Monday, June 17, 2013

My Daughter is Scary.

Last week, I received this message from my friend Patrick, on Facebook:

I've never met your daughter but she terrifies me, she's more motivated and ambitious than I ever was. Hell, she's probably smarter than me too

So, naturally, I laughed and made a witty retort about how sometimes she scares me a little, too:

[She] just corrected me, when I posited "when you think of the solar system, you tend to 
envision the planets in a line all the time, and then they just knocked off Pluto, what the 
hell," and she said "yeah, but the planets couldn't all be in a line, because then the Earth 
wouldn't get sun and we would all die."

If it helps, she scares me sometimes, too. Hahahaha.

Dahlia is terrifying sometimes.

I was kidding, but only marginally. I'm not afraid of her ability to absorb a ridiculous amount of information, on some irrational basis, like, she'll morph into some evil genius bent on creating a fascist dictatorship. But I am sometimes afraid that she's going to be so steadfast in her decisions that she will stop questioning the validity of her own opinions. How often will she ask "could I be wrong about this?" Will she grow up to be one of those know-it-all people who are sad recipients of a large dose of the Dunning-Kruger Effect? Will her illusory "rightness," when called into question be met with copious rage and a how-DARE-you volatility? Is it possible that her refusal to be proven wrong culminate in grievous bodily harm, or worse?! I hope not!

My wish for her is that she'll be able to logically and soundly meet opposition with maturity, stand on her own two feet, not be nerve-wracked and insecure, but also able to admit when she's just plain wrong. She's only six now, and being headstrong is a quintessentially six-year-old trait, however, I can't help but wonder how much smartassery she'll take with her into adulthood. Hopefully not as much as her Mother. ;) 

I've been known to be a smartass even with a powdered donut.

My husband fell in love with this smartass, years ago.

I should look on the bright side: she's teaching herself Spanish with Rosetta Stone, tearing through books, schooling drunk teenagers on the origins of the Earth, trying like hell to assert her independence through learning how to cook and perform other menial tasks of living, and she's basically hilarious. So everything should fall into place. I hope!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Birthing a Radical: Anarchy and Parenting.

Occasionally, I feel the word "different" was invented to describe me. Even within typical outsider circles, I don't feel like I belong. Despite the fact that I've never really fit in neatly anywhere, I never bothered to be bothered by this fact.

Until my daughter was born. Then all the weirdness and unorthodoxy and eccentricity seemed to pile up and crush me under their combined weight.

I've been a vegetarian since I was a teenager. This never caused me any grief, but when it came time to start raising my daughter, I was bombarded with alarmist reactivity regarding the idea that I would DEPRIVE my DARLING DAUGHTER of the infinite meat-eating possibilities of life. Because of me, she would only grow to half-size, her IQ would be so low you couldn't register it on a chart, and she'd immediately vomit upon her first taste of rebelliously-procured meat products (in puberty). And how dare I do that to her? Easily. I sleep well at night knowing I'm such an awful person that I'd opt out of the factory farmed, antibiotic-laden, hormone-infested, carcinogenic junk-trap that is omnivorous food consumption. Not to mention the many animals whose demand for death was not made by my family. I'm pretty cool with that.

I've been an anarchist for most of my life. Now, possible misconceptions of anarchism aside, I've been through a very real schism from the rest of this community. Most anarchists identify as libertarian socialists or anarcho-communists. Ideologically, these kinds of anarchists intentionally separate themselves from anarcho-capitalists, whom they say are not "really" anarchists because they support the power structure dynamics of a hierarchical system. How dare they! Well, guess who thinks currency and jobs and companies and the free market and civil liberties and autonomy are awesome? Me. That makes me an anarcho-capitalist. Even in the subset to which I belong, I still disagree with many of the proponents. For example, I would probably enjoy bitchslapping Ron Paul. I think "can't stand" and Ayn Rand rhyme for valid reasons. Beyond this disagreement, many anarchists hate the fact that I've procreated. As if perpetuating the species with a child that has a higher-than-average chance of being an anarchist, I've somehow betrayed the most integral tenet of anarchism. I believe that parenting my daughter in such a way that teaches her the responsibility of autonomy and self-efficacy will be the thing that defines her life as she makes her way toward adulthood. She's only six now, but it's never too early to start.

