Tuesday, January 31, 2006

No more State of the Union for me

I used to feel guilty if I didn’t listen to the State of the Union address, as if I were failing to be informed about politics and our nation.  No longer do I feel that way.  The annual speech is merely unbearable theatrics – worse than even pure politics, although that’s bad enough.  The applause, the camera shots of approving, disapproving, and famous faces, and the after-show analysis all disgust me.  How many times will TV audiences get to see Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama?  Plenty, I bet.  Worst of all is the actual speech.  I can hardly bear the tone, cadence, and content of most politicians’ speeches, and the State of the Union is no exception.  It will be all positive spin, and new programs and “initiatives” that will rarely be implemented.  I’m fine with Bush as a president, but even so, I don’t enjoy hearing that kind of talk.  Some people must, but why do the speechwriters feel that they have to cater to the lowest common denominator in America?  The day that a president speaks honestly, clearly, in a normal tone of voice, and without pausing for applause, is the day that I will enjoy listening to the address.  

Monday, January 30, 2006

Strikes on Iran?

While reading an op-ed by Jackson Diehl on Bush's options with Iran, I learned that both Lieberman and McCain have endorsed military action. That info was incidental to the main point of the column, but interests me nevertheless. Why haven't I already heard about these senators' recommendations? Did they just barely endorse military action, or is there another reason the media hasn't broadcast it more loudly? Or maybe I am just not keeping up with the news like I should.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Palestinians' True Colors

I had been willing to believe that the majority of Palestinians were desirous of living in peace with their Israeli neighbors, with a minority being murderous terrorists. These election results have been a real eye-opener for me. It's hard to make excuses anymore, or feel much sympathy for them (although some in this country surely will try). I doubt that bypassing Hamas to continue talks through the PLO will come to anything. The majority of the people have made their feelings clear by voting in a party whose main goal is to destroy Israel.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Part II

To continue my thoughts from my last post – what can be done differently to help those in poverty?  Very little was done to help immigrants a century ago, free public education being the major exception.  Going back to that low level of aid just isn’t going to happen, even if you think we should.  So how can public dollars be better spent?  If my theory is at all true (that not-so-bad living conditions don’t motivate people enough to improve their lot in life), then perhaps we need to stop providing “affordable” government-subsidized housing, except on a very short-term basis.  More money could be spent on transporting people to job training centers and jobs.  But this would be way too radical, I know.  Kicking families (or partial families, as it often is) onto the streets just doesn’t sit well.  But somehow we need to figure out a way to make living below the poverty line less comfortable.  Hunger is a great motivator.  Ouch.  How uncompassionate I sound!  I’m not really that hard-hearted.  It’s just discouraging to see how decades of government social programs and handouts have hurt rather than helped so many people.  Here’s a sample idea: to be eligible for WIC or food stamps, you may not subscribe to cable TV.  But wait, that requires more government regulation – probably a commission to study it, and a whole bureaucracy to enforce it.  What a quandary!

Tenement Living and Bootstraps

Bookworm comments on 19th/early 20th century NY tenement living, and wonders why most of those residents escaped their surroundings in a generation, when so many other people in other bad surroundings do not.

No one simple answer to her questions - but here's one idea.  Those tenements were just too awful to be endured for more than a generation.  People did whatever they had to do to get out - and were able to because of the freedoms of this country.  The slums of New Orleans were not as bad as the tenements.  People had more square footage and plumbing.  I've been in the projects in France, and while they are yucky, again they are not anywhere as awful as those old NY tenements.  So I think that people have less motivation in these latter examples to do the extremely hard work necessary to get out.

Then, in some parts of the world living conditions are indeed horrific, but they do not have the economic and political freedoms we do here.

Along the same lines, I frequently ponder on the enigma of run-down trailer parks and their plethora of mini-satellite dishes.  Does the escapism of cable or satellite TV give the residents enough pleasure to lessen their motivation for self-improvement?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Canada's Election

Back when Bush was reelected, to the horror of liberals, I recall hearing (on NPR?) about how increasing numbers of U.S. citizens were emigrating to our liberal neighbor to the north. Canadian immigration officials were even coming to the Seattle area to hold classes for those interested. I wonder how those former Americans feel now!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Better vocational education as a solution for some

To continue on the subject of my last post: I was pondering the wisdom of pushing nearly all students to go to college when I stumbled across a Jay Mathews column on vo-tech education. It is mainly an email exchange that he had with an educator who is passionate about improving technical training programs. I found their dialogue extremely thought-provoking. An excerpt:

I am not talking about the old, stand-alone, dumping ground shop classes that are slowly but surely -- and rightly- disappearing from the scene. I'm talking about comprehensive, career prep programs that will culminate in actual professional certification in high need areas that offer solid, middle class $15-$20 an hour wages -- licensed nursing, computer systems maintenance, auto mechanics and culinary arts among others.

