sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

September 21, 2013

Endangered Primordials

Filed under: education, environmentalism, politics — Tags: , — edge of the sandbox @ 6:05 pm

From time to time I have an urge to go all Soviet on my kids.  Though my mom might disagree, I think I was far more disciplined when I was their age.  For instance, they waste loads of computer paper.  They take a whole bunch for drawing, don’t use most of it, and don’t bother to return what’s left.  They are too proud to draw on the back of an already used paper, and while I think I already lost that battle, I hate picking up slightly bent and somewhat soiled unused sheets that also don’t pass muster for them.  It all seems like a huge waste to me.  I don’t recall myself wasting so much paper, which, I think, was because it was related to me early on that we are not going to spend extra on it.  But everything is plentiful in this country.

It rained today in the Bay Area, a September rain is pretty much unheard of.  I am going to assume that it must be the new pattern of global cooling, because if my liberal neighbors get to attribute everything to global warming, now it’s my turn.  Like liberals I’m going to guilt trip the little ones into proper environmentalist behavior.  I’m going to tell my kids that if they waste any more paper, the dinosaurs will die off.

March 15, 2013

My Kitchen — My Rules

Filed under: Bay Area politics, education, environmentalism, politics — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:41 pm

What I love about Victor Davis Hanson is the breadth of his knowledge.  In his recent column Hanson described the emerging medieval social and political organization of California (via Leslie Eastman).  This structure rests on a “medieval” Pacific Coast state of mind, with environmentalism being one of the key orthodoxies of the increasingly unenlightened Golden State.

I have the misfortune to watch the environmentalist indoctrination in making.  The recent grocery bag ban enacted by the Alameda County is the most recent sour spot.  The ban, designed to eventually supplant all “single use” grocery bags, stirs residents of our counties (actually many municipalities in our state are heading this way) towards the use of grocery totes.  Considering that the practice creates a public safety hazard, the fact that the now illegal plastic bags are probably more environmentally sound than any alternatives looks like a minor point.  But the most egregious aspect of the prohibition is the effect on individual liberty.  All of a sudden, what I do in the privacy of my own kitchen becomes everyone’s business.

Scratch that.  Not “all of a sudden”.  Personal has long been political, and our kitchens have been sniffed out by the PC police for quite some time.  The government on all levels throws its weight around in favor of particular classes of appliances.  American law requires food labeling, and these requirements are becoming increasingly more extensive.  Considering the amount of social pressure to buy local and/or organic products, and the political outlook of the individuals who put this pressure on each other, a law prescribing the sale of politically correct groceries will be cheered on by a large segment of the California population.  Just as well.  We, California women, bought into the personal is political doctrine, so we have to reconcile with the political in our personal.  The kitchens, traditionally a personal domain of women, are now invaded by the PC police.

If a mom is not careful, her kids might act as an arm of the PC police — kind of like the kosher police.  An essentially secular in-law of mine enrolled her son in an Hasidim-run Jewish school with the reputation for academic excellency.  In a short time the boy took to inspecting her pots and giving her advise on how to run her kitchen.  Although she resented it then, towards the end of her life the auntie turned pretty religious and started keeping kosher.  Now, environmentalism is unlike a religion in that the older we get the less likely we are to accept it.  And so mothers of students enrolled in public schools might find themselves going through some dead-end nagging.  But, because unlike religion, environmentalism does not create a sense of connection with the past, mothers should feel in no way compelled to accept the dogma pushed on family kitchens through the educational establishment.

My daughter’s kindergarten class were once  subject to a f propaganda barrage connected with the bag ban.  And now I read about a posh local elementary that was visited by representatives of a local environmentalist group, who, I gather, gave them a talk on pros and cons of the ban.  All students of this posh elementary are above grade level, and all parents are the low level California aristocracy.  Don’t tell them you don’t shop at Whole Foods.

