Monday, August 23, 2010

How Much Will You Take For The Unused Lithium?

The Headmaster has always maintained that yardsales are a perfect venue for witnessing the absolute worst in human behavior. They make even homeschooling listservs look like models of order and decency by comparison. This is why he avoids them like the plague. That is, until this weekend when the Academy joined an alliance of regional schools to conduct a yardsale to benefit school children in Haiti. Now if you think yardsale rats will run you down looking for the bargain of the century, wait 'til you tell them that all proceeds will benefit a third-world country struggling to recover from the disaster of the century. Oh yeah baby, it's on. It is so totally and completely on.

You might not normally connect Juicy Couture dresses for toddlers with questionable judgment, but when, in the context of helping impoverished kids obtain badly-needed school supplies, a discriminating shopper offers $1 for a $90 dress worn only once for the opening of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince at Regal Snowden Square 14 Theaters - well, one must draw a line somewhere.

The worst of the worst are the "early birds", which is a euphemism for (kids, if you're reading this, cover your ears) "professional asshole". These are yardsale rats who seem to find joy in haggling with you over a nickel. See, they're gonna need that nickel to defer the cost of listing fees when they resell your gently-used possessions through Craigslist at 2000% markup.

It's 6am. You stand in your driveway before a pile of "stuff-that-was-destined-for-this-yardsale-the-moment-you-impulsively-bought-it", sipping coffee and contemplating your setup strategy. It's the quiet before the storm. Suddenly you see them drive by and hit the brakes, followed by the urgent whining of the transmission as they back their utility van over your carefully placed orange parking cones. They pause to size you up. Slowly they emerge and walk up as if skulking into an adult bookstore. You can see it in their hollow eyes - lost souls with no conscience to speak of. "Hey, mind if I look around?" they say without looking up. "Sure. Hey, mind if I poke you in that hollow eye with this distinctive, hand-forged fireplace poker from Woodland Direct in lovely vintage finish that is sure to complement any decor?"

Ah well, it's just "stuff". If you go into it with the expectation that you are going to get rid of a lot of unwanted merchandise and maybe make a dollar or two, you won't be disappointed. Alternatively, you could just take a heavy dose of lithium two hours prior. Then, afterward, take all your proceeds and go buy some more silly-bands.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Will and Grace

At first glance, this sign appears to be a simple and funny play on words related to the recent heat spell. But it is actually using those words as metaphor for the tension between the concepts of free will and grace. According to the Merriam-Webster Abridged, Grace is defined as "unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification".

It works like this: an all-knowing, all-powerful and infallible God creates mankind, but makes them imperfect through the concept of "free will". Then, by dangling the carrot of eternal happiness he requires them to control their free will in order to strive for moral perfection. Knowing they would fall short, he then provides "Grace" to allow them an opportunity to get the carrot anyway.

Sounds logical (if not a little whacked) until you start actually thinking about it. See you can't think about it without poking into a few hopelessly knotted tangles like Jesus Christ and Predestination. According to Predestination, this grace-giving God knows who will get the carrot (i.e. the "Elect") and who will not get the carrot (i.e. the "Reprobates"). Which begs a few obvious questions:

- why is Grace given to get the carrot and given to not get the carrot?
- if Grace is given and the Elect are known, then why sacrifice Jesus Christ?
- why answer the prayers of the "doomed" reprobates?
- why bother bringing the reprobates into the world in the first place?
- if He intervenes to help me upgrade to first class, doesn't that mean I'm Elect?

Catholicism: Predestination is God's decree of the happiness of the Elect. God's infallible foreknowledge (and thus predestination also) includes free will. God's foreknowledge cannot force upon man unavoidable coercion, for the simple reason that foreknowledge is nothing more than the eternal vision of what happens in the future. God foresees the free activity of a man precisely as that individual is willing to shape it - predestination is not predetermination of the human will.

In other words, moral decisions based on your free will determine whether you get the carrot, and God knows what decisions you will make. But let's keep going...

Election is a consequence of God's foreknowledge. By definition, the Elect are those whom God infallibly foresees will be saved (Rom 8:28-30). By this definition, it is impossible for the Elect to be lost, precisely because God foreknows who will not be lost. But since election depends on God's infallible foreknowledge, we simply have no way of knowing whether or not we are in that category -- God knows with certainty His Elect, but we do not. The Elect are predestined in the sense that God knows them, and enables them by grace, to be saved.

