Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas card picture follies

One lesson that we've learned as new parents is that getting a 1-year-old to stand still for a picture is pretty much impossible. Now that she can move, she does. All the time.

Thus began the saga of our attempts to obtain a heartwarming photo of the Peanut to include with our Christmas cards. It's a long story, but suffice it to say that the first time we went to the Sears portrait studio, she screamed continually for an hour while running out of the frame every time the photographer tried to get her to stay put. So we slunk out of Sears without a picture.

A couple of weeks later, we tried again. This time Mr. Fraulein and I stayed in the shot, holding onto her. She was marginally happier than the last time, in that she wasn't actively screaming, but she was still pissed off. As you can see by the look on her face in the picture that we reluctantly purchased just because we were tired of dealing with the whole thing.

So, while my child is actually pretty photogenic most of the time (if I do say so myself) in the Sears picture she just looks angry. Her eyes are all puffy and she doesn't really look like herself. Which wouldn't have been so bad, except that my friends' Christmas cards have been pouring in, and each child looks more angelic than the next. There is little S., wearing a Santa hat and a little plaid vest and beaming cherubically. And there are brothers G. and M., sitting calmly in a Victorian sleigh in matching outfits and matching happy smiles.

Oh well -- there's always next year!

"Jackass penguins"

My first thought when reading this was, my God, don't they have copy editors at the AP anymore?

Baby Penguin Is Stolen From Zoo
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BY DAVID STRINGER Associated Press Writer
December 20,2005 LONDON -- A baby penguin thought to have been snatched from a zoo as a quirky festive gift is unlikely to survive until Christmas Day, his keeper warned Tuesday.
Toga, a three-month old jackass penguin, was stolen from Amazon World on the Isle of Wight in southern England on Saturday.

But it turns out that there actually is such a thing as a "jackass penguin." Who knew? I hope they find the poor little guy.

Thanks Delta, part 2

So several phone calls later, it turns out that -- surprise! Delta can't help us. We are stuck with the connecting flight coming home from L.A. Luckily, since we'll be in New York, we could always go to my parents' house for the night if we miss the connection and are faced with being stuck in the airport for hours. It's going to be quite an adventure for the Peanut, and for us. I'm sure Mr. Fraulein will enjoy carrying the hugely bulky, heavy car seat strapped to his back in the special car seat carrier we bought from One Step Ahead.

To make the experience of getting through the airport less painful, I decided to do an ultra stripped-down packing job for this trip. I packed just two outfits for myself, and no extra shoes -- just the ones I'll wear to the airport. Hope everybody enjoys seeing me wear the same thing for a week and a half!

I know Mr. Fraulein will be impressed by my new approach to packing. He still recalls the trip to London, back before we were married, when we returned home at different times because our vacation schedules didn't quite overlap. I had brought so much clothing with me and purchased so much new stuff during the trip that I had to give him a bag of dirty clothes to take home for me. He kept wondering what he would say to the security people if they went through his bag and found all the bras and panties.

Personally, I will be happy if we can avoid a repeat of the famous Bag of Change incident from a couple of years ago. We were going through the line for the metal detectors when we realized that Mr. Fraulein's luggage was setting off alarms all over the place. I turned around to see him being led out of the line by a couple of security guards. He had forgotten to remove a plastic baggie he had in there which contained a fair number of coins. I guess on the metal detector screen it just looked like a big lump of metal. They probably thought he had a grenade in there. Trust me, this will delay your trip.

Friday, December 16, 2005

N.J. to get "Born to Run" license plates?

This is pretty funny, considering the song celebrates the urge to leave New Jersey...

Senator Pushes 'Born to Run' License Tags
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December 16,2005 TRENTON, N.J. -- A New Jersey lawmaker is hoping to get mileage from Bruce Springsteen's classic album "Born to Run."
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak is driving a proposal introduced Thursday to create specialty "Born to Run" license tags for Garden State drivers. Proceeds would go to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, a Springsteen-supported charity.
To become law, the bill must be approved by both houses of the Legislature by Jan. 9, the last day of the session, and be signed by the governor. The tags would cost $50, plus a $10 annual contribution.
Causes promoted through special-interest plates include wildlife conservation, the Battleship New Jersey and cancer awareness, among others.
Springsteen, who was in the capital city last month for the final stop on his "Devils & Dust" solo acoustic tour, also was recognized Thursday for his contributions to New Jersey and popular music.
A resolution honoring The Boss on the 30th anniversary of "Born to Run" was approved in a voice vote by the state Senate. Senators heard a recording of Springsteen's "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" before casting their votes.
A similar resolution failed last month in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, a snub attributed to Springsteen's vocal campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry a year earlier.
"That was not a very good thing to do," Lesniak said of the Republican brushoff. "In New Jersey, elected officials -- Republican and Democrat -- love Bruce, respect what he stands for. Everyone knows The Boss is from New Jersey, so I thought it would be fitting and proper to honor him and the E Street Band."
"Born to Run" embodies a lot of the New Jersey attitude, added Lesniak, a native of Elizabeth who said he has been to more than 50 Springsteen concerts. "We're on the move. We go away. We come back. Look at Springsteen. He's been around the world several times. He could live anywhere. But he still comes back to live in New Jersey."

