Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Please, Glenn Beck

I try not to think about Glenn Beck overly much. In terms of crazy political individuals, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann draw more of my ire--mostly because as a woman, they embarass and infuriate me. And because they have actually held public offices.

Glenn Beck, on the other hand, I actively try to forget/ignore. Here you can listen to a lengthy clip in which he rambles on about what happened in Norway this past weekend, insultingly simplifies European politics, and throws in some talk about Muslims just for good measure. The remark that really rubs, is of course, his blithe comparison between the political summer camp for teenagers that was ravaged and the Hitler Youth.

As an influential public figure, he could take this moment of tragedy and reach out in compassion. How would Glenn Beck feel if the true children (ages 8-12) at his own political summer camp were attacked? As someone that strives to impart their passionate political views to others, including children, shouldn't Glenn Beck be particularly empathetic to those parents and mentors who organized the camp in Norway?

He should be. But his job and his ratings are more important to him than humanity and compassion. In his twisted ultra-conservative world, it's not okay to like Europe, which apparently only offers fascism and communism to the world. So, even in the face of a horrifying tragedy, he cannot respond empathetically--he has to play to the lowest common demoninator among his listeners. He has to make the dark remark that all obsessive proponents of American greatness are thinking--"Well, they deserved it." Sure, he might say later that the shooter is evil, that he's equivalent to Osama bin Laden. But Glenn, your true feelings on the matter were already revealed the moment you said Hitler Youth. That is your real takeaway message. The rest of your words are a feeble attempt at being politcally correct, an odd gesture for you.

It is beyond my comprehension how someone that believes in the same Jesus Christ I do--someone who has made the same covenants I have, someone who reads the same scriptures that I do--can do anything but weep at the massacre of children. It sickens me that someone who shares my same faith can imply in the most minute measure that the terrorism in Norway was justified. Please, Glenn Beck. I know it's your job to be incendiary and insensitive, but would it kill you to show Christ-like compassion for people you disagree with just once?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thank you, Michelle Obama

So, I've read a couple of  troubling news pieces this week about the number 34. The C-section rate in this country has climbed to 34%. And the obesity rate has worsened all over the country, with Mississippi being the most unhealthy at 34% of their adults being obese. I'm not going to talk about unnecesareans today, because right now I'm feeling kind of emotional about them. But I will talk about Michelle Obama.

Michelle Obama is actually trying to do something about the obesity epidemic in this country. I really appreciate that. Her Let's Move campaign is making a difference, with retailers making commitments to offer healthier options around the country, especially in food deserts. I am so grateful that Michelle Obama has encouraged breastfeeding. Considering that in the US black women have the lowest rates of breastfeeding initiation, I think it's very significant that the most powerful and public black woman in the country talks about breastfeeding.

It's commonly known that breastfeeding makes a lifelong difference in health. Therefore, aren't these two pictures interesting when viewed side by side? I don't think it's a coincidence that Mississippi is the most obese state and also has the lowest percentage of babies being exclusively breastfed at 6 months of age, a terrible 6.5%.

Breastfeeding is a national issue. It is not just something that parents need to think about. It is something our entire country needs to think about. And my big question is, if 75% of women start out breastfeeding, why are they stopping? Workplace stigmatism and lack of support are surely part of it, but I also know too many stay-at-home moms who do not continue to breastfeed, exclusively or partially, because they are told the insidious lie that they aren't making enough milk. And there's the issue of nursing moms being absolutely harassed in public, and certain cities making local ordinances against nursing toddlers over a certain age. A woman who is trying to breastfeed her baby in this country encounters hurdle after hurdle, and she's really got be strong to keep jumping over them.

It's good for all women and all mothers when the First Lady supports breastfeeding. And it is bad for all women and all mothers when other female politicians don't give Michelle Obama a thumbs up, but instead, discredit our entire sex by being breathtakingly catty.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thank you, No Child Left Inside

Ahhhh. I take IMMENSE satisfaction in clever names. I shiver with pleasure and then close my eyes, a Cheshire Cat smile on my face. A clever name fills me like a meal of authentic Italian spaghetti, my favorite food. I am quite happy after encountering the name No Child Left Inside in this article about environmental literacy.

It is such a great name because not only does it make a statement (teaching children about the environment and human impacts on the world is more important than inflexible standardized test-based education that will not make them better people or citizens but only better robots for our factory structured society), but it maintains the same syllable stress pattern as the original phrase "No Child Left Behind" and even ends with the same vowel  and consonant sounds! Be still my heart!

