August, 2004

Your morning dose of political humor.

<%image(20040831-war.281.gif|476|131|alt="David Rees' Get Your War on cartoon")%>

Shamelessly stolen from David Rees’ excellent, if foul-mouthed, Get Your War On. Check out the latest page.

Also, if the “war on terror” is unwinnable, then why are we fighting it?

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I hate living in a country that, while being the wealthiest nation in the world, has a poverty rate for children of 17.6 percent. That’s almost one out of every five. I don’t care what anyone thinks about welfare, to my mind it’s beyond patently obvious that our children, American children, should not live in poverty. We should be ashamed to be so wealthy and yet give so little to the ones who are most defenseless in our society. They are our future. Even before I had kids of my own I felt this way, and now I feel this way more strongly than ever before. It’s ludicrously hypocritical of our government to propose educational reform, to parrot words like “no child left behind”, when we haven’t even taken care of children’s basic biological needs. It’s our country, they are our children, what kind of monsters are we that we don’t feed and clothe and provide housing for them?

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25 Aug 2004, by

Quick Irony

There’s something disturbing about paying doctor bills for a dead person. I know it’s probably a fairly common experience, but I can’t help looking at all those charges for cat scans and lab work and thinking to myself, “They didn’t work. They didn’t help. Why am I paying for this?” It’s not that I begrudge the doctors and hospitals their money. I understand how the system works and that all these things need to be paid for whether they help or not. That is, my brain understands it. My heart not so much.

So today, looking over itemized bills with dates and charges for the battery of things we did for Simone in what we never suspected would be a vain effort to keep her alive, I am drawn back to those rooms and those times. I remember, so vividly, when they took her from us in the emergency room to weigh her. I was eager to find out her weight, because she hadn’t been weighed since her first pediatrician appointment over a month before. Even with all the nervousness about her condition and about how she wasn’t eating, I remember an intense burst of joy when they reported she weighed over 10 pounds. She’s strong, I thought, she’s growing, she’s gaining weight. Everything’s going to be ok.

It’s the sort of irony one would really rather live without.

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A Parent’s Guide to the Montessori Classroom by Aline D. Wolf

This book was given to us by the Montessori school, and was a fascinating read. It describes in detail many of the materials designed by Maria Montessori and how they are used by children in the classroom setting. After reading it, I wonder at standard schools who don’t bother to explain the philosophy behind their educational approach to parents, much less the use of their classroom materials. Is it because there is no underlying philosophy? Because they aren’t sure what the philosophy is? Because they don’t think the parents need to know? Maybe it’s because their approaches don’t make as much sense as the Montessori approach. Because that’s what blows me away about it, it makes so much sense, and seems so true to the nature of children. I want to be involved, I want to help and I feel like I couldn’t do either without understanding the basics of it. And there’s not only the fact that they encourage, even demand, that parents understand the Montessori educational philosophy, there’s a bottom line goal in the Montessori classroom that has nothing to do with teaching them to read or teaching them mathematics. It has to do with nurturing in them a love of learning and respect. They’re completely unafraid to tell you this. We will teach your kids to love learning. We will teach them to respect themselves, each other and the natural world. We can’t tell you when they’ll be reading, because only they know exactly when, but we can tell you they’ll learn it and love it. This seems like such a bold and unapologetic stance to me. I applaud them for it, and I hope they succeed with Sophia. My highest aspirations for her are that she love to learn and that she coexist peacefuly with others and the world around her. This is a very bright and encouraging day for me, and I hope it is so for Sophia.

I imagine that I will be reading and writing quite a bit about Montessori methods over the next few months. Stay tuned.

The other night on the Montessori school’s bulletin board I noticed an article about Montessori schools that had a classroom picture of several children, with a caption pointing out Anne Frank. Holy cow! Anne Frank went to a Montessori school? Cooooooool, I thought to myself. That got me wondering what other notable people might have attended Montessori schools. A little digging on the web got me to this list, taken from the Casa Di Mir Montessori School’s FAQ, which I’m pasting below.