Rampant illiteracy

The below story confirms what I've been saying for years. If you need convincing that a huge number of people in this country are functionally illiterate, there's nothing like editing press releases, white papers, and newspaper op-ed pieces written by people (including extremely well compensated lawyers and management consultants) who have no idea how to produce a coherent sentence. Spend a little time doing SAT tutoring, and you'll really know we are in trouble. This cannot be good for the economy.

But, on the other hand, it creates career opportunities for folks like myself, so no complaining here...

Study: 11M U.S. Adults Can't Read English
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By BEN FELLER AP Education Writer
December 16,2005 WASHINGTON -- About one in 20 adults in the U.S. is not literate in English, meaning 11 million people lack the skills to handle many everyday tasks, a federal study shows.
From 1992 to 2003, adults made no progress in their ability to read sentences and paragraphs or understand other printed material such as bus schedules or prescription labels.
The adult population did make gains in handling tasks that involve math, such as calculating numbers on tax forms or bank statements. But even in that area, the typical adult showed only enough skills to perform simple, daily activities.
Perhaps most sobering was that adult literacy dropped or was flat across every level of education, from people with graduate degrees to those who dropped out of high school.
So even as more people get a formal education, the literacy rate is not rising. Federal officials say this trend is puzzling and worthy of research.
Adults with ability to perform challenging and complex reading tasks made an average yearly salary of $50,700 in 2003. That is $28,000 more than those who lacked basic skills.
The adults deemed illiterate in English include people who may be fluent in Spanish or another language but cannot comprehend English text at its most simple level.
"Eleven million people is an awful large number of folks who are not literate in English, and therefore are prevented access to what America offers," said Russ Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences at the Education Department.
Some 30 million adults have "below basic" skills in prose. Their ability is so limited that they may not be able to make sense of a simple pamphlet, for example. This total includes 7 million adults considered not to be literate in English but with enough knowledge of the language at least to be tested. The remaining 4 million deemed illiterate did not have enough English skills to be tested.
By comparison, 95 million adults, or 44 percent of the population, have intermediate prose skills, meaning they can do moderately challenging activities. An example would be consulting a reference book to determine which foods contain a certain vitamin.
The National Assessment of Adult Literacy is considered the best measure of how adults handle everything from completing job applications to computing tips.
Black adults made gains on each type of task tested. White adults made no significant changes except when it came to computing numbers, where they got better.
Hispanics showed sharp declines in their ability to handle prose and documents. The background of U.S. adults has changed since 1992, when the test was last given; fewer people in 2003 had spoken English before they started school.
"We can no longer afford to ignore the unique needs this population has demonstrated for years," said Jose Velazquez, director of the Hispanic Family Learning Institute at the National Center for Family Literacy.
Overall, the study represents a population of 222 million adults. The results are based on a sample of more than 19,000 adults, age 16 or older, living in homes, college housing or prisons.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings pledged to coordinate adult education programs across the government. She also promoted the Bush administration's campaign to increase testing and specialized reading help in high school.
"One adult unable to read is one too many in America," Spellings said.
Millions of adults with limited reading skills have enrolled in literacy programs at high schools, libraries, workplaces and community colleges. Advocates of those programs said the new scores prove that a greater investment in adult literacy and research is essential.
"It's really hard to have a well educated and highly intellectual population of children if they go home to parents who do not have adequate reading skills," said Dale Lipschultz, president of the National Coalition for Literacy, a broad range of education groups.
On The Net:
National Assessment of Adult Literacy: http://nces.ed.gov/naal

Thanks a lot, Delta

Mr. Fraulein, the Peanut, and I are scheduled to wing our way west in a few days to visit relatives in California over the holidays. We long ago booked round-trip non-stop flights, because we had no intention of switching planes with a toddler in tow. But now, Delta has helpfully canceled our non-stop return flight and replaced it with one with a transfer in New York. My travel agent is doubtful that she can find us seats on any direct flight back to Boston. So we'll probably have to just hope for the best, attempting to make the connection in 40 minutes while carrying our gigantic car seat, carry-on bags, and the Peanut. Also we have no idea whether they intend to feed us on these cross-country flights. Thanks, Delta! This should be a real blast.