The fifth-graders were so impressed by the talk, they spontaneously decided to write letters to the newspaper to argue pros and cons of the bag ban.  For some not at all obvious reason, the overwhelming majority of letters were in support of the law.  The minority opinion was mostly concerned with relative advantages of recycling various material (the online version of the paper didn’t include the minority student voice at all).  Either we are so far gone here that there is no hope for us, or the students know something that they hesitated to put on paper.  With their names attached to it.  For everyone to see.  Forever.  Or perhaps what I saw in the paper is only representative of the children of the aristocracy.  Black people don’t care much for environmentally correct practices, and Hispanics think that since the white people ruined the Earth, environmentalism is for the Caucasians.  Well, maybe not all Hispanics, just the ones at UC Berkeley.  Viva la Raza!

As far as I can tell, the fifth graders that weighed in on the ban are well on their way to Berkeley.  For instance, one eager soul writes:

Many people are against it, but I think it’s the best thing that has happened to the county for a while.

Ask your mama if the ban is better than the reelection of Barack Obama.  And check out this budding statist:

The bag ban is amazing — a perfect way to motivate us to use reusable bags. It’s a great way to make a cleaner and greener world. So keep the bag ban up and running.

I wonder if they discuss, in their “social studies” class, what the Founders would think of the government motivating we, the people, to transport our groceries in a specific manner.

We tell our kids that we expect them to learn math, reading and writing at school, and that everything else is just someone’s opinion.  I will take responsibility for introducing them to great literature, science and history.  I just hope their teacher doesn’t press them into a letter writing campaign.

January 22, 2013

A Future for Freedom

Filed under: Bay Area politics, education, environmentalism — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 8:53 pm

I wrote about our local plastic bag ban a few weeks ago.  Well, the other night during the dinner our 5-year-old told us that some man came over to talk to the kids about the ban at her elementary school assembly.  The need to inform elementary school children about the ban is not immediately obvious to this parent.

The speaker told students that when people don’t properly dispose of plastic bags birds and animals may get caught in them or eat them and die.  I’m sure he had a lot of other drivel to share, but that’s what our 5-year-old picked up on, naturally.  Me and DH looked at each other.  We talked about littering, and how all littering is bad, not just plastic bags.  Fortunately, however, people in our town are responsible and can be trusted to put their garbage into garbage cans, even without the new law.

We also said that paper bags are not very good because the break often, and that people use plastic bags again and again, in their garbage cans and to pick up dogs’ poop. We told her that it was wrong to invite the guy who talks about why he supports the ban, but not invite anyone with a different point of view, because there are many sides to this story.  DH said that we’d like to hear about what is going on at the assemblies, and that there will be lot of things she’ll hear in school, and that the most important are math, reading and writing.  Everything else is just someone’s opinion.

I don’t think there was an age-appropriate way to explain that plastic bags production requires fewer resources and is, therefore, cleaner.  So we didn’t go there.  But the most important point was yet to be made.  The reason we oppose the ban, we said, is because if some people think that paper is better, they can ask for paper, and if some people think that plastic is better, they can ask for plastic.  Or if a store decides that they don’t want to give out plastic, they can stick with paper.  This way everybody can do what they think is appropriate.  My daughter looked at me for a second or two and gave me the most beautiful mischievous smile.

April 17, 2012

Pre-School Eco-Bullying

I suppose it only counts as bullying because everything is bullying these days.

Being a busy girl, Yelena had a habit of not wiping her hands after washing, so her skin turned dry.  I talked to her about drying her hands, applied moisturizer several times a day, and in a few weeks her skin was baby soft again.  Then all of a sudden her hands got dry again.

I asked her if she wipes her hands well in pre-school, and she said, no.  Turns out a certain Miss Smarty Pants admonished her for using more than a single paper towel.  Per Miss Smarty Pants it kills trees.  I can’t say I was surprised by this development.  I told Yelena to not worry about the trees because we will plant new ones, and that, in fact, we farm trees in this country.  And if Smarty Pants ever tells her that she can’t have another paper towel, she can relate that novel concept to her.

DH for his part told Yelena to use the grandpa rule: wipe her hands with a towel until it’s all wet before taking another one.  This way she’s using as much as she needs, but no more than she needs, which is always a good idea.

