Thought You'd Never Ask

Just mouthing off -- because I can.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Danish situation bears repeating

I've written about this before, but Michelle Malkin has an updated rundown of the current international freedom of speech fight going on between enraged and violent Muslims and the Danish newspapers and government, who refused to censor editorial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, or apologize for exercising their freedom of the press. Read it all, including scrolling down to view the "offending" Danish editorial cartoons themselves, to see what all the fuss is about (especially in comparison with the anti-semitic and anti-American editorial cartoons and other materials that regularly appear in the Arab press).

Things came to a head over the past week. In Gaza City, Palestinian gunmen took over an EU office to protest the cartoons:

Masked gunmen today took over an office used by the European Union to protest the publication of cartoons deemed insulting to Islam. About five gunmen stormed the building, closing the office down, while 10 other armed men stood watch outside. One of the militants said they were protesting the drawings, one of which depicted Islam's Prophet Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb.

Danish flags are being burned. Danish workers have reportedly been beaten. The country now faces an international boycott from Muslim nations.

Bullies. Michelle also links to Zombie's Mohammed Image Archive. Although the Muslims are saying that it is offensive to them to have their Prophet Mohammed appear in graphic form (as being against their religion), obviously images of Mohammed have appeared in print, oil, on the internet and in other media for centuries without inciting beatings and death threats. This is clearly a case of Muslims acting badly in countries where the "infidels" are used to the free reign of speech and press and the Muslims aren't. Their own thuggish actions lend truth to the caricatures of violence in the cartoons.

Meanwhile, the evanescent Bill Clinton, speaking at Doha, Qatar, tells the world which side he's on when it comes to "these totally outrageous cartoons against Islam" (at Little Green Footballs, via Ace). Cozying up to the side of the bullies and thugs with some mollifying moral equivalency. Who'd expect differently from the world's favorite American ambassador-at-large?

I beg to differ. I stand with the Danes. I'm buying Danish. I support their right and mine to say or write whatever we please, short of slander, libel, or yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater. If you disagree or are offended with that, express your viewpoint, don't slit my throat. At least not in the U.S. or other freedom-loving countries not under the boot (or the sandal) of Sharia law.

And Bill Clinton does not speak for me. I find his recent remarks offensive, but I would (at least in theory) defend to the death his right to say them. Too bad as an American he evidently didn't say that too. Another "teaching moment" wasted.

UPDATE (via Drudge): Seven publications in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain have reproduced the cartoons of Mohammed:

...Reporters Without Borders said the reaction in the Arab world "betrays a lack of understanding" of press freedom as "an essential accomplishment of democracy."

...Other papers stood by their publication. In Berlin, Die Welt argued there was a right to blaspheme in the West, and asked whether Islam was capable of coping with satire.

"The protests from Muslims would be taken more seriously if they were less hypocritical," it wrote in an editorial.

Spot on and well said.

See also "Cartoon Outrage Bemuses Denmark"

And finally Kathleen Parker has an eloquent essay about the principles involved in this matter ("First They Came for the Funny Ones") at, including this summary:

In an interview with Jyllands-Posten, Marlette rejected the idea that Westerners ought to make special concessions to sensitive Muslims.

"The genius of Western democracy is that there should be no 'special' rights or privileges for any group or class of people. All are created equal and are treated equally under the law. Law is insensitive that way. And so is intellectual inquiry. And so is good satire."

None of us likes it when our icons are busted, or our revered symbols ridiculed. But we tolerate offense in the spirit of larger freedoms under rules that have sustained us for centuries.

What we have learned over time is that free expression is society's relief valve, without which aggression and hostility go underground. What eventually bubbles back up to the surface is the sort of spirit that drives today's jihadists. Better to air and view our disagreements by the light of day - in the public forum - rather than wait for them to find expression by darker means.

As Marlette puts it: "... our ability to engage in vigorous debate and to tolerate robust intellectual discourse and all the attendant controversies is a measure of the health of society."

Too bad Clinton didn't say that. But then, Clinton has always been best at saying what he perceives people want to hear, rather than what is true.

Oh, true. It's clear to me (and why not to Bill Clinton?) that people who issue bounties to murder political cartoonists are the same sort of people who send airplanes into buildings to kill Americans for being Americans.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Daily links

Google airbrushes Christ, teenage pregnancy, the Tiannanmen Square protests, and a whole lot more from the internet for Chinese users, according to Junkyard Blog (via Michelle Malkin). Roger L. Simon has some discussion about what the ethical response to Google's evident capitulation to Communist censors should be. Paul Boutin discovers that Chinese Google filters only work if you spell correctly! (via Instapundit). I tend to think myself that the Chinese government's attempt to censor the internet for its citizens is ultimately doomed to failure. Especially if smart mega-corporations like Google get people used to accessing information and don't get too much in the way of the nimble entrepreneurial work-arounds. (Or not?)

Buy Danish? The Danes as a nation are being economically boycotted by Arab nations for not apologizing for running editorial cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed (it's a long story). I think supporting freedom of the press is worth the price of a good Havarti cheese (via Little Green Footballs).

Neo-neocon has written a very readable and compelling narrative of how her mind changed about a lot of things after 9/11, including her awakening to media bias (her description mirrors my own realization following increased media access via the internet):

It may seem hard to believe, but in years past I had never paid particular attention to who had written a story as long as it appeared in a major media source that I trusted. The Times, the Globe, the New Yorker--I trusted that their editors would only publish reliable writers, and that all articles would be scrupulously fact-checked. Yes, I knew that all newspapers and magazines had a political slant (be they liberal or conservative), but that was only in the editorials, right? Even though I knew there might be some underlying agenda, the news pages--the facts--were sacred....

I can't totally explain it. But I know that part of the answer is that I had not read many publications on the other side in order to compare. Nor had I read many original sources such as speeches on which the articles were based; I relied on the newspapers to summarize for me. To do otherwise would have taken some effort in those pre-internet days--...

But without any special motivation to do so--for example, everyone I knew read the Times, and I'd been taught since childhood that it was the paper of record--it simply did not occur to me that there was any compelling need to compare or to check sources. I guess that's what's meant by the phrase "living in a bubble."

....And now, with the internet, it was so easy to do a bit of research....

Earlier, without the internet, I hadn't had access to all those widely-flung papers, nor felt the driving need to read the news as soon as it occurred. But now all these sources were just a mouse click away.

...I was still regularly reading my old liberal sources (NY Times and Boston Globe, the New Yorker and even some new regulars such as the LA Times, the Guardian, and the New Republic). But now I was also reading the Telegraph and National Review, the Wall Street Journal and the Jerusalem Post, MEMRI and English versions of Arab papers, Canadian and Australian and Scottish ones, and the blogs--a vast cacophony of voices. And it was becoming clearer and clearer--at least to me--that the arguments in the media from the middle or the right were making more sense--and had more predictive value--than those emanating from the left.

It was as though I were sitting in a court of law as a member of the jury and being asked to decide a case. Before, I had heard only the presentation from one side. Now I heard both sides, and was trying to give both a fair hearing, and to approach my task without prejudice or preconceived notions. I was reluctantly coming to a certain distressing conclusion: more often than not, the voices on the left were less credible than those on the right.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Daily Meditation/What I'm Reading

"All that humans do, and everywhere that humans inhabit, is for the moment only--like the cherry blossoms in a Japanese springtime that are exquisite simply by virtue of their very impermanence. Geology, particularly the dramatic New Geology one sees in a place like Yellowstone, or on the Denali, or on the great San Andreas Fault, serves as an ever-present reminder of this--of the fragility of humankind, the evanescent nature of even our most impressive achievements.

