Monday, February 28, 2005

Dancing Princess

Here's Princess dancing the Tinikling on Saturday night at the Girl Scouts Around The World event:

She's wearing the Filipino folk dress I made her. Also, that's me on the left and Favorite Husband on the right, banging the sticks together.

Cookie Madness

We went today to pick up seventy-one cases of Girl Scout cookies.

I've had some quibbles with the people running the cookie sale, and I'd like to blog about my experiences as a troop cookie manager, but I want to make sure my blogging doesn't impugn these ladies' reputations. So for the record: they are great ladies. All things considered, they are doing a fabulous job. It isn't easy to coordinate the entire valley's cookie sale, with tens of thousands of boxes of cookies that all have to get to their destinations safely. I will not mention their names.

I've gotten the distinct impression that these ladies really don't care how the sale is supposed to be run; they want to do it their way. The biggest concerns I have are regarding activity credits for the girls. Activity credits are like "Girl Scout dollars" that can be spent on fees for Girl Scout events like camp. In addition to the troop's profit from the sale (which goes toward badges, field trips, and other troop expenses), girls earn $10 in activity credits for every 50 boxes that they sell. Activity credits are a good thing. Their twofold purpose, near as I can tell, is to allow poorer girls to afford camp through their cookie-selling efforts, and to provide the necessary economic incentive for girls to get out there and sell cookies for the troop.

I would love nothing better than to see girls get activity credits, especially the girls in our troop, some of whom are poor enough that activity credits will probably be their only way to attend camp. However, the ladies running the show seem to be obsessed with getting everyone larger numbers of activity credits, and they have done some things that infuriate me in order to do end-runs around the activity credit system.

The first thing they did that upset me was to make me fudge the paperwork so that the girls would get more activity credits than they would merit from the boxes they sold in the pre-sale. The troop orders extra cookies to sell at the booths at grocery stores and other locations, and these ladies wanted the girls to get activity credits for the sale of these cookies as well. So after I had done all my paperwork, I was made to re-do it and distribute each and every box between all the girls in our troop. It was insane, but I could handle the math-- I've taught several apportionment methods, although I didn't feel like pulling out the old textbook and choosing between Adams' Method and Huntington-Hill Method. Fer cryin' out loud, it's not the freakin' House of Representatives, it's a Girl Scout cookie sale. It makes for lousy accounting, and will cause problems in my spreadsheet. I will no longer be able to copy between the cookie order form and the spreadsheet, so I'll have to do extra checking of the numbers to make sure they are working out properly.

The real problem came when she insisted that I re-redistribute the cookie boxes so that certain girls could get more activity credits. For example, one girl was 15 boxes over the nearest 50 boxes, and another girl was 12 boxes short of the next 50, so I was told to take 15 boxes from the one girl and give them to the other. I refused to do it, partly because I had just finished distributing the boxes, and partly because I couldn't bring myself to be that unfair. On what basis do I decide who should get another activity credit and who shouldn't? But the lady seemed to think the whole point of the cookie sale was to maximize activity credits through shoddy accounting.

The part that cheesed me off enough to actually blog about it, though, was that when I arrived to pick up the cookies, I discovered a discrepancy between my paperwork and theirs. There was an extra case of Samoas that I did not order. When I asked them about it, they told me they had ordered it for me. This was upsetting, because as troop cookie chairman I signed a paper saying that I am financially responsible for all of these cookies. If we don't sell them all, I am contractually obligated to buy the remainder. But what upset me the most was the reason they gave me. It wouldn't have been so bad if they'd ordered me an extra case because they needed to make up a full pallet and they'd distributed the extra cases between a few troops. No, they ordered me an extra case because they decided my girls needed more activity credits.

Yes, that's right. They decided, all on their own, without consulting me at all, without even telling me, that I would be obligated to sell twelve additional boxes of cookies, because they didn't think my girls had enough activity credits. I had carefully calculated how many cookies I estimated we could sell at the booth sale, and made sure they were proportioned out more or less in the same proportions as the pre-order. I set up a spreadsheet to calculate this automatically. I weighed the options. I carefully chose which boxes of cookies I thought we could sell, and made sure the number of leftovers we were likely to get was in proportion to my budget. And they just decided that I was wrong, and without even asking me, they did this. And all because they thought my girls needed more activity credits.

Sure it was only 12 boxes, and sure they were Samoas, one of our best-sellers. Well, why not go all the way with this? Why limit this to my troop? Why not just order every troop 100 more boxes per girl, so that each girl gets an extra $20 in activity credits? Hell, why don't you just add that as a clause to the troop cookie manager contract-- that you don't have any control over how many boxes of cookies you order, but are financially obligated for them anyway?

This is wrong and I think I may just complain about this. I would never have signed the contract and become cookie manager if I had known that I did not have control over the number of boxes our troop ordered.

UPDATE: I want to make sure it's perfectly clear that I don't think these ladies are up to any shady business. They are not professional accountants (for that matter, neither am I). I don't doubt that they were sincere and really wanted to help out the girls. But it has been emphasized throughout all our cookie training that we are not to do anything without getting it in writing-- we are not to distribute cookies without giving receipts, we are to make sure everyone responsible for cookies has signed their contracts, we are not to trust even our best friends to do it without the correct paperwork-- and yet here they are seeing to it that I am to just trust them to put in my order correctly, and violating that trust even though I did my paperwork properly.

UPDATE 2: The issue has been resolved to my satisfaction. I contacted the Utah Girl Scout Council and told them about the incident, and they immediately looked into it. Evidently these ladies contacted my troop leader and got her consent to the extra case, and although I was in communication with one of the ladies and the troop leader, nobody bothered to inform me what was going on, much less get my consent. And they had the nerve to tell the lady at Council that they were "unable" to contact me. Whatever! They had my e-mail address and two phone numbers, and I didn't get any calls or messages. Anyway, Council said they will address this issue in training next year, which is about the best resolution I could have hoped for, so I am satisfied.

UPDATE 3: The troop leader says she was never contacted about the extra case of cookies and did not give her consent to order it. Somebody's lying, and I don't know who it is.

Rant Against The Bureaucracy Machine

NOTE: Please do not take any threats in this post seriously. I am majorly upset while I write it and when I get some chocolate in me I will feel much, much better.

Some time Saturday evening it occurred to me that it is the end of the month of February, and my van's registration needs to be renewed in February. Usually this occurs to me before the end of the month, but this year I did not receive the usual packet of paperwork associated with renewals. I didn't know if I needed a state inspection, or how much the renewal fees and property taxes are. I have rearranged my schedule today so that I would have time to take care of this in between getting kids home from school, taking the seats out of the van to accommodate 70 cases of Girl Scout cookies, and taking Sonshine to the chiropractor because for the last few days he's been complaining of pain in his elbows (where his "funny bone" nerve is).

I went on the DMV's website to see if I could get duplicate forms or find out how much the fees are. The website was distinctly unhelpful. It only had a place where you could log on using the PIN number that came with your registration renewal packet. They had a link that said "Find your plate and PIN". I clicked it, thinking it would lead to some sort of search or maybe a place where I could enter some alternate information in lieu of a PIN. Nope, it only opened a little window with a picture of where in the paperwork you can find your PIN.

So I called the phone number that they gave on the website. I got an automated recording. For some reason, it seemed to be infuriatingly slow. (Gee, I don't know why...) I was able to find out, after pressing many, many buttons, that I could renew without my paperwork, if I send a copy of my old vehicle registration, my new inspection certificate if required, and a check for the amount of the registration fees. I was also able to find out that I don't need an inspection certificate because it's an odd-numbered year (good, one less thing to do today). But I could not find out how much my fees were. The recording said that to find out what my fees were, I should contact them. What the hell did they think calling them was? I was trying to contact them, and they were being distinctly unhelpful with their slow, cheery automated system that told you everything you didn't need to know. I pushed "0", hoping I could bypass their cheery little recording and get to talk to a real person, but that was "not a valid option." The recording also happily suggested that if I wanted more information, I should use their website.

