Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In Which the Balabusta is Mean

In a charming column labeled "Israel, Stop! Just. Stop", Lorelei Kelly offers a little advice the State of Israel, who she apparently confuses with her self-destructive BFF.

Basically, the point is that violent military confrontations don't work, and that Israel is so much better than this, and I could have stood it except for this passage:

Like many Americans who grew up in the '70s, I became fascinated by Israel after
seeing "Holocaust" on television. In fact, I lived in Germany and traveled
Europe for years trying to understand how the Holocaust could have happened. I
am no scholar of history. But from Vilnius to East Berlin, I've found the old
synagogues. I've sat outside in the rain on dark cobbled streets listening to
ceremonies through open windows, I've seen where they used your ancestors'
headstones as pavement to walk upon. I've beheld the stolen art. I'm sitting
here now looking at a black and white photo of the Jewish cemetery in Prague
that I snapped before the end of the Cold War. The sadness there seemed to me to
reflect the entire continent. For years, I felt compelled to seek out these
places -- I suppose partly out of curiosity, but also out of horror and shame
that -- for whatever goddamned excuse -- we did not save the victims of the
Nazis. That the rest of us did not protect your families. I apologized for this
at every stop. I still do. I wept.

I bet you played Tsaytl in "Fiddler on the Roof" too, right? And I know you read "The Diary of Anne Frank" seven times. Also, Lorrie, sweetie, if they're holding services inside it makes more sense to go inside and get out of the rain, and maybe say a prayer.

I have just about reached a point where the next Gentile American woman who tells me how she cried and cried over the Shoah as a teenager as some kind of credential for demanding that the IDF take directions from her is going to get a tepid skinny latte poured over her head. Mit schlag, and a little cinnamon.

Lorrie, one or two more points here: the camps were finally liberated by armies, big ones, with massive force and guns. Since you like mini-series, suggest you try Band of Brothers.

And while I know you love the idea of a people who have been victimized and thus morally perfected, the State of Israel is founded on the idea of live fighting Jews, instead of saintly victims. I would say that I'm sorry if this offends you, but I'm not. If you want to argue that Israel's current actions are immoral or unwise, do so. But don't tell me about your Holocaust experience.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Population Density Crab

Mark Matthews, of ABC, just solemnly announced that Israel may send troop into Gaza, "one of the most densely populated spots on earth". Ah, the clip continues onward.

OK, as compared to, say, the Gobi desert, this may well be true. I don't know how you define 'densely populated spot', or what category you need to reach to get on the list. However, per the CIA Factbook, for July of this year, Gaza has 1,500,202 people and 360 square kilometers.

That's 4,167 people per square kilometer. MSN says 4270, using a slightly higher population quote.

This is beaten by, to name just a few cities:

Mumbai, Kolkata, Karachi and Lagos, Shenzhen, Seoul and Taipei, Chennai, Bogota and Shanghai, Lima, Beijing, Delhi, Kinshasa, Manila, Tehran, Jakarta, Tianjin and Bangalore, Ho Chi Minh City, Cairo and Baghdad.

also, Shenyang, Hyderabad, Sao Paolo, St. Petersburg, Mexico City, Santiago, Singapore and Lahore, Recife, Istanbul, Dalian and Khartoum.

and Rio, Monterey, Bankgkok, Osaka, Guadalajara, Athens, Ankara, Madrid and London.

also TEL AVIV.

Oh, and Sapporo, Buenos Aires, Moscow, Barcelona, Port Alegre, Tokyo, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza and Warsaw.

Now, God knows I would much rather live in London, despite the overcrowding, but JOURNALISTS SHOULD CHECK THEIR DANG FACTS.

Crank out.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

My new ancestors

Over the past few years, I've been hearing more and more about these new DNA analyses they can do that break down your ethnic ancestry. Some of it appears to be BS--Oprah, for example, appears to have gotten one that claimed to tell her exactly what tribes her ancestors hailed from, and apparently they just can't do that. The basic idea, though, is fascinating. I've been asked a couple times if I would want to get one, and although the idea is a sort of cool one, I have to admit that it seems a little pointless to me. I think I know what you get back from me--Northwestern European plus Semite, and if there's something else mixed in there--well, how interesting is it to know that I have, say, West African ancestors, if I don't know who they were, or how they got mixed in the mix?

But anyway, something like that has happened to me, and without my having to offer a blood sample. My aunt sent my parents and me each a copy of the family history on my father's paternal grandmother's side of the family.

