sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

January 31, 2012

Registering to Vote and Study and Other Adventures of a Pre-K Mom

Filed under: education, parenting, politics — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 5:44 pm

I registered to vote at the DMV where the clerk barely glanced at my passport, even though I have an accent.  I later found out there was quite a bit of fraud going on at that office.  When I went to my polling place, my name, address and party affiliation were posted at the door.  Poll workers don’t require an id to vote.  When some college age kids asked what’s up with that, the poll workers explained that the presumption is that if you are a citizen, you are honest.

Evidently our School District doesn’t presume any such thing.  To register my daughter to attend public kindergarten we are required to submit valid photo identifications of parents along with two utility bills, letters from the doctor and the dentist and a detailed application that includes a second language questionnaire.  We are required by law to state our children’s race, and “mixed” or “other” boxes are not provided.  I can’t fill out the application online, which would had save the taxpayer money.

I checked out a local Catholic school.  They put up billboards that described experiments students conducted in labs.  The elementary school classrooms were filled with sculptures of animals and drawings of ancient Egyptian tombs.  Teachers pinned essays by middle school students on the walls.  The essays were fairly long and well-written (or re-written on the teacher’s instruction).  Then I walked into the math classroom.  Colorful paper mobiles were hanging from the ceiling.

“How is it math?” I asked.

“Well, students have to calculate how to hang the weights on the mobiles so that they are balanced.  It’s more fun than your usual paper and pencil assignment.”

I can feel my Russian readers getting flabbergasted.  In the teacher’s defense I can say that she perhaps felt pressured to show something visual for the open house.  But this is not what math is.  Math is abstract; mathematical equations can be quite elegant and solving a problem can be a delight.  A good math teacher will show her students how to have fun with math.  For a real math lover, crafty projects like mobiles are a destraction.

I went to a school that was heavily invested in theory.  Labs were rare, in part, I guess, because acquiring supplies was out of the question but also because the stress had long been on theory.

More thoughtful and high-minded people in the Soviet Union loved mathematics because of abstraction.  There was beauty and logic to it, and equations were true or false regardless of what the party decreed at the time when literature and history were utterly perverted and even botany was politicized.

In the late ’80s, my school was the only one in the city area that had a computer lab.  From time to time we had students from other schools come in for a tour.  We had computer science a few times a week, but only one hour of lab.  Our teachers understood that computer code is an abstraction, and that if we learn the abstraction on paper, we can easily type it up.  The physical presence of a computer is desirable but not necessary to learn programming.  I’d say about half of my classmates are now in the US, either as refugees or on H1B visas, most working in programming.

For some reason it’s a standard for American kindergarteners to have computer lab time at school.  In the meantime my 80-year-old father-in-law received an offer to return part-time to his engineering position at Lockheed-Martin because they can’t recruit in China for jobs that require security clearance.

I was most impressed with the Catholic school’s lockers, and I’m not being facetious.  They were sparkling clean — no graffiti, no scratches, no stickers.  Maybe the lockers were recently installed, but more likely discipline is not an issue at this school.


January 29, 2012

How Femen Earned The Attention of American Media (Partial Nudity)

Filed under: journalism, politics, Ukraine — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 11:01 am

A while ago I wrote two soft core political porn posts about the Ukrainian topless protesters known as Femen.  The ladies are feminists and they protest everything from poor road conditions to Vladimir Putin, and, oh, sex trafficking.  At the time the group was not so well known in the States.

I got the sense that the girls were getting bored with Kiev.  Here they are participating in anti-Kremlin demonstrations in Moscow last December, and it kind of makes sense for them to be there since Putin has designs on Russia’s former “republics”.  Too bad a new Russian regime is likely to be nationalist and/or Communist — but that’s another matter.