I was nearly overcome by an urge to shove the telephone handset into the nearest available bureaucrat's nearest available orifice.

After I screamed for a while, and put the baby down in the crib to cry instead of crying in my lap, I called the county assessor's office, which handles the vehicle registrations locally. A real person answered the phone. They gave me the amount of my registration fees and the information I needed, and the phone call was done inside of thirty seconds. That, my friends, was all I ever wanted.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Would You Go Back?

Watching "Napoleon Dynamite" stirred up some old memories about my awkward teenage past. The time machine got me to thinking: If I could go back, knowing what I know now, would I do it all over again?

Hell NO.

I want this on the record: I NEVER, EVER, EVER want to be a teenager again. It was a harrowing experience, and it lasted for years. It's amazing I survived it. It was worse than my wedding, and I have vowed to never have another wedding again, even if the groom is still Favorite Husband.

In my early twenties, I was straining at a feeling of-- well, there's no other way to describe it but "immaturity". I was acutely aware of how immature I was, and I wished that I could age ten years so that I could get the maturity I desperately needed to draw on in order to react in an adult manner to the situation I was in. How much more palpable was the need for maturity when I was a teenager! I yearned with all my soul to be able to do the mature thing. And yet, if I were to bring what maturity I now possess back to my teenage self, it would do no good, because all the others around me would still be their teenage selves. I would only stand out more than I already did-- I would not only be nerdy, skinny, and ill-dressed, I would be oddly mature on top of it all. They would be standing in line to make my life a living hell, even worse than their mere insensitivity had made my previous teenage life.

On the other hand, I wouldn't mind going back to September 2003, after I'd lost all that weight and before I'd gained it all back.

Napoleon Dynamite Rumors

We rented "Napoleon Dynamite" and watched it this evening. Afterward I went on IMDB to see if it was supposed to be a period movie set in the late '80's, and found my way onto the message boards. I must admit that I only went to look because I noticed that half the threads mentioned Mormons and Mormonism, and I thought that was a bit odd.

From reading some of these messages I gather that there is a rumor out there that "Napoleon Dynamite" is somehow about Mormonism or about Mormons, or that there are inside jokes in the movie that only a Mormon would get. If by some chance you, dear reader, have been inclined to believe these rumors, let me put them to rest. I personally am a Mormon, and I can assure you none of the above is true. Yes, Preston, Idaho is a real community, and yes, it's in the predominantly Mormon Cache Valley area. If you chose a real resident of Preston randomly, odds are he or she would be a Mormon. But Napoleon Dynamite and his friends and rivals are neither real citizens of Preston nor randomly selected. In the movie they don't go to church, they don't mention religion, they don't study scriptures; so the only way anyone could get the idea that they were Mormon is by assuming they are real residents of Preston. For crying out loud, people, they are fictional characters. If you think they're Mormons because in the movie they live in Preston, you need to get a grip. Non-Mormons live in Preston. Good Mormons live in Preston. Not-so-good Mormons live in Preston. Being Mormon is not a requirement for living in Preston.

As for inside jokes, the only things I could see that could be considered such were local-color type things, like characters who say "flip" or the kids drinking Gossner's milk boxes at lunch. For those who aren't familiar with Gossner's, it's a local dairy product producer, and its most famous products are "squeaky" cheese curds, and shelf-stable milk that comes in boxes like juice boxes. As far as I know the Church doesn't own Gossner's. But even if they did, one doesn't have to be Mormon to enjoy a nice Gossner's milk box; they are sold to the general public. Likewise, Napoleon goes shopping at a store that is instantly recognizable as Deseret Industries, the Church-run thrift store. They don't check membership cards at the door of the D.I.; anyone who walks in off the street can shop there. So it's Utah residents who shop at thrift stores that will instantly recognize the D.I., not Mormons. By the way, Napoleon also shops at a store whose hexagonal green hanging signs instantly identify the store as King's, a local chain that (again, as far as I know) has absolutely nothing to do with the Church.

Ten words or less for the clue-impaired: It's a Cache Valley thing, NOT a Mormon thing.

Okay, now that I've ranted on and on about a rumor that my readers are probably too smart to believe in the first place, here is the other thing I wanted to say about the message boards: I was very heartened to see the reaction on these message boards to the anti-Mormon posts. Even non-Mormons were defending the Church from vicious rumor attacks. This heartens me. I always like to see civil and rational behavior triumph over ignorance and vitriol.

Friday, February 25, 2005

On The Complexity Of Life

I've been thinking lately about the way people are constantly trying to grasp the world around them, and how life always seems to elude our grasp. Just when we think we have it all figured out, it goes and does something that doesn't fit our mental model of how the world should work.

It is in the nature of humans to try to make the complex simple. Our world would work so much better if we could assign one motive to our actions or to the actions of others-- "I went back to work for the sake of my kids." "He made that decision because he's greedy, pure and simple." But if we take the time to dissect all the reasons that go into our decisions, it's never actually that pure and simple. Yeah, maybe I did do it for my kids, but I also did it because it felt safer than facing my real problem. I also did it because I wanted the prestige I thought it would give me. I also did it because my Girl Scout leader did it and she and her kids turned out OK. I also did it because fifteen years ago I read something in a horoscope that's been kicking around in the back of my mind ever since. Even for my own decisions, there's no way to pin down all the reasons, and no way of knowing for what percentage of the decision each reason was responsible. It may seem now like the kids' welfare was first and foremost, but I could only be telling myself that to hide the pain of the real reason, that I'm running away from something, and it won't be obvious until many years later. How much more impossible is it then to judge the reasons of another person? Le coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connait point*.

Likewise, we often feel emotions that are more than polyphonic-- they actually conflict with each other. For example, when I found out one of my ancestors had been a slave, I was glad that I'd found this ancestor's name, sad that she'd been a slave, ashamed that I was also descended from her owner's son, wondering what race she had been (there were slaves of all races at that time), guilty that I'd thought that it mattered, curious whether her relationship with the father of her child was consensual, upset that it might not have been, dreamy in the romance of it all if it was, holier-than-thou at the thought that I now have provable slave ancestry and thus have some kind of standing among people who think having slave ancestors gives one some special insight into civil rights, and bewildered at the thought that I might actually care what that sort of people thought of me. All these emotions from reading one word-- "escrava"-- in a moldy old Portuguese document on a microfilm in the basement of an old stone building. Which of those was my "real" emotional reaction? How much more complex are the emotions we feel for our loved ones? How much more complex are our political opinions? How much more complex our sexuality?

Thus it is not hypocritical, but instead perfectly natural, for me to be happy that my friend was not killed in Iraq, even as other people (both military and civilians) are. Can't I simultaneously rejoice for him, grieve at the death of others, and be horrified at the slaughter of innocents? Is there a particular reason why I ought to feel only one thing? Oh, yeah, that's right. I should only feel one thing because it would make my critic's world a lot simpler.

The waters of the mind may look clear, but they're full of the microscopic bacteria of forgotten and suppressed reasons, some of which are only discernable in the giardia of hindsight. (Yeah, I know that last sentence was a particularly terrible bit of writing. I'll remind you I was a math major. I leave the really good writing to my brother-in-law.)

*"The heart has its reasons, whereof reason knows nothing." --Blaise Pascal

Immersed in Filipiniana

Today I am totally immersed in Filipiniana, getting ready for tomorrow's Girl Scouts Around The World event. I'm currently baking trays 3 and 4 of six trays of bibingka. In addition to that I'm digging out all the boxes of Filipino costumes, listening to a Tagalog language-instruction tape, printing out pictures of Filipino Girl Scouts and collecting up all the library books we checked out on the Philippines. And tonight we're having Chicken Adobo for dinner, and after that I'll be making signs that say "Mabuhay!" and other things (like "Bibingka is wheat-free").

