Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Bad Mommy Blues--P.II

Hubs and I finally had a meeting with DD#2 and her teacher. Turns out she is getting an "F" in Science because she had not turned in a test that had to be signed nor had she turned in her science project.

"Wait a minute," Hubs says. "I remember you working on your science project. Where is it."

"At home," DD#2 replies.

"Why didn't you turn it in?" Hubs asks, in that perplexed-parent tone of voice you get when you don't know why your child did something so blatantly dumb.

No answer.

Hubs and I look at each other. Light dawns.

"You didn't think it was good enough," he says.

DD#2 doesn't have to answer. Her sheepish look says it all.

Her teacher, God love him, is under 30 and is not a parent.

"You mean you would rather get zero points than turn in an incomplete project?" he asks. His voice is incredulous.

Hubs and I sigh. This is not the first time DD#2 has done this. It will not be the last. I have witness her spend hours on a project only to tear it up and toss it away because it wasn't "good enough."

Why she is like this is something of a mystery. She is a selective perfectionist. She constantly compares herself and her abilities to the adults around her and to her older siblings and, consequently, finds her abilities wanting. She doesn't care that she reads better or draws better than anyone else in her class. She doesn't read better than me, she doesn't draw better than the art teacher, and the fact that we have 40 or 30 years of experience on her doesn't matter to her. She can outspell her siblings, but she will never catch up with them.

My problem, as her mother, is not the why but how to teach her to let herself be good enough. To take 70 points instead of 100. Sometimes its more important just to do the project, rather than to do it perfectly. Of course, that realization was a long time coming for me as well.

DD#2 is also good at "hiding." She figures if she stays quiet and in a corner, no one will notice her. At the conference, her teacher pointed out that not only did he know about this strategy, but so did all her other teachers. I reminded her that one "F" meant that she could not play CYO Volleyball. And she was letting down her team.

She hates being put on the spot like that.

Since receiving Homework Deficiencies and Conduct Referrals don't seem to bother her, we have some new strategies. She will go to tutoring afterschool, so she has a quiet place to do her homework. She was allowed to turn in her science project. She found the signed test buried in her backpack. Her teacher will send home a copy of any Missing Work list he gives to her so that she can't hide that, either. She has three weeks until Christmas vacation and then we'll evaluate if these are working.

Pop Culture and Christianity

Most of the non-political blogs I read on a daily basis are either Christian or have a strong Christian bias. Since I love science fiction and fantasy, and always have, and I consider myself a Catholic in good standing, I am especially interested in the discussions concerning Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia.

The discussions seem to focus on two things: the use of witchcraft and/or the occult and the moral of the story. To summarize: does the use of witchcraft and sorcery in the story endorse witchcraft and sorcery in real life? Does the message of the story--love, friendship, responsibility--override the particular types of images or mythology used by the author?

I find the discussion a bit ironic, especially this time of year. For Christmas and Easter are, perhaps, the most blatant examples of Christian use of pagan symbols. From candles to Christmas trees to eggs to rabbits to lambs, to the selection of the day chosen to celebrate Christ's birth and His Resurrection, all have their roots in non-Christian cultures. Christianity did not merely use pagan symbols; it completely subsumed them and integrated them into its celebrations.

Modern Christians need to do the same.

I worry when I hear calls that we need "Christian literature" or "Christian films." What we need is good literature and good films. I recently read a theory that Shakespeare's plays contain covert Catholic messages, echoing the Catholic Easter liturgy, subtly telling Queen Elizabeth that many of her subjects were unhappy with her new Anglican Church and that she should practice tolerance for the old Catholic religion. Similarly, we need authors, screenwriters, and directors who can present the Christian values to those who are unacquainted and unaware. If a book screams "Christian," who is likely to read it? The "choir," so to speak.

Christ's parables used the imagery His audience was familiar with: Middle Eastern farmers and fishermen. Modern parables should do the same. I believe that Tolkien and Lewis did just that by using the story format of myths and fairy tales that many Europeans were familiar with. Rowling is their modern equivalent.

Harry Potter is qualitatively different from many of the other fantasy books aimed at children. DD#2 thoroughly enjoys A Series of Unfortunate Events. I enjoy the subtle wordplay, the fact that the children use their wits and their skills (Violet as an inventor; Klaus as a reader and researcher) to get out of the bleak situations they find themselves in. We both enjoy reading the adventures of Charlie Bone, who looks at a photograph and knows what the subjects are thinking and feeling. DS#2 enjoys Artemis Fowl, about a young street urchin who finds that he has mysterious powers. But they're not Harry.

The difference is in the message. Without being preachy, while being true to whatever age Harry happens to be (and since DS#2 is the same age as Harry, I have a "control" subject), Ms. Rowling shows her readers the importance of family, of friends, of love, of using your talents to benefit others. She shows her readers what happens to those who succumb to the allure of evil: The Dark Lord (and I don't think she chose that nickname for Lord Voldemort by accident) may be very powerful, but he was defeated by a baby. He is physically ugly. He has no friends, only subordinates who obey him out of fear or out of their own greed. Much like Darth Vader, Voldemort shows the limitations of the Dark Side. Voldemort is not happy. Neither is Dudley, Harry's cousin, who has been spoiled beyond belief by his parents. (I'm thinking Veruca Salt here.)

As I see it, the challenge for us Christians is to take what modern culture gives us and transform it for the Greater Glory of God and His Son. Not just to take modern forms, but to take the actual symbols themselves, much like John Granger has with Harry Potter. Or, as an older example, The Gospels According to Peanuts.

The real challenge, of course, would be to do The Gospels According to Doonesbury.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Maybe it's me, but it just seems wrong to say that--before Dec. 1. But this year, I remembered to get the Advent Wreath out. Didn't remember to light it until after dinner, but I'm already ahead of the game!

We have our wreath, we have our tree. Both are sitting outside enjoying the December showers, with the tree sitting in a bucket of water. We've moved the treadmill out of the way. We've drawn name for Christmas presents: my siblings and spouses in one group; the cousins in the other. Next I have to post Christmas lists on the family site and check sizes for those we've drawn.

"Isn't this supposed to be a secret?" DD#1 asked as I wrote down the results of the Cousins Draw.

"Kinda sorta, " I answer. We don't advertise who we may have drawn, but if they find out it's no big deal. And there are usually several furtive phone calls or e-mails between family members.

I haven't watched Miracle on 34th Street yet or It's a Wonderful Life. At Mass, when I mentioned the Advent Wreath, DS#2 asked about his favorite video, We Sing: The Best Christmas Ever. Other kids liked Barney; this video was his favorite. DD#2 was a fan of the Sing-a-long with Disney: Christmas video. They're in the same box with the Advent wreath and the Advent Calendar, along with all the books of Christmas stories. We'll watch them while decorating the tree or wrapping presents, shooing the dog off the paper and rescuing the ribbon from the cats. At some point, we will run out of tape and misplace all the scissors, even though I have bought new supplies of both at the discount warehouse store.

This is the time of year, too, when my lack of homemaking ability and desire comes into sharp relief. The Homemaking Gene skipped me. Pretty much every flat surface in our house is a horizontal filing cabinet. Or is a staging ground for something. I need to clear off the mantlepiece and its collection of packages of school photos, telescope pieces, clocks, and craft projects that came home over last school year and summer so we have room for Christmas stuff. Like stockings. My siblings and cousins exchange homemade baked goods or preserves. I buy mine from the local chain grocery store.

Then one year I realized I could make stationery sets. I made enough for my cousins. Sis#2 asked, "Where's mine?" Well, if I made a set for her, I'd have to make a set for Sis#1. And my SIL's (there are five of them). And what about my Best Friends, the women who have been by my side since we were 12 and 14? And my mother? So the number of sets ballooned from 5 to 25. My only stipulation is that they have to actually use the cards. I had my doubts about that part--I thought everyone was merely being polite--until we had a Friends & Family Craft Day. I was making my stationery and someone said, "Well, you don't have to make them." Sis#2 and two of my SIL's answered almost simultaneously: "Yes, she does!"

