Thought You'd Never Ask

Just mouthing off -- because I can.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Cool, timekilling links for a Friday--knock yourselves out

90-second animated map of empires controlling the Middle East, through history (via Gates of Vienna).

Finally let the truth be told: Berkeley, other colleges get an "F" at teaching U.S. history (via The Jawa Report).

"National Security Experiment" conducted on the Sydney, Australia bridge (comedy video via Neal Boortz).

The Generator Blog (featuring software that generates things--like cutesy pet names, sick call excuses, "cosmic truth," and road signs) (via Mike's America blog, via Bookworm Room).

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The anti-American media--in Germany

Davids Medienkritik posts an analysis of the German media's anti-American slant. The piece "offers a comprehensive look at many of the problems with media coverage of the United States today."

Oddly enough, while reading it through, I was reminded of the same problems the U.S. media have in covering the United States:

Some spoke openly of pandering to anti-American populism, pressure from above to exclude certain viewpoints, lack of expertise and access, and pervasive bias....

Highly interesting article, and instructive to those who reflexively think of the European press as having a wider, broader, perhaps even more professional, impartial, and informed eye on world affairs. Nuh-uh.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Revenge of the leftist librarians

This is the last installment of three in my series, “Great Literature in the Public Schools.” Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

Hey, kids, it’s “Banned Books Week” again! Yes, the American Library Association is once again sponsoring “Banned Books Week,” September 23-30, celebrating “the freedom to read” as they have been doing since 1982. In fact, this year marks the 25th anniversary of this annual ALA event.

Personally, I have always felt and shown unqualified reverence and appreciation for librarians up until last year’s “Banned Book Week.” (Well, there was that one crabby elementary school librarian who forbade me to check out Moby Dick when I was in fourth grade, saying it was “too big” for me, but she was the only exception). All my life librarians have been just about my favorite and most admired group of people. Universally kind, helpful, and wise, they have opened a million doors for me in my life, from the first time my mother brought home an armful of picture books and Dr. Seuss Easy Readers from our tiny village library when I was four or five years old.

What a great deal! I thought, learning that more armfuls of wonderful books could be borrowed for free from our public library every week. Soon I was returning regularly to our little library (located in the bottom floor of an old wood-frame house on Main Street) with my own library card, so proud to be a reading patron (along with my mother, a voracious reader of biographies). At home I played “librarian” (presiding over books to check in and out) more often than I played “school.” Around the age of 12 or so I had finished reading my way around the small room of children’s literature (remember the Danny Dunn books? And Beverly Cleary and Booth Tarkington’s Penrod? Louisa May Alcott? And the wonderful dog books by Albert Payson Terhune?). I started working through the larger room of adult books across the hall, at first with my mother’s or the librarian’s guidance, and then on my own. What a pleasure it was to browse those shelves above those creaky old wooden floors, looking for another new book to lose myself in, enjoying that wonderful “freedom to read.” There was Charles Dickens, Ray Bradbury, Gone With the Wind, Philip Wylie, Arthur Conan Doyle....and in later years, plays and poetry, Shakespeare, and vast patches of non-fiction to plumb, along with biographies, histories, story collections and more.

I continued my love affair with librarians and libraries on through high school and college. In fact, my first paying job was working in my high school library for a few weeks during one summer. What an honor! There was no subject a librarian couldn’t help you with, or steer you through; there was no better place to find information, intellectual stimulation, friendly voices, peace, quiet, order, refuge, browsing pleasure, and new ideas. There was a huge unsuspected world out there, and books in libraries opened a million doors. Hanging out in a college library became my version of following my bliss. In recognition of how much public libraries had done for me, and how much they offer to every person without prejudice in our nation, I even included in my will the suggestion that memorial donations could be made “to your public library.” Ben Franklin had the right idea when he invented the public library.

I guess I’d noticed “Banned Books Week” once or twice since the 1980s, in passing. Sounded like a good thing to me. Nobody ever wants to see Hitler and the Nazis burning books, or great novelists like James Joyce or D.H. Lawrence “banned in Boston” by undereducated hicks, do they?

Last September I was volunteering one morning in my local middle school library (they call them “media centers” now) when the librarian gave a presentation to a visiting class of students on “Banned Books Week.” She put a list of 88 books on the overhead projector and explained to the students that here was a list of books that have been most often banned from libraries and schools all over the nation, for various reasons. I couldn’t see the list of books, but I was listening with half an ear while I worked. The librarian went down the list and said something about almost every book, such as:

  • “That’s a really good book; I don’t see why anybody would want to ban that one.”
  • “Does anybody know why this one might be banned?”
  • “Has anybody read that one?”
  • “That’s right, that one has an abortion in it.”
  • “That one had a murder in it and some parents objected.”
  • “Sorcery—some religious parents didn’t like the Harry Potter books because of that.”
  • “We teach that book in seventh grade.”

In other words, she was pointing out by implication that the whole idea of “banning” books such as those on her list is stupid, pointless, and wrong, although some misguided and autocratic parents in some benighted hinterlands may believe otherwise. Then she said, in summary, “It’s your right to decide what you want to read and to have it all available to you. It’s your First Amendment right. Now most of these books, we have here in the library right now (except for the sex book), and if we don’t have a particular book, we have a lot of other books by the same authors.... If any of you want a copy of this list so you can go check out and read some of these books, I have copies here for you.”

Of course, being a curious parent and book lover, I walked around and took a look at the list as she was sending the kids off to find books. Naturally, being against book-burners, religious nuts, First Amendment threateners, Nazis, and Bostonian bluestockings, I wanted to see what exactly had been “banned” and was now being pointed out and urged on the kids by the librarian.

Here is the list at the American Library Association website:

Note that on the ALA website it is not labeled “Banned Books,” but rather “The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000.” And note that it is not the 88 on the librarian’s list, but 100 on the ALA’s list. What other 12 books had the librarian “censored” from the list for her presentation to the children? Didn’t the children also have “the First Amendment right” to read them, too? If not, was the librarian making that decision for them, even as she disparaged the fact that parents had attempted to make such decisions on the other 88 books?

Also note that it is obvious that these 88 or 100 books are not all “banned books” in the sense of having been stopped at the U.S. border by customs officials seeking to censor literature from adults. They were not burned in bonfires by the Taliban, or chopped up by hatchet-wielding bishops, or pulled out of stores by governmental agencies. Rather, this is a list of books that have most frequently been “challenged” --that is, protested by parents or others seeking to keep them from being provided to children by librarians and/or teachers.

As I read through the list I suddenly realized with a horrible sinking feeling that there were more than a few books on the list that I myself wouldn’t want my children to read either, depending on their age. Did this suddenly make me a Nazi, a “book-banner,” a book-burner, a religious nut, an enemy of librarians and of the “freedom to read?” When it comes to censoring books from adults, I have no problem letting freedom reign supreme, but yes, I do think some books are not appropriate for some children at some ages, and clearly this list and the librarian’s lesson was aimed at teaching children that my own and other parents’ opinions on this constitute a silly and inappropriate “censorship” of children’s “First Amendment rights.”

For the ALA to tout a list like this, with Heather Has Two Mommies and Sex by Madonna on the same page with actual literature like Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird is, I think, a particularly offensive slap in the face to all parents who are rightfully concerned about the nature and the quality of the education their children are getting from their public schools which their tax monies support. Clearly there is a subversive agenda going on here, and one of its methods and goals is to undermine the parents in the eyes of the kids.

I was convinced of this after the second class of students came in that morning and got the same lecture. But this time the librarian, well aware by then of my interest in her talk, summed up by saying, “Of course, you’ll want to check with your parents and find out their values about these books before you read any of them.” It was clear she would not have said that if she hadn’t been reminded of my presence after seeing me walk over and look at her list. I doubt she continued to include that politic disclaimer after I left the library that morning, since it directly contradicted her entire message. “Banned Books Week” is not about asking your parents how they feel about the wide range of literature and its appropriateness for children of varying ages, backgrounds, and beliefs, is it? It’s about librarians teaching children that anyone, even their own parent, who wants to limit their access to any and all books, for any and all reasons, is one of those “bad censors.”

