To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I have finally entered the 21st century.

Today at work I made a powerpoint presentation all by myself. I had never done it before, ever. There was only moderate swearing.

I think F would be proud of me. Back in 8th grade, which is 8 years ago, she and some of her classmates had to do a ppt about bioethics. They chose cloning as a subject. F and one of her friends had powerpoint, so they put the thing together, emailing it back and forth and incorporating the input of the other group members. F drew a really cute sheep in Paint and it scooted onto the slide about Dolly, followed by bullet points. At the end of the presentation they rolled credits, and since F was (is?) a Weird Al fan they ran "I Think I'm A Clone Now" in the background. (You can listen to that here if you've a mind.)

I didn't have any special effects on mine. Boring, I know. Maybe next time.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

This is funny as heck.

Laws Concerning Food and Drink;
Household Principles;
Lamentations of the Father"

An excerpt:

On Screaming

Do not scream; for it is as if you scream all the time. If you are given a plate on which two foods you do not wish to touch each other are touching each other, your voice rises up even to the ceiling, while you point to the offense with the finger of your right hand; but I say to you, scream not, only remonstrate gently with the server, that the server may correct the fault. Likewise if you receive a portion of fish from which every piece of herbal seasoning has not been scraped off, and the herbal seasoning is loathsome to you, and steeped in vileness, again I say, refrain from screaming. Though the vileness overwhelm you, and cause you a faint unto death, make not that sound from within your throat, neither cover your face, nor press your fingers to your nose. For even now I have made the fish as it should be; behold, I eat of it myself, yet do not die.

This writer knows about little children.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Star Spangled mess: Mavs' Howard insults anthem

DALLAS (AP) — The battered reputation of Josh Howard took another hit this week when an online video surfaced showing the Dallas Mavericks forward disrespecting the national anthem.

In a video posted on YouTube, Howard is shown on a football field at a charity flag football game. As the national anthem plays in the background, Howard approaches a camera and says: "'The Star Spangled Banner' is going on right now. I don't even celebrate that (expletive). I'm black."

Why am I reminded of The Man Without a Country?

“WASHINGTON (with a date which must have been late in 1807).
“SIR—You will receive from Lieutenant Neale the person of Philip Nolan, late a lieutenant in the United States Army.
“This person on his trial by court-martial expressed, with an oath, the wish that he might ‘never hear of the United States again.’
“The Court sentenced him to have his wish fulfilled.
“For the present, the execution of the order is intrusted by the President to this Department.
“You will take the prisoner on board your ship, and keep him there with such precautions as shall prevent his escape.
“You will provide him with such quarters, rations, and clothing as would be proper for an officer of his late rank, if he were a passenger on your vessel on the business of his Government.
“The gentlemen on board will make any arrangements agreeable to themselves regarding his society. He is to be exposed to no indignity of any kind, nor is he ever unnecessarily to be reminded that he is a prisoner.
“But under no circumstances is he ever to hear of his country or to see any information regarding it; and you will especially caution all the officers under your command to take care, that, in the various indulgences which may be granted, this rule, in which his punishment is involved, shall not be broken.
“It is the intention of the Government that he shall never again see the country which he has disowned. Before the end of your cruise you will receive orders which will give effect to this intention.

“Respectfully yours,

“W. SOUTHARD, for the

“Secretary of the Navy.”

You couldn't really do what was done to Philip Nolan in the story. It was cruel and it certainly was unusual. I wonder if they even teach that story anymore.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

F called me today to ask how come teachers feel like they have to be [crude expression]s.

I said, to prepare you for the rest of your life.

: (

It's not all teachers, of course, just this one. Perhaps F will not mind if I tell her story.

F is unnerved by this teacher anyway b/c she is the only person whose name he seems to know. When he wants to ask the class a question he always calls on her, by name. Half the time she doesn't know the answer, and then he pulls out the roll book and starts calling on other people, who, she says, never know either.

This teacher is from another country, and English is not his first language. F doesn't have a problem understanding accented English. Perhaps this is why he calls on her first. Or maybe because she's smart. I would suggest, or because she's cute, but I think she'd be horrified at the thought that her teacher, who you understand is probably older than dirt in her eyes, and who acts like a [crude expression], would notice such a thing.