"It serves as a reminder that it is only by the planet's consent that places like the mountains of Montana and Wyoming exist, and only by the planet's consent that all towns and all cities--New Madrid, Charleston, Anchorage, Banda Aceh--and San Francisco--survive for as long as they do. It is a reminder too, that this consent is a privilege, and one that may be snatched away suddenly, and without any warning at all."

--from A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 by Simon Winchester (Harper Collins, 2005).

Memento mori and Sic gloria transit mundi. The only thing new about the sentiment expressed above is The New Geology itself, informing us of this realization of our own mortality and fragility on a hitherto unimaginable scale, with previously unimaginable scientific scope and detail. In many ways it is fascinating (and perhaps diverting) to be so clinically informed of the possibilities for our inevitable end. But it is still ashes to ashes and dust to dust, without guarantees, whether on a personal or a global scale. Our realization of this is nothing new in history, nothing not felt as deeply in the bones as by our ancestors.

I do not find this realization to be an invitation to nihilism, anarchy, demoralization or secularization, as the existentialists and others did. To reflect that life itself, whether on the individual scale of days or the global scale of eons, is improbable, precious, fragile, and fleeting I think is to be given the gift of weighing its true worth.

"Exquisite simply by virtue of their very impermanence." I like that. And yes, by the way, this is a good book.

My senatorial bellwether

Everyone needs to take an intellectual breather every once in awhile, and I confess I do this myself. Trying to be a rigorous, serious curmudgeon is hard work. Sometimes you just need to relax, kick back, and slide by on your prejudicial assumptions, like any other mortal human being. I've been doing this recently on the subject of Samuel Alito's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If Senator Ted Kennedy is against it, I can rest assured it's a good thing for me to be all for it, and that it would be a good thing for the nation.

Thanks, Masssachusetts, for continuing to send to the august halls of the United States Congress my personal bellwether on political matters. It saves me so much time and energy I'd otherwise have to spend thinking about national politics.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Asking questions of the public schools

It's taken the last several days to find out what my public school district's policy on student surveys is. I was a little taken aback when my daughter came home and mentioned that the students had been given a survey to complete that day in class. The teacher had evidently walked the students through the survey questions, explaining to the fourth-graders what each of the questions meant, so that they would know how to "fill in the bubbles" on the computer survey form with their number 2 pencils to register their answers.

"It asked if I felt okay at school talking to adults, and I put 'no,'" my daughter told me.

"Oh, why not?" I asked.

"Because I'm always shy talking to adults," she admitted.

"What else did the survey ask?" I said.

"Questions about the school and the rest was just personal stuff," she said. "It's too hard to explain."

I couldn't get anything more descriptive out of her. Wondering what the validity of a questionnaire would be with a teacher having to coach the students in interpreting it (and given the level of questionable comprehension shown by my own daughter), I was curious to find out more facts about this survey. Having read this essay not long ago, I was just a tad uneasy that a survey had been administered to my child without my permission or advance notice. This essay, found after a quick Google search of the web, didn't make me feel any better.

I started with an email to the teacher asking about the survey. She told me it was part of the district-wide school improvement survey of teachers, students, staff, and parents that had been going on over the past few years (in fact, I had responded to the parent survey myself). She referred me to the person in charge of administering the survey in the school. This person quickly emailed me back with more information about the survey, and offered to let me see a copy of the blank student survey form. In looking over the form, I saw with relief it was very much like the parent survey: asking about general impressions of whether or not the teachers, staff, and administration seem to be welcoming, fair, supportive, competent, and doing their jobs.

I was also referred to a person in the school district's Office of Accountability for answers to my larger questions: what surveys are administered to the children in our public schools and don't I have the right of advance notice, the chance to preview the forms, and the right to opt my child out of taking the survey if I so choose?

Finding the answers to these questions took some time, as I was referred to yet another administrator (luckily all of these exchanges easily took place in email and to their credit, the teachers and administrators were quickly responsive and tried to answer me at length). According to a webpage hidden deep in the bowels of the school district's jargon-filed website, parental permission IS required in the case of any "external research" conducted among the students. If I have understood the wording correctly, external studies would include any surveys generated by the federal or local government, state surveys that are not mandated, and surveys by the Center for Disease Control and any other outside agencies or individuals. But for "internal" research by the school district itself, and including state-mandated research surveys, there is no such provision for advance parental notice or opting-out.

This doesn't necessarily make me feel completely relieved. Though I was assured that the school district has policies and procedures in place and takes very seriously its responsibility to carefully check and vet whatever survey questions it asks of the children, I am too old to be mollified to that wheeze of a tune: "Trust us, we're the experts and we have children of our own." Though I was told that this recent survey is the only "internal" survey my children will encounter this year, there is no other way to find out what happens from year to year than to go back and rattle the school district's cage each year, and trust I am being told the truth. If I would want to view an upcoming internal survey in advance, it is not clear what my rights (if any) are concerning that.

In my opinion, it is to a school district's advantage to remain as transparent as possible to the parents when it comes to administering any and all student surveys, to avoid giving even the impression of impropriety or highhandness. Granted, the majority of parents will probably never even care, but for those who do, this is an area that can be vulnerable to abuse. A difference in values here between what the school district thinks is an appropriate survey and what an individual parent thinks is an appropriate survey can easily turn into a political and emotional armageddon. I say, give the parents the info they need so they can choose whether to opt their own child out.

If you don't already know yourself, you might want to try to find out what your public school district's policies are concerning student surveys, as an interesting exercise. ("State-by-state limitations on Student Surveys" website here.)

In the meantime I'm putting this on the back burner for now, as I continue to try to get any answer at all to my very general, first-contact questions about what kind of sex education course my son's high school requires that he take. Been working on that one since before Christmas and the silence is deafening. I have emailed a school counselor, telephoned the front office, been referred to three other people who've been contacted via email, and have not yet had an answering peep. Not a good sign.

More on Wal-Mart in the news

Here's an applied-economics discussion at the Wall Street Journal concerning the Maryland legislature's unions-motivated attack on Wal-Mart and the effects it will have on the people of Maryland:

...our legislators often behave as if business is a problem to be solved. On Jan. 17, they also overrode a gubernatorial veto of a $1-an-hour increase in the state's minimum wage. Like the health-care mandate, the hike is a job killer--though not in affluent areas of the state, where strong labor demand long ago pushed the going wage above the minimum. In those areas, the law is largely symbolic and enables well-meaning voters and legislators to conclude that they are "doing something for working families." Safely out of their view, however, at
Maryland's impoverished margins, already weak labor demand will be further diminished....

In these upcoming battles, legislators should be mindful that companies like Wal-Mart are not the enemy but rather frontline soldiers in a real war on poverty. The profit motive leads them to seek out areas where there is much idle labor and put it to work. Where they are prevented or discouraged from doing so, the alternative job prospect is rarely a cushy spot in the bureaucracy. Rather, it is continued idleness and hardship.