May 9, 2011

Israel Independence Day Special: Something from Nothing

Three and a half years ago I signed up my children with something called PJ Library, a non-profit that sends a free Jewish content book every month.  Since then we received two books based on the same traditional song, Simms Taback’s Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (1999) and Phoebe Gilman’s Something from Nothing (2008).  It’s a charming story in which the protagonist starts of with a large item, like an overcoat or a blanket, and when the item gets tarnished, he remakes it into a smaller one, like a vest, then a tie, then a handkerchief, etc until all that’s left is a button.  And then the button gets lost.  To deal with the loss of his beloved possession,  the protagonist decides to make something out of nothing and writes a story about it.

Both illustrators set the story in late 19th century Eastern Europe and the art is terrific.  Taback’s pictures are bright and fantastical, and Gilman’s are realist, with much detail to talk about.  Both books have a distinct Yiddish sensibility, and it’s tempting to claim that Something from Nothing is a Jewish folktale.  I don’t know for a fact that the narrative is exclusively Jewish, that other peoples, like Ukrainians or, say, Berbers don’t tell it as well, as is usually the case with folklore.  Because I can’t assume that the story is Jewish and only Jewish, this post is going to be about the way Jewish people in America today think of the Jewish tradition based on what they make out of the story.

American Jews certainly like to rhapsodize Pale of Settlement Jewry of the turn of the century, and Taback does it so well!

Both books arrived with PJ Library’s suggestions of how to discuss it with kids.  Per publisher, the books carry an environmentalist message, and teach kids to conserve and recycle:

Go through your children’s wardrobe together. Select clothing that no longer fits or is too “old and
worn” to be serviceable. How can those items still be of use? Perhaps the fabric can be cut and
sewn into clothing for a favorite stuffed animal or made into a patch for a pair of jeans. If the
clothing is outgrown but still in good condition, consider donating it – you’ll be practicing bal
tashchit!

[...]

A core Jewish value is that of bal tashchit, an injunction against needless destruction or wastefulness
and a commandment to preserve our Earth. Judaism is an ancient religion, but laws guiding us to
live in an environmentally responsible way are perhaps more significant today than ever before. The
Talmud (a collection of rabbinic thought and laws) teaches: “Whoever destroys anything that could
be useful to others breaks the law of bal tashchit” (Kadoshim 32a). When Taback wrote: “(and there’s a
moral, too!)” on the title page, he referred to this teaching.

I’m for reducing waste and preserving the Earth.  I was raised in a household where everything was reused, and it really pains me to throw away an old item.  I’m not a rabbi, but I know a thing or two about scarcity.  There is plenty of conservation going on in Something from Nothing, but the society that told the tale had no concept of recycling.  Shtetl thriftiness was not driven by concerns for allegedly overflowing landfills.   Most importantly, an environmentalist explanation fails to account for the pivotal moment of the narrative when Joseph runs out of matter to reuse and writes a story.  By the way, in doing so he uses new resources: paper, ink and a writing pen.  If abstaining from consumption is so supremely important, why bother inventing writing?  Tisk-tisk-tisk! The people of the Book should have stuck to oral tradition!

Funny how many books from PJ Library feature characters with stereotypical Jewish faces making stereotypical Jewish gestures.

Something from Nothing is a story about impoverished people who used resources wisely (and with the notable exception of aluminum, recycling is not a wise use of resources).  It’s a story about people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, and about overcoming adversity.  But most importantly, Something from Nothing is a story about moving from mere physical sustenance to the spiritual world.  It’s about overcoming adversity, but it’s also about the creative impulse.  It’s a story of the creation of modern Israel, too: Jews coming out of Pale of Settlement building a thriving country in a desert.  That’s something from nothing.  And, I think, all Americans, not just Jewish Americans can relate to the resourcefulness, innovation and individualism displayed by the characters.

