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The Home Front

Politics, culture, and American life — from the family perspective.

The High Cost of Watching the Recent Economic Debate with a Toddler



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We watch the GOP debates in the French household with the amount of intensity most families reserve for football, as David and I live-blog, tweet, and Facebook our way through the evenings. Our two older kids watch in amusement as we nervously hope that our candidate emerges unscathed. Once we were so into it that none of us would leave the set long enough to tuck our three-year-old daughter Naomi into bed. After the debate, we all exhaled, high-fived over our candidate’s performance only to realize Jon Huntman’s jokes had mesmerized Naomi into a deep sleep. Who needs the bath, books, and pajamas if debates can cause her to conk out so thoroughly?

We anticipated the most recent economic debate especially, since this was our candidate’s wheelhouse. After I finally found the Bloomberg Channel, I settled down to watch it when my neighbor dropped by to see how far I had come in my recent home renovation. I hurriedly showed her the newly installed hardwood floors, the dining-room table, my sectional sofa, and a rug that I’d spend too much money on. (I’d splurged, thinking it might be worth the price tag. But when my neighbor and I viewed it on the floor, we agreed I should return it.)

“Okay,” I said, trying to steer the conversation back to the politics at hand. “You must stay for the debate. David’s out of town, and it’ll be fun!”

She looked at my laptop, open to Twitter and Facebook, and at the crazed look in my eyes. “Why not?” she said as she settled onto the bar stool in front of the television. Our kids played while we began to talk about the various candidates. About ten minutes into it, Naomi toddled into the room with a basket of nail polish, cotton balls, polish remover, and nail files. This “fun box” is what we break out to have “girl time,” a container that included a new bottle of black polish to go with a costume my older daughter had recently put together.

“Not now,” I said, pointing to the television screen. “We’re watching Governor Romney!”

I should’ve known something was wrong when Naomi left without complaint, and I didn’t hear from her for a while. Eventually, she walked back into the kitchen and smiled. “Look!”

I wish I hadn’t.

Her feet and hands looked like Prince William Sound after the Exxon Valdez spill. She’d “painted” her toenails and fingernails with the black polish and had come to show me. When I looked up, I saw black nail polish splotches on the floor, where she had pitter-pattered through the kitchen. Instantly, the noise and excitement of the debate receded into the background.

“Camille,” I called to my oldest daughter, who ran down the stairs to see what caused the panic in my voice.  When she got to the kitchen, I held up Naomi and said, “I don’t have the courage to find out where she’s been. But go look around and see how bad the damage is. Then, come back and tell me . . . very gently.”

That expensive rug — the one that I’d taken on spec — was still on the floor in front of our new sectional. But I didn’t have the heart to peer around the corner to view the damage. 

“Well, how much do you love your sofa?” Camille asked, very quietly.

I knew exactly how much I loved it, because I still had the receipt in my purse.

“Mom, there’s a big spill on the rug in her room,” my son yelled from upstairs.

Upstairs, I thought? That was enough to propel me out of the kitchen and into the crime scene, but it didn’t take CSI to discover Naomi’s path. She started in her room, where she apparently dumped out the polish and dipped her toes into the spill. Then, she went down the stairs, across the brand new floors and across my sectional.

I stood next to the expensive rug but couldn’t force my head to look down at it. David was out of town, and I couldn’t imagine explaining why I spent so much money on a rug I couldn’t even use. 

“Can you examine the rug?” I asked the kids, as I heard the candidates droning on in the background. My friend likes to say, “Politics is downstream from most people’s lives.” Never has this felt more true.

“Mom,” my son said. “I think it’s okay.”

“Yeah,” my daughter added quickly. “I don’t see anything.”

Miraculously, Naomi had managed to walk across the rug without getting nail polish on it though the formerly beige couch now had black stripes to match the black dots on the new hardwood. That’s when I realized that toddlers and new furnishings get along about as well as Rick Perry and the good folks of Utah.

Did Mitt Romney win the economic debate? 