Don’t believe me? Check out this webpage at the ALA site on “What is censorship” and keep reading down the page. It says, in essence, that even “well-meaning” parents or community figures or bodies have no right to censor what materials their children are exposed to in any public library--only the librarian decides, which is not censorship because the librarian’s process is “inclusive,” not “exclusive” (“exclusive” means censorship). A very nice Catch 22, if you ask me. No mention is made here, of course, of the funders of the libraries: the taxpaying parents of the children paying the salary of the librarian and funding the costs of the library. Otherwise known as those saps.

Of course, when it comes to deciding which books should be provided to young people, there is always room for quibbling. The ALA and its leftist supporters make the most of this. Some few parents, for example, in recent years, took a stand against the Harry Potter books, based on purely religious objections. Their rebuffed challenges make other protests against more egregious books harder to accomplish as the ALA smears all protests with the same “censorship” and “right-wing religious zealot” labels. Many parents find the smut provided to young people by their schools to be highly objectionable, and yet must fight tooth and nail to bring about changes. And as Linda Harvey has written:
Library selection committees are systematically purging libraries of any conservative or serious Christian viewpoints and instead, loading the shelves with left-wing propaganda and pornography....

The ALA is terribly concerned that these "gay-themed" books be available for our youth. After all, their standards, adopted by many libraries in this country, urge librarians to "model and promote a non-judgmental attitude toward ... and preserve confidentiality in interactions with young adults." This has a nice ring until one learns three things: the ALA defines "young adults" as ages 12 to 20 – they recommend that no item in a library be off-limits to a child at any age who requests it. Therefore, the obvious meaning of "confidentiality" is that they have a goal of withholding information from parents.

Steve Baldwin has written an excellent article about parents protesting the ALA’s stand:

There are very few libraries today in which I would leave my 13-year-old son unescorted, because, unfortunately, the protection and safety of our children is simply no longer a priority for libraries or for the ALA. That may sound harsh, but it’s true and the shrill cry of censorship one constantly hears emanating from the ALA is really disturbing considering the shocking books they defend. Unbeknownst to most people, a new wave of literature called "authentic literature" hit our public school libraries over the last few years. The ALA claims such books portray American life and culture in a more realistic fashion. But they don't. These books feature druggies, sex addicts, pedophiles, gang members and others on the fringes of society. Increasingly, this literature is replacing the traditional literature classics, which, in general, promoted mainstream American values or at least didn't undermine them....

Naturally, parent groups have formed to protest such books and many have put up websites with excerpts, but much of it is too graphic for me to repeat here. The best of the parent web sites is; take a look and weep. Yes, this is the trash many of our public schools are feeding America’s youth. The books that used to inspire; which celebrated American values; that chronicled the exploits of trailblazers, astronauts, soldiers, and other heroes, are fast disappearing. ...

The ALA response to parental complaints was the creation a few years ago of a national event they call "Banned Books Week" in which outrageous charges are made about parents supposedly attempting to ban classics like "Huckleberry Finn" and "Of Mice and Men." It’s an ingenious tactic considering the ALA seems intent on phasing out the classics. However, parent researchers and bloggers have found many of these allegations to be false or grossly exaggerated; for example, the ALA counts as censorship incidents in which a parent simply requests that the school or library be more age selective when assigning books or amend a teacher’s mandatory reading list to include other books not so offensive.

Following “Banned Books Week,” I went home and began my education about what kind of literature is being promoted to our children these days. If you haven’t looked into it, you are in for a shock. This is the kind of book you will find at your local book store’s “young readers” section, in close proximity to the Laura Ingalls Wilder books (here’s another take on the skanky “Gossip Girls” series). These kinds of novels are evidently wildly popular these days, along with others of the same ilk approved by the ALA and incorporated into school and public library stacks.

Take a look at your local public library’s “Young Adult” section, or your local public school library during “Banned Book Week.” A cautious parent can no longer afford to let a child wander at will among today's books, whether in a library or bookstore. There is too much chance of him or her falling into shallow, inappropriate, and objectionable, if not disgusting and obscene books now crowding out the old classics. These creepy books make the old Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew novels look like substantial art, just for offering rafts of relative safety and familiarity in the modern minefield on the library shelves. So much for the “freedom to read” that I enjoyed as as child.

Rebecca Hagelin had a similar eye-opening experience while writing her book, Home Invasion, and put it succinctly in her essay, “Are Your Kids Reading Rot?”:

And this is the garbage that today's educators pass off as great literature for our children? The great classics, meanwhile, are all but missing. One [assigned reading] list for eighth-graders contained about 20 authors -- none recognizable save the lone great Mark Twain. And they call this education?

Locating a wealth of dogged parental protests (such as the site above, and the often informative one-star book reviews at, was indeed depressing and alarming. Finding that the ALA had given awards to books that parents found disgusting and pornographic, and that the ALA has aggressive policies and measures laid out for countering and shutting down all “challenges” (never for considering the validity of the challenges or acknowledging and working with the concerns of the challengers) was not reassuring.

Meanwhile, the novels being added to my own middle school library throughout the year followed the trend: an unending stream of the latest glossy dustjackets covering the pseudo angsty “real-life" soap operas for teens--full of flip, risky talk and action, meant to be easy to read, hip to consume.

The very popular book, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison was typical of this genre. Among all the reviews by teens and preteens at raving about the book, I found these two 'one-star' comments from more mature voices:

Making teen girls look worse one page at a time.., December 26, 2002
Reviewer: A reader
There should be a way to select zero stars. Everyone told me how amazing this book was, but after reading it, I am shocked. Georgia is shallow and pathetic. She is a degrading representation of today's teenagers. She whines about her nose, the possibility of being a lesbian, and how she wants to kill herself but she is too depressed to do it. The first half of the book is about her eyebrows, but the majority of the book is about a 14-year-old girl making out with guys. Now there is a great life lesson.

Now, if you waste your time moping over garbage then go ahead and read the book. It's probably for you.

and this one:

Georgia is not my idea of a role model, December 4, 2001
Reviewer: A reader
I am a parent and a high school teacher. I read this book before giving it to a favorite teenager of mine. I threw it out after reading it. Georgia is self-centered, self-absorbed, shallow, without ambitions or dreams, and flighty. She is mean to other girls who she deems worthy of being picked upon. She is willing to be a complete fool for a boy. She has no dreams or ambitions beyond kissing a boy that she has her eyes on. And she is a disrespectful brat to all adults in her life. It is discouraging that this book is touted as a book girls can relate to. I think girls are much more complicated and capable than the foolish protagonist of this book.

But were a parent to lodge a “challenge” to a novel like this being in a school library, as being a waste of time and money, I have no doubt the ALA would ride to its defense on a white charger. We can’t have any censorship here!

“Boy, almost all of these new novels we’re adding turn up as being written on the fourth- or fifth-grade reading level,” I pointed out once in the middle school library. “How come so low, for students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades?”

“Most adult novels are written at the fourth- or fifth-grade level,” was the answer. And, I was told, the more books read by the students, the better the library is seen as performing, in the eyes of the administrative powers that be, which track “success” as the number of books checked out. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that if this is how the school system rewards its librarians, the librarians will make sure to maximize checkouts of very slender, very glossy, easy-to-read, MTV-like, attractive-to-teens (i.e. full of cusswords and sex) books.

But dare I say that this is not the best way to educate young people? Dare I suggest that plying kids with this kind of literature, at this level of reading, and calling it adequate is just another example of the “soft bigotry of low expectations?”

And so another year has gone by. I am left sadder but wiser about the state of young people’s so-called “literature” these days. I will never again assume that a “prize-winning” children's book must be a good one. I am left wary of librarians and teachers, instead of unquestioningly admiring and supportive of them. I cannot count on them to share my values about literature, education, or morality, and I can't even trust that when they are alone with my children they aren't undermining me in my kids’ eyes.

I am left wondering if I should allow my daughter to enter this middle school next year, or make other arrangements. This whole episode has been a vivid illustration of the major rift between my own mission in attaining the best possible education for my children and the public schools’ mission to deliver “educational services” and more to mass quantities of children in accordance with governmental, teachers’ union, and political dictates.