Unfortunately, Western Civilization in general and Jewish Americans in particular became too engrossed in waste.  In our quest to “reduce, reuse, recycle” we became obsessed with making something from something — if we can’t help not making anything at all.  Something from Nothing teaches us that there are limits to the 3Rs, like there are limitations to the material world in general.  The greatness of our civilization originates in inspired individuals who create new things and ideas.

So happy 63rd Israel!  Israel Independence day is celebrated today this year.

***

I was going to make a post commemorating the Allied victory in World War Two 66 years ago.  V.E. day is May 8 in the former Western Block, and May 9 in Russia.  I was going to share some family history, but we had computer issues, plus it was Mother’s Day.  So that post will have to wait a year.  Anyhow, happy V.E. day!

February 4, 2011

Environmentalism and Ideology of Freedom

In anticipation of the oncoming deprogramming of my children, I try to stay on top of environmentalist news.  And so, I found an awesome essay by Travis Kavulla in the last print issue of National Review.  Unfortunately, the essay entitled Endangered? Specious is unavailable anywhere online at this time.  Kavulla looks at the dangerous “preservationist” policy carried out on the federal lands in Montana.  Dangerous because the lack of logging on the federal lands is certain to precipitate catastrophic fires.  And why the scare quotes around “preservationist”?  Listen to Kavulla:

Man has transformed nature, and that bell cannot easily be unrang.  While environmentalist doctrine today favors the concept of preserving “wilderness,” Indians on the eastern seaboard and the West were active foresters who wielded fire to manage forests and brushland.  As William Cronon argued in his classic work of environmental history, Changes in the Land, controlled fire set by American Indians resulted in a landscape considerably altered from its natural state, with greater habitat for beaver and other fur-bearers and widespread growth of wild strawberries, which would have been crowded out by forest run rampant.  All this, even before the white man had discovered this nature.

Only later did romantics like Henry David Thoreau wax poetic about great, untouched, even slightly menacing woodland.  They dreamt up what was essentially new nature.

A few year ago I read 1491 by Charles C. Mann.  The book is chalk-full of fascinating information about the Americas before Columbus and the first encounters with Europeans.  Mann explained that the crying Indian of environmentalists propaganda is hogwash.  Pre-Columbus Indians in both North and South America developed clever ways of shaping their environments.

Iron Eyes Cody: a 70s propaganda classic.

I read 1491 back to back with Collapse by Jared Diamond.  Collapse was released to horrible reviews by people whose opinions I care about.  I read it anyways because from time to time I feel obliged to read things that run a chance of raising my blood pressure, and because I’m a sucker for lightweight ethnographic information. Diamond dedicated considerable amount of pages to Bitterrot Valley in Montana, a place he convinced me I need to visit.

Diamond felt that the freedom-loving characters who populate Montana need to learn to love the lawyers.  On one hand, there are the disputes with the blue state transplants who might think that the cows are all bucolic, but then don’t like the smell.  On the other, there is the impending global warming Armageddon.  Both need to be addressed in court, preferably federal court.  Collapse has a what’s-the-matter-with-Kansas feel, from the environmentalist point of view.

The book saddened me.  What can your average aging Montana farmer do against a New York city lawyer retiring next door to him?  Is said farmer’s ideology nothing but a relic of the past?  What can sustain it today?  Lots of things, if you trust Kavulla.  A smart environmentalist policy should be conducted locally by people with education and know-how to conduct such policy:

While environmentalists like to claim the mantle of science, federal environmental law hands decision-making to judges, who work to produce outcomes in conformance with the maze of the law.  The bottom line is that decision about forests are not made by foresters, and wildlife is not being managed by biologists.  Increasingly, management decisions of a highly technical nature are made in faraway places by political agents of judges with no subject-specific training.

Kavulla explains that Montana locals see the ineptitude of federal land-management policy:

Why do Montanans and westerners in general have such distaste for the federal government?  Just look at the reams of court opinions, the numerous injunctions, and the bureaucratic tangles that never even make it to court.  America’s federal lands used to be engines of productivity.  Now they are fallow — even as Montanans remember brighter days, even as they await inferno that will destroy the beauty and of the place where they had lived their lives, even as they worry about a stroke of the president’s pen that could do more to spell out a rancher’s future than he himself does.

