Monday, July 31, 2006

Mel Did WHAT?

During his arrest for drunken driving, Mel Gibson was apparently less than cooperative. The report says Gibson then launched into a barrage of anti-Semitic statements: "F*****g Jews... The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Gibson then asked the deputy, "Are you a Jew?" (H/T: Michelle Malkin, who linked to this report on TMZ.)

Mr. Gibson has since apologized, though not specifically for his remark about the Jews.

I've always enjoyed Mr. Gibson's acting and his films. I admired his courage to be Catholic in Hollywood, and a Catholic of the most traditional kind. (I often describe myself as being to the left of Mel Gibson and to the right of Martin Sheen when describing my own practice of Catholicism.) I don't know what provoked his lapse into drinking, his anger, and his outburst of anti-Semitism. Several articles have suggested that this is how he truly feels. I'm wondering if there isn't something more. He has several sons, most of them young adults. Is he worried that the war between The West and Islam is going to put one of his boys in harm's way?

I know it's a worry I have.

Mr. Gibson didn't say in his apology. Frankly, I hope he never does, for it will sound like an excuse and his apology seemed, to me, like an adult male realizing he crossed a line and taking full responsibility for his actions. The kind of thing that we are called to do as Catholics.

But, still, I have a very uncharitable suspicion that much is being made of Mr. Gibson's outburst because of his being a practicing Catholic. Had Mr. Gibson said Israel is responsible for all the wars in the world instead of the Jews, well, his opinion would not be out of line at all with those of Code Pink, many of Muslims, and most of those who protest The War.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

My Baby Is How Old?!!

This absolutely cannot be! DD#2 is officially a teenager. Ever one to split hairs and pick nits (which--shudder--we did, literally, when she was in Kindergarten), she informed me that she was not a teenager until 5:10 p.m. tonight.

Close enough. I was in labor before then. I can't help it if she took her time arriving. Which was a portent of things to come. She has always done things on her own schedule (we call it DD#2 time). Her first sentence was "Me do it!" It wasn't long after that when she expanded it: "Me do it myself!"

Today she is working with one of the Brownie units at Day Camp, leading a hike as a Cadette Aide. The Camp Director will ask her how many years she's celebrated her birthday (12) at Day Camp and the entire group will sing to her. I wish DD#1 and I could be there.

Tonight we'll have lasagne, by special request, cards, and some presents. This weekend is the swimming party at the local pool, followed by a slumber party.

Her birthday makes me feel older than mine did!

For the next ten days, there will be three teenagers in the Warren, then DD#1 turns 20 and we're back to just two. (DS#2 is at Boy Scout camp during this entire time, so it's not so bad! ;)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I keep a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle from the day each of my children were born. I do this despite the fact the front page banner headline on the day DS#1 was born was about the Marines killed by Islamic suicide bombers in Lebanon.

The Prophecies of Nostradamus were popular, especially the one that seemed to indicate that Armageddon will begin in the Middle East. I still think of that prophecy whenever I hear of trouble in the Middle East and I wonder, "Is this is it?" All it would take is one madman to use a Weapon of Mass Destruction, either nuclear or biological.

Yet I am not comfortable with the "Peace at Any Price" crowd. Some of them remind me of Uriah Heep (or, to use a more modern example, Peter Pettigrew) humbling themselves, humbling themselves, not to serve but to rule.

Is this war in the Middle East something I would be willing to sacrifice my children for? I understand that, ultimately, it is their decision to make. But would I accept their decision as I would the decision they make to become an engineer or a priest or a doctor? Would I accept their decision as long as they were not in harm's way?

Our own Boy Scout troop has lost a member to the war in Iraq fairly early on. His mother is still deeply affected. She has decided to take her faith more seriously; to make a commitment to attending Mass and the religious education of her daughter. A creative person, she no longer makes wedding accessories--she doesn't have the heart for it. She doesn't know if she ever will.

Could I live with that?

I don't know.

Could I live in a world where I couldn't drive, couldn't read, couldn't appear in public without a male in my family? Could I raise my daughters to not think, not question? Could I raise my sons--or allow them to be raised--to think that women are a lower order of human, that it's their right to mistreat them?

Could I raise my children and not share my Faith?


According to Webster's Online, the first definition of Armageddon is "the site or time of a final and conclusive battle between the forces of good and evil." As I watch television, as I read the newspapers, I wonder, "How close are we going to come this time?"

Sunday, July 23, 2006

We Are Wimps

I confess, we are wimps out here in the Bay Area. The thermometer hit 90 degrees yesterday and there was no breeze (practically unheard of) and we're begging for the fog.

Of course, about four years ago we had a July with about two days of sun and we were all wearing our fleece jackets.

DD#2 was born in the middle of a heat wave like this, which is why I took her little three-day-old self to a Cub Scout barbecue. I figured I would be more comfortable sweating outside instead of sweating at home (I was).

A week later, we were both bundled up and I was hiking around Angel Island. Yeah, same Cub Scout group.

We all know its a matter of time until the fog comes in and cools things down. Meanwhile, there is not a fan to be found in town!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Book Review: Persuasion

This is the last of Jane Austen's novels, published posthumously. And it's too bad--I've grown rather fond of her style of writing.

I think Persuasion is my second favorite, after Pride and Prejudice. Anne Elliot is the second daughter of Sir Walter Elliot. Anne is sensible, practical, unassuming--which means her opinions and desires are overlooked by everyone in the family. Everyone, that is, except Lady Russell, a close friend of Anne's mother. When Anne's mother died, Lady Russell took it upon herself to watch out for Anne's interests because Anne reminded Lady Russell so much of Anne's dear mother.

Anne had been engaged to a young navy Lieutenant, Lt. Wentworth. However, Lady Russell persuaded Anne that Lt. Wentworth, who had no family and no fortune, was not worthy of her consideration and Anne broke off the engagement. She has always regretted it.

Sir Elliot must lease the family manor in order to make ends meet. The family will move to Bath once a suitable tenant is found. That tenant comes in the form of an Admiral and his wife, landbound now that the war with France is over. The Admiral's wife just happens to be the sister of the former Lieutenant--now Captain--Wentworth. Capt. Wentworth is not married, but is looking for a wife.

Sir Elliot and his eldest daughter move to Bath. Anne will join them later because her youngest sister has demanded that Anne come help nurse her through her "illness." Anne goes, partly out of duty, but also because she really enjoys the company of her brother-in-law's family. And they also enjoy having her around. The Admiral and his wife pay a visit and Capt. Wentworth comes along as well. He claims the attention of Anne's two sisters-in-law and it seems likely he will marry one of them. But which?

The older has an understanding with a young man from the area who is studying to be a curate, but she seems to have forgotten him. The younger is headstrong and impulsive. Anne sits on the sidelines and watches.

Anne is quite happy to finally leave for Bath, although she is not much interested in the social life of Bath itself. But who should follow? The Admiral, his sister, and Capt. Wentworth. Eventually, the whole gang is there and take a fateful trip to Lyme which changes the course of all their lives.

While Persuasion has its share of silly characters, they are more human, less caricature than, for example, Mrs. Bennet. Anne is not young--she is 27. Her older sister is 29, but there is no feeling of "desperation" in marrying them off as in some of the other Austen novels. There is much about duty--duty to one's family, duty to one's friends--and interesting discussions about love and how men and women perceive it. Anne has some wonderful role models to choose among outside of her immediate family.

