Friday, April 29, 2005

Tell me tales

On one of the copyeditors' e-mail lists, Helen Court gave me a hook to hang some recent thoughts on...

I read—and early on was read to from—the books my parents (circa 1915) had read, my grandparents (circa 1885) had read, plus a slightly newer batch (1930s onward).

"read to from"...

My daughter (almost 10) is mildly retarded. For all her school years, it has been pretty much necessary to exchange notes or phone calls every few days about class work, homework, and suggestions for new strategies and exercises (both from teacher to us and from us to teacher).

My son (6) is very precocious and in a Spanish-immersion kindergarten; the nature of the program means that it draws highly motivated teachers, parents, and children. My wife or I has at least a "hello" with the teacher every day, and every week or two we contribute some kind of help to the class—craft projects, in-class presentations. We're involved, OK?

And yet it would be stupid to think that we can't still learn something. A couple weeks ago, I mentioned to Sally Ann's teacher that she was becoming less interested in reading at bedtime. It's disappointing, I said, because I had read to her every night since she turned 2 and was glad when she started being able to read (very early beginner-level) stories herself last year.

Teacher said, read TO her. They spend hours every week in class getting the kids to read, and the homework includes reading. Sally Ann doesn't need to spend more time doing it herself, especially since at this point that's a halting, difficult, frustrating experience. She needs to experience how fun, easy, and interesting reading can be. The teacher sketched for me, and I've thought more deeply on, why reading-to is important: she needs to hear the drama of acting out character voices and the cadence of sentences and paragraphs. She needs to know that not only do fright and love come in different volumes, but so do suspense, calm, and anger.

I knew all that. I deserve a Tony award for my Fox in Socks. And I know the value of making 'em up, too; I've had Chase Collins' Tell Me a Story on my shelf for years. But I had forgotten, and gotten lazy.

Helen again...

These included the GA Hentys of the late 19th century [...], Robin Hood, Robert Louis Stevenson, A.A. Milne, Alice in Wonderland, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, to name a few. [...]

I delighted in them, including ack The Dog of Flanders, bigger ack Slovenly Peter, and—in particular—The Just So Stories (even if they were written by someone many disapprove of today) ... for a five-year-old, they were terrific stories ... the bicolored python rock snake springs to mind, curled up on the banks of the great gray green greasy Limpopo River, warning the Elephant Child about the false tears of the crocodile. Sunk home, that one did. Not yet disproved.

So I completely overhauled our nightly bedtime-story routine. Used to be, each child would pick a book off their shelf; I'd read P.J.'s to him and help Sally Ann read hers aloud, each in their own room (alternating evenings as to who went first, of course). They only have a finite number of books, and they always pick their favorites, and while rereading is good it's not perfect. You can't get the same insight from even a classic like Green Eggs and Ham the tenth time 'round, let alone from Bob the Builder's Birthday.

Now, I pick the story. One story, both kids, in my room. First thing this means is, we can read books that I wouldn't let them touch, such as the hardbound editions of each of the Just So Stories from my mother's childhood library (they still have the year and a private kind of Dewey code, in my mom's handwriting, pencilled on the endpaper).

Back on the copyeditors' list, Ben Boyington posted that "the Jungle Books are some of the best tales ever written, in my humble opinion. Ever so." Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake indeed. The kids are rapt. For a 5- or 6-year-old—as a race, they are notoriously truth-challenged—I don't know of a better way to warn about deceivers than the original crocodile's tears. We accidentally had The Elephant's Child two days before going on a trail hike where PJ learned the difference between garter snakes and rattlesnakes—no rock snakes, unfortunately, but the immediate relevance of tale to trail completely sold him on the idea that I should always choose the story.

The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Baltohas a great arc and even greater payoff. Pieces of books also work; Bilbo's encounter with the trolls was a hit. The Wind in the Willows is on the horizon, as are Peter Pan and The Red Balloon and In the Night Kitchen and more. Tonight we'll be in Chapter 7 of The Wizard of Oz. Yeah, they've seen the movie, but they've never seen Kalidahs...

They aren't going to deny me a bedtime story again!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

More good news

B.K. (Before Kids), I was a birder. So it's important to me that ornithologists have re-found a bird that was long thought extinct... in Arkansas!