So today she had a test in which she was supposed to draw a thing. The wording, as she described it to me, was ambiguous. She asked him for clarification: do you want X, or do you want Y? His answer was to take her test and carefully read to her, word by word, the test item. They stared at each other. So, she said, do you want X, or Y? Draw as many as you want, he said. They stared at each other. He called upon the class to hear him read out the test item; the other students were like, "What?" F wanted to throw her test on the floor in frustration, but she did not, because it would not be ladylike.

I told her that I was gratified that she was not unladylike.

So she went back to her seat in defeat, and drew both X and Y. It will be interesting to see how he grades that.

Now I ask my readers: is this not excellent preparation for life in the adult world?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering 9/11/01 ... I usually try not to think about the date because if I start thinking about it I'll cry. Saw a flag at half-mast on the way home from work ...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

“Children with Down’s syndrome require an awful lot of attention. The role of vice president, it seems to me, would take up an awful lot of her time, and it raises the issue of how much time will she have to dedicate to her newborn child?” CNN anchor John Roberts asked during a live segment on Aug. 29, the day McCain announced Palin’s candidacy.


Dr. Brian Skotko, a physician at Children’s Hospital Boston who serves on the board of directors at the National Down Syndrome Society, told that, in many instances, it is no more challenging to raise a child with Down syndrome than any other.

“We know that about 50 percent of babies who are born with Down syndrome have a heart condition within the first few months after they are born,” he said.

“But thanks to the advances in technology, we have been able to correct many of these conditions, and after the initial medical issues have been addressed, raising a child with Down syndrome does not involve much more time than it would take for any child.”

Palin’s Candidacy Reignites Feminist Debate

I believe that John Roberts was acting as what the left-wing bloggers call a "concern troll".

In other news - I am so amused at the little girl kitties trying to make sense of my nightly shoulder exercises. The tomcat could NOT care less.

I start out using the pulley over the bedroom door to stretch my arm as high as it can go, hold for a count of fifteen, repeat several times. They have to watch this, or sit close to me with their backs turned, or get in my lap as I do it, or as Bonnie did tonight, anticipate where I am going and get on the chair first (what a funny joke). The next thing I do is to go to one particular wall that's convenient to do external rotation stretches and then wall pushups. So while I'm using the pulley, one or the other kitty might run over to that wall and reach up to scrabble on it with her paws. "See, I got there first."

Molly's done after that but Bonnie precedes me into the bedroom where she sits on the dresser and supervises my working with weights.

Don't know what I'd do without them - I'd probably get everything in the wrong order.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

I want to talk about raising a literate child. I can do that because, since the definition of "expert" is "parent of one child", I am an expert. Disclaimer: You can't make your kid be literate any more than you can make him or her anything else. People are who they are from the get-go. But you can influence a kid to go the way you want. You might as well try, since you'll pretty definitely influence him or her to go the way you don't want. I've read that "the footsteps your kids follow in are the ones you thought you'd covered up".

Anyway, back to the literate child. Before I became pregnant with F, I was listening to the radio one day - and I can tell you exactly where in Memphis I was driving at the time - and I heard someone authoritative talk about the importance of reading Mother Goose rhymes to babies. The cadences and the rhymes point out the way the language is put together. That made a lot of sense to me. When F came along, we acquired a big green Mother Goose book. Maybe my mom gave it to us? It has lots of big colorful pictures and lots and lots of nursery rhymes. I held F on my lap and read them to her. When she was big enough to turn the pages, I'd read all of the poems on one page and she'd study the picture for a while, then she'd turn the page and I'd read the poems on that page.

By the way, on that studying the picture thing: I and my sibs were read to quite a bit, and I can run across the Little Golden Books, which are still in print, and know what the pictures inside will look like even though I haven't cracked those things in decades.

F had short books when she was a toddler. We belonged to a book club, maybe associated with "Parents" magazine, and we got lots of little short books from them. R or I read one or two of them to her every night before bed.