I know no one from this side of the family, mind you. I met my grandfather only a handful of times, and my great-grandmother once, I didn't grow up with any of these people. But I will confess that I find the whole document fascinating.

I didn't know, for example, that I had any ancestors who had arrived in the United States before 1890 or so, and now I learn I have ancestors who arrived before it was the United States. One line tails all the way back to 1634.

I didn't know I had any ancestors who were Puritans.

Or Dutch.

I also didn't know that I had an ancestor who, according to the family history compiled by my great-great-aunt, was a spy for Washington. Cool.

These are the kind of ancestors I find exotic when other people have them. I am not totally sure what to make of the news that they're relatives.

Huh. What would my readers think about the Balabusta joining the DAR?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Vacation Lists

What always happens on breaks from work is this: I plan an overwhelming list of Stuff To Do, get some of it done, don't get the rest done, and think of the time as a failure, because I think of it in terms of What Didn't Get Done.

In an attempt to head that off this year, I plan to post on a daily or every-other basis, what I DID do.

Today I:

1. Went into SF and worked three hours at Sylvan Learning Center.
2. Went to the bank and got quarters for laundry.
3. Bought stamps.
4. Indulged in a hot chocolate.
5. Took a nap.
6. Went to the grocery store.
7. Fixed dinner.
8. Cleared the dining room table of much impacted paper.
9. Corrected the multiple-choice section of my junior's finals papers.

A nice day.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Great Unteachable Moments

Today was the last day of work, and a bunch of us were sitting around in the teachers' lounge, picking at giant piles of cake and chocolate and baklava and...well, pre-Christmas sugar-laced gunk. Mr. Zamir, the science teacher and football coach is grading a pile of finals. "Does anyone want to hear a student's definition of matter?" he asks.

"Sure," we say.

"Matter," he reads, solemnly, "is anything that takes up space and has gas."

Silence. Then "Mass," says one of the other PE teachers. "That has MASS."

Anyway, the conversation progressed to hilarious student misunderstandings of the theory of evolution, which led my own thoughts to my own horrifying classroom moment last year when the theory of evolution bit me on the tuchis on the second day of class.

No, I don't teach science. It was a history class. I wasn't even trying to argue for evolution. I was positing a heliocentric solar system, which has been pretty noncontroversial at least since the late 1980s. But I still think that what happened was largely the fault of Charles Darwin's detractors.

It was modern history, and I began with...Copernicus. Good ol' Nick, and his heir, good ol' Galileo, hero of my favorite Indigo Girls song. On day one I had each kid draw a solar system. This was harder than I expected, because they didn't know what the solar system looked like, but I forged on. Day two, I began by talking about the Scientific Revolution, and the enormous breakthroughs in science taking place in the late Renaissance, including the firm establishement of a heliocentric solar system.

My first class was pretty OK with this. My second class was not. When I asked for questions at one point, a girl raised her hand. "Yes?" I said cheerfully.

"How come you trying to tell us not to believe in God?" she said.

"Hawaahaahha?" I said intelligently. Then, "Uh, I'm not." Casting about for some link, I said, "although the Church was hostile to these thinkers at the time, hundreds of years ago, they've long since recognized the scientific validity of their work." I kept going.

Another hand. "Yeah?"

"How come you believe in SCIENCE and not GOD?"

And all hell broke loose. Metaphorically speaking.

What I was able to work out, eventually, was that for a number of my students, the word "science" had only one meaning, AKA "evolution theory", AKA "your grandpa is a monkey", AKA "the Bible isn't true", AKA "you don't believe in God", AKA "you want to get us to not believe in God".

Most of these kids also had major behavior problems, and hence were gone from George C. Moonbat long before Tante M. showed up to teach the science class. God knows what would have happened when these guys met Tante M., a stately six-foot-one West African lady who dressed traditionally and looked like a queen from a children's picture book. Tante M. took no crap.

I tried, really, I did. I discussed medicine, germ theory, electronics, telecommunication, trying to point all out of the scientifically based things in their lives which were even used to SPREAD the Gospel. No luck.

A truly Unteachable moment. It was me, with only the power of grades (like they mattered to kids from North Richmond), up against a preacher with the power of the Almighty on his side. I was well and truly doomed, and I sang "Give Me That Old-Time Religion" all the way home.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Sad Case of Adolph Hitler Campbell

There are people who are evil, and there are people who are stupid, and there are people who just make you go 'huh'? And then there are the parents of young Adolph Hitler Campbell of New Jersey, aged 3, who manage to combine all three categories.