Also, I ordered barongs for the boys for their Easter clothes. I just made Princess a Filipino folk dress and I still have to make her fairy costume for the Opera For Children before the end of March, so I won't have time or energy to also make her an Easter dress. Therefore, all the children will wear Filipino traditional clothes this year for Easter. Sonshine is very excited about it; he's very egalitarian when it comes to clothes for the kids. If Princess gets one, he must also get one, or else "it's just not fair and you like Princess more than me!!!" One Easter, I made her a dress and he asked, "Where's MY dress???" I pointed out that I had already bought him a suit and he would not like to wear a dress, but that didn't deter him for pushing for totally equal treatment for himself all the children of the family. (I noticed that he didn't care if I didn't buy Princess a suit too.)

UPDATE: We are doing "quality control" on the bibingka; Bagel is on his third piece. A true pinoy!

Belgium Doesn't Exist!

Don't be fooled-- there is no such country as Belgium! It's all a conspiracy of the Left and the CIA!

In related news, there is no Idaho either, not even your own private Idaho. Cache Valley residents are advised not to drive north of Lewiston, lest they fall of the edge of the world.

Link via IMAO.

Rethinking "A Series Of Unfortunate Events"

For some reason entirely unknown to me I have continued reading Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events books, even though I was unimpressed with the earlier books. I can honestly say now that I have a better opinion of the series than I did before, although I stand by my judgment that their didactic tone is distracting, and that they are too dark for smallish children. In fact, after I read Book 4, I wasn't going to read any more, but I read Book 5 anyway, solely because it was set in a school and I had been wondering this whole time why the Baudelaires' guardians never seemed to be very concerned with their schooling.

The characters do seem to be developing, and starting in Book 5 with the introduction of the two Quagmire triplets and the mystery of V.F.D., I started becoming interested enough in the series to finish reading it. Now that I've read Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography, however, I may go back and re-read the earlier books. There is more to these books than meets the eye. Snicket is playing some complicated textual games in these books. I had noticed the anagrams which are everywhere in the text (that is, everywhere that doesn't contain a pedantic vocabulary lesson, a paean to Beatrice, or a literary allusion). But there may also be messages encoded in the text as well, and so I think I'll pass the time until the next installment is released in October by re-reading the earlier books looking for the key words that indicate the presence of a coded message.

I do want to see where the series is heading, though, before I make a final recommendation. The real person whose pseudonym is Lemony Snicket is an anti-Bush partisan. That in itself is not a disqualification for writing good literature (Rowling, as I recall, is also anti-Bush), but unlike Rowling he's started sneaking snarky, explicitly anti-Bush references into the writing (such as having baby Sunny say "Busheney" which means "You're an evil man with no concern whatsoever for other people"). This sort of contemporary political reference is grating in a setting that is intended to be obviously fictional and whimsically anachronistic. If he goes beyond the occasional indirect snark and starts making explicit comparisons between the evil characters and President Bush, he'll have crossed the line between writing fiction and writing partisan propaganda.

To me, the mark of good literature and movies is that partisans of every stripe will see their own position in it, so that it has the effect of binding the culture together instead of factionalizing it. Christians, Pagans, Mormons, Jews, and agnostics have all commented that they are amazed that Tolkien was able to work so much of their religious beliefs into the Lord of the Rings series. When Kerry supporters came out of M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village" saying the movie supported Kerry, and Bush supporters came out of it saying it supported Bush, I knew it had to be a good movie, because people on both sides were able to see themselves in it. If all a work reflects is its author, then it's not a good piece of literature, it's an op-ed, and only those who already agree with the author will see themselves in it. It remains to be seen if Lemony Snicket can rise to the challenge, overcome his political prejudices and, in the end, write a work of literature.

Malkin on Self-Mutilation

Michelle Malkin has recently written about self-mutilation ("cutting") and the trend it seems to represent. Many of her critics (and there are many) have written in response that self-mutilation is old news and that it's been going on for centuries, and that it is not associated with emo music (as Malkin claims). Usually when wiser and more articulate people than I are conversing in the blogosphere about matters like this, I keep my blogmouth shut and let them say it better than I could, but I thought this time I'd put my two cents in.

I think Malkin is overreacting to something she's just discovered even though it's not new (I'd heard about it when I was a young adult), and it's completely understandable. Self-mutilation as it's practiced in America today is shocking to our predominant culture, in which Malkin takes part. That, in fact, is one of the reasons people do it-- because it's shocking and being shocking is one way to get attention. That there would be movie stars and musicians who irresponsibly promote the practice in public is execrable, and that in fact is one main thrust of Malkin's arguments. Whether emo music plays a role is debatable, but there can be no doubt that wallowing in self-pity is a contributing factor to self-mutilation. I'd be willing to bet, though, that there are many, many more factors in play, and that in any given person who self-mutilates, not all of these factors exist.

On the other hand, her critics who counterargue with timelines of self-mutilation in history are being disingenuous. American teens who self-mutilate aren't doing it because of cultural solidarity with Vincent Van Gogh, African tribesmen, Filipino religious flagellators, or characters in Sophocles' plays, and these critics know it. They just like to throw eggs at Malkin instead of making an original argument. At least, that's my impression of them.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Traffic Spike

Someone asked me if I'd gotten a traffic spike from the article in the Herald-Journal. Well, yes and no. Yes there was a traffic spike, but it was only marginally higher than my pre-article traffic spikes.

Why Isn't Girl Scouting More Popular?

In Cache Valley, it seems like just about every boy is involved in Boy Scouting. Churches sponsor most troops and encourage their boys to attend. But there are barely any Girl Scouts here. I've been speculating as to why that is. Most people I know are concerned that their girls have wholesome activities, and some don't like the church-sponsored activities for various reasons. Some people who don't understand Utah culture think the girls are being isolated, oppressed, and trained to spend their lives barefoot and pregnant. But in truth, girls here are cultivated like rare orchids and their parents pay as much attention to their development and growth as they do to the preservation of their virtue. So why aren't there more parents putting their girls in Girl Scouts, even as they put their boys in Boy Scouts?

While I don't think there's ever one reason for phenomena like this, here are some possible reasons I've come up with:
  • People don't know about the existence of Girl Scout programs here
  • The small number of Girl Scouts makes finding a troop inconvenient
  • People aren't aware of what the Girl Scout program can do for girls
  • People won't let their children participate in activities not sponsored by their church (unlike Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts' national organization will not allow church sponsorship)
  • People associate Girl Scouts with pro-abortion "women's issues" organizations like NOW and Planned Parenthood (full disclosure: there are ties between PP and the national GS organization, but abortion-related propaganda is not part of the girls' program)
  • Girl Scouts will permit homosexual leaders and Boy Scouts won't (in my experience, this isn't a problem in practice; most leaders are heterosexual, and parents who don't want a homosexual leader will simply choose a different troop)
  • People believe that girls don't need any sort of program to help them develop, but boys do
What are your opinions? Do you have any reasons to add to the list? If you live in Cache Valley, which reason do you think is the most important factor? If you have girls, and chose not to put them in Girl Scouts, please share your reasons.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Quick Thoughts On Various Bills

Several more bills in the Utah Legislature have come to my attention, and I don't have time to write a separate post on each one, so I'm going to comment briefly on each.

HB 260 purports to fight pornography by making a registry of pornographic websites and stiffening penalties on people who provide the stuff to minors. While I hate pornography and everything it stands for, and would rather be shot than be in any way responsible for distributing it to minors, I think this law is a bad idea. There is some debate over whether or not it is constitutional; I think it probably is, but not everything that's constitutional is a good idea. Issues of constitutionality and legal fights aside, though, I just don't think it's feasible to make a registry of porn sites. New ones pop up every second. Not only that, but I don't believe HB 260 cuts any slack to ISP's who do everything they can to verify the age of their users, but are deceived. I think the intent is to make them fear severe penalties so that they will be bullied into not tolerating porn. I'm not a big fan of government bullying people to choose not to participate in something that has already been ruled their right to do. If any bullying is to be done, it should be done by society. And finally, this will cost money. Legislators are already clamoring for more funding for education, an expense that is disproportionately burdensome in Utah because of the large percentage of the population in the school-age demographic. It's nice to protect kids from porn, but I wouldn't do it at the expense of their education.