Which brings me to my next problem. Er, point. Yeah, my next point. So, I teach my daughter autonomy and making responsible decisions. This means that I enable her to do things that would give most parents of similar-aged kids a heart attack. She uses the stove, cuts with santoku knives, plays barefoot outside if she wants, snacks if she's hungry, and she is a huge player in her own educational decisions. How do I manage these? Easily. I taught her how to use the stove responsibly, and I supervise when she uses it (for now). I taught her how to use a santoku knife (and scissors and lighters) so that she doesn't have to wonder about it, and I don't stress about her being barefoot or eating between meals. She's average height, on the thin side, and is so energetic I constantly joke with strangers that she's "powered by vegetables." I homeschool her, and she weighs in on how her lesson plans go.

Oh, I homeschool her! I must be religious, right?! Nope. All atheist, all the time. Which brings me to another issue: even within the minority homeschool community, I am still a black sheep. Foregoing the Bible in favor of Cosmos is seen as a Hellfire and brimstone transgression to many of the homeschoolers in my country. But, here's the thing... I don't homeschool my daughter to shelter her, I homeschool her to help her learn to think for herself. I don't want her to go through school with a blindly-patriotic, pro-'MURICAN slant. I want her to learn "just the facts, ma'am" and she can come to her own conclusions about them. P.S. If you think this isn't a problem, think of the way you learned about Thanksgiving in elementary school. Was there a table of brotherhood? A nicey-nice sit down meal where they all thanked the same Christian god? Cough. Many of the things we learn as children, we have to re-learn REALISTICALLY when we hit college (or HS if we're lucky).

So, that's a portion of me in a nutshell. And what I've told you isn't even the "worst" of it. But instead of these things making me feel angry or divided from humanity, I use it as an object lesson to teach my daughter all about the beauty, diversity, and infinite wonder of the world. I am allowed to have these differences and they won't be the death of me, as they may be in some other places. I can speak out against perceived injustice and I won't be immediately executed. She can live comfortably as a vegetarian without starving to death. My husband can pursue his medical school studies without being denied entrance due to caste issues. Because of our differences, she can experience an amazing variety of things, in life. The majority of her dinners are borrowed from another culture. I have major wanderlust so we travel across the country fairly regularly. She gets to see how all kinds of people live, and she is always a part of their festivals and events. We watch strange independent films about clowns and fairies, funky documentaries about spirituality, listen to oud and gamelan music, read stories from greco-roman mythology and amazing old classics, she has frequent exposure to all kinds of international art history. She's diversity-sensitive because she grew up with a throng of drag queens, queer artists, transsexual activists, performers, and strange birds. She's always curious, and I'm always willing to teach her more or help her find information. I named her after Salvador Dali and Roald Dahl. Her name is Dahlia. She's going to end up a name in your household someday. She is love.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Am I Ruining My Child? Education on Its Ass.

On a typical field trip in an average grade school, a student will encounter a "guide" or expert with specialized knowledge, who may train for years in a certain field. These people are either very enthusiastic volunteers, or they are paid to give 10-30 (ish) students access to the intimate knowledge they have on a particular subject. If they are avid information-sharers off the clock, they may join a like-minded group in their spare time. As a fervent volunteer, I have seen firsthand the large numbers of people who put in a great amount of effort to make the world around them a better place. We all have a special hobby, interest, or expertise that we take great pains to hone. An interest begins as a large but empty tank, and we fill it as a labor of love, an homage (or "a homage" depending on your pronunciation) to our reverence for a subject. We seek information to parse as true or false and cherry-pick the most consistent and logically sound pieces, filling our tank with the best parts. That said, if we walk around, full, without sharing or using the knowledge, that tank gets buried with our bodies (or scattered atop a mountain, or "promessed" if we're acutely aware of the unsustainable system of cemeteries). That information is gone, forever. Part of our drive toward the perpetuation of our species includes the urge to make a lasting contribution that will outlive our moment of death.