Things that annoy #832

  • Whippersnappers who don't recognize plastic 35mm film canisters

Eric Joyner art

Eye candy: more robots than you can shake a wrought-iron stick at.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Unitarian Jihad

I read it at the time; I enjoyed it; but y'know, I really didn't think many people would find it humorous. But now that it has become an e-mail forward... well, I was wrong. And besides, Jon Carroll is a marvelous writer, and anything that gets him more exposure is Good.
[...] Beware! Unless you people shut up and begin acting like grown-ups with brains enough to understand the difference between political belief and personal faith, the Unitarian Jihad will begin a series of terrorist-like actions. We will take over television studios, kidnap so-called commentators and broadcast calm, well-reasoned discussions of the issues of the day. We will not try for "balance" by hiring fruitcakes; we will try for balance by hiring non-ideologues who have carefully thought through the issues. [...] We will require all lobbyists, spokesmen and campaign managers to dress like trout in public. Televangelists will be forced to take jobs as Xerox repair specialists. Demagogues of all stripes will be required to read Proust out loud in prisons. [...]
And I think that the American public would have an even tougher time handling non-ideologues carefully thinking through issues than they have with humor columns suggesting this particular fantasy scenario.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Stolen links

Cognitive dissonance is another way of saying, there were no nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons in Iraq, but the conservative-owned media won't tell you that.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Gas giving you heartburn? The Pres would like to help (give you more, that is)

Bush is starting to put more effort into convincing us to give tax breaks to his oil-company campaign contributors. He's implying that this would lower retail gas prices, but that's a lie (so he'll probably say it straight up pretty soon). Although Bush criticized Clinton for high gas prices, Bush hasn't done what that he told Clinton to do, because he really doesn't want prices to come down.

It's exactly the same strategy as Bush's effort to phase out Social Security:

  • Tell people there's a problem when there isn't
  • Propose a windfall for the rich that will make things much worse
  • Suggest that the proposal will solve the fictional problem.

Pattern of behavior, folks. Another example is No Child Left Behind. Yes, in that case there's a real problem; children need to learn more today than they did 50 years ago. But again, we got a proposal that consisted of a tax break for the very few (if a public school fails to meet standards, tutoring companies and private schools get to suck the government teat) that makes things worse: the Catch-22 structure of NCLB means that every school, rich or poor, will eventually fail! (Hey, that's the goal: The Repos in charge want to eliminate public education.)

Back to oil... Look, this isn't complicated: we're using too much. In 1988 oil was under $18 per barrel and the average mileage of a new car or light truck sold in the U.S. was 26 mpg. Today oil is over $50 per barrel and average mileage in the U.S. is under 25 mpg—under 21 if you factor in SUVs, which culturally are passenger cars. (Oil price data here, auto mileage data here.) It's demand that's driving this, not supply. Use less!

The de-sciencing of America

Wow. There appears to be no limit to Republicans' desire to protect corporations over non-wealthy individuals. Sen. Santorum of Pennsylvania wants to hide National Weather Service data! As one blog puts it:
Let me get this straight. A senator, who claims to love the free market, wants to limit competition between the National Weather Service and private weather forecasters. A free government service, available to everyone online, would probably disappear, so a private service could flourish. [...] You don't suppose this has anything to do with the fact that AccuWeather is based out of Pennsylvania, do you?
Or the fact that AccuWeather contributed to Santorum's campaign fund? Or the fact that Santorum, like most Repos, wants to hack any federal scientific research that doesn't directly benefit businesses?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

3 down, 47 to go

Good news: Connecticut yesterday became the first state to pass legislation granting civil unions to same-sex couples without the impetus of a court decision. The law carefully defines marriage as one man and one woman, which creates a hitch (so to speak): same-sex civil unions from Vermont could be recognized in Connecticut (depending on things like Connecticut residency), but same-sex marriages from Massachusetts will not be.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Delocator

Find a non-Starbucks coffee house in your area. Or, enter your favorite in their database so others can find it.

Stupid Internet Tricks

...or, time-wasting monitor movies. A company that makes industrial shredders has an assortment of videos showing all kinds of stuff getting chewed up: computers, carpet, railroad ties, and much more. Check it out (requires Macromedia Flash Player).