If a poopy diaper should "accidentally" get left behind when we get off, well, that will just be the Peanut's gift to the airline industry.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Great journalism blog

Just stumbled upon this blog: First Draft. Excellent writing about journalism and other stuff.

Callousness and evil: made, not born

So it turns out that when the military sends home the bodies of fallen soldiers from Iraq, they come home as freight. Nice.

And meanwhile, Bush gives out an Iraqi civilian casualty number that is too low by tens of thousands, and then makes a little joke about it. Because that's how little it matters to him, how many innocent farmers and tradespeople and mothers and babies we've killed over there.

Lately I keep wondering: how is it that anyone can get to the point where they can be so callous about something like this? How do you go from being a child filled with malice towards no one, to an adult so twisted that the reality of this horror bounces off the surface of your mind without making the slightest impression?

The Peanut started doing something a few months ago that truly surprised us. At first it was subtle, but then it was unmistakable: she started dancing. Once she could stand upright, whenever she heard music on the radio, or coming from one of her toys, she would bounce up and down in time to the beat, bending her little knees and grinning. Then it moved on to a more elaborate move, where she would shake her shoulders and waggle her hips from side to side. Sometimes, lately, she dances on the run, as she motors from one room to another at a speed that never fails to astonish us. Nobody taught her to do this. It's just an organic thing. The Peanut is so in love with the world around her that she occasionally has a little outburst of spontaneous joy and starts to dance.

Weren't the neocons kids once too? How does somebody go from being a dancing toddler to being the unrepentant architect of an unnecessary war?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Fun with consumer product packaging

We bought an XM satellite radio package the other day. We're pretty excited to listen to it on our commute in to work. But first we're going to have to liberate the home receiver and the car kit from their respective packages. My husband, who happens to be a highly experienced engineer, has just spent more than a half hour wrestling with the packaging in an effort to extricate the receiver, which the XM people have wrapped up in a container suitable for transporting plutonium. Why is every consumer product -- including toys -- packaged this way all of a sudden? It is SUCH a pain in the ass.

The new Harry Potter movie

So Mr. Fraulein and I had a rare night out sans Peanut recently, and we went to see the new Harry Potter "Goblet of Fire" movie. I have to say I was pretty disappointed. I'm re-reading the book now, and I'm struck once again by how economical and powerful J.K. Rowling's writing is. There is so much more going on there than they could manage to cram into a two-hour-plus movie, so the movie ends up being simply a series of vignettes of interesting scenes from the book. These scenes were interesting in themselves, and certainly the teenage actors' performances are improving, but it was still a disappointment when compared to the all-encompassing world of the books. Even though I know those kid actors would have been in their late 20s by the time they finished the movie series had they done this, I still kind of wish they had split Goblet into two movies.

I can't wait for the movie version of "Order of the Phoenix." I hope they don't screw that one up, because I think it's the best of the books so far.

Toddler Snot-Wiping Torture

I have an idea that Dick Cheney might like. If he's looking for new and creative ways to torment the various people we've got locked up in Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and those secret prisons in Europe, the Toddler Snot-Wiping Torture might do. This is the process whereby the toddler sneezes, expelling a glob of nasal discharge approximately the size of a golf ball (and containing enough germs to infect half the neighborhood) and you, the parent, run over with a wad of tissues to wipe her up before she manages to smear snot all over your couch, the rug, the walls, etc. Much screaming, wriggling and arm-waving ensues. But once you're done, you think, well, at least she's cleaned up now.

Then 45 seconds later she sneezes again, and you start the whole thing all over. We could airlift in a bunch of congested 1- and 2-year olds, allow them to run free among the prisoners, and let the fun begin!

Alternatively, this process could provide the germ (germ, get it? har har!) of a concept for a new movie along the lines of those grade-Z horror films you always see in the Blockbuster video:

The Snotening. "It never ends, and you can't escape!" I'm thinking Paris Hilton could star, perhaps along with a male lead from some show on the WB network. Paris could die in a snot flood or avalanche or something.