At age 4 I thought it was time to start reading chapter books to her, a chapter a night. I took inspiration from Dick Estelle, the Radio Reader - anyone remember him? I thought if he could do it I could. We started with The Hobbit. I paraphrased just a bit as needed for clarity and when the story might bog down from a 4-yr-old's perspective (in Mirkwood, and after they found the dragon) but other than that we read that sucker straight through. After that it was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. That one really motivated F to learn to read. She wouldn't let me stop after one chapter. I had to keep reading every evening as long as I could. I remember once croaking, "I have to stop now," and she said, "Oh, no, Mommy, I have to find out what's happening to Edmund and the White Witch!" and she took the book from me and tried to force meaning from it.

After that we skipped over to The Magician's Nephew, and then we left Narnia and read some other things. We did Ramona the Pest right before she started kindergarten, and The Door in the Wall (terrific story) and then we started the Little House books. We read ALL of those, and there are quite a few. If you start with the first one, Little House in the Big Woods, and proceed chronologically, the reading difficulty progresses as Laura gets older. Sometimes when I was reading F her chapter, R would come in and sit and listen to the story. He enjoyed taking a turn doing the reading too, if I was busy or tired or just if he wanted to.

And let me interject - when you're doing this you don't just read every word on the page, one after the other, like a robot. You stop and ask questions: What do you think is going to happen next? Do you think it was a good idea for her to do that? What should she have done? Or if a scene has an incomplete description, ask the kid to fill in from her imagination. This encourages the child to pause and reflect while reading, and it's an excellent opportunity to get those little character-shaping lectures in that parents need to do. "See, all of this happened because she didn't tell her mommy the truth" - that kind of thing.

We read to F every night until she could read faster to herself. When she reached first grade, they sent her back to read to the kindergartners because they wanted those children to see that a small child like themselves really could read. She chose The Monster at the End of This Book and she read with great expression, because that's another thing: when you read to a kid, you have to do different voices for different people, and slow down dramatically, or sigh as you read, or whatever it takes to make the story real.

(Never stopped reading to her altogether, by the way - I remember reading a Katherine Anne Porter short story to her, for instance, probably close to the end of high school. And I took my inspiration there from The Princess Bride, the book, in which it's the father reading to the kid, and he tells the kid's mom that his father continued reading to his children into their teens.)

After that my boosting of F's literacy mostly consisted of suggesting books for her to read and talking with her about her reading material. I read virtually all of the books she had to read, from elementary school through high school. Some of the selections made me wonder: I was not the only parent horrified at The Giver for kids going into 5th grade; the boy watching his father kill the low-birth-weight twin even as he talked baby-talk to it was a bit much, we thought. And then in high school, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I had not read it before, and loved it. F hated it. But I read it identifying with the adult narrator, looking back at all of the sad, funny, scary, horrifying, infuriating events of her girlhood that made her into the person she became. F read it identifying with the little girl in the story, and if you read it that way it's pretty much unbearable.

I wrote here about forcing her to read Rider at the Gate, a book she didn't initially want to read and subsequently loved, and here about using Jane Eyre and The Good Earth to make a point about what makes a person a moral person. We talked about poetry, too.

This summer I inflicted A Yellow Raft in Blue Water on her. She read it all pretty much in one sitting, complained bitterly about how depressing it was (although she liked the parts about Rayona), and I'll bet anything she'll be taking it off the shelf again at some point even as she is asking herself why.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

couple of interesting links

Palin Rumors is an ongoing list of rumors about Sarah Palin and some rebuttal. I'd like to see more links to news articles and such.

Lawmaker accused of politicizing Palin probe.
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA (AP) - A Republican lawmaker wants the Democrat overseeing an investigation into Gov. Sarah Palin's dismissal of her public safety commissioner removed because he seems intent on damaging her vice presidential candidacy.

Democratic state Sen. Hollis French "appears to be steering the direction of the investigation, its conclusion and its timing in a manner that will have maximum partisan political impact on the national and state elections," state Rep. John Coghill said in a letter dated Friday.


Coghill wrote in the letter that French was quoted in media reports that the results of the probe were going to be an "October surprise" that is "likely to be damaging to the administration." The comments lead Coghill to believe the investigation is lacking in fairness, neutrality and due process, he wrote.

No kidding. Apparently French admits to "saying some things he probably shouldn't have". Imagine that.