By this point, I no longer cared. I only knew that my own personal economic condition had taken a turn for the worse. 

And no candidate was going to fix it.

Living in a Barbie World



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No sub-prime meltdown for Barbie and her dream house:

Toy maker Mattel says strong sales worldwide of its iconic Barbie brand and “Cars 2″ toys helped third-quarter net income rise nearly 6 percent.

The Barbie doll has been a strong seller for the largest U.S. toy company for the past two years. Barbie sales rose 17 percent worldwide.

The company says net income rose to $300.8 million, or 86 cents per share. That compares with $283.3 million, or 77 cents per share last year. Earnings matched analyst expectations, according to a FactSet poll.

Revenue rose 9 percent to nearly $2 billion. Analysts expected $1.97 billion.

This is no shocker for me as my four-year-old’s Christmas and birthday lists are filled with Barbie items of every imaginable stripe. Hair salon, airplane, etc.

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Technology for Worse, and Sometimes for Much, Much Better



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Parents know that when it comes to raising kids, the influx of technology has been a mixed blessing.

Cell phones help parents keep tabs on children and provide a layer of safety, but they also give kids nearly non-stop access to texting friends and an Internet filled with possibilities, good and bad. Diligent parents have tools for keeping children from the worst that our media age has to offer, but it takes vigilance and is hard, if not impossible, to shield them from all of our cultural rot.

Yet this week I was fully appreciating the incredible doors that technology can open for parents and kids, and optimistic that technology may be steadily solving one of the most intractable problems our country faces: our substandard education system.

I’m temporarily living in Brussels, where my young children attend a German-language school. We chose the German-language school so our kids would fully master a second language. I’m confident that the school will also provide them with a fine, basic education. But I also know that their curriculum will differ from that in U.S. public schools, and I worry a bit that my daughters, when re-enrolling in school in the U.S., might have gaps in their knowledge.

Even ten years ago, moms like me would have had a tough time tackling this problem. I’m sure the very ambitious mom could have collected reading materials and workbooks to try to piece together an at-home study regime. Today, however, I have one-stop-shop options for accessing curriculum.

I’ve started with history, purchasing a first-grade program from K12 (I’m sure there are many great options out there). The mix of multimedia and traditional hands-on classwork has been perfect for my six-year-old, and kept her four-year-old sister happily following along. We log onto an online program that gives me a script for introducing the lesson. I walk my daughters through some of the materials — an inflatable globe, laminated map, and work pages for the girls to color and complete — I ask them questions and show short informational videos featured as part of the course.

They don’t know that it’s schoolwork. They see it just as a fun project that we are doing together.

My situation may be rare, and I am fortune to be able to invest a little in purchasing such programs. Yet the impact of these technologies will go beyond individual parents and may finally encourage systematic change in our public schools.

Online learning opportunities mean that all students can have access to the best teachers and programs in the world. It means that rather than one-size-fits-all traditional classroom instruction, students should be able to access a wide variety of programs that employ teaching strategies tailored to kids’ different learning styles.

Some online programs are already being offered for free, and many other new, low-cost solutions will surely follow if we can finally change our education system to encourage true innovation. It won’t be enough to just get a computer into every classroom, as so many politicians promise. We need new models for schools so they make real use of these new opportunities. We need to free the billions that we are already spending on traditional public education so that parents can access programs that make sense for their children, and create a tremendous incentive for entrepreneurs to find new, efficient, engaging ways of helping kids learn.

We’ve seen how technology has changed the way that people work and communicate. We are just getting a glimpse of technology’s potential for improving education, and it’s a bright future indeed.

A Chandelier in Your Locker



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This is intense:

So is some of the analysis: 

“What value is added to the school culture for some kids so privileged to have these types of things and other kids a couple lockers down to feel less than equal?” said Deborah Kasak, the executive director of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, an alliance of educators and others seeking to improve middle schools.