Little Adolph is in the news this week because a Shoprite in New Jersey refused to make him a birthday cake. They refused because the parents wanted the kid's entire name on the cake, and apparently Shoprite does not force its cake decorators to write "Happy Birthday Adolph Hitler Campbell" on cakes if they don't want to, and they don't want to. The parents should have figured this out already, because apparently they went through the same thing last winter when little Adolph turned two.

Forthwith is the article from lehighvalleylive.com, detailing the situation, with commentary by me. This is for no particular reason, except that I find this story remarkably bizarre, and, well, sometimes you just gotta comment.

Holland Township man names son after Adolf Hitler
Sunday, December 14,
The Express-Times
HOLLAND TWP. In a living room decorated with war books, German combat knives and swastikas, a 2-year-old boy, blond and blue-eyed, played with a plastic dinner set.

The boy, asked his name, put down a tiny plate and ran behind his father's leg. He flashed a shy smile but wouldn't answer. Heath Campbell, 35, the boy's father, encouraged him.

"Say Adolf," said Campbell, a Holocaust denier who has three children named for Nazism.

Again, the boy wouldn't answer. It wasn't the first time the name caused hesitation.

Adolf Hitler Campbell -- it's indeed the name on his birth certificate -- turns 3 today, and the Campbell family believes the boy has been mistreated. A local supermarket refused to make a birthday cake with "Adolf Hitler" on it.

Please note that they believe that it's the supermarket that is mistreating their child.

The ShopRite in Greenwich Township has also refused to make a cake bearing the
name of Campbell's daughter, JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, who turns 2 in

Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell, a girl named for Schutzstaffel head Heinrich Himmler, turns 1 in April.

Now, the girls, I think, are going to have an easier time of it. JoyceLynn Campbell? Jeannie Campbell? Perfectly nice names. (Also, since these people, besides being evil and weird cannot SPELL, "Hinler" doesn't actually mean anything.) The only solution I can think of for little Adolph, besides changing his name to "Henry" is to go by "Dolph" and pretend his parents were mad about Lundgren.

"ShopRite can't even make a cake for a 3-year-old," said Deborah Campbell, 25,
who is Heath's wife of three years and the mother of the children. "That's sad."

Yes. ShopRite's refusal to make the cake is the sad part. (Someone did point out on the CakeWrecks blog that this child is being doubly punished--he has awful parents and no birthday cake.)

A director for the Anti-Defamation League in Philadelphia applauded the
supermarket's decision. An Allentown psychologist said the names would cause
problems for the children later in life.

Karen Meleta, a ShopRite spokeswoman, said the grocer tries to meet
customer requests but rejects those deemed inappropriate. "We believe the
request to inscribe a birthday wish to Adolf Hitler is inappropriate," she said.

The grocer offered to make a cake with enough room for the Campbells to
write their own inscription. But the Campbells refused, saying they would have a
cake made at the Wal-Mart in Lower Nazareth Township. The Campbells say Wal-Mart made cakes for Adolf's first two birthdays.

A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart said the store won't put anything illegal or profane on a cake but thinks it's important to respect the views of customers and employees.

"Our No. 1 priority in decorating cakes is to serve the customer to the best of our ability," Anna Taylor, the spokeswoman, said from Bentonville, Ark.

Since this is the company whose customers trampled an employee to death a couple of weeks ago, I would say YES, WalMart does seem to have a committment to going that extra mile for the customer.

If the Campbells have a legal case over the refusal, it would be that the family was denied service because of race, ethnicity or religion, said Shannon Powers, of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, a state agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws.

The Campbells, she said, would have to prove ShopRite didn't make a reasonable attempt to provide service it provides others. She said the offer to make a cake with room for an inscription would probably count as a reasonable attempt.

"It sounds like they (the supermarket) don't want to offend other patrons or do something offensive to their own sensibilities. If that's the motivation, that's totally different from discrimination," Powers said.

The Campbells have swastikas in each room of their home, the rented half of a one-story duplex just outside Milford, a borough in Hunterdon County. They say they aren't racists but believe races shouldn't mix.

We're not surprised, are we?