On the other hand, here's Kathleen Parker's recent take on Charles Fishman's book concerning some less-than-desirable consequences of Wal-Mart's big footprint in the global marketplace that consumers should know:

Wal-Mart, which buys all its salmon from Chile, sells more than anyone else in the country and undersells all other retailers by at least $2 per pound. That's a lot of market power, which prompts Fishman to ask: "Does it matter that salmon for $4.84 a pound leaves a layer of toxic sludge on the ocean bottoms of the Pacific fjords of southern Chile?"

Salmon in Chile are raised in packed underwater pens - as many as 1 million per farm - and fed prophylactic antibiotics to prevent disease. Here's a fact you'd rather not know: A million salmon produce the same amount of waste as 65,000 people. Combine that waste with unconsumed food and antibiotic residue, and you've got a toxic seabed.

Does it matter?

Only if consumers say it does, says Fishman. Wal-Mart listens to "voters." If shoppers say they won't buy salmon until Wal-Mart insists on higher standards from suppliers, then Wal-Mart will make those demands. Incentive is the engine that drives the company that promises low prices - "always."

I am very in favor of increased consideration and scrutiny of unintended consequences, whether it's in regards to legislation and social engineering, or where and with whom we spend our bucks. Stay informed and pay attention, people! Whoever says "All you need is love" has got it wrong, wrong, wrong. All you need is love, information, and a threshold amount of intelligence (the ability to think rationally, critically, and clearly). One hopes that all adds up to wisdom. And our democratic republic could use a lot more of that.

Now you can catch your 8:00 a.m. class later on the web

For those (at home in their pajamas) who want to continue their education, check out these webcasts of courses being taught at the University of California at Berkeley (via Annoying Pedant). Cool! I liked watching the prof (who admits he sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger) blowing up things in Chem 1A.

This blog will not please everyone, not even me

Lileks has long wrestled with the same realizations I am encountering now in settling into this here new blogging thing:

If I thought about it too much I’d worry; if I tried to make this an X Blog, X meaning a specific topic or tone, I’d be unhappy. As I keep saying: you can write a blog devoted to one thing, and you’ll be popular. You can write about many things and be rather joyless, and you’ll be popular. Joyless monomania, however, is a killer.

I've realized right away that blog posts are quickly read, but take too much darn time to write and post to be tossed off rapidly without half the day disappearing (either that, or I haven't gotten the knack of blogging yet....). I'm afraid this is never going to be a blog that covers all of the current and political events and philosophical ideas that I care about or am interested in. I just can't keep up with that, so this blog will never pretend to be authoritative, definitive, comprehensive, or up-to-the-minute. Plus, I think it would drive me crazy (and be impossible) to pretend I'm that brainy and exclusively issues-oriented, and thus not also given to making offhand and goofy remarks about domestic life, Hello Kitty, and other less exalted subjects.

So in other words, this blog is hereby officially labeled as a mishmash still under construction. Let's you and me meet here in a year and see what it wants to be when it grows up.

In the meantime, I'll still keep blogging as much as I can or want to (not as much as I might, but hey, I still have my day job as a housewife/mother and those other hobbies of mine that have previously taken up all the rest of my time). I'll keep blogging randomly about whatever I want to, and reconcile myself to dropping out of competition with those ambitious and talented (and organized) folks who do this for a living.

So why AM I doing this?

Because some things are just too good to pass by without comment.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Guess what, Mom!

I'm a Porsche 911!

You have a classic style, but you're up-to-date with the latest technology. You're ambitious, competitive, and you love to win. Performance, precision, and prestige - you're one of the elite, and you know it.

Eerie! I always said I wanted one of these! (And I'll always be saying it, and never having one, I betcha! (Via Instapundit)

Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.

Our country is being invaded

Michelle Malkin is still shining light on the U.S. southern border incursions by the Mexican military (aiding Mexican drug smugglers and other criminals) in "The War at the Border." Meanwhile our Homeland Security Chief weighs in:

"I think the stories are overblown," Chertoff said. ...

"We do have instances where we have Mexican police or military who have deserted and become involved with criminal activity," Chertoff said. "But we've also had bad cops in the United States, too. It happens."

Huh? Evidently it's happened over 200 times since 1996. (And how many times have our "bad cops" invaded Mexico?!)

What a surprise we've not been hearing about this in the major media. The lastest incursion went down like this:

Mexican Army troops had several mounted machine guns on the ground more than 200 yards inside the U.S. border -- near Neely's Crossing, about 50 miles east of El Paso -- when Border Patrol agents called for backup. Hudspeth County deputies and Texas Highway patrol officers arrived shortly afterward, Doyal said.

"It's been so bred into everyone not to start an international incident with Mexico that it's been going on for years," Doyal said. "When you're up against mounted machine guns, what can you do? Who wants to pull the trigger first? Certainly not us."

An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the incident happened at 2:15 p.m. Pacific Time....

Simmons said the FBI was not involved and referred inquiries to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ICE did not return calls seeking comment.

Do Chertoff's comments and his attitude about these border events represent George Bush's view as well? And as far as Congress goes---helloooooo!? Anybody there?

Meanwhile, Neal Boortz points out that the Mexican government is distributing 70,000 maps to help aid Mexicans planning illegal immigration into the U.S.:

MEXICO CITY - A Mexican government commission will distribute at least 70,000 maps showing highways, rescue beacons and water tanks in the Arizona desert to curb the death toll among illegal immigrants.

The National Human Rights Commission, a government-funded agency with independent powers, denied that the maps would encourage illegal immigration.
In some circles, an action like this and others might have once been construed as flagrantly provcative and bellicose acts on the part of the Mexican government against the United States. Whatever we call it, it is clearly not the most responsible way for the Mexican government to "help" the estimated 500 illegal immigrants who flee miserable and hopeless conditions in Mexico each year by attempting to cross the U.S. border and who die making the attempt.

My heart goes out to the poor immigrants of any nationality who are so impoverished and lacking opportunities in their own countries that they feel forced to try their luck in illegally crossing our borders to make a living. Some of their stories are wrenching, and you can understand why they feel forced to do what they do. But some of the stories are maddening, for the distain some of these individuals show for our country, its laws, and our law enforcement officials--and some of the stories are chilling, for the sorts of people who are pouring in--both those we know about, and those we don't, but have good reason to fear.

Sad as it may be in consequence for some individuals, crossing our borders illegally is a U.S. federal offence, a criminal activity that should be prosecuted rigorously, and our borders, especially in the post-9/11 world, should be effectively secured. The technology and the money are available to make this prosecution a reality, but there is no political will in Washington, D.C. for it to happen.

The Democrats and the Republicans both have been derelict and mercenary in treating this issue as a political football instead of a major national security matter. But American citizens outside of Washington, of all ethnic groups, without feeling any racial prejudice against any particular ethnic group or race, are getting more than fed up with the political hypocrisy concerning immigration and with the the scary situation at our porous national borders.

All illegal immigration should be stopped right now, and a better and fairer plan for processing legal immigrants should be rapidly put in place. Illegal immigrants should not be allowed to roam into the country undocumented and at will, ahead of law-abiding legal immigrants who follow rules. That this has not happened yet is to our leadership's shame. George Bush should have already effectively led the way on this matter by holding our lawmakers' (and Chertoff's) feet to the fire, and Congress should have worked with him long since to make sure this problem was on its way to being solved by now. Instead, both political parties are too busy cynically pandering to the (illegal and legal) Hispanic immigrant voters and the U.S. businesses and agencies that exploit the illegal working force.