Rachel Simmons, a co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute, a nonprofit group, and the author of “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls,” said the trend “exemplifies the mixed messages that girls get about being powerful in the world,” adding: “Now you can’t just go to school and put your books in your locker between periods; it has to become a showcase for your design skills. You become a homemaker in the hallway.”

They do leave me wondering what Andie’s locker would look like now. 

Maternal-Guilt Cheat Sheet



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Some of you will enjoy some of these. Have any additions? 

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The Yawning Cultural Gap Between Military and Non-Military Families



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My oldest daughter, the reigning president of Zion Christian Academy’s sixth grade, ran for president of her seventh-grade class the week that Osama bin Laden was killed.

Like any skilled leader, she adapted her message and quickly made a sign that incorporated the very big news of the week into her campaign slogan.

“You elected me president last year, and Osama bin Laden died. What will happen if you elect me again?”

She won the election and proudly represents her class on the student council, where she determines such things as whether to have “hippie day” or “superhero day” during Homecoming Spirit Week.

But I heard around town that some parents — one mother in particular — did not like her campaign-poster joke because she believed it celebrated death. In fact, there was so much handwringing over Osama’s death that many Christians — when discussing it — fell over themselves to make the point that we were happy — but not too happy — about the completion of this military objective.

The Sunday after Osama’s demise, in fact, my husband David and I went to church in Franklin, Tenn. — a wonderfully conservative area in a red, southern state. But even there, we were reprimanded by the worship leader. He said, “Some of you were thrilled to hear the news that Osama bin Laden was killed. But I’m here to tell you that,” his voice lowering with emotion, “we should grieve that this man didn’t get to know the will of God.”

My husband David is in the U.S. Army Reserves, served in Iraq with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment during the surge, and earned the Bronze Star. He leaned over and whispered, “Oh, he definitely experienced the will of God.”

It was as if Christians didn’t know how to process the long-awaited military victory because they were so uncertain of the basic theology and experience of war. They generally believe that American soldiers are competent and highly skilled — they admire their bravery, of course — but they couldn’t savor the moment. It was a victory, but it wasn’t their victory.

The Pew Research Center’s recent study confirms this suspicion:

When it comes to their armed forces, most Americans in the post-9/11 era have feelings of pride, gratitude and confidence. At the same time, most Americans acknowledge they know little about the realities of military service. And, in increasing numbers, they disapprove of or do not pay attention to the wars the military is currently fighting.

Fully nine-in-ten Americans say they have felt proud of the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq since those two wars began. But a large majority (71%) of this same public says most Americans have little or no understanding of the problems faced by those in the military.

Several weeks after Osama’s death, I ran into a mother who had disapproved of my daughter’s campaign poster. Believing that she had an arguable point — that perhaps this sentiment shouldn’t be expressed glibly on a campaign poster in a Christian school — I walked over to her and her family and asked if she’d like to discuss the issue personally. I began by explaining that my husband had spent an entire year in Iraq, and that as part of his duties, he not only saw the horror of al Qaeda atrocities but also saw many of these terrorists up close. So, when the leader of al Qaeda was killed — a man responsible for the murder of many of David’s friends — our family took this issue a little more personally than others.

She, however, must have already known about my husband’s military service, because as I began to explain this to her, she interrupted me.

“Yes, I know your husband spent a year in Iraq,” she said, smiling.  “And you’re welcome.”

I must have looked confused. 

“Well, our taxes did pay his salary while he was there, didn’t they?”  she asked.  “That’s how these things work.”

I could’ve dressed head to toe in American flags, lifted my middle finger to liberals, and screamed “F— you anti-capitalists” in the middle of the Wall Street protests and not gotten a response like that. I was thunderstruck.

Her husband looked kindly at me and added, “It’s just that there’s a dinner table somewhere in the Middle East that doesn’t have the father present. Osama bin Laden had a family, you know.”