Persuasion is relatively short--180 pages in my edition. But if I were to introduce Austen to a class, this is not necessarily the one I would start with. (I'd start with Northanger Abbey, rather than Pride and Prejudice.)

Miss Austen was working on a sixth novel at the time of her death. I'd be interested to read what she had written and try to determine where she might have been going. You wouldn't think there would be enough material in the lives of the genteel class for more than one novel, but Miss Austen managed to mine it all.

There is a movie version, made in 1995, with Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia) as the wife of the Admiral. I saw it on TV (on one of the cable channels, like AMC or A&E, but I believe it's also available on DVD). I confess that I saw it before I read the book and I was a bit confused by all the location changes and wasn't quite sure who was whom and how they were all related. I'd like to see it again now that I've read the story.

On the March Hare scale: 5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks.

Movie Review: The Devil Wears Prada

Hubs was off picking up DS#2 from a 50-mile hike. It was hot and our house doesn't have air-conditioning. I did not have to report for jury duty at 1:00 p.m. I suggested a movie and DD#1 suggested The Devil Wears Prada.

"What's the rating?" I asked.

"PG-13," she answered.

"Good. DD#2 can go."

Except for the PG-13 (Andy and her boyfriend are obviously living together), this could have been a Disney movie. Naive, wholesome, Midwestern girl comes to NYC to follow her dream of becoming a Journalist. The only job she can find is with a major haute couture magazine as the Second Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief, a tyrant in stilettos. The First Assistant is following in her example.

E-I-C begins to take over the Naif's life, giving her impossible tasks (the 7 tasks of Hercules, perhaps?), which Naif manages to pull off. Naif befriends a photo editor who takes her under his wing and does a Queer Eye makeover. Naif begins to lose her sense of self, abandoning her friends under the pretext, "I don't have a choice!" and the belief that surviving a year with the E-I-C will open many doors for her in her chosen field.

Crisis comes. Naif must chose to abandon job or submarine First Assistant. She chooses the submarine. After making choice, Naif becomes immersed in darker side of fashion magazine world and begins to see the knives hidden beneath the Hermes scarves.

Will Naif be lured by the Dark Side? Will she regain her senses, her goals, her Self? Will she use The Force?

Remember, this is a movie Disney could have made. Anne Hathaway, who plays the Naif, got her start with Disney.

Meryl Streep is the E-I-C. She could have gone all Cruella DeVille but chose, instead, to be subtle. She never yells. She never panics. She never tears her hair out. Rather, she causes others to do all of the above. She is manipulative and subtle, but her messages are clear. She dominates every scene she's in, mostly by force of personality.

Anne Hathaway was perfect as Andy Sachs, the Naif. Her transformation from preppy college girl to high fashion diva was amazing. She really did well, I thought, at portraying someone who was trying to keep her balance in a world she wasn't prepared for. And it's always nice to see smart women. (This movie actually had several of them.)

I wasn't too keen on the emphasis on weight. There's a scene where the photo editor (Stanley Tucci) tells Andy that "4 is the new 6, 2 is the new 4, and zero is the new 2." They're talking about dress sizes. Andy confesses she is a 6. The photo editor later makes a comment about her "fat size-6 ass" and she responds, "it's a 4."

Sigh. I'm a size 12 or 14, depending on the style, and I don't consider myself "fat." What kind of message is this sending out, especially since neither of my daughters has ever been, nor will they ever be, size 6?

I probably enjoyed this movie more than my daughters did, in part because I loved seeing an older woman take complete command, and also because I've worked in several different offices. I recognized the power struggles, the politics and even the demands made on one's personal life.

And the clothes were gorgeous, especially the evening gowns. The costume designers dressed the actresses in classic elegance. There were several I would wear in a heartbeat--if I had somewhere to wear them! ;) The shoes were something else (what is it about us women and shoes?). I was impressed at how fast Anne Hathaway could run in stilettos. I cannot imagine walking around New York, or even the office, wearing what some of these women were wearing on their feet. I'd be in pain. Could that be why they take cabs everywhere? Or have a car and driver at their disposal?

On the March Hare Scale: 3 out of 5 Golden Tickets, mostly because of Meryl Streep. Make it a matinee afternoon with "the girls" and go shoe shopping afterward. And eat. Celebrate the fact that you don't have to starve yourself to a size 2!


Last Sunday, the Contra Costa Times had a travel article about "babymoons"--the last trip that couples take before their first child is born. These parents-to-be aren't just getting away to the beach or a cabin in the mountains. According to one person who runs a website for parents interested in booking a "babymoon": "...but babymooners are looking for special gifts and tokens that will remind them of their trip." She said some resorts are providing those extras, including cigars for Dad, pickles and ice cream for Mom, or plush onesies with the hotel logo.

These trips are not cheap, ranging from $2000 a day to $200 for a trip to a day spa.

According to Patty Onderko, senior editor at BabyTalk magazine, "...babymoons help couples reconnect.

"Once you get pregnant, you're on an instant roller coaster of doctors' appointments, buying things, getting ready, taking care of things at work," Onderko said. "There's really not time to step back and reflect on the reason you're having a baby together -- because you love each other."

Hubs and I went on a short trip while I was pregnant with DS#1. The occasion was my 30th Birthday weekend. We went camping at Butte Lake in Lassen National Park. I was 5-1/2 months pregnant. On the last day I was 29 (which sounds more dramatic than on the day before I turned 30), we climbed Cinder Cone. It's not a particularly arduous hike, except that there's no shade and the cone is made of small pieces of pumice. The next day I woke to a campsite decorated with Happy Birthday banners and balloons and breakfast-in-my sleeping bag in the back of our pickup truck.

We also ended up stopping in Red Bluff for ice because it was 110 degrees in the Central Valley and the truck did not have air-conditioning.

(Hubs told this story to DS#2 who just completed a 50-mile hike with his troop in the same area. DS#2, knowing that Hubs is a storyteller, wanted to confirm the story with me.)

The total cost of the four-day trip, in 1983 dollars, was probably $200.00. It would be a little more today, mostly due to gas prices and the increase in campsite fees.

The couples interviewed in the article had high-pressure and high-paying jobs. They could afford (I hope) the cost of their "babymoon." However, I wonder if articles like this create unreasonable expectations among those of us who are still firmly in the middle class who can't afford this. Because as wonderful as getting away from it all might be, it all catches up with you when you come home and the bill is due!

Friday, July 21, 2006

This 'n That

I got to work from home this morning. I was summoned for Jury Duty, then told to be available for afternoon duty. But I wouldn't know until 11:30 a.m. if I would have to report at 1:00 p.m. Swell. It's practically impossible for me to get from work to the county courthouse in 90 minutes, especially since I take public transportation. (Ironically, it's also a "Spare the Air" Day and public transportation is free). So I suggested I work from home, especially since Fridays are half-days during the summer (we work a slightly longer day Mondays through Thursdays). My boss agreed.

The best part? I was eventually excused. The second-best part? I'm already home. The third-best part? I commandeered the computer from the kids who, being older, pretty much didn't wake up until 10:00 a.m. anyway. So the house was quiet.

