Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Summer of My Discontent: Relevant News Flash (7:10)

July has come to an end, painfully. In one week, my son smashed my glasses, and my husband uttered the words I shudder to hear: "Honey, I need to go to the dentist." He never gets out of the dental chair on the cheap! In all this, I have decided one thing, my son WILL follow in the footsteps of his great-grandfather (for whom he is named) and his great-uncle, and become a dentist. Seriously! Although I am thankful for better than average dental insurance, it still is a major ouch and potential game changer for choices that we have made. Why isn't dental insurance, lack thereof, and insufficient coverage trumpeted on the front pages? Especially since it can lead to so many health problems.

Meanwhile, in the news:
  • The evidence of more need for adequate health and dental coverage is very pressing when the extent to which companies market harmful foods to kids was revealed recently. On the one hand studies are bemoaning the harmful diets of our kids (and adults), but our economic engine driving companies are working harder to snare them younger and younger. No wonder progress is at a wash.
  • Ever wonder what those little stickers on your fruit mean? A lot, actually. Here is a handy rundown to help you crack the numerical code.
  • More bashing of cell phones coming right up. A recent study has found a link between behavioral problems in children and cell phone use. Even considering the much talked about physical health risks all over the news, other causal factors, such as the parental behavior of heavy cell phone users is cited as contributing factors to the behavior issues.
  • This one has been bugging me, a lot. I have lots of questions for both candidates, and problems with their respective policies, but a silly detail like McCain is still working on "learning the email," just well, irritates me. I have had a lot of respect for McCain in the past, but it is becoming increasingly more eroded, every time I see that annoying robotic arm chop thing he does when he wants to make a point (doesn't he have a proper rotator cuff?) , or the smirky bad jokes, and I do mean bad, or the increasingly, well, desperate attack ads that keep emerging. (Did you have to go "Britney" on him? Seriously? You couldn't legitimately get him on anything else?) But, his not really even all that chagrined admission that he's not the techiest of guys, or really at all, just pours more salt in the wound of my festering disenchantment with my choices this cycle. He's trying to ameliorate the damage by discussing how he is trying to get more techie. And although his "old style statesman" credentials has some appeal, and I cringe to judge a candidate by the shallow metrics that seem to have overtaken our media and culture, I fear that he is just too old school for the new frontier that we are in.

Now I'm off to take my Tums and brush my teeth!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Building a Safer Rubber Ducky: Breaking News Flash

  • Despite a ferocious fight by special interests, Congress has agreed to ban the use of a family of toxic chemicals that have been found commonly in children's products, which will take effect in six months time.

It only took us nine years since Europe made the move to phase out these substances in children's products, but better late than never!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Finding the Right Fit in Bras and Politicians: Relevant News Flash (7:9)

To wrap up last week, odds and ends in no particular order:
  • There is a distinct gender birth imbalance (mostly girls born) in the Artic regions that is being attributed to PCBs that seem to gravitate to the Artic circle from the developed world, and is seen in alarmingly high levels in the blood of indigenous mothers. Don't know what this means for my burb, where it seems everywhere I turn is boys, boys, boys!
  • Breastfed babies seem to be more receptive to different tastes it has been found, because what a nursing mother eats does affect the taste of her breast milk to a degree. Formula fed infants can also be prepared for the wider world of taste by changing up the formulas used, the report claims.
  • A recent report in a fertility journal has found that there is just as successful an outcome result for the implantation of a single embryo, as for multiple embryos, which may help couples in their decisions regarding how many embryos to implant, particularly if they are not keen to have a multiple pregnancy.
  • Many have been there, and the urge to shake a howling infant can be overwhelming, but a momentary loss of control can have catastrophic results, and programs are focusing on education and resources for parents to avoid horrific and tragic outcomes.
  • Also, summer time also seems to bring stories of children that have been inexplicably forgotten in the car, later to perish in the heat. Recently two deaths in the U.K., and another in northern Virginia highlighted the common denominator: went to work, check, dropped the child at daycare? Nope. Also, the accounts, as I have read in the past, seem to feature middle to upper class individuals, who also presumably love their kids. So, how does this happen? How can you forget you kid is sleeping in the car? Hectic lives and stressful jobs are all cited and a few helpful and doable tips can prevent such a tragedy.
  • ADHD diagnosis in children after the age of 12 is increasing. The question is why aren't the behaviors in these kids spotted sooner, or is there an issue of over, or perhaps mis-diagnosis occurring?
  • In light of recent warnings about cell phone use, the debate is growing about how much cell phone use our children should be allowed to have.
  • Overseas miscellany. The U.K. is proposing that each and every doctor in it's medical system must undergo competency testing annually. How many of our doctors in the U.S. would survive such a regimen? No Doctor Left Behind? And, Sweden, long known for it's state controlled everything is experimenting, to apparent good effect, with private company administration of some of it's schools, which may have implications for those that argue for school choice and vouchers in the U.S.
  • The New York Times has just kicked off a series examining the implications for literacy and it's acquisition and application in the digital age. Interesting reading for the book geeks among us, or those that despair of getting their kids to read an actual book.
  • Speaking of books, this book may be the next big thing, so be sure to snap it up when it appears in massive stacks at your local Costco to keep pace with the cultural zeitgeist. I'm not sure about the gargoyle thing, but being familiar with the industry commentators in this article, it seems like it is being groomed for certain stardom.
  • For the ladies. Apparently we all need to invest in a personal bra assistant (hmmm entrepreneurial niche?) because we all can't seem to get a bra that fits properly, and we aren't helping the girls out one little bit. And, it's getting late, but this one still makes me blush a little, but as a mom who made way for my nearly ten pounder the old fashioned way, I'll just file this one under "future fixer-upper?"
  • And after that, it seems somehow appropriate to transition into politics. For the record, I'm undecided, and I don't want to hear about it, thank you! I can make up my own mind. But, a couple of interesting tidbits to pass along. John McCain gets a less than spectacular report card on women's issues. And, as the Internet buzzes about yet another unguarded Bush moment caught on tape, describing Wall Street as coming off something of a bender, the little reported unscripted chit chat between a visiting Obama and a government representative in Britain, might give us a little insight to his personality in the oval office. Should be obvious note to politicians: they are always watching and listening, especially when you tell them to turn off the camera/recorder.
  • And let's cap it off with a sweet story about Prince William, and his break with one of those famous British traditions they are so fond of, to make a tribute to his famous mum, or why I'm considering trying out that whole "cougar" deal. After all, he's 27. Wait, he's 27!?!? When did he hit the back stretch of his twenties? Oh dear.