As I stood there processing this bewildering conversation — it got worse — I really felt this enormous gap between military families and nonmilitary families. Should I stand there in Subway trying to explain to them how bin Laden was the leader of the jihadist organization responsible for the September 11 attacks?  That he was responsible for massive attacks against civilian and military targets? That there are families in our own country — families we have come to know and love — who will sit down with empty seats at their tables for the rest of their lives because of Osama bin Laden?

I couldn’t. “Well, let me be the first to congratulate you for not breaking the law by paying your taxes,” was all I managed to say, my frustration very apparent. “And for your patriotic contribution to the war effort.”

And with that sarcastic remark, I didn’t “agree to disagree,” but simply determined that the gap was just too wide to try to cross. At least on that day.

One weekend afterward, David’s roommate in Iraq came to visit us with his lovely family. Leo calls himself a Mexican-American Mormon agnostic — oh, and he is a big Obama supporter.  (His liberalism must run in his family, because his brother, who lives in Wisconsin, was recently ticketed after he drove by Governor Walker’s house “day after day, week after week, blowing his car horn, sticking his middle finger out of his sunroof and shouting ‘Recall Walker.’”)

In other words, our families might not naturally have a great deal in common, but we’re bound together in a way that will always transcend politics. I told Leo’s wife Sandra about that weird “you’re welcome” comment, and she just rolled her eyes. She’d been a part of military culture for much longer than I had, so she took it in stride. She understood.

Which — in a culture where only about one half of one percent of the U.S. population has been on active military duty during the past decade of sustained warfare — was enough.

Not My Mother’s Christian Film



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I was 13 years old when my mother took me, in 1970, to see The Cross and the Switchblade, an unabashedly evangelical film about New York gang leader Nicky Cruz, who converted to Christianity through the influence of Pastor David Wilkerson (played by Pat Boone). As the film’s credits rolled by, several young men walked to the front of the theater to invite viewers to talk with them about Christ.

What a long way Christian films have traveled in the four decades since. As I walked out of a pre-release screening of Machine Gun Preacher, I couldn’t help thinking that my Baptist mother would never have allowed me to see this R-rated film, because it contained all the things she abhorred: Lots of profanity, graphic violence, and sexual situations.

Machine Gun Preacher is based on Another Man’s Waran autobiography by former hard-drinking biker and drug dealer Sam Childers (played by Gerard Butler) who undergoes a spiritual transformation and finds a new calling as a protector of Sudanese children. The film opens on a nighttime scene of a peaceful, sleeping village in southern Sudan in 2003. Suddenly, soldiers from northern Sudan, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), attack the village, killing adults and kidnapping children — and forcing one small boy to kill his own mother.

The horror fades into a scene in Pennsylvania, a few years earlier. An angry, cursing Sam Childers is being released from jail into the custody of his stripper wife, Lynn. On the way home, they pull the car over for a quickie before arriving at their trailer, where their daughter Paige and Sam’s mother are waiting.

Their lives change when Lynn becomes a Christian and gives up her stripper job in favor of work at a mushroom-packing factory. Sam eventually accepts Christ as well and is baptized at a local church, where he learns of the great need for people to travel to East Africa to help with rebuilding the villages destroyed in the civil war. Sam, a construction worker, flies to Uganda and begins working with the mission. One day he convinces local freedom fighters to take him on a bus to Sudan to see for himself what’s going on there. He is horrified at what he finds: women and children who have been butchered by LRA soldiers; others have had body parts chopped off. On a subsequent trip, Sam encounters a group of terrified children hiding from the soldiers and loads as many of them as he can onto his truck, promising the rest they’ll be picked up later. When he returns, he finds to his horror that the children have been burned to death.

Earlier in his life, Sam fought because he loved fighting. Now, he is fighting for a purpose: to save the children of Sudan from starvation, rape, murder, or being forced into becoming soldiers. He becomes a literal soldier for Christ: Enraged at the way the enemy is picking off the children at the orphanage he’s built, he gathers a truckload of freedom fighters and AK-47s and actively seeks out members of the LRA. We see a number of violent battle scenes as the two sides repeatedly clash. A young woman who works for an NGO tells Sam — who has become known as a local Rambo — that his approach is wrong and dangerous. Sam’s response: You fight the war your way, and I’ll fight it my way. Later, Sam is forced to rescue the woman when her naive approach to evil nearly gets her killed.