We're currently in the middle of a heat wave here, most unusual for July. However, "heat" is a relative term in the Bay Area. You have to know where you live and where you're going in order to dress appropriately for the weather. Regional forecasts are given for "coastal areas," "around the Bay," "inland areas," and "well-inland." There can be a 20-degree difference between the coast and "well-inland."

The Warren is located in one of areas tagged "around the Bay" which means that it's usually the same temp at my house as it is at work. However, where I catch BART is significantly cooler. And my ancestral home is often cooler yet. Hence, one way to spot the natives is to see who has a sweater or jacket with them, even on the hottest days, "just in case."

As long as the nights are cool, I enjoy warm weather. All too soon the fog will creep in and wool will (again) be the order of the day.

Tragedy in Washington State

No one should have to hear their family has been murdered, especially a National Guardsman in Iraq. Yet, that is exactly what happened to Sgt. Leonid Milkin of Kirkland, WA. A neighbor murdered Sgt. Milkin's wife, his two young boys, and his sister-in-law, then set the house on fire to cover up the evidence. The house is completely gutted.

There's more infomation from Byron at My Own Side who lives in the neighborhood. Michelle Malkin has information on a memorial fund for Sgt. Milkin's family as well as link to some comments from those who suffer from extreme BDS.

I would call the commenters "liberal" but they're not, not in the classic sense of the word. They are, in fact, quite deranged. We must take pity on them while at the same time acknowledging that deranged people can, in fact, be very, very dangerous.

Movie Review: Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest

This is a great summertime popcorn movie. It's fun. It's loopy. It's 150 minutes (more if you go for the preview and stay through the credits) of air-conditioned nonsense. It's pure escapism with more than a few nods to Disney's original ride--which Uncle Walt himself helped design.

No great themes were discussed. Nothing about global warming or destroying the ecosystem of the ocean. No lectures about the cruelty of mankind or economic disparity or racial/cultural/gender/sexual intolerance. Although there is kissing and flirting.

The effects were cool. Those forced to sail with Davy Jones become part of the sea quite literally. Davy himself is part squid, part crab. Bootstrap Bill is becoming one with starfish and barnacles. And there's one character who is part of the ship itself.

While Sis#2 will be disappointed that there's no wet shirt/shirtless scenes featuring Johnny Depp, there is one featuring Orlando Bloom. (Sigh. Although I still think he looks better as a blond.)

The fight scene among Capt. Sparrow (Depp), Will Turner (Bloom), and the former Commodore, Norrington (Jack Davenport) was clever, imaginative, and amazing. The Kraken looks quite realistic.

Keira Knightly is becoming one of my favorite actresses. Her character is intelligent and almost too clever, impetuous--very much like a woman in her late teens/early-20's. (Yes, I do remember those days. Not that my memory is that good--it's just DD#1 is exactly that age!)

The wonderful thing about this movie is that the cast plays it straight. They don't "wink" at the camera. The dialogue is witty. The action is (almost) non-stop. The bayou is eerie with a suitable Voodoo Queen.

And the end has a surprise twist.

Some critics have complained about the length. Frankly, if I'm paying $9.00 for a movie ($5.75 at the matinee), I want it to be an event. I want to be there awhile. Just plan to have enough time to find a good seat, go to the bathroom, and don't drink a large soft drink.

And this is one movie you want to see on a big screen with a good sound system.

On the March Hare scale: 4.5 out 5 Golden Tickets

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Second Person Always Get Caught

It's the children's version of Murphy's Law. One kid hits another. The second kid strikes back. The second kid gets caught and the first kid gets off scot-free. The conversation usually goes like this:

Adult: "Why did you hit Johnny?"

Child: "Because he hit me first!"

Adult: "Well, what did you do to provoke him?"

Child: "Nothing. I swear!"

Adult: "Well, you shouldn't have lost your temper."

Child: "But he wouldn't stop!"

Adult: "Then you should have gotten an adult and they would have stopped it."

Johnny, meanwhile, is off hitting another kid. Child is pissed because Adult just doesn't understand. Adult is pissed because he (or she) doesn't want Child to learn that might makes right. Or to become a bully himself.

I confess, I still have trouble with this conversation. Apparently, I'm not the only one; to wit: Israel and the rest of the world.

Hamas and Hezbollah harass Israel, finally stepping over the borders--borders that Israel has willingly withdrawn to, BTW--and strikes again.

The World says nothing. Kofi Annan is busy looking for parking in Manhattan. Or something.

Israel takes matters into its own hands and strikes back. Suddenly, the entire World is paying attention. There are calls for "restraint" and "respecting civilians." Israel very patiently points out that they will stop when Hamas and Hezbollah return the soldiers they've kidnapped and stop lobbing shells into Israel's sovereign space. Hamas and Hezbollah cry that Israel is killing civilians, conveniently ignoring that it was a Hamas shell that killed Palestinians at the beach.

The World clucks its collective tongue. "Israel, you should know better!"

Frankly, I think Israel is showing restraint. They haven't used chemical weapons. They haven't nuked Lebanon, Syria, or Iran back to Old Testament days. They haven't executed Arab terrorists and broadcast it on the Internet. They haven't hung the bodies of the enemy dead on bridges.

If they had comparable weaponry and military ability, would Syria or Iran or Hamas or Hezbollah show such restraint?

They haven't indicated they would. In fact, they have indicated they will be happy with nothing less than total annihilation of Israel, followed by Western Europe and the U.S. Canada and Australia would be dessert.

But, still, it's always the second person to hit that gets into trouble. At least in the West.

Book Review: The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. was a college professor, specializing in the history of ideas and in the theory of textual interpretation, which, as he says, "reduced to its essence, is the theory of reading." He examines the persistence of low reading scores in American classrooms from this perspective and comes to a rather unusual conclusion: the American education system has been spending too much time on the mechanics of reading and not enough time on providing children with the background information they need to understand what they are reading.

His theory is really quite simple. Once a child has learned the mechanics of decoding, usually by third grade, the next task is to understand what is read (reading for information). If the child has some preliminary understanding of the material read, s/he doesn't have to spend as much effort understanding it. For example, if the child has been introduced to farms and farm life, they are more likely to understand a story that takes place on a farm. This is where the American education system breaks down.

His proof? American students score quite respectably vis-a-vis foreign students in fourth grade, but lose ground every year after.

His example? This simple sentence: Jones sacrificed and knocked in a run.

I read the words. I know what "sacrificed" means and I know what a "run" is. But I wasn't sure what the sentence meant until Dr. Hirsch provided the context: baseball. (Remember, I was reading about education and didn’t expect to see a sentence referring to baseball.) Once I knew the context, I understood the sentence. Dr. Hirsch's point was that an English reader, unfamiliar with baseball, still wouldn't understand the sentence. The author of the sentence assumes the reader has a familiarity with baseball and understands the game. Dr. Hirsch then demonstrates all the information that the author would need to provide in order for an English reader (or anyone who doesn't know about baseball) to understand the simple sentence. His explanation takes an entire page.

All authors make assumptions about what their readers know beforehand, even easy-readers. What happens when the reader doesn’t have the knowledge the author assumes? In many cases, the reader won’t “get” the text. In a classroom situation, this lack of understanding might not be a big deal—the teacher can explain the text. But what happens during a test?