Surely there must be a more fair and humane method of conscientiously processing would-be immigrants (which the Bush administration points out that we need as participants in our economy) that doesn't involve criminalizing the good people who want to work and leaving our borders unguarded against and trashed by incursions of terrorists, gang members, drug lords, and worse.

For more reading:

"Alien Crossings" by Glynn Custred

"Do We Want Mexifornia?" by Victor Davis Hanson

"Pictures of Illegal Immigration Invasion Near Cocaine Alley" from Desert Invasion
(heartbreaking photos of environmental abuse)

"U.S.-Mexican Border as a Terror Risk," Christian Science Monitor, 3/22/2005

"Insults from South of the Border," The Washington Times, 3/23/2005

"The High Price of Cheap Labor: Immigration's Darker Side," Jack Dunphy, National Review Online, 1/22/2004

Center for Immigration Studies

Always a treat: San Francisco street theater

Zombie's latest photo essay is up, covering the January 21st Walk for Life in San Francisco (via Michelle Malkin). I enjoy Zombie's coverage of Northern California street theater, as I saw more than enough of it in my youth. It's much better to watch it this way thanks to the internet (and thanks, Zombie).

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Daily links

Bruce Thornton (via Victor Davis Hanson's Private Papers site) writes about academic freedom and the political bias of the American university:

"...most universities continue to deny what every freshman learns the first semester on campus: professors and administrators may pay lip-service to academic freedom, an openness to non-conformist ideas, and a tolerance for dissenters, but in actual fact by their own words and deeds make it very clear that there will be a price to pay for anyone daring to stray from the well-worn ideological grooves. And of course, conforming to unexamined ideas and received wisdom dispensed by lectern sages will earn impressionable students acceptance and praise, meaning that the most important purpose of the university — to teach and apply a critical consciousness dedicated to the search for truth no matter whose ox is gored –– has been abandoned."

Victor Davis Hanson writes about the Iranian ruler working towards wiping Israel off the map: in "The Not-So-Mad Mind of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

Gay Patriot West at Gay Patriot writes about the recent Canadian election:

"Just like the Germans last fall, Canadians voted out a government whose leaders made clear their opposition to President Bush’s policies. While the Bush’s critics continually claim that people in other lands share their distaste for our Commander-in-Chief, it seems that when it comes time to vote, those abroad are not as obsessed with bashing the President of the United States as are some of their leaders — and their cheerleaders in the American media and blogosphere.

During his campaign, Canadian Prime Minister-designate Harper has made clear that once in office he will improve relations with the United States. As President Bush works with his new Canadian counterpart to further the longstanding ties between our two great nations, the Left will have an even tougher time proving their ludicrous claim that his policies have isolated our nation."

More round-up of Canadian election news at Michelle Malkin and Instapundit (keep scrolling).

Finally, does anybody know what's up with the Drudge Report? It hasn't been updated since January 11th or so....

UPDATE: The Dreamboat recently admitted to me that he wasn't familiar with Code Pink. Here, via Ace, is Redhunter's writeup of one of the latest developments centering around the troops at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center near Washington, DC. And here's another mention of Code Pink's antics in the news lately: "Code Pink Photoshops Iranian Freedom Babes as Iraq Antiwar Activists" by Publius Pundit.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Miyazaki the master

We've been watching the Hayao Miyazaki film fesitval showing this month on the Turner Classic Movies television channel. Too bad the month is almost over! Thanks to this (probably our favorite) channel, we've recently seen Miyazaki's "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Whisper of the Heart," both not yet available on DVD in this country, and both knockdown knockouts. These animated films are so beautiful, funny, charming, and go so far beyond any "cartoons" I've ever seen, both in artistic achievement, and in their storylines and pacing. What a treat to find these films becoming more available in the U.S. Previously we have seen "Spirited Away," "Castle in the Sky," "Kiki's Delivery Service," and "The Cat Returns." The whole family loves these movies.

They (who?) refer to Miyazaki as "the Japanese Walt Disney." The only connections I see are that both men were at the top of their class, both aimed at movies to be enjoyed by all ages, and both dealt with animation. No knocking Walt (who is one of my heroes), but I would rather see a Miyazaki movie than a modern Disney movie today. Even the good recent Disney movies (like "The Incredibles" and "Finding Nemo") are so loud and have so much over-the-top, non-stop, unrelenting ACTION and whiplash snarky dialog that I find them ultimately too tiring, despite their dazzling computerized effects. Too many U.S. children's movies today are just too frenzied and ha-ha-wanna-be-hip to be enjoyable. Meanwhile, Miyazaki can rivet and delight me with his very quiet ways.

But all that aside, I'm happy to recognize that this does seem to be a golden age for children's movies right now.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Senility Prayer

Sent to me by a friend:

"God grant me
the senility to forget the people I never liked,
the good fortune to run into the ones that I do,
and the eyesight to tell the difference."

No comment!

My qualifications as a curmudgeon

In the interests of full disclosure, I suppose I must admit that I am, in fact, the meanest mother in our county. Most recently for:

  • making my daughter carry her own sweatshirt while we were on a walk together; and
  • not meeting my daughter's schoolbus outside with an umbrella (as I did in her younger days), so that last week she had to (actually, she got to!) run the 20 yards to our garage through the rain (and preliminary scientific evidence suggests that she did not, in fact, melt).
Odd how these neglectful and harsh behaviors on my part at first seemed to make my daughter wonder if her mother didn't love her! But she is old enough, after a discussion accompanied by several winks and cuddles, to understand that unnecessary coddling does not equal love and that for her own good I do not wish to raise another Princess-and-the-Pea. She gets it. And in the meantime, I pride myself on my formidable and longstanding reputation as the meanest mom in the county.

And I am not trying to win any popularity contests. And I don't care what the other parents say or what the other kids are doing. And yes, I do sound just like my mother, bless her heart. And so may you sound just like your mother someday, if you are incredibly fortunate. So in the meantime, deal with it.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The latest Untours catalog is out, advertising unstructured tourist visits to countries all over Europe. What a wish book (sigh). Only financial considerations keep us from dragging the family off to Switzerland this summer (kids stay free!). Guess a lot of people can say that!

My opinion about unions

I wrote yesterday about how I blamed both the teachers' unions and the government monopoly on public schools for the poor showing of American schoolchildren over the past FIFTY YEARS, which has not improved since the first tip of the iceberg emerged with "Why Johnny Can't Read" in Time magazine on March 14, 1955. The teachers' unions have become ever more powerful since the 1970s and their paralyzing hold on the public schools (putting their own interests above the job of educating the children) and on the Democratic Party has become a stranglehold. Or perhaps I should even say, "death grip."

I don't see why teachers in the public schools, surely some of the most educated, intelligent, and skilled folks in our society, need to unionize at all. Operating in group-think lockstep, the superior teachers get tarred with the same brush as the deadwood that should be fired, but can't be. The union insinuates itself between the children and a better education in so many ways, not the least of which is politicizing the educational system right down to the classroom.

In fact, a union isn't even really primarily interested in the interests of the individual teacher (or the individual worker, for that matter). It can be said that in almost all cases, above and before anything else, the union is most interested in looking out for itself. Notorious in the union bag of tricks are coercion, violence, bribery, and political pressure.

Sure, a union may benefit some workers for some amount of time. (So does a Ponzi Scheme.) But clearly that time in our market society is finite, up to the point when the union's demands become too costly to bear, or competition wins out. Usually as the union continues to insinuate itself between employer and employee and drive up labor costs, the union eventually puts its own members out of business as the employer substitutes other less costly ways and means, or is undercut by its competitors or technological innovation.