I've given up sending Christmas cards, mostly because I can't bear to send them off without a note, which turns into a letter, which has to be personalized because my friends know different parts of my life and what is important to one is not important to another. At the rate I was getting them out, Christmas was happening in July.

The Calendar, too, is filling up. There's the local Holiday Arts Festival. There's DD#2's Christmas pageant at school (it's our parish school so they celebrate Christmas!). My Girl Scout troop is singing Christmas Carols for fun this weekend and for the residents of a senior retirement home later this month. I have three celebration dinners scheduled so far. We've been to see the Christmas tree in Union Square and the kittens and puppies in Macy's window. Our local "Holiday Tree Lighting" is later next month, but the lights and banners are already up along the main streets.

The rain just makes it seem more like Christmas out here, even though it took me 90 minutes to drive 9 miles last night.

But the lights on the streets soften the early darkness. The candles on the coffee table will perfume the living room. There will be a heightened sense of mystery in the air and conspiratorial whispers. Another layer of memories will be added and some day we will whisper, "Remember the year when..."

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Let me give my rating right up front.

On the March Hare Scale: 4.5 Golden Tickets (out of 5).

Even DS#1, who is 22, wanted to see this one. Word of warning: getting to the theater 15 minutes before show time was not early enough. We ended up trading in our tickets for a later show, although DS#1 and DS#2 braved the earlier showing and ended up sitting in the front (I think).

We all want to see this one again. Maybe in IMAX. Now that would be an experience!

Goblet of Fire was when I really became hooked on Harry Potter. There's a lot of emotion running through this book, misunderstanding, and tests of the bonds of friendship. Harry has been alone, emotionally, so long that one of his challenges is letting himself trust his friends. (This theme is developed through Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince as well.)

The movie clocks in at 2.5 hours, which the reviewer in my local paper thought was too long. I didn't notice it. He complained that the graveyard duel was too Luke Skywalker-Darth Vaderish and needed to be shorter; I thought it was too short. This movie is truly dark, in tone, in subject matter, and in setting.

We saw the show on Friday and yesterday, since we were all in the car, we dissected it. DD#1 and I are the only two who have actually read the books (I'm trying to convince DS#2, who is 15, that he'd enjoy this volume. No luck, so far.) so we were talking about what the screenwriter left out and how it may--or may not--have been important. In fact, I may have to go back and re-read it.


One thing that was barely mentioned was money: Harry has it; the Weasleys don't. Harry is generous and doesn't flaunt having money, but Ron is acutely aware that his family has to make do. Harry's rather insensitive to Ron's feelings about his family's financial situation; Ron is rather jealous that Harry has no financial worries and that fuels a lot of the misunderstanding between them. The movie refers to this only obliquely: Ron only buys one sweet from the trolley and doesn't let Harry treat him, Ron's dress robes are hideous while Harry's are elegant. But one important point is at the end of the Tournament, Harry wins a bag of gold. But the gold is tainted with Cedric Diggory's blood, so Harry gives the gold to the Fred & George Weasley to open up their joke shop--and to buy Ron some decent dress robes. This is not mentioned in the movie, but it becomes an important point in Order of the Phoenix.

Emma Watson, who plays Hermione, is turning into a beautiful young woman. A minor quibble: her hair is tamed in this movie, while in the book she still has trouble managing her frizz. In fact, she does manage to smooth her hair and wear it up for the Yule Ball, and Ron & Harry don't recognize her. I was a little disappointed in the physical appearance of the actress playing Fleur Delacoeur--I had visions of long, silver-blonde hair. Cho Chang was cute, but her accent threw me briefly. I had the same kind of momentary disconnect when I was in London. Of course British Asian would have a British accent--or a Scottish burr. I know that, but it's still, somehow, unexpected.

I'm not sure why the costumer decided that all the male students at Hogwarts had to have long hair. Rupert Grint (Ron) could have used a haircut. And I've seen publicity photos of Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) post GoF with a haircut and he looks much better.

Excellent makeup job on Ralph Fiennes for Voldemort, however.

I still miss Richard Harris's Dumbledore, although my children like the new one. They think he is more forceful and stronger emotionally, which Dumbledore has to be.

The Rita Skeeter plotline was minimal. Since how The Daily Prophet handles the story of Voldemort's return is important in Order of the Phoenix, I'm not sure how that will be handled. Miranda Richardson was good in the role, however brief her screentime. In fact, since her appearance is so minimal in this movie, I wonder if she was even necessary or if her character was just thrown in as a sop to those who've read the book.

Even though the movie ends in a different place than the book, I thought it was well-done. Dumbledore's speech at the end was powerful. But will it be enough?

Stay tuned... According to an interview with the cast in Girl's Life magazine, shooting has already started on Order of the Phoenix. Which is good, as J.K. Rowling has said it will be about two years before Book 7 is ready for publication!

Thanksgiving Memory

About ten years ago, Hubs was on stand-by over the Thanksgiving holiday, which meant he had to be within 30 minutes of work. My parents were hosting Thanksgiving, about 35 minutes away on really, really good day. However, any accident, any delay--especially on the Bay Bridge--and we would be stuck in traffic.

"I'd better stay home," Hubs said. "You go with the kids."

I didn't feel right leaving him home alone on Thanksgiving. And the idea of packing up the kids and driving over and back just didn't appeal to me.

"We'll have our own Thanksgiving," I told him. (And, yes, my parents understood.)

I looked at my brood, who were 12, 9, 5, and 2 at the time, and asked them, "Okay, what do we have to have that makes it Thanksgiving?"

Turkey was a given.

"Mashed potatoes and gravy," said Hubs.

"Pumpkin pie with Cool Whip(tm)," said DS#1, "and I want to make it."

"Can we have cranberries?" asked DD#1.

"And stuffing," said DS#1. "StoveTop(tm) stuffing."

"StoveTop(tm)?" I asked. "Not homemade?"

"StoveTop(tm)," echoed DD#1.

"And I'll make the potatoes," said Hubs.

"That's it?" I asked.

They nodded.

"Okay, but we have to have a green salad for your vegetable."

DS#1 was really serious about making the pie himself. We bought a can of pumpkin puree and a couple of pre-made pie shells. He made two pies and was very proud of himself. Hubs mashed the potatoes and used the mixer to get them creamy smooth, which is the way he likes them. As for the stuffing, it turns out the kids hated the job of tearing the bread into little pieces and just thought StoveTop(tm) tasted better.

We wore our sweats all day, cooking and watching the Thanksgiving Day parades and football. It was a very relaxed sort of day because I didn't have to get anybody (included myself) cleaned up and dressed up and out the door. Hubs didn't have to worry about getting a page in the middle of dinner.

This year SIL #2 hosted the family. I did have to remind my children to take showers and "wear something nice" (something other than jeans and t-shirts). I brought the tossed green salad, my mother's order of cookie dough, and Christmas wreaths everyone ordered. I spent the morning "chatting" on line with Sis#1 in Maryland and Sis#2 in the U.K., Brothers#1 and #2, and SIL #2. And DS#1 joined in with his laptop. (This was Sis#2's idea. That way she could talk to everyone and avoid the double phone call and the time difference problem. After all, it was a school night for her kids. The online chat worked so well, I have to check and see if my cousin, who is hosting Christmas Eve, has a wireless connection so those of us with laptops can bring them. Chatting online was no worse than trying to keep track of multiple conversations around the dinner table!) DD#2 had her usual shoe crisis, although this time it was "which pair should I wear?" rather than "Where is my other shoe?"

"I'm on standby over New Year's," Hubs told me.

"It's okay. I don't think we're going anywhere," I replied, visions of hot buttered rum dancing in my head...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Some People Need to Get Out More

Michelle Malkin has a link on her site to Robert Jensen's Un-Thanksgiving article on AlterNet.

