David and his mother at the house, and then I took Peter and Elizabeth for a beach walk.

At the beach, Peter busily inspected tidepools and found a shrimp (or possibly a young lobster) and a crab or two.

Elizabeth was outraged that I wouldn't put her down in the sand, but we weren't dressed for that. I handed her a beach rose someone else had picked and dropped. She ate it.

I guess they didn't want to miss out on all the most popular viruses.

Microsoft chosen as exclusive Homeland Security contractor

The Homeland Security Department has chosen Microsoft Corp. as its preferred supplier of desktop computer and server software, according to a statement issued late Tuesday. The move is a significant development in the governmentÅfs ongoing merger of 22 agencies and comes as officials are selecting various technology companiesÅf products as de facto standards for the department.

(Via Electrolite.)

Kittery Point

We're in Maine at Sarah Smith and Fred Perry's Kittery Point House, a former fisherman's cottage built in 1836. It's about a quarter mile from the center of town, up hill. So we can't see the ocean, but we can smell it. (Geoff and Annie are at home in Pleasantville minding the house and pets.) It's foggy this morning and a little over 60 degrees. I can hear the fog horn in the distance. David's mother, who is 89, is with us. To my surprise, there is a high-speed Internet connection in the house. So here I am.

The weather's been great up here so far, but we're going to catch a piece of the band of rain moving across the northeast today, though I suspect it will be possible to go to the beach by late afternoon.

Monday morning, we drove up from Readercon. After lunch in Kittery Point, we took a boat ride in Portsmouth Harbor, around New Castle Island. It was a small boat, essentially a water taxi. I had with us the kids' life jackets we'd bought in the Florida Keys in March, so they were suitably attired. Elizabeth fell asleep almost instantly, lulled by the motion of the boat and the sound of the motor. Peter lasted about 20 minutes before dozing off. He spent most of those 20 minutes looking intensely over the side, hoping for glimpses of creatures.

Both Monday and Tuesday, in the late afternoon, we've gone to Seapoint Beach. On Monday, I took the kids for super-low tide (the moon was full) while David stayed at the house with his mother. Yesterday, David came with us. The beach has both sand and also rocky tide pools. Peter found crabs and snails, a small purple starfish, and a shrimp. But it seems to me that the tide pools ought to have more life than this. Perhaps their relative poverty is the longterm effect of having a huge naval shipyard nearby. Nonetheless, judging by the density of lobster buoys, lobsters seem to be plentiful.

Elizabeth loves the beach and gets very sandy. She fingerpaints in the wet sand and picks up all kinds of things to look at. I occasionally have to remove a rock or a live snail from her mouth, but usually saying "don't eat that" does the trick, though I must have said "don't eat that" about 200 times yesterday.

Yesterday, we drove around New Castle Island and down the New Hampshire coast to see Tom and Sue Beeler in Hampton Falls. They have rebuilt their house, which burned to the ground two years ago in a tragic fire. It has essentially the same floor plan, but is in a different orientation to make better use of the light. There is a parrot in their kitchen. They don't have nearly as many dogs as they used to (they have 5 or 6 now). They have 3 moneys, two spider monkeys and a capuchin. Peter and the capuchin, named Munchie, spent most of our visit entertaining each other. Peter loves their house. Last time, after we visited, when we got home Peter suggested that we needed monkeys in the trees in our back yard, too, and maybe a few parrots. The Beelers' idea of utopia and Peter's are very similar.

On the way to the Beelers, we went to the Seacoast Science Center, which has tanks with sea creatures in them and also a touch pond, very much Peter's kind of place. They have a shoreline with, I suspect, lots of tide pools. But it was foggy when we were there, so we couldn't see it from the main building.

When we are at the house, Peter spends a lot of time in the yard. There's a large garter snake that lives next to the front steps that Peter's spent a lot of time watching. There's an enormous friendly dog named Max who live next door, whom Peter gets along with famously. And a few black chickens who stroll through.

The fog is breaking up and the sun is coming out, though only for a little while. Judging from the weather radar, the rain will be here soon. So I should wake up Peter and let him play outside before the rain begins.

Whatever's Happened to Baby Jane?