It seems to me that the unions have toppled the U.S. car industry from its former preeminence (allowing Japan and other countries to dominate now), the U.S. airline industry (with union-driven labor costs forcing airlines into bankruptcy, and driving them to outsource labor such as mechanical maintenance to other countries). Clearly the union's effects on education in public elementary and secondary schools is detrimental. It makes me wonder whether the way the entertainment industry is tanking also has something to do with its underlying union culture as well.

Here in the U.S. in these post-Sinclair Lewis days, a union is hardly necessary anymore to ensure that employees are treated like human beings. The free market and an unemployment rate of 4% means that if you don't like your job, you can probably find another one that's better, if not more remunerative. That is, IF you take responsibility for your own life and career and with your own initiative acquire, maintain, and exert your marketable skills.

I've always thought that an employment contract between a business and an individual employee was a good faith contract, and if one side or the other broke the good faith of the contract, all bets were off and both were free to negotiate for alternatives or terminate their association with each other. Insinuate a union into that and suddenly freedom is diminished on all sides. To me, the union seems more like a gang of thugs shaking an employer down, which is too often what it is in reality. Some of the thugs benefit for awhile (especially the union officials and employees), until the business is bled dry or flees the scene. Then, after shaking down the golden goose, all of the union members at the time of the collapse are suddenly out of work. And the populace in general, as consumers, is less well off all along the line.

I am not criticizing the individual union member here. In fact, many of them are forced into joining a union already in place when they accept their job (they have no choice and union membership and dues come with the job). Many are forced against their will into joining a union when it forms. I dislike this breed of intimidation and coercion and I imagine so do a lot of union members forced to fork over their hard-earned "contributions" to feather the beds and further the politics of the union officials.

And what union member would walk away or criticize the union when the perks and benefits are flowing high and wide for all union members? When you're sitting pretty, who would squawk? Your average union member will still blame the company (not the union) when the company finally goes under, unable to operate with the artificially high labor costs mandated by the union. Most people haven't the education in economics to see the bigger picture. In fact, many are more in tune with the socialist, anti-capitalist party line fed them by the unions as well. They don't see themselves as an individual contracting for their own living, but as the "little guy" (stupid and powerless), dependent on the union bigwigs to force a living for them out of those greedy capitalist moneybags.

Well, that's one way to look at it. My ancestors looked at it like this: when a man took a chance and hired you to do a job, you had a choice to either accept it or reject it, on your own evaluation of the opportunities that it offered you. If you took a chance on it and gave the job your all (acquiring skills along the way), you expected fair treatment and the payment you were promised. If you didn't get that, you left and looked for better. If you got fair treatment and better, you appreciated that and worked for and with the company to make yourself and your fellow workers and the man who hired you more prosperous by doing good and ever better work.

My grandfather worked for one company all of his life, a family-owned manufacturing firm, starting at the age of 15. The son of immigrant farmers, and with only a sixth-grade education, he worked his way up to night-shift foreman of the screw machine department. He was one of those "little guys" as the world would view it (though I never thought of him that way), with an incredible work ethic, who spent his working life standing in front of loud machinery. Yet he loved his work situation for most of those years, as he felt he was well-provided for and cared about by the people with and for whom he worked. "We were all like family," he often said, remembering how the business owners had tried to take the best care they could of their employees during the awful times of the Great Depression and the second World War. He also said the hardest and most unpleasant years of his working life were the last ones, when "the union got in" and unproductive workers were insinuated into the factory by union mandates. My grandfather retired before the age of 65 solely because of that, and because of how the familial and cooperative atmosphere among the workers and their employers had been killed.

When it comes to unions, you can't blame them and their members for trying to "get theirs while the getting is good." But just don't paint it as being "good for the children" when the teachers' unions are doing it.

UPDATE: George Will's article discusses the latest politicized union attack on Wal-Mart in Maryland (via Boortz who is predictably incensed about this "legalized theft"):

Organized labor, having mightily tried and miserably failed to unionize even one of Wal-Mart's 3,250 American stores, has turned to organizing state legislators. Maryland was a natural place to begin because it has lopsided Democratic majorities in both houses of its legislature....

Boortz recommends that Wal-Mart should fire enough employees to squeak by under the 10,000-employee cut-off point stipulated by the Maryland legislature (which affects only Wal-Mart in the entire state of Maryland). Well, I recommend that Wal-Mart shut down ALL of its stores and facilities in Maryland and move them to adjacent states (a la Atlas Shrugged). Think the Maryland legislature would get the point? Think the consumers of Maryland would get the point? I don't, but they'd be getting no more than what they deserve.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Today's links

Tony Blankley comments on reports of Mexican troops invading the U.S. (the Pentagon's response seems to be "don't ask, don't tell"). According to this article, 216 incursions by Mexican military troops into the U.S. have been documented since 1996 by the Department of Homeland Security:

"Intrusions by the Mexican military to protect drug loads happen all the time and represent a significant threat to the agents"...the incursions were not accidents as the Mexican military has global positioning systems.

Required reading: Another great essay by John Stossel offering a rebuttal to the idea that U.S. government schools perform poorly because they don't have enough money. Instead he lays the blame firmly upon the teachers' unions and the bureaucratic government monopoly on public education. Citing the case in Kansas City, Missouri, when a judge ordered schools to spend billions more dollars on education:

The bureaucrats renovated school buildings, adding enormous gyms, an Olympic swimming pool, a robotics lab, TV studios, a zoo, a planetarium, and a wildlife sanctuary. They added intense instruction in foreign languages. They spent so much money that when they decided to bring more white kids to the city's schools, they didn't have to resort to busing. Instead, they paid for 120 taxis. Taxis!

What did spending billions more accomplish? The schools got worse. In 2000, five years and $2 billion later, the Kansas City school district failed 11 performance standards and lost its academic accreditation for the first time in the district's history.

See also this article reviewing Stossel's recent television program, "Stupid in America" (via Boortz). Must reading, with telling quotes like these:

National graduation rates and achievement scores are flat, while spending on education has increased more than 100 percent since 1971. More money hasn't helped American kids....

Inspector John Lozano works for the [San Jose, California school] district going door-to-door to check if kids really live where they say they live. And even seeing that a child is present at a particular address isn't enough. Lozano says he needs to look inside the house to make sure the student really lives there.

Think about what he's doing. The school district police send him into your daughter's bedroom. He even goes through drawers and closets if he has to. [All to make sure nobody gets to attend the public school of their choice, but are forced to attend the (often lousy) school decreed by the school district.] ...

I talked with the grandmother who tried to get her grandson into the Fremont schools. "I was actually crying. I was crying in front of this 14-year-old. Why can't they just let parents to get in the school of their choice?" she asked.

Why can't she make a choice? It's sad that school officials force her to go to the black market to get her grandson a better education.

Another parent said:

"It's too important to me to sacrifice their education. I get one shot at it. If I don't pay very close attention to how my boys get educated then I've lost an opportunity to make them the best they can be in this world..."