I read it.

And then I read the comments, including this one: "Genocide and slavery are the economic “ Plymouth Rock” of the U.S economy. Throw in the indentured servitude of some Europeans and you have the essence of what the U.S. is all about. This crap about great white men who did great white deeds to build a great white world sickens and enrages me. I had to unlearn all this stuff to come to some understanding of why it seemed that such a small number of untalented parasites had so much and the rest of us had squat. I blamed myself and my family. False history does great, emotional, economic and spiritual damage to us all. The U.S is the greatest terrorist nation on the planet. It’s the most racist country in the world and with the possible exception of the years when the Nazis controlled Germany, it is probably the most racist nation or empire in recorded history. The genocide of Native peoples on this continent was a dispicable act done by despicable people. The enslavement of Africans fascism, most foul." (Emphasis mine.)

I am not a world traveler. However, I have been privileged to work with many people from many different countries, primarily Asian and European. There is nothing like daily contact and conversations at parties where alcohol is served to learn a few things about how people think. Especially about other races and cultures.

I was amazed.

Many people, educated solely in the U.S., seem to think that the U.S. was the last country to allow slavery and that it ended in 1865.

Wrong. During WWII, Koreans were forcibly brought to Japan to work dangerous jobs. The women were forced to become "comfort women"--i.e., prostitutes. Mauritania still has slavery. Thailand is known for its "sex slaves" and the clientele is not only white American businessmen. Black African tribes kill other Black African tribes. Before white Europeans set foot in North America, Native tribes fought other Native tribes, killing the men and enslaving the women.

Cruelty has no borders, no boundaries cultural or geographic. In fact, intraspecies cruelty may not be limited to Homo sapiens, as there seems to be evidence of infantcide and murder in chimpanzees, our closest genetic relatives.

Does this excuse our behavior or the behavior of the United States?

No. The U.S. has written its values out for the world and for all generations to see. We have set the bar for ourselves pretty high. We should be held accountable when we fail to live up to our values. We should be able to look at ourselves critically, see where we've strayed, and try to correct our actions. And we have. Slowly, painfully, publicly for everyone to see.

But calling the U.S. the worst in all recorded history? That's not just overkill--that's ignorance.

The River Jordan is Chilly & Cold--and Polluted

One of my children is named after St. John the Baptist. So when an article appeared in this week's edition of The Catholic Voice about the serious pollution of the Jordan River, I passed it along.

To my grateful surprise, said child was actually interested and read it.

Besides being the traditional baptismal place of Jesus by St. John, solving the problem of the Jordan River requires the cooperation of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.

Friends of the Earth Middle East, one of the few successful partnerships between Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians, has recently stepped up its efforts to bring the Jordan River’s sorry state to world attention. One July publicity stunt saw Jewish and Arab mayors from local municipalities jumping into the clean part of the river, hand in hand.

“Water can be a bridge for peace,” Nader Khateeb, the organization’s Palestinian director, told a group representing 200 nongovernmental organizations during a Sept. 27 seminar at the United Nations.

“The water resources are so scarce in the Middle East that we have to work together with our Israeli neighbors in order to help guarantee that we as Palestinians get our fair share of water and all together stop the pollution of the water resource."

One of the problems is agricultural. Governments have encouraged farmers to grow crops that are water-intensive in a desert environment. (A problem we have here in California as well.) This diverts clean water from the river, reducing the flow into the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Any runoff that returns to the river is polluted with pesticides and herbicides.

Resolving the pollution problem could be could be an important step in creating peace in the region. I hope so.

Just In Time for Christmas...

...The Gathering 8: The Ina Coolbrith Cricle Poetry Anthology 2005.

Okay, this is a shameless plug. One of my poems is published in this volume. So my mother and at least one other friend will be receiving a copy. (In all fairness, my mother will be receiving hers for her birthday--which is Dec. 26.)

My next goal--which has been my "next goal" in writing for several years--is to actually be paid for what I write. I've come close...

Besides me, there are 107 other poets published. The poetry is as varied as we are and deal with the sacred and the mundane. Check out the website in my sidebar to find out more.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Cal: 27; Stanford: 3

I made it to the Big Game, loaded with decongestant and aspirin!

The Game itself was the kind my dad would have appreciated: a true defensive battle with no major mistakes on either side. The offensive plays were conservative, especially for two schools known for the "West Coast Offense." But there was a razzle-dazzle play at the end that especially warmed the hearts of those of us who knew that the halfback who threw the pass was a senior--and that the first play he had made as a freshman was the same play. Kind of a nice bookend.

Additionally, the students were well-behaved. No Drunk & Disorderly arrests that I saw. The goalposts stayed upright. The Stanford Band stayed until the bitter end and wound up playing to the Cal fans who won't leave until the lights go out--especially if we win.

When Hubs and I got home, DD#1 asked who won. When I told her, "Cal," she asked why we were home so early and how come we were sober. (She's been around too long...)

So now we're Bowl-bound. The family preference is for the Emerald Bowl, simply because travel expenses are minimal. In fact, Bro#2 and I were laughing that we could go to work for half a day, then walk to the game. But Cal will probably get invited to a bowl in El Paso or Las Vegas; so we'll just watch the game on TV and party at home.

Friday, November 18, 2005

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Home Today, Blogging in Sweats

Hubs caught the cold from DD#1 and then generously shared it with me. Unfortunately, tomorrow is the Cal-Stanford Big Game and Hubs and I have tickets, not to mention the salad for the pre-game potluck with my family.

This is a Big Deal in my family. Several members just come for the party and skip the game altogether. We are all rabid Cal fans, with ten Cal alumni in my generation.

I started feeling punk last night and decided to skip my rubber stamp art class. Today, I'm home, sucking on Cold-Eeze with zinc and drinking TheraFlu, Sudafed, and Excedrin. My nose feels like it's in a C-clamp, but my throat isn't as sore.

Hubs has Fridays off, so he drove DD#2 to school and picked her up. He's now doing the warehouse shopping run with DD#1, who knows what we need because she does 80% of the dinnertime cooking.

So I'm upright and sort of dressed. This is progress. And I have lots of time to Think About Things, which is dangerous, of course.

As for tomorrow... Go Bears!

Book Review: The Last Voyage of Captain Cook

I haven't done a book review for awhile because I've been trying to finish this one.

The complete title is: The Last Voyage of Captain Cook: The Collected Writings of John Ledyard. John Ledyard was a New Englander who was a well-known explorer in his day and is obscure now. He sailed as a common marine (see Master & Commander for an example of what his life would be like) who was impressed by the British and sailed with Cook. The extraordinary thing about this was that it took place during the American Revolutionary War.

Ledyard's book is the only known account of that voyage, and of Cook's death in the Sandwich Islands (Hawai'i), written by an American and by someone who was not an officer.

This edition also includes Ledyard's letters from Paris, including his correspondence with Thomas Jefferson while Jefferson was the Ambassador for the fledging U.S. in Paris, as well as his journal of his experiences traveling through Siberia, and the start of his trip in Africa to find the Niger River.

Mr. Ledyard is a fascinating man. Because of his extensive travels, he is able to see the similiarities in the physical appearance of the indigenous groups he meets, as well as their customs and traditions. He makes vocabulary lists. He notes that the indigenous people are often smarter than the European explorers give them credit for.

What makes this book difficult to read, however, is Ledyard's complete disregard for punctuation and capitalization. His writings often read as they were written--hastily and incompletely. And, of course, there is the irregularities of 18th Century spelling to contend with, along with the changes in geographical names, particularly in the South Seas. (Maps that showed both the old and the new names would have been helpful.)

I enjoyed the book. But then, I'm a sucker for this kind of informal history, written by those who were there. I found it a fascinating look at the world through the eyes of an 18th Century man, one who saw more of it than probably any other man of his day.