The Campbells said they wanted their children to have unique names and didn't expect the names to cause problems. Despite the cake refusal, the Campbells said they don't expect the names to cause problems later, such as when the children start school.

"I just figured that they're just names," Deborah Campbell said. "They're just kids. They're not going to hurt anybody."

Heath Campbell said some people like the names but others are shocked to hear them. "They say, 'He (Hitler) killed all those people.' I say, 'You're living in the wrong decade. That Hitler's gone,'" he said.

"They're just names, you know," he said. "Yeah, they (Nazis) were bad people back then. But my kids are little. They're not going to grow up like that."

"Other kids get their cake. I get a hard time," he said. "It's not fair to my children.

"How can a name be offensive?" he asked.

This is what I find fascinating about these people--that they seem to want to project the idea that they just sort of accidentally called their kids Adolph Hitler, Aryan Nation, and tried to name their daughter after Himmler but failed--and that other people are maliciously acting as though there is significance to these fairly aggressively anti-social acts.

There's basically two reasons to name your child "Adolph Hitler". One is that you deeply admire Hitler, and the other is that you really want to piss people off, and don't care if your child suffers in the process. These folks do not appear to be willing to cop to either.

I could, in a vague, abstract way, get it if they were simply unrepentant Nazis, but they don't quite seem to be able to get there. Which is a pretty formidable disconnect for the parents of a small boy called Hitler.

Robert M. Gordon, a clinical psychologist in Allentown, said the names would hurt the children.

"Certainly society is going to be hostile towards those kids, especially when they go to school," Gordon said.

Gordon, that's a Jewish name, isn't it? A psychologist, huh?

More than that, he said, the children would be harmed by their parents' views.

"By the time they get to school, they will already have been damaged," Gordon said. "Any parent that would impose such horrific names on their children is mentally ill, and they would be affecting their children from the day they were born. Only a crazy person would do that."

The problems the children might encounter in school, he said, "would be icing on the cake."

So to speak.

Barry Morrison, a director at the Philadelphia office of the Anti-Defamation League, which works to stop anti-Semitism and bigotry, said the organization had never heard of children named for Hitler, Himmler or Aryan nations.

Betcha he was OK with that, too. Although I have to say that neo-Nazis do seem to choose weird names for their children--there was a singing pair of white supremacist girls in the papers a while back called Lynx and Lamb. Odd, that these are the same people who sneer at African-American parents for choosing euphonious names with original spellings for their children. Seriously. De'Andre or "Adolph Hitler"--whose resume gets to stay in the stack?

He found the names offensive and commended ShopRite's decision.

The Campbells, Morrison said, "might as well put a sign around their (the children's) neck that says bigot, racist, hatemonger. What's the difference? Why not call the kid Peace or Tranquility or Hope or Acceptance?

"It's doing them (the children) a tremendous disservice, and it's cruel that parents would place these names on children," he said. "It's a mark upon them. It sets them apart for ridicule, derision, attacks.

"The children at this age might not have an understanding of these names. But when they grow up, hopefully, they would want to distance themselves from them," he said. "If they come to identify with the ideology of Hitler, Himmler and the Aryan nations, their parents are launching them on a life of hatred."

The Campbell home is kept neat aside from scattered toys and other evidence three children live there. It's small, but it's what the Campbells can afford.

Disabilities, the couple says, have left both out of work: Heath Campbell can't landscape or pump gas because he has emphysema, and Deborah can't waitress because she has a bad back. They live on Social Security payments.

In the foyer, Heath Campbell, who said he has German ancestry and a relative who fought for the SS, took off boots he said were worn by a Nazi soldier named Daniel.

OK, so, let me see, the Nazis were bad people 'back then', but you're wearing their BOOTS? Dude. Lots of people have German ancestry in New Jersey. You'd be amazed at the number who do not own any footwear worn by Nazis. Who would, in fact, be grossed out at the thought of wearing footwear worn by Nazis. Like, ick. Nazi cooties on your feet.

He laid them next to a skull with a swastika on its forehead, the first of
dozens of swastikas seen by the Campbells' rare guests.

There are swastikas on walls, on jackets, on the freezer and on a pillow.
The family car had swastikas, Heath Campbell said, until New Jersey's Department
of Children and Families told him they could endanger the children.

The swastikas, Heath Campbell said, are symbols of peace and balance.
He considers them art.

"It doesn't mean hatred to me," he said. Deborah Campbell said a
swastika "doesn't really have a meaning. It's just a symbol."