That sums it up succinctly. Americans have the right and ability to choose their cars, their homes, their insurance, their investment opportunities, their cellphone designs, their phone service, but to choose a school for their children they must make incredible sacrifices and/or pay twice (once to a private school of their choice, and again to the local public school, through their taxes). This is why there is such disparity between the education available to poor children and those whose families have more financial resources, a terrible injustice perpetrated by the government schools' monopoly and the teachers' unions (the FTA and the NEA; see the NEA's fatuous opposition to school vouchers page). With so much at stake, and with such disappointing results, why do the American people forfeit the responsibility for educating our children to such a clear government monopoly, with so little true choice and so little accountability to improve? As Neal Boortz puts it:

There is no entity in the United States that presents a greater danger to the future of our country than the NEA and other teacher's unions. Not far behind would be the parents in this country who just don't realize, or don't want to realize, what a hideous and horrible job these government schools are doing.

On a lighter note, here's your Tin Pan Alley/American Music Appreciation 101: Mark Steyn on Jule Styne's Hit Parade. Keep scrolling and reading for a good education (and great writing).

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Are we ready for the next war?

Michelle Malkin has a round-up of what seems to be an imminent war with Iran ("We are on the brink"). I'm afraid we are, and as Victor Davis Hanson outlines the alternatives, it doesn't look very good for anybody.

Well, cheer up. We can always Blame Bush.

Heaven on my soundtrack

Just started listening to "Chasin' the Blues," the latest CD release from the incomparable Jim Cullum Jazz Band (featured regularly on the excellent Riverwalk Jazz program broadcast by National Public Radio). This gives rise to the recurring historical fantasy: What would Papa Bach have done when first encountering Dixieland jazz? Would he throw up, throw something, turn and run, or break into a grin? And, if the latter, how long would it take for the lightbulb to go on?

I would love to see his face. That's one of the questions I hope to answer when I get to Heaven.

Annoying Pedant pointed out to me that Bach, being strongly affiliated with the Church and holy music, might have heard naught but the devil in such syncopated polyphony. But then he remembered that Bach might have had a sense of humor and play, as he did in fact write the Coffee Cantata. Indeed, he wrote a lot of other secular music, including dances, and was a master of harmonies, contrapuntal melodies, and improvisation, not unlike the Dixieland masters. In fact, some people consider Bach's work "the true beginning of modern music." I think if Papa Bach could just get past the startling drums for a moment, he'd soon recognize the virtuosity of the music and the players. (Takes one to know one.)

But it is much easier, somehow, imagining Mozart getting a huge kick out of Dixieland jazz--in fact, imagining him laughing in delight just like this (thanks to Tom Hulce's "Amadeus"). Remembering that Mozart, as a music genius, could reproduce on the keyboard any tune he'd hear just once, I would love to know how he would redeliver "My Old Kentucky Home" as done by the Jim Cullum boys. Sure, Mozart could replicate, polish, and embellish, but the question is, could he swing??

(Thanks to Annoying Pedant for music, commentary, and punchline.)

Currently in my headphones:
What gets me down the first hill: "That's What I Like About the North" by BadaBing BadaBoom
What gets me up the last hill: "The Bunny Hop" from "Group Dance Epidemic" by Brave Combo (best harmonica-sax-and-didgeridoo arrangement ever); followed by Louis Prima and Keely Smith's "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody." YOW! Take me home!

Friday, January 13, 2006

A new year and taxes will soon be due again...

Wouldn't it be great if there were a way to abolish all the counter-productive and intrusive paperwork requirements and bureaucratic nightmares of dealing with the IRS? Wouldn't it be like a dream come true if the same amount of revenue could be generated to run our Federal government as it receives now, but without imposing a crushing burden of taxes taken from the paycheck of every working American? Wouldn't it be a hoot to have the United States be a tax haven and investment magnet for the world, instead of a country that drives its own corporations offshore to avoid unfair U.S. tax consequences and wastes billions of unproductive hours every year puzzling through an arbitrary, out-of-control tax code?

There is a way and its time is here. If you don't know what the Fair Tax proposal is, check it out here and here. Read the proposed legislation. If you're intrigued by this idea of uncoupling federal taxes from income (a huge and wasteful disincentive) and instead, generating the same revenue through a national retail sales tax (stimulating savings, investment, and productivity), read The FairTax Book for yourself to see the details of how the plan would work. Don't accept arguments from others who may or may not be informed, or who may or may not have a personal axe to grind, until you've read the book and studied the issue for yourself.

If you, like me (and many others who have honestly evaluated the situation), like what you see, make a donation, sign the online petition, or contact your congressional representatives today. They have no incentive to make such changes without hearing from their constituents. Get informed about it and demand a change for the better.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Today's Links: U.S. Education

Newsweek has an interesting commentary comparing the educational systems of Singapore and other Asian countries to the schools and education in the U.S. in "We All Have a Lot to Learn" by Fareed Zakaria. Seems the Singapore schoolchildren test much better in math and science than America's children, but the Americans shine as they reach maturity. As the minister of Education of Singapore says,

"We both have meritocracies....Yours is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well—like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore must learn from America."

And they will. Worth reading it all, and then deciding: what am I going to do about this?

Another commentary about the embarrassing state of U.S. education by John Stossel, "Public Schools are Cheating the Children" via Boortz. Makes yet again the very obvious connection between the government's monopoly on public schooling and the poor performance of U.S. schoolchildren on the international standard. Public schools are not only cheating the children and condemning them to a future less than they deserve, but they are also cheating the taxpayers. And a poorly educated citizenry is a vulnerable one. Is anybody listening??

Finally, if you're not already tired of the subject, Thomas Sowell writes on "Education Then and Now" at Is it still possible today for the poor, bright children to receive a decent education in the U.S. public schools?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Why I Blog

I've been thinking this over for quite awhile, as for quite awhile I didn't think I wanted to put the time into maintaining a blog. But since I re-evaluated and started this one, I suppose the following reasons could be said to constitute the Mission Statement for this blog:

  • To consolidate my rants, blurts, and recommended links
I've had a lively email life going with various bosom buddies for years, and I do tend to let my opinions spill out in words with those who encourage such foolishness. Especially since 9/11 and the last Presidential election, politics and foreign affairs have become a part of this friendly discussion of views, as my friends and I want to become better informed. My friends have been very kind and supportive as I express my hitherto long-suppressed and/or newly-formed opinions (many times diametrically opposed, politically, to their own). But I don't want to bore or abuse them or impose upon them with extended diatribes or showers of unwelcome or unread daily links. Now I will try distilling and centralizing my blurts, rants, and links here in my blog, and folks can visit or ignore them as they wish. I hope to realize two advantages in this: my readers are free to visit or not at will, and I can maybe save some time by centralizing my ramblings.

  • To join the worldwide conversation
I've been reading blogs for a couple of years now (starting after 9/11 with The Drudge Report, which is not really a blog, but which led me into the blog world), and I was just knocked out by the role blogs played in the last Presidential election, and how they've taken off and grown in the last year alone. What a phenomenon--what a wealth of information and viewpoints out there--we're all watching the start of a groundswell, a sea change in the nature of news, media, education, and the global community of ideas, and we don't even know where it's going or what it'll be like a year from now. But I am convinced, and elated, by the growing number of voices available to be heard, and viewpoints and experiences aired and shared, that the global internet-blogosphere community can be and mostly is a positive and productive wonder--because the more information is made available and shared, the more educated people are and the better decisions they can make.