Who thought of this phrase? I want to shake your hand! I want to hug you! I want to bake you cookies!

Here are some websites of people who have latched on to the power of this phrase:
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Connecticut State Parks
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation
Wisconsin NCLI Coalition

The most exciting part is that today, this very day, a bi-partisan No Child Left Inside act was introduced into Congress by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD).
According to Senator Reed's press release, "The No Child Left Inside Act of 2011 will help bring locally developed, high-quality environmental education programs to more schools nationwide by providing federal assistance to states to develop and implement environmental literacy plans.  The bill would also promote professional development for teachers on how to integrate environmental literacy and field experiences into their instruction and establish competitive grants to help schools partner with colleges and non-profits to expand research-based practices in outdoor education."


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thank you, Princess Leia

This past weekend, I finally watched Episodes IV, V, and VI of Star Wars for the first time in my life. Growing up in Ameria, obviously I had seen bits and pieces, and I could appreciate Star Wars spoofs and most Star Wars references, but finally seeing the entire movies was pretty special. I really enjoyed them. And I realized that Star Wars education by cultural osmosis does not reveal as much about the films as I thought.

The most pleasant surprise was Princess Leia.

Before these movies, all I knew about her was:
1. Princess Bunhead
2. "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope"
3. Leia: "I love you" Han: "I know."
4. Jabba the Hut captive wearing metal bikini

I loved Princess Leia. From the get-go, she was powerful, outspoken, and graceful. She was cunning and bold. She never acted like a prisoner with Vader and the other Empire rats. At every moment possible, she used any available resource to help the rebellion. I love how as soon as Luke and Han show up, she is engaged in her own escape--she could have passively let them do things, but nope, she is right there in the middle of the fray. She is a capable leader and fighter. I admired her more and more as the movies went on. And then came the moment when she arrived to rescue Han! Wonderful! Elegant, clever, mighty Leia!

But then...then came her captivity to Jabba. It's intriguing to me that even though I knew about this, I was so incredibly upset by it. I feel personally injured over this part of the movie. Now, I will first admit that I am grateful for the way it resolves--the symbolism of her choking Jabba with the chain is phenomenal.

But here is the problem. The Star Wars movies are pretty dang chaste. There are not scantily clad women popping in left and right. Jabba's captive before Leia is so alien that her sexual appeal is diluted. All of Leia's other outfits are almost nun-like in how much they cover her up. And so, the only real sexual image in the films is Leia as a slave. The only sexual image is perverted, distorted, damaging. My heart weeps at seeing spunky Leia reduced to a silent specter of sexual slavery. Unless I missed something, the only words she even says as a captive are, "I'm here," in response to Han asking where she is.

Leia is an incredibly attractive character, and I'm sure after A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back there were lots of men who had fiction crushes on her. And they probably appreciated her beauty, but up to that point, they surely also were drawn to her strength, her initiative, her ability to pull her own weight and defy evil. But what is the image of Leia on the VHS and DVD boxes of Return of the Jedi? What is the bestselling poster of Princess Leia on Amazon? A picture of her as a sexual slave. By including such a potent erotic image of her when there is absolutely nothing else sexual in the films, Lucas ensured that would be Leia's legacy. Talking to Nick about this scene, I said, "I hated it." And he said, "Well, I think you're supposed to." But I don't think that's true, at least for men. I think men are supposed to like it. Sex sells. And thus every man who purchases a poster or figurine of slave girl Leia in essence becomes Jabba the Hut, a fat monster who would rather see a woman silently fettered, beholden to his fetishes, than fighting her way to freedom for the galaxy.

How different it would be if the sexual image of Leia was one in which she chose to wear something revealing--an Erin Brockovich or Faye Valentine sort of sexual empowerment. I think Leia's degradation by sexual slavery is part of the reason the board game Star Wars Epic Duels does not feature her as a main fighting character, only as a weak back-up. How can that game feature Mace Windu and Count Dooku but not Leia? She fights just as much and just as mightily as Han Solo. And she could have an Ewok as a back-up character. But sadly, I think her vulnerability as Jabba's captive is what stayed most prominently in the game makers' minds. When they thought of Leia, they didn't think, "Yeah, she's a great fighter, and she did so much for the rebellion!" They thought, "Eh, she's a woman. She's too weak to be a main duelling character."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Please, LZ Granderson

I have read other columns of LZ Granderson and enjoyed them. But I'm not going to lie, I found this article of his pretty distateful. I'm not even sure where to start responding to it.

