Sunday, June 29, 2008

On Track

That brings us up to speed to today, to tomorrow's entry on the fridge calendar--the big bang of our summer, or year, or lifetime!


Tala's Kindergarten Memories


Tala's Journal

What we didn't know is that Tala had a journal too at school. It was a nice surprise to see it at the end of the year.

She's watching a TV commercial about boots for kids. If you are wondering why the background is yellow, our basement walls are painted yellow.

On her bike. Notice the training wheels.


Moody's Journal

During the school year, Moody started to keep a journal. It was suggested by his teachers so he would be less distracted and distracting. We also started him on one at home at the same time. We got his journals from school at the end of the year. We were browsing them and could not stop laughing! Moody kept objecting that we were invading his privacy. It really tells about his character.

Here are some excerpts, and yes, I have his permission to publish them! Warning: Some entries are rated PG-13, parental guidance advised!

The home journal was Tala-focused:

He is right... she does and is famous for it. She eats lots of fruits and vegetables, and that comes with it. At one point, we called her a skunk.

The doctor prescribed Jello and Popsicles for Tala when she was once sick. It was not convincing for Moody!

What are big brothers for?! Jackson is her friend from the preschool days.

School Journal:

He even has a comic of the day (PG-13):


Let's Pick Up...

We left at Moody's birthday. We had a pirates party for him and his friends on June 7. It was a fun-filled very nice party.

He was very happy that he showered us with these notes at night. Happy birthday, Mood!

The following weekend was Father's Day. Sol got the same gift he got last year. Wondering how or why? We gave him a digital frame last year for him to take to his office at work. It sat, in its box, in the den at home till this year's Father's Day. We decided to wrap it again and re-gift it, which we did. Sol called it a perennial gift. I warned him that we will keep re-gifting it till he takes it to his office. Happy Father's Day, Sol!


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Libyan Education: Which way is up?

The end of school is a time to evaluate, contemplate, and take stock of what has and hasn't been accomplished. A couple days ago, Khadija Teri blogged about the examinations and results for a couple of her daughters in Libyan public schools. I gathered that one of them is in 9th grade, the other in 12th, and both of these years are diploma years. But I am not sure because the classifications and names that are used now in Libya are not what I went through. Back then, we had 12 years of pre-college schooling, divided into three phases. Primary school lasted six years, then three years of Preparatory school, and finally three more in Secondary school. Kindergarten was optional in Libya, and I think it is still that way. Each phase ended with a diploma year in which the final exams were nationally standardized and administered. The diploma finals were a big deal. The announcement of the results was a huge deal. Now the names have changed to Basic Education (grades 1-9) and Middle Education (10-12), but it seems a lot more has changed than meets the ear. The passing rates are just miserably low, but the failure may be much more widespread than the numbers say. Sadly, and perhaps oddly, negative population statistics put the deepest scars on the perceived competitiveness of the best individuals.

Let's look at some numbers. Unofficially, Khadija Teri reports about 40 out of 400 students passed in her daughter's school. Unofficial numbers can be inaccurate, unreliable, whatever. The problem actually gets worse when you look--closely--at the official numbers! Sure, the national passing rate itself is better than 10%, but it is still dismal. Even worse is the way that it is reported and received.

Here is my translation of a recent news story from the web site of the Libyan ministry of education. The official Libyan name of that ministry is a bit verbose: The General People's Committee for Education. Of course the naming standard is set by the official name of Libya: The Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. With that preparation, feast your eyes on the straight translation
The General People's Committee for Education Ratifies Results of First-Round Exams for Certificate of Completing Basic Education Phase ((Preparatory))

In its sixth ordinary meeting of the year, which was held yesterday morning in Tripoli, the General People's Committee for Education ratified the results of first-round examinations for the certificate of completing the basic-education phase, on the level of the Great Jamahiriya for the school year 1375-1376 (P.D.), which coincides with the year 2007-2008 (Christian).