Then I realized, not only CAN I participate in this extravaganza (Blogger lets even a non-computer expert like me set up a blog template in minutes, for free)--but maybe I SHOULD participate in this. Not out of vanity, or for fame, notoriety, or fortune, but as an experiment (at very little cost to me), to be part of what's going on around me as definitive of these times. And, like the obligation and duty of voting, perhaps as a U.S. citizen I should blog to exercise my right to free speech. Reading brave blogs originating from places around the world where citizens do not have this right, or express themselves at mortal peril, makes me appreciate my freedom here and want to exercise and celebrate it all the more.

  • To "find my voice"
Sounds hackneyed and hokey and adolescent, but that is one of my goals. Though I've always been a writer, it's been a long time since I wrote toward any grand goal, beyond the occasional essay, letters, and emails. I've been most successful (in strictly personal terms) as a sort of homespun Boswell documentarist, a diarist/journal writer/archivist/editor, but that's been undisciplined, sporatic, and strictly private. And frankly, since I've become a mother, my writing as a vocation has gotten nowhere. I don't doubt I have a voice around here somewhere; I am just curious as to what it'll sound like now that I'm in my 50s, have been married for almost 30 years, have semi-raised two children, been out of the workforce for 14 years, and have read a trainful of books and blogs in the interim. I suspect my writing voice might be a little raspier (but maybe a little gentler and wiser) than the last time I heard it back in oh, say 1993. So, my blog is for regular practice of penning "a line a day," as they say. With practice, my writing will only get better, more concise and coherent, and hopefully, will flow faster.

  • To be a good model
Blogs ("web logs") are very popular among young people right now, and many pre-teens, teens, and college students have their own online journals and blogs and read and leave comments on those of their friends and acquaintances in online journal communities such as LiveJournal, Xanga, Facebook, MySpace and others. There are upsides and downsides to all of this, but one thing that stands out is that an alarming number of young people seemingly have no idea that the personal information about themselves and their friends that they reveal online can have devastating consequences. I want all young people who blog to blog responsibly and stay safe, and so I have set a challenge for myself to do the same. I want to create a blog that discusses ideas in a thoughtful, entertaining, and constructive fashion. One of my primary rules for leading the philosophically "good" life is to always remember: The children are watching. Because they are.

We'll see how this all pans out.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Back to "normal"

It's 7:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, and today school's back in session after the long "winter holiday" formerly known as Christmas Break. The big yellow bus just roared up the hill past my house, carrying my oldest off to the first day of his second semester as a freshman in high school. I've been up since 5 a.m., when my Dreamboat gets up to head off to work. Life's back to "normal" in our non-statistically-average American family of two parents (first marriage for both), 2.0 children, one cat, two cars, and one mildly pre-owned home somewhere deep in the ubiquitous suburbs of flyover country.

At 5:45 a.m. I grabbed my one daily cup of coffee (this is one thing that's not "normal," since over Christmas Break I steeled myself to master my Starbucks caffeine habit, and have). I had 15 minutes to read before 6:00 a.m., when I went to rout my daughter out of bed. She was eager and easy to get up this morning because she had put out NEW SOCKS! WITH HEARTS ON THEM! last night to wear to school today, bought at the clearance sale at Target over the weekend. So, since 6 a.m. when my workday starts, I have rousted two children out of bed, served two breakfasts, doled out vitamins and allergy meds, made sandwiches and packed two lunchbags, written a thank-you note to a teacher, touted up the minutes on my daughter's December Reading Log, done the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen, fed the cat (and washed her bowls), pulled the sheets off the beds and the towels out of the hampers and thrown a batch of wash into the washing machine, combed my daughter's hair, seen her off at the bus stop, chatted with another mom there, and made sure I told both of my children and my husband something positive and loving before they went out the door.

We are back on the public schools' schedules, and life is back to "normal."

Now I have several hours ahead of me "to myself" as they say, before my daughter gets home from elementary school at 2:30. Ahead of me today are: an hour right now to do computer work, including trying to deal with all the email, followed by a three-mile walk through my neighborhood to keep my post-menopausal bones from dissolving before my post-menopausal cardiac arrest, stroke, or cancer hits (this is not normal, as I am determined to start off the new year with more--even daily, darn it!--exercise, and less sedentary (beloved) computer time). Then I will get cleaned up and go grocery shopping and pick up a book from the library; then back home where I will clean the bathrooms and run the vacuum, call the chimney sweep, call my mother, continue cycling the dirty laundry into clean laundry, folding clothes and putting them away, and picking up the clutter of toys and crafts left all over the house from the childrens' days of vacation. I will not accomplish all I wish to before my daughter gets home and I turn my attention to her (including reminding her to practice her piano). Around all that, I may mop the kitchen floor or iron my husband's shirts, or catch up on entering my expense receipts into the computer--but, to be honest, I will probably just get the clean sheets onto the beds and pick up more clutter before my son and husband get home. What doesn't get finished today gets rolled over to tomorrow's "To Do" list.

Then I will produce whatever dinner I will come up with tonight, then run my daughter to her basketball game at the church this evening, from 6:30 to around 8:00. Home after that, I make sure she gets her bath and tuck her into bed with those snuggles and kisses that make up my paycheck. Then maybe I'll watch a little "Law and Order" or the latest Netflix DVD with my son and husband (if I can stay awake that long) before hitting the hay (clean sheets). Then tomorrow my normal routine starts all over again, and runs for about five months until school's out and summer vacation begins.

My daughter is happy to be back in the daily routines and social circles of 4th grade, where she does well. My son is old enough now to feel anxiety about the semester as a whole, and the race to keep up his grades and vanguish the burdens of homework in all of his classes over the coming stretch (he's taking three honors classes this semester, one more than last). He says he is more conscious than ever of how fast time flies. I remember that feeling, that growing realization at that age. How for me it would be like holding my breath to duck under and swim across a pool without breathing, to plunge into the start of another semester and make it to the opposite end of the school year without drowning. But I always did it, and did it well, and my anxiety was maybe helpful, but I didn't have to worry--I did well. He is doing the most important work he can right now, and he knows it, and now, at his age, he also knows that this is not what his life will be like forever. It's a poignant but necessary realization.

My husband's daily life doesn't change much whether it's a school break or not, since he's at the office practically year-round, until the late afternoons--then "Daddy's home." And my life is voluntarily made malleable to fit the needs of the rest of the family. Whatever "free time" I have has to be either deliberately scheduled (at some trouble, and usually resulting in either some inconvenience or more work for somebody else)--or slyly "stolen" away from other chores when nobody's looking or cares. Like right now.

The funny part is, I consider myself the luckiest woman in the world.*

*Yes, this is a deliberate homage to one of the greatest public speeches expressing an attitude of gratitude in modern times. Ain't the internet and Googling great (and a great way to spend/kill/waste/fill time)?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Daily Meditation/What I'm Reading

Christian Thought Before 1500...

Without any doubt, the most glaring intellectual deficiency of American higher education is an almost total neglect of the discipline of theology--and, with that, of the Age of Faith. To neglect theology is to neglect a study that absorbed the best minds of the West for more than a thousand years. Nothing else about the American university so distorts a student's understanding of the course of Western civilization. Nothing else so hinders a true appreciation of some of the greatest minds in our history. Nothing else so limits our grasp of the intellectual universe that is the object of liberal education. And nothing else so powerfully enforces the glib temporal parochialism that is the besetting vice of America's proudly cosmopolitan intellectual elite. It is impossible to do justice to our history without an acquaintance with theology, and it is impossible to understand the true limits and possibilities of human understanding. no idle exercise, nor is it a pursuit that ended with the Enlightenment. Christian theology is still studied with the utmost seriousness today, and not only in specialized denominational seminaries or distant monasteries, but also at Oxford and Cambridge and Tuebingen and other first-class universities throughout the West. Some of the greatest minds of the twentieth century were Christian theologians, from Karl Barth to Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Americans are frankly unique among Westerners in their ignorance of this fact.