Femen protest

In Moscow Femen undressed in front of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior pretending to be yurodivy, or a kind of Russian holy homeless who in olden days asked for handouts in front of churches and praised the tzar. Femen asked for the tzar to drop dead. Here they are getting arrested

And here they are a week ago are in Sofia, Bulgaria protesting family violence.  I’m not sure why Sofia, but hey, they are helping out their Bulgarian sisters, so it’s all good.

Femen topless fights

Fighting the good, sexy fight

And here they are protesting bankers in Davos a few days ago, and completely out of their depth.

Femen topless

Why Switzerland? Why banks?

Here is what John Hinderaker had to say about the girls.  Topless, yes, logical no:

The sad reality is that while the ladies of Femen may be fetching, they are not smart. It is highly unlikely that any of them is, as one sign proclaimed, “Poor because of you [i.e., economists, businessmen and bankers].” On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of the world’s population has escaped from grinding poverty only because of the efforts of frequently-despised businessmen and bankers.

The fallacy that these women have fallen for–the idea that wealth causes poverty–has been with us for a long time. It was exploded memorably by George Gilder in Wealth and Poverty, a book that I would recommend to the Femenistas. If they read it, maybe next summer they will disrobe at the Democratic National Convention.

According to the Russian periodical Ogonek, if a few years ago Femen specifically were poor, it’s because they made protesting their lifestyle.  Since the Ogonek feature was published, the ladies opened up an online shop.  I’m not sure how successful this venture is or who sponsors them these days, but somehow Femen has funds to tour Europe.

With this anti-capitalist protest Femen might have hit the goldmine.  These particular protests was noticed by the American news media while the group’s demonstrations on behalf of Iranian and Saudi women were largely ignored.  Femen figured out that sex sells.  If they are smart, they’ll figure out that anti-capitalism sells too and market their protests to Americans.

Femen anti-Iranian
Protesting a death by stoning sentence at an Iranian cultural center in Kiev. The sign reads “Murderers out of Ukraine!” Unfortunately, as protests go, this one was a dud

UPDATE: Linked by The Other McCain — thank you!

January 28, 2012

#Occupy Oakland: Feel the Hate (Now with Updates)

Filed under: Bay Area politics, parenting, politics — Tags: , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:46 pm

The weather has been nice lately (today was around 70 degrees and sunny), a perfect day for a riot.  SF Gate estimates that about a 1,000 Oakland Occupiers attempted to squat Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center.  During a “peaceful march” they were deterred by police, and three officers suffered minor injuries.  Oakland police called nearby agencies for reinforcement.

An obligatory child abuse bit:

Most marchers had no idea where they were going, because organizers kept secret the building they planned to seize. Some people brought their children. Many brought their dogs.

Occupy Oakland

One happy boy

A movement with no leaders, you know.  Although SF Gate’s implied that people who brought their kids to the mission didn’t anticipate violence, the photo above shows otherwise.  This boy was given a makeshift shield.  Unbelievably, one occupier cared to take an arty picture of him.

Here is what the adults are up to:

Speakers exhorted the crowd to fight economic inequality. The first speaker, Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, took perhaps the most pointed stance, urging the crowd to fight the rich.

“Passionate, organized hatred is the element missing in all that we do to try to change the world,” said Ortiz, a retired professor from Cal State East Bay. “Now is the time to spread hate, hatred for the rich.”

Dunbar-Oritz speaking

Judging by the SF Gate’s closing paragraph, the kids are getting tangled up in their hate and losing track of reality:

“The fact that everyone now talks about the 99 percent, the 1 percent – that shows Occupy’s won,” said Carter Lavin, 23, of San Francisco. “The debate was about debt, not jobs. Now it’s about jobs.”

Actually, “the debate” is not about jobs.  “The debate” is about how if somebody is God forbid doing well, we need to raise his taxes.  One might get some food-stamps out of this “debate”, but that’s not how jobs are created.

As of last week the #Occupy Oakland price tag added up to $3,000,000.  That number includes the costs incurred by the city only and excludes any loses to business owners.