During a standard reading comprehension test, the student must read several different short passages and answer questions pertaining to the topic. Dr. Hirsch points out that to prepare students for these tests, schools have decided they must train their students in reading strategies: clarify what the passage means, question the author, find the main idea, make inferences about the passage, study the meanings of words, consider the sequence of events in the passage. These, according to Dr. Hirsch, are reading strategies. This is not comprehension.

Even when test-makers go to great lengths to provide background information, such as pictures or definitions, students who are unfamiliar with the subject matter are slowed down because they are assimilating and applying the new background information before they can use their reading strategies to answer the question. Students who have the background already don't have to assimilate the information.

This would be unneccessary, in Dr. Hirsch's opinion, if all students in the same grade were learning the same thing. For example, if all students learned about ancient Egypt in the Sixth Grade, then reading tests could use material about Egypt. Students would be familiar with concept of pyramids and pharaohs and so testing would truly be about comprehension.

Dr. Hirsch does have an agenda. He is the founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation which, among other things, publishes the series What Every ____ Grader Should Know. His Foundation has developed a Core Curriculum for preschool through Eighth Grade, which he claims has been used successful in several schools throughout the country.

However, his theory is not new. Jim Trelease in the Read Aloud Handbook makes the same point: experience is an important component of comprehension, as is repetitive, in-depth exposure to concepts and ideas. (Anyone who has had a child who become fixated on a subject like dinosaurs or trains and, therefore, has read every book on the subject to their preschooler on the subject knows about this!)

Both men have a couple of other ideas in common: children can understand sophisticated concepts presented orally long before they are capable of reading about them. Therefore, it is vitally important that intriguing and challenging ideas be presented to children while they are learning to read. Additionally, learning to read is not like learning to speak. Written language developed much later in human history and is an artificial construct (it has to be--look at how many different ways there are to represent the same sounds!). The rules of written language are different from those of spoken language as well; they are much more formal. So the act of learning to read and to write is a more formal, deliberate process (for most of us, anyway).

Dr. Hirsch makes several good points and has some research to support his theories. Intuitively, his theories and concepts make sense, if for no other reason than promoting a common culture. A formal, national curriculum, specific in content, would be easier on students and teachers. Moving or changing schools would be less of a problem for students, who now either miss chunks of subjects or find them repeating subject matter learned previously. Teachers wouldn't have to guess what their students had learned the previous year and could build on it.

Will it ever happen? I doubt it, based on the battles by teachers in my local school district against using Open Court, a structured reading program. Many teachers seem to feel that structure inhibits their freedom and creativity. They don't seem to realize that structure is what allows us to live together in groups and to communicate with one another.

The Knowledge Deficit is important as a starting point for discussion about education, especially our expectations as parents, as teachers, and as a community about what should be considered "common knowledge." This is a dialogue that needs to be taken out of the "ivory tower" of educational theory and brought down to the streets.

We need to take back our children's lives from the "experts." But that is a blog for another day!

On the March Hare scale: I think this is a book every citizen concerned about education should read.

Monday, July 17, 2006

An Eclectic Weekend

"I have two tickets to the Giants game tonight. They're good seats. Can you use them?" Thus began my Friday. The tickets are corporate tickets , owned by one of our sister companies, bought in their name back when the ballpark at Candlestick Point was new and the company was family-owned.

The timing was close to perfect. DS#2, the only child who would be excited about going, was coming home for the night from Boy Scout camp. His birthday was the day before. Hubs had been bugging me about going to game.

But DS#2 was coming home because he was leaving the next morning for his troop's 50-miler. Would be home in time to wash, pack, go to the game, and get up the next morning?

After some debate over the cell phone, the answer was, "Yes!" Although, ever the gentleman, DS#2 said, "I don't have to go. You and Dad can."

After giving them detailed directions on how to get to the ballpark on BART, complete with maps and telling them to bring water, buy sandwiches for dinner, and park at the Orinda station because there's no direct service to our area after 7:00 p.m., off they went.

"How was it?" I asked, as we had midnight cake and ice cream.

"It was such an awesome game!" DS#2 said. (It was, too. I watched it on TV.) And it was a perfect night for it--the fog chill didn't come in until the game was nearly over.

I also had to tell him, earlier in the day, that Mr. Caurant didn't make it.

"Was his favorite color really orange?" I asked.

"Yes," DS#2 answered. "And he'd wear these crazy socks. The only time I beat him was when I work my green-and-red Scout socks over another weird pair."

The next day, he left for his hike. Hubs, DD#2, and I went to the Memorial Mass. I felt like I was at a Giant's game, there was so much black and orange. Hugged a lot of people. Cried. Shared memories. Thanked his parents for their gift of Mr. C. to my children.

DD#2 sat next to us with friends. She was subdued and wouldn't go into her old classroom until nearly the end. Mr. C had resigned (we found out) the Thursday before his accident and had probably started cleaning out his classroom then. The desks are all different. But the kids are all different. They haven't quite realized it.

Each year every class makes a special quilt for the school auction.

"Mrs. T. came up to me and said, 'I'm thinking orange.'," said the 8th Grade teacher.

"With bicycles," I added. Her eyes gleamed.

After the reception, I had a Board meeting for the Ina Coolbrith Circle. They knew I was going to be late. The hostess offered wine. I took a glass.

Hubs left Sunday. He had been hoping to make the 50-miler, but his back and his knee slowed him down. So he's the support vehicle, planning on meeting the troop along the way. His parents live in the area, so he'll visit them. And, he'll get some fishing in as well.

This means, of course, that I control the remote and I can select whatever chick flicks I want to watch.

"Mom, we've got to get the house ready for my party!" the soon-to-be-13-y.o. said. She wants to swim at the local pool, then have everyone sleep over. We have two weeks to get the house company-ready. It will take that long.

But, before that, we had a meeting with the girls who are going to Sakai. We are currently practicing cooking, as in You Don't Scramble Pancakes. But you can make scrambled eggs in a plastic baggie (put the egg in the baggie, add extras, moosh it around, seal it, stick the baggie in a pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes, open and eat).

"You know, they don't use stoves in Japan. They cook over an open fire or charcoal," said the other leader. "We're going to need to practice that."

Yes, we are. Add it to the list of stuff we have to do over the next 12-months.

I'm almost looking forward to going to the office!

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Note to Mosquitos and Other Small, Annoying Creatures

If you keep buzzing around annoying a larger animal, eventually you're going to get slapped.

Blog Profile: Listen to Uncle Jay

I have a soft spot in my heart--or my head--for Park Rangers. They are the Oracles of All They Survey. They are intimately familiar with the Foibles of Mankind. They are Underpaid and Overworked. In fact, the difference between them and some of the volunteers who work at The Park is that the Volunteers are usually better paid.

So let me introduce you to Uncle Jay, who lives in Jacksonville Beach and occasionally does Ranger duty in the Dry Tortugas (hey, Jay, are there Wet Tortugas? Never mind...) Being a Ranger gives him an interesting take on humanity.

Plus, he likes Stephen King, Firefly, and Robert Heinlein. He's been added to the sidebar. Go check him out!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

TV Series Review: Nightmares & Dreamscapes

If the title of this series seems familiar, then you are probably a Stephen King fan.