This edition was edited by James Zug and published as part of the National Geographic Adventure Classics series.

On the March Hare scale: 3.5 bookmarks--but only if you have a taste for this sort of writing.

Combat Math

The MSM has made much of the deaths of our heroes and heroines in Iraq. The total, according to the latest count, is 2065. I suppose the magic number will be 3000--the same number that perished in the attack on the World Trade Towers.

Although it's a bit early, here are some stats on the previous attack on American soil. I found them by Googling Pearl Harbor & December 7 & casualties:


Navy: 2008 killed, 710 wounded = 2718

Army: 218 killed, 364 wounded = 582

Marines: 109 killed, 69 wounded = 178

Civilians: 68 killed, 35 wounded = 103

Total of 2403 killed, 1178 wounded = 3581

Here is another website I found that lists the casualities for all U.S. combat actions, beginning with the Revolutionary War:

II. Casualties

Conflict Enrolled Combat Other Wounded Total
Revolutionary War 200.0 4,435 * 6,188 10,623
War of 1812 286.0 2,260 * 4,505 6,765
Mexican War 78.7 1,733 11,550 4,152 17,435
Civil War: Union 2,803.3 110,070 249,458 275,175 634,703
Confederate 1,064.2 74,524 124,000 137,000 + 335,524
Combined 3,867.5 184,594 373,458 412,175 + 970,227
Spanish-American War 306.8 385 2,061 1,662 4,108
World War I 4,743.8 53,513 63,195 204,002 320,710
World War II 16,353.7 292,131 115,185 670,846 1,078,162
Korean War 5,764.1 33,651 * 103,284 136,935
Vietnam War 8,744.0 47,369 10,799 153,303 211,471
Gulf War 2,750.0 148 145 467 ^ 760

Combat deaths refers to troops killed in action or dead of wounds. Other includes deaths from disease, privation, and accidents, and includes losses among prisoners of war. Wounded excludes those who died of their wounds, who are included under Combat Deaths. Ratio is the proportion of wounded in action to combat deaths. Note that the wounded figures do not include cases of disease.

* Non-battle deaths not known for these wars.
+ Confederate non-battle deaths and wounded estimated.
& Actually only six weeks of sustained combat.
^ There was only one month of combat.

Notice that WWII was officially 44 months long--nearly four years.

According to this website, the number of troops in Iraq may be as high as 150,000. This is, of course, the number of troops currently deployed and does not count those who may have rotated out of Iraq. But to keep the math easy, let's use that number.

So, if we look at the number of military personnel killed by the number of personnel deployed in Iraq, we get (2065/150,000) x 100, which equals 1.4%. For WWII, the totals were (292,131 killed in combat/ 1,635,370 enlisted) x 100, which equals 1.8%. This number does not include those who died while POWs nor does it include the figures for the U.S. Merchant Marine.

To sum it up, during WWII, the U.S. public was willing to allow a higher probability of death than during the current Gulf War. Remember, too, that there was a mandatory draft in the 1940's--my uncle came home from a trip to the World Series to find his notice from the President--a year before Pearl Harbor. Today's military is all volunteer.

Perhaps there is some latent racism operating here. The MSM and the liberal American public was willing to go to war in Europe because we were defending white Europeans, for the most part. Remember, it was Japan who attacked Pearl Harbor. And, although Hitler and the German government declared war on the U.S., they did so only after FDR had declared war on Japan. There were those in the U.S. who argued that attacking Japan should be our primary concern; that we did not have enough men or materiel to fight a war on two fronts. Most of the U.S. fleet had been destroyed in the attack on Pearl Harbor; there was also significant damage to the Army Air Corps fleet of planes.

FDR did not lose focus, however, on who the real enemy was, nor on who were our true Allies.

Has the American character really changed so much in the last sixty years? Or is it merely buried under the flotsam and jetsam of modern life?

(H/T: The Anchoress, Sigmund, Carl, & Alfred)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Humiliation and Discipline

In Oklahoma:

(A mother) made Coretha (her daughter) stand at a busy Oklahoma City intersection Nov. 4 with a cardboard sign that read: "I don't do my homework and I act up in school, so my parents are preparing me for my future. Will work for food."

But the punishment prompted letters and calls to talk radio from people either praising the woman or blasting her for publicly humiliating her daughter.

But it was okay for the daughter to humiliate her parents with her behavior, right? And don't we want our children to realize their actions have consequences? Sometimes we have to help them visualize what those consequences might be.

Of course, there's always sackcloth & ashes. Or the public stockade.

The daughter's reaction to this?

Henderson said her daughter's attendance has been perfect and her behaviour has been better since the incident.

Coretha, a soft-spoken girl, acknowledged the punishment was humiliating but said it got her attention. "I won't talk back," she said quietly.

(H/T: Sigmund, Carl, & Alfred)

Bad Mommy Blues

DD#2 brought home Homework Deficiency #10 and #11 yesterday. Which means she now has two conduct referrals. Which means a phone call from the teacher to the parents. Which led to Hubs calling me.

"Her teacher wants to set up an appointment before Thanksgiving. Can you handle it, please?"

I wish I could be more upset about this whole thing. But I can't. Eleven deficiencies is an improvement over last year and the year before that. She does do her homework--but she misses parts or doesn't realize that something had to be turned in. She doesn't pay attention to everything that is said because she usually figures out where the conversation is headed before the conclusion. Most of the time, she's right. Or she gets so caught up in a project, especially if it is artsy-craftsy, that she spends far longer on it than she should. But she hates to turn in work that doesn't match her "vision."

The missing homework doesn't even impact her grades--not really. She'll drop from an "A" to an "A-" or a "B+".

After working in a open-plan office and growing up in a large family-small house situation, I don't feel guilty that she doesn't have her own "quiet space" to do her homework, either. She passes the public library on her way home. There are two bathrooms. She can use my bedroom and lock the door. She can use the room she shares with her older sister, as DD#1 is usually not there.

I want DD#2 to accept responsibility for her missing work. I want to know and, more importantly, I want her to know when she fails to complete an assignment. And I want her to make up the missing work.

But this particular problem is just not that significant on my parenting scale. She isn't deliberately avoiding her homework. Her missing assignments are scattered through several subjects. She isn't destroying school property or being defiant or bullying her classmates. She's being a scatterbrained 12-y.o. girl, who also happens to be blonde.

Of course, she's also Child #4. I was not nearly so sanguine with Child #1!

My Inner Action Hero

Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with

You scored as William Wallace. The great Scottish warrior William Wallace led his people against their English oppressors in a campaign that won independence for Scotland and immortalized him in the hearts of his countrymen. With his warrior's heart, tactician's mind, and poet's soul, Wallace was a brilliant leader. He just wanted to live a simple life on his farm, but he gave it up to help his country in its time of need.

Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with

William Wallace


Captain Jack Sparrow


Neo, the "One"


Lara Croft




The Amazing Spider-Man


Indiana Jones


Batman, the Dark Knight


El Zorro


The Terminator


James Bond, Agent 007


Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with

Oh, Yeah! I'll accept this! Even though it took ~way~ too long to fix the HTML so it would fit in my Blogger template...

(H/T: Julie D. at Happy Catholic)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

My "Privates" Are Apolitical

From the website of the Michigan Daily, the newspaper of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor:

Elizabeth Campbell, a University alum and former producer of the monologues, added that while the script is not inherently racist, prejudices against minorities are woven into the monologues.

“When Eve started writing, I don’t think she realized how big (the monologues) would get and that (they) could and would be used to affect such a large range of people,” Campbell said. “But this is more than an ordinary play — it is a political movement.”


“For the white women who want to be involved, if I was in their position I would feel somewhat cheated,” Campbell said. “But I hope that they can understand that the movement is bigger than any individual person and see what is good for the collective movement.”

So now my vagina is a political movement? A collective politcal movement?

Silly me. I thought my vagina was unique. Like me.