Ferret out the rats

The Center for Public Integrity has an online database of 527s (political action committees) and, now, a similar database of lobbyists, so you can compare just how much Lockheed Martin pays your congressman compared to how much he gets from the Alfalfa Association or, say, his own federal salary.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Oh. My. God.

The far right of the Catholic heirarchy got its man elected today. Joseph Ratzinger of Germany is now Benedict XVI. I said that age would be crucial, but even I underestimated the desire of the cardinals to have the next papacy be short: at 78, Benedict is the oldest newly elected Pope in almost 300 years. In fact, our best hope may be that the conclave is just stalling a bit—that the conservatives got him in by saying, "Let's have someone who can represent the old order for just a little while, someone who won't be around so long that the transition to the new Church is put off very far." New Popes choose their names in order to communicate what kind of style or focus they'll have, but I think this breaks that tradition; I very much doubt Benedict will be a caretaker, transition, or any other form of moderate.

Edited: I especially should know that "pontificate" and "papacy" are not synonymous.

Smoke signals

Just passing along the lame humor of others...

Brown smoke from the Sistine Chapel means the cardinals are burning copies of The DaVinci Code. (Jay Leno)

Red smoke indicates the conclave just voted one of the unsuccessful cardinals off the island. (Craigslist)

Ten years ago today

Perhaps today is a good day to do some "profiling"... Q: What do these have in common? (Hint: you could spend a week adding names and still not have an exhaustive list.)A: They all believed that using guns and bombs to kill people is justified by racism and acted on that belief. (The "act" separates them from big-hat-no-cattle haters such as Coulter, DeLay, Limbaugh, or Falwell.)

Q: What lesson can we learn from this? A: Raise your children to believe in diversity, human rights, racial equality, and liberal politics. Perhaps then they won't promote their principles at the point of a gun.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Sunlight breaking through (temporarily)

Remember the saying about a blind squirrel and a nut? Well, even the rabid wingnuts sometimes find reality. A Tech Central Station and NY Post contributor smacks down DeLay, Cornyn, and their ilk:
The American people treat their court system a little bit like an IQ test: When they get the result they want, the verdict is just; when they don't like the outcome, the whole thing is suspect.

Film noir, snack noir

"I didn't even know I had a dark side."

Friday, April 15, 2005

High and low brows

Ya'll know we have racist wackos wandering the Southwest looking for Mexicans to shoot, right? And that Tom DeLay is telling George Bush to get on board with this, right? Well, there's indoor nut-case action too: The wingnuts are having a big confab this weekend where they will rant and rave about how Reagan and Bush appointees aren't far enough to the right and how small states should be allowed to dictate to big ones.

And these are the kind of people with whom my Representative wants to hold open the possibility of future compromises!

Spooky is...

...posting to my blog and, within one hour, having two people comment to me in person on the post.

I've been mugged

As soon as my face hit the blog, Cecil Vortex took the picture and Photoshopped the hell out of it, showing me (among other things) what I would look like if I were the "happy" member of Devo. (In a boy band, each has a role, you know.) Damn you, Cecil. For that, I deny you the coveted second blogroll link.

The questions before me are, should I shoot him for this? and, should I put these head shots up on this page all at once or post one a day in rotation?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Have you looked up today?

I mean literally. And not just keeping an eye out for trouble—not looking out for falling UFOs, not looking around your bathroom ceiling for mildew. I mean, did you see that there's a deep blue sky over Orinda? Did you notice your coworker parted her hair differently? Have you lifted your eyes above the horizon line?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Doubleheaded monster

Where there are two teams in the same metro area, major league baseball tries to schedule them away from each other: the Giants go on the road one week while the A's are home, and vice versa. Once or twice a season, of course, a conflict can't be avoided and the two teams will play home games on the same date, and a few fans get really excited about seeing two games in one day. But tell me: how stupid do they have to be to schedule both teams at home on three consecutive days, including a midweek day game!? Why didn't somebody, somewhere—in one of the teams' offices if not the league HQ—stop to mention that one of the 12:35 starts on April 27 might be better as a night game? (San Francisco Giants schedule | Oakland Athletics schedule)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Preserve, protect, and defend