Have a great week!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Misery Loves Company, Or Why We Love to Rant

Making my way through the news this week, I couldn't help but notice the level of ranting going on. There is of course the big rants: gas is outrageous, housing crisis is abysmal, politicians are (insert your comment here). All the Phil Gramms aside, there does seem to be a whole lot of bellyaching going on, about all issues large and small. What's kind of interesting is that several reports have been published routinely over the weeks that try to put the economic thing in a long range perspective, with a unifying theme of, chill out, but yet the pity party persists. All this griping does take it's toll, and I wasn't immune to it either, as I went on my own rant a few days back. Jeff Jacoby writing in the International Herald Tribune, asserts that all this doom and gloom is perhaps a compounding case of a bad attitude run amok, and he further observes that we don't want to be told why it's really not all that bad camper. We are in an apparently highly satisfying spectacular sulk, and we like it that way.

But why? Maybe we like the drama. How else has reality television been able to put such a hold upon us? Maybe we like to complain, and no one really likes to be in a bad mood all on their own. Happiness just doesn't seem to yield the pithy turn of phrases either; "Don't worry, be happy" in the 80's, or the current stick figure Jake craze, telling us that "Life is good," seems to inspire the exact opposite impulses in a significant amount of us. This seems to give our pesky journalists (and snarky bloggers) license to woe it up. Comics would be all but put out of business come to think of it. Wait, I've got it! Nasty bad moods are a market, and ill humored drama definitely sells.