(H/T: The Anchoress)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Homeless Giving and Catholic Guilt

Julie D. over at Happy Catholic has an excellent post about giving to the homeless face-to-face as well as giving to those organizations and institutions that care for them. It's a debate that I have had with myself for many years.

I was 14 when the "Summer of Love" came to San Francisco. By September, Summer was over and the Love was dying. But the people who came were still here. I just started high school and part of my growing independence was learning to take the streetcar from the front of school to downtown with my friends. Back then, the homeless came in two primary varieties: old winos and young druggies. Most of the time we skirted the storefronts they lounged in and they never seemed to notice us. We held canned food drives and raised money for St. Anthony's Dining Room and collected clothing to donate to St. Vincent de Paul.

There were fewer old winos when I went to college but more young druggies. Local cafes had signs "No Heroin Dealing Allowed." The dopers were mellow but the heroin addicts were unpredictable and could be violent. My boyfriend at the time was a student at UC Santa Cruz. On one visit I thought I recognized one of the "street people" from Telegraph Avenue. Apparently, these folks commuted: summering in Santa Cruz, wintering in Berkeley, following the flow of money and tourists.

I had a job with the dorm food service, checking IDs. Occasionally, a street person would wander in, looking for food. I'd apologize for not letting him (or her) in and direct them up the street to either the University Lutheran Center or the Catholic Newman Center, which both had programs. I donated what I could to the Newman Center, but, frankly, most of the street people scared me. So I avoided them.

When I went to work in the City, it seemed as though there were homeless on every corner. There were those who quietly held a cup or a hand out, sometimes with a crude sign. And then there were the crazies, who would chase you down the street, shouting incoherent obscenities. The City was divided on how to handle them. Arrest them and medicate them? Build more shelters? Put them up in residence hotels? We were told not to give money directly. Not only would they spend it on booze and/or drugs, but those who didn't would be beaten and robbed of what little they collected. Better the government take care of them.

When ATM machines became popular, some homeless became bolder, standing right behind you as you retrieved your money. If you refused to share, they became violent. So a law prohibiting panhandling within x feet of an ATM was enacted and enforced. And the problem moved away.

It's been about five years since I returned to work in the City. The homeless men and women seem to have claimed certain corners or areas as their own. I see my "regulars" almost every day. Their methods are as different as they are, although most of them stick to a cup and a sign.
I rarely give directly, though. Usually it's because I don't carry much cash. And because I know that for these folks, homelessness is chronic. I would rather contribue to Catholic Charities or the Campaign for Human Development because they have programs that will help these folks--I hope--get off the streets permanently.

Julie suggested handing out granola bars and bottled water. So do I lay in a supply for the four to six people I see every day? Do I hand out water daily? Weekly? What do I do if someone new shows up? (Not to mention that I have to schlep this all about six blocks.)

My children collect food through school and Scouts for the Food Bank, for St. Vincent de Paul, for the Souper Kitchen. The 8th Graders take turns going to the Souper Kitchen once a month to make sandwiches and pass out food to the homeless and families in our neck of the woods. The 35 dinner baskets they make for Thanksgiving and Christmas go to local families. We bundle our clothes and donate them to different organizations who run thrift stores as well as St. Vincent de Paul. Last year my Junior Troop collected sports equipment for one of the local schools that didn't have any.

So why do I still feel that I'm not doing enough?

An old friend of mine blames it on "Catholic guilt," and there is that. Hubs (who is not Catholic, so doesn't bear that particular burden) reminds me that "Charity begins at home."

And so, I struggle with my moral obligation on a daily basis. Is this my particular cross to bear?

A Gift of Beauty

I left work last night by a different door and was struck by the color of light on the Bay and the Bridge. As I stood at the intersection, gaping, a stranger came up and asked, "Have you seen the full moon?"

No, I hadn't. But there it was, rising above the silver Bay Bridge, peeking through the top of a palm tree.

Another stranger joined us. "Isn't it beautiful?" he asked. "I wish I had a camera to capture it!"

None of us did.

So all we have is a memory of a shared moment at an intersection in San Francisco, enjoying a gift of beauty.

If It Means I Can Fight Next to Legolas...

...I'll take it!


To which race of Middle Earth do you belong?
brought to you by Quizilla

Art Un-Appreciation

Besides Baseball, we also looked at the art collection at the Oakland Museum. One of the exhibits was "CaliVera: Days of the Dead Altars Remixed." I had seen a similar exhibit four years ago. This one featured art from a couple of schools in Oakland as well as some new artists. The exhibits were interesting, although my children didn't let me read much more than the title of each exhibit and skim the synopsis. My favorites, of the professional artists, were the personal ones. But, of course, being artists, many of the exhibits were also political.

Usually that doesn't bother me. But by the end of the exhibit, I was bugged. I couldn't figure out why. Finally it dawned on me.

"I wonder if it's possible to talk about art without sounding pretentious?" I asked DD#1. (A docent happened to walk by at that point--I don't know what he thought about my comment!)

"I don't think so," she answered.

It's not that I don't appreciate knowing and understanding the background of the piece. But too much explanation is like having a joke explained. If it needs that much explanation, then it failed.

Exhibit writers need to refer back to Strunk & White's Elements of Style, which I summarize as "Keep it short & simple."

I must be getting old. I just don't have the patience for this kind of "showing off," I guess!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Baseball As America--The Exhibit

Veterans’ Day was a rare treat:  all six of us were off at the same time.  I’d wanted to see the traveling exhibit from Cooperstown, NY, that was at the Oakland Museum of California History.  DD#1 had to visit the museum as an assignment for her California History class.  Hubs was up for an adventure.  Then I told the youngest two.

“But I don’t even like baseball!” DD#2 protested.  

“Mom, I don’t really want to go,” said DS#2.

That’s when I raised my motherly prerogative.

“You’re going,” I told them.

The exhibit is titled “Baseball As America” and looks at the role baseball plays in our culture, how so firmly entrenched it is that we often don’t recognize it.  Baseball is what America has used to get over crisis, both foreign—as in December 7 or September 11—and domestic—integration and assimilation.  There was a special emphasis on baseball in the Bay Area, from the old Pacific Coast League to the number of players who came from local high schools.  There was a side exhibit that talked about players coached by George Powles at McClymonds High School in Oakland and a photo exhibit about Latinos in baseball—those who have made it and those who are trying to break in.  

Besides presenting history, “Baseball As America” had exhibits about the physics of baseball, how the rules have encouraged players and fans to experiment with equipment designs to improve their performance (including some spectacularly failed concepts), how commercialization became inevitable, the role of the fans, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball team, and integration.  

The last was kind of a shock.  The San Francisco Giants team that I grew up with included Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Cepeda, and Alou (at one point, Felipe, Jesus, and Matty).  Since we rarely watched the games, but listened to them on the radio, I didn’t realize that Roy Campanella, of the hated Los Angeles Dodgers, was black.  I figured he was Italian and the reason folks didn’t like him was because all sensible folks hated the Dodgers!  

Oh, to be that young and innocent again!

I knew I had DD#2 when she brought me over to the exhibit on baseball fans and showed me a picture of a statue of Mark McGwire in a St. Louis mall.  The statue was made entirely out of Girl Scout cookies.

Hubs kept coming up to check on me.  

“Go ahead,” I told him.  “You know I read everything.  I’m going to be awhile.”

“Oh, I’m not done yet,” he answered.  “There’s just too much to see.  I need to go through a second time and pick up what I missed.”

I spent three hours at the exhibit; the rest of the family only slightly less.  

Then we went to see the sections on California history and California art.

After five hours, we finally went home.  Towards the end, the kids were telling me not to read any of the explanations on the exhibits.  They were worried we’d never make it home.  And they were getting hungry.

During one of our breaks, DD#2 said, “My class should come here.”

“Really?  Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s interesting,” she said.

“I thought you didn’t like baseball.”

