Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Taking the Woodpecker Seriously, Not Literally

A few weeks back my parents checked out what my Dad referred to as the "Florida Chautauqua" located in the Panhandle and where, for a few days at least, one can pay as little as $7 to attend seminars on "Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally," or "Why Can't I Wear Pajamas to the Supermarket? And Other Pressing Questions About Fashion" among others. My parents enjoyed a Victorian Tea session as hosted by Ellen Mayfield and The Tea Ladies and were randomly seated alongside a couple in search of the iconic ivory-billed woodpecker, which, according to a recent National Geographic, was thought by most ornithologists to have been extinct since the 1940s. That is, extinct until the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, based on "seven fleeting glimpses and four seconds of fuzzy video," announced in April of 2005 that they had "confirmed the existence of an ivory-billed woodpecker flitting elusively through the tupelos along a small Arkansas stream called Bayou DeView." That's it. But it's enough, according to the article, and as my parents witnessed in the couple they sipped tea with, to inspire hundreds of ivorybill searchers (often funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) to wallow deep into the birds suitable habitats all through the south in hopes that they too might catch a fleeting glance or, better, a definitive snapshot or video of the illusive little pecker.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Marty's Year

I'll be watching the Oscars tomorrow and not expecting much. I willl be drinking Murphy's Irish Stout, however. There will be the typically awkward pre-telecast interviews on the red carpet bluntly attempting to precipitate viewer enthusiasm for the fun to come. In that first hour on the carpet we're to believe that the earnest, self-congratulatory pap that the Oscars telecast will unavoidably descend into will be equal to the suspense and intensity ("Who will take home the Oscar?") of any one of the Governor of California's Cameron-helmed ("I'll be back") films. And while I like Ellen DeGeneres's mellow, gently subversive vibe as much as the next stay at home Dad or retiree, I'm also sad to see the producers deciding that after Rock and Stewart, mildly seditious hosts at best, it was time to return to something cozier and less potentially threatening to the excess of industry glorification on parade.

I'm lucky or cursed by the fact that there are innumerable things that ultimately make the show bearable and, actually, fascinating- but a host willing to take the stuffing out of the gushing grandeur of it all (Letterman's "Oprah....Uma....Uma....Oprah," from several years back comes to mind) helps to lesson the chances of later regretting having spent four hours just to see something as bombastic and saccharine as Crash win for Best Picture. Thankfully it's finally Marty's year, long overdue and all but that's just fine. He gets both Director and Picture this year for The Departed. I don't think anybody thinks it's his best but then, so what- when I saw it at the theater it was the most fun I had at any film last year.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Song Syrup

Some of us explored the International Children's Digital Library for my Collection Development class recently. I'd known about it for a while now but had regrettably never gotten around to checking it out. I'm glad I finally did, since it's lovely and so, so very right. Its mission is simple, noble and the kind of thing that's anathema to an influential branch of the Republican Party that equates diversity with racism and tolerance as capitulation to sin. Still, I'm a fan.

The mission of the International Children’s Digital Library Foundation is to excite and inspire the world's children to become members of the global community – children who understand the value of tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages and ideas -- by making the best in children's literature available online.

A classmate brought up an interesting point concerning children and their tactile relationship with books, the sheer joy they experience by being able to hold and manipulate a tangible object. Something, it turns out, adults like to do quite a bit as well. In the digital realm, this gets tricky. ISDL, however, targets children age 3 and up, an age when tactile concerns aren't nearly so potent and commanding. And besides, a lot of today's kids make, I'd hazard to guess, few distinctions between digital and organic text if any. Hidden behind the mission for ISDL you discover that its also acting as a research platform to study and gain a keener understanding of how kids interact with information. This is an equally noble endeavor, and I wondered if it wasn't mentioned in the mission because it's not nearly as wholesome and innocent as inspiring tolerance and respect for our global community. But to their great credit, ISDL encouraged children to create ways to search for books in the Library that were most relevant and exciting to them. That meant being able to search for books with specific character types, books with kids or imaginary creature characters, books with red covers, yellow covers or short books and long books and make believe or true ones. I like that.

The awesome accompanying illustration is by Ali Reza Goldouzian and is taken from the children's book, The Beautiful Pond which was first published in Iran. The accompanying summary for the book reads:

Speckled Frog used to sing differently so the other frogs poured a "song syrup" into her mouth that made her silent. A little fish discovered a flute at the bottom of the pond and brought it to her and asked her to play. Speckled Frog played very well, and everyone in the pond enjoyed her music.

Sigh. If only the Iranians would give up their song syrup and play nice with the rest the world!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Day In The Life of Abigail Ruby Breitenbach

With any luck, this will be the first in a series of Abby related video exploits. Next up: Abby's Intredpid Adventures With Hans and Bonjour!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Abby's Ferberization

While implausibly adorable to those who know best, Abby's not without features that make her, at times, onerous. Take sleep for instance. Recently Abby hasn't been embracing it with quite the fervency we'd like, waking up sometimes a dozen times or more a night and letting loose a primal, unforgiving howl. I don't know if there's ever been a sound that's made me feel more hollow and wretched. Before this she had been sleeping for the past 6 months reasonably well, from 7:00 pm 'til 4:30 or 5:00 am. Not perfect, but acceptable. About a month ago that all changed. Her molars started to come in (bone pressing up against and attempting to part gums isn't, as you might expect, comforting) and she's excitingly close to taking some cautious first steps on her own. We had no idea, but according to our pediatrician, when toddlers are on the cusp of such a momentous gross motor skill advances as walking they'll sometimes experience near ungovernable urges to stand. At 2 am in the morning. At 3 am. 4 am.