Below is a list of many familiar people who were Montessori educated:

  • Katherine Graham (deceased), owner/editor of the Washington Post
  • Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (deceased), editor, former first lady (John F. Kennedy)
  • Sean ‘P.Diddy’ (formerly known as Puffy) Combs, RAP mega-star
  • Anne Frank, famous diarist from world war II
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Prize winner for Literature
  • Jeff Bezos, financial analyst, founder, AMAZON.COM
  • Prince William and Prince Harry, English royal family
  • T. Berry Brazelton, noted pediatrician and author
  • Julia Child, famous chef, star of many TV cooking shows and author of numerous cookbooks
  • Elizabeth Berridge, actress (Constanze in Amadeus)
  • Kami Cotler, actress (youngest child on long-running series The Waltons)
  • Melissa and Sarah Gilbert, actors

Famous people who chose Montessori schools for their own children:

  • Stephen J. Cannell, TV writer-producer-director (The Rockford Files and many others)
  • Patty Duke Austin, actress
  • Cher Bono, singer-actress
  • John Bradshaw, psychologist and author
  • Yul Brynner (dec.), actor
  • Marcy Carcy, TV producer
  • Bill & Hillary Clinton, former president/senator, NY
  • Michael Douglas, actor
  • Shari Lewis (dec.), puppeteer
  • Yo Yo Ma, cellist

Others with a Montessori Connection:

  • Alexander Graham Bell (dec.), noted inventor, and his wife Mabel founded the Montessori Education Assocation in 1913. They also provided financial support directly to Dr. Montessori and helped establish the first Montessori class in Canada and one of the first in the United States
  • Mister Rogers, children’s TV personality, strong supporter of Montessori education
  • Thomas Edison, noted scientist and inventor, helped found a Montessori school
  • President Wilson’s daughter trained as a Montessori teacher. There was a Montessori classroom in the basement of the White House during Wilson’s presidency
  • Alice Waters, restauranteur and writer, is a former Montessori teacher
  • Bruno Bettelheim (dec.), noted psychologist/author, was married to a Montessori teacher.
  • Erik Erikson (dec.), noted anthropologist/author, had a Montessori teaching certificate.
  • Jean Piaget (dec.), noted Swiss psychologist, made his first observations of children in a Montessori school. He was also head of the Swiss Montessori Society for many years

Interesting list, isn’t it?

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My hair is still coming out in handfuls. I tell myself that the rate of loss is less than before, but I think that this may just be stubborn delusion on my part. I also keep checking for new growth, but am not really finding any. Judging from the thinness of my braids, ponytails and buns, I’ve lost approximately half my hair. I have two largeish bald spots that are easily covered right now through strategic hair placement. Yes, essentially a combover. I have decided that if I uncover another bald spot I’ll be shaving my head. If my hair is all going to fall out, I’m not going to just wait and watch while it does. I don’t look forward to this. I’ve actually always wanted to shave my head, but I’ve always worried that I might have a funny shaped head but wouldn’t know it until all the hair was gone and that my features aren’t strong enough to pull off the no hair look. Also, I love my long hair. Love, love, love it.

Still, I’m not going to sit around with an ever diminishing head of hair. It’s too depressing. I’m not sure how much more of this I can take, but Friday I see the wonderful woman who trims my hair and we’ll talk. She’s honest and I know that if I need it, she’ll shave my head.

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So it’s Saturday again, and I’m working again. It’s gloomy and dark outside. Rain falls intermittently. There’s thunder and lightning. These dark and stormy days remind me a lot of Simone, since it rained almost every afternoon during her short life, and then, when she died, stopped raining and became parched and dry and insufferably hot, a perfect imitation of hell. Everything dried up and tried to die and we had to actually water our lawn and bushes and trees. Still, I like this type of weather and have always like it, even if it now makes me a little sad. The reading room is deserted. We have exactly one patron and she knows exactly what she is doing and doesn’t seem to need any help.

Windows sucks. As does wretched, wretched IE. I had written three paragraphs, and the page somehow refreshed on me, and I lost two. One I had backed up, but I had gotten on a roll and typed my little heart out and had just thought about backing up the other two when they vanished.

So, to reconstruct : the upgrade went well. I need to fix several things and implement several more. I had made a list, which I shall make again. You will probably want to skip this part, as it’s just notes to myself and reminders of what to fix.

  • Some images are not showing up within articles on IE (like the Zagunis pics)
  • Need to re-validate html and css for Sophia’s page and my page
  • Sophia’s css looks particularly bad in IE and may merit some tinkering
  • Adding comments redirects to a URL with a trailing slash and this breaks the css
  • Add rss feed and category numbering plugins to Sophia’s site
  • modify css to 800 x 600 screen res

Hah. That’s all safely copied to nice trusty Vim file. Try erasing it now, IE.