“I don’t.  It was still interesting, though.”

DS#2 had much the same reaction.  His favorite part was the physics of baseball and watching the clips, especially Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s On First” routine.

As I walked through the exhibit, I thought of my uncle.  He is a true baseball fan and remembers the Pacific Coast League days.  Heck, he’s a contemporary of the DiMaggio brothers.  (Some of the teachers my mother had in junior high school had taught the DiMaggio’s and told stories about how the Italian kids would go home for lunch.  When they came back, they would fall asleep because of the pasta and vino they had consumed.)  Turns out my cousin and a friend had taken him a few weeks ago.  He may not remember the score of yesterday’s game, but he recognized the players by number and the equipment they used.  

If you live in the Bay Area, go.  If this exhibit travels to your area, go.  While this exhibit exposes the flaws in the American Dream through baseball, it also shows our dreams, our capacity for inventiveness, our ability to change.  Baseball has fielded teams as varied as the nations itself, working together; has brought together fans of different socio-economic-educational strata; has given us a common culture.  It’s more than “just a game.”

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Immigrants vs. Illegal Immigrants

Why don't those who fight for Social Justice (always capitalized) realize there is a difference between a legal immigrant and an illegal immigrant?

Two recent articles in The Catholic Voice failed to see any difference.

The first one was a commentary, by Fr. Jesus Nieto-Ruiz. Titled It is time to change how we allocate this nation’s resources, Fr. Nieto-Ruiz relates the story of Maria:

"Maria came to church looking for assistance to fill out paperwork for child support because her husband had left her and her three young daughters, and she did not speak any English.

"During our conversation, she informed me that she was not documented. Her husband had physically abused her and threatened to call INS (now Homeland Security) if she called the police. He was only providing her with $400 a month."

Because Maria is not documented (i.e., she's here in the U.S. illegally), "it was difficult for her to get a job. And if she found one, she needed to place her 8-month-old daughter in daycare, which she couldn’t afford.

"She needed to get a restraining order on her abusive husband. And most pressing, she needed legal help to stop the sale of the home to avoid becoming homeless.
Maria was obviously distressed, but I couldn’t send her to get any help through county mental health services because they would not attend to her without a Social Security number."

Never once does Fr. Nieto-Ruiz state that if Maria had followed the rules in the first place, her troubles would be easier to resolve. She would have a Social Security number, her husband would not have threatened her with deportation, and her name would be on the title of her house and her husband would not be able to sell it without her consent.

Fr. Nieto-Ruiz also brings in Hurricane Katrina:

"After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, we heard questions about the nation’s lack of quick response to the tremendous needs of evacuees and whether the slow response was because so many of the displaced were African Americans.

"What we should also be asking is how can we be at peace as a nation when we allowed 30 percent of the people in New Orleans to live below the poverty level. How can we continue to live with growing class inequalities? Inequality is not natural, nor inevitable; it is created very consciously by our social policy."

Besides the repeating the falsehood that the lack of quick response was racist, Fr. Nieto-Ruiz blames our society in general without examining why 30% of New Orleans residents were living "below the poverty level." How much is social structure, including residual racism? How much is lack of opportunity? How much is it lack of effort to move up the economic ladder on the part of those living below the poverty level? Education is like water to the proverbial horse: you can lead people to it, but you can't make them partake.

The same issue has another article: CCHD funds non-profit’s efforts to empower immigrants.
Only later in the article do you find out what this group means by "Empower":

"Since 2003, EBASE has been zeroing in on immigration rights, explained Evelyn Sanchez, workplace immigrant and civil rights organizer. Members participated in the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Coalition, which brought community organizers and labor leaders from 12 cities to Washington, D.C. to advocate for immigration reform. The bus project was organized to counter the backlash against immigrants, which arose after 9-11, Sanchez said.

But the backlash continues, she said. Congress is attempting to pass the Real ID Act – legislation that would force states to create a federal identification card for immigrants traveling between states to verify their status.

The rhetoric claims the cards are for security purposes, but it will make it much more difficult for people to travel and to get drivers’ licenses,” said Sanchez. The proposal is also flawed because it doesn’t take into account such issues as legalization of undocumented workers, family reunification or workplace and civil rights issues, she said.

"In an effort to fight such anti-immigrant sentiment, EBASE opened its first annual Freedom Academy this fall to train new immigrants on effective community organizing and to provide them with the opportunity to participate in specific campaigns.

"The $30,000 CCHD grant will provide stipends for 23 immigrants to attend the classes. The students hail from Central America, Africa, Afghanistan, and Palestine and include physicians as well as farmers now living throughout the Bay Area. Each student receives $50 for each of the six four-hour sessions to cover the cost of gasoline, bridge tolls and bus fares. EBASE is also paying for interpreters who speak Farsi and Spanish, and for childcare."

Again, EBASE makes no distinction between legal vs. illegal immigrants. There is no concern about border security. It's all about immigration and only about immigration.

At the very end, there is perhaps the most telling paragraph:

"Mexican immigrants living in the United States send $13 billion dollars back to their relatives each year, said Sanchez. Fifteen percent of El Salvador’s gross national product consists of remittances from the U.S. “So immigrants are contributing to two economies.”

In other words, Mexico and El Salvador need immigrants, legal or not, in the U.S. to support their own economies. Rather than working with those governments to improve life there so people don't feel the need to risk their lives to come work in the States, we should recognize their important economic power.

But, if those immigrants are here illegally, they have broken the law. I'm sorry their lives back home are so miserable and they are so desperate they are willing to do anything to get to the U.S. But a look at France shows us what will happen if we ignore the rule of law.

Petition Sen. Feinstein to change Immigration Law. Argue for a completely open border with Mexico and abolishment of all immigration quotas. But obey the current law until it's changed. You are not doing anyone any favors by encouraging illegal immigrants to circumvent the law and continuing to break it.

Physics and Peace

From The Catholic Voice, the paper of the Diocese of Oakland, CA:

Abbey Engstrom of Woodland joins other students at Saint Mary’s College in a Nov. 2 protest of the Iraq war. Dressed in black to remember the war dead, the students did a peaceful walk-out of classes and gathered in front of the college chapel to hear student speeches and to sing. The SMC Democrats, a student club organized this year, sponsored the action, part of a nation-wide demonstration against the war, which has killed more than 2,000 Americans.

Notice the chic black t-shirt. notice the peace symbol carefully crafted to look hand drawn. Notice the word "Peace" written in several languages.

If only peace could be achieved so simply: by walking out of class and listening to speeches and singing. Such a contrast, isn't it, with the images of the rioting in Paris?

The problem is, one can only have a dialogue if all parties speak the same language and operate in the same frame of reference. In physics, if two observers have different frames of reference, they may obtain different results. In diplomacy--or in business negotiations, for that matter--what I say may not be what you hear. Or what you understand. If you believe to compromise means to capitulate, then my offer of compromise means you win.

I am willing to hazard a guess that most of us in the U.S. operate within a common frame of reference. Difficulties happen when we assume the rest of the world operates with the same references. They don't; at least, not always. Business deals have turned sour because the parties to the negotiations didn't realize this: "Yes" doesn't always mean agreement, measurements are not always in inches.

How much more likely that this type of misunderstanding will occur during negotiations between cultures? Especially when one culture feels threatened by the other?

We have two choices, as I see it: continue to operate in our frame of reference, regardless of what the enemy's is or recognize the enemy's frame of reference and consider that in our response. How can we best defend what we believe in language the enemy will recognize and understand?

Sometimes, you have to beat up the bully in order to get him to leave you alone.

And Criminals Would Obey, Why?

From the San Francisco Chronicle website:

Proposition H, which requires city residents who already own guns to turn them in to police by April 1, was winning 58 percent to 42 percent with 98 percent of precincts counted.
The measure also makes it illegal to buy, sell, distribute and manufacture firearms and ammunition in the city.