TNT is hosting this series on Wednesday nights, around 9:00 p.m. (I've noticed TNT's schedule varies by region, so check your local listings.) Last night was the season premiere and if the rest of the series can maintain the quality, then my Wednesday nights are booked!

Disclaimer: I am an unrepentant Stephen King fan. I also recognize his greatest weakness in writing is his endings. Usually the ride along the way makes up for it.

The series features two dramatizations of Stephen King short stories, each an hour long. The first story starred William Hurt and a bunch of plastic army men ("Battleground") and was done with absolutely no dialogue. The second story starred two actors I'm not familiar with: Eion Bailey and Claire Forlani. The story was "Crouch End," which I have read, where a newlywed couple ventures into a neighborhood in London that has a "thin spot" between this dimension and another.

Like "The Twilight Zone," "The Outer Limits," and "The Night Gallery," a stellar cast and director has been selected for each episode. Because they are short stories, they are intense, without a lot of backstory--which isn't necessarily a bad thing. And, unlike his novels, most of Mr. King's short stories don't have a lot of gore. But they do mess with your head and with reality. :)

Not all of the stories are from Mr. King's Nightmares & Dreamscapes collection, so it will be interesting to see what the directors pick. I'm also not sure how long the series will run. But it sure beats summer reruns!

Oh, Hubs also watched. Since he's not a reader, he only knows Mr. King's work through film adaptations. He was planning on going to bed early last night, but got hooked and watched both episodes!

On the March Hare scale: 3 out 5 Golden Remotes

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Movie Review: Superman Returns

First, the disclaimers:

Disclaimer #1: Superman has held a special place in my heart since the summer I turned six.

Disclaimer #2: I have a picture of Christopher Reeve in his Superman costume in the garage. (A girl has to have something fun to look at whilst doing laundry!)

Hubs, DD#2, and I saw Superman Returns together. Hubs and I have seen Superman, with Christopher Reeve, many times as well as the three sequels. DD#2 had not. She enjoyed the movie, but she didn't understand why Hubs and I laughed at certain parts or why I gasped when I first saw Brandon Routh dressed as Clark Kent. (This omission in her film education was soon rectified.)

Superman Returns starts in the middle and assumes that the audience has some familiarity with the Superman mythos. The time frame, I read later, is that this takes place after Superman II. But it doesn't, exactly--especially since Lois Lane remembers spending the night with Superman in this movie. (Her memory was conveniently erased in Superman II.)

Superman has returned to Earth after a five-year absence, spent looking for any remnants of his home planet, Krypton. This means that Clark Kent has returned to The Daily Planet after an equally unexplained 5-year absence. Jimmy Olsen is still boyish and enthusiastic, only now he carries a digital camera instead of using film. Lois still ignores Clark, still is aggressively pursuing stories, and still can't spell, even though she is using a computer instead of a typewriter and, presumably, has Spell-Check.

Oh, yeah, Lois also has a 5-y.o. son, lives with her fiance, Richard White, editor and nephew of the Editor-in-Chief, Perry White, who no longer smokes cigars. Lois is also receiving the Pulitzer Prize for a column she wrote: "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman."

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor has managed to get out of prison on a legal technicality: Superman didn't read him his Miranda Rights and failed to show up at the retrial. In a reverse Anna Nicole Smith, Lex has persuaded Gertrude Vanderworth to leave all her money and assets to him on her deathbed. (Gertrude is played by Noel Neill, the original Lois Lane in the 1948 move and the 1953 series. Ms. Neill also had a cameo in Superman I, as the mother on a train whose young daughter watches a young Clark Kent streak by.) Rich again, Lex finds the Fortress of Solitude (wasn't that destroyed in Superman II?) and discovers the secret of the crystals (again). Of course, Lex is going to have his revenge on Superman, and, once again, revenge = kryptonite.

I thought Bryan Singer did an excellent job with Superman Returns. The effects are awesome and somehow believable. He manages to pay homage to the Christopher Reeve original (in fact, the movie is dedicated to Christopher and Dana Reeve) without copying it line for line. Brandon Routh is incredible, managing to convey either Clark or Superman simply with his body language. There is one scene where he manages to transform from Clark to Superman back to Clark in about 30 seconds--again, very similar to a scene Christopher Reeve did.

Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor isn't quite as histronic as Gene Hackman's, but that only makes him more chilling. One quibble: what's with the wigs? In the comic books and in the current animated series, Justice League, Lex is bald, all the time. And didn't Patrick Stewart and Avery Green prove that bald men are studly?

Parker Posy is Luthor's moll, Kitty Kowalski. She's not quite as dim as Valerie Harper was as Miss Tessmacher and, ultimately, she has an important decision to make. James Marsden plays the aforementioned Richard White, making him suspicious of Lois's affections when Superman returns, and a bit of a blowhard in front of Clark, but ultimately, he's a good guy. Which makes me wonder what's going to happen in the coming sequels (two more are planned). I mean, the only way he's not going to get burned is if he dies, and I'd hate for that to happen to such an all-around great guy.

The American values Superman has always stood for are still there, but their applicability is recognized to be universal and Superman is shown performing heroic acts in locales other than Metropolis. (Okay, a question for Superman fanatics: if Gotham City stands for New York, then why doesn't Chicago stand in for Metropolis? I mean, Clark is a farm boy from Smallville. Wouldn't that make more sense?) I noticed a lot of Christian symbolism, including the discussion of whether the world needs a savior or not.

This film is darker than the Christopher Reeve Superman. Even Superman's costume is darker; the reds more of a burgundy and the familiar "S" logo missing from his cape (DD#2 caught that), though it is still on his chest. But, as is true of all genre flicks, if you didn't like Spiderman or the X-Men, if you don't like superheroes in general (or in particular), you probably aren't going to like this movie.

And it is long. So go to the bathroom before the movie starts and don't drink a jumbo-sized Coke!

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Tickets

Book Review: The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger

"On April 26, 1956, a crane lifted fifty-eight aluminum truck bodies aboard an aging tanker ship moored in Newark, New Jersey. Five days later, the Ideal-X sailed into Houston, where fifty-eight trucks waited to take on the metal boxes and haul them to their destinations. Such was the beginning of a revolution."

Opening paragraph of "The Box"

You see them everywhere: corrugated steel boxes hauled by trucks on the Interstates or stacked like blocks on train flatcars. Used ones, no longer sea- or road-worthy, become storage sheds for Boy Scout troops or youth sports or turned into snack bars. In my area, it's not uncommon to see them parked out on the street.

Shipping containers are ubiquitous and we don't think about them any more. But as Marc Levinson points out in The Box, the shipping container revolution was a long time coming. When it did, it not only changed local economies, it changed the global one as well.

Malcom McLean, the patron saint of container shipping, started out as a trucker. His experience brought the understanding that the shipment of goods could be faster, easier, and cheaper if cargo didn't have to be loaded piece by piece into a truck, unloaded, stowed piece by piece into a ship, unloaded, reloaded into a truck, and unloaded at the destination--piece by piece. Why not load the cargo into a truck body, load the truck body into a ship, and then unload it right to the back of a truck at destination?