And speaking of “banned books” and that glorious freedom to read, I am still wondering how that copy of Moby Dick ever got into a fourth-grader’s hands, let alone into an elementary school library. But that was back in the early 1960s. No librarian would ever make a mistake like that today.

UPDATE: I’ll make a prediction here. I’m guessing that “Banned Books Week” as it is currently celebrated won’t be around for too many more years--nor will the ALA keep publishing its lists of “challenged” books and “most challenged” authors for anyone to read on the Web. Not because the ALA and its minions won’t still keep doing what they do--but because they will become aware of the fact that with the internet parents and others are becoming more informed about their activities, and the ALA will no longer be as willing to put such helpful tools into the “challengers’” hands. My prediction is that these hypocritical self-proclaimed promoters of “intellectual freedom” will become less transparent and even more subversive as more people step up to confront them.

And I’ll make a wish: how about a rival professional association for librarians who truly want to remain professional as opposed to leftist? Surely there must be a few.

UPDATE: Visit the Family Friendly Libraries website for more information, especially the essay "The Internet and the Seduction of the American Public Library" by Helen Chaffee Biehle, "What's Wrong with the ALA?" and "FFL's Five Point Truth Test for Kids" (click on FFL Book Reports).

It's about time somebody said it

...loud and clear, about so-called "global warming:"

The American people know when their intelligence is being insulted. They know when they are being used and when they are being duped by the hysterical left.

The American people deserve better -- much better -- from our fourth estate. We have a right to expect accuracy and objectivity on climate change coverage. We have a right to expect balance in sourcing and fair analysis from reporters who cover the issue.

Above all, the media must roll back this mantra that there is scientific “consensus” of impending climatic doom as an excuse to ignore recent science. After all, there was a so-called scientific “consensus” that there were nine planets in our solar system until Pluto was recently demoted.

Breaking the cycles of media hysteria will not be easy since hysteria sells -- it’s very profitable. But I want to challenge the news media to reverse course and report on the objective science of climate change, to stop ignoring legitimate voices this scientific debate and to stop acting as a vehicle for unsubstantiated hype.

Read the whole speech, by Senator James Inhofe, delivered on the Senate floor yesterday (via the Drudge Report).

Friday, September 22, 2006

Made me laugh, made me glad

The Manolo offers a fashion critique of dictator costumes (via the Instapundit).

Mark Steyn reveals the history of the Tin Pan Alley song, "The Sheik of Araby"

Tens of thousands rallied in New York City against Ahmadinejad, for freedom and human rights, and for release of the Israeli hostages (via Instapundit and Power Line). Rally coverage included this:
"This is a message to the leaders of the world that we reject Ahmadinejad and his message of hate and the immorality he represents," the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, Malcolm Hoenlein, said.

Speakers at the rally included Foreign Minister Livni, Ambassador Bolton, Governor Pataki, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, and Professor Alan Dershowitz.

"We stand united today against the terrorist and the hostage takers. We say to them terror will not defeat us," Ms. Livni said. "We will not rest until the Israeli hostages, our sons, come home to the embrace of a loving nation."

The wife of kidnapped soldier Ehud Goldwasser, Karni Goldwasser, demanded of the United Nations, "Stop talking and start to act," to bring her husband back home.

Mr. Wiesel chastised the United Nations for welcoming Mr. Ahmadinejad to the General Assembly at all. "A man who brings shame to the world has no place anywhere. He must be excluded from all groups of international nations," he said....

While many Jewish leaders were asked to meet with Mr. Ahmadinejad during his visit to America, all said they rejected the offer. "I've been asked to meet with him," the president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, said. "What's to talk about, when he's going to kill me?"

Enjoy your weekend, and stay away from CITGO.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Why my children attend public schools

I am a big proponent of school choice. By that I mean I believe with great conviction that parents should have maximum freedom in providing their own children with the best education that loving care, parental smarts, and money can provide, and that the choice and the responsibility for the child's education lie firmly with the parents. In my curmudgeonly fashion, I believe that (ideally) nobody should bring a child into this world without being willing and prepared to support that child--and that includes effectively educating that child for adulthood. And I am enough of a libertarian to believe that in the aggregate, nobody will care more about, and will therefore do a better job at, effectively educating the children of our nation than their own parents.

I think homeschooling is a fine option. I have a sister who homeschools her children. I think there should be no laws in any states against it, outlawing it, regulating it, or making it difficult. Instead, I think our society should be providing encouragement and support to parents who wish to homeschool their children. Local schools (if they REALLY cared about educating children) should gladly open their libraries, after-school activities, and athletic, music, drama, and arts programs to homeschoolers. After all, as it stands now, homeschooling parents are already paying for these public programs through their property taxes, whether they use them or not. That’s a raw deal and an injustice.

I think private schools are a boon to our society and would, in an ideal world, be the norm. More power to them, and I like to see all kinds of them springing up like a thousand flowers. As part of our free-market society, they offer more choice, and in many (if not most) cases today provide better services and better results than do our public schools. I advocate a nationwide school voucher system (as proposed by Milton Friedman) and universal school choice where the prorated public money taken from the taxpayers to educate each child follows each child to whatever school a child’s parents decide is right for the child.

So why, you might ask, given my opinions, do my own two children attend public schools?

Neal Boortz, libertarian radio talk show pundit, calls them “government schools,” and periodically rants against them as being monopolistic, socialistic, poorly performing governmental indoctrination centers ill-served by incompetent teachers, strangled by bloated and politicized bureaucracies, and insulated from free market consequences by teachers’ unions feathering the nests of their members at the expense of educating the children. (John Stossel has also illustrated these facts.) Boortz, like many other people, opines that sending a child to a “government school” is akin to child abuse. And he points out that most parents who agree with that thought in the abstract make a personal exception in the case of their own children, and still end up deciding to send them to their own “exceptional” “government school.”

If you think I don’t take that argument seriously, you’re wrong.

Consider me conflicted, wary, and warned

I do believe that too many “government schools” are failing, and that too many parents are asleep or fooling themselves. The scandalous and prolonged inferior state of public education in our nation has failed generations of our citizens now and there is no excuse for it. And as a libertarian, I can see that as Boortz advocates, it might well be a good thing for our nation’s future if all parents removed their children from the “government” schools (in sort of an Atlas Shrugged strike) and we thereby forced our nation to start over with a better educational system. But right now, I have two precious children to educate the best I can with the resources at hand and that trumps everything, for me. I am not going to choose their schools solely on the basis of my making a political statement.

Over the last ten years since my son entered a public school Kindergarten, I have not once but many times, checked out possibilities for homeschooling him, and later, my daughter as well. I have researched various curricula (Hillsdale Academy for one; K12 Inc. for another), bought books on homeschooling, visited homeschool supply stores, and talked to many people about homeschooling. The possibilities are broad and enticing, and homeschooling still remains my back-up, fall-back Plan B, which I am more or less able and willing to undertake on any given day, should I have to. I consider that readiness my responsibility as a parent, and have organized my life around keeping that a viable option. Let’s face it, we all know from reading the news that too much weird stuff happens, both randomly and endemically, in American public schools and I will never continue to send my kids to a place that I know is not a net good for them.

I have also checked out the private schools in the area where we live. My husband and I have spent hours in the past visiting and talking with the staff and teachers at several; others I have brochures from, filling a stuffed manila folder. We went through the entire application process for a couple of private schools some years back. Every few months as my children mature I recheck the internet to see which schools in the area are still in business, which are new, which are still offering what programs, and which might be a better fit for my children now. None of these schools ultimately has yet seemed to be a better overall resource for our children than our public schools. But I am always keeping that door open as an option. I have learned, however, that just because a school is privately run, that does not mean it is run competently or rigorously, offers the right mixture of social and academic training for my own children, or is a good fit with our family’s values. Non-secular and church-run private schools, just like public schools, at times offer lessons and indoctrination contrary to my beliefs. There is no perfect solution.