A total of 151,271 (one hundred fifty one thousand, two-hundred and seventy one) public- and home-schooled students took the exams, of whom 58,017 (fifty eight thousand and seventeen) students succeeded, with a success rate of 35.38%.

The number of public-school students taking the exams reached 144,335 (one hundred forty-four thousand, three hundred and thirty-five) students, of whom 87,030 (eighty seven thousand and thirty) students succeeded, with a success rate of 39.57%.

Meanwhile, the number of home-schooled students taking the exams reached 6,936 (six thousand nine-hundred and thirty six) students, among them 906 (nine hundred and six) students succeeded, with a success rate of 13.06%.
How do you like that? Numbers, percentages to the second decimal place, etc. What more could you ask for? Actually, every time I see numbers coming out of official Libya, my bullshit scanners start screaming, especially when there is an appearance of precision and thoroughness, like spelling out the numbers in words over and over. In reality, the spelled out numbers are grammatically incorrect. And the numbers don't add up. So the ministry of education misses on both grammar and arithmetic! According to their numbers, the passing rate for public-school students should be over 60%, not 39.57%. But they problem is, they report a part that is greater than the whole: More public-school students passed (87,030) than the total number of students passing (58,017). OK? There is no single typographical error that can explain the mess. The only way I found to make sense is for the number 87,030 to be replaced by 57,030 and then the percentage would be 39.51% not 39.57%.

You might say, I am just being too picky (a teacher's professional hazard). But we are not talking about someone's passing remarks. This is an official report that takes on the appearance of precision and thoroughness. It is also fundamentally a report on "who got it right" and who didn't, and it is from theeee authority on right and wrong, so is it fair to expect it to be at least
internally consistent? You bet it is fair, but not to expect reliability or quality from Libyan authorities.

The issue is about quality, providing it and demanding it. The authorities have been breathing their own farts for so long that they are simply incapable of recognizing quality, let alone actually offering, maintaining or improving the quality of their service. On the flip side, we have the public, who neither demand or judge quality. The above news item will be circulated all over the place, and it will not get any meaningful reaction. This is what happens when legitimacy loses its foundation, namely rationality, and gets trashed by the force of idiotic oppression. When a society abandons the art of questioning, the taste of truth loses its distinction.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Horticulture of Sorts

I have two examples of horticulture, one is "natural" or organic, the other is not.

For the first time in several years, our peonies survived the frost this spring. Every year, they would start budding, then there would come that fateful frosty night in early May that would give them an abortion. This year, I was on the look out, keeping track of weather forecasts. Sure enough, the frost came, but I covered them up overnight in plastic bags. It looked silly, and it caused me to think of what "natural" really means, since they too are engineered products. In any case, the plastic cover worked, and we enjoyed the results very much.

Peonies attract ants to help open up their curtains and release a sweet fragrance into the world

Now, to the world of nano-horticulture. Last spring, I posted about the Birth of The Albino Tarantula. This year, Da Boyz in the lab decided to go botanical and imitate the form of cattails, which are plants that often grow in wetlands and on the edges of ponds, lakes, etc.

Real cattails vs. our first nano-crop (imaged in an electron microscope.) If one million of the synthetic stems were bundled together like firewood, the bundle would be the size of a human hair.

I showed the pictures to a colleague of mine who is a bit of a naturalist. He quickly pointed out that "natural" cattails have a tiny stem on top of the fluffy brown part, making them look like a hot dog on a skewer. We promised to give it a try.

Left: Probably our best result to date. Right: Sometimes Da Boyz get less than they wish for! lol lol lol

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Sound of Home

I got this article today from Moody and it took me down memory lane--thanks Moody! Ahmed Fakroun's music takes me back to Benghazi, to the days of listening to his tunes over and over, mostly in the kitchen while cleaning after lunch. It's a sound that brings back scents, flavors, and family togetherness... Enjoy!

World music pioneer in web revival--BBC News

... Yet even by 21st-Century standards, the career of world music pioneer Ahmed Fakroun is unusual, to say the least.

Born in the Libyan city of Benghazi, he spent long periods in the UK and France in the 1970s and 1980s, recording a handful of singles and albums that now fetch high prices on record collectors' websites.