Peace. Balance. Maybe they could have called the kids Peace and Balance. Symbols of peace and balance are frequently inscribed on skulls.

Heath Campbell said he doesn't want to force his views on his children, in
part because he had views forced on him. He said he also teaches them

Abusive guardians, Heath Campbell said, used Bible verses to teach him
to distrust blacks. If he questioned the guardians, he said, he was hit. He
acknowledged he couldn't challenge the guardians' views.

He said Adolf Hitler, Aryan Nation and Hinler would be able to make
their own decisions about race.

So, basically, this is just your average pair of young Americans raising three children. They wanted to give them unique names, and they happen to have swastikas all over their house, and they believe in nonviolence. Also, they believe Nazis are bad, but collect their stuff, and name their children after them. And now ShopRite is persecuting their child and denying him cake.

It hardly seems fair, does it?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Joanne's Fantasies

There's a Joanne's at the El Cerrito Plaza now. I am in no position to start throwing around money at Joanne's, but since it opened I have gone several times just to browse through the aisles and read the magazines. Browsing at Joanne's is fun.

(Apropos of nothing, I recall being at a shul weekend getaway where the attendees were firmly asked by our beloved rabbi at Shabbos breakfast not to buy anything while we were rambling through the pretty wine country town the retreat took place in. "Window shopping is also fun," commented the visiting rabbi. "No," our rabbi insisted, "they can't even buy a window on Shabbat.")

Anyway, Joanne's.

First, they have fabric, and this fills me with fascination. I learned to sew a little while I was still doing SCA stuff, and now I fantasize about making Halloween costumes and little outfits for my hypothetical children. When I was little, my grandma would make me Halloween costumes and school clothes on an old black Singer, one of the beautiful ones with the scrollwork. I remember being a witch one year. I wanted to be a yellow witch, she insisted on traditional black, and somehow we compromised on a black hat and cloak over a yellow dress with a yellow cloak lining. I was a princess in pale blue another year. And I remember, for some reason, a pair of skirts in corduroy, one tan and one dark blue, that I loved. I think they were originally jumpers, and then I threw a fit about wearing jumpers, and my grandma modified them to be skirts. I can't believe I did that--or that she did that. I was a much-indulged little kid. She knitted me sweaters. SWEATERS, already, with fancy buttons.

I doubt I will ever be that skillful, but I can fantasize about making the kids little outfits and costumes. I also fantasize about quilting. I bet I could learn to quilt--it looks time-consuming, but not that hard.

They have yarn, and beads like you wouldn't believe, and books about how to make just about anything on earth. All kinds of crafty craziness. The one thing I really wish they had more of was a wider variety of needlepoint kits. I like needlepoint. Not cross-stitch, needlepoint. The thing is, I really don't need that many pillows showing flowers and Japanese ladies. Need to find good needlepoint kit sources. Or learn to paint my own canvases.

Somehow I doubt that I will ever really learn to knit, though. My grandma worked on me with that, but I'm left-handed, and somehow we never really figured it out. But quilting...yeah. Quilting. And little Halloween costumes.

The Problem With KIPP

Reading Jonathan Alter's Newsweek column this week, "Bill Gates Goes to School", something catches my eye, amid the sniping at teacher's unions.

I'll mention this about teacher's unions first: I have worked at one union school, and three non-union. I have seen first-hand how completely an administration not constrained by a union will disregard the rights, working conditions and sanity of its employees, and how hard an administration so constrained will work to get around it. I am not impressed by the crybabies who want to blame the state of American education on the unions. But I digress.

Alter writes:

"Whenever he gets depressed about education, Gates says he visits one of the more than 60 KIPP schools nationwide, where the energy is palpable and the results irrefutable...So the challenge is not to find what works for at-risk kids--we know that by now--but how to replicate it."

I interviewed once at a KIPP school, and it was an amazing experience. I am impressed by what KIPP does. But here's the problem: KIPP relies on one basic, central thing to supplement their hard-core program: choice.

A poor black or Hispanic kid does not just fall out of the sky into KIPP. They are charter schools, and parents or guardians choose to bring them there. If the kid and the parents won't abide by the rules, the school can get rid of them.

Public schools have to take and keep everyone. Bear that in mind, Mr. Gates, and THEN tell me how to fix public education. KIPP has a great program, but it requires buy-in.

Oh, yeah, and stop bashing the teachers, PLEASE.