On his visits back home, Sam’s anger spirals out of control when he realizes how unwilling his neighbors are to donate the necessary funds to keep the orphanage running, and he explodes at his daughter — whom he has neglected in favor of helping African children — when she asks if she and her friends can hire a limo for her senior prom. It’s evident that Sam has made his passion for the children of Africa his idol; he is so consumed by their needs that he almost destroys his family.

Viewers will have some juicy moral dilemmas to discuss over their pizza afterward: What does justice look like? Does God really support what Sam does? And is it ever right for civilians to kill in order to save innocents — even in a lawless country where no government will intervene to stop the attacks? The real Sam Childers appears as the credits rolls by to answer that question: “If someone took your son or daughter, and you asked me to find them, would you question the way I would do it?” he asks.

Clearly, Machine Gun Preacher is not my mother’s Christian film. It’s not a conversion “message” film, as are the films Billy Graham’s World Wide Pictures has been making since 1953 — films which few people outside of evangelical churches have even heard of. The new kind of Christian film is partly about a growing sophistication among Christians carving out film careers after half a century of the Church rejecting everything Hollywood stands for. But it’s also about a shift within American Christiandom, says Erik Lokkesmoe, co-founder of Different Drummer, a film-marketing company that mobilizes fans and audiences. Younger people are more likely than oldsters to watch films, and they want something different: Not conversion stories, but conversation. They want films that help them recognize the world’s darkness and the brokenness of humanity. They want hints of grace, not alter calls.

“This audience is looking for honesty and storytelling, and they’re looking for characters they can identify with,” he notes. “They’re looking for films that end with no nicely wrapped-up solutions; they want ambiguity — the type of films they can have a conversation about with their friends.”

This is why, in the first 15 minutes of Machine Gun Preacher, it’s important to show the reality of Sam Childer’s pre-conversation life in all its gritty rawness. Films like this tap into stories that reflect common grace, so that when people leave the theater, “they’re haunted by something bigger than themselves,” Lokkesmoe says.

From the advent of film making, Hollywood has entertained with stories from Bible — sometimes in ways that offended real-life Christians, as in “The Sign of the Cross,” in which  Claudette Colbert‘s nipples were on decadent display as she bathed in a tub of asses’ milk. While many of these films are viewed as some of the greatest ever made — think Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments – Christians are eager to tell their own stories in their own way. From Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ to Veggie Tales to Machine Gun Preacher, Christian film-makers are finding new ways to get the glorious old message out.

— Anne Morse is co-author of the upcoming book Prisoner of Conscience: One Man’s Crusade for Global Human and Religious Rights.

How Adoption (and Steve Jobs) Changed Our World



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This week, we’re in Gatlinburg, Tenn., for fall break with the kids. (Dollywood is great in October, by the way. No lines!) We’ve hiked six miles, seen eight bears, eaten ice cream every day, and are preparing to go to the NASCAR Speedpark tomorrow. However, all of the fun was temporarily halted when we found out about the death of Steve Jobs. My husband was a big fan. In fact, here’s how he describes himself:

I have to come clean. I’m one of “those people.” You know the kind . . . the person who talks endlessly about their Mac, who eagerly scans the internet for rumors of the latest offering, and who bought the iPad simply because “Apple made it, so I must need it.” I was an Apple evangelist before we were all Apple evangelists, and — at some point during those years — I may have even crossed the line from “enthusiastic” to “annoying.” I’m getting the iPhone 4S the day it comes out, even though it’s only an incremental advance, and I agonize endlessly over whether my magnificent new Macbook Air has become — for all practical purposes — an “iPad killer.”