We've all heard (or rolled our eyes at) the phrase "it takes a village to raise a child." Even a conventional upbringing involves an endless supply of teachers, mentors, relatives, babysitters, coaches, and guardians - all working together (hopefully) to foster an atmosphere of learning, safety, and growth. In choosing to give my daughter an unconventional upbringing, I have found myself almost entirely responsible for locating each of these individuals. Two considerations are driving my search: 1. Out of all my friends and family, I know and love all kinds of people with great specialized knowledge - people who harbor interesting and wonderful worldviews, people who know a great deal about something that can consequently be whittled down to a small Wikipedia article (though it would be a great injustice to the subject to do so). 2. I want these folks to impart their enthusiasm on my progeny. I want them to feed her eager mind, simultaneously, with an almost irrational exuberance AND an abiding respect for the deeper concepts of the universe. I want her to be imprinted with the understanding that people are living, breathing relics of history. Above all, I want her to know that being passionate about her eventual way of life is necessary to happiness and ACTUAL success (not as measured by net worth/income).

You may think I'm insane. "Kristi, you're nuts" is a phrase that follows me everywhere. You may say any number of things about this decision, most designed to point out the absolute worst-case scenarios. "But there are crazy people! Cult leaders! Pedophiles! (oh my!)" - and there will certainly be no end to the age old mantra "if you're too open-minded, your brain may fall out." Well, let me be the first to tell you that I don't homeschool my daughter to shelter her. I homeschool her so that she can learn to think for herself. Does that sound contradictory? Can you TEACH someone to think for themselves? I assert that you can. My method thus far has involved teaching her a myriad of things, being honest when there are "science doesn't know why" answers, and I CAN and WILL say "gee, darling, I don't know - let's look it up together!" I believe there is no shame in asking questions. There isn't very much we are unable to learn, just things we haven't invested in learning, YET. I extend this practice into Open Source Learning: of course I wouldn't let a throng of bepitchforked strangers drag her off into the woods for a "swimming" lesson, but even if someone teaches her something outright WRONG, she'll have the same "relearning" experience most of us have during the transition between K12 and college. The difference between ours and hers will be that she will know this will happen, so she will prioritize the investigation of truth in her education. She will KNOW she is responsible for figuring out the credibility of the information she's receiving, rather than being surprised by having been taught incorrect information in the first place. Rather than blindly accepting all of the teachings of authority figures she hears, she will realize the importance of questioning information. 

I call this Open Source Learning because I am essentially positing that this method encompasses elements of peer production, opening the formerly proprietary nature of information as contained in textbooks (which has widely already been done by the Internet and universities across the country), as well as enabling Dahlia (and any child who wishes to be taught this way) to be self-enhancing through the variety of communication/models/information at her (or their) disposal. Technology has exploded, and it's time education took full advantage of this.

Without further ado, here are a few guidelines if you'd like to participate in the enrichment of Dahlia Violet:

1. For now, please keep each session to one hour or less. More than one session to teach a complicated subject is perfectly fine, but I think the longest she's able to give 100% of her focus to something is about an hour. She's six, and her attention span is pretty good, but all the same, she's six.

2. If you're teaching something extremely complicated, please reduce it to basics. This includes a vocab lesson if there's jargon, some deductive techniques, and probably talking to her like she's new. She just came out of me six years ago... she literally IS pretty new. Ask questions to determine whether or not she's understanding the material. She'll probably do the same.

3. Be okay with my presence. I may seem crazy, but I'm not crazy enough to hand off my kid to anyone without figuring out who they are on a deep personal level. Sorry. Many of these things can take place on Skype, at your house, in a classroom, in the woods, in a library meeting room, on a train, in the rain, on a boat, in a moat. We like it all, Sam I Am.

4. I am okay with all kinds of subject matter, but please check the logic involved when approaching her. Faith-based stuff, pseudoscience, supernatural fluff, metaphysics, and the like... not so great. If you're adamant, go ahead, but just know that you're filling the head of a very rational, intellectually honest kid. She'll tell you you're bullshitting her, if you are.

5. Think of the easiest way for a very visual learner to acquire information. That will be the greatest way she will learn. She's also very good with deductive reasoning. She reads a lot, but her ability to visualize complex systems (that aren't out of HER imagination) is questionable. Have some pictures handy, if you can.

So, that's about that. I believe in this project wholeheartedly, and I think if it works it could potentially revolutionize a lot of the way education is executed. Thanks in advance to the participants. Your contribution is priceless to making Dahlia the greatest person she can become. :)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Ezekiel Gilbert murdered a woman because he assumed she was a prostitute. He got away with it.