The best, most efficient defense against children accessing internet porn is, as always, PARENTS. Parents who don't allow their children to have computers in their room. Parents who regularly check caches and histories. Government isn't required to solve all problems.

HB 25 would allow midwives to be licensed and practice their limited form of medicine in Utah. I'm fer it. I actually seriously considered having Bagel at home with a midwife, but I couldn't find one in the Logan area. I'd found one a couple years ago, but she lived just across the border in Idaho where it is legal for midwives to give basic prenatal care; after she moved to Wyoming, the closest midwife was in Layton, about 1 hour's drive away. Right now in Utah, if you want to have your baby with a midwife, you have to drive to Idaho to get your prenatal care, and when she delivers the baby, she has to function as a friend who just happened to be by your side when the baby came out. Under this bill, midwives who are licensed would be allowed to do routine things like Doppler (listening to the baby's heartbeat), administering anesthetics and single doses of oxytocin, and performing episiotomies (for the uninitiated, that's cutting the birth opening bigger so that it doesn't tear, and sewing it back up afterward). In the event of an emergency, a licensed midwife is required to call a doctor for back-up. That pretty much sums up the medical needs of mothers like me who aren't high-risk, have a history of fast, easy labors, and really don't have $4000 in the bank. (A typical hospital birth and prenatal care costs $3000-4000 and many insurances here have a $4000 pregnancy deductible. The quote I got from the midwife for the package deal was $750.)

Birth is an intimate experience and hospital stays are a large expense. I would think it would be an infringement on women's reproductive rights to require them to choose between giving birth in a hospital and giving birth unattended at home, which is basically the choice that current law allows.

SB227 /HB223 /HB316 are bills (being coordinated with an impressive variety of people) to allow illegal immigrants (and in one version, legal immigrants) to have a separate class of driver's license. A study (wish I had the link, but out of time) was recently done that found that many illegal immigrants are coming to Utah to get driver's licenses because it's one of the states that allows that sort of thing, and some of them even used their license to register to vote. Also, a lot of foreigners come (legally) to train at Hill Air Force Base, and they need driver's licenses too.

Some people don't want illegal aliens to have driver's licenses because they can be used as proof of citizenship, and some people don't want to prohibit illegal aliens from getting licenses because letting them have licenses helps them get insurance for their cars and makes their driving safer. I think this sounds like a nice compromise between both of those reasonable positions-- the illegal aliens still get their licenses, and the special licenses they get are not valid for certain citizenship-proving purposes. The downside is that this generates a de facto register of illegal aliens in Utah. But then again, nobody's making them get driver's licenses-- if they want to stay incognito, they can take the bus or get a ride; and the database will be privately administered, since the state is already not allowed to track illegal aliens. I support this one.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Dealcoholized Wine

I'm a big fan of dealcoholized wine. I love drinking the stuff and cooking with it. (Yeah, I know some of you out there just spat out your mouthful of Pepsi when you read that, because you think I'm going to go to hell for that, or at least I would be going to hell if we Mormons believed in hell. Fine, as long as they have linguica there. If there isn't any linguica, I'm not going.)

Anyway, Favorite Husband and I love the stuff. He's a former Catholic altar boy, so he's had his share of wine, and he says the dealcoholized stuff tastes just like wine, only without the "kick" of alcohol. Myself, I've never had real wine except in cooking, so I wouldn't know the difference. But it seems like a good way to get the complex flavors and health benefits of wine, without violating the Word of Wisdom.

We tried for years and years to get local merchants to carry dealcoholized wine, and for years and years we got the same reaction: "It's illegal for us to sell wine." So we asked at the state liquor store, figuring that if it really was classified as wine, the liquor store could get it for us. No dice. The liquor store told us that they couldn't carry it because it didn't have alcohol in it. So our favorite beverage was stuck somewhere in the maze of Utah's byzantine liquor laws. We would have to stock up every time we went down to California on vacation, bringing back over a dozen bottles to get us through the year until our next visit. (It is, by the way, legal to ship the stuff to Utah, but it was cheaper to bring it home than to pay inflated website prices and shipping.)

Recently, though, it must have found the "exit" sign, because all the local merchants started stocking it-- Albertson's, Smith's, Macey's. Even Kitchen Kneads started carrying it. The trouble was, though, they all carry only Sutter Fre. It's OK (I like the chardonnay), but it's not the best. The best brand of dealcoholized wine is Ariel, which has won awards in competition against alcoholized wines. We like their blanc and their white zinfandel (although the best dealcoholized white zinfandel we've had is Inglenook, which is VERY hard to find). Carl Jung Wines also makes some, but I didn't like them very much.

When I saw it at Kitchen Kneads, though, I got an idea. I asked them if they were going to carry Ariel since it's better than Sutter Fre, and I gave them Ariel's URL. A couple of days later I got a call and they said they were going to carry it! I couldn't believe it-- my favorite wine, here in town!

It won't be long now before it comes in, if it isn't in already. I can't wait until payday!

Yield Points and the Etiquette of Stop Signs

In theory, when vehicles come to a four-way stop, they are supposed to yield to all the vehicles that got there first. If there is a "tie," the person to the right is supposed to have the right of way. In practice, however, this is not how it works. Inevitably there's some guy in a sports car around whom the entire world revolves, and so he gets to go first. Or there's a truck that does a California Rolling Stop, and you don't want to argue with a vehicle that weighs several times more than you. Or maybe you do want to argue with it, but Sir Isaac Newton taps you on the shoulder and says, "Um, remember that little law I worked out a while back? Well, it works for cars too."

So I've invented a system to help everyone figure out exactly who has the right of way at a stop sign when there are simultaneous arrivals at the intersection. I call it "yield points". It is very simple. Every vehicle has a certain number of yield points, and the vehicle with the most yield points gets to go first. And as near as I can tell it's actually pretty accurate in predicting who will take the right of way.

Yield points are assigned for each of the following attributes:
  • Color. Red or trendy-colored cars +2 points; black cars +1 point; all other colors +0 points.
  • Vehicle Type And Size. Large trucks +3 points; sports cars +2 points; minivans and pickup trucks +1.
  • Vehicle Cost To Repair. Very expensive vehicles (including antique vehicles from the Cruise-In) +2 points; somewhat expensive vehicles +1, average vehicles +0, beater cars -2
  • Age Of Driver. Very young drivers +2, college-age drivers +3, old drivers -1.
Things get more complicated when you get to a two-way stop. Obviously, both parties stopped at a two-way stop must yield to the oncoming traffic. But which of them yields to the other? In theory, whoever got there first should go first. But that rarely happens. Yield points become even more useful in this scenario, with the following additions:
  • Any vehicle that is second in line behind the guy at the stop sign has the right of way over a vehicle that is already at the stop sign opposite, provided that the second-in-line has been waiting a long time and is really impatient. In this case the second-in-line is also entitled to do a California Rolling Stop if traffic permits.
  • Any vehicle that I'm not driving has the right of way over any vehicle that I'm driving.
  • Any vehicle that intends to turn left across the other vehicle's path without signaling, has the right of way. (If the vehicle signals the turn, this provision doesn't cover it.)
I hope we all can drive safely out there with our newfound understanding of the unwritten rules of the road!

Dealing With My Newfound Fame

Four readers of the Herald-Journal came up to me today and congratulated me on being on the front page of the paper. I had no idea so many people read the Herald-Journal! (Just kidding, David...)

Seriously, though, it was a little awkward for me to be "famous", even among people who already know me. I haven't yet been accosted by strangers ("Hey, that's the blogger that was in yesterday's Herald-Journal! Let's chase her down the street!") but it's still a bit strange to have your bank teller tell you she read about you in the paper. I've never been much of a "social" person, and to appear in the paper at all was rather a big step for me. It's actually making me a bit scared to post stuff I think people might not like.