Of course, none of us can take a peak into that little noggin and discern just what's really going on. Night terrors? Separation anxiety? Mischievous sprites? We talked to our pediatrician and one of her peers in addition to weathered folks who've travelled this groggy nighttime road before and concluded it was time to deploy the heralded and controversial Ferber method on her. There are dozens of sleep training books out there and even more theories and expert opinions with ostensibly no distinguishable consensus champion rising from the heap. As a parent, it's easy to fall down the rabbit hole of choices. After some hand wringing, testy parental debate (guess who was the ass?) and the good opinions of others we decided Ferber was good as any. We're deep into the third night and I'm taking the night watch. One rough patch from 9:30 to 10:45 but otherwise not bad. Here's hoping.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Wind Chill: -8

When the Prius just went and glided right on through the stop sign on Bryn Mawr and when I accepted that the road had more control of the car then I did, I resignedly turned around and went back home. It was the first class time I missed a class since returning to school. I had been hoping for a perfect attendance certificate lavish with gaudy calligraphy, a gold star or two, and signed with a flourish by the Dean. I would have framed it and hung it near Abby's changing table.

According to the Tribune:

There were scores—possibly hundreds—of accidents, from spinouts and fender benders to a 20- to 30-vehicle pileup that closed parts of the Tri-State Tollway for hours.

And this:

"There are crashes all over the place," said Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Dave Furjanic. Well before the evening rush had started, police were checking into more than 100 possible accidents throughout the state's tollway system, he said.

Which no longer makes me feel like I had been too meek and yielding before the elements. Winters been putting up a good fight these past couple weeks.

Monday, February 05, 2007


Both Abby's Great-Grandma and I have a weakness for Keebler's
Fudge Shoppe Fudge Sticks.
It's all about wafers and creme, or at least obscene Keebler approximations thereof. For yesterday's soggy Superbowl Cathy and I each allowed ourselves one junk food indulgence. Half a bag of Fudge Sticks later and I found I hardly cared about what was going on in Miami. I had so little invested in the Bears this year (and I can't honestly say I've enjoyed a sustained curiosity in the NFL or any of its franchises in general since the Kardiac Kids lost AFC Divisional Playoff game to the Raiders in 1980) that I hardly cared that Rex was so unequivocally sucking. I liked the rain, though. I liked that it poured the entire game. I liked watching Billy Joel singing the National Anthem while sitting at a grand piano in the pouring rain. I was afraid Billy was going to get zapped, the smell of fried Joel wafting up through the downpour. I liked seeing Prince perform Purple Rain and caress his purple guitar in the pouring rain. I liked how they thought the rain was going to let up by halftime but that it kept coming down. I liked how it kept pouring and how after half a package of Fudge Sticks I was completely emulsified.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Grrr, Hillary, Grrr!

I think, for the most part, that I have a pretty good understanding of the fierce, divisive strains of partisanship running through our countries Democratic and Republican parties. I can understand how somebody might find fleeting if vicarious solace via a Limbaugh diatribe or a choir preaching Nation editorial from Katrina Vanden Heuvel. I can understand the Hillary hatred on the right and the Bush loathing on the left. What I don't understand, however, is how anybody can get revved up about reading an upcoming book like Liberal Fascism: the Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton or even begin to actually take it seriously. I find myself wondering, is the author Jonah Goldberg really, honestly making a go of equating the two? Or is this so self-evidently bombastic, so completely over the top that it'd be silly to see if as anything but ironic, Goldberg's tongue planted firmly in cheek?

Speaking of Hillary-hatred, I'm still not sure what to make of her run for president. I know one of the most common concerns on the left regarding her electability is the catalyzing powers of that Hillary-hatred. Just think of all the money the right will raise...think of those commercials that will air reminding us of her cock-sucking husband (and what will his role be in a Hillary White House--are we still getting two for one?) and the fact that she's an uppity woman who thinks she knows everything. I also know that she's made huge inroads toward defusing this animosity, reaching across the aisles and co-sponsoring legislation with notable conservatives and positioning herself as one of the leading hawks in the Senate. I know that she's had everything flung at her and is still standing. She can tap into a giant fundraising infrastructure and impressive brain trust. But a lot of that Hillary-hatred, as Goldberg's book is good evidence of, is knee jerk. It's so embedded amongst certain Republicans with deep pockets and influence that it'll launch every Swiftboat money can buy.

But whatever, I think what concerns me most is the Bush/Clinton dynasty, two families ruling the White House since 1988. If Clinton wins, these two families and their cronies will have ruled the presidential wing and its bully pulpit for over a quarter century. And as Bush II so unfortunately demonstrates, there are dangers to remaining ambivalent toward granting power through heredity.