So, I read this article, and I was both baffled and outraged. Unless all of the news outlets are portraying the case as anything other than true, here is the breakdown of the situation:

1. An escort service posted an ad on Craigslist. It implied, either directly or indirectly, that a woman was offering her TIME in exchange for $150. This was corroborated by the "pimp" (the manager of the escort service). Nowhere in the advertisement was a direct mention of sex or sexual services, which is a standard practice in the sex work industry (as most sexual services are illegal, mentioning them implicitly is viewed as problematic to sex workers). I reiterate: nowhere did she have "sex" in the ad, in fact it was testified in court that the particular escort service in question had specific policies against sex on the job.

2. Ezekiel Gilbert hired this woman for exactly what the ad said. An "escort" service. Her "time" and at most, her service as a surrogate partner. For those of you who don't know this, the term ESCORT does NOT have an inherent sexual meaning. It means you will be escorting a client for a period of time, and then whatever happens during that time is to be discussed within the time frame. Escorts are, without presupposed connotation, escorting a client [to a wedding/ reunion, to a baseball game, for conversation, so they may be looked upon] - whatever the purpose, sex doesn't "go without saying." It has to be discussed, agreed upon, and acted out only after the first two conditions are met. If you have sex with an escort against her will, that is rape (not "shoplifting" as the ignorant joke goes). The idea that a prostitute can't be raped is a myth perpetrated by privileged scum with entitlement issues so deep they end up sociopathic in nature.

3. So, the "pimp" (who is the manager of this service) who was in the car with the victim, corroborated the evidence above. He also stated that in the past he had been part of a scam operation where women would get money and leave (which was technically irrelevant because he testified that this was NOT the case in this particular event). Even if this woman literally received the money and ran, she was in the physical presence of the man who willingly handed her money BEFORE anything other than being in her presence, and thus she gained the money legitimately. Her "escort service" may have been decided as "one second of my time, then I leave" which is another problem in criminalizing sex work - there is no standard, other than what you "can't" do, as a client of a sex worker/company. You cannot make a contract, for example, that states exactly how long a sex worker must be in the presence of a client (or what they need to physically DO) before they are paid, or imposing a penalty for not fulfilling those work obligations before being paid. A "stiffed" prostitute also does not have a legal recourse for being screwed out of money, either. Both parties can lose on this deal, but a prostitute cannot perform a sex act, then KILL their john if they aren't paid. So the verdict reflects a grave miscarriage of justice in many ways.

4. Even if Ezekiel Gilbert had the money stolen from him (which he didn't, he had buyer's remorse and was mad he wasn't automatically entitled to sex, which he only ASSUMED was part of the deal - he didn't get confirmation about it), he would not have any legal action available to him wherein he runs after the victim and then fires a gun IN PUBLIC at a MOVING VEHICLE that had ANOTHER PASSENGER in it. That is reckless endangerment of the general public and he should have an EXTRA charge slapped on for that, plus attempted murder of the driver... in addition to a guilty verdict on the charge of voluntary manslaughter.

5. The judge, Mary Roman, has been implicated in judicial misconduct on more than one occasion. She was found to be abusing her station as a judge to attempt to alter her adult daughter's probation, to obtain special treatment for her. She was also accused of informally discussing cases in her docket to extract implicating/evidentiary information on defendants, PRE-TRIAL, ex parte (without notice) and independently of the defendant, which is also judiciary misconduct. She should have been dismissed from her job during the case, a mistrial declared, and a retrial to follow.

6. The idea of a "nighttime" crime, which is a theft committed during non-daylight hours, is completely insane. That said, the law reads as follows:

§ 9.42. DEADLY FORCE TO PROTECT PROPERTY. A person is justified in using deadly force against another to protect land or tangible, movable property:
(1) if he would be justified in using force against the other under Section 9.41; and
(2) when and to the degree he reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary:
  • (A) to prevent the other's imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime; or
  •  (B) to prevent the other who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property; and

(3) he reasonably believes that: 
  • (A) the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means; or 
  • (B) the use of force other than deadly force to protect or recover the land or property would expose the actor or another to a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.
Because the laws were written to protect against theft, not what you SUPPOSED you would get once you ALREADY handed someone money... these conditions do NOT apply to this case. I don't know what manner of TERRIBLE lawyers were dealt from the state or what kind of great white shark lawyer rocked the defendant side, but something is afoul here. The fact that you can legally shoot someone who steals from you violates the "take care" clause 5 of article 2 of the constitution. The only time you should be able to kill someone is if they are threatening your life, not running away from you to escape in a vehicle. Vigilante justice isn't constitutional, self-defense of life is. 