So let's see if we have this straight. God knows already if you're saved (Rom 8:28-30). He knew it when you were born. He knew it BEFORE you were born. So why does God bring us here when he knows we won't get the carrot, unless it is for the sheer amusement of watching us try to raise kids or take tours of the Spy Museum? If you're beginning to feel like the control group in some sort of cosmic experiment, you're not alone. It may be that your entire purpose on earth is to highlight (through your failure) the success of the carrot-holding elect.

Can you imagine working your whole life (or even one day) toward some fuzzy promise to "get paid" in the end if you do a "good job"? There's no one around to provide a clear definition of "good job", and so you have no way of knowing where you stand at any given point. Heck, you don't even know what the "pay" is! Maybe the Muslims have it right after all - hew as closely as possible to a strictly literal interpretation of ancient holy texts, and you've given it your best shot. And you know exactly what you get in the end. Sure, you have to live your whole life in the Dark Ages, but you'll get 72 virgins while the rest of the world strives for some lousy carrot.

According to most religious doctrines, homosexuality is like an express lane for Hell - forget HIV, gays are all going to Hell HOV. The Apostle Paul mentions homosexuality as a sin which keeps man from the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10). Remember that 90's show Will and Grace? The name succinctly sums up the tension between free will and grace, which cannot be more aptly demonstrated than in a show about a heterosexual-turned-homosexual man. Was Will exercising his God-given ability to choose, while Grace's role (ever optimistic, if not somewhat unwitting) was to "save" him? Was the show demonstrating that the concepts of grace and free will are inextricably linked, such that grace and salvation will always be available to us, in spite of the temptations of free will? Or was the show simply a vehicle to get Megan Mullaly's boobs into our living rooms? (Thank you Lord)

We can't seem to make sense of it all. Through prayer, we seek guidance and assistance from God to "show us the way" - to make the right moral decisions. And yet, He already knows what decisions we will make, and through that knowledge He knows whether we're destined for Hell or Eternity. In fact, His intervention would be the undoing of predetermination, which would make Him... fallible. We ask Him for help in all kinds of issues - help with our finances, help with our relationships, help getting five minutes alone with Megan Mullaly - and yet for all we know our name isn't even on the VIP list. So what's the point again? Some faiths believe that since the Elect are predetermined, Christ died only for the elect. Doh! Can you imagine? They were already good to go! Dammit!

As it turns out, this church sign had nothing whatsoever to do with any of these concepts. See, we told you this AC thing was going to catch on!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cut, Print, Check the Gate. Moving on.

If you can imagine buying tickets to see Luscious Jackson in concert, and then after arriving being handed a microphone and informed that it's karaoke, you have some idea what it was like today when the Headmaster escorted the students on a "tour" of the Spy Museum in Washington DC, near Chinatown.

From the Spy Museum website:

"Think of it as a live action adventure in the second oldest profession on earth. Only you’re the spy. This one-hour adrenaline-fueled interactive experience is no exhibit. It’s simple, really. You have to locate a missing nuclear trigger before it ends up in the wrong hands. No pressure. Just crack a few safes, decode some messages, interrogate a suspect double agent."

See, this isn't a tour. This is acting without even being paid scale. This is why the Headmaster avoids Murder Mystery Dinner Theater and Japanese Steakhouses at all costs. When he dines out, he wishes to be served, and prefers not to be part of the "entertainment". Imagine going to a fine restaurant where the chef navigates a serving cart to within three meters of your table, then asks you to open wide while he flips your meal into your mouth one bite at a time with great fanfare. Grilled scallops soar through the air in slow-motion as you wait with mouth agape like a hooked fish. Diners four tables away have instant access to your complete dental history, and they wince at the site. "Ooooh, gosh... he should have flossed". Yeah, all the onion volcanoes in the world won't make up for that experience.

Anyway, after some preliminary play acting, the Headmaster's tour group of a half-dozen parents with kids were herded into a themed room representing the lobby of a third-world hotel. Here they were given an initial briefing of their mission and asked to select code names for themselves. The Headmaster quickly set upon "Cupcake" as first choice, and "Twinkles" as second, but as it turns out those names were already taken by the time it came 'round to him. So he froze for a moment, then just blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "Steve Shapero!" he said, whereupon Cupcake, Twinkles and Excalibur all shot him a look of utter disdain as if to say "You stupid noob, you're endangering the entire mission".