Conditions on the ground mean everything. We chose our home location (at some sacrifices) because of the high-achieving public schools right here. My responsibility as a parent of children right now is to stay informed on a daily basis as to how things are going with my kids’ education, and to make necessary changes (smart, informed changes, I hope!) as needed. Admittedly, some years have been harder than others, due to a variety of factors, and we have worked through the problems as they came up as we would in any educational setting. My role is to be my children's personal advocate for smoothing the way, obtaining what they lack, and helping to open doors and maximize opportunities for them. We have chosen to include them in our local community’s public schools, so I am their advocate in an institution whose nature is mass delivery of services, but whose stated mission is to try to provide each child with what he or she needs to succeed. My role in this as an advocate is what’s known as “parental involvement,” which is, I think, a good thing for the community and an essential thing for my kids. Yet it remains a day-to-day solution.

The pluses in our "exceptional" public schools

I won’t go into detail here about my children’s needs, talents, and potentialities, although these are all crucial factors in the specific educational services I am looking for. But I will tell you about their “government schools.” They are near if not at the top in the state as far as student achievement scores go (it varies from year to year). Since our state is not renowned for its schools, that didn’t reassure me much, but as long as my children continue to score high on the national IOWA and other standardized tests, I worry a bit less.

The elementary school is a former charter school, which means the parents in the area got together and petitioned the school district to allow them to set their own policies and curriculum standards (different and higher ones than were/are required by the state). Although the charter has now lapsed, nobody seems to be trifling with the school’s success (at least not that I can see, and believe me, I am looking). In fact, more charter schools are now being started in our state (and elsewhere).

The teachers love to teach there, because anything they need, the parents provide. The “parental involvement” level is on steroids. My daughter’s current class has three “room parents.” There are weekly parent "guest readers," parent tutors, weekly parent “helping hands” to do photocopying and put up bulletin boards and such. There are parents running the library, the “art parent” and “music parent” and the “Odyssey of the Mind” programs, doing landscaping, painting murals, running after-school clubs, hosting newcomers' coffees, teacher appreciation luncheons, parenting seminars, and more. In fact, there are so many parents wanting to get involved at the school that they have developed programs to send parent volunteers and tutors (along with food, clothing, books, and school supplies) to other “sister schools” they’ve “adopted” in less-favored parts of the county. It seems the majority of parents here in our predominantly conservative area believe passionately in effectively educating not only their own children, but our nation's children.

The Parent-Teacher Association at "our" elementary school wins national prizes each year for leadership and membership. (One of their many projects last year was to send over 1,000 books to help renew a devastated elementary school library in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.) There are field trips, science projects, fairs and exhibits, visiting lecturers, performers, artists and authors. And the parents have established an incorporated foundation that holds huge fundraiser events each year and raises thousands of dollars to pay for computers and other high-tech embellishments, along with drama, science, and foreign language programs and teacher enrichment.

You could say the parents were taking up the slack to make the “government school” look good. Or, you could try to imagine a local community of parents getting together in approved free-market style and pooling resources to set up a successful private school or homeschoolers’ compound, and this could be pretty similar to what it might look like.

Our middle school focuses more rigorously on academics, and was voted a “Blue Ribbon School of Excellence” in 2003 (whatever that means). Its student achievement scores are consistently the highest or among the best in the state. It too boasts about its high level of parental involvement and the devotion of the teachers. I can vouch for its excellent music programs and honors classes, based on my son's experiences there. Does it have its "problems" as a "government school" bound to teach all in a geographic area, encumbered by political and bureaucratic hinderances? Do I have beefs? Yes. Is it a perfect solution to educating my kids? No. Is it the best we can do? Undecided, and still under examination (as always).

Our high school converted to a charter school in the 1990s, which allowed it to have more autonomy over its policies and curriculum. Today the vast majority of its students (something like 80%) take the SATs each year and score an average of about 200 points above the national average (is this saying very much?). Along with strong sports, arts, and technology programs, the high school offers over 30 Advanced Placement (college-level) courses (including AP Chinese) and is included every year in the top tier of Newsweek’s “Best U.S. High Schools” ranking. I have the sneaking suspicion that a motivated student graduating from this school is as well-prepared for success in college and life as any graduate of the best-performing local private schools. Here too, parental involvement and volunteer hours and money donated are phenomenal. I just heard yesterday about a father in this area who took a year's unpaid leave from his job to manage (as a full-time volunteer) his son's high school football team. A critical mass of committed parents are dedicating themselves to making these local schools excel.

A big downside of these schools, in my opinion, is their overblown size: around 1,500 students each in "our" elementary and middle school, and over 2,600 in the high school. But the staff have come up with some creative ways to give individual groups and “pods” of kids their own sense of community among the hoards. And the culture in these schools is ostensibly and I think practically a "zero tolerance" one for bullying, which tends to reassure me. I would prefer a smaller school environment, for sure. Another downside is the endemic waste of time spent on things my kids could escape if they were homeschooled. But again, no learning situation is ever perfect. Every choice has trade-offs.

It'll never be 1959 again

Just as our news media has undergone a sea-change since the "good old days" when we could accept the "nightly news" or "daily newspaper" as handing down the real truth to us, our schools have changed radically since people like me were kids. Both media and schools have in their own way drawn more individual citizens into their former "professional" midsts to offer contributions. I spend way more time in these schools, volunteering, than my parents ever spent in my schools when I was a kid (and we also spend hundreds of dollars each year for each child, funneled into the schools as donations). And yet I am nowhere near the “A-list” of full-time mom and dad volunteers who make the betterment of these schools and these kids their unpaid “career.” Is this super-parental-involvement, where it does happen, a lamentable development of modern American life, or a model for the future, and an asset to our local communities and the education of the next generation?

Personally, I volunteer in the schools to keep informed on the whos, whats, wheres, and hows in my children's daily education. That’s my job, my responsibility, even as I “outsource” most of the daily teaching to these professional teachers--who, believe me, have a tough job I couldn't and wouldn't do, teaching groups of kids at differing levels of skill and need. Watching the teachers work, I respect what they accomplish. There are still many excellent teachers working in public schools like the ones here. Would it be more time- and cost-effective to homeschool my children myself? Or to move them to private schools, that also “demand” specific numbers of volunteer hours of parental involvement, along with a big chunk of our income? I still wonder.

But with our children in “government schools,” we have what we consider the extra money not spent on private school tuition to devote to extra-curricular enrichment. We take educational vacations around the country, we visit historical sites and museums. We buy books galore; we have money for art and music lessons, and musical instrument rentals. We have computer hardware and software, photographic equipment, educational games, anything we need to reinforce areas of learning which we feel would benefit our children. We buy the Core Knowledge Series of books by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., and whatever my children don’t hear about in school, we catch up on during summer vacations. When I discover something they’ve not been taught, I teach it. Or I find a way to supplement as needed. When I hear my kids repeating something from school I disagree with, we talk about it. I still maintain the "homeschooling" attitude, even though I don't do it full-time.

Our nation's educational system is undergoing some radical changes these days. But no school situation is ever perfect. I know I am the type of person who would continue to worry I wasn’t doing enough no matter where or how my children were being educated. Yet I do know that my husband and I ultimately know best and can do best for our own children and their education.

Just as I buck the feminist line and stay home as a happy housewife and mother, I am also not afraid to buck the libertarian line and put my children in "government schools" if I think that is our best option at this time, given our conditions.

So am I fooling myself by thinking that my children are getting an adequate—or even a superior—schooling?

I hope not. I’m certainly working on it.

UPDATE: I have discovered John Taylor Gatto's eloquent article, "Against School: How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why" which is summed up in these encouraging paragraphs:

Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they'll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology - all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.

First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. Don't let your own have their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a preteen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior today), there's no telling what your own kids could do. After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.

"Don't come to Afghanistan in Ramadan."

And don't count on celebrating Christmas?

Have you been following this chilling story?

The journalist Hamid Mir brings back news from al-Qaeda operatives that big offensives are to be launched against Western troops in Afghanistan during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (beginning September 24). And there is also this threat delivered in the same interview:

...Our brothers are ready to attack inside America. We will breach their security again. There is no timeframe for our attack inside America; we can do it any time.

Q: What do you mean by another attack in America?

A: Yes a bigger attack than September 11th 2001. Brother Adnan [el Shukrijumah] will lead that attack, Inshallah...