I want to add one thing about all of this. I have cautioned people I don't even know about falling in love with a candidate. I realize I'm writing a lot about Sarah Palin. This story is new and fresh and it's sparking some interesting discussion. But I don't know Gov. Palin. I don't really know that much about her. None of us do. We're going to learn a lot more, not only about her history, but about her personality, her character, and so forth. It's very possible that something will come out about her that I can't stomach.

(Or about McCain, but he's been an open book for so long that that's not likely. He's said some things I wish he hadn't, and it was bad the way he left his first marriage 30 years ago, and he admits that, but reality is such that none of this is a deal breaker for me.)

Anyway, it's possible that something will come out that will prevent me from supporting her and voting for McCain/Palin in November. I am not so foolish as to be a rock-star fan of a politician. She's a fallible human, and as I say, I don't know her. I see people swooning over Obama and I don't get that either. Maybe as a pragmatist I am less about cult of the personality, and more about what have you done for me lately. Or maybe I don't want to end up being made a fool of.

I remember having a conversation with some women on Salon Tabletalk back when the Kathleen Willey story came out. I admit to having some fun with the conversation, pretending to defend Bill Clinton. Women on Tabletalk were complaining about Bill, that Kathleen said that she went to him to ask for help for her husband, she was very distraught about the state her husband was in (and he did commit suicide) and that Clinton took that opportunity to grope her. Did it happen? Who knows. Anyway, I said that as long as decent women knew not to be alone with him, no harm was done. OMG! OMG! Is this what we fought the feminist wars for - to support and uplift a man who turns out to chase the secretaries around the desk? Well, Clinton's character was well known before all of that. It's why this story was believable for so many people. You just can't have unreasoning loyalty to ANY political candidate. People will let you down every time.
Another thought. Now that I am emerging from the Ultram fog, perhaps I will have more of them.

Before McCain's VP pick, I read in various spots that perhaps Obama's candidacy would inspire us to have a national conversation about race.

My question there is, when has anybody ever shut up about it? Is there anything new to say?

Now with the Palin candidacy, I'm seeing, from people on my side of the political aisle, something other than disapproval of a mother having a life. I'm seeing some discussion of what we reasonably ought to expect of a mother versus a father. And from a right-wing site that I visit for information (they link to interesting news articles from all over the world) but have never registered at b/c of the hateful commentators, the suggestion that now perhaps we can do without the ugly insinuations about Chelsea Clinton's parentage (yes, really). That's a step in the right direction, surely. I've seen conversation about what it really means to be pro-life, and why it matters that Sarah Palin chose life for her baby with Down Syndrome. There's discussion of Palin's looks, and discussion of why there is discussion of her looks. (I'm kind of bummed out by the fact that if she weren't physically attractive she likely wouldn't be getting quite the positive response that she has; some positive response, surely, but not all that she has now.)

All of this moves us forward. Obama said this: "I assume she wants to be treated the same way guys are treated, which means their records are under scrutiny." One of these days the assumption will be made so automatically that it won't be mentioned.

Rush Limbaugh said once that feminism came about so that unattractive women could have access to the mainstream. I think he's exactly right. Remember Christine Craft? She was a news anchor who was fired because focus groups said she was "too old, too unattractive, and wouldn't defer to men". Never mind that male anchors could broadcast until they were good and ready to retire. This was in 1981, by the way, not that long ago. I don't think that nowadays that kind of sexist garbage is openly expressed or thought by anyone to be really socially acceptable. Certainly it is widely frowned upon to suggest that a woman's value rests largely in her appearance, and we have the feminist movement to thank for that.

So every woman who comes close to high office - we don't forget Geraldine Ferraro, of course - or who has a position of great responsibility, like Condoleezza Rice, gets us a little closer to that happy day when women in those spots aren't a novelty anymore and we can quit discussing their hair and their pantsuits and talk about what they actually have to offer.

And just to finish up this rambly post, here's Gerard Baker in the Times:

The best line I heard about Sarah Palin during the frenzied orgy of chauvinist condescension and gutter-crawling journalistic intrusion that greeted her nomination for vice-president a week ago came from a correspondent who knows a thing or two about Alaska.

“What's the difference between Sarah Palin and Barack Obama?”

“One is a well turned-out, good-looking, and let's be honest, pretty sexy piece of eye-candy.