As Mr. Levinson shows, that simple vision was, in fact, not quite so simple. The transportation industry--rail, water, and trucking--were capital intensive, so were not about to invest a lot of money on an idea. There was a lot of resitance on the part of the unions--Longshore (the ILA and the ILWU) and the warehousemen and drivers (Teamsters). Ports had to be redesigned and had to invest in cranes capable of lifting the loaded boxes out of the vessel holds. Manufacturers had to learn how to consolidate orders into container-load size lots. End users had to learn to order their parts the same way.

While Mr. McLean was experimenting on the East Coast, Matson Navigation Company was doing their own research out West. More methodical than McLean, Matson studied and analyzed the best size of container to ship canned pineapple from the Philippines most efficiently. Instead of using ship cranes to load and unload containers (McLean's solution), Matson decided that shoreside cranes were more efficient. While McLean's containers were 35' long--the maximum size of a truck body at the time--Matson found 24' containers more efficient for their trade lane. When container sizes were later standardized, these two pioneers were stuck.

The Vietnam War proved the viability of containerized shipping. Once the Military Transport Command was sold, the rest of the shipping lines raced to catch up.

Container shipping also affected longshore labor and traditional longshore communities. Each coast had slightly different traditions of how labor was hired, how much labor was needed, and the different skill sets needed for each type of job. Longshoremen on both coasts saw containerization as a threat to their livelihood, which, in fact, it was. However, the resolution that each Maritime Association and Union (ILA on the East Coast and ILWU on the West) was very different.

Computerization and the Internet have made it possible for the Government of Palau, a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean, to order dirt stablization blankets from a company in the state of Georgia, who load the finished product out of their manufacturing facilities in Tennessee and South Carolina into containers which are trucked to the railyard, loaded on a train for Long Beach, CA, unloaded from the train, taken by truck to the container yard in Long Beach, loaded on a vessel and unloaded in Palau. (That's not in the book. I arranged the logistics for that move in a previous job with the steamship line serving Palau.)

Although Mr. Levinson is an economist, there are very few graphs and numbers. There is some steamship/transportation jargon, which I believe he explains rather well. However, since I work in the industry, I might not notice it. I found his style to be relaxed rather than technical and dry. If you really want to get into the dry stuff, Mr. Levinson has footnotes that cite many sources.

I started in the steamship industry in 1976, so containerized shipping was really what I know. I saw first hand some of the changes that Mr. Levinson talks about, especially those at the end of the book. (He uses Barbie as an example of the new global economy and "Just In Time" production.) I was fascinated to see how we got to where we are and why so many of the older men I worked with had such a difficult time adjusting to the new business reality.

On the March Hare scale: 4.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks, especially for anyone involved in or interested in global transportation and global economy.

And, yes, I know I'm a geek!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Because Life Goes On...

I spent this past weekend under the Redwoods, not far from the Coast (but far enough so the fog burned off quickly), with 50 women and 9 men who are giving up at least 10 days of vacation time to be Girl Scout camp counselors.

Yes, we are crazy. And I have the memories to prove it. There might even be pictures floating around. Somewhere.

Last year, DD#2 saw this program listed in the Camp brochure. Unfortunately, the sessions overlapped our visit with the Japanese Scouts, so she opted to go to a different camp. This year, she found the program again and asked if she could go. Although I was a bit quicker on the ball as far as getting her registration in (Camp registration is always due around the same time as school registration, it seems), the session was filled with one exception: there was room for staff kids.

"DD#2 can go only if I go," I explained to Hubs.

"Can't she go somewhere else and do this next year?"

"Next year she'll be too old. Besides, she'll be in Japan."

Hubs thought a moment. "Okay, you can go. But you can't have fun!"

I laughed. This from the man who went to Boy Scout camp for a week with the troop, even though the son in the troop is at camp on staff! And he's taking another week off to be the support vehicle for the troop's 50-miler.

"Okay, I'll try not to!"

This last weekend was intensive training. I made a list of the stuff I need to bring that's not on the packing list. I discovered that my unit is sleeping in tents--at the top of the hill. I met the women I'll be working with and the ones who will be taking care of my daughter. We tried to juggle how we were going to fit all the program we're supposed to do in a 24-hour day, plus schedule downtime for the girls, breaks for ourselves, showers, and--oh, yeah--sleep. I discovered that, although it's my first year at this camp, I'm a unit leader, responsible not only for the girls, but for the staff in my unit.

Some important stuff, like all the different rules, was sweetened by games. As an adult, I have two choices: I can roll my eyes or I can buy into it completely, jumping in with both feet and rediscovering my crazy inner girl.

I jumped.

And I was rewarded to find I was surrounded with kindred spirits.

At the closing, one of the younger staff shared that she was usually quite shy, but that we didn't give her a chance to be. We just sort of dragged her along with us into our madness. She was glad we did--she had more fun than she thought she would.

An acquaintance of mine told me that Eleanor Roosevelt once said that she tried to do something that challenged her every day. I can't find that exact quote, but I found something similar: "You must do the things you think you cannot do. " She also said, "We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot." So this acquaintance tries to do something that she has never done before, something that she's afraid of doing. For her it was being in a musical with the local theater group. For me, it's going back to camp as a counselor, not just during the day, but for 24-hours for ten days, something I haven't done since I was 19.

As a bonus, I get to go sea-kayaking! (And take 19 11-y.o. & 12-y.o. girls to the Boardwalk, which is probably scarier!)

But I like my staff and the core staff at the camp. I think we will work well together. DD#2 is in the other Mariner unit, so the only time we'll see each other, besides meals, is sea-kayaking and at the Boardwalk. I think she can live with that. :)

And it felt good to be under the redwoods. I didn't realize quite how much I missed the camaraderie of camp, of being with people who are just as enthusiastic and just as committed (or committable!) as I am. It's a nice change from the everyday, somewhat sober, mother and professional employee that I usually am.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Mr. C Has Died

Pat Caurant died Saturday morning at 12:20 p.m. The family was able to find recipients for some of his organs, so Pat has given the gift of life to several others. I think he would have liked that.

I've also been reading the tributes left by friends, family, students (current and former), faculty, staff, parents of students. "Mr. C" had a huge impact on those around him, especially his students. It's a tough lesson for young adolescents to face: that God can call us at any time, and, in fact, does. The first day of school will be very solemn for the Middle School, who expected to see Mr. C there, waiting for them.

He will be. I can't imagine Mr. C not "hovering" in the back of the room, the patron saint of Math & Science and 7th Graders at St. Joesph's School!

Thank you all for your prayers. Thanks to Julie D. of Happy Catholic for posting my request on her site as well.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Never Do This

Mr. Caurant's family has set up a site on CaringBridge to keep everyone informed. Included in the site is a guest book. Reading it is kind of like a real life "It's A Wonderful Life." Mr. C has touched more lives than he has realized.

I made the mistake of reading the Guest Book this morning before leaving for work.

The tributes from the kids got to me--and still do (I'm tearing up as I write this). I know many of them because they are classmates of my children. Some I know only because I know their parents. Almost all of them say the same thing: "You were my favorite teacher." "We complained about the hour long lectures, but we learned a lot." "Even though we were a rambunctious class, you never gave up on us." "We want to see you back at school in September."

They want a miracle and, with the optimism of youth, they expect God to pay attention.