UPDATE: Mayor Jean Quan grows up, sort of:

“Occupy Oakland has got to stop using Oakland as its playground,” Mayor Jean Quan, who has come under criticism for the city’s handling of the Occupy movement, said at a late evening press conference.

“Once again, a violent splinter group of the Occupy movement is engaging in violent actions against Oakland,” she said, speaking as officers in riot gear were still lined up against demonstrators in downtown intersections.

Quan no longer panders to the Occupiers quite so shamelessly.  She kind of sees them for what they are, “using Oakland as its playground”, but she continues to produce excuses for them.  I doubt Occupy rioters can be called a “splinter group” in any meaningful way because I haven’t heard of a split within the movement.  It’s more like #Occupy has a violent wing as well as followers who merely show up with signs.  At this point Oakland Occupiers who themselves don’t attack police or property have to know that brutality is expected from their comrades.  They are a part of a violent movement.

UPDATE 2: Mayor Quan puts #Occupy Oakland price tag at $5 mil.

Meantime, we thought last night’s KTVU channel 2 reporters didn’t have the Occupiers’ back.  It might had something to do with Occupiers puncturing the tires of KTVU’s van.

UPDATE: Linked at  marathonpundit — thanks!

January 25, 2012

What Is a California Republican?

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 2:38 pm

The world knows that California is in trouble.  Californians themselves?  Not so much.  Unemployment is hovering in double digits, but 35% of fellow residents of the Golden State believe that these are the good times.  Albeit, that’s just 27% of likely voters.  The more poor, the less educated, the more liberal and the younger the person polled, the more optimistic she is.  Hmmm…  I wonder why.

The voters here enthusiastically approve extravagant spending projects like the SF/LA speed train.  High taxes on a select few sends the wealthy out of state, and yet another tax is on the horizon.  To avoid spending cuts on K-12 education Governor Brown proposed a sales and income tax.  A new poll by Public Policy Institute of California shows wide support for the plan:

The poll found 68 percent of likely voters – including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents – support the proposed initiative, which the administration estimates would generate about $35 billion over five years. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has projected the measure would raise about $7 billion less.

Support indicated by the poll does not mean Brown will have an easy time getting the initiative passed, however, said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the institute.

“It will continue to be a question of: Can the governor continue to develop broad-based support, or will broad-based opposition develop that will question elements of his plan that may not be viewed very positively by voters?” Baldassare said. “It’s very easy for people to change their minds about initiatives if they find something they don’t like.”

According to the survey, the governor’s tax proposal is supported by 85 percent of Democrats polled, 53 percent of Republicans polled and 65 percent of independents polled. This survey follows another from the institute in December that also showed strong support for Brown’s plan. The latest numbers show an increase in support of eight percentage points among likely voters.  (Bold is mine, — ed.)

On the other hand:

— 55 percent of likely voters believe state government could cut spending and provide the same level of services.

That number probably includes all Republicans and a few independents who don’t believe the Governor’s plan is a good idea.  Or not.  They might call themselves Republicans, but on fiscal issues, the issues that are supposed to be on everyone’s mind in 2012, they are liberal.  Or maybe they (we) are suckers because people accuse us of hating kids when we resist education spending increases (oh, the righteous bullying of local mommy chatrooms), never mind that the kids will end up paying for our deficits.

In other news, Obama’s approval among likely voters is 49%.  An equal number disapproves of the job the President is doing.  He should try spending more.

January 24, 2012

Style and Fashion Pick-Me-Up: The Great Hemline Recession

Filed under: fashion, taste, tv — Tags: , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 6:15 pm

As you might have guessed, I’m trying to avoid the subject of primaries.

We went to Vegas in early January.  We’ve been going every year for DH’s Birthday, and each year Sin City seems increasingly more depressing.  On my first trip I was dazzled by lights and sounds, and all the splendid cheesiness.  Now I only notice stains on the carpet, and the typical twenty-year-old casino has plenty of those.