I also want to be cautious because I don't want any ill fame to come on the Math Department up at the university, by association with me or my opinions. And my husband is even getting some ribbing-- somebody at his work came up to him and asked him, "Your wife's legs aren't really hairy, are they?" Favorite Husband responded jokingly, but just for the record: I do shave my legs, just not as often as some women do. I knew one girl who shaved her legs twice a day; she scared me, partly because of that and partly because she also flat-out refused to use any feminine hygiene products. She had problems. But leg-shaving is a topic for a whole other post.

It's easy to spout off and say whatever I like when I know nobody's listening, but when the spotlight turns around to shine on me, I suddenly get tongue-tied. Guess I'm still not over those junior-high popularity issues after all...

Monday, February 21, 2005

I'm In The Paper!!!

Last week I was interviewed for the Q&A column in the Herald Journal. I didn't blog about it then because I didn't want to "scoop" the reporter's story, although I did alert my family and friends to look for me in Monday's paper. But the story's out in today's Herald Journal, and much to my (pleasant) surprise I found my picture on the front page! Wow! I never thought I'd be on the front page of a newspaper without getting arrested or running for political office or doing some other disreputable thing!

Welcome to the Organic Baby Farm!

Welcome, Herald-Journal readers, to the Organic Baby Farm! Some of you may be here because you are curious about blogs. I hope you find something you like here, and come back to read more in the future.

I will take this opportunity to let you in on a few of the "inside jokes". First, the Organic Baby Farm is a metaphor for my home, because I'm raising a crop of children. I don't actually sell them or feed them actual crap, although I sometimes jokingly try to persuade them that they came from cabbages that I bought at the Gardeners' Market. Second, I blog under a pseudonym, but I am a real person and it's not very difficult to figure out who I really am, especially if you live in Cache Valley. I would ask that you respect my privacy by not calling me at home or TP'ing my house if I post something you don't like. Finally, this is not a news blog. There are plenty of good news blogs out there if you want to keep up on everything that's important in the world. OBF is where you come when you want to get the latest recipe, find out what random thing Sonshine has done lately, or get involved in a bit of local culture.

At the bottom of each post you'll see a link that says "Fertilizer" and one that says "Water." "Fertilizer" is comments that people leave; "Water" is trackbacks (links from other blogs).

While I try to keep it clean enough to merit a PG-13 rating, I do occasionally use a turn of phrase or blog on a subject that some of my more prudish readers might not care for (one described my blog as "lurid"). As far as blogs go, this one is pretty clean. But I am absolutely unapologetic about the subjects I choose to blog on, even if I occasionally make a poor choice of words. I don't use most of the more egregious swear words; if occasionally I get mad enough to use one of the milder ones, I may spell them out with symbols. But I do use words like "crap" and "damn". If you are offended by those words, there are other blogs you could read instead... if you can find one that doesn't use them, or worse. And you will never catch me saying "Oh my heck," unless I am poking fun at local culture. (I've often been heard to say that out here English muffins are ethnic food, but that's changing so I don't say it as often.)

A partial list of the subjects I blog on:
A few notes about blog etiquette for the newbies:
  1. When you visit someone's website, it's like visiting with that person on her porch. Behave appropriately.
  2. Comments are welcome, but on any site you have to follow that site's comment policy. Some sites allow or encourage invective- or profanity-laced comments; this site is not one of those.
  3. My first blogiversary is coming up on March 9. A blogiversary is the anniversary of beginning to blog. Appropriate gifts for readers to give to bloggers on their blogiversary include luxury cars, diamond jewelry, and other very expensive things. ;)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Getting The Message Out

Q and O reports that a billboard thanking Hollywood for ensuring the re-election of George W. Bush has been defaced with a swastika. Just the other day I had to explain that kind of political vandalism to a friend's child. She asked me about the graffiti she's seen on stop signs around town that makes them read "Stop Bush". I told her it says more about the maturity level of the people who did it than it does about the message they're trying to get out. They would hijack a public safety sign, thus making us all pay for their expression, rather than make their own sign and display it on their own property.

That being said, the incident above reminds me of something that happened when I was in college. A group of women had a "Take Back The Night" march that was supposed to be some sort of statement that women don't deserve to be raped no matter what they're wearing. They announced their march in advance, and all day the campus was buzzing with discussion about women's issues. But that night at the march, they took off their shirts and exposed themselves-- this was somehow supposed to prove their point. The effect it had, however, was to make everyone in the dorm (male and female alike) rush to the window to see the boobies. All discussion of women's issues ceased, and all we saw was a bunch of screaming nekkid wimmin.

The vehicle we use to get our messages out can sometimes run us over.

On a related note, the screaming nekkid wimmin took advantage of the campus police's unwillingness to do anything about them, and spray-painted a "woman power" symbol (the Venus symbol with a fist in the center of the circle) on the concrete walk in front of our dorms. A couple of days later, though, some wag came along and spray-painted a broom going through the fist. It was classic, yet fresh. The swastika, by contrast, has been done so many times that it's trite.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

A Little Bit About Myself

Blogging is definitely an ego-driven hobby. People blog because they like gaining the respect of others. Me, I blog because I have unresolved popularity issues from Junior High. I thought that if I wore the "right" clothes and makeup and said and did the "right" stuff, that people would quit making fun of me and like me. But it only made it worse-- they just found something else to criticize. One comment was "Cute purse. Too bad it's on her." They hated me because I was smart. They hated me because I was funny. They hated me because they could. They even called me "Rutabaga" because I had moved from Utah, even though I explained to them that rutabagas aren't usually associated with Utah. (Explaining just made it worse.) And after a while I just gave up. I quit shaving my legs all the time because it didn't help. I quit wearing makeup because it didn't help either. I just wore whatever I wanted, because no matter what I wore they didn't like it.

That's why I like blogging. Not because people don't hate me, but because more of them like me for being smart and funny and existing as myself in a world full of people who are all different by nature. It's vindication for all those times that Lauren with her C-cup bra made fun of me for being small-busted (take that, Lauren! Mine are way bigger than yours now!), revenge on Karen who told me she didn't want to be seen hanging out with me any more because people in her 5th period class were laughing at her (now people link to me!), and retaliation on Kim who xeroxed my private letter and spread it around school (now people praise me for my viewpoints!) And the best part is, I can blog with no makeup on and with my legs unshaven, and nobody cares!

You all do like me, right?

Will The Real PATRIOT Please Step Forward?

Some sections of the USA PATRIOT Act are up for renewal. There are a lot of rumors going around about the PATRIOT Act, as there always are with something highly technical and legal that can't be intelligibly read by the general public or understood properly without some context. I've read the simplified explanations on the official government website. I always like to hear the other side of the story from people who object-- but I try to steer clear of mistaking rumor and invective for actual counterarguments.

For those like me who are interested in learning more about both sides of the argument, has both sides from intelligent people who really understand the law.

Link via Michelle Malkin.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Pseudonym Change

Henceforth Tiny Princess shall be known at the Organic Baby Farm as Princess. She's getting bigger and she's not my "iddle biddle widdy baby girlie wif the cuuuuuuuuute widdle cheeks" any more.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

I Need A Comeback Line

We are trying to pinch pennies at our house, so there are a bunch of things we do that are different from the way the majority does them-- things like using cloth diapers, making our own clothes, and cooking from scratch instead of getting pre-made meals. I really do get a kick out of doing things myself, but I find that my ideas for cutting corners are met with something less than enthusiasm by the outside world. Inevitably I get asked stupid questions like, "Why don't you just use disposable diapers?" or "Why don't you buy X Brand Insta-SpensiFood, Now With Extra Preservatives?", as if I'd reply, "Gee, I never considered that! I must have missed the ad that was supposed to awaken my intellect to the product you advocate. Who would want to pinch pennies when such a wonderful product is available for purchase at local retailers?? I guess I'd better go out and get some right away before the DayTimer Police catch me trading any more of my valuable time for a savings in money!" It's like living in a giant commercial sometimes. Occasionally a tip like this leads to a product I really can use, but I'm a pretty good shopper and can usually find what I need without such tips. And at this point they are doing more harm than good.