But he was reduced to a mere mention in specialist music encyclopaedias after Libya's years of international isolation made it difficult for him to market his music to the outside world. full article-->

Fakroun on 7digital indiestore

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Unhidden Treasures of The Silk Road

Afghan jewelry from first century BC. Images from NPR , more info & time line at NGA

There's a traveling exhibition of ancient artifacts from Afghanistan, starting at the National Gallery in DC, then moving on to San Francesco and elsewhere. The artifacts date as far back as 2000 BC. Some of the jewelry belonged to nomads, who weren't much for banking and carried their wealth with them. The most interesting part of the story to me is actually only 25 years old. Back in the chaos of the 1980's, folks in the Afghan national museum packed up these artifacts in metal boxes, loaded them on trucks and tucked them away in a presidential-palace vault outside Kabul. They remained hidden, their whereabouts protected by a code of silence for over 20 years. The artifacts apparently reflect old (pagan) Afghan culture, including influences of the various outsiders who traveled through or invaded Afghanistan. I wonder how long these treaures would've lasted had the Taliban Mullahs got their hands on them. They probably would have gone the way of the giant Buddhas of Bamyan. This time, however, the force of civilization won the battle, preserving the ancient artifacts and uncovering new beauties in the human heritage of Afghanistan.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Happy Birthday, Moody

Yesterday was Moody's 8th birthday. We celebrated as a family, and his party with friends will be on Saturday. We couldn't have it this weekend because we were at the wedding of Adam Sharkasi in Virginia. We unfortunately missed the "Henna" on Friday. That means, no couscous! But we at least got some of the Baklawa brought in from Tripoli. It was a lot of fun seeing some interesting people, Libyans and others. The kids had a blast, too, dancing up a storm, and staying up late at the hotel, which Tala always calls the apartment. I'm glad we went.

Since this is Ahmed's day, it's good to catch up on some of his happenings. He has been a busy boy this spring, with school, cub scouts, sports and dance activities. He loves cub scouts, and we have a very good den. I think Moody's favorite cub scout activities are the "go-see-its" and the pack races, etc. We go see places like the local historian, the radio station at Otterbein College, the police station, etc. The kids got to see the inside of a jail cell, after the officer guiding us told them to look for the wide-screen TV and all the video games inside, etc. They found a concrete ledge and a toilet. They loved that! lol lol At the radio station Moody got to be "DJ Rock" for a couple seconds on the air, introducing a song by Phil Collins... that was funny.

The skipper of White Lightening blowing his heart out at the Rain Gutter Regatta

Second place ribbon with a first-place attitude

The last go-see-it was to Slate Run Living Historical Farm, which is a working 1880's style farm. Volunteers work and live there, doing a lot of things by hand, and they even dress like the old days. There is a little bit of cheating like electric lighting in the cellar, to avoid fire, but the rest is pretty genuine. They keep some rare/unusual/old animal breeds there. The volunteers also have a web site (not run from the farm) complete with The Back Porch Blog. It was quite an interesting go-see-it. The kids got to see chicken slaughtered, plucked and dressed. They showed eggs in various stages of development. They ground up some cornmeal, fed the animals, etc. Moody even slipped into his cowboy accent for the occasion, calling everyone partner and doing some kind of twang-drawl thing. lol lol They had a nice little guillotine contraption made of wood that holds the chicken in place after they chop its head off. They said it was an authentic design to let the chicken drain without that famous chicken dance. One father told me it was his first time to see a chicken slaughtered, which was interesting. For me, it was the first time to learn that pigs are carnivores. We're talking chicken heads, innards and feet. God damn, I said. I think I heard one pig grunt back, "Tastes like chicken. ool ool ool!" That's right, oynking out loud.

Things are starting to wind down to the summer schedule. Next week the kids will be out of school, and soon after the baseball league will end, and pool season will set in. It promises to be a busy summer with BIG, or as Tala says, GIGANTO happenings... more details later.