“The other kills her own food.”
I should have seen this coming when I read, yesterday, that Chuck Norris wears Sarah Palin pajamas.

Monday, September 01, 2008

I have some thoughts related to the revelations of the weekend.

I want to address the idea that having a baby with Down syndrome, and now as it turns out a pregnant daughter, means that Sarah Palin should not have accepted the VP spot on the ticket.

Women have babies. It happens all the time, and it's a good thing too, because that's how the race struggles on. Thank you Captain Obvious, right? Well, apparently it isn't so obvious to some people. They seem to see childbirth as almost an exotic event, a major interruption in a woman's life, not part of the normal process that a woman goes through (if she has children) between her own birth and death. They seem to think that when a woman has a baby then her previous life needs to shut down and contract until it consists ONLY of caring for that child. I've seen that before from extreme conservatives, like the Baptist church in Arkansas (I think) that abruptly closed its daycare because kids need to be home with their mommies, leaving those mommies who had to work to put food on the table scrambling. It's as if a woman stops being a person in order to be a mommy. I didn't expect this attitude of the "progressives" though. So although Gov. Palin took her baby with her when she went back to work (when you're the boss you can do as you please) and although she has a husband, Trig's daddy no less, who can care for him too; and although people have hired nannies and such since the dawn of time, and although special-needs kids sometimes benefit very strongly, once they reach toddlerhood, from going to preschool with their age-mates; she apparently is a bad mother if she doesn't shut her life down and do nothing but care for her child 24/7, and you see this on the "progressive" sites if you can hold your nose long enough to look at them. (Except this one. The sexism irritates them as much as the sexism about Hillary irritated me, although they don't want to see Palin win any more than I wanted Hillary to.)

My mother grew up on a farm in Mississippi. Her mother and the kids all had to work in the fields. When you have a farm, time waits for no man nor woman. Cotton gets ready to pick and you must pick it, and so forth. When there was a baby (and there were eight) my grandmother would put it in a wheelbarrow with some toys and things, and wheel it to wherever they were going to work that day, and park the wheelbarrow under a shadetree. Everyone from toddlers on up had to work. I imagine that if someone tried to explain to my grandmother that when she had a baby its care was supposed to completely subsume her life she'd have thought they were an idiot. How could it? The family would not have survived.

And she didn't resent having all those kids. My mom remembers her older sister telling her mother she should have used birth control (some nerve, huh?). My grandmother invited her to pick out which of her sibs she wanted not to have been born.

But if my grandmother had had the opportunity to live in a nice, air-conditioned house, with a husband who didn't think it was not his place to do some childcare, or to hire a nanny, or to put her kid in a bright, comfortable, child-centered daycare, she'd have jumped at the chance.

I am amazed at people who want this country not to have a Vice President Palin simply because she has children to care for.

I remember that during Reagan's presidency, Bush Senior felt a bit frustrated at his largely ceremonial role as VP. He had represent the USA at a bunch of state funerals and he said, "I'm George Bush. You die, I fly." People act like when you're VP you're locked in a box 24/7 for four or eight years. I just don't think it's that strenuous a job. Ah, but if McCain dies she'll be President. Well, I think the most recent President we've had die in office was JFK back in 1963. It could happen, of course, but it's far from a certain thing. And speaking of JFK: he had small children when he was President and no one batted an eye. Aren't we past all that sexist crap yet?

It's also argued that McCain shouldn't have picked her, although he thought she was right for the spot, because Bristol did what teenagers have done since the dawn of time, and let biology take over. I am utterly unclear on the relevance here. People are accusing the Palins of being hypocrites about "family values". To me, that phrase means that you take care of your family, which the Palins have indicated that they have every intention of doing.

As to the rumors that had to be put down, all I'll say is that I hope to God that Bristol hasn't been surfing the net this weekend. I think about her reading that stuff, and I think about my F, and it makes me sick. I'd wondered, when I saw her face in the pictures this weekend, why she looked so tense and unhappy; and put it down to her age and so forth. Caught a glimpse of her on TV when her story came out and she looked so relieved. Poor little thing, she probably feels that she really let her mother down. Well, Bristol, life goes on, and this is exactly how it does.