Hell of week around the Raptor's nest, and apologies to anyone who stopped by expecting insight in the past short time. (Why on earth did you do that?) But to tide you over, here's a heads-up that amidst the dirty language, the Rude Pundit has the best "take your judge-hating and shove it!" seen in months. Yeah, he's all "Sure, sometimes the judiciary will piss off the other branches, but, fuck 'em, welcome to the Republic, you know?", but with logic and justification, backed up by Alexander Hamilton.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The lighter side of Vatican politics

April Madness bracketology!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Domestic terrorists given thumbs-up by Congressional leaders

More from the Frameshop: After Senator Cornyn's speech, I think we should expect to see campaign ads using sentences like this one: "John Cornyn joined fellow Texan Tom DeLay in endorsing violence against state and federal judges." Other members of Congress who apparently endorse this view include Senator Sam Brownback and Reps. Steve Chabot, Todd Akin, and Tom Coburn.

Habem Papam?

Copyediting-L has a "pope" thread going, and one listmember noted that the majority of Catholics live in the southern hemisphere, leading some to think the next pope should be from a developing country. I responded, pontificating on a subject on which I know only what I've read:

It'll be close. Most cardinals want a Third World pope, but we don't know whether enough of them can get behind the same man. The leading Third World cardinals differ a lot; that might open the door for a European compromise candidate, somebody whose doctrine and politics are acceptable to two-thirds while being a safe "fall-back" or default geographically.

It's very unlikely that they'll pick anyone far "inside" the Vatican heirarchy, such as Ratzinger or Battista Re, even though the latter is moderate and very well connected around the world. Europeans mentioned include Schoenborn of Vienna (too young) and Tettamanzi of Milan, both conservatives.

The most talked about Third World candidates are Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras and Arinze of Nigeria. Frankly, Rodriguez is the guy the majority wants (and would be my personal choice if I were still Catholic)—fighter for the poor, great public speaker, experienced diplomat/administrator; he's the only cardinal who could be called more charismatic than John Paul. The conservatives might accept his "social justice" agenda because he's theologically right and they like his personality. But he's just too young and probably too wild (think "Bono to head the World Bank"). Expect the conclave to pick someone around the age of 70; they don't want to ever again wind up with a 20+ year papacy.

Arinze is old enough, adept with Islam, credentialed in the Vatican bureaucracy, and conservative. The conservatives—cardinals who want to maintain John Paul's doctrinal hard line, a position that's more acceptable in the Third World than in the First—are strong enough to prevent a quick 2/3 win by a progressive but not enough to push a real conservative past the post right away. So they have to appease the progressives somehow: someone who will differ enough from John Paul, or a geographic pick.

Unfortunately for the conservatives, all their other candidates who are old enough are objectionable in some way: Hoyos of Columbia is farther to the right than Arinze; Dias of India is too much of a bureaucrat; Bergoglio of Argentina is a Jesuit; Husar of Ukraine is an American citizen and we just did the Eastern European thing; Lustiger of France's mother was Jewish.

Hummes of Brazil would be Rodriguez-light: he's old enough and slightly less liberal, but he lacks administrative credentials and the necessary "worldliness" (such as speaking multiple languages and giving good interviews). Ortega y Alamino of Cuba and Daneels of Belgium are too liberal.

If doctrine wins and geography doesn't matter, Tettamanzi looks good. But Arinze gives the conservatives everything Tettamanzi would plus the Third World factor. I think Arinze has to be the front-runner right now, but getting him elected would take a few days and several trade-offs. I think his election could be framed as maintaining John Paul's doctrine but moving the church's approach and focus into the language and needs of the South.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Kick the right-wing dog when it's down

Care, and keeping caring. You have to, folks, or the small-minded will win. Don't stop to take delight in their minor missteps. Billmon plays the tough-love card: "Nobody ever said running a right-wing populist movement on behalf of a wealthy oligarchy would be easy. But [...] in the end, a small and noisy minority can usually can have its way over a large but relatively apathetic majority. In fact it's their ace in the hole."

Friday, April 01, 2005

Two or more faces.

We all remember the fun we had a year or two ago collecting lists of divorced or adulterous conservatives who rage about American morals. Now, Wampum has an excellent litany of about-faces—more instances of hypocrisy by elected officials, on the subject of "frivolous" lawsuits. (And of course you've already heard that despite frothing at the mouth over Terri Schiavo's body, Tom DeLay let his own father die in similar circumstances.)