Saturday Links

From this week:

Keith Olbermann's Special Comment on September 11. You can also look up his response to the New York Post's making fun of his anthrax scare, which is another good listen.

Panda Bites Man, Man Bites Back This really needs no explanation, does it?

ESPN faking crowd noise along party lines? ESPN denies it, of course. But it isn't a huge stretch, after The Path to 9/11.

Evolution for Everyone! I passed this one along to my mother, a middle-school science teacher.

And, of course, We are now officially living in a dictatorship from A Blog Around the Clock.

And I'm suddenly glad to have 10 more months in Korea...


My week

It's been a week since I posted last, and it's because I have no time! Not really, I suppose, but it IS limited, and with Grey's Anatomy and House starting up this month, I've been taking my spare 45-minute blocks to watch downloads instead of blogging. So perhaps a glance at the weekly schedule of a hagwon minion will help you understand...

Five days a week, I teach a class at 7am at Norske Skog paper factory. The class is pretty good, and I enjoy the adults, but it's really early. I get up at 6, catch a cab around 6:40 for the 10-minute, $3.50 ride over and have my "Idiom of the Day" on the board by 7:05. One of my students usually takes me to breakfast in the company cafeteria -- cereal and toast -- and I get home around 8:30.

I take my hideously ugly shihtzu, Aby, for a walk and feed her disgusting wet food. I usually have about an hour, so I run through my morning web routine: e-mail, Facebook, the Chicken, Dave's, the blogroll and my favorite webcomics. I check sports scores, sometimes bring up a game on MLB.TV or audio or gamecast or NHL scoresheet, if the timing's right.

Kindergarten starts at 10. Monday through Thursday we do reading, thinking skills, math or phonics as the academic subject and song time, crafts, Gymschule or "weekly diary" as creative time. Monday through Thursday I have 12-2 for lunch, which really means errands -- banks, immigration, travel agencies, vets...all lunchtime visits. Plus, y'know, the eating. If I get a free lunch, I usually either nap or write (I write fiction too). Fridays I only have an hour, so everything's compressed. Then my afternoon classes...

2:00 (M-F): 7-9 (all ages are the Korean version). This is my favorite class of the day. They're the most advanced students at their grade level. They can be hard to control, but overall, I love the kids. They're smart, funny and don't stress me a bit.

3:00 (M-F): (7-8) These are the beginner kids, but I have a wonderful assistant for that class, so it's easy. They're at a very low level and comprehend essentially no English, but they're very enthusiastic and the fun thing about teaching beginners is seeing how quickly they make progress.

4:00 (MWF): (9-11) The lowest level at this time. Some of them have no concept of phonics and can't read the word "the". They're also very talkative. Most classes, I feel like I'm really only teaching three of them, the rest are just hanging out in the back.

4:00 (TR): One step up from the MWF kids. They aren't bad, though unfortunately my two smartest kids insist on talking to each other the entire class, and they'd probably benefit the most from paying attention.

5:00 (MW): My worst class. There are too many of them, their level is very low, they're unruly, and all but about two couldn't care less about learning English. We're lucky if we get through a page a day of the book.

6:00 (TR) and 7:00 (TW): TOEFL listening. Great kids. Anywhere from second to eighth grade, they're the bst at the school. Several are effectively fluent*. For both classes, one day we do work with the TOEFL book and tape and the other we do something more fun. This week was ghost stories.

Private: Three days a week (TRF), I tutor a sixth grader at his apartment. It's a challenge sometimes doing an hour's worth of material for just one student, but it's actually pretty funny, and he's a good kid and good student.

I finish at 6 on Monday, so that's cleaning day. I'm done at 7 on Wednesday, so I usually do any grocery shopping that day. And every other day I get home about 9:45, take the dog out, and go to bed. It isn't that I'm cranky when tired or can't get by on six hours sleep. It's just that this job can drive you crazy, and the quickest way to start letting kid-things stress you is to be tired. So I'm trying not to be tired.

*the lone second-grader is a genius little boy who's also a math whiz. He asks me often for lists of how to say math-type things in English. We've done angles, shapes, things like that. I included polygon names up to 1000-sided figures on that list, telling him jokingly, "When you draw a shape with a thousand sides, you let me know." The next day he presented me with a ciliagon. So, quite a kid.