When we got back to our cabin, he wrote a nice note about the legacy of the famous Apple creator. However, as I was reading about his death, I was reminded that he was adopted. In 1955, a Syrian-born Muslim immigrant named Abdulfattah John Jandali fathered a baby boy with his German-American girlfriend, Joanne Carole Schieble. They weren’t married, so they gave the baby up for adoption to Paul and Clara Jobs, a couple who hadn’t been able to conceive. And, by all accounts, he was raised well:

Clara worked as an accountant and Paul was a Coast Guard veteran and machinist. The family lived in Mountain View within California’s Silicon Valley. As a boy, Jobs and his father would work on electronics in the family garage. Paul would show his son how to take apart and reconstruct electronics, a hobby which instilled confidence, tenacity, and mechanical prowess in young Jobs.

While Jobs has always been an intelligent and innovative thinker, his youth was riddled with frustrations over formal schooling. In elementary school he was a prankster whose fourth grade teacher needed to bribe him to study. Jobs tested so well, however, that administrators wanted to skip him ahead to high school—a proposal his parents declined.

As the mother of an adopted child — we got a toddler from Africa over a year ago — it’s always very touching to see adopted children grow up and do such amazing things. Adoption changed the course of Steve Jobs’ life, and — consequently — the course of our nation and our world.

Sesame Street Tells a Fib . . . About Hunger



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Sesame Street will unveil a new character named Lily on October 9, and she has a problem: She’s hungry! As the Grio reports:

Sesame Street’s new character Lily is a “food Insecure” puppet whose family struggles with hunger issues. The hot pink puppet with a purple nose and turquoise eyelids will make her debut in a PBS special called Growing Hope Against Hunger. The hour-long show will tackle the societal issue of hunger among low- and moderate-income families in the US. And with the USDA reporting that nearly one in four American families have limited access to affordable and nutritious food, the timing of the special is especially relevant.

Although Lily is just the latest politically charged plot to come out of Sesame Street, the problem with this storyline is that it is absolutely false. In fact, Lily’s lucky to be “poor” in this country. Sesame Street would be wiser to educate America’s children about the real poor and hungry — the 98 percent of the world population who live outside the United States.

The truth is, 94.3 percent of American households are able to put enough food on the table every day to feed their families. And despite the grim “facts” and figures thrown around by children’s television programs, celebrity spokespersons, and the mainstream media, the vast majority of children living in America are healthy and well fed. 

The facts about hunger in America really aren’t that alarming — certainly not alarming enough to warrant a whole new Sesame Street character!

In fact, American kids have it pretty good. As I wrote on NRO back in January, the idiom “food insecure” — a term created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — means one has either “reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet” or “disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.”

So, far from hungry or starving, Lily suffers from a much less dramatic condition — unpleasant to be sure, but at its core, just a somewhat boring, irregular, and occasionally reduced diet.

Of course, what will likely be absent from Sesame Street’s lessons on “food insecurity” are the various federal, state, and local welfare programs for which Lily’s parents qualify: food stamps, WIC, free school meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner!) as well as all the charitable services provided to families in need, such as food banks and church-run food assistance. 

Of course, I don’t really think my preschooler needs to learn about the welfare system in the U.S., but then, I also don’t want them being told lies about hunger in America. He’s already worried to death about the polar bears!

— Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Wu-rrying About School Lunches



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The identity of the woman behind the popular blog Fed Up with Lunch has been revealed. Launched in 2010, the hitherto-anonymous blog detailed Chicago public-elementary-school teacher Sarah Wu’s impressive efforts to eat a school lunch every day for a year.

Ms. Wu would post daily photos of the meals alongside amusing descriptions. In an interview with USA Today, Wu discussed her soon-to-be-released book based on the blog and explained that “with the blog, I really wanted a public record of these meals that I couldn’t believe were being served to kids.

I’m very happy for Ms. Wu. After enduring school food for a year (think chicken nuggets, luke-warm pizza, and canned green beans), the woman deserves a pat on the back and a book deal. Yet I can’t help but wonder why Ms. Wu “couldn’t believe these meals were being served to kids.”

