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Archive for June, 2007

Earlier today, when going through my RSS feeds, I stumbled upon an old post from the mental_floss blogs about bedtime storybooks with strong political agendas. The two main culprits are a couple of books (one from each side, appropriately) titled “Why Mommy is a Democrat” and “Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed!”

Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed!
Clearly there’s a problem here. “Why Mommy is a Democrat” is clearly targeted at the Pre-K crowd; the simplicity of the text (some of which is reproduced here), the characters and art style, and the subject of each page look like they’re intended for very young children.

From what I can gather on the Amazon page of “Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed!”, this one is aimed at older, elementary school readers. The characters are grade school children who open a lemonade stand and have a dream that they live in “Liberaland”, where caricatures of famous Democrats come and take half the profits of their lemonade stand, demand that they take down a picture of Jesus and stop praying, and give away broccoli with every cup of lemonade.

“Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed!” really disturbs me, more than “Why Mommy is a Democrat”, even though the latter is aimed at a much lower (more impressionable?) age group, and not because of my political leaning (goes both ways anyway). The political agenda behind “Why Mommy is a Democrat” is to teach toddlers the good things about Democrats. However, the political agenda behind “Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed!” teaches children to hate liberals. “Why Mommy is a Democrat” doesn’t directly teach the kids to hate the opposition… “Help! Mom!” does. By looking at only the bad aspects of the liberals, it teaches kids intolerance before they know their right from their left – both meanings.

Whether someone is liberal or conservative doesn’t matter – I don’t think anyone should try and indoctrinate their kids from a young age by preaching hatred and intolerance of the opposition.

More upsetting than the existence of these books is the comments left on their Amazon pages. Here are the comments left on the “Help! Mom” book, just because these are more upsetting than the ones on “Why Mommy is a Democrat”. As you can see, they alternate between 5-star and 1-star reviews, with a little more than half praising it as the light in a world gone mad and the other 45% or so claiming it’s propaganda. The comments from the 5-star reviewers scare me: “Need to teach them the difference between conservatives & liberals when they are young!” (yes, from a very heavily biased children’s book)… “It has my five year old asking us questions about liberals which we are more than happy to answer.” (Hate to hear what those “answers” would be.)

Worse yet, read the comments left to 1-star reviews.

A 1-star review said this:

We need wider understanding, cooperation and critical thinking in coming generations if America is not to be torn apart and self-destruct for the most banal and avoidable of behavior patterns. This book is completely counter to such goals and is probably driven as much by a desire to make profit via sensationalism and controversy as it is the desire by adults to further their own selfish, myopic inflexibility at the expense of clean, bright, trusting little minds. Such behavior by adults not only sets a horrible example, it is pathetic and cowardly.”

And a couple of the responses to that particular review:

Liberals are easy to predict. This book teaches children a conservative point of view and this infuriates liberals. They only want your children exposed the ideas of the left wing Marxist agenda. Because liberals can’t debate the facts and their point of view is many times irrational they just call it ‘hate speech’. They say that it is ‘dividing America’ or they refer to it as ‘brainwashing’…”

“Great another Bin Laden supporter in our midst.”

If this was an isolated incident I could understand… but the entire review section of this book’s page on Amazon is littered with the exact same bigotry – on both sides of the spectrum.

Democrats have done stupid things and can believe stupid things. Republicans have also done stupid things and can also believe stupid things. As a society, we really need to move on. It’s an old message that you can hear anywhere, and it won’t make much difference complaining about it here, but it needs to get through somehow.

In my last ‘Weekend Reading’, I linked to an article that I found on Digg: Sick Children, Working Moms. It was about how some working mothers had to send their sick kids to school because staying home to take care of them could mean losing their job. Digg has a very large gender imbalance, so it wasn’t surprising that the consensus among the commenters was that there should always be a dad so the mom can stay home – and that’s not always a bad thing.