The rural western states’ economy had always revolved around natural resources, and always had been dependent on public lands.  The more federal policy erodes that consortium, the more the livelihoods it will destroy and the worth the ultimate conflagration be — not only of the trees, but of the political sentiment of the westerners, trammeled by the law.

Montanans find themselves in a horrible predicament.  I doubt that the EPA responsible for this predicament will be abolished, like I’m not holding my breath about the Department of Education being abolished.  Yet I’m heartened to learn that there are still people in this country who, when faced with danger, want more local control and less federal government in their lives.

October 2, 2010

Some Bubbles Don’t Burst

Filed under: environmentalism — Tags: , , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 4:48 am

This rant is brought to you courtesy of a late September heat wave, that had me hiding indoors both to avoid the heat and sanctimony on the account of global warming, the latter emanating from local mommies.

I’m still waiting for the green bubble to burst.  After all, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger promised it would.  I especially like how they highlighted the uncool personification of contemporary environmentalism:

…suburban matrons [who] proudly clutched copies of Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and came to see the purchase of each $4 heirloom tomato at the farmer’s market as an act of virtue.

As you can see I have an axe to grind.  But just when you think they are hopelessly behind the times, eco-fascists present us with their their misanthropic best.  They still have it, the bastards!  So is environmentalism kaput?

Are the entrenched Big Green interests about to let the green bubble burst?  And what about the consumers of green propaganda, can they possibly let go of their devotions?  I’m asking too many questions.

Did you know that mothers are more environmentally conscious then college students?  Well, at least we recycle more.

A college kid may fulfill her Tree-hugging 101 requirements, but she’s poor and apathetic.  Anyhow, she has better things to do with her time.  When she leaves the campus, she earns decent money and rises to a position of relative importance.  But next thing you know she has a child, and she finds herself locked up in her hip little condo.  One on one with the baby.  All day long.  She approaches motherhood the same way she approached her job — she’s a thinking mom — she does research, she wants to be relevant, she expects to be acknowledged.  She can’t just kinda feed the baby, and kinda play with the baby, and then kinda leave the baby alone.  Every aspect of mothering has to have a larger meaning.  Plus, she yearns for an adult conversation.  Most of all she needs a soapbox.

Environmentalism provides this mother with an opportunity to apply herself.  She gets to learn about the human interaction with nature, and so she’s participating in a conversation more advanced then “no pulling tail!!!/bird, brown bird, brown bird flying/no pushing brother!!!/Choo-choooo!!!”. She feels like a good mommie because she cares about the Earth, and by extension about the future of her offspring.  She also gets to teach her kid to save the planet.  As a bonus she’s absolved of guilt that ensures from buying expensive items at the neighborhood boutique.  She might be paying the green premium, but it’s for environmentally correct products.

Oh, but it comes at a price.  She has to sort out her garbage, use ineffective cleaning products and she’s at loss when her little one starts harassing her about the environment.  Most importantly she has to use cloth diapers.  They are messy and diaper service is expensive, but cloth diapers remain the badge of honor of any thinking mom.

Logically the cloth diaper phenomena makes little if any sense.  Plastic diapers (I love saying it: We use plastic diapers!) take up landfill space, but cloth has to be washed and dried which requires energy and water.  A recent British government study found that plastic diapers have a slightly smaller carbon footprint, and recommended washing full load of cloth, in warm water and drying them out in outside on a line.  That’s unsanitary.  There is shit in diapers, and  you are going to let that shit sit somewhere in your house until you have a full load to wash.  Warm water doesn’t kill the bacteria; it creates a perfect environment for them in which to multiply.

So why do Bay Area mothers selflessly insist on using cloth?  To prove their devotion, that’s why!  And to get themselves irreversibly emotionally entangled in the church of Gaia.  Because after several years of storing and washing baby’s shit, and ignoring every study that tells them that they are being ridiculous, Bay Are mothers are not about to admit that they were had.

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