Bush is aware that brother Adnan has smuggled deadly materials inside America from the Mexican border. Bush is silent about him, because he doesn't want to panic his people. Sheikh Osama bin Laden has completed his cycle of warnings. You know, he is man of his words, he is not a politician; he always does what he says. If he said it many times that Americans will see new attacks, they will definitely see new attacks. He is a real Mujahid. Americans will not win this war, which they have started against Muslims. Americans are the biggest supporters of the biggest terrorist in the world, which is Israel.... [blah, blah, blah]
Q: But if you attack inside America again, then Muslims living in America will face lot of problems, why would you like to create new problems for your brothers and sisters?

A: Muslims should leave America. We cannot stop our attack just because of the American Muslims; they must realize that American forces are killing innocent Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq; we have the right to respond back, in the same manner, in the enemy's homeland. The American Muslims are like a human shield for our enemy; they must leave New York and Washington.

Q: But your fighters are also using the American Muslims as their shield, if there are no Muslims in America, then there would be no Al Qaeda, may be the Americans would feel safer?

A: No, not at all. We have a different plan for the next attack. You will see. Americans will hardly find out any Muslim names, after the next attack. Most of our brothers are living in Western countries, with Jewish and Christian names, with passports of Western countries. This time, someone with the name of Muhammad Atta will not attack inside America, it would be some David, Richard or Peter.

Q: So you will not attack America, until [as long as] Muslims are there?

A: I am not saying that, I am saying that Muslims must leave America, but we can attack America anytime. Our cycle of warnings has been completed, now we have fresh edicts from some prominent Muslim scholars to destroy our enemy, this is our defending of Jihad; the enemy has entered in our homes and we have the right to enter in their homes, they are killing us, we will kill them.

Michelle Malkin
, Allapundit at Hot Air, Glenn Beck, The Jawa Report, Gateway Pundit, and many other bloggers, along with the FBI have been warning us about Adnan Al-Shukrijuma (also known as the missing "Jafer the Pilot"). Michelle has also tried to connect the dots between Brother Adnan and a South American terror ring since back in 2004.

I have no doubt our southern border (and probably our northern one as well) has been repeatedly breached since 9/11/2001, thanks to lax and demoralized border security, inept immigrant and visitor tracking, and negligent (if not corrupt) Congressional and Presidential (non-)leadership. This is one area in which I do hold President Bush personally responsible for not exerting more effective methods to secure our borders before it was too late. I fear we will pay dearly for it. There is little cheer in thinking, "I told you so."

You know, I'm old enough to have been one of those little grade school kids who grew up in the shadow of the Soviet Union's nuclear cloud. Khrushchev's banging shoe, his threat to "bury your grandchildren" and the Cuban Missile Crisis made indelible impressions on me (scared me silly) as a little girl. Remember those old movies showing schoolkids how to "duck and cover"? That was me there under the desk. Bomb shelters? Used to tour models of them at our State Fair. And then we saw the Soviet Union fall apart like a line of dominos and suddenly: no more nuclear threat--or so we thought, for a moment, giddily, unrealistically. The idea could hardly be grasped, and yet was grasped at, that our children would not have to grow up in a climate of annihilation fear, as my generation did. How sweet the sound. But the 1990s weren't even gone before talk of "suitcase nuclear bombs" made their way into the major newspapers.

My friends, times have little changed. Our children are still growing up right to be afraid of evil men who strive to murder them for no good reason, and wipe out their families, towns, and cities. We are right to worry, as Lincoln did, that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Despite the surface gloss, times have little changed from the 1950s and 1960s--or from 1683. We are not crazy to recognize that we are now back trying to live our lives bravely, with honor and with real meaning, under that same cloud of fear. We have to face the idea that we should live each day with "our affairs in order," as they say. It is time to focus the mind on important things.

Oh Death where is thy sting! It has none. But life has.
- Mark Twain, Notebook, 1894

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Not all of us are buying it--only our media

It's nice to see Betsy's Page putting Ahmadinejad's U.N. speech into true perspective:

It would be refreshing to see the media expose Ahmadinejad's dishonesty in pretending to speak for the people when his regime is jailing students who speak out or shutting down news organizations in his country that say anything that could be interpreted in the slightest way as critical. But, I don't expect to see that recognition in the western press, much less in the rest of the world. So, Ahmadinejad can get away with his propagandistic speech, just as Khatami did in his talks here in the United States. It really is depressing to see how we in the West surrender the high ground because we're so afraid of abandoning moral equivalence among all the countries of the world.

And then she adds this zinger by appropriately linking to Nat Hentoff's piece, "Stoning Women to Death," on how Iranian women are treated under Islamic shari'a law, pointing out, "This story should have shared the front page with Ahmadinejad's speech."

When Ahmadinejad pretends to speak to the poor of the world, just remember that this is one of the customs he wants to spread: stoning to death women who have had the misfortune to have been raped. I'm sure we'll see women around the world marching in support of the women of Iran. Any day now, right?

Yeah, right.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"From Crescent Moon to Morning Star"

Muslim women write about their conversions to Christianity, sometimes under great stress, at great personal danger, and often at the cost of losing their families:

"Nadereh," an Iranian woman

"Hatice," a Turkish woman

"Fatima," born in Jordan to a Palestinian family

There are many more testimonies of men and woman, and much other information at Answering Islam.

Yo ho, mates, it's "Talk Like a Pirate" Day

AAARGH, it almost slipped past me again, me hearties. Today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Yet another way fer myself t'be toyin' with me teenager. Singing "Green Day" songs in pirate style and such. And I can finally pull out those cake decorations and celebrate. "Yer mom's a pirate!"

Here's yer Talk Like a Pirate Day official British headquarters -- they be the founders of pirate lore and lingo, and offer a wee tip for the sprogs:
If it be helpin', start yer sentence wi' a "Arr, me hearty," in a deep, throaty voice — ye'll find that the rest be comin' much easier.

Don't ye be forgettin' now t'get yerself a pirate name.

For the advanced: How to talk like a pirate in German.

Sobering words from a liberal, about liberals and their world view

Well, it's about time a liberal was smart enough to say this:

Unless liberals realize that there are tens of millions of people in the Muslim world who are far scarier than Dick Cheney, they will be unable to protect civilization from its genuine enemies.

Sam Harris at the Los Angeles Times (via The American Thinker) tries to teach his fellow liberals that "Western civilization really is at risk from Muslim extremists." Think they'll listen? correspondence with liberals has convinced me that liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world — specifically with what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith.

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that "liberals are soft on terrorism." It is, and they are.

This is a thoughtful, tell-it-like-it-is article with many sound observations--read it all. I hope some liberals will be able to understand and give heed to it, as they wouldn't if a conservative expressed the same truths. But at base, I fear the poor education provided to the people of our country by its public schools has left too many citizens unequipped for and uninterested in making rational sense out of current events. In today's world this could prove to be the ultimately fatal chink in our armor.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Supporting the troops in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere

Countering anti-troop messages in the nation's capital (via Instapundit). If I still lived there, I would attend the September 23rd rally.

The message of the event is “Support the troops, support the mission, and support victory.” That’s it.

In the meantime, anyone who has scoffed that "our leaders" have not called for "sacrifices" in the current war can take the bull by the horns and be a self-starter. The Greatest Generation showed us how. Instead of blaming others for your own inaction and waiting for the Federal bureaucracy to take your hand, why not gin up a little libertarian initiative and find some ways you can support the troops and help your country win the war. Here are just a few ideas:

Anyone who really wants to help can find a way.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Islam is an "intolerant religion," as its adherents prove

Because even if you aren't saying so yourself, but are quoting someone else who once questioned Islam, you are likely to stimulate riots, burnings, and murders by Islamofascists.

“We want to make it clear that if the pope does not appear on TV and apologize for his comments, we will blow up all of Gaza’s churches.”

It is beginning to appear to be a “malignant belief system” --

--and I say this not just because I am an agnostic. I recognize value in a whole host of religions, even in parts of Islam. But it is clear that this religious belief has oppressed its people (women particularly), kept masses of them in poverty and backwardness while enriching their rulers, and fomented deranged violence across the world from New York to Bali. What is an honest Pope supposed to say? Good on you?

Islam's apologists and defenders are saying things like this:

Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence,” [Turkish] Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said.