7. Even if you decided that this man had $150 stolen from him, had a right to sex without the woman's consent because he forked over cold, hard cash for her to give up her humanity and ability to decide her actions, there is still the question of ex turpi causa (non oritur actio), which means "from a dishonorable cause, action does not arise." Even in believing Gilbert was the victim of theft, the fact that he was soliciting an ILLEGAL good or service renders him unable to use the defense that he shot her with good cause. You can't shoot a drug dealer that sells you bunk weed. You can't strangle a massage therapist for refusing a "happy ending."

It was said by the defendant, "I sincerely regret the loss of the life of Ms. Frago. I've been in a mental prison the past four years of my life. I have nightmares. If I see guns on TV where people are getting killed, I change the channel." Boo hoo, remind me to send a care package. I'll stuff $150 into it, and sign it "Sincerely, Lenora Frago."

Monday, June 3, 2013

Seven Even BETTER Ways to Beat Summer Blahs!

So, I read the above article, expecting to encounter some wonderful ideas for filling up summer time (for families kids who don't homeschool year-round, as I do). Instead, I was met with three ideas that don't really contribute anything fun to family life. Don't get me wrong, I completely understand that the woman has five children to my ONE, but still... life with a small army can be even more exciting than a solitary kidventure.

That said, here are MY (seven) ways to beat summer blahs:

1. Stalk EVERY museum. Look into a few things to keep costs down: reciprocal memberships ( &, local library museum passes, free days and chunks of time (Thursdays, 6pm - 8pm). Find a very large library in your nearest huge metro area and GO there!

2. Go to festivals! - this is particularly helpful if you have a certain ideology or lifestyle - for example, the Gay Pride parade, here in Chicago we have the Veggie Pride parade in May (we're vegetarians), and Veggie Fest in August. Taste of Chicago, Jazz Fest, Peace Fest (if you're cool with the pot smell), and all kinds of fun events are around the area. Pack food, pack light, don't forget sunscreen and a change of clothes!

3. Do some unschooling. Now, if you think unschooling is something that has to be decided in advance, structured into a day, and then the results have to be carefully measured for empirical proof of effectiveness, you're barking up the wrong tree. Take a nature walk, go on a hike, try to identify flowers/herbs/plants, learn a few processes (photosynthesis, color-changing in leaves, life cycles of plants and bugs vis-a-vis soil, etc) - go to a large body of water, find a scavenger hunt for the forest, and if you live in a metropolitan area - go to a "nature preserve." If your kid is allergic to the outdoors, hang out at the library. Infinite resources and goodness! LEARN SOME STUFF. Learning is almost never a waste of time.

4. Buy a cheapie science instrument and use it. Look at the stars in a telescope or use your smartphone to show your kids Google Sky. Get a microscope and collect bugs from windowsills to check out. The usual cheap microscopes have premade slides of bug abdomens, snake scales, and a few other interesting items, so just look for other things to populate empty slides with, like pieces of your sweater fibers, eyelashes, dandruff, dust, salt, sugar, and flower petals.

5. Have a bonfire and tell scary stories. If you don't have a fire pit, there are lots of ways to make one on the cheap: - building a fire pit is a great family project. Go on craiglist/freecycle for bricks/stones, that's the cheapest (and maybe even free) route. If you live in an apartment, you can build this one that can be used safely indoors:

6. Have a theme day: board game day, makeup and theatrical costuming day, Netflix documentary marathon day, printed coloring pages from the internet day, cleaning and dance party day, reading aloud from weird poetry books day, going park-hopping day. Do something, any one thing, all day. It'll be varying shades of weird, fun, boring, silly, and enlightening.

7. Browse instructables and make something! I do this quite a bit. Enough to buy the book (which I did). In fact, in browsing instructables for this post, 27 minutes have inexplicably disappeared from my life. Craaaazy. Currently, we're trying our hand at making soaps. Rick learned to make jewelry, I already had been making jewelry, and Dahlia is starting to make little necklaces with beads and string. It's all good! And if you're not too into making things, per se: - 474 things to do when you're bored!

I hope in reading this you've come up with some great ideas. Don't make excuses, see things through, and teach your children well. Remember you're the model for their behavior (even more than Miley Cyrus or the Backyardigans). But most importantly, live your life while you still can. One day you won't have more days ahead.