"Sorry," says the Headmaster sheepishly. Then, almost pleadingly, "The website said there'd be no pressure!"

See, this is why the Headmaster would rather not be part of any "interactive" experience. That is, unless he's touring a museum for the OLDEST profession in the world.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How to Lose a Caterpillar in 10 Days

While working on the stone wall today, the Headmaster was visited by a Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar. She crawled on over along the rock ledge, then raised her head up to inspect the Headmaster. At first glance, the caterpillar's head appeared to have a bit of the Red Queen about it. Bulbous. Then it suddenly dawned on the Headmaster that the eyes weren't eyes at all. According to Batesian Mimicry, certain insects evolve the features of other insects (or even vertebrates) in order to appear more dangerous to predators.

Upon further reflection, however, it may be that these features are not designed to scare off predators at all. Viewed from a different perspective, perhaps with a few Emilio Pucci accessories thrown in, these eyes scream out "I'm looking for commitment". Makes us wonder how the species survives at all, given a physical feature literally designed to scare the bejeezus out of all the male caterpillars.

Cut scene. Camera pans in on Ms. Caterpillar's steady boyfriend, on a tour of wine country with his college buddy. "Look, if these chicks want to drink Merlot, we're drinking Merlot." His buddy yells back "I am NOT drinking #*%&ing Merlot!"

Anyway, after several minutes of inspection, the caterpillar walked off and left the Headmaster to his business. A wise decision on her part.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Belly on up

Regular readers (yes, we're talking about you three) know that the Academy broke ground this spring on the new James M. Chandler Septic System on the north grounds. Part of this project involved eliminating a section of fence in order to get the big equipment onto the grounds. This breach in force protection didn't go unnoticed. The deer have begun spreading picnic blankets out by the pool each morning, raising the age-old question - what to feed the unexpected guest? Ever-aspiring to be a better host, the Headmaster invested a small fortune installing an all-you-can-eat salad bar. Going for an English-Garden look, he framed the vegetable garden with hostas, black-eyed-susans, heather and more. This has become the Academy's "loss-leader" - tempting the deer in and then selling them on the good stuff like tomatoes and basil. The response has been overwhelming, and we're happy to report that we've nearly moved our entire inventory.


While mowing the lawn this past week, the Headmaster discovered that the deer are not the only ones bellying up to the bar. The back fields were nearly blanketed with the most curious caterpillars. Euchaetes Egle, to be exact - or, simply the Milkweed Caterpillar. Remember milkweeds? As a kid, the headmaster used to find them, crack them open and blow the seed spores all over the yard. This no doubt endeared him to the local Eu. Egle population, if not to his dad.

Between the Eu. Egle, the tent caterpillars, the slugs and the local deer, the only green thing left at the Academy is the grass. Now all the Headmaster needs is a herd of goats to completely eliminate all yardwork.

"Be-e-e-e-lly on up boys, I'll be hanging out at the pool with the deer. I hear they have cucumber sandwiches with fresh basil."

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Hey Beer Man, Two Over Here!

Heat Index 105. Ok, so it’s hot. But we're not buying into this whole “global warming” thing because we just checked and it’s -40 on the summit of Mount Everest right now. Talk to us when the Sherpa are wearing Bermuda shorts and selling lift tickets.

Meanwhile, the Headmaster will be spending more and more time down at the local church, where they’ve taken to enticing the masses with promises of thermal comfort. Wouldn’t you think that climate control is simply the cost of entry in the church business? Can you imagine a sign in the middle of winter -- “COME ON IN. WE’VE GOT HEAT!”

But as we all know from Marketing 101, it doesn’t take much to create an artificial demand for any given commodity. This AC thing could catch on, and soon every church will be advertising it. That’s when they’ll start looking for “differentiators”.




Down at the Unitarian they’ll be all like “ENERGY STAR AC with R410A – CERTIFIED GREEN!” Just watch the parking lot fill up with Priuses.

Sigh. Makes us long for the good old days. “We’ve Got JC”.