I should use this Asia thing to my advantage

Great stuff on the science front! Two days ago (as the subject says, I should really have posted right when I saw the article -- being 12 hours ahead does give me some advantage!), we heard about the find of a 3.3 million year old fossil in Ethiopia of the species Australopithecus Afarensis that is already telling scientists a great deal about how we evolved. Some highlights from the article:

The infant's brain size is estimated at 330 cubic centimeters. This is not much different from that of a similarly aged chimp. However, when compared to adults of her species, she had formed only between 63 and 88 percent of her adult brain size. This is relatively slow brain growth compared to chimps, which by three years of age have formed more than 90 percent of the brain. This rate of brain growth is actually slightly closer to that of humans, possibly pointing to an early shift in human evolution.

Very interesting, I think, that this evidence points to the brain's rate of development slowing before brain size was any bigger than that of a chimp. What would've been the adaptive advantage to a slow-developing brain? Longer dependency on the mother, so bigger size and more likely to survive once the mother quit carrying her everywhere?

The skeleton also shows that she (and thus our ancestors in this period) was walking upright and her toes indicated that she had to be carried and couldn't cling to her mother like a chimp infant. However, the upper skeleton and finger bones, as well as the semicircular canals in her inner ear, showed that she would have been a climber, and that Australopithecus afarensis still lived in the trees.

There's also evidence that her voice sounded much more chimplike than human.

Of course, I posted the link over in my Monster Evolution Debate on Dave's ESL Cafe and my Hare Krishna adversary immediately said it was just evidence of Lord Rama's army of ape-men and started posting pictures of the Adams Bridge...


My deconversion

I would say the seeds of my atheism were apparent from a fairly young age. I grew up in a fairly liberal, educated family -- both parents and stepparents are college graduates (my mother even went back for two years for a teaching certificate and is in her second year as a middle school math and science teacher), my father has an advanced degree in busines, my maternal grandfather is an MD and my maternal grandmother attended two years of college before going to work for the FBI. In fact, I graduated from the same university as my great-grandfather. So while my family is religious, they are hardly fundamentalists and religious education was pretty lax around my household.

Of course, I went through the motions as a kid because I was weird enough already and it takes a pretty strong second-grader indeed to not cave to the looks you get in the Appalachians of northwest North Carolina when you profess that you don't know what "being saved" is. So I did children's church, sang in the choir (funny story -- most of my elementary years we attended this tiny, old, stone Presbyterian church of which the vast majority of the congregation was eldery and spent winters in Florida, meaning the winter choir was me and three old ladies), did a few VBSs and church camps. Thinking back on it, I feel there was only one time in my life when I truly believed.

In fact, there were a couple instances that probably pointed to my atheistic leanings early in life. I was about 9 when, during a the children's sermon (the children in the congregation were me, my two brothers, and the pastor's three kids), I answered the question "what's a prophet?" unhestitatingly with "the money you make after a job." It took me a long time to figure out what was so damn funny, too. A couple years later at Baptist church camp (I went with a friend, it was my first sleep-away camp) I made the mistake of mentioning at some sort of Bible study circle that my grandfather had told me that even if there was no god, it was a nice enough idea that it isn't so bad to believe something that might not be true. The counselor gave me this evil glare and said in what seems in my memory to have been a particularly nasty voice, "But there is a god."

The height of my religiosity came in the seventh grade. My softball coach died in a car accident in the middle of the season while driving the church van back up the mountain from a trip to Carowinds (an amusement park in Charlotte). Both she and a two-year-old boy were killed in the crash. I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about it, I recall, she was the first person I'd known that had died since my grandfather when I was 8, but I do remember quite clearly the PE teacher who took over our team calling us all in for a meeting and informing us that the last thing she said was "I see Jesus." Yeah, I think that qualifies as "lying to impressionable children," but I dreamed about it for weeks, and it seemed to be a sign that after a subpar season to that point, we didn't lose a game the rest of the way out.

Of course, my higher-level thinking skills probably weren't fully developed at the time, so I don't think I can be blamed. The surge of belief faded in eighth grade as I began to have more of an understanding of the world around me (I prefer to think it not coincidental that this was also the year I started Algebra 1). I became cognizant of issues that this tiny, homogenous, rural community had sheltered me from (I don't fault my relatively worldly mother for this -- I distinctly remember her being appalled one day coming back from school when I was 12 that I didn't know what AIDS was): abortion, homosexuality, racism, evolution.

From that point on the faith began to fade away. Once I realized that it wasn't actually a requirement for existing on the planet, I felt free, at least in the intellectual sense. My early high school rebellion didn't have anything to do with drugs or sex. I started refusing to go to church or, alternatively, agreeing to go to Sunday school and then arguing vehemently about the age of the earth or evolution with the somewhat taken-aback teacher. I wasn't necessarily debating the existence of god yet -- just the church tenants that seemed to be contradicted by known fact.