I don't want to reply, "We're on a really tight budget, and by the way here's a copy of my credit report, so that you'll see just how tight it is and quit pestering me." I'd like to have an answer that will do four things:
  1. be polite and unsarcastic (I have no trouble thinking of rude comebacks myself, but I'm not at my best when I'm being sarcastic)
  2. be reasonably truthful (I'm not opposed to a little "spin")
  3. not include airing my financial dirty laundry
  4. communicate that I have no desire to be on the receiving end of further recommendations of products to buy
I've tried "Thank you" and variations on "We're not interested right now," but they don't seem to meet criterion #4. Any ideas?

Wanted: Vogon Poetry

Have you ever wanted to win a poetry contest, but couldn't write anything worth reading, let alone publishing? Well, now you can.

Link via Iowahawk.

Sleeeeeeep. Neeed.

I was up until 3:30 making the Filipino costume for Princess. It is all done except for the alterations. It needs to be taken in at the waist, and hemmed, and I need to add the hooks and eyes that hold the sleeves on and the hook and eye at the top of the zipper. I made it with extra material in the sides and hems so that it can be let out as she grows and will fit her for a while. That was one reason that I made the sleeves removable.

On a lot of these dresses the sleeves are removable because they are stiffened with crinoline (which loses all its wonderful stiff qualities on contact with soap and water). This makes the dress washable even though the sleeves are not. The other reason I made the sleeves removable is that it makes letting out the dress insanely easy. When a dress with sleeves is let out at the armpit for a larger chest, set-in sleeves must also be let out because their seam intersects the seam being let out. But detachable sleeves don't have to be let out when you let out the bodice, which is nice because these sort of butterfly sleeves don't really lend themselves to being altered. They have a carefully crafted shape which would be distorted if their side seam were let out.

Another factor in the sleeve connection is freedom of movement. Butterfly sleeves are insanely stiff, and if they were attached to the bottom of the armpit you'd need a gusset inserted in order to move your arms. The removable sleeves attach only at the top half of the armhole, leaving the bottom half "ventilated". Although we Westerners find it odd to not have sleeves attached all around, and tend to think of it as exposing the armpit (as if the armpit were some sort of private part), this is not an uncommon thing to find in Asian clothes and in dance costumes.

Anyway you probably weren't interested in the design considerations of removable vs. non-removable sleeves so I'll stop my sleepless rambling now and focus on getting the kids off to school.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Planning The Presentation

Here's what I've got for our upcoming presentation on the Philippines for Girl Scouts Around The World on Saturday the 26th:

We are supposed to have a food sample for 250 people, a game or dance, and a sign, and anything else we'd like to have will be at our discretion. For our food we will be serving bibingka. It seemed easier to orchestrate 250 servings of bibingka than 250 servings of chicken adobo or puto. Plus, coconut is a very popular flavor out here, so I think bibingka will go over well. For our dance we will be doing the tinikling (bamboo stick dance). It's really fun and relatively easy to try (although it's proving to be a bit difficult to master). Tomorrow we will be teaching the tinikling to the troop, so they can help with it on the 26th. For our sign-- well, we'll have to get a posterboard and make it. I hope I can delegate that to somebody else. It's just a sign with our troop number and country on it.

I ordered a flag of the Philippines. I already have some adult-sized Filipino costumes, but they are too small for me, so I'll be displaying one on my mannequin and some of the barong tagalog (sheer embroidered shirts for men, worn over white undershirt and black pants) on a nearby table or wall. Favorite Husband has a more modern barong which his mother bought for him to attend family weddings, but he doesn't like wearing it and I don't want to ask him to. I will also bring my 10'x10' canopy if we need it, to set our space apart for the tinikling. I downloaded some pictures of Filipino Girl Scouts in their uniforms from the website of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines. (We are supposed to have this information on our troop's chosen country if we can get it, because this is a festival of international Girl Scouting.)

If I play my cards right, I may be able to get FH to dance the tinikling-- he's actually quite good. Tiny Princess practiced all afternoon on Sunday and she's getting pretty good too.

So Sweet, I Wanna Strangle Him

I'd hoped to make a more intelligent post today, but unfortunately Sonshine saw to it that I cannot. I was unusually tired yesterday, and he woke me after I'd been napping for only 5 minutes. I was all set to get 7 hours of sleep last night, until he woke me up in the middle of the night to open his bedroom door for him. His screaming for me to come open this unlocked door for him woke the baby, so I lost 2 hours of sleep. I really love that boy, I really really do...

And I have a whole load of chores to do today, which include (but are not limited to) picking up the set of speakers I forgot to get yesterday out of the storage unit, baking two batches of bibingka, and making Tiny Princess a Filipino folk costume with butterfly sleeves without a pattern. (Buy a pattern? Are you kidding? You can barely find barong tagalog online, let alone a butterfly-sleeved dress, let alone a pattern for a butterfly-sleeved dress.)

Monday, February 14, 2005

Tooooooo Cuuuuuuuuuuute

Watch this. And then wash your brain out with soap. And then put on a Barney or Teletubbies tape just to have something less cloying to think about.

Link via INDC Journal.

Filipino Barbie

Somebody on eBay is auctioning off a Filipino Barbie. Funny, though, she's 11 1/2 inches tall, just like all the other Barbies...


Readers, I need your help: I am brainstorming ideas for food at the pirate party. After the kids' party with all the kiddie fun, we have the family over and serve dinner. Yesterday the kids, FH, and my sister M and I brainstormed and came up with some ideas of food with a pirate or nautical association:

cocktail weenies with sword picks
submarine sandwiches
buffalo "parrot" wings
"parrot" (chicken) legs
sweet red peppers
Chips Ahoy cookies
rum-flavored Life Savers
some sort of non-alcoholic rum-flavored drink
Goldfish crackers
fish 'n' chips

I'd also thought of coconut shrimp, but we can't serve either coconut or shrimp (or nuts) because of food allergies in family members. Obviously we can't serve all of the foods listed, so I'd appreciate your input as to what you think we ought to serve. Also if you have any other ideas, please drop them in the comments.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

You're Not Really Interested In The Content, But You'll Read This Post Anyway

I was surfing the 'net looking for traditional Filipino costumes for my kids, and I came across the website of Pasacat, the Filipino dance troupe that performed at my wedding.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Happy Birthday, Lincoln!

Power Line has a great speech of Lincoln's. Go read it-- it's excellent! Too bad we don't have this sort of civil speechifying much any more.

Avast Ye Mateys, 'Tis A Pirate Party

Sonshine's 5th birthday is coming up next month, and we are planning a pirate party. It's going to be fun. I ordered the supplies and they'll be coming in a couple of weeks.

I plan to make a cake and frost it with blue frosting, and I bought a toy pirate ship with action figures to set atop the Blue Frosting Sea. I ordered cardboard pirate treasure chests to decorate, and plastic gold coins to fill them. I ordered swords and eye patches for each of the kids. We'll have to make hats, though; there wasn't enough room in the budget to buy the hats too.

If I have time, I may try to deck out Sonshine's bed as a pirate ship, and dress Bagel up as a parrot.

Children's Racism Watch

Lately Sonshine has been noticed making remarks to dark-skinned people that they are dirty and need to wash their skin. Needless to say, this is not an idea he's gotten from home, where his father is even darker-skinned than he is, and one of the cleanest people on Earth. I talked to Sonshine about it, and sure enough he told me a girl named Tyanna at his preschool was telling him he was dirty because his skin was darker than hers.

I told Sonshine to ignore her when she says that, because she's wrong and he knows it. And I'm going to bring it to the attention of his preschool teachers, because I'm sure they won't want that sort of attitude perpetuated at their school. I hope they decide to bring this to the attention of Tyanna's parents. It's possible Tyanna came up with the idea of dirty dark skin by herself, but it's more likely she got it from a parent's offhand comment ("My, you're so dirty that you look like a black person!"), a racist relative, or another child.