Here are a few of my favorite rants, or rant worthy topics this week:
  • Cell phones. California recently implemented restrictions on the use of cell phones while driving, joining several other states. Now I can tell you from direct experience, many are still offending, including the woman who swerved into my lane the other day from the opposite direction of traffic, so I relate to the sentiments of Katharine Mieszkowski, in her article: "Hang up and drive." And, add to that the cancer risk! Recently a warning was released in the mainstream media (it's been a common warning in alternative health circles for years) from a major cancer research institute at a well known university that cautioned a recommended reduction in cell phone use, due to the possible cancer risks. Canada, ahead of this week's warning, had already cautioned it's parents to significantly reconsider and reduce their children's use of cell devices. And here's my own: on a recent walk at a local park with my son, not one person I encountered was not chattering away on a cell phone. Walking, biking, following their toddler around the play structures, all were gabbing it up. I guess I just don't have that much to say, all evidence to the contrary.
  • Make you want to slap the parent silly name choices. Apparently a judge in New Zealand had had it, and considered it his duty to intercede to spare the unfortunate girl named "Talula Does The Hula" the repercussions of parents with a questionable sense of humor, but excellent rhyming skills.
  • Exploiting kids on reality TV. Is "edutainment" an oxymoron? Paul Petersen, himself a former child star and founder of A Minor Consideration that lobbies for the rights of children in the entertainment industry, contends that the increase of reality programming featuring children amounts to "signs and portents of a culture in collapse" because "we no longer protect children."
  • Educating kids about sex. I recently watched a comedic movie that dramatized the day that sex education was introduced to the main character's young daughter's class, and the unwitting young father walks into a scene drawn from a chaotic emergency room setting, where parents are triaging their utterly shocked and awed young charges from the horror of the facts of life. On the way home, he cringes his way through the thoroughly technical questions and descriptions coming out of his daughter's mouth. Funny, yes. Exaggerated, hmmmm? I remember my own sex education classes, and frankly they were more than a little lacking, and I only knew this because my European born mother was not so shy about the subject, even though I really wanted no part of it whatsoever, and still tend toward the modest end of the spectrum. Violet Blue is not modest at all about what she sees as the president's (she's anointed Obama) charge to rescue the U.S. from the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the developed world.
  • Educating kids period. Jamie Lee Curtis rants on the Huffington Post about skills going out the window, that people struggling in the economy could actually use (shop, home-ec?). Also it was revealed that girls are now equal to boys in math. Again! But, as one commentator put it, that is hardly encouraging to the larger picture of the U.S. rank of 24th in the world in math overall. But on the other hand, the U.K. is grappling with a very controversial set of standards proposed for kids by the age of five, to include among other things the ability to form simple sentences with punctuation, which even prominent children's authors fear is way to ambitious and potentially harmful to the development of the nation's children.
  • And here's the grandaddy, holy grail of all parenting realm rants: how other parents raise their kids. Britain is worried that is may be raising a "nation of brats," parented by "Middle class Alpha Mums" or "MAMs," who subject everyone to their entitled, dangerously child-centrically reared accessories, that mesh with their perfectly coiffed ensembles. Confession time, I mostly used to fly the flag of this camp that sat in self satisfied judgment, but motherhood is more than a little humbling, and I get a little defensive when I read these rants now, BUT she does seem to come uncomfortably close to some moms I've observed. But before you castigate that mom whose child is the bain of his teacher's existence, consider the efforts of a mom who is trying to decide if her "expressive" young son needs a straight jacket or an art gallery show. However, there is a line, and please punish me with a severe case of poison ivy if I ever become that parent, distressingly common these days, that calls my child's summer camp daily at 7 am to micromanage his "camp experience."

Rant on campers, happily.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Bail-Outs, Pay-Outs and Pay-Offs Oh-MY!: Relevant News Flash (7:8)

Many, many news items have surfaced in the last few days. So as to not have a gargantuan post, I'll break it up into a few posts this weekend.

Top of the news:

  • I usually pass over the items that I classify as "if you missed this news item, you live under a rock," or news items that are covered ad naseum in all the major news outlets, unless I happen to come across a bit of coverage that brings a little something extra to the table on the issue. The soon to be passed housing rescue package in Congress is one of these items, but an article from the New York Times covers what it will mean in dollars and cents in a clear and concise manner.
  • So to this article from the Wall Street Journal has excellent, albeit technical, analysis of the condition of the financial and energy markets.
  • Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg are pooling their considerable financial and philanthropic muscle to declare what amounts to war on Big Tobacco, and what they allege are their shameful practices of exploiting third world markets, to compensate for the markets in the developed world that are running them out of town on a rail.
  • Little snippets are surfacing here and there on the discussion shows about the reemergence of a certain "Russian swagger" born of their status of late as a major player in the petro-chemical markets, and the effect this is having on their diplomatic relationships. Worrying is their leveraging of their new found power, with a certain vindictive edge, that echoes of the cold war era. Recently they abruptly significantly cut oil supplies to the Czech Republic, coincidentally following the Czech agreement to work with the U.S. on a missile defense shield in their territory, which the Russians vehemently oppose. But the Czechs seem to have anticipated such a move, and put in place a plan B years ago. This is an issue that will be a definite foreign policy challenge for the next administration, and even more of an impetus to work towards energy independence.
  • Sadly, Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor whose stirring "last lecture" written as a "message in a bottle" to his three children, succumbed to pancreatic cancer. The lecture, delivered to his students, and widely viewed on YouTube, later becoming a bestselling book, inspired many with his joyful embrace of life, cancer and all. What a wonderful teacher! If you haven't listened yet, here it is:

  • How much is your child's life worth to you? This is the wrenching and untenable position many Chinese parents are being put into by the Chinese government keen to hush the calls for accountability in the wake of the catastrophic earthquake that claimed the lives of tens of thousands, many of them children, trapped in what many allege were school buildings that were intentionally built with substandard materials and methods. Faced with the threat of being essentially cut off from the government on which they depend, these parents are forced to chose to take a payout and cease their quest for justice for their lost children.
  • Finally, this is a remarkable item that aired on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric tonight, in view of the fact that the major news network coverage of the issue of vaccinations has shied away for years from investigating a dimension of the debate long called for by those that question the motives of those that have been key policy players.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Keep on Dancing!

I'm sure you know this guy, and I have to say, nothing gives me more hope for humanity!