Well, that quote sums up in a nutshell the irrational, ridiculous, bullying, thuggish attitude of modern Islam, as we are seeing it around the world today, doesn't it? This is the same stupid, circular excuse some men, the worst kind, use to blame their women for "provoking" them into beating them to a pulp.

Nobody deserves to suffer a violent response for expressing their thoughts or beliefs.

Nobody deserves to die because of their chosen religion or non-religion--but the Islamofacists disagree.

Victor Davis Hanson writes:
...Candor, after all, can get one killed, exiled, or ostracized—whether a Danish cartoonist, a Dutch filmmaker, a Wall Street Journal reporter, or a British-Indian novelist.... modern ideology, no religious sect of the present age demands so much of others, so little of itself.

Tell me again--remind me, because I forget: WHY exactly did we once (before 9/11) think of Islam as a “religion of peace”?

UPDATE: What nasty people. They don't know the meaning of the word "tolerant." And yet they presume to preach and protest to the Western "infidels" by threatening them. Very persuasive.

And before anyone criticizes me for being "intolerant" for criticizing Islam, I'd like to point out that it is in the realm of ideas, discussion, dialogue, and thought, that religions, all religions, should be criticized and examined. How else can truth be determined, without free thought and free expression? How many times do we have to be reminded that repression of free thought and free expression buries the truth? This was, essentially, the pope's message.

It is not those who question or criticize who are intolerant. It is those who kill and threaten or commit violence to silence others who are intolerant. Let's try to keep that straight, shall we?

Good news on teenage drug use

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration issued a statement on September 7 claiming that

...current illicit drug use among youth ages 12-17 continues to decline. The rate has been moving downward from 11.6 percent using drugs in the past month in 2002 to 11.2 percent in 2003, 10.6 percent in 2004 and 9.9 percent in 2005. ...

Similarly, the rate of current marijuana use among youth ages 12 to 17 declined significantly from 8.2 percent in 2002 to 6.8 percent in 2005, and the average age of first use of marijuana increased from under age 17 in 2003 to 17.4 years in 2005. Furthermore, drinking among teens declined, with 16.5 percent of youth ages 12-17 reporting current alcohol use and 9.9 percent reporting binge drinking. This compares with 17.6 percent of this age group reporting drinking in 2004 and 11.1 percent reporting binge drinking in the past month in 2004. These declines in alcohol use by youth, ages 12-17, follow years of relatively unchanged rates.

Any news of decreased teenage involvement in drugs and alcohol is fantastic news, though it is still a sickening thought that almost 10 percent of teens over the age of 12 are binge drinking. SAMHSA studies show a geographic correlation in the U.S. between youth binge drinking and adult binge drinking (no suprise there).

“The trends among young people are encouraging,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. “We know prevention activities must start with our children. There is more to be done and we must build on our work to ensure that children and their parents understand that they must live free of drugs and alcohol to be healthy.”

"Something important is happening with American teens," said John P. Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy. "They are getting the message that using drugs limits their futures, and they are turning away from the destructive patterns and cruelly-misinformed perceptions about substance abuse that have so damaged previous generations."

SAMHSA studies also show that for young adults ages 18 to 25, cocaine use is up, as is the use of prescription drugs for non-medical uses (as part of the so-called underground "recreational drug" use). I wonder what role today's social culture on U.S. college campuses plays in this trend. When I was a college student in the 1970s they were a breeding ground for drug and alcohol use and abuse. The colleges and universities (usually religious) that actually take effective steps to discourage and minimize drug and underage-or-binge alcohol use on campus and in their communities (as opposed to just giving the idea lip service) is minuscule. And that is so wrong. They could get serious and do a lot more to change the climate and better the health of their communities.

The SAMHSA statement also had this to say about adults:
The baby boomer generation presents a different story. Among adults aged 50 to 59, the rate of current illicit drug use increased from 2.7 percent to 4.4 percent between 2002 and 2005, reflecting the aging into this age group - the baby boom cohort.
Of course, the biggest problem with substance abuse in the U.S. today still lies with alcohol:

In 2005, an estimated 22.2 million persons (9.1 percent of the population ages 12 and older) were classified with substance dependence or abuse in the past year, based on criteria specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV). Of these, 3.3 million were dependent on or abused both alcohol and illicit drugs; 3.6 million were dependent on or abused illicit drugs but not alcohol; and 15.4 million were dependent on or abused alcohol, but not illicit drugs. These numbers are basically unchanged since 2002.

That's a lot of Americans killing off their brain cells, jeopardizing their health, driving drunk on the roads, not parenting their children, trashing the lives of themselves and others, and not being all that they can be. But maybe we can hope that most and more of the kids are starting to really "get it." I hope and pray that their generation will enjoy a wiser, healthier, happier lifestyle that will put us baby boomers to shame.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

They're here

I've been reading American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us by Steven Emerson. You should remember this name, Steven Emerson--for "Azzam the American" certainly does, as he cites him on the Islamofascists' list of "enemies of Islam." That is why I am now reading this book. (Thanks, Azzam. Any enemy of jihad is a friend of mine.)

Emerson is a former CNN journalist who stumbled by chance into an important story when curiosity prompted him to crash a jihadist convention in Oklahoma City in 1992. His subsequent research produced an award-winning PBS documentary, "Jihad in America" in 1995, and since then Islamofascists have been trying to kill him. I guess that makes him our own American Salman Rushdie (and if that thought doesn't make you sick, nothing will). Today he 'does not maintain a home address,' but continues to write and testify under his own name as Executive Director of The Investigative Project. He is a courageous man.

In his introduction to his book he writes:
The dream of a world under Islam has engendered Muslim dissidents everywhere in the world over the last two decades. Almost every Islamic country has its militant faction, often two or three. The Hamas of Palestine, Hizballah of Iran, the Islamic Salvation Front and Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, An-Nahda of Tunisia, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya of Egypt, the Jama'at Muslimeen of Pakistan, and the Holy Warriors of the Philippines and Chechnya--all share the same goal of an Islamic world, or, as they refer to it, a Khilafah.

In the past twelve years, however, these groups have achieved a new level of coordination, owing to their exploitation of the civil liberties of the United States. None of these small national groups was ever able to coordinate its worldwide efforts with the others until they came to the United States. Operating in our open society, with freedom of speech and assembly and with only casual oversight from the FBI, the CIA, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the worldwide network of militant Islamic organizations has finally been able to coordinate. They have operated here both in order to direct activities in the Middle East, and to target America. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, were only part of the results.

After September 11, 2001, everyone in America knows full well the power and persistence of these militant radical groups. It is a certainty that terrorists, already living among us, will continue to pursue their destructive agenda. Whether they succeed may depend in part upon whether we can recognize how they operate. This book offers a twelve-year-long story of the arrival and flourishing of terrorists in the United States, explaining where they are, how they interconnect, how they recruit, how they raise money, and how they use our legal system as a cover.

Let me just say it's not cheerful reading. But I think reading this book is a duty every American who considers himself a thinking, voting citizen should assume. Only by facing what we are up against can we truly say to those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, "we will not forget." And only by knowing who are the enemies among us can we say to our children, families, friends, and communities that we are effectively taking steps to help protect them. We need to know this information as we, the voters, drive our nation to develop our policies and strategies to go forward.

I have never understood why so many liberals seem what I would call "disproportionately" troubled about the ludicrous idea of Bush establishing a Christian "theocracy" in this country, while there is a real "theocracy" of Muslims threatening us who are willing to behead and murder men, women and children everywhere to achieve their religiously-inspired aims. Perhaps such liberals are ignorant of these theocratic would-be martyrs of Islamic jihad already working their plots against all non-Muslim "infidels" in our country (including even liberals and their loved ones) in

  • Seattle, Washington
  • Portland, Oregon
  • San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Culver City, Anaheim, and San Diego, California
  • Denver and Boulder, Colorado
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Lincoln, Nebraska
  • Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona
  • Las Cruces, New Mexico
  • Dallas, Arlington, Richardson, and Houston, Texas
  • Plainfield, Indiana
  • Chicago and Palos Hills, Illinois
  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • Columbia, Missouri
  • Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, Clearwater, Boca Raton, and Orlando, Florida
  • Springfield and Herndon, Virginia
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Laurel and Potomac, Maryland
  • New York City metropolitan area
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • New Haven, Connecticut
  • Jersey City and Paterson, New Jersey
  • Boston, Massachusetts

And these were just the organizations public enough to attract Steve Emerson's attention as of 2002.