There's no way to avoid this sort of thing-- if it wasn't skin color being made fun of, it'd be hair color or glasses or clothes, and if it wasn't "dirty" it would be "out of style" or something else. Still, though, we have to nip it in the bud, especially when the thing being made fun of is not something people can change. Better to eliminate these sorts of discriminatory attitudes at age four than let them perpetuate for years and years.

UPDATE: I spoke to the teacher and she was not aware of it, but she is now, and she says she'll speak to Tyanna's parents about it.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Another Ikea Riot

Calm down, people, it's just a store!!!

Via The Corner.

Guess Whose Fault It Is?

It's all the fault of Chimpy McSmirk, the Smirking Chimp. He smirked chimpily (or was it chimping smirkily?) and that's what caused it.

Oh, and if you're a white male, it's your fault too.

Don't know what "it" refers to? Well, what do you think it refers to? I mean, don't you already know??

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Hold Them Tomatoes Back!

HB 84 has gone to the floor of the Utah House. It's a bill that would require schools to hold students back a grade (in 1st through 3rd grades) if they're not reading at grade level.

The Salt Lake Tribune has an article about the bill:
Schools would be required to notify parents by the middle of the school year if their students were not on track for promotion. In addition, the bill mandates that schools offer services such as personalized tutoring, before- and after-school programs and summer school for those struggling students.
I don't like the idea of requiring schools to offer specific programs, but I didn't find any language like that in the bill, so I don't know where the Tribune got this notion. I'll just excuse this as a bit of hyperbole.
The measure would be phased in beginning with next year's kindergarteners. English learners and students with disabilities would be exempt.
As they should be. Also, current students are grandfathered in, which is a good idea that will do an end-run around any objections that districts might have to doing some extensive remediation.
Morgan said she sees the bill as the accountability piece to 2004 legislation that made $30 million available for school districts to beef up their reading programs in kindergarten through third grade.
That money should be targeted to students who have a hard time with reading, she said.
"I believe this is the next step," she said. "We must ensure our struggling readers get the help they need."
In other words, "We already gave you the money. Now we want to make sure we get what we paid for." I don't know about everybody else, but I'm sick of schools demanding more and more money for providing the same crappy services. I can see the other side of the argument, which is the "unfunded mandate" argument ("You're requiring all this stuff from us, but you're not ponying up the cash it'd take to give it to you!"). But in this case, if it's already been funded, it's incumbent upon the school districts to give the public the goods.
One Davis School District official warned that a state policy to hold kids back could do more harm than good.
"I agree with the intent, but my concern is that the decision to retain a child is a painful, complex one best made by a teacher who has worked with the child . . . and parents," said Sandy Peterson, an assistant superintendent in Davis School District.
Several studies show that students who repeat a grade suffer lower self-esteem and are more likely to drop out.
I haven't done any formal studies, but I sure as hell have seen students who ought to have been held back suffer when they get into college. They have to choose a different career, which affects the rest of their lives. The kids who were held back are entirely indistinguishable from their fellow college students who didn't need to be held back, and go into their chosen careers. I'd trade several years of embarrassment for a lifetime of earnings any day.

Also, Sandy Peterson doesn't seem to be considering the possibility that low self-esteem and dropping out are caused by something other than being held back. Something like, I don't know, the frustration of being in a system where kids are regimented by age and ridiculed for being out of line with the average.
As a mother of a struggling reader, Polly Tribe said she supports the bill - as long as it emphasizes helping students.
"I just want to make sure we don't penalize the child for the inadequate training of teachers," she said.
Polly, honey, if your kids' teachers are so inadequate that they can't teach reading, this bill isn't going to make that any worse than it already is.

Here comes the money quote:
Asked whether it was possible for all children to read by the end of third grade, state schools Superintendent Patti Harrington said: "Not all tomatoes ripen at the same time, even if they're on the same vine." [emphasis mine]
Yeah, but they all better ripen by the first frost, or they're sure as hell gonna be toast.

While I don't much like the idea of the legislature passing laws telling schools how to do their jobs, the schools aren't doing their jobs and are taking a "just try and make me!" attitude toward it. I was absolutely shocked a few years ago when an official from Cache school district bragged on the radio, for everyone to hear, that half of the district's elementary school students were reading at or above grade level. This was evidently something to brag about, that you're only doing a half-@$$ed job. Because, you know, you could be doing a three-eighths-@$$ed job for the same money.

I'm sorry if I offend anyone, but any "educator" who thinks reading levels are some sort of loose guideline that can be ignored half the time is much deluded. Reading levels are supposed to be a minimum standard. Reading is THE essential skill to be taught in school. None of the others matter if you can't read. I think this bill is well-written and much-needed.

On Teaching Personal Responsibility

This week is going to be an extra-hard one for my kids. They are being taught to take responsibility for their possessions. The recent bout of flu brought to light how much of the housework is done by me that should be done by other members of the family, and so I'm buckling down and teaching my kids some much-needed lessons.

Sonshine and I had a discussion with me about the proper care of library books and videos and the consequences of not caring for them. (One summer the kids had left their library videos outside in the wagon and I restricted them from checking out videos.) Immediately after the discussion, Sonshine decided he didn't want to carry the library bag any more, and just left it by the side of the road on the way to the bus stop. When we discovered it was missing, we immediately went back to look for it, and we found it. But the video inside looked like it had been run over by a car (the books, thankfully, were OK). Needless to say, Sonshine is no longer allowed to check out videos at the library. He received a stern lecture and was required to carry the library bag all the way back to the house without complaining about how heavy it is.

Tiny Princess is old enough and large enough now that she can carry her own violin and music to school for her before-school and after-school lessons. I reminded her to do so this morning, but she forgot to bring it, so I made her go to lessons without a violin or music.

Her life is about to get much, much worse, though. When she returns from school, she will find that four bags of her and Sonshine's toys are missing and that the only ones she has left are the ones she put away in the drawers we've provided for her, and the ones she left in her bed. Any toys that were left on the floor outside of designated toy storage bins are gone.

The official party line on the toy disappearance is that Mommy was just trying to be helpful. Every time I ask them to put away their toys, the kids complain that the task is just too overwhelming and they can't even start it. So I got rid of all the toys that were too onerous to pick up. They ought to be grateful for my assistance, because now it will be much, much easier for them to pick up their toys and they can spend more time playing and less time cleaning.

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning from now on, any toys left on the floor will be taken away, until we reach a sustainable level of toyitude.

In addition to the four bags of toys, I found over a dozen distinct socks whose mates are waiting for them in the laundry room. It will be a joyous reunion, and Princess can finally quit looking in vain for socks in her drawer.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Doubleplusungood Crimethink

HB131 would restrict street preachers' ability to access Mormons at their conferences. It's based on a Colorado law that restricts abortion protesters' ability to communicate with people entering an abortion facility.

I like the idea of restricting certain activities within 100 feet-- I think that's far enough that the protesters can still be seen but not interfere. But the part of the law that gives me the heebie-jeebies is the part that prohibits "knowingly approaching within eight feet of a person" for certain specified purposes. The eight-foot radius is fine; it's the legislation of whether or not a person knew or intended something that bothers me. If you intentionally walk backward toward someone while shouting your slogan, does it count as "knowingly" since you couldn't see them? If you "accidentally" bump into someone and drop your flyers, and the person helps you pick them up, does it count as "distributing flyers"?

Moreover, the provision that allows protesters to be sued without a prior conviction disturbs me. This bill would make possible civil suits where punitive damages could be collected for merely using an opposing viewpoint when speaking. Don't think it could happen? What if you were eight feet one inch from Person A, and Person A thought you were seven feet eleven inches, and you held out a flyer to Person A? Person A could then sue you for punitive damages and win, even if you were acquitted of the charge of passing out flyers within 8 feet of Person A. Thus even though you had committed no crime, you could be subject to punitive damages just for expressing an opposing viewpoint within 100 feet of a place of worship. I don't think that's right.

The abortion protest law has already been ruled constitutional, but not everything that is constitutional is morally right, and there's nothing in the constitution that gives you a "right" to be protected from dissenting viewpoints.