Relevant Quickies: The Incredible Shrinking Female Workforce, and Don't Mess With the Amish!

If you only have a minute before the next meltdown, here are some quick items of note:

  1. Policymakers seem to neglect "working families" that don't fit their specs. The Family and Home Network is conducting a "Campaign for Inclusive Family Policies" to make sure that those households that don't necessarily have two earners in the workforce aren't excluded from favorable family centered policies and programs.
  2. They thought that women were dropping out of the workforce in greater numbers because of a "mommyhood movement," but apparently that's not the case. It's the economy.
  3. We have a little baby "boomlet" going on. My little guy is one of 4,315,000 births in 2007!
  4. Premature babies are apparently more shy, and uh-oh, leave the house later in life. Better develop an exit strategy!
  5. Some infants should be on low fat milk according to new guidelines from the AAP.
  6. Americans, we love to outsource! Now those who want the benefits of the locavore lifestyle, but don't want to mess up a great manicure, are hiring people to work their little patch of home garden.
  7. You know you've crossed a line, when the Amish begin to protest. Here's how you do it: threaten to shut down their local midwife.
  8. Got milk? Check the dumpster! Explore the world of some U.K. "freegans."
  9. Think outside the box for your next career. Perhaps there is an unanswered niche for your time and talent.
  10. Mommybloggers make money? Sign me up!
And for you armchair science nerds, and you know who you are:
  1. Scientists: we don't have nearly enough of them.
  2. Enjoy a good puzzle? Don't let a little thing like lack of a science degree stop you from solving some of the world's most pressing conundrums. Join in the "open source science" phenomenon.
  3. Astrobiologists are trying to make sure we recognize alien life when we find it, and we may not be the center of the universe, but we are certainly rare astronomers are finding.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hot Under the Collar: Relevant News Flash (7:7)

So, back in the driver's seat, and let's get up to speed shall we. I warn you, I'm a little fired up today, so get in, fasten up, and enjoy the ride:
  • Let's kick it off with a bang. Michael Savage. Let it sink in a moment. What has he said now? Nothing less than the fact, according to him that is, that 99% of Autistic children are just...wait for it...brats. I have really nothing else to say. Except this: his colleague tries to mitigate this latest in a long line of incendiary utterances by reminding us that Savage is basically an entertainer. I am most assuredly NOT entertained, and I wonder about those that consider this individual a legitimate cultural and political commentator.
  • Speaking of people that make my blood boil, let's keep the party going: Jerry Brown. The current Attorney General of the state of California, former mayor of Oakland, CA, who is also mulling over a reprisal of his previous post as Governor, has a mission to move citizens out of the suburbs, which are the site of sprawling waste in his estimation, and moving them into high density housing around California's urban centers. Never mind what originally drove people to the suburbs, namely his father's policies, and a completely understandable desire to live in a manner a little less like a cockroach. Jerry Brown has an amazing ability to live in Jerry Brown land, and has a penchant for making it his way or the highway. I once encountered Jerry Brown on a street in Oakland, after exiting a meeting, or I should say I encountered first his dog, making a bee line for me, followed nonchalantly behind by the then Mayor of Oakland. Nothing particularly extraordinary there, except that one should consider that at the time the famous dog mauling case was all the rage across the bay in San Francisco, and though I could tell that this dog was a friendly sort, there was Jerry Brown in Jerry Brown land, letting his dog off leash in the streets of Oakland, oblivious that maybe, just maybe, it might unnerve the unsuspecting stranger coming around the corner. He didn't get it then, and he doesn't get it now.
  • Moving right along: painting women into a corner by limiting their reproductive choices. There is a very worrisome effort afoot by the Department of Health and Human Services, spurred on by the Bush administration to, as Hillary Clinton describes in her post on the Huffington Post today to "put in place new barriers to accessing common forms of contraception like birth control pills, emergency contraception and IUDs by labeling them 'abortion.' " Ostensibly the action is to protect those doctors and providers that deny contraceptives, and abortion services to patients based on religious and moral beliefs, but the wide scope of this definition puts access to basic contraceptive methods to those who need it the most at grave risk.
  • Continuing with the reproductive assaults assailing us, I say, get your bloody hands off my uterus will you! As I previously wrote, the AMA's recent resolution to mount a concerted effort to restrict, legislatively if they can manage it, women's ability to choose the location in which they give birth, namely not at home if they can help it due to "safety" concerns, is at odds with the findings and experiences of other industrialized nation's health care systems, which have found laboring at home in an uncomplicated pregnancy to generate highly successful outcomes, and in fact heartily endorses it. Jennifer Block writes an excellent op-ed in the LA Times delving into this frustrating disparity in approaches to women's health care and birth.
  • And finally, as I highlighted in a previous post, there are some very disturbing shenanigans afoot by major pharmaceutical companies in the third world, and they are using these populations as a giant laboratory, and it is alleged, part of the time, they are doing so without the consent of those they are experimenting upon. Recently, Nigerian authorities have issued warrants for the arrest of Pfizer officials in that country, alleging that drug trials were conducted on the population without the knowledge or consent of those they were administering an untested drug to during an illness outbreak, which they further allege resulted in deaths.