Azzam also mentioned in his speech other "Zionist crusader missionaries of hate and counter-Islam consultants like Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, Michael Scheuer, Steven Emerson, and yes, even the crusader-in-chief George W. Bush..."

So I intend to keep reading and learning. This is my real memorial to the victims of 9/11.

UPDATE: I also plan to add Oriana Fallaci to my list of authors whose work I'm going to read.

UPDATE: And Irshad Manji.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Something to laugh about

Today I am leaving you with a few links that may make you laugh. (After all, it's Friday, and the cooler fallish weather is making me frisky.) Have a nice weekend...

Jihad Bride magazine cover (via Bookworm)

A Smorgasbord of Gods (via Bookworm)

"Kennedy Slams Zawahiri for Politicizing 9/11" (at Scrappleface)

"Majority of Americans Unprepared for the Apocalypse" (at the Onion)

We can dream, can't we

Quote of the week:

"If only the left actually gave a damn about the poor enough to...take an economics class."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

My glossary for understanding leftspeak

In the interest of helping out some of our foreign friends, as well as the young people who are just learning about rhetoric, persuasion and propaganda, and critical analysis of argumentation techniques, I thought I would offer a few definitions of current buzzwords in the U.S. political arena. I call them buzzwords because the words themselves mean something entirely different from what they seem to mean on the surface. Hence they are more or less stealth signifiers, so I thought I'd put out a little context on them.

"progressive" -- as in "progressive values," "progressive causes," "progressive places." Liberals and/or leftists use this adjective to denote something enlightened, a political or social goal thoughtfully constructed by superior thinkers, and use it to describe "social action" at its best, as they see it. Those on the right, however, recognize this buzzword to mean "socialist" (or "collectivist" or even "Communist"). Since the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the left in our country tries not to label its ideas as being outright socialist anymore (since socialism is, in many parts of the U.S., at least, recognized as a failed philosophy). Calling a socialist value, program, or goal "progressive" avoids the immediate stigma of truthfully identifying it for what it really is.

"progressive taxation" -- This means, in the context of the U.S. income taxes, taxing those with more income a higher rate of tax. So, under "progressive taxation," a person who earns, say $10 an hour, will be taxed at the rate of say, 15%, and pay an actual tax amount of $1.50, while the person who earns $20 an hour will not be taxed at the same 15% rate (which would yield $3.00 to the government coffers), but would be taxed at an arbitrarily-set higher rate (say, 25%, yielding $5.00 to the government). Many people (most notably, Democrats) think (or rather, feel in some inchoate manner) that this is the "fairest" system of raising money to fund the government. It needs to be noted and recognized that a heavy progressive or graduated income tax was central to the way in which Karl Marx proposed to bring down "bourgeoise" societies and institute Communism in their stead. Meanwhile, others on the right argue that a "flat tax" (same percentage rate of taxation on the income of everyone) or a "fair tax" (a universal rate of tax on all sales in place of any tax on income) would actually be more fair (and incidentally, provide less of a disincentive to creating wealth, investments, and savings).

"social justice" -- as opposed to just plain, old-fashioned, impartial, blind justice, means to a liberal or a leftist, the engineering of desireable social outcomes instituted by elite ("progressive") thinkers or groups through governmental force. When someone on the right hears the words "social justice," he or she immediately knows there is a collectivist activist talking--otherwise, why say "social justice" when plain "justice" would do? Usually the only way "social justice" can be brought about is by ignoring some established rights of individuals in order to gain the desired benefits for favored groups. In this sense, attempts to achieve "social justice" usually smack of "the ends justify the means" affairs, with "social justice" concerns seeking to trump ordinary impartial justice by law and through the courts. Abolition of slavery in the U.S. and the civil rights movement of the 1960s could be seen as "social justice" movements and are forever afterwards being held up as models to excuse all sorts of failed social engineering schemes, such as socialized medicine, forced school busing and affirmative action/quota programs intended to bring about ends that in many cases are never realized. The hallmarks of "social justice" actions are a collectivist outlook, an abrogration of established rights of certain individuals, and an disinterest in actual proof of whether or not the policies sought will actually do what is claimed, or will have unintended consequences. As Ayn Rand said, "The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities." What the left refuses to acknowledge is that "capitalism is the system of genuine 'social justice.'"

"environmentalist" -- This is one of those buzzwords that is a shortcut to two opposite meanings; for those on the left "environmentalist" equals "good" and for those on the right it signifies "watch out, anti-capitalist idealogue is probably about to spew." For those on the left, environmentalist concerns include the standard roster of accepted faddish and/or radical ideas over which the left can bond, including the deliciously self-righteous idea that all Republicans, in opposing some environmentalist policies, must hate clean air and rain forests and want to pollute the world. Those on the right don't exclude themselves from environmental concerns as the leftists think they do--they are just more skeptical of popular received opinions (they need more proof that policies and regulations actually work as they are meant to), are more willing to do cost-benefit and risk analyses, and to look outside the box for non-kneejerk, non-collectivist solutions (as they generally see collectivism as a failed and unproductive concept anyway).

"living wages" -- to the left, this means arbitrary wage levels and rates as determined by leftist or union activists (or Communist Politburos or other central management agencies), enacted and enforced by government regulations--intrusive governmental laws and regulations as viewed on the right, which considers a free market the ultimate best way to empower all people, the United States economic system being Exhibit A.

"sprawl" -- to the left, this means the aesthetically "ugly," spiritually empty, and economically repugnant spread of large and small businesses and private homes developing outward from U.S. inner cities that cries out to be regulated by those who know better (central managers and elite thinkers with better taste). To the right, this means freedom to choose where and how one lives, works, starts a business, and develops an infrastructure to support a community of voluntary settler-citizens regulating themselves, thank-you.

These are just a few words that came to mind while I was reading this article praising the "courage" of Salt Lake City's 'forward-thinking' mayor. As I come across more buzzwords, I will add them to my list.

He ought to know

I just came across a terrific piece: Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar had a few words to say last July about freedom (read the whole instructive speech):

Progressive taxation was central to Karl Marx's worldview. I am so sorry to see that in the western world Marxist thinking is still so popular. Communism is not dead in the West. When I'm walking in the streets of New York, I see T-shirts printed with pictures of Che Guevara, Mao Zedong, and Lenin, the biggest murderers of the 20th century. I really don't understand it. Is this a free country? Is communism really dead?

There are still countries in the world where communism flourishes, and we're not doing enough to talk about what communism really means and what communists throughout history have done in the name of their ideology. China, even with its modest economic reforms, is still a dictatorship where the word "democracy" is forbidden, and we don't talk about that enough. I think one reason we keep seeing populist dictatorships in South America is that we have not yet taken a stand to declare that communism is just as evil as Nazism or any of the other truly evil ideologies of the 20th century. We have underestimated the power of these evil ideas. ...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years ago this morning

... I was taking my semi-regular morning walk through my neighborhood, being "good" and getting some exercise on what promised to be a beautiful autumn day. My two children had gone off about an hour before to their elementary school on the bus, and I had a little time to myself before I had to be at a 10 o'clock appointment. I had my portable radio with me, was listening through the headphones, and I remember hearing some droll (i.e. snide) piece on NPR's "Morning Edition" about President Bush's many malapropisms and mispronunciations. Sick of the same old unending Bush-bashing, I changed the channel to the local AM news-talk slot.

As I walked up the final hill back to my house, they were announcing that a plane had just hit one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. It sounded so odd--such an "accident" on such a clear-sky day, and even the tone of the announcer's voice sounded so odd, so tentative, that I took my headphones off and shared with one of my neighbors (who was out doing yardwork in his front yard) that something strange had just happened in New York City, a plane had hit one of the Towers, and that maybe he should go inside and check the TV for news. Which is what I also hurried inside my own house to do. And then on CNN I saw the second plane hit the second World Trade Center tower.