Let's start with, Mr. Granderson, you being a parent doesn't vindicate your hateful tone towards children. In fact, it makes your column disturbing. You being a parent also doesn't make you an expert on discipline. It also doesn't give you carte blanche to malign all little children who ever happen to misbehave in public.

You give examples of children misbehaving and parents not responding in what you think is a satisfactory way. You imply that parents shouldn't even be telling their kids out loud to sit down or stop doing XYZ, that they should have mastered "the look." You also imply that people spare the rod and spoil the child. Mr. Granderson, you know nothing about these parents or children. You have no idea what goes on in their lives. Just because a parent doesn't interact with their child the way you would, that doesn't mean they're permissive. What would have liked to see the mother whose daughter slapped her do? Smack the girl upside the head right then and there? Then people would be free to judge the mom and say, "Well, I see where the little girl learned to hit!" Who knows if that little girl had ever done such a thing before? Who knows if the little girl is having a horrible day, or is hungry, or is a foster child who has been abused before? Who knows that? Her mother, and not you.

I would like to know why "the look" is effective, Mr. Granderson. Is it because it makes a child afraid? Is it because a child knows that "the look" is a harbinger of a spanking? The look is another form of saying no or stop to a child. Saying no is not always the best answer. I personally am more for distraction. I really think the majority of the time little kids are misbehaving in "adult-oriented establishments" it is because they're bored. Not because they are little hellions bent on destroying your precious dinner out or your flight to your dream vacation, and not because their parents are horrible. I think most of the time, kids need something to do. They need to be engaged. You tell them to stop doing something (out loud, or with the look). Well, what will they do instead? Is there anything at all for them to do? Think about that. Find something interesting for them; don't just expect them to be silent and still anytime they are out of the house. The less you have to say stop or no (by engaging them with an "instead" option), the more meaningful it is when you do need to say it.

When I was a child, my younger siblings and I attended a lot of grown-up events. I'm number five out of seven, and so I went to all my older siblings' plays, band and chorus concerts, recitals, and let's not forget that I'm LDS, so I had church for 3 hours every Sunday. I did not run around like crazy. Why not? Did my parents give me the stank eye, sending a shock of fear into my young heart? Did they constantly nag me to sit down? No. Some of my favorite memories from my minus ten years are sitting with my dad and drawing on the program of events. He would draw a line, then I would add one, then him, then me, until we had created this hilariously strange picture. One of my mother's favorite tricks was more tattoo-oriented. I will never forget the pressure of a ball-point pen on my fingertips as my mother drew a little face with a different expression on each one.

When I see a parent struggling with a child in public, I try to think if there is anything at all I can do to be kind or helpful. If there isn't, then I think, "Well, I hope people are patient with me when my kid has a meltdown." Becasue don't be fooled, Mr. Granderson. Even with the most creative parenting and best discipline, children will have meltdowns (gasp!) in public sometimes. Because they are children with an imperfect mastery of their behavior and emotions, not robots.

Teachers complaining about needing to discipline children in schools is not evidence of a bad parenting epidemic. Personally, I think the amount of discipline in schools is an indicator of how ridiculously anti-child the set-up of school is in the first place. Trying to force young children to shut up and sit still all day is a recipe for a discipline disaster, if you ask me.

People complaining about crying babies on flights is also not a litmus-test for lame parents. A lot of babies and children cry on flights because they can't get their ears to pop. You would cry too if you were in unstoppable, inexplicable pain, you had limited or no vocabulary, and you were trying to express yourself to the one person who might be able to help you--your parent.

I mean really, Mr. Granderson, after reading your article, I just wonder what you want. For children to be outlawed in public places? Do you think all airlines should follow the example of Malaysia Airlines? (And btw, why couldn't they have thought of ways to help parents, like offering bottles or lollipops for babies to suck on, or small activity kits for kids?) Gosh, what a shame that we can't just drug up all the crying babies and all the children that want to run around till their brains are a sedated mush. What a pity that it's not PC to beat children into submission. Surely that would solve all the discipline problems you see! If only society could be comprised of productive adults ages 18-65 who are perfectly self-sufficient and perfectly well-behaved, oh what a wonderful world it would be!