I don’t think Vegas unions are doing any favors to the cocktail waitresses many of whom look shabbier than the carpets they walk.  Vegas is teeming with waitresses verging on retirement age, and the hot arid climate and frequent night shifts obviously didn’t do them any favors.  Yet casinos that can’t fire a woman because she’s too old have them squeezing their butts into uniforms that are one step from a burlesque show.

One would think nobody wants to look at them, but evidently some visitors find the aging wait-stuff inspirational.  I spotted a septuagenarian clad in a sequin micromini dragging her stiletto mules over the Strip’s cobblestones.  That lady might’ve not aged badly, but the get up obviously intended for somebody who still gets carded, drew attention to every wrinkle.

I’m glad soon-to-be-twice-divorced Heidi Klum is not hosting Project Runway All Stars.  To be sure, she is a better host than that other model, given how Ms. Klum is an authentic airhead.  Yet she makes horrible as a judge because the word got out that she likes to show her legs, and the competing designers construct their clothes to placate her.  Anywho, it’s my conspiracy theory.  She does have a nice figure, but perhaps a forty-year-old mother of four can try a different aesthetic.

Two weeks ago the episode’s theme was a night at the opera, and the winner Austin Scarlett described his gown as modest.  The judge Isaac Mizrahi (a far better designer than the regular Michael Kors) agreed with the description.  In absolute terms there is nothing modest about a bare-back gold dress, but perhaps what Scarlett and Mizrahi meant to say is that the design is seductive rather than slutty.  A very good development, I think.

Project Runway

Austin's opera gown. I'm not loving the black tulle. Does the gown need more of it, should it be heavier weight, a little less translucent or am I just not getting the concept? What attracts me to the gown is the black and white cinema vibe

I liked the runner up Michael Costello who, I thought, was on the trend and elegant.  Like everything high fashion both designs lack practicality.  If I’m going to the opera, I’m assuming the hall will be cold, so I’ll need a coat.

Opera gown

The runner up: Michael Costello's gown

Aside from the full length opera gowns, Project Runway is still turning out skirts so short, we’d have to wear pants underneath.  The entire garment industry seems to be stuck on pants and impossibly short skirts.  A year or so ago we were promised falling hemlines which were supposed to signal another year of recession because allegedly there is some sort of a relationship between the state of the economy and the length of skirts.

Spring 2011

One of the looks from the Spring 2011 Zac Posen collection when the falling hemline was forcasted. Am I expected to believe someone finds it attractive?

I lived through the 90s economic boom in the Bay Area.  I thought the variety of styles was opulent.  Virtually every collection featured a mini, a long skirt, a knee length skirt or — if none of that worked — a pant.  And, mind you, an average mini hanging in the stores in the “irrational exuberant” 90s offered more coverage than today’s Heidi.

Although I always gravitated to more feminine styles, I started to wear pants when I had to take babies to the park.  For a few years I held on to my maternity skirts.  Last year I finally decided to ditch my postpartum gear and buy a nice practical skirt.  Easier said than done.  The skirts were either so long that I’d have to hold them up with both my hands or, in most cases, so short there was no way I could bend over.  The Great Hemline Recession look.

In the last quarter the economy might have picked up a little, but the hemlines fell — at least on some catwalks.  I can now buy a pencil skirt, for which I credit Duchess Catherine who made a statement of elegant mid-length dresses, and not Barack Obama or the invisible hand.  Hopefully the trend sticks.

The classic cinema looks has been spotted on runways.

Spring 2012 Anna Sui

Spring 2012 Anna Sui

Spring 2012

Spring 2012 Banana Republic

Similarly, a structured mid-length pencil skirt was featured in Vogue’s most wanted:

vogue online

Anna Wintour approves

While young people have more disposable income, I’m surprised that there isn’t a bigger clothing market for middle-age women.  One would think that the success of the fabulously overpriced Anthropologie where, at least according to their product reviews, women of all ages like to shop, shows that quite a few of us in the 30+ demographic like something chic and feminine.  An American Housewife Formerly in London had similar thoughts on interior design.