Everyone can remember that morning, where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the attacks. It is hard for me to remember or describe, though, exactly what I did immediately after that. The shock was so terrible. I couldn't seem to breathe properly. I immediately thought of my children, but we live far from New York, so I knew they were fine and there was no reason to call their school or go get them. I stayed glued to the television, and also turned on the radio to learn all I could. I think I called my mother, or my mother called me. We were not afraid of immediate danger for ourselves, but we didn't know how bad things could get or were going to be. We just knew we were under attack. All of us, as a nation. The feelings of shock, rage, dismay, and grief grew greater when we learned that the Pentagon was also a target. The horror grew. We had lived near Washington, D.C. not too many years earlier, and we had many friends there.

My husband telephoned me a little before 10:00 a.m. from the airport in Minneapolis, over a thousand miles from home. He had been in Minnesota on business and was about to board a flight home when all the planes at the Minneapolis airport were grounded. They had turned off the television screens in the airport and he knew very little about what was going on. I told him about the attacks in New York and Washington. We knew people in both areas. My husband had been in the World Trade Center towers on previous business trips, and knew of colleagues who may have been there just then, during the attacks. He decided to return to his hotel in Minneapolis and see what would happen next.

I actually went to my 10:00 a.m. appointment, as it was the very first meeting of a 32-week small-group Bible study class. It was hard to know what to do or think. I was, of course, late in arriving there, as I had been talking with my husband on the phone until just a couple of minutes before 10:00. As I drove to the class, I heard on the radio that the South Tower was collapsing. I had to pull over and cry.

Compared to what others suffered and endured on that day (for example, Lisa Beamer, another housewife and mother), my own story is less than inconsequential. Nothing physically hurt or threatened us. But the distance between us here and those in New York, Washington D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania was a mere heartbeat. As far away as we lived, and as evidently uneffected as we were, we were never the same.

My husband was finally able to return home the following Friday, when the airplanes returned to the skies. What a blessing it was for me, to have my husband come home to me, when others did not. My children seemed untraumatized by the little they heard about September 11th (my daughter, who had been in Kindergarten five years ago, just asked me yesterday, "What WAS September 11th?" and I gave her the big story for the first time). They did not have to lose a parent in the collapse of a tower or a fiery crash. My kitchen was very clean five years ago, as I spent the next few days after September 11 standing over the counters, cabinets, and appliances with a toothbrush, rag, and cleanser, working the floor with a mop, or ironing, while listening to hours of news reporting.

And each week following September 11th my Bible study class seemed to have something eerily pertinent to say to me. The question, "Why is there such evil, and why does it seem to triumph?" was not a new one. I was reminded that there is nothing new under the sun in human affairs, though to each generation the world seems a freshly vexing and complicated thing. Human suffering has all along been beyond terrible, beyond conceivable to those of us privileged to live in our modern, high-tech, civilized country. Yet the Bible teaches that God faithfully offers across all times and places comfort to the afflicted, the ultimate sanctuary to the righteous, and justice to those whom evil oppresses. If we think we are too insulated not to need that, I think we are fooling ourselves.

There is so much I do not understand about the "big picture" and never will. And yes, there is much to mourn today, and much to grieve over concerning the human condition in general. Sometimes this is truly a "vale of tears" we are living in. And yet, as it says in Deuteronomy,

"I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing:
Therefore chose life that both you and your seed may live."

and as Psalm 118 says,

"This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."

Is Islam a religion of peace?

What have we learned when we now ask, "Is Islam a Religion of Peace?" Here's a good summary, and food for thought on this five-year anniversary, for those who haven't already made up their minds.

Meanwhile, Christopher Hitchens is far beyond this point, says it's time to get serious and leave the memorializing for when the war is over.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Atlas still Shrugs

My 15-year-old son is reading Atlas Shrugged for the first time. This perennial blockbuster-doorstopper novel by Russian-born American writer/philosopher Ayn Rand is still in print, still being read, still being carried around by people of all ages absorbed in its story and awakened by its philosophy, and it is still being raved about and reviled--precisely because it is really more than just a novel.

First published in 1957, it is today consistently rated a clear favorite and one of the most influential of all books--though it and Ayn Rand's other works and her philosophy of Objectivism all remain marginalized below the radar of the mainstream media, "high-brow" culture, and academia in the U.S. Yet it can be argued that it was Ayn Rand and her ideas that have led to the proliferation of libertarian and "classically liberal" conservative thought (free minds and free markets) as they exist in the U.S. today. She has long had her admirers and it seems today they are more numerous than ever.

Atlas Shrugged in particular continues to have its passionate detractors despite its influence and longevity. Indeed it is an easy book to parody if you are only taking it as literature (which would indeed be myopic). Yet reviewer Thomas Reed Whissen wrote in 1992, “Rand's critics say that she cannot write, but one senses in such an indictment more of a political than a literary posture; for surely the enduring success of The Fountainhead --not to mention the enormously popular Atlas Shrugged --cannot be attributed to her philosophy alone. Her style may be somewhat overwrought and her characters cardboard, but she is a genius at plotting, and she knows how to tell a story.”

That is grudging praise that I think only barely recognizes the appeal of this book. I too read this novel for the first time when I was 16, and not only did I fall in love with it, but it changed my life because it forever afterward changed the way I think. It made me aware of the necessity of systematic reasoning and the necessity of my taking responsibility for my own life and thoughts. It taught me to consciously examine premises and values. And it not only told me, but showed me, how certain people and certain societies (including capitalism and collectivism) operate.

I am glad my son is reading this book as part of his self-education. And although my old worn paperback copy is still hanging around the house, I wasn't the one who ultimately got him to read it--it was one of his friends. This is something that hasn't changed between my generation and my son's--people, including teenagers, are still telling each other to read Ayn Rand and start to think over the things she describes and explains, and decide for themselves. (In fact, these days, there are even Ayn Rand essay contests offering large cash prizes for young people.)

And just as it was in my younger days, reading and liking Atlas Shrugged will introduce a young person to the phenomenon of "political correctness." It is still distinctly uncool to truthfully admit to certain people, in a job interview, or in certain social circles, or on an application to a college, that Atlas Shrugged is one of the books that you admire or that changed your life. As I once learned, the institution of academia is still largely inhospitable to the very existence of Ayn Rand. It was Ayn Rand's work that excited me to enter college as a double major in English and philosophy, but I eventually learned that philosophy as she practiced it (asking at base, as the Greeks once did, 'what is the well-lived life?') is by most modern academic philosophers considered to be old-fashioned and outdated, irrelevant, unworthy of serious study. (So I dropped the philosophy major and concentrated on Shakespeare.)

Ayn Rand wrote, "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."

Bold words--and much food for thought, discussion, analysis. More thought, more debate, more examination of big, important ideas, by more people in all walks of life--this is all to the good, in my opinion. If it must take place outside of academia, so be it. (In fact, so much the better.) Ayn Rand has made a tremendous and lasting contribution to the betterment of her adopted country.

Although I am glad my son is tackling some big issues through this novel, I have to admit that there are two areas reached in my advanced age where I seem to have parted from Ayn Rand's philosophy:

1) While I understand (given her own personal background) why she held so much antipathy toward religion and religious faith as being mystical and anti-rational, and while, in fact, I did become an atheist due to her writings, today I disagree that atheism must necessarily follow in a libertarian (if not in an Objectivist) philosophy. In fact, I don't think Rand had a clue of how the confluence of a specifically American viewpoint (voluntary, pragmatic, and individualistic) and Christianity as it has developed and can be practiced in the U.S. today can work, on a purely personal level. Though many people do assume that Christianity is at base a collectivist philosophy, that all charity is altruistic and self-sacrificing, and that all spiritual or religious faith is mystical, I disagree vehemently from my own experience and today call myself a Christian.

2) Ayn Rand knew squat about raising kids or being a parent. So her moral imperative: "By my life and my love of it, I will not live for another man, nor allow another man to live for me," has nothing to say to me as I "put my life on hold" (in the eyes of some) outside the realm of heroic romance to wallow through the diaper years and all the rest to raise my little darlings. I would not change one whit of that. Years of "self-sacrifice" in this arena have been the most rewarding and deeply happy years of my life. My toiling in this arena to me seems to jibe well with my Christian faith, and I still feel able to call myself a libertarian. If Ayn Rand would have had a problem with that, I'd just have to say it would've been her loss.