I gave DD#2 the bad news just before I left. I could tell she was shaken. My father died five years ago, my husband's grandmother died the year before that. But they were old. Mr. C is young.

"Do you want to write something?" I asked her.

"I will. Let me think of something."

I hope she does.

Damn, Damn, Damn

This is the latest about Mr. Caurant, posted by his sister on the CaringBridge website:

THURSDAY, JULY 06, 2006 12:37 AM, CDT

It's late Wednesday night following another day of wonderful support from Pat's extended family. Thank you all.

Pat looks peaceful and all efforts are being made to eliminate any pain he might be experiencing.

My heart is being torn in so many pieces to have to share this news with so many loving and caring friends and family. I wish I could share the news with you all personally, but I know there are many of you out there waiting for an update.

After more neurological tests this evening, it has been determined that Pat has very little functionality left in his brain. He is responding by reflex only and his ability to breathe on his own is minimal.

Pat will leave us in the next few days.

As he is a light of joy in so many of our lives, he will continue to be a light to all even when his physical presence has left us.

We are considering organ donations. There may be an opportunity to donate some of Pat's organs to people in our scholatstic, church, cycling and friendship communities. As we are beginning the several day process of planning for organ donation, please contact me immediately if you know of someone in need.

Please continue to keep Pat in your thoughts and prayers and wish him peace.

With love for a wonderful brother

Even so, Mr. Caurant continues to teach. DD#2 and I discussed his accident last night and the fact the outlook didn't look good.

She was thoughtful. "You know, kids in my class have been hoping that something like this would happen. Now that it has, it's really sad."

I know that she was one of those kids. As I mentioned earlier, she drove him crazy. He was a demanding teacher who held her accountable. But he also cared. I know that she wished she had a different teacher. I also know that as much as she wished he would go away, she didn't mean like this.

DS#2 is away at Scout camp. He's due to come home for his troop's 50-miler next week and I debated about waiting until then to talk to him. I think I'd better let him know now so we can discuss Mr. Caurant once DS#2 comes home.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Prayers Urgently Needed...

...for Patrick Caurant and his family. Mr. Caurant has been the science and math teacher for DS#2 and DD#2 through Middle School and their 7th Grade homeroom teacher. He was seriously injured in a bicycling accident over the weekend. He is currently in a coma and the extent of his brain injuries won't be known until the swelling goes down. (And, yes, he was wearing a helmet. He never rode without one.)

When I first met him, I knew there was something different about him. He overcame his learning disabilities to graduate from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in geology. He holds his students to high standards, but also is willing to help them become all they can be. Needless to say, DD#2 drove him nuts last year, in part because he didn't know how to help her realize her potential. (DD#2 should be an "A" student, but has a knack of sabotaging herself. She drives all adults nuts--but Mr. Caurant was young enough to take her behavior personally.) He could have made more money teaching in a public school, but chose to teach in a Catholic school because of its faith-based environment.

What Mr. C has going for him, besides the prayers of the parish, is that he's young (28) and he's physically fit.

I'd love to have a miracle here, but "Thy Will be done."

Civil Discourse

My family traditionally gathers for a barbecue sometime during the 4th of July weekend. This year was no different, except that the gathering was smaller than usual--a lot of the "regulars" were out of town. I was pleasantly surprised that DS#1 and DD#1 made a special effort to come for at least part of the day, especially since they both had to be at work that evening.

Conversation has never been a problem, even though we represent many different points of view. Most of it was personal: "How was your trip?" "How is work?" "How are you feeling?" "When is the baby due?" Some of it was more political, especially when my mother began discussing the Value-Added Tax in U.K. and their nationalized health care.

"Well, of course, they can get surgery if they really need it," one cousin remarked. This particular cousin is very much a liberal.

My mother shook her head. "The waiting list is long."

"One of the complaints I've heard about both Britain and Canada is that an operation, say for breast cancer, that would be a simple lumpectomy here becomes a radical mastectomy there because of they have to wait so long," I added as clarification.

My cousin looked thoughtful. The conversation moved on to taxes in general.

"Of course, here we give tax cuts to the rich," my liberal cousin stated.

"According to the IRS, the top 5% of the income earners pay something like 50% of the taxes," I replied.

She snorted. "Then those people must not have very good tax accountants."

I was rather surprised, but I dropped it. She did not see anything contradictory in her reply. I was tempted to ask her how she defined "the rich," but decided on familial harmony instead.

Later I was telling another cousin about our decision to send DS#2 to a high school out of our district this next school year, which lead to the California High School Exit Exam. DD#1 is the only one who has taken it so far. In her opinion, DD#2 (who is in 8th Grade) could pass the exam, especially since the exam requires only a 10th Grade level in English and a 9th Grade level in math (basically Algebra I).

"I think it's a good thing to require a minimum level of competence," this cousin said. She then told a story about asking a co-worker to look over a presentation she was making, especially the percentages, just to make sure there were no obvious mistakes.

"And the guy told me, 'I don't know how to do percentages.' Can you believe it?"

"You mean he needed a calculator?" asked my mother.

"No. I mean he couldn't tell me that 10 out of 100 was 10%!" She also went on to share her first work experience--a summer job at an office. "I remember coming home and telling my parents that people actually did things there. I was so surprised! I'm sure Mom and Dad got a big kick out of my reaction. But in real life you don't get paid just for showing up. So you shouldn't get a diploma for just showing up for four years at high school."

I've been mulling these conversations--and a few others we had--over for the last few days. My differences with my cousins, my mother, my siblings, and others isn't over goals. We want children to be educated. We don't want people to live on the street or to go hungry. It's just that we differ in the best way our society can achieve these goals.

Neal Boortz has a "Freedom Quiz" archived on his website. Mr. Boortz is very much a Libertarian and is very much in favor of personal responsibility. I am not quite as stark as he is on some of his answers: I am in favor of personal responsibility, but I also think that we, as humans, have social bonds and obligations and our government acts in recognition of those. People do make poor choices; bad things happen to good people, sometimes in spite of our best and most prudent plans.

For example, while it is true that the decision to have children is most private and presonal, it is also in the best interest of society that children are born. It is also in the best interest of society that those children are raised under the most optimal conditions possible: with their biological parents and siblings, adequately fed, clothed, sheltered, and educated. Formalizing marriage is one of the ways. Assuring women that their jobs, or a comparable one, will be there 12 weeks after their baby is born is another. Providing equality of opportunity to find a job, to receive a good education, to buy a house is another. However, when the government stops pursuing equality of opportunity and tries to ensure equality of results, then the government has overstepped its bounds. (Any parent who has more than one child understands the impossibility of this ideal!)

Lately, however, I've noticed it has become more difficult to discuss these issues. Both sides resort to straw men and ad hominem attacks. Issues are discussed with passion, but not necessarily with enlightenment. We, the American people, have become disoriented. We fail to see that we are arguing about what methods are best to achieve our common goals, not necessarily the goals themselves. (Although there is also disagreement about priorities as well.)

I can understand why public figures like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Neal Boortz, Ann Coulter, Molly Ivins, Janeane Garofolo, Michael Moore, and Al Franken take extreme positions. Their job is to create controversy, to make people tune in to hear or to read what outrageous things they'll say next. They would all be unemployed otherwise. That doesn't mean that the rest of us--the 50% who pay 90% of the income taxes, for example--can't have a civil conversation with our spouses, our friends, our families, within our communities, recognizing our common purpose and goals, while acknowledging we have different ideas of how to get there.