There is much more that is very worth reading!

The Trouble With Boys

Newsweek's cover story brings up the problems boys are having in school these days. Based on my own experiences, this is indeed a big problem in education, and worthy of some attention. Lest some shriek that if we pay too much attention to boys that girls will lose their hard-earned gains, let me point out that disengaged, disruptive boys in the classroom hurt the girls as well as themselves.

I like the idea that a few schools are starting to do -- forming some single sex classes within a coed school. That way teachers can better tailor their lessons to their students, but the students still have that important interaction with the opposite sex at lunch, recess, and maybe a few subjects. Plus it doesn't cost anything!

The Left Wing

The West Wing is going off the airwaves this spring.  The finale will deal with the inauguration of the new president.  Of course, who wins will be the big surprise, but I know what won’t be a surprise: the Democrats will come out of it smelling better.  Even if the Republican candidate wins (just to try to show viewers that NBC isn’t biased), he and his supporters will nonetheless be portrayed with some negativity.  That’s my prediction, anyway.  I gave up watching the show several years ago, so I’m not the most informed viewer.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Welfare to Work

Virginia's welfare reform started ten years ago, and is the subject of a quick Times-Dispatch article. The title and first few paragraphs lead the reader to believe that the welfare reform hasn't been that great.

Thousands of lives have changed in the decade since Virginia reformed its welfare system, but one critical factor hasn't: Many former recipients are still poor.

Terrible journalism. That critical factor has changed. Many instead of all of the former recipients are still poor. If you keep reading the article, the numbers speak for themselves. Nationally and statewide, welfare reform has been a big success, unless you would rather have people receive money for nothing instead of money for working.

Fat Country

Michael Rosenwald from the Post writes about how economics and technology have made us a fat nation. He says it's a tradeoff we pay for living in our society with modern conveniences and jobs where we don't have to sweat for ten hours a day.

In some ways, we are better off in this Fat Economy. Many people work in easier, better-paying jobs, which help pay for their big homes in the suburbs. Women don't have to spend two hours preparing dinner every night; many have risen to unprecedented levels of corporate and political power. Flat-panel plasma TVs hang over fireplaces, which can be lit using the same remote control for flipping channels. But the unintended consequence of these economic changes is that many of us have become fat. An efficient economy produces sluggish, inefficient bodies.

Overweight himself, he does point out the various health problems that come with obesity. Nevertheless, the general tone of the article is that our fatness is the inevitable price we pay for our modern lifestyles. I'm not so convinced. I know it's naive to idolize the "good ole days", but I do believe that we have other problems besides just obesity health-related ones. And even that alone is no fun. I found having 40-50 pounds of pregancy fat just miserable. It really opened my eyes to how uncomfortable it is to be overweight. At that time, I would have gladly changed places with a thin person from the 1940s. So I'm not sure if our current society is a clear winner over the old days - if you are heavy.

Before World War II, if you wanted a french fry, you went to the store, bought potatoes, took them home, washed them, peeled them, sliced them and fried them.

Who is going to go to all of that trouble now on a regular basis? But maybe we should. One of my weaknesses is desserts. So I have an unofficial rule for myself (which can be broken from time to time): if I want sweets I have to make them from scratch. This has stopped me many times from buying junk at the store. Half the time I'm too lazy to make anything. Also, I have developed a taste for only quality, home-baked goods. Thus, when at a party or near a vending machine, I am rarely interested in eating cheap cookies or brownies from a mix. It saves a lot of calories.

Friday, January 20, 2006

True-Blue Colors

Tim Kaine ran for VA governor as a moderate Democrat, not given to high taxing and spending. Now in office for just a few days, he is ready to unroll his plans for car tax increases, and maybe even gasoline tax increases. I'm so surprised!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Double Booking

Another exhausting trip to the pediatrician this morning.  This time it was just K’s 15 month check-up.  The good news is her ears are fine now, and she is healthy.  My complaint is that I had to wait for one whole hour before seeing the doctor.  When I signed in for my 10:30 appointment, I noticed a baby signed in on the line above for a 10:30 check-up with the same doctor.  She probably waited about ½ hour before being called back.  This really annoys me.  Both appointments were for standard check-ups; mine was made three months ago.  I can understand if a sick child needs to be seen at the last minute, but this was not the case.  Waiting with two children for an hour in a crowded waiting room and the examining room is no joke.  I’m considering switching to another doctor.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Nagin Apology

It rarely fails. A public official makes inflammatory remarks, and then apologizes. I wasn't that impressed with Nagin to begin with, but am even less so now. Stand by what you say, if you mean it (and I bet he did)! People are too darn sensitive, anyway. Nagin was entirely correct to point to the problem of 70% of children living in a single parent home. The rest of it, well, if that's what you really think, fine. The voters can choose differently if they so desire at the next election. At least they know where he stands, as compared to some politicians who are much too careful about every word that comes out of their mouths.

Monday, January 16, 2006


We have spent a good chunk of the weekend painting our family room. I believe painting is a little like pregnancy - you look forward to the results, but you forget how awful it is until you are actually doing it again. I had grand visions of how we would paint like mad for about two days, and be done with it. But alas, I had neglected to factor in my children, and how unenthused I become after a few hours. I also tend to get motion sickness after a while (unfortunately, just about anything will give me motion sickness). So here it is Monday night, MLK day has come and gone, and the room still needs one more coat of paint. It will have to be finished during nap times and evenings this week.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

This shouldn't be news to anyone, but many 20 and 30 year olds are having a hard time financially. This Christian Science Monitor Article details the struggles of various young couples to pay for housing, student loan debts, credit card debt, and groceries. A few lines caught my eye.

Even an Ivy League education is no guarantee of instant financial stability. Jeffrey McDaniel graduated from Dartmouth and his wife, Meghan, from Smith. But in 2002, as they began paying her graduate school tuition and their wedding bills, they did considerable belt-tightening.

Ivy League? If you can't afford it, go somewhere cheaper. I had an school-teacher roommate who had to gone to a $20,000-a-year-tuition college, and was really hating trying to pay back $80, 000 of loans on a teacher's salary. She honestly admitted that she regretted it.

Wedding bills? Aaagghh. Why do people go into massive debt for a wedding? Perhaps it's because at least once a year, the media reports on how the "average" couple spends $19,000 on a wedding (or whatever the current figure is). What kind of insanity is this? Instead of worrying about what everyone else does, people should throw a wedding they can pay for.

Friday, January 13, 2006

New Baby

Last night I took dinner over to a friend of mine who just had a healthy baby girl.  She has two boys also.  It is a happy occasion marred by the fact that her divorce will be final in a few weeks.  I don’t know the details, and don’t really want to know; it’s none of my business.  I’m just so sad for her, and the kids.  How awful to have a baby alone.  It’s hard enough to raise kids with a husband.  I know there are so many single mothers out there now, and they manage, but I wonder how much comfort my friend will get from the fact that she has a lot of company.  It won’t make her workload any lighter, or make the kids miss their daddy any less.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Merit-pay for Teachers

Houston is all set to tie teachers' salaries to student test scores. Whew! What a hot-button issue! Books could be written on both sides, but I will try to be brief. I am not necessarily opposed to merit-based pay, but I am opposed to that merit being soley measured on student test scores, as Houston will do. I have taught in schools where the sole focus is test scores, and the result isn't that great (even if scores do rise). Houston's plan does not offer non-core area teachers the same opportunities to earn these bonuses. But all of that and more, aside, it just seems wrong. How can you determine a teacher's pay based on another human's being's choices? I believe that children do have much personal responsibility for their education. How unfair this type of plan is for the teacher whose children simply will not come prepared, listen, do any classwork or homework, or read the test questions? Don't give me the garbage about how a great teacher will be able to motivate all of her students. A great teacher will be able to motivate most or some, but not all. Plus, let's face it, most teachers are good, but not great.

Here's a possible scenario. Johnny is in 7th grade. He has done little work all year. Despite many parent conferences, Johnny just wants to play in school. Having learned little, his grades are failing, and by April he knows he will be retained. When test time comes around in May, he is well-aware that his teacher has a personal stake in how her students perform. He doesn't like his teacher - too strict, got him suspended twice, always tries to get his parents against him, gives him F's, won't let him sit by his friends, etc. He knows that these standardized test scores will in part determine his placement in the next grade (in some places they don't!), but since he knows he's failing regardless, he decides just to bubble his answers in a fun pattern. Besides this'll be good revenge on the teacher. Johnny's teacher and school have various rewards for the kids who try hard on the test, so he is careful to be very slow about filling in his bubbles, so she'll think he is trying.

Think this scenario is not likely to happen often? Ask any middle school teacher, and they will tell you that they know many, many kids like that.

Shopping for Paint

One of the hardest things about being a mother is how difficult simple tasks become!  Today, I took my offspring to the local Benjamin Moore paint store, knowing it would be a challenge.  They are only open until five o’clock, so leaving them with my husband and going in the evening doesn’t work.  Sophie and I had a nice chat in the car about not touching, not running, and not yelling.  All that was quickly forgotten.  She immediately starts pulling out the sample cards, and then spent the rest of the time running around the store yelling.  Kate was drawn to the display of little sample paint jars, and removed them faster than I could put them back on.  She is just too heavy and strong-willed for me to hold for very long.  In the midst of this, I am trying to choose between countless shades of cream and ask the clerk (who kept answering her phone) for advice.  It was crazy.  I settled on “calming cream” in large part because I thought the name might be good omen.  I mentioned that to the clerk, but she either didn’t get it, or didn’t think it was funny.  Considering the havoc the girls were wreaking, it was probably the latter.

Then we went to Lowe’s to buy all the paraphernalia we’ll need to repaint the family room.  Of course, this will be a major challenge too.  It’s so difficult and slow to do these kinds of projects with small children around.  We have to paint at night or on the weekends, or get their grandparents to watch them.  Blocking off the family room for the week that this will most likely take isn’t going to be very popular with the little tyrants either.  I try to remind myself that this won’t last forever, and someday I will be able to do things again.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Boy critical after dog mauling

Stories like this one make me so upset. Why do people feel the need to have such vicious pets? I can only think of two reasons - for protection, or because they are somewhat vicious persons themselves and take delight in teaching a dog to be cruel. I don't think killer dogs are necessary for protection. Most burgulars, upon hearing a dog bark on the premises, will steer clear, even if the dog is just a collie or retriever. As far as vicious people go, well, there's no making them be nice, so let's have some significant punishment for owner negligence.

Burned CDs

I'm distressed to learn that burned CDs have a life span of only 2 to 5 years! I had planned on storing most of my photos on CDs to avoid having to print them. Plus, I have such a hard time deleting photos, even when I have five almost identical shots of baby smiling. There's plenty of space on a CD, so I can just save them all! Printing them isn't cheap either; those ink cartridges don't last long. So this info makes me sad.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Problems in the ER

A new health care analysis out says that the U. S. emergency care system has serious problems, namely overcrowding, declining access, and "poor capacity to deal with public health or terrorist disasters." Nowhere does the article mention one major cause of at least the first two of those problems. That major cause would be massive numbers of people who go to the ER for non-emergencies. Some of these people have no insurance, and know that they won't be turned away, so the ER becomes their primary physician. But other people do have insurance, and don't care about paying the higher co-pay so they can receive instant care. All of these non-emergency visits strain the system, and raise insurance costs. It seems to me that I've heard of hospitals that wanted to turn away non-emergency patients, but in the end did not succeed. I will try to find some examples of this and post and update.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

CNN.com - Utah megaplex balks at 'Brokeback' - Jan 8, 2006

CNN.com - Utah megaplex balks at 'Brokeback' - Jan 8, 2006
Sigh. It's things like this that give Utah a bad name among certain groups of people who fight for freedom for certain groups of people. However, it is a free country (to quote all middle-schoolers out there), and if the theatre owners don't want to show a certain movie, they shouldn't have to. I'm guessing that there will be much ado about this decision, at least in Utah.

Crime wave in Northern Neck

Crime wave in Northern Neck - There's nothing like seeing my hometown area featured in the news. Frankly, although rural areas like this one generally have less crime, I often feel nervous in them. If you live several acres or even miles away from the nearest neighbor, who is going to hear your calls for help, or notice suspicious activity? I know the cities are supposed to be more dangerous, but I have always felt more secure knowing that other people are close by. However, I wonder about my perception that cities have more crime. Per capita, rural areas are probably no better than cities. Anyone out there know where to find those kind of statistics?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Chronicles of Narnia Movie

Hubby and I finally went and saw them much-heralded The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe last night. While not fully capturing the magic and intensity of the book, it was still well-done. I thought the children were well-cast, and the computer effects stunning. Some of the dialogue was a bit slow-moving, though. I try to imagine seeing the film without having read the book, and I believe the film would be a bit flat and even puzzling in its religious symbolism. Anyone who hasn't read the books definitely should, whether or not you plan to see the movie. My favorite book of the series is the first one chronologically, The Magician's Nephew, which would have made a better movie. All of the books are pure enjoyment, though. My mother tried to get me to read them when I was kid, but I wouldn't, as I didn't like fantasy. A few years ago, I decided I needed to read them to be well-read, and was captivated from the beginning.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Foreign-Language Learning Promoted

Bush announces a new iniative to promote foreign language learning, particularly in Arabic, Hindi, and other languages critical to our national security. It's about time! This problem has been discussed periodically, but nothing much ever happens. Unfortunately, I'll be surprised if any real change takes place now, either. The obstacles to the U.S. becoming more language proficient are daunting. Even if money is available (surely not enough), just where are we going to find all of the Arabic teachers necessary who are willing (and certified) to go teach in elementary school? Most Americans have enough trouble learning the easy languages of French and Spanish, and have little idea just how time, motivation, and effort are required to learn Chinese or Arabic. To attaine fluency instruction really must be started at a very young age, and our current K-12 system is resistant to the massive changes needed to implement such programs.

However, any progress we make is better than none, so let's get the momentum going! This is a big subject dear to my heart, and I feel as though I've hardly given it any time, but my little one is howling at my knee.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Power of 1984

In pondering the current fuss over NSA wiretapping, I am wondering just how much of a fuss there would be if George Orwell hadn’t written 1984.  Don’t get me wrong; I have enjoyed reading the book several times, and it provides much food for thought.  However, I think as a nation we are obsessed with fear that it will come to pass.  Bob Barr mentioned Big Brother in his anti-Bush editorial in Time magazine.  He had no need to explain the reference – everyone knows because it such a part of our culture.  It’s quite a tribute to Orwell’s literary powers, but should we really make national security decisions based on fears driven by a work of fiction?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Let the Blaming Begin

We're already hearing about the poor safety record at the mine where 12 men died, and rightly so. It's a horrible tragedy. But in an editorial, the Washington Post has the nerve to say that perhaps the culture of the Mine Safety and Health Administration has changed in the past six years (code: it's Bush's fault). There is no evidence that this is the case; even that part of the editorial was full of "mights". I don't know why I even read the Post anymore, other than that I "might" have some sort of obsession to know what the MSM is up to.
TimesDispatch.com Employee cost of health plans vary
This article is good, as far it goes, which isn't very far. It did at least start to mention that many small businesses don't offer health insurance for their employees, but failed to state explicitly that the reason is that Anthem (Virginia's insurance monopoly) charges small businesses more. Outrageous!

Then there is the usual talk of how various politicians want to help (or require) smaller businesses to provide insurance. This is misguided at best! Currently, if your employer doesn't provide insurance, you can go to Anthem and get a plan for much cheaper than the awful small business rate. I know this based on personal experience.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Wheels on the Bus are Kinder Now

Recently at our public library storytime, I noticed a change to popular children’s song.  Anyone who’s ever sung “The Wheels on the Bus” knows that after the baby goes, “wah, wah, wah” the parents on the bus go, “shh, shh, shh.”  It’s a fun song, at least until you’ve been forced to sing it three hundred times.  My girls particularly liked the “shh, shh, shh.”  It’s easy for a baby to pick up.  Well, at the library, all of the mommies, toddlers (and a lone daddy), are happily singing along when I am startled to hear, “The parents on the bus go ‘I love you.’”  No one else batted an eye, and since I don’t attend very regularly, I obviously missed the big changeover.  I haven’t talked to the woman in charge yet; so I should reserve my judgment, but I won’t!  She’s a nice lady and does a good job.  I’m guessing that someone who was a little too fond of the misguided self-esteem movement came up with the idea that shushing your child is too harsh, and wrote a more feel-good replacement.  So the library lady heard the new version, and probably thought that it was sweet, and made the change without much thought.  But I’m annoyed!  What is wrong with a little shsshhing in a public place like a bus?  Besides a loving, rhythmic shsshhing can actually be very soothing for an infant.  Anyway, kids like the song the way it is.  Leave it alone.  Has anyone else heard this new version?

Monday, January 02, 2006

Well, I didn't escape the dreaded stomach bug after all. It's been a rough weekend. It's sad that it takes feeling horrible to make me fully appreciate how wonderful it is to have good health. Every time I'm sick I promise myself not to take it for granted once I'm feeling better, but I always seem to forget after a while. While sick, I would rather be doing just about anything else in the world, if only I could feel normal. But once normality returns, so does my complaining. In fact, this weekend's episode got me out of speaking in church - something that I had not been very eager to do. However, I would have rather spoken every Sunday in church for a year if it would have meant I could have avoided this misery!