At any rate, I was talking about some of the things I’d planned to do here, including reviving the book log. Ah, yes, you’re asking me what book log. “I never saw a book log here!” you exclaim. Well, that’s because I was storing all the stuff I scrolled off currents into one big file that I was eventually going to post but I never quite got around to putting it out there before the demise of White Star. And so, it was lost, along with many, many other things. Which reminds me, I still need to set up an appropriate backup system for Tuzanor. Let me make a note of that. Anyways, I’ve been thinking about whether to create a new category for books, or whether to just jot down the finished books in the entertainment category. What brings this all up is the book I’m currently reading Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy edited by Al Sarrantonio. I love reading short stories, because it’s such a good way to get a little taste of new authors, or commune with much beloved ones. I intend to give the stories a thorough review here when I’ve finished with it, as they merit. I’ve only read seven or so of the almost thirty stories in the volume, so it’s a bit early to say too much, but I will say that all the stories seem to be good, although the ones that are superb make the merely good ones read more insipidly than they might otherwise.

<%image(20040821-flightscover.jpg|316|475|cover of Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy edited by Al Sarrantonio)%>

This entry is a little bit all over the map, I realize that. I’m kind of taking the opportunity to core dump a lot of little giblets that have been on my mind in the last week or so. I have pauses between writing this while I help a patron here or there or do something work related or reconstruct parts of this post that were eaten and I remember stuff I wanted to record. So while I’m speaking of “all over the map”, I should mention that this is the latest of Sophia’s expressions that we can blame on no one but ourselves. She uttered it a couple of weeks ago when we were out for a walk. “We’re going everywhere! We’re all over the map!” It’s charming, sweet and alarming all at once when you realize how much they absorb from you and how much you mold them into the creatures that they will be. I have often talked about how Sophia (and Simone too) came into the world as full beings, with complete personalities, and not some kind of blank slate that was shaped into a person by their environs. However, even though this is true to my experience of my children and I firmly believe it, it is also true that they are like little sponges, and that you affect them in a thousand ways every single minute and thus, shape them. It’s terrifying and gratifying.

One morning this week as I was walking Sergei, I was thinking about Simone, as I often do, and I was thinking about the things I loved most about her : her expressive eyes, her dark hair and her engaging smile. I became aware of myself suddenly smiling, smiling back at that remembered smile, and realized that it was the first time I had been able to think about her without feeling completely miserable. Of course, moments after I realized that I hadn’t been desperately unhappy I became desperately unhappy, but it’s still a step in the right direction, I think. Many things still make me cry. Sometimes things sneak up on me, and I’m surprised that I am crying. There is still a chasm inside me, a dark and keening place, that opens up without warning to engulf me. Lo, it is with me always. However, I know that it is a thing I can live with. And this is a truth of life, I think, that we all live with terrible things inside of us.

How’s that for introspection? Now, I’m going to completely switch gears and talk about something inconsequential. As you know from the handy dandy reading links on the left there, I read several blogs written by authors. I fell into this mostly through trying to suss out what the experience of being a published writer is really like. I’m not sure it’s a direction I wish to go in for myself (though you’ll notice, if you’re a long-time reader, that I’m now a step closer to it, having abdicated my “no, never, not for me, not in a million years position”). At any rate, I’ve noticed in the author blogs I read regularly as well as in many of the author blogs I don’t list because I read them only sporadically, that authors tend to hate Their hatred in fact, tends to be terribly virulent and all out of proportion with reason to outsider eyes. Most of the complaints that I have read seem to stem from the reviewing system. Ignorant fools read the books and then make stupid and untrue comments about the books. Obviously I don’t know what it’s like to have my book trashed by a barely literate reviewer on amazon, so I have no real right to say that the bile of authors is unwarranted or unnecessarily vicious. Still. I think the bile of authors towards amazon for letting any yahoo review a book is unwarranted and unnecessarily vicious. I find it insulting, actually. Why don’t authors assume I can discard or accept an idiot amazon review as easily as I discard or accept reviews in the New York Times Book Review? In fact, I find it incredibly useful to rank by lowest review, read something that says “I hate books that…” (have a plot, have ambiguous endings, “waste time” on character development, whatever) and find in this sort of contrary way books that would exactly suit me. Nowhere else can I use a negative approach to zero in on what I would like and often this approach is much more useful than the meaningless fawning of professional and amateur critics alike. You can find useful information in amateur reviews. Even if it’s not the information the reviewer intends to convey. If they can’t spell and can’t put their sentence together, it doesn’t reflect poorly on the author of the book, merely on their own review. I have the ability to discern wheat from chaff, thank you very much, and I find the insecurity of authors who think I can’t just a little bit irritating (which is why I’m allowing myself to vent about it here). Of course, I’m sure it feels terrible to have someone sling mud at your carefully crafted work, especially if the words slung are incoherent and false. Still, as a reader, I appreciate the review system. I don’t want it ejected or redone or watered down. I think the authors who so roundly condemn the system might be better off not reading the reviews at all instead of getting all worked up about them and railing against

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Two nights ago, I dreamed about legos.

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