A Student's Guide to the Core Curriculum by Mark C. Henrie (ISI Books 2000).

This excerpt strikes me as having some sharp truth in it, especially the part I've put into bold type, which surely rings a bell with me. I'd say that "glib temporal parochialism," besides being a hallmark of immaturity, is the unfortunate character trait of our American age and too often a deficiency of our news media. Certainly I myself (anecdotal evidence coming here) encountered no whiff of Christian theology in my undergraduate education in the liberal arts at the University of California eons ago. Except for what my English teachers included as footnotes to the study of Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Herbert, and Donne.

I have long felt I lacked any conversant familiarity with oft-quoted names like Augustine and Acquinas. I know a little more of Martin Luther, having read his biography on my own. Even in my own church, which prides itself on religious instruction and study, it is far easier to find courses focusing on contemporary pop Christian interpreters or testifiers than on the history or historical figures and thinkers of past Christianity. Too bad.

But of course, with the help of books like this one, it is not hard to continue one's own self-education.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Speak up, the teenagers can't hear you

From, via Drudge:


Guitarist Pete Townshend has warned iPod users that they could end up with hearing problems as bad as his own if they don't turn down the volume of the music they are listening to on earphones.

Townshend, 60, guitarist in the 60s band The Who, said his hearing was irreversibly damaged by years of using studio headphones and that he now is forced to take 36-hour breaks between recording sessions to allow his ears to recover.

"I have unwittingly helped to invent and refine a type of music that makes its principal components deaf," he said on his Web site. "Hearing loss is a terrible thing because it cannot be repaired. If you use an iPod or anything like it, or your child uses one, you MAY be OK ... But my intuition tells me there is terrible trouble ahead."

Referring to the increasingly popular practice of downloading music from the Internet, Townshend said: "The downside may be that on our computers _ for privacy, for respect to family and co-workers, and for convenience _ we use earphones at almost every stage of interaction with sound."

The Who rock group was famous for its earsplitting live performances, but Townshend said his problem was caused by using earphones in the recording studio.

Daily Meditation/What I'm Reading

On Making Decisions...

Every choice made has benefits and losses. The question for you is which combinations of benefits and losses you are willing to live with. Since you are the one to walk the path chosen, others cannot possibly know best [what's the right decision for you]. They can offer challenges to your thinking, or more ideas for your repertoire. That's doesn't make them smarter or right. It just makes them a potential help. The "right" decision is the one you respect yourself for making with consideration for your relationships, your welfare, and your future.

On Doing the Right Thing...

Why should you do what's right when you really don't want to? You have a lot of freedom. You live in a society that tolerates and protects a wide range of individual expression. There's an excitement in that. You don't always do what you should. What for? You don't want to wait your turn in line or forgo your conversation in a movie theater. You don't want to hold the door for the person behind you or speak politely. Why bother? You can do whatever you want, right? Well, freedom is a delicate balance. We all teeter between getting our own fulfillment and getting in the way of others trying to do the very same thing. That may not bother you so much. Who cares about the "them" out there? You don't even know them. There's a contagion in that thinking. Remember that they consider you the great unknown "them," too. The best way to protect yourself is to reinforce basic rules of courtesy and respect. That which excludes no one, always includes you.

Excerpts from the chapter on "Ethics" from Dr. Laura Schlessinger's Cope With It (1999).

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Today's grab-bag of links

Lileks' latest new visual treat has commenced: The American Motel (postcards from an long-gone, alien techicholor eon). Nostalgialicious.

The Heritage Foundation's 2005 Index of Depencency by William W. Beach--a long but readable statistical examination, with visual aids, of whether or not the American citizenry is growing more or less dependent on its government for support and subsidies, and how that compares to rates in the past (including funds like Social Security, Medicare, and housing, welfare, agricultural, and educational subsidies). Via Rebecca Hagelin's "No Such Thing as a Free Lunch" at

Also at, Thomas Sowell's "Serious or Suicidal" will spoil your day (or keep you up at night), bringing up the one subject everybody wants to avoid--Iran's nuclear future and what's to be done about it.

Guess I'm not the only one who's noticed this similarity between the sentiments Saddam Hussein's been spouting during his trial and what the Democrats have been spouting recently--so has Neal Boortz:

Speaking of the war in Iraq and the insurgency that he helped direct, Saddam said: "I'm fighting against U.S. tyranny on behalf of Iraqis, Arabs, all the people of the world. ... The U.S. will not be able to formulate a new world." Hussein went on to say the the U.S. will cut and run soon: "The Americans with their allies will fly out of Iraq very soon, and their puppets will leave even before the Americans." Where have we heard all of this before?

That's could have heard the same thing from Nancy Pelosi on the floor of the House of Representatives or Harry Reid on the floor of the Senate. It's interesting that the left has taken a position on the war in Iraq that is consistent with the dictator whom we have deposed.

Finally, (via Boortz) there's this disturbing article, "Growing Islamic Anger Over Mohammed Cartoons" by Patrick Goodenough, discussing the thuggish reaction to Danish cartoonists exercising their rights of free speech:
Franco Frattini, the vice president of the European Union's executive Commission, told the Jyllands-Posten in the run-up to Christmas that while he "fully" respected freedom of speech, the cartoons were adding to "growing Islamophobia" in Europe.

The daily's editor-in-chief, Carsten Juste, said after Frattini's criticism that the situation had become "absurd."

Earlier, Juste said: "If we apologize, we go against the freedom of speech that generations before us have struggled to win."

Sounds to me like they've got it backwards: the editorial cartoons of Mohammed (may they proliferate as the worldwide discussion grows) are adding to "growing liberty-phobia" among the Islamofascists. As in the schoolyard "argument," 'quit offending us or we'll kill you'--

The newspaper first asked caricaturists to submit ideas after three artists turned down a request by a Danish children's author to illustrate a new book on Mohammed. The artists had refused, fearing that doing so would put them in danger.

The reaction from Muslims, both in Denmark and elsewhere, was swift. Protest demonstrations in November drew thousands of Muslims, who account for three percent of the country's 5.4 million people.

Jyllands-Posten reported receiving death threats and several of the cartoonists went into hiding.

As far away as Pakistan, local media carried reports saying Islamists were offering rewards to anyone who killed the cartoonists. The reports prompted the Danish government to amend a travel warning, advising citizens planning visits to Pakistan.

Kudos to the gutsy Danes for standing up and educating the evidently clueless Arab League as to what freedom of speech in a free society is all about, including the prime minister, Rasmussen:
Not only did Rasmussen refuse to take up the matter with the newspaper, he also declined to meet with a delegation of ambassadors from 11 Muslim nations who wanted to discuss the "tone" of the debate over Islam in Denmark.

"As prime minister I have no tool whatsoever to take actions against the media, and I don't want that kind of tool," he said at the time.
To see the cartoons in question (and a lot of comments) and decide for yourself if their creators and publishers are deserving of execution, go here at