Once again, let's disarm the law-abiding. You know, the folks who can read, who go through the waiting period and who register their guns.

Only two other cities in the country -- Washington, D.C., and Chicago -- have similar bans.

And we know how well handgun bans have worked in those two cities.

"San Francisco voters are smart and believe in sensible gun control," said Supervisor Chris Daly, who was among the four board members who placed the measure on the ballot. "If Prop. H gets some handguns out of San Francisco and mitigates some of the violence, then it's a win."

I'm sure the gangbangers in Hunter's Point-Bayview and the Mission will be glad to hear that. The fewer people who have guns, the less likely they will be hurt during an armed robbery.

Prop. H opponents said a ban on handguns will not reduce crime, because criminals aren't likely to turn in their guns.

Really? You think? Maybe that's why they're called criminals.

They also said the measure will be subject to costly legal challenges in court.

"It's not a solution (to gun violence)," said Mike Ege, a board member of the Coalition Against Prohibition. "Most people don't like guns, but they don't want the opportunity to access them taken away, because sometimes bad things happen to good people."

Yeah, there's a little thing called The Second Amendment in The Constitution of the United States that mentionsthe right to keep and to bear arms. A rather pesky detail, that.

I'm not a big gun fan. However, Hubs owns two .22's and a BB gun. We have friends who collect handguns and a few who use them in their jobs. That's their choice and they should have it. In fact, a proposition like this one makes me want to go out and get a handgun just because "they" say I can't have one. Maybe get a concealed permit, too. Just 'cause.

Californians Say "No," But Not With Conviction

The headline in the front section of today's San Francisco Chronicle reads "CALIFORNIANS SAY NO TO SCHWARZENEGGER". No doubt, the headline would be shorter if Arnold's last name were Schmidt.

But I digress.

With 77% of precints reporting, at deadline this is the breakdown:

Prop. 73 (Parental notfication before a minor female could have an abortion):
Yes: 48.9% No: 51.1%

Prop. 74 (Extend the probationary period for teachers):
Yes: 46.6% No: 53.4%

Prop. 75 (Would require public sector union members to opt in before dues used for political purposes):
Yes: 48.8% No: 51.2%

Prop. 76 (Would give the governor new budget powers):
Yes: 39.6% No: 60.4%

Prop. 77 (Would take redistricting away from legislators):
Yes: 42.3% No: 57.7%

These are the four propositions Gov. Schwarzenegger proposed. According to the Chronicle: "The resounding defeat of the governor's self-styled reform effort leaves him weakened as he heads into his 2006 re-election campaign and forced to deal with a Democratic majority in the Legislature pumped up by Tuesday's victories."

Excuse me, Mr. Editor? With the exception of Prop. 76 and possibly Prop. 77, the others are still rather close to call, especially since 23% of the precints haven't reported in and the absentee ballots haven't been counted yet. In fact, barely two percentage points separate the Yays and the Nays in Prop. 73 and 75. Six percentage points separate the Yays and the Nays for Prop 77.

In fact, the Nays are stronger in rejecting both discount prescription drug programs and the proposed reregulation of the electricity market. Especially the reregulation of the electricity market (Yes: 34%; No: 66%)

But the final percentages won't matter to the Dems. They won't look at the fact that, in a heavily Democratic, highly unionized state, there is a large part of the population who does not agree with their agenda. They ignore those voices at their own peril.

Youth and Testosterone

A quick (really quick) post before I drop DD#2 at school and head to BART and work...

Most of the news reports--indeed, most bloggers--have referred to those rioting in Paris as "youths." Reading more closely, I find that most of these "youths" are in their late teens (18, 19) and early-to-mid-20's.

This age happens to be when testosterone levels peak in young males. In an earlier age, these young men would not be sitting around watching videos and playing video games. They would be earning a living with hard, physical labor and starting their families.

Instead, they are rioting.

Biology won't be denied. All their extra energy has to go somewhere. And modern society has precious few outlets to challenge them.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Cheap Chic

Okay, a little something not about the riots in France…

From The San Francisco Chronicle:

Customers have flocked to the stores, enticed by the changing selection and affordable prices. Cheap chic also lends itself to the idea of disposable fashion, where clothes are worn only a handful of times before being relegated to the backs of closets or handed off to the Salvation Army.

Lois Huff, senior vice president for Retail Forward, a market research firm in Columbus, Ohio, said that cheap chic represents the future of retail…

"Once you change consumer expectations, it's hard to move back," Huff said. "The idea of disposable as opposed to building a wardrobe is more popular now."

Retailers that specialize in cheap chic have to get the merchandise into the stores and sell it quickly. Peter Brown, vice chairman of Kurt Salmon Associates, a retail consulting company, said that these stores turn around inventory at a somewhat higher rate than a traditional retailer, moving merchandise seven or eight times a year instead of the typical six.

What cheap chic does not necessarily emphasize is quality. Fabrics tend to wear out after a few months, but it doesn't matter much, said Harry Bernard, a partner with the independent San Francisco fashion-marketing and consulting firm Colton Bernard Inc. "It's worth whatever it costs," he said.

Is it any coincidence that this trend is aimed at those from 20-45, with women being a particular target? Forget classic and timeless design. Everything is disposable. What Ikea has done for furniture, these retailers are doing to fashion.

What happened to “Reduce, Recycle, Reuse,” the mantra this demographic chanted every Earth Day?

And there’s a social cost, too:

The Internet has pushed fashion trends to great speeds, but it is global sourcing that has put the cheap in cheap chic. Retailers are increasingly tapping the resources of Third World countries to manufacture their merchandise at the lowest costs possible, allowing them to keep their prices down.

Workers are constantly expected to fill big orders without being paid overtime, a problem that predates cheap chic but one that is growing as more retailers follow that model, Kernaghan said. "As the system gets faster and faster, it gets more brutal," he said.

With the cost of living rising in many of the countries where labor is an export, workers' wages are being squeezed in order to keep prices low in places like the United States. "The system is almost set up now to encourage the race to the bottom," Kernaghan said.

"If the American people could see the faces behind these bargains, they may not want it," he added.

Sorry. I don’t think these folks are terribly interested in where or how their clothing is made. Style is the operative word here.

Thus, the degradation of the social fabric continues. Style trumps substance. Flash over practicality. Immediate gratification over thoughtful consideration.

I’m not surprised. These young adults (and some not-so-young) have been conditioned to get what they want now. Take out a second mortgage for an exotic vacation because, damn it, I deserve it! My clothes, my spouse/significant other/friends bore me—so change them. Take a cruise and put the kids in daycare. Give them their own cash card so they won’t bug me every five minutes.

Of course, the above is exaggerated. Some outfits, like swim suits or summer clothes, practically beg to be disposable. Time away from loved ones can be a source of renewal. Cruises are truly relaxing.

But how long before the exaggeration becomes the reality?

We've Heard This Before

From Sigmund, Carl, & Alfred:

The words of Sheikh Omar Bakri, are not as marginal as some would have you believe. Indeed, in word and actions, his beliefs are being played out nightly, in France and elsewhere.

"We don't make a distinction between civilians and non-civilians, innocents and non-innocents. Only between Muslims and unbelievers. And the life of an unbeliever has no value. It has no sanctity.

"We will use your democracy to destroy your democracy."

Where have I heard that before? Oh, yes:

When we hang the capitalists they will sell us the rope we use.

Joseph Stalin
from BrainyQuote

And, thanks to sympathizers in Western Europe and the U.S., he almost did.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Prince and the Duchess Come to Town

"Don't drive in to work tomorrow," my SIL warned me at brunch yesterday.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Prince Charles is hosting a luncheon at the Ferry Building," she answered. Her office is in the building and she then told us about the security measures being put in place. "There's FBI, CIA, Secret Service, MI-3 or 5 or whatever the British security is," she said.

Sure enough, there were barricades this morning around the entrance. At lunch time, the plazas in front and across the street were empty. The restaurant was deserted. And there were police cars prominently parked for a block in either direction, from several Bay Area cities.