The turning point was late in my sophomore year. I had been accepted to the North Carolina School of Science and Math for my last two years of high school and was beyond thankful to leave the mountains. In my world humanities class, our final project was to pick a song, any song, analyze the lyrics and do a visual and verbal presentation, including clips of the song, to interpret those lyrics. I chose "Ants Marching" by DMB and talked about falling into the trap of doing the same thing every day, blah, blah, I can't even remember my own presentation, really.
What I remember was a classmate of mine, a guy I'd never had any particular conversations or disagreements with, picked a song by Carman, a Christian singer. Searching the lyrics now, I'm amazed and a little appalled at the drivel contained therein. At 16 and likely a bit hormonal, I remember being completely stunned at the approving nods of my classmates as he played a snippet with the words "when you eliminate the Word of God from the classroom and politics, you eleminate the nation that Word protects". And when I heard "when it gets to the point when people would rather come out of the closet than clean it" I was nearly crying in anger. It may not seem like such a big thing now, but for me, at that point, it was the last straw. I almost left the classroom, but I forced myself to sit through his speech, though I don't think I heard much of it because I can't remember now. But the hypocrisy of religion was never so apparent to me as this teenager trying to talk about Christianity as a faith of peace and love while the very song he chose was advocating hate.

And the blind, earnest faith of this kid at such a young age just struck me. It had taken just the smallest amount of contemplation on my part to come to the conclusion that the whole organized religion thing was a lot of crap (I used to read Revelations during church, and I mean, seriously?). But here was an entire class of kids that I'd grown up with who would likely never bother.

I left Avery County, and I have to say I haven't really been back. Tenth grade was the instant I was absolutely certain that not only was religion stupid, the whole premise was false. There was no god, and from then on I was secure in my atheism. I've been happier for it.


Life is good...

Something that bothers me a great deal about the religious folk who argue for creationism is when they imply (or flat-out state) that my godless, materialistic life is somehow lesser than their own, which is filled with the supernatural and thus complete.

It's happened to me on more than one occasion. Sometimes, I can overlook the sentiment because it's delivered in such a sincere ignorance that I can't get angry and can only gently tell the speaker that yes, my life is good, thanks. However, today a statement was delivered in such an overwhelmingly condescending way that I couldn't help but to turn a little vicious in my reply.

The conversation in the last couple of pages of the monster evolution thread on Dave's ESL Cafe has been about human babies as blank slates and animals as entirely instinct-driven (the blank slate thing needs its own post). My adversary in this case was a man who clearly knew just enough science to be annoyingly elitist about his position. He capped off his last tirade with "they must live dreadful, dreadful lives" referring to people who saw human-like behaviors in apes. I overreacted -- he actually called me on it, saying his statement was not meant to be religiously-tinted and simply implied that he would have a dreadful life if he lived like an ape. (incoherent in its own way -- if one were an ape, one would be content as an ape)

But still --

Excuse me? Why do people -- not necessarily him, but the overly religious-- insist that their life is better than mine? Why MUST I be unhappy as an atheist? The truth, of course, is that my life is great, and I have no complaints. I'm self-sufficient, I have a great family, 1 fantastic dog and 1 mediocre dog (she's a shihtzu, what I can say), I've had the opportunity for higher education and took it seriously, I have the resources to read constantly...I'm fulfilled, with no other Sunday morning ritual than to play a 7am hockey game (arguably a religious experience in and of itself).

Of course, I suppose an atheist could be mired in some sort of cognitively dissonant state where he must convince himself that he is happy because otherwise religion wins, but I feel like the most viable theory for this phenomenal assumption is that the religious folks can't allow themselves to believe that atheists could lead normal, loving, full lives and could actually appreciate nature and the good of people more fully than those with god.


Welcome to Skillet Blogging

So I've given in to joining the blogverse. I plan to blog on teaching, Korea, atheism, science, politics, sports and dogs, perhaps with a theme on each day. I hope to update every day, or every other day.

As for who I am, well, I'm about four months out of college at the University of North Carolina and am employed in Jeonju, South Korea as an ESL teacher to kids from 5 to 16 and adults. I'm a hockey player with past experience in soccer, baseball and team handball and am currently in search of an adult beginner taekwondo class.

I consider Newland, NC and Atlanta, GA to be my hometowns but have also called Scottsboro, AL; Nashville, TN; Charlotte, NC; Durham, NC; Chapel Hill, NC and Jeonju, ROK home.

I studied sport and exercise science and psychology at Carolina. I also studied Russian for four years. My future academic goals involve sport psych, developmental pysch or psycholinguistics, or even some sort of meshing of two of them.

I think those are the basics. I imagine I'll cover a lot more over the life of the blog.