When I was growing up we all had young beautiful mothers, and we were very proud of them.  While I obviously can’t turn back the clock, I would like to show my kids that a middle age woman can take care of her appearance.  What I don’t want to do is to wear skirts so short, I’d pass them when I was in my 20s.

January 22, 2012

Helicoptering Son’s “Gender”

Filed under: parenting, politics, society — Tags: , — edge of the sandbox @ 3:33 pm

Here’s a crowd-pleaser if there ever was one:

It’s a boy! And he’s five. Beck Laxton, 46, and partner Kieran Cooper, 44, have spent half the decade concealing the gender of their son, Sasha.

Laxton might think of Cooper as a “partner”, but for the rest of the world he’s either a husband or, considering that marriage is a patriarchal, homophobic institution, a baby-daddy.

“I wanted to avoid all that stereotyping,” Laxton said in an interview with the Cambridge News. “Stereotypes seem fundamentally stupid. Why would you want to slot people into boxes?”

Good question.  Male and female are only boxed in bureaucrat’s paperwork because in real world sex differences are a source of creativity and joy.  The only individuals stereotyped in this news story are the Cooper/Laxton family — or whatever social unit they consider themselves to be — who sound like people who took one Gender Studies class too many.

Laxton, a UK-based web editor, and her partner, Cooper, decided to keep Sasha’s sex a secret when he was still in the womb. The birth announcement stated the gender-neutral name of their child, but skipped the big reveal. Up until recently, the couple only told a few close friends and family members that Sasha was a boy and managed to keep the rest of the world in the dark. But now that he’s starting school the secret’s out.

Note how it’s somehow up to Sasha’s mom and dad to reveal their boy’s “gender”.  I’m surprised the boy didn’t divulge because unless the five-year-old is not potty trained, he must know.  The idea that Sasha doesn’t talk about being a boy is a bit strange because pre-schoolers tend to be all but obsessed with such matters.  I can’t say I pushed my daughter towards pink tutus, but that’s all she wants to wear.  And while my son imitates his big sister, he exhibits an inexplicable (to me anyways) fascination with trucks.  Early childhood is when gender-specific behavior is most stereotypical, and I pity the parents so blinded by their ideology that they are incapable of enjoying that stage.  I worry about their children.

Sasha dresses in clothes he likes — be it a hand-me-downs from his sister or his brother. The big no-no’s are hyper-masculine outfits like skull-print shirts and cargo pants. In one photo, sent to friends and family, Sasha’s dressed in a shiny pink girl’s swimsuit. “Children like sparkly things,” says Beck. “And if someone thought Sasha was a girl because he was wearing a pink swimming costume, then what effect would that have? “

A boy in a girl swimsuit?  I think sunbathing vacationers can tell the difference.

Gender is frequently defined as a social construct whereas sex is biological.  Sasha’s sex is male.  There are different ways of being a man — a gentleman, a warrior, a scholar, etc — that’s your social construct.  I hope Sasha doesn’t rebel against his parents by keeping a harem full of hijabed concubines.

Sasha’s also not short on dolls, though Barbie is also off limits. “She’s banned because she’s horrible,” Laxton says in the Cambridge interview.

In other words, he can be a like girl as long as he’s not too much like one.  Talk about freedom to choose his gender!

On a macro level she hopes her son sets an example for other parents and makes them reconsider buying their own sons trucks or forcing their daughters into tights. She’s seen how those consumer trappings affect how and who kids play with in the sandbox.