I'm not partial to the street protesters. I'm not fond of abortions either. But I sure as hell don't like legislators making it possible to sue someone for having an opposing viewpoint too close to somebody else. To me, that's just un-American, even if it is constitutional.

Worst. Novel. Ever.

It's official: Atlanta Nights, the Worst Novel Ever Written*, has been published. A bunch of authors were upset at a company called PublishAmerica, which had a reputation for ripping off first-time authors and for badmouthing science fiction and fantasy writing as drivel while at the same time publishing non-science-fiction-and-fantasy drivel. So thirty authors got together and in one weekend wrote this novel, which would put any self-respecting high school sophomore to shame. They then submitted it to PublishAmerica, which accepted it for publication. (When the hoax was revealed, PublishAmerica withdrew their offer.)

“As you know, Nurse Eastman, the government spooks controlling this hospital will not permit me to give this patient the care I think he needs.”
“Yes, doctor.” The voice was breathy, sweet, so sweet and sexy.
“We will therefore just monitor his sign’s. Serious trauma like this patient suffered requires extra care, but the rich patsies controlling the hospital will make certain I cannot try any of my new treatments on him.”
“Yes, doctor.” That voice was soooo sexy!

Another, if you can stomach it:
Yvonne poured herself a drink and melted into the chair across from Callie. She brushed a strand of moltenly hair from her eyes and proceeded to carve the ham. Callie watched intently. Juice streamed from the ham in rivulets like saliva drooling from the fierce jaws of a wild dingo poised over the dead carcass of its prey in the dingo-eat-dingo world.

The Grammar Cop over at Banterist will quadruple ticket revenues just by reading this book.

* Disclaimer: I haven't read Atlanta Nights, so I can't say definitively whether it is worse than the previous holder of the title Worst Novel Ever Written. The previous title-holder was a completely politically-correct novel that some of my freshman-year suitemates were required to read, whose protagonist was a disabled Latina lesbian. The rest of the cast of characters were similarly balanced for ethnic, gender, and miscellaneous diversity. Since diversity was the aim of the book, the author didn't bother much with trivial concerns like realism, plot, or character development.


It's a really slow blog week. The blogosphere is all alight over a bunch of unimportant stuff. Eason Jordan's lies unsubstantiated charges are the subject of every other post on Power Line and two out of every three posts on Captain's Quarters. BO-ring! I mean, it's important and all, but surely there are other things going on in the world worth posting about. For one, there was that girl that got scalped.

Sorry for the light posting. Normally on a week like this one I'd post a rambling essay on some aspect of life, but this week I've got a bunch of extra duties for the Girl Scout cookie sale, and I just did my taxes, and we're still catching up on housework from that whole week of being sick plus the breathless week of pneumonia, and the kids are still hard to handle. I can't send Sonshine outside to play until he stops coughing. Bagel wants his mommy play time, and Princess is at a phase where she needs some attention too. And Favorite Husband is still puking coughing his lungs up, so it's difficult to get any sleep.

Fortunately, we've decided that when we get our tax refund, we are buying a mattress. Our current mattress is the original X-Tra Cheap Furniture Store Special that we bought when we got married nearly 12 years ago. There's no point in turning this thing any more, because it's got foot-deep trenches on every side. So hopefully with a new mattress, I'll be able to sleep better, my back won't hurt as much, and I won't be too tired to blog.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Tax Cuts! Tax Cuts!

Just got through doing my taxes. It looks like our tax refund is going to be more than double what it's been in previous years. Yay!

Now tell me again how Bush only cut taxes for the "rich"...

Monday, February 07, 2005

Sometimes I "test" my kids by intentionally advocating a point of view contrary to what I've taught them, just to see what they say.

Today we saw Elmo on TV singing about the joys of getting dressed, but Elmo had no clothes on.
"Hey, Elmo's naked!" I said.
"No he's not," insisted the kids, "he's wearing his fur!"
"Yeah, but he has no clothes on!"
Princess rolled her eyes and said "He's just a puppet!"

Thank you. My work here is done.

Sunday, February 06, 2005


Last night I rolled over in bed and something went "pop" in my back. Now I am in excruciating pain and I can't turn my head or incline it downward. What gives?? I was just getting over pneumonia, and now I'm stuck back in bed!!


Just when you thought everything that could possibly be made of Legos had been made and posted on the internet, along comes the Lego dulcimer. And it really plays, too! Close-up views here.

UPDATE: Look, there's a Lego harpsichord too!

MORE LEGOS: Via MuggleNet, here's a Lego Hagrid and Harry Potter, for all you fans out there. This is what happens when nerds and geeks cross-breed! ;)

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Godwin's Law

For those unfamiliar with Godwin's Law, it states that the probability that Hitler will be mentioned in a discussion thread approaches 1 as the thread gets longer and longer. Why Hitler? Because Hitler has now become a generic insult for anyone you don't like. Godwin himself set out to point out how silly it is to just call people Hitler all the time (because it effectively ends all rational discussion), and that's how it all got started.

This thread, for example, was doomed from the start.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Throwing Up In The Bed

What is it about my bed that makes it a mecca for vomiting children? Is it the fact that it takes five loads of laundry to clean all the bedding? Why do children who know they are gagging, particularly if they have just eaten a sizable dinner, make a beeline for my bed? And why do they always throw up on my side of the bed?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


My sister Mim "got" me in some sort of game of blogging tag, so I'm supposed to post something about my taste in music. My first reaction to this was "Huh?" I don't usually do chain-letter type things, and I'm afraid I don't have much taste in music. I like some of just about every type of music, including country, opera, bagpipe, and klezmer. I'm even a fan of rap, if you take out all the objectionable lyrical content. But I don't listen to music much. I'm usually too busy telling small people not to poop on the floor to have much time for music.

1. Total amount of music files on your computer?

I haven't a clue. Favorite Husband does all that. I only listen to disks, and then usually only in the car.

2. The last CD you bought was:

They Might Be Giants, "The Spine".

3. What is the song you last listened to before reading this message?

It has been so long since I purposefully listened to a song, that I can't remember. It was probably a Christmas song. The last song I wished I was listening to was They Might Be Giants' "Experimental Film" from the above-mentioned album. But I only wished I was listening to it, because Favorite Husband took away all my albums saying he was going to make them all into MP3's for me (AGAIN) even though I didn't want them as MP3's in the first place, and that was the last I saw of it.

4. Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you:

1. John Denver, "Perhaps Love"
2. R.E.M., "Driver 8"
3. Flying Neutrinos, "Mr. Zoot Suit"
4. Voice Male, "Loch Lomond"
5. Bizet, "Pres Des Remparts De Seville" (from Carmen)
6. They Might Be Giants, "The Statue Got Me High"
7. Suzanne Vega, "Caramel"
8. Enya, "China Roses"
(OK, so I can't count, give me a break, I'm a math major)

I'm just glad the prompt didn't ask me to explain why these songs mean a lot to me! That would reveal an awful lot about me that I don't want going out over the internet.

5. What 3 people are you going to pass this baton to and why?

I am passing it to no one, because I don't like chain letters. Plus I've already got bad luck so whatever pro-chain-letter cosmic forces there are don't have much leverage on me.

G.I. Joe Captured In Iraq

In a stunning and unexpected development, the Associated Press reports that G.I. Joe has been captured by Iraqi insurgents. His wife Barbie, who was interviewed at their Pink Dream Cottage, is in tears.

Via LGF.

UPDATE: He's been rescued by a Bush action figure. Whew! That was a close one.

MORE: G.I. Joe's POW diary has been found and published.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Give Terror The Finger

In what in my mind amounts to a counter-protest to the people who took pictures of themselves apologizing to the world for Bush's re-election, Americans who want to celebrate the Iraqi election can take pictures of themselves with inked fingers and send them here. I just did mine. (I used a photo program to crop out most of my extremely messy kitchen and add a congratulatory message to the people of Iraq.)

UPDATE: here's another site that's accepting photographs.