Ahhh...that feels better! Now that I've gotten that off my chest, here are some bits of news that don't make me want to stew, but rather pique my curiosity:

  • While I don't think this really validates Phil Gramms recent observations about the American public's current spate of "whininess," this next item does give one food for thought. Imagine the surprising headline that describes America as the "lone bright spot" amidst recent economic turmoil. My America you say? Am I reading The Onion? And when I read the full story, imagine further disbelief to learn that from the U.K. perspective, "The US is emerging as the one bright spot in the global gloom, despite the credit mayhem." Interesting. What's your take? Usually we are on the skewering end of the journalistic pen overseas.
  • Finally, perhaps what we all need is a good dose of "positive psychology" and "learned optimism." Roger Fransecky considers the background of the study of happiness, and discusses "the decision to be happy." He asserts that one "can choose between the ambiguity and clarity."

Right now it is unambiguous and perfectly clear to me that there are some serious challenges that we face, but I am positive that with the grace of God we are equal to the task. But let me steam about it a little. Now, where did I put that romance novel?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sometimes it all gets to be just too much!

O.k., Let's get personal. This is a blog after all. I should indulge once in a while, right? Right. Bear with me.

I have been in something of a funk this week. Maybe you can relate. Sometimes the downside of actively seeking to be informed, is you find out things that just rattle your foundations, or the small incremental bits and pieces seem to congeal into a rapidly encroaching toxic oil slick that threatens to engulf you in the muck of humanity. I know, overly dramatic, but sometimes life is just too much, and you want to retreat to your comfy, safe place and just read romance novels at every spare opportunity, where the world has predictable outcomes, Love always wins out, and people have fabulous, soul liberating sex, without apparent worry about the sticky bits (I know, tmi, sorry).

This has been the place I have been in this past week. I have followed the news as usual, and a post is soon to come to bring you up to speed, but I just really, no joke, wanted to read romance novels all week, and virtually did in fact. I just really didn't want to share the news of the day, complicated as it ever is, whatsoever. Life on earth this week felt, well, just too sticky! I longed for predictable and benign outcomes, reasonable forces and Love to win out, and the soul liberating triumph of all the things that are good in humanity.

Maybe it's a question of perspective? Am I truly a "whiner" when I start to get that sick, butterfly feeling in the pit of my stomach, when I do the odious money math, and war with that ever present doubt about having made the life choices I have made? It's hard to feel full of certainty, when you've just filled an empty fuel tank these days. But, I don't think my dwindling bank account is a figment of my imagination, much as I would like it to be. And I feel some righteous indignation that I didn't entirely get myself into this pickle all on my own. If anything, globalization as taught me that our individual actions, or inaction, have ripples around the world. And, right about now I'm looking for a Wall Street oil speculator, Arab prince driving a ridiculously diamond encrusted Mercedes, or maybe a politician, or two, or a hundred, to get my hands around their necks and squeeze, while exhorting them to, pardon the phrase, "stop screwing with me!" My perspective is that, all whining aside, being a hopeful and optimistic individual is requiring me to dig deeper than a lot of oil wells to find some precious resources to sustain me through these difficult times.

I feel it would be prosaic to say that looking at my just about perfect child, or drawing on my faith erases it all away. Some days, yes, I feel the full measure of my good fortune and blessings, and I feel that I really have no place to complain, especially in view of the news of the day. But some days, or weeks, I'm just overwhelmed by the challenges of life, and the fragility of what separates my life from, say, the refugee in Darfur. And when that juxtaposition enters my mind, I automatically recoil, because the circumstances are just so different and stark, it feels just horrendously indulgent and ridiculous to even equate our conditions in life.

But, interestingly, despite my suspicion of abject hubris to follow this line of reasoning, nevertheless there was the tiniest kernel of a common experience that resonated for me. I listened to a Darfur refugee who had lost just about everything, and he recounted that what they had endured was just so much that they could not really stop to consider the scope, or even to fully account for what had become of whom. Sometimes to be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other, they just had to immerse themselves in the small bits and pieces of daily life, and not constantly consider the bigger picture of what was happening. So much of what this person endures is completely unfathomable to me, but this, this, I understand!

I think that this is why so many people choose to not fully pay attention to the news. It all feels to be so much, and the self sustaining instinct kicks in to keep your mind immersed in your own little corner of the world, where maybe things are little more within the realm of your control, or the self-willed illusion of such. Crack open that romance novel, pack your kids school lunches for the day, and maybe indulge in a marathon of "The Housewives of some incredibly privileged, and completely clueless American material mecca."

The lessons of my college years return constantly in times like these, and I look back to the life altering course in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales that I was fortunate to experience, which seemed to impart the wisdom that so much of life really comes down to a question of balance. A lot in the world acts upon us, but we also act. We bear the responsibility to use our agency wherever we may find ourselves to actively value the blessings we are given, and use the tools at our disposal to fulfill that inner mandate that craves a place where Life and Love prevails. Therefore, I will continue to look into places that make me want to head for the covers in a secure bed, and enjoy what happens between the covers of a completely trivial book now and then, because both inform and sustain this condition called Life.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Relevant News Flash (7:6)

  • Is there anything more terrible than feeling like you can't protect your kids? The reality for many families facing the harsh lessons and vagaries of fortune surrounding the housing crisis today is the repercussions it has for their kids. It remains to be seen what effect the instability, being felt on such a large scale, will have on the current generation.
  • A bright light can exist when privileged childhood meets awareness of strife and struggle: mobilization to action, and a willingness to dig in and innovate. In a place where so many groundbreaking advances are emerging, perhaps it's not surprising that even the kids of Silicon Valley display a talent to harness the intersection of financial means and creative innovation to address the conditions of those most in need.
  • With youthful enthusiasm can come youthful indiscretion. At least when I was a teenager, my most embarrassing moments, both those I considered so then, and those I consider so now, don't sit on a search engine somewhere for all time. In the era of online social networking, how exactly are the politicians of tomorrow going to handle the "did you inhale" challenges, when evidence could very well be located on YouTube? The editors of IvyGate, Maureen O'Connor and Jacob Savage, suggest in the LA Times that an easing of the standards and judgements is on the horizon.
  • Speaking of signs of the times, Sesame Street online was in need of a serious high tech overhaul, and the new site is set to soon launch to continue to engage a new generation of youngster whose address is less street and more cyber.
  • We are cautioned (again) to consider and minimize the effects of ambient media for our youngest ones. Forget about the obvious no-no of plopping JR. in front of the TV, just leaving on the TV in the background while they play has been found in a study to be harmful to the development of young children, no matter the imagined quality of program being viewed.
  • Many parents imagined that infant formulas enhanced with Omega 3 oils must have better nutritional quality, but the Cornucopia Institute recently released findings to the medical community that seriously calls these beliefs into question, suggesting that rather they may expose children to significant health risks due to methods of production, involving chemical agents, and poor safety oversight. Most worrying is a side effect to some infants that causes serious diarrhea, to the point that neonatal nurses have referred to the mixtures as "the diarrhea formula." That can't be good!
  • For the expecting mamas, it seems increasingly like one should spend the entire pregnancy in a hermetically sealed bubble! Stress is incredibly debilitating to the body, but starkly reveals itself in pregnancy, yet maternity leave is drawing closer and closer to due dates. Also, if you have a nut craving in pregnancy, it looks to be vigilant to scale it back, as an increased risk of asthma in mother's who ingest nuts daily has been found by Dutch researchers. But don't invest in that bubble just yet, as moderation seems to be the key to navigating these perilous waters.
  • News from the book world: lawsuits and late night anticipation! The lawsuit alleging that Jessica Seinfeld snatched another author's idea, right down to the art and design of the book continues and expands. What is the latest sensation that will make your older kids (hopefully older...keep reading to find out why) drag you to the bookstore for a book release party? The latest book from Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight Series" is nearly here. The plot of the books focuses on a teenager who has a romantic relationship with a devastatingly handsome vampire hero, who refuses to consummate the relationship out gentlemanly respect. Undead and unattainable? Ladies step right up, we have ourselves a recipe for a blockbuster series.
  • One of the more disturbing stories to emerge this week chronicles the increase of seriously questionable tactics to control the growing numbers of children in our classrooms with developmental and psychiatric disorders, including physical restraints and isolation. Yes we are talking about schools, and not detention facilities. The issue is complicated to say the least. School personnel are struggling to maintain safety and control in their classrooms, amidst a growing percentage of their students who have these challenges, and special needs families are struggling to keep their kids in the mainstream, and protected from such tactics, which have in some cases caused death. No easy answers are found, and it definitely leaves you uneasy.
  • In other education news, those following the legal challenge to homeschooling in California's court system will be interested in the recent development that the original action has been dismissed, but the separate appeal proceedings are still in progress.
  • Start those little gardeners early! A lifetime of botanical enjoyment awaits them, along with a way to deal with the slings and arrows of teenager turmoil.
  • Safety news you can use: An alarming number of kids who have serious life threatening allergies do not consistently carry an epi pen a study found, seriously putting them at risk. Older kids seem to worry about fashion, and the ability of a younger child to properly use it is inconsistent. In an era of budget cuts, which may find the school nurse unavailable, it is critical to find ways to make sure that these kids have the vital means close at hand to save their lives. Also, it is amazing how many kids have been struck by lightning recently, and a few simple tips to avoid can help the next time you find yourself in some dangerous weather.
  • International reporting: Find out how a public health doctor in the third world decided to borrow some clever marketing ploys from three of the biggest consumer goods companies to "manipulate" the population of Ghana to wash their hands with soap to prevent the spread of disease. Also, wherever you stand on the subject of vaccinations, I think one can agree that the practice of testing and refining vaccines on vulnerable third world populations, as has been recently reported in Argentina, is of grave concern and ought to be investigated. And finally, having read the excellent book, The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, published a few years ago, I recall the moment I had the realization while reading that we were headed for trouble with bio fuels, and unfortunately it appears that it has come to fruition, and a energy alternative once heralded as revolutionary is being lampooned as a "big con."

Whew...we're caught up!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Relevant News Flash (7:5)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Relevant News Flash (7:4)

Education news:
  • People are in a dither about requiring all California 8th graders to take Algebra I. Even I, who was of the camp that could "appreciate math," but just never really took to it, can acknowledge that Algebra I has served me well in my adult life, and crops up rather frequently. While there are some real concerns about teaching resources, this is a sad excuse to justify not holding our public education to a higher standard for our students. Countless reports warn of our economic woes in the future if we can not compete with the other nations that are preparing their citizens to compete globally, and one would think Algebra I would be a rather basic requirement in that goal. Japan is already starting to grapple with a shortage of engineers due to falling enrollment in science disciplines, and they are undertaking aggressive measures to make science "sexier." Meanwhile, women in engineering are still suffering significant sexual discrimination. Get over it guys, it sounds like the ladies are just what we need to compete; but they need to pass Algebra I first.
  • Speaking about dropping the ball with education, the upheavals of the past decades are drawing into sharp relief what leaving fragile societies adrift, with little opportunities for education and advancement, will do to aid the causes of extremism. For an excellent look into one inspiring man's vision to address this issue, pick up the book Three Cups Of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.

Other news, not necessarily parenting related:

  • Are you wedged in between generations, stuck between the whining and self indulgence of the Baby Boomer generation, and the whining and self indulgence of the Generation Y and Millenial generation, and expected to provide support for both while they "find themselves?" You aren't alone in your gripe; Baby Boomers have never really been happy, according to a report in the Washington Post, and the Pew Research Center has the data to back it up. The report also interestingly shows that this generational whininess has happened several times in the past and can be connected to having been born following times of great upheaval.
  • A strong movement is emerging to revive sustainable farming, and keep it local. Community Supported Agriculture cooperatives (CSAs) are growing steadily, and helping small farmers operate, and even make a profit, and consumers control the quality and cost of their produce. This effort also speaks to those that fear what the effects of large scale cultivation and distribution controlled by corporate interests have on our world, environmentally and politically, which are revealing some alarming results, such as the danger to every parent's favorite food stuff, the banana, which is on it's way to extinction through disease! While the access to a CSA remains strongest in a handful of states, like California, the movement is growing and spreading. There are others that are taking the initiative to encourage people to keep produce local and clean by growing it in their own backyards, a modern day push to return to the "victory gardens" of the WWII era. This movement also has the goal of getting the next president to convert part of the White House grounds back into a sustained plot to set the example for the nation. San Francisco is set to convert a plot in front of its city hall into a sustainable garden to supply the city's food banks with local and chemical free produce. There is evidence of a larger receptive audience; garden merchants have seen an unprecedented increase in demand for seeds in the last year.
  • The green thumb enthusiasts don't stop there. A "guerrilla gardening" movement was begun in the 1970s and operates today, with an aim to improve the landscape of our urban jungles, circumventing messy and delayed bureaucracy (and for those of you who have attended a city or town council meeting lately, you know what they mean). Call them cultivation commandos!
  • Folders Anonymous may not be far off! Those who have done their time in retail can attest to the years of conditioned impulses that remain, and apparently the impulse to fold for veterans of the Gap is especially pernicious to shake.
  • As previously written about, modern day women are not accepting that choosing to raise their families well means that they can not also contribute in the modern workforce. Amy Tiemann, author of Mojo Mom, and creator of, speaks on CBS' The Early Show about options for "SWATs" (Smart Women with Available Time):


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Relevant News Flash (7:3)

Food, always a loaded topic for parents, in the news:
  • We have such an interesting relationship with food as a species, but I think the U.K. has taken food psychology to an outrageous and unchecked extreme. An agency supported by the U.K. government has asked caregivers of young children to watch out for signs of racial prejudice and report it. This is the part that you just really can't make up: evidence of a racial prejudice can include not wanting to eat an ethnic food! Many parents are anxious if their child will eat enough peas, let alone how they might react to a spicy curry, possibly landing them in trouble with the authorities!
  • Not surprisingly our parenting styles are often reflected in our children's eating habits. A recent study conducted by Oklahoma State University at Stillwater concluded that parenting styles are a key part of managing a child's issues with food, and suggests that an issue such as obesity, must be looked at also in the context of the family dynamic for a resulting therapy to have a long term positive impact.
  • What's that funky smell coming from your chicken? Chlorine, perhaps? This is enough to give you a complex, or to take the "organic hit" to your wallet! Apparently, it is a common practice for large poultry producers to dip chickens in a chlorine bath to kill any nasty microorganism contaminants.

Cool and not so cool news:

  • In an era where immigration is becoming a hot topic, sometimes resulting in violence, in countries around the world, a program in the U.K. has found an innovative way to make citizens from other cultures feel comfortable in their classrooms, and expand the linguistic opportunities for, and promote cultural understanding of other cultures in all their students. In a nutshell, children of different cultures and languages teach their classmates their language in an online tool they have developed. Each month a different language is featured. They have a goal of reaching 50 different languages! Instead of being deterred by the challenges of the variety of cultures represented in their classrooms, they have found a way to embrace it and use it as a teaching tool.
  • For those who follow the politics of birth, the U.K. is grappling with options to accommodate their growing birthrate, but increasingly scarce hospital resources, and unsatisfactory outcomes in those facilities.
  • An item about a prominent Japanese auto designer, who tragically died from overwork, gives new meaning to being "driven into the ground." A tragic reminder to consider the effects of an imbalance between work and life.

Now, for something "light and fluffy" to close:

  • Celebrities are really clueless it seems about how crazy their name choices for the children really seem, and actually, they just don't care what others think, thank you very much! Chris Martin, frontman for the mega-band Coldplay, comments on naming his daughter Apple, but he would have been just as fine with "Chewbacca." And, despite what has been widely speculated as a rather public repudiation of her former husband's controversial faith, Nicole Kidman's decision to name her newly born daughter, Sunday, in actuality comes from an inspirational Australian art history figure, Sunday Reed.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Relevant News Flash (7:2)

Many health related stories have been cropping up lately. Here are a few to bring you current:
  • The New York Times writes about the controversial call to test children beginning at age 2 for issues with their cholesterol, as well as possibly using drug therapies beginning at age 8 depending on outcomes of other measures and family risk factors, which is heatedly debated in the medical community.
  • Reuters was absolutely packed this week with health news pertinent to parents! Proof that nutrition, and specifically early nutrition, matters, so much so as to account for an entire year of education in its developmental benefits. Probiotics use early on has also been shown in a study in Finland to help young children with respiratory ailments.
  • Issues with the brain chemical, serotonin, essential to regulating the body's temperature and respiration, has been somewhat accidentally linked as a possible clue in the effort to understand what causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Another reason to scrutinize our national cesarean delivery rate: a "moderately increased risk of developing asthma" has been found in a population study in Norway.
  • Modern medicine is providing astonishing new tools and possibilities for family planning, but the ethical arguments question how specific that planning should be. Should a fertility challenged couple, for example, actively plan on a multiple pregnancy in one shot to spare them fertility costs down the road when they want to add to their family?
  • Vitamin D, and the ill effects of our growing deficiency, has been widely covered. The Natural News highlights the especially dangerous implications for pregnant women.
  • And finally, in health news, Pringles lovers beware! We're not quite sure exactly what is in these tasty morsels, but it certainly isn't potatoes, according to a British court ruling.

In other news:

  • What will the classroom of the future look like? Will an actual classroom even exist? A pilot program in a middle school in Boston offers us an interesting glimpse into our possible future.
  • This falls under the heading "tragically trying to remain hip." So you are in the "know," read this little item about the Kidz Bop phenomenon. Seems kind of like "muszak" for the middle-schooler.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Relevant News Flash (7:1)

I'm feeling green today:
  • The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting op-ed about global warming, or rather what the writer, Brett Stephens, suggests is a case of "global neurosis."
  • And from the other end of the spectrum, an article in The San Francisco Chronicle, by John King, offers how global warming is forcing the Bay Area to rethink urban planning and natural renewal.
  • News Flash! Global warming has led to innovation allowing trash to be marketed, and made trendy! An innovative company, Terracycle, seems to know their niche, as well as how to crack the mainstream marketplace. You can even sign up to send them your name brand trash.
  • The World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, convened as a joint body, know as the Codex Alimentarius, and set guidelines to reduce contamination of powdered baby formula, as well as standards to protect people with wheat allergies. 124 countries participate in the body that sets standards for foods to be traded internationally.
  • Bad news from the Environmental Working Group regarding bisphenol A in the packaging of baby formula.

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