Children in pre-industrial societies still play with toys, so I’m not sure what the horrid gender self-segregation has to do with consumerism.  Girls tend to nurture dolls, it’s hormonal.  Boys usually like large moving objects, it could be the hunters in them.  Boys and girls naturally gravitate to kids who share their interests.  To deny children something as innocent as gender play is cruel.

But the sandbox is just a precursor to the classroom. When Sasha turned five and headed to school, Laxton was forced to make her son’s sex public. That meant Sasha would have to get used to being a boy in the eyes of his peers. Still, his mom is intervening. While the school requires different uniforms for boys and girls, Sasha wears a girl’s blouse with his pants.

“I don’t think I’d do it if I thought it was going to make him unhappy, but at the moment he’s not really bothered either way. We haven’t had any difficult scenarios yet.”

The mom let her guard down here.  A boy expressing his desire to dress like a boy is, for her,  a”difficult scenario[]” something to overcome.  She’s a selfish ideologue who wants to control every aspect of his being to deny his natural desires.

Last year another couple, Kathy Witterick, 38, and David Stocker, 39, of Toronto made a similar decision when they had their baby, Storm. At the time, certain psychiatric experts voiced concern over their decision. “To have a sense of self and personal identity is a critical part of normal healthy development,” Dr. Eugene Beresin, director of training in child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, told ABC News. “This blocks that and sets the child up for bullying, scapegoating and marginalization.”

At which point the parents run to state and local bureaucrats and demand “anti-bullying” human sexuality classes in kindergarten.

But as parents well know, bullying is hard for any child to avoid. It’s more important to raise someone who’s confident enough in himself to overcome peer pressure. It’s also important to have his parents have his back (remember the mom who defended her son’s choice in a Halloween costume?) Maybe Sasha’s early years will be character building, maybe he’ll have a higher emotional quotient being raised with dual perspectives on gender. Or the reverse could be true: Sasha may have less of a formed identity because of his upbringing, and feel angry at his mom for dressing him in flowery shirts and telling the world about it. Then again, maybe he’ll get over it.

I have a feeling Sasha already formed his identity, even with his family standing in his way.  Five years is pretty old no not know that men and women are different.  I’m sure there is a lot going on in that family that the article didn’t report on.  I’m sorry this boy can’t have a normal childhood.

Much has been said about today’s parents being hell-bent on controlling every aspect of their children’s lives.  Laxton and Cooper outdid us all by precluding their son from saying: “Mommy, I’m a boy!”

January 20, 2012

Who Has Ron Paul’s Ear on Foreign Policy?

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 3:42 pm

I noticed Maggie’s post about American Muslims supporting Ron Paul.  They might be another exotic demographic, along with 9-11 truthers, etc., Paul is trying to court or a natural constituency to what might be his deeply held foreign policy beliefs.  I don’t know which one it is, but I have difficulty believing that a consummate politician like Paul doesn’t see how a nuclear mullah would be dangerous.  He might have the luxury to posture and talk about treating the Khomeinistas the way we want them to treat us or whatevah because he’s just a Congressman who doesn’t have to act on the Iranian threat.

Here are a few fun facts about Paul’s 2008 foreign policy adviser Robert Pape.  Pape is a student of John Mearsheimer of Israel Lobby fame.  He’s a frequent contributor to the New York Times, was featured on and is a darling of Pat Buchanan.  Ron Paul was not the only candidate Pape advised in ’08.  The second was one Barack Hussein Obama.  Terrorist-connected CAIR completes the list of Pape’s freinds — and usual suspects.

Ron Paul's foreign policy

WARNING: This image is completely, like totally out of context. It's a picture of name tags from a terror-related organization's banquet, and it in no way illustrates the connection between Ron Paul's foreign policy adviser and said organization.

Attacking Paul on foreign policy issues might be a waste of time because we all know that he’s weak on foreign policy.  The real scandal here is not that a Republican Presidential candidate who draws most of his support from Democrats and Independents had a foreign policy adviser with background like Pape’s, but that the current United States President had him as an adviser as well.

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