Just wait until Labor Day...

Book Review: ComeBack: a mother and daughter's journey through hell and back

One January 30, Claire Fontaine comes home late from work to find her only daughter, Mia, has run away. What she discovers, while looking for Mia and later after Mia is found, is that her A-student daughter has been leading a double life. Claire has known, with that gut-instinct most of us mothers have, that something is wrong with Mia, something very wrong.

Claire admits to making three major mistakes while raising Mia, blaming them all on not listening to her innermost voice. Finally, she does listen to that voice, and while she still makes mistakes, she and Mia are on the road to repairing their family--although it doesn't look like it at the time.

The story is written in alternate voices of Claire and Mia, each bringing their perspective to the situation. Several lessons stood out for me, especially as a mother. Claire mentions that when God wants your attention, He throws feathers. If that doesn't work, He throws bricks. Aha--my infamous clue-by-four! Claire ignored her "inner voice," the one that told her there was something wrong with her first husband and his family. Instead of fleeing, she believed him when she was told it was her. That self-doubt also recurred when she first tried to get help for Mia. Fortunately, she eventually stood firm and did what she knew had to be done, despite what "everyone" else told her. The worst decisions I've ever made is when I listened to the "experts" instead of my instincts.

And, finally, Claire talks about the sexualization of children, especially young girls, by our culture and how we won't let them compete because it might hurt their feelings, but we let the culture sell them thongs and skimpy t-shirts. If we try to protect our children from sexually provocative films and music, it's called "censorship" and we parents are prudes. I've never liked the Bratz dolls, never let my daughters have them, and now I know why. I like the fact that my local Catholic grammar school does not allow nail polish or make-up or "extreme" hairstyles. I like the fact that the kids have to wear shoes they can run or jump or play in through 8th Grade. I'm glad I followed my mother's plan and not let my daughters grow up by dressing as adults until their late teens.

Many social critics don't understand why parents get upset over sexually explicit material but not violence. Could it be that some of us parents see sexually exploitation as more of a danger than violence? Especially for those of us who live in areas where violence is relatively rare but suggestive sexuality is on display at our local mall?

Another cultural eye-opener, for both Claire and myself, is the heroin problem and drug culture in rural Indiana. The book discusses it in the context of Mia's experience--and Claire's naivete. I know that the idea of an idyllic agrarian society is myth and has been (in River Runs Through It, during the 1920's the drug of choice is alcohol.) In college I met "farm kids" who explained their drug and alcohol use in terms of "What else is there to do?" (And these were the honor students, involved in Student Council, Marching Band, Yearbook, etc.) In Mia's experience, the parents are as involved in the drug and alcohol scene as their children--I got the feeling that both generations had just given up. Money alone isn't the answer--these folks are sick in their soul, much as the street kids who hang around Venice Beach are. How did they lose hope? How do they regain it? What can we do to help?

I'm not sure there's an answer and that frightens me. I'm an American and a Mom. I should be able to fix anything and everything. I should be able to make things right! And it frustrates me that I can't. (Perhaps this is the basis of the anger I see in many liberals. We should be able to fix these problems. But we can't, or, we can try but the problem just won't stay fixed.)

Believe it or not, this story has a happy ending. Claire and Mia learn a lot about how their reactions to past trauma colored their perceptions of themselves and the world. They relearn coping strategies and how to communicate and to listen. They become accountable for their actions and reactions. Both Mia and Claire acknowledge this growth took hard work on their parts and strength of character on those who helped them along the way.

ComeBack is important because it reaffirms the mother-child bond, the importance of mothering instinct. And Claire and Mia learn the hardest lesson of all--that while we can't change the past or make our loved ones into the "perfect" person, we can change ourselves. We can change destructive behaviors. We can grow, no matter what our age.

I sort of wish I had read this book earlier in my mothering career, when DS#1 was entering his teens. But I can still use the lessons from it now.

On the March Hare scale: 4.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks.

Book Review: The Cat Who Walks Through Walls

Updated 07/06/06. I've got to admit, it's pretty embarassing when I don't get the title right and the book is sitting in front of me. Thanks, Jay! :) See his comments and Alicia's, too, about related books by Heinlein that elaborate on some of the characters in this book.

I was going on a trip and I needed a book. Paperback, so it would fit in my carry-on. Long enough--and interesting enough--to last two 5 hour + plane rides. Preferably cheap, so that if I left it somewhere or dropped it in the tub I wouldn't cry. Which also meant the book still had to be in print or available at my public library.

Digging through my bag of books bought at local Friends of the Library Book Sales, I found The Cat Who Walks Through Walls by Robert Heinlein. I like Heinlein, mostly, and at 400 pages, this book fit the ticket.

Okay, Heinlein was an interesting writer. His early writings are much different, I think, than his later stuff. The early novels, like Starship Troopers, dealt with the military strategies and political maneuvering in fighting a war in space on planets far removed from Earth. Stranger in a Strange Land is about an alien who falls to Earth. Friday is about a grown-up creche baby who is trying to find her place in society. The Cat Who Walks Through Walls is part of the "Future History" series, so there's a lot of time travel and multiverses. Cat reminds me of The Number of the Beast, another one of Heinlein's later novels.

Richard Ames is having a special dinner with Gwen Novak. She leaves to visit the ladies' room and a stranger sits at the table. He begins to tell a strange story to Richard when he is killed by a dart.

The wait staff doesn't blink an eye. They swiftly remove the corpse and change the table linen. Gwen returns to the table and asks Richard what happened. He tells her. She tells him it's probably not safe for him to return to his apartment and offers hers. He agrees. She leaves and he follows some moments later.

But when he gets to her apartment, Gwen is not there. So he returns to his and finds--Gwen, asleep in his bed.

And that's just the first chapter.

Did I mention that Richard and Gwen live in a space habitat orbiting the moon (known as Luna)?

Nothing goes smoothly. No one is who (whom?) they seem to be. In fact, Richard Ames is not Richard Ames at all. When he finally confesses this to Gwen, whom he has married, she tells him that her name is not Gwen Novak.

The cat doesn't make an appearance until late in the novel. I haven't quite figured out why he's there at all, to tell you the truth. Because this is one of Heinlein's later novels, clothing is optional and the definition of being "faithful" to your spouse is rather fluid. As in The Number of the Beast and even in Stranger in a Strange Land, the ending is kind of amorphous. Like there might be a sequel. Or Richard and Gwen might be in another novel that I haven't read yet.

Several characters from other novels make an appearance: Lazarus Long, Deety, John Carter. Some characters are not just from other universes, they are actually fictional characters from other science fiction stories (I'm just guessing, but I believe Heinlein was a big fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs who wrote the series John Carter of Mars and Tarzan.)

This book never rests. The action continues page after page--one Amazon reviewer said, "It's kind of like riding a roller coaster." Yep, it is. And if you like roller coasters and old-time science fiction--especially the kind where the main character, who is an author himself, makes wise-cracks to his readers-- and you can suspend your need for a rational universe, then you'll enjoy this book.

This book is definitely not for everyone.

On the March Hare scale: 3.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks