Monday, March 29, 2010

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

If you have children (or will soon, or are planning on having children sometime, or just like psychology...) you will want to read this book. Be prepared to have a lot of your ideas challenged, because the most interesting thing about NurtureShock is that it discusses several commonly-accepted beliefs about how to raise children that in fact, according to current research, might be having the opposite effect of what they're intended to do.


For example... Praise. Specifically, telling a child he's smart. I know--how could that be bad, right? It will be easier for me to explain by going backward, starting with what you should do. If you praise a child's effort instead of his intelligence, you teach him that hard work is important. You teach him that it doesn't matter if he fails at something, because he can always try harder. And you teach him that intelligence isn't just what you're born with--it's something you can develop as you go, because the harder your brain works, the more connections it forms. If, on the other hand, you tell a child that he is smart, he will feel like he doesn't need to work hard. He will be afraid to try things that he's not sure he'll be good at, because if he fails at something, it must mean that he isn't really smart.


I can tell you from personal experience that this is true. I've always been told that I'm smart, and in fact I was in gifted and talented programs from second grade through tenth. I never studied in high school, except the night before a test, and I did homework in between classes on the day it was due. I still got great grades, graduated with honors, and was in the top ten percent of my class. I never felt like I had to work hard at school, except in math--where I firmly believed that I was just not smart, because of how difficult it was for me. I barely passed my algebra classes, and I even had a tutor for one semester (of which fact I was so ashamed that I never told anyone, and would have been mortified if they'd found out).


I saw this same trend in a lot of my classmates, who were smart but didn't work at anything because they didn't have to. I'm willing to bet that when they got to college, they had the same experience that I did, and began wishing they'd learned how to study long before. But I also wonder, if we'd been praised on how we worked hard when we were kids, instead of for being smart, if we would have taken a different approach to things.


I can promise you'll be surprised at some of the other issues covered in the book as well:
  • why arguing with your teenagers is actually a good thing
  • how educational TV can be a bad influence on children
  • why it's important to talk to your children about race
  • how you might unknowingly be encouraging your child to lie
  • why recess is important--and it's not just for exercise and developing social skills
  • how many baby DVDs really don't help babies learn at all (and they'll tell you what does)
Of course I don't agree with the authors 100 percent on everything, but I found so much information that I wanted to remember, I ended up taking notes in my journal. I definitely recommend this book for anyone who's planning on raising children, and I'm sure I'll be reading it again later down the road.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Word and the Void, by Terry Brooks--7/10

I've been reading this series per Mike's request, starting with Running with the Demon and then A Knight of the Word, and finishing up now with Angel Fire East. It's a really interesting series, about a girl named Nest Freemark (yeah, the names are weird) who is the sixth in a line of women who have access to magic. In the first book Nest meets a man named John Ross, who is a Knight of the Word (a good guy) and comes to her town to deal with some danger there. Nest gets involved, of course, and the rest of the series is about Nest and John and their fight against the evil forces that are slowly encouraging the world toward its destruction.


I really enjoyed reading these books (although the second one took a little while longer to get going than the first and third did), and they go pretty quickly. They're nothing like those epic fantasies (the Wheel of Time, the Sword of Shannara, etc.) that are thousands of pages long--these take place in modern times, and the books are only around 400 pages each. The storyline is good and it's a lot less creepy than it looks, so I think it's a pretty good choice for people who might want to try out fantasy but aren't willing to commit to the more giant series.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Communislam

Hahahahahaha... Oh my friends, you have to check this out.

It's Communism plus Islam.

I can't tell you how much I love that there is a website like this in the first place. But in reference to this specific article about socialized health care, there is something I want to point out.

The writer asks (oh so redundantly) whether anyone actually knows a person who has been denied health care (he doesn't). The first comment is a person saying yes, he does know someone--himself and his wife. And then, a few comments down, this little gem...
Dennis on March 21st, 2010 at 3:04 PM
I dont believe you

Today, in a conversation on my Facebook profile based on a link I posted, my friend Megan (not Winegar) mentioned that she was working 40 hours a week at her job and was not given health insurance, while other people working the same hours were given it, and as a result she was paying over $400 a month for insurance that only covered her in emergencies.

The person she was talking to responded, "I don't believe you." Based on the fact that his wife's policy only costs a little over $100 a month, he has determined that Megan must be wrong.

This is my new favorite argument! "I don't believe you," that's all you have to say. Who can argue with that? Isn't it amazing? The logic, the reason, the understanding... I love it all.


One more thing--please, if you do nothing else, scroll down a little bit on the Communislam page and look at the box on the right that shows tags. That was my laugh for the day!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a nonfiction account of a year in which Barbara Kingsolver and her family--husband and two daughters--lived off the food they produced on their own farm, supplemented by local organic farmers' market produce.


I've heard about organic food for a long time from my parents, and in the past year have started buying organic eggs and meat myself to avoid the hormones and antibiotics that get put in them now. This was for personal health issues, though, so I hadn't really bothered with organic vegetables much because vegetables seem less harmful--and, of course, because going organic is more expensive. However, from this book I've learned that there are other reasons to go organic, a big one of which is that organic farming is the only sustainable farming.


Current industrial farming practices are basically ruining the earth they use; they're good for one or two crops, and then with all the pesticides and herbicides they use--and because all their crops are cash crops, so they don't do crop rotation--they render the land unusable for further growing. Obviously this is a serious problem if you are thinking anywhere beyond the next few years. Organic farming does not destroy the earth in this way.


Another reason is that organic food is generally easier to find locally, and we could do a lot to help our environment if we would start shopping locally. This is something I'd never thought about before I started reading this book, and I bet a lot of you haven't either--did you know that the food industry is one of the biggest users of fossil fuels? The average item on the average American dinner table has traveled about 1500 miles to get there. Think about where the food you buy comes from: apples from Washington, oranges from Florida, avocados from California (or Mexico or Puerto Rico). That is so much fuel being used for transportation. If every U.S. citizen were to eat just one meal per week out of only organic, local produce, we could save more than 1 billion barrels of oil. Not gallons. Barrels. How's that for addressing the oil crisis? And it only requires one small change, once a week.

Of course, the problem there is that many of those foods aren't available year-round from local sources. This is sad, and I will be the first to tell you that I cannot currently imagine not being able to have tomatoes all year long. But that is what it would take to stop the use of oil in such large amounts--learning how to eat foods when they're in season, like our grandparents (and some of our parents) did. However, even if you don't think you can commit to buying local produce exclusively, you could still make a smaller step and do it when you can. The all-or-nothing approach that often goes with food reform is totally unnecessary--even small changes here and there will eventually add up, and are totally worth it.


If none of that convinces you, how about the fact that industrially farmed, genetically modified produce--yes, the stuff that we find on the shelves at the grocery store--is significantly inferior in taste and nutrition to organic food? Did you know that there used to be thousands of varieties of vegetables that no one grows in America anymore, because the food industry has culled them out in favor of varieties that withstand travel better? It's hard to imagine, because none of us have ever really seen what food can look like if it's grown naturally. But it's true.

For example: consider the turkey. 99% of the turkeys purchased for food in America are of one breed, the Broad-Breasted White, which is a descendant of the beautiful heritage birds that are native to North America, but has actually been developed in the last fifty years on industrial turkey farms. (I read this information in AVM, but also found it in a Newsweek article online.) "These birds are bred to be so literally broad-breasted that by the time they are 8 weeks old, they are too fat to walk, much less procreate—every Broad-Breasted White on the market is the product of artificial insemination. They are kept in giant barns, given antibiotics to prevent disease, and fed constantly so that they reach maturity in almost half the time it takes a heritage turkey."

Did you catch that? These turkeys are bred artificially. They are bred to be so fat, they can't even walk. And this is the turkey we eat every Thanksgiving. This is the kind of food we find in the stores now--genetically modified, deficient in taste and nutrition, and using tons of non-renewable resources just to get to you every day.

Now, of course I know everyone can't just start living off their own land, but there are ways to make changes even so. For one thing, most cities have farmers' markets, where you can buy fresh produce directly from those who grow it in your area. Sometimes farmers set up on the side of the road--I know I've seen them do it in Utah with fresh peaches and apples and other fruits. And there are websites like localharvest.org, where you can find the local produce that's closest to you and even order a Thanksgiving turkey online. Pretty much anyone can grow a tomato plant in their house, or a few vegetables in their backyards.

And in case your concern is cost... well, that's a fair point, and there isn't much we can do about that at this point. Yes, organic food costs more, because it costs more to grow. But the more people support organic, sustainable agriculture, the less the food will cost over time. So it's really a matter of how much you care about the issues at stake--better nutrition, better taste, sustainable agriculture that won't destroy our farmland, reducing the use of fossil fuels, and of course, supporting small family farms instead of corporate industrial ones.

For the record, I promise I'm not judging you if you don't immediately go organic. I haven't done it myself, except for small areas where I'm trying to make changes. It's a big step, it requires a pretty good level of commitment, and it isn't feasible for everyone right now. But everyone can make small changes, and so I hope you'll think about what you can do to help push our country in that direction. You can start by reading this book--even if you can't do anything else, you'll at least be educated for the time in the future when you can.

Friday, March 12, 2010

100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, by Bernard Goldberg

Bernard Goldberg's book is interesting in many ways, and incomprehensibly ridiculous in others. When I read the introduction, I was thinking, "Absolutely, he has an excellent point." He tells a story about sitting on an airplane listening to a lawyer, a well-educated man apparently personally connected with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, yell the f-word to his colleague on the phone, and how he yearned for the days when even drunks in seedy bars didn't use that word in public. I can get on board with that. I can also appreciate paragraphs like this:

Here's the problem, as far as I'm concerned: Over the years, as we became less close-minded and more tolerant of all the right things, like civil rights, somehow, we became indiscriminately tolerant. "You're so judgmental" became a major-league put-down in Anything Goes America--as if being judgmental of crap in the culture is a bad thing. (viii)
So far it sounded good to me. But the longer he talked, and the more I read about the people on his list, the more I realized that this book is little more than a good ideal gone bad. Many of the people on his list are indeed fantastically good examples of what is wrong with our country (though not necessarily bad people themselves)--Michael Savage, Howard Stern, Ted Rall, Amy Richards, Matt Kunitz (the executive producer of Fear Factor), Paul Eibeler (CEO of the company that produces the Grand Theft Auto video game), Linda Hirshman, Ludacris, Howard Dean, John Edwards, Ingrid Newkirk (president/cofounder of PETA and an example of a good ideal taken way too far).

But in many cases it is clear that Goldberg has taken one incident, one thing a person said that maybe wasn't their best moment, and used it to define them. Much of his "evidence" consists of his personal (not at all objective) interpretation of people's statements. In other cases, he quotes someone, and then immediately changes the quote to something else that alters the meaning, thereby making his point.

Example: Actor Tim Robbins is quoted as saying, "Let us hate war in all its forms, whether its weapon is a U.S. missile or its weapon is a domestic airplane." In the next sentence Goldberg says, "He is a man of peace, a man who hates violence 'in all its forms,' right? Well, not really!" He then proceeds to tell a story about how Tim Robbins was confronted by a man who'd written things about his girlfriend's mother, got upset, and said "If you ever write about my family again, I will [bleeping] find you and I will [bleeping] hurt you." For this, Goldberg calls him a hypocrite. Excuse me, but wasn't Tim Robbins talking about war, not yelling at someone? I don't think I can see how those two things are the same, or how that makes him a hypocrite.

Goldberg's logic is unfathomable. He talks, over and over, about how some of the people he mentions are the worst kind of extremists, and not representative of their party; then on the same page, over and over, says that these people can't be ignored because they are the voice of the party.

...What?

In fact, in the case of Markos Moulitsas, Goldberg insists that "whether the liberals like it or not, his voice is becoming one of the more important voices of American liberalism." That's interesting. What I take from this is that even if he knows other liberals don't agree with Moulitsas or aren't as extreme, well, that won't stop Bernard Goldberg from using him to define liberalism, and truth be damned.

The book is full to the brim with name-calling, and this is one thing that will always turn me off to an argument. Between page 113, where it occurred to me to make a note every time I read one, and page 175, where I got tired of it, I counted something like 50 (some of which were indirect in the manner of phrases like, "...a shred of humanity, which she obviously lacks") plus approximately five comments saying something like "[he] should be enshrined in cement." It's just such a juvenile thing to do.

He makes sweeping generalizations about entire social movements based on one person's actions in one incident, and his two favorite groups to complain about (besides liberals, of course) are feminists and what he calls America-bashers--or, people who get upset when America does something wrong. According to what I read in this book, no matter what America does wrong, we still have basic freedoms that others don't have, which makes anything we do better than what someone else has done. According to this book, morality must be comparative--other countries are worse, so how dare anyone complain about something America has done? We should be focusing our anger on the REAL atrocities--the ones in those other countries where they make no pretense to the kind of moral superiority that America claims. (He really gets worked up about this.) And in regard to feminism, he has this to say:

Thanks to Gloria Steinem, and a few others like her, feminism is dead. For years, feminism has been accused of rank hypocrisy, of savaging perceived enemies and giving friends a pass, of twisting facts to suit the feminist agenda. And now, in one fell, idiotic swoop, Gloria Steinem showed the world that it was all true. (179)
Brilliant. By this standard, we should judge conservatism by the likes of Michael Savage.

Finally, I love the fact that except for the few conservatives who are actually on the list, any time he talks about conservatives they are "interesting and thoughtful," or "smart, thoughtful, and reasonable"--but with the other side, he talks about raving lunatics and then it's all "pretty much par for liberal politics" (with a notable exception at the end--notable because it's the only one).

This is probably the thing I hate the most about this book, and about the traditions of the world of politics today--the indiscriminate generalization and labeling of groups of people; the refusal to acknowledge the extremists of the other side as just that, extremists, and not representative of the whole; and the inability (or unwillingness) to see those on the other side as not heartless immoral radicals, but just people--people from different backgrounds, for whom different things are important, but who are still just people.

If you're not into bashing liberals, the next best reason to read this book is morbid curiosity. It's an interesting read with, overall, a good philosophy; just don't be expecting a fair judgment of anyone who stands behind the donkey.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Life as We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer--8.5/10

Life as We Knew It is the first book in a three-part YA series, in which I believe there is a different main character for each book. (That was a surprise to me when I finished the first one.) I'm about to start the second book, The Dead and the Gone, and the third book is apparently fairly new because none of my libraries have it in yet.


The story is that an asteroid has hit the moon, knocking it out of orbit and basically creating an apocalyptic world. The tides are thrown off, causing tsunamis and earthquakes that wipe out entire coastlines and volcanoes that no one even knew about to erupt and coat the sky with ash. Electricity is gone, food deliveries stop, water is contaminated by the volcanic ash, and millions of people die in a short period of time. Book one is about Miranda and her family, and how the asteroid collision affects their life.


This was a really freaky book to read, I won't lie. It was absolutely enthralling, and I would get so caught up in it that I would be startled by the sound of cars driving by outside my window, thinking What? Where are they going? How do they have gas? And then I would realize that the moon has in fact not been hit by an asteroid, and that my book is not real. This happened multiple times over the course of my reading.


If you're looking for something interesting, dramatic, and exciting, pick up this book. Just don't let your imagination get carried away with you like I did!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Favorite Commercial Ever!



"We're not saying this body wash will make your man into a romantic millionaire jet fighter pilot, but we are insinuating it."

(Dang--I just saw this post and realized that the video covers up my whole right sidebar. That's kind of lame.)

Friday, March 5, 2010

No No... She Has a Point.

Did everyone see this a couple weeks ago? I forgot to post about it then, but of course you know I must. :)


Like I've said before, I really think that having health care like Canada's is not the worst thing that could happen to this country (despite popular Republican opinion). Apparently I'm not the only one.

Also, movie reference, anyone? (It's slightly modified for gender...)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Circle of Life

It has long occurred to me to wonder why vegetarians feel that it's wrong to eat animal products. Animals eat other animals, don't they? So why should it be different for people to eat animals? We're all part of the same food chain, after all. (We've all seen The Lion King, right?)

I'm not what you'd call a meat-lover. I don't really like burgers and I don't care much for most kinds of meat. (Don't get me wrong--I like chicken, I love a good steak every now and then, I can appreciate a little bit of bacon once in a while. I'm just saying meat is not generally on my list of favorite things to eat.) I'm also not a fan of hunting as a sport or hobby; I don't think killing animals should be done for fun. That said, though, I don't believe that it's wrong to eat them as one part of our diet.

I absolutely understand (and share) concerns about animal testing and farming techniques and all that, but those issues could totally be worked around without becoming vegetarian or vegan. And I know for some people it's more of a personal health issue, so that's fine (although for the record, in general I don't think that it necessarily is healthier to eat that way--but of course that's up to individuals). So what is the deal?

Once Again, a Commercial I Hate

I loathe this ad for Mentos gum.



Ugh.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Happy Sort-Of Birthday to Babies!


Jaylee Doyle

four months old today
born on November 3, 2009



Liron Esplin
six months old today
born September 3, 2009





Lana Gillispie
nine months old today
born June 3 (my birthday!), 2009

Monday, March 1, 2010

Say You're One of Them, by Uwem Akpan--9/10

I never know how to talk about a book like this. It was incredible, eye-opening, painful, disgusting. Horrific. Poetic. Infuriating. Have you seen Hotel Rwanda? It was like that.


There are five short stories in this book, told from the perspective of children, all about different tragedies that take place in various countries in Africa--a family living in a shack in an alley in Kenya, supported by the oldest daughter's prostitution and sniffing glue to stave off the hunger; a brother and sister whose uncle plans to sell them to human traffickers in Gabon; childhood friends in Ethiopia who are separated by religion; a Muslim boy hiding out on a bus with a group of Christian refugees, all escaping the vicious religious riots in Nigeria, and just hoping to make it home; a young girl who watches members of her family murder each other in the Tutsi/Hutu massacres in Rwanda.


All of the stories are heartbreaking, and so real (they are fiction, but based very closely on true experiences). Everyone should read this book, and others like it. It's important to know what life is like in other parts of the world, and Say You're One of Them is a beautifully-written window into the tragedies of Africa.