I've added a link to the weblog of my friend Diane Greco, whom I worked with at Eastgate. Mark Bernstein, who turned up at Readercon, told me about it. Diane, who had a baby named Jane in March, seems to be having a mothering experience very different than mine. From the sound of it, she has a fussy baby.

Baby makes scientists out of her parents. Daddy and Motherbody become skilled at making and testing hypotheses. Observe: Baby is crying. Hypothesize: Is she hot? Motherbody removes a blanket. Baby still cries. Try again: Maybe she's cold? Daddy folds blanket in half and tucks it around Baby, who kicks it off, crying all the while. Is she hungry? Wet? Bored? The tests go on and on. Eventually, the crying stops. A possible cause has been discovered; now the result must be re-tested (the scientists say "challenged," but they have never quieted a roaring baby and therefore do not know what challenge is). But Baby is changing all the time -- what stopped a fuss today might not work again tomorrow, or next week. Hypotheses proliferate until the parents despair, and then the hypotheses become untestable, absurd. Is she hungry? Tired? Wet? Bored? "Maybe a monkey flew out of her butt," says the Motherbody finally, giving up.

I woud offer advice, but it sounds like she's already had it up to here with well-meant parenting advice.

I'm weaning Jane. I've had enough of the lactivist bullshit, and I'm tired of wondering, every time she peeps, if I ate or drank something that passed through the milk and upset her. More to the point, I'm tired of having other people wonder for me. Out loud. In my presence.

Sounds like what she needs is comfort rather than advice. Feel better, Diane.

Elizabeth's a happy cooperative baby. Most of her serious fussing happens when she's bored. After a difficult first month with Peter, breastfeeding has always worked well for me. I wish it worked this well for everyone.

Loose Ends

I had hoped to blog a bit more about yesterday's panel ("Does Your Baby Make You Smarter?"), but the day's shedule looks like it won't permit. I'm going to try to get a tape from the convention so I can discuss it later. I will be offline for a few days, so this may be my last post until then.

Chip Delany's best line (or at least the best one I wrote down) was:

Living with a child is like living with someone totally insane whom you are tring to bring into sanity.

Elizabeth is getting her top two front teeth and so has been a bit fussy. And she's learned how to fish in the toilet, so we're having to keep the hotel bathroom door closed. Peter's been running wth the Readerkids pack and found frogs, tadpoles, and a snapping turtle in a pond outside the Hartwell House, the restaurant where we had dinner.

1968: They were having sexual adventures in roughly the same quarter of the forest, with the exception that Clinton was only sleeping with women

SF's own Roz Kaveny dishes up some marvelous gossip about hanging out in the same social circles as Christopher Hitchens and Bill Clinton. It reads like alternate history. But it's just history:

In 1968, when I arrived at Oxford as a gangling skinny Northerner with serious sexual identity problems, I went to a lot of political meetings. You could hardly not notice Hitchens - he was charismatic, and beautiful, and passionate in his denunciations of the Americans in Vietnam. You also ended up noticing a quiet bearded American called Bill something, who would periodically stand up and oppose the war, while defending his country's better angels. My memory, which may be faulty, is that, on at least one occasion, I heard them speak at the same meeting.

Hitchens has latterly claimed that they probably slept with at least one of the same people - who subsequently became a famous lesbian and feminist activist. The problem with this is that the most likely candidates - Oxford in the late 60s was not exactly awash with such women - either never slept with one, or never slept with the other, or never slept with either. One woman, who shared an apartment, and a girlfriend, with Clinton, claims to remember vaguely once necking with Hitchens when she was drunk.

What is the case is that they were having sexual adventures in roughly the same quarter of the forest, with the exception that Clinton was only sleeping with women.

I love this kind of gossip!

(Via Patrick Nielsen Hayden.)

Report from Readercon

Readercon is in full swing. I was on a panel this morning (which I proposed) called "Does Your Baby Make You Smarter?" with Samuel R. Delany, James Morrow, Kit Reed, Alex Irvine, and Katya Reiman, which went very well. We're going out to dinner shortly with Rudy and Sylvia Rucker and Don Kingsbury. I'm back in the room for a few minutes before we go out. I may get time to write more later on this evening.

David gave a presentation on space opera this afternoon that went very well. (I had Elizabeth in tow, who wanted to talk back to daddy, so I was only there for the first few minutes.)