Then one woman came on and said this: I’ve had to stay home with my kids many times. Hell, I was out for a week at Christmas because of some awful flu they caught. I actually did end up getting “laid off” a month later. But I got a better job in a much more family friendly company. Do I *have* to work? Not really. We’d get by fine if I stayed at home with the kids. But would I be happy? No. I enjoy my work. Don’t minimize me by telling me it’s my “responsibility” to sit at home with my kids while my husband brings home the proverbial bacon. It’s insulting.”

…To which I one-hundred percent agree. As a female who genuinely enjoys being out in the world and working myself, I would die inside if someone forced me to be a stay at home mom all my life. I have interests far beyond cooking and cleaning, and it is also insulting to me that culturally I shouldn’t have kids and a job at the same time – while my theoretical husband would have to bear no such stigma. Some women may enjoy not having to work; great for them, but I’m not among them. Things are certainly changing, but the replies to the comment above, like the intolerant replies to the reviews of “Help! Mom!”, are very disheartening:

I’m sorry you feel minimized and insulted over the thought of raising your children.”

“Get back in the kitchen where YOU belong and make me a sandwich. Oh, and cut the crust off it while you’re at it. Notice I said YOU, not women, but YOU.” (<- notice the failed attempt to not sound sexist)

“The floors in the kitchen need a good scrubbing, laundry needs to be washed and folded, the vacuum needs to be run, the toilet could use a good cleaning, and dinner needs to be made. *enjoy* your work.”

If the last two are jokes, I don’t think they’re very funny.

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Weekend (?) Reading 06/18

No updates for two weeks and then I return with a Weekend (not so) Reading instead of a “real” post, the third of such in a row – unavoidable and disappointing, but thankfully temporary. Friday was my last day of classes and the past month has been crazy at school as all my classes went into overdrive to make up for all their lax pace all year. Now that school is out and the pressure is off, I can finally decompress and move on with my life, which will hopefully mean more regular (possibly M/F) updates.

I only have five links today (even though it includes the past two weeks), because less time for writing also means less time for reading and web-surfing. ):

BEST OF THE WEEK – Psychology: The Total Perspective Vortex (Damn Interesting)
If you’re familiar with the actual Total Perspective Vortex from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, the message of this article isn’t much different. It’s a really intriguing – and I think very true – idea: depressed people are arguably more sane than the rest. The average person is highly optimistic about life to the point of being delusional, whereas the depressed person is more realistic about life. This delusion is a good thing, though – it keeps us from going insane.

Philosophy/Various: The Best Thought Experiments (Wired)
A list of the most famous thought experiments of all time with thorough explanations. All the classics are here: Schrodinger’s Cat, Borel’s Monkeys (infinite number of monkeys on typewriters + infinite amount of time = Shakespeare), Einstein’s light beam, etc etc.

Literature/Society: Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 Misinterpreted (LA Weekly)
Everything they taught you in English class is wrong. Ray Bradbury recently told the press that his iconic novel Fahrenheit 451 is not about censorship. Actually, he said, it was about the television killing literature by becoming the new pastime. It would be interesting to reread the book with this theme in mind rather than censorship.

Gender: Sick Children, Working Moms
This one makes me sad. The article tackles the issue of moms (usually single ones) who sometimes have to chose between showing up to work and keeping their job or staying home to take care of their sick kids. It also takes the perspective of the kids as well, because kids can know more about their home situations than they let on.

Psychology: Unskilled and Unaware of It (Damn Interesting)
Another great article out of Damn Interesting that summarizes a Cornell study (link to the pdf) about competence. This study showed that, not only are the incompetent completely unaware of their ignorance (some subjects at the 10th percentile for certain traits would rate themselves somewhere in the mid-60 percentiles), but they can’t recognize others’ competence in that field, either. Also, while the subjects in the bottom quartile rated themselves much higher than they actually performed, the subjects in the top quartile ranked themselves much lower than they actually performed… so the ignorant think they know everything, and the smart don’t think they know anything.