Maybe you and others feel such animosity towards children because of how our society segments people of different ages away from each other in this bizarre anti-community, anti-tribe way. Old people are siphoned off into homes, children are sorted into boxes by year. In our society, the majority of adults spend all their time with other adults--including you. So what makes you such an expert on children's behavior? Oh I forgot, you're a parent, and a perfect one at that. A parent who is so successful that they refer to other people's children as "yelling, screaming, kicking offspring." Wow.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Thank you, I Howl I Growl

Nick and I always make it a point to stop at National/State Park gift shops, mostly because we collect magnets from all the places we travel to. A magnet is usually the only souvenir we get, since they are small, cheap, functional, and they can remind us of our happy trips all the time. But when we went to Goblin Valley, we got little Scooty a souvenir from the gift shop.

Even though it was $8 and kinda dinged up from its life on the store shelf, we got this board book called I Howl I Growl by Marcia Vaughan, illustrated by Polly Powell. It is a superlative board book. Here is why:

1. Satisfying structure: The 26 pages are divided into 13 rhyming two-word phrases. "I glide/I hide" "I shake/I take." Each two-word phrase is from the perspective of a different desert animal. The rhymes make it enjoyable to read and train baby's ears to different sound nuances. Most of the verbs are one syllable, but Vaughan breaks it up in the middle with "I wriggle/I squiggle." Breaking the pattern of rhyme in the middle of the story is the mark of someone who knows what she's doing. It is such a subtle but crucial thing for the readability of rhyming text!

2. Biodiversity!!!!: This book features 25 different animals. They come from all over the food web. They are cold-blooded and warm-blooded. There are invertebrates and vertebrates. Vaughan makes distinctions between different types of birds (roadrunner, hawk, elf owl, cactus wren, hummingbird), snakes (sidewinder, rattlesnake), lizards (gila monster, horned lizard), rodents (kangaroo rat, pack rat, prairie dog, pocket mouse, bats, jackrabbit), and carnivores (kit fox, skunk, and ringtail vs. coyotes and cougars). So many books are mind-numbingly general. If a book features a snake, it will just say, "snake." Not what type of snake. And rarely will an author dare to include two different snakes, both with memorable and unique behaviors. Same with birds, spiders, other reptiles like lizards and turtles, rodents, and let's not forget "bugs."   I love that children will see that even animals from the same order are worth distinguishing from each other. The specificity (please note the connection to the word species in that word!) truly warms my heart.

3. Educational levels: Number 1 and 2 are obviously educational as well, but there's still more! The general text of the book is inherently educational since it is telling something that each of these animals do. On every page, there is not only an illustration of the animal, but in smaller type it says exactly what the animal is. This is instructional for both baby and parent. Plus, there is the underlying message about how rich the life is in arid areas, which is possibly the most important part. So many people just think of the west as a wasteland. They think there is no problem with overexploiting water, or using ATVs, or wiping out animals so they can raise livestock. They don't understand that there are delicate and intricate ecosystems in the west. Children exposed to this book will see that the desert is rife with life from the youngest age possible.

4. Visual appeal: Powell's illustrations are realistic, but charmingly stylized. Most of the pages are the animals on white backgrounds, which is a common structure for board books, since the contrast makes it easier for babies to process. But she does break it up with several illustrations where the animal is depicted in its habitat--so it gives the child some more complex images without being totally overwhelming. Every page/spread has a different layout. Sometimes the animals are centered on one page, sometimes they are in the corner, and sometimes they span the gutter. There are closeups of some animals and full-body images of others. Plus, the large, colorful text complements the illustrations in compelling ways. My favorite is how the words "I shake" for the rattlesnake are slightly blurred, evoking the action they state.

5. Clever ending: SO MANY board books just...end. There is absolutely no attempt at resolution, and not even a nod at a narrative arch. As an author and as a reader, this drives me crazy. I Howl I Growl was in danger of this, since there is not really an organization to how all the animals are presented. It is a roll-call of desert wildlife. How do you end? Marcia Vaughan found a way. The second-to-last page has a spotted skunk, and says "I spray," then the last page says "We all run away!" with most of the animals from the rest of the book fleeing off the edge of the pages (breaking the fourth wall, which is always cool). It brings everything together. It ends with a connection between the animals, showing one way how they might interact and impact each other.

My cowboy hat's off to you, Marcia Vaughan and Polly Powell. I freaking love this board book!