The first floor of the Ferry Building has several commercial shops as well as restaurant and a cafeteria. I wonder how much revenue they lost since their regular customers were not allowed inside during lunch hour. I noticed that there was a lot of traffic where there usually isn't much and, judging by their horns, the drivers were a bit more impatient.

On some level it must be a bit galling to realize that people are more peeved by the inconvenience of your visit than honored. And that organic farming is not high on most people's list of social concerns.

In other words, that you are completely useless, even though you are the Crown Prince of England.

My Hero

Her question was a homework assignment: "Who is your hero?"

DD#2 asked me as I walked over to the kitchen counter to drop off my lunch bag. Several names ran through my head, most of them people whom she's never met. And, I quickly realized, many of these people weren't really my hero. They were teachers, mentors, guides. To me, a hero is something bigger.

After a moment, I answered, "My mother."

She didn't ask me for my reasons right then and the conversation moved on. When she did, we were in the car, on the way to school. And I found it difficult to express my reasons in words she'd understand.

My flip answer is, "Because she raised six kids and still speaks in complete sentences." That's true, but not nearly complete.

"Because she's my guide to getting older," I finally answered.

"What do you mean?" DD#2 asked.

So I told DD#2 a bit about her grandmother's life. Some of it she knew, like the fact that my parents lost two children--one shortly after birth, one in utero. But what I pointed out is that didn't stop my mother from living. My mother once told me she's done more things after the age of 40 than she did her first 40 years, which was quite reassuring when I faced that particular birthday.

"She still reads. She's still active in the community: garden club, ICF. She goes to the symphony. Even though she doesn't drive anymore, she takes the bus. She's going to be 80 this winter and she's planning on flying to England on her own this spring."

"But your sister is there," DD#2 pointed out.

"True. But Gran still has to get there. That's 8,000 miles she'll be traveling." I looked over at my daughter. "Many people would have given up; stayed close to home. Gran hasn't. Do you understand?"

"Kind of," she said.

"Well, I want to be like that. I want to keep living and keep growing. Grandpere was like that, too. So I had two good examples."

DD#2 is 12. I know I didn't appreciate the magnitude of what my mother had accomplished until I was in my mid-20's. I mean, she was Mom, right? And she just did what all mothers did--or were supposed to do. Until I had been out and about in the world, met other mothers, and, most importantly, became a mother myself, I didn't know how difficult it could be. She makes growing older look easy, even the parts that aren't.

A Quote for President Bush

"One man with courage makes a majority."

--Andrew Jackson

Paris At War

''French youths,'' huh? You mean Pierre and Jacques and Marcel and Alphonse? Granted that most of the "youths" are technically citizens of the French Republic, it doesn't take much time in les banlieus of Paris to discover that the rioters do not think of their primary identity as ''French'': They're young men from North Africa growing ever more estranged from the broader community with each passing year and wedded ever more intensely to an assertive Muslim identity more implacable than anything you're likely to find in the Middle East. After four somnolent years, it turns out finally that there really is an explosive ''Arab street,'' but it's in Clichy-sous-Bois.

--Mark Steyn, Chicago Sun-Times

Mark Steyn asks the telling question: If you had millions of seething unassimilated Muslim youths in lawless suburbs ringing every major city, would you be so eager to send your troops into an Arab country fighting alongside the Americans?

Especially if your economy was stagnant and these youths were unemployed or, worse, underemployed. With nothing better to do with their time, they hang around the neighborhood and complain about how miserable their lives are. Meanwhile, the greedy, decadent, uncultured, ignorant Americans live better than they do. It’s not fair!

I worry about the French. The Muslim Taliban brought down Buddhist statues that were centuries old. The world cried out in horror, but the Taliban did not care. It’s only a matter of time before the treasures of the Louvre or the D’Orsay museum are trashed. Diana the Huntress, the Winged Victory, the Mona Lisa—all decadent representative art that is offensive to Allah and must be destroyed. The bronzes of Degas and Rodin melted down. And Chirac calls for ''a spirit of dialogue and respect.” Doesn’t respect require some reciprocity? How can I respect you if you do not respect me? Or is this an American ideal, one the rest of the world has yet to come to?

Friday, November 04, 2005

The More Things Change...

The Merry Minuet

"They're rioting in Africa.
They're starving in Spain.
There's hurricanes in Florida
And Texas needs rain.

"The whole world is festering with unhappy souls.
The French hate the Germans; the Germans hate the Poles.
Italians hate Yugoslavs; South Africans hate the Dutch
and I don't like anybody very much!

"But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud
For man's been endowed with a mushroom-shaped cloud.
And we know for certain that some lovely day
Someone will set the spark off
And we will all be blown away.

"They're rioting in Africa.
There's strife in Iran.
What Nature doesn't do to us
Will be done by our fellow man."

lyrics by Unknown; sung by the Kingston Trio, ca. mid-1960's

I was actually looking for the French phrase that states "The more things change, the more they stay the same." I thought, considering what's been happening in the suburbs of Paris over the last eight days, that French would be most appropriate language for the title of this post.

It's been 40 years since The Merry Minuet had any air play time on the radio. Sadly, not much has changed since I first heard it.

"We have seen the enemy and he is us," Pogo proclaimed.

But we keep going--at least many of us do. For me, it's as simple as wanting to leave the world a better place, for my children and my grandchildren. I wage war against the popular culture, where "hella" and "fuck" are mere adjectives, where there is a difference between doing the right thing and doing the easy thing, where there is value in ideas of morality that have been with us for millenium because these ideas have stood the test of time.

I feel like The Sorcerer's Apprentice sometimes. The water is coming in faster than I can bail.

But then one of my children will say something that makes me stop in my tracks and realize that they have been listening after all. And that makes my work worth the effort.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Talking With Liberals

Dr. Sanity has an excellent rant on her blog about the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the Left.

I, too, came of age during the "Second Wave" of the feminist movement. I knew of young women who were discouraged from going to college, from pursuing their dreams because, after all, they were "only going to get married and have babies." I believed that I was as able as any man, intellectually... until I went to University and realized that there were others more talented in my chosen field than I. But many of those more gifted were, in fact, women.

I never bought the "Men are the enemy" argument, though. I enjoy the company of men. In fact, I married one. And when our sons were born, I realized I had given birth to what many considered the Darth Vaders/Lords Voldemort of Modern Society: white males. Somehow, that square with my new reality. Actually, since I also have three brothers, that view of white males didn't square with my old reality.

Lately I've noticed that even many self-proclaimed Liberals take issue with some of the dogmas of the Left. There are grumblings about people being promoted not because of competence but to satisfy a quota. About people who come to this country but do not bother to learn English or our customs. About those who would scam the system rather than work. Who don't bother to show up for classes and complain that they're being held back. About the money taken out of their paychecks.

But they don't make the connection.

They point to France and exclaim about the paid maternity leave and free preschools and don't connect it to the high unemployment rate. They talk about the wonders of Canadian health care, but not about how long it takes to get bypass surgery. They complain daily in blogs and in the MSM about the lack of protest in this country and how dissent is muffled by The Establishment.

They don't see any contradiction.

The United States is evil. But people are coming in every day, legally or illegally. The reason those immigrants give? To have a better life for themselves and for their children.

I listen to otherwise intelligent, well-educated people compare Bush to Hitler, the Republicans to Nazis and fascists, and I wonder what planet they are on. Why do I see things so very, very differently? Is it me? Is my perspective warped or is it them?

Is Ted Rall right about Middle America/the Heartland/Flyover Country? Is all they care about NASCAR, beer, and Paris Hilton?

That doesn't square with the blogs I read, the newsgroups I belong to, the people I know.

So it's good to read that someone else--several someones, as it turns out--also see the same things, feel the same way, think the same thoughts.

I don't feel quite so alone.