That’s it for the links of the last two weeks – and my next post will hopefully be one with actual content!

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Weekend Reading: 06/05

Wow.

I’m overwhelmed with the attention that my “How to Prevent Another Leonardo da Vinci” post has received this week. When I first saw the spike on my traffic chart I thought WordPress had gone glitchy, but I’m delighted to see that I’m mistaken! So I want to thank all of you who came and read my thoughts in that post – you all really made my week. Especially those of you who blogged about my post, emailed it to someone (I see a lot of email clients on my incoming links list), or commented. The response has been amazing.

If you have some free time on your hands, I’d love it if you left a comment. I’m interested to hear who’s reading, even if you’re just passing through. :)

That said… here are this week’s links.

Best of the Week is TIE

BOTWInteresting: The Google Labs Aptitude Test (GLAT)
The recruitment questions that Google uses used to screen employees. How many of the technical ones could you answer? Some of the more creative questions are just amazing – I’d love to work for the kind of people who come up with these. My favorite: “This space left intentionally blank. Please fill it with something that improves upon emptiness”. But really, these are just GREAT.

BOTW – Gender:
Male Scientist Writes of Life as Female Scientist (Washington Post)
This was really interesting – a transsexual neurobiologist (female-to-male) discusses what it was like to be a woman in the sciences, and how differently he was treated after having a sex change. As he said, “I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.” Other scientists, male and female, also add their input on gender imbalance in the sciences. (Unfortunately, I can sympathize a little too well with these women.)

Society:
Trashing Teens (Psychology Today)
A great article about the infantilization of teenagers, and how it contributes to some of the immaturity we see in teenage culture. For what it’s worth, I agree that teenagers are definitely capable of more than society nowadays would expect. I remember reading memoirs at the museum written by people who had grown up in the early 1900s… only a few had even gone on to middle school, and a phrase from one memoir in particular stuck with me: “I was fresh out of grade eight and ready to get my first real job.” Nowadays many areas have made it illegal to hire someone under 16. What happened?

Education: The Lost Art of Writing (San Francisco Chronicle)
An excellent editorial about how writing should and shouldn’t be taught in schools. Maybe I’ll write an adaption this for reading, too, in a future post. All I can say is, this points out exactly what is wrong with English education in schools today. A good anecdote to go along with this comes from TIME contributor Ashley Merryman as she teaches kids the proper way to write a paragraph (a collection of sentences about an idea rather than just five-to-seven-sentences bunched together) only to have their English teachers fail them for it.

History/Interesting:
German voting ballot from 1938
The photo of a German voting ballot from 1938. The text in German reads (so I’m told): “Do you agree with the reunification of Austria with the German Empire that was enacted on 13 March 1938, and do you vote for the party of our leader Adolf Hitler?” Take a look at it… biased much?

Neuroscience/Morality/Religion: If It Feels Good to Be Good, It Might Be Only Natural (Washington Post)
A team of neuroscientists have recently discovered that morality may be hard-wired into the brain. An experiment showed that when the subjects behaved altruistically, the part of the brain that lights up is the same one that assigns pleasure to food and sex. What happens to religion and personal responsibility when morality can be explained as pure brain chemistry? I think it would be interesting to see the religious statistics among neuroscientists.

Education: How to Fix No Child Left Behind (TIME Magazine)
Last week’s feature article in TIME Magazine was a dead-on discussion of the good and bad results that came out of NCLB. It’s nothing that we didn’t already know, but a great read nonetheless, and with proper statistics and anecdotes to support it all plus some other, less obvious consequences (less obvious to me, at least). When I read the article in the actual magazine, it included a report card for all aspects of NCLB, but I can’t seem to find that report card online.

That’s it for this week.

Again, thank you to all the people who’ve visited these last few days, and if you have the time, it would be great to hear from you. :)

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