Let’s all just take a step back here and try to remember where this food is being served — at school — a government-run institution staffed by nice ladies with little to no professional chef’s training, let alone actual culinary degrees.

Still, I’m glad Ms. Wu engaged in this ambitious project and started this blog. It’s informative and parents really should take a look at what their kids are eating and perhaps react the way Ms. Wu did: with a collective “ewwww!” But I remain a bit baffled by all the shock and awe at Ms. Wu’s blog.  Shouldn’t it be pretty obvious that the meals served to elementary-school children wouldn’t be appealing to a 34-year-old woman? I’m certainly not interested in eating my four-year-old son’s favorite meal of plain noodles, buttered bread, and applesauce.  

But I’m also disappointed with Ms. Wu’s predictable solution to the so-called “problem” of unhealthy (or at the very least, undesirable) school lunches.  Discussing these school meals, Wu made the dramatic statement that what is being served to kids in schools amounts to a “nationwide nutrition crisis.”

Nutrition crisis? Oh please. Surely Ms. Wu — one of our nation’s educators — knows about the real nutrition crisis occurring in places like India, China, and all over Africa. Of course these terms are thrown around quite freely these days and not just by Ms. Wu. 

Ms. Wu then went on to say children “need the best food we can give them. The “we” to whom she refers is, of course, “we the people,” the taxpayers, the citizens of this country. To Ms. Wu, and her fans in the White House, it is the collective responsibility of the American citizen, not the individual responsibility of parents, to feed children. 

In fairness, Ms. Wu does have a section of her blog dedicated to home-packed lunches, though they look a bit fussy and time-consuming in my “you’ll eat what I give you!” opinion (think: bento box rather than brown bag). But lunch for your kid doesn’t have to be ambitious or even pretty; it simply has to contain what you consider healthy food for your kids that they will actually eat.

Ms. Wu has a unique opportunity to encourage parents to take a greater role in their children’s nutrition. One hopes she won’t simply use her bully pulpit to call for more taxpayer dollars for an already grossly bloated and mismanaged school-lunch program.

Apparently, Ms. Wu got the idea for her blog when she didn’t have time to pack her own lunch and bought a school lunch instead. So horrified by the contents of this lunch (a hot dog, tater tots, a Jell-O cup, and chocolate milk), she felt compelled to act. 

Hopefully, parents who visit Ms. Wu’s blog will be similarly put off by the meals she describes and compelled to their own act of packing their kid a lunch.  

— Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Watching The Kennedys with My Daughter



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Forget the Obamas, the Kennedys are the stylish Democrats now.

Forty-seven years ago, Jacqueline Kennedy was interviewed on tape. It was soon after her husband’s assassination, and she talked candidly about many topics and influential people, including Charles de Gaulle and Martin Luther King. Recently, these interviews, called Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, were released, coinciding with ABC-aired television specials depicting the black-and-white glamor and football-tossing fun of Kennedy life. 

But these images stood in stark contrast to the depiction of the family in another Kennedy media event, an eight-part miniseries you probably didn’t see. The Kennedys was produced by the co-creator of 24, Joel Surnow, (a conservative) and screenwriter Stephen Kronish (a liberal). The $30 million series was based on a screenplay approved by A&E Television Networks (AETN) and scheduled to debut on the History Channel. The Hollywood Reporter notes that the Kennedy family used the release of the audio recordings to stop the miniseries from being prominently aired:

AETN is owned by a consortium including the Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal and Hearst. The source said that Disney/ABC Television Group topper Anne Sweeney, who serves on the AETN board and is said to hold tremendous sway over its decisions, was personally lobbied by Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy. Caroline Kennedy has a book deal with Disney’s Hyperion publishing division, which announced in April 2010 that it will publish a collection of previously unreleased interviews with the late Jackie Kennedy timed to the 50th anniversary of the first year of JFK’s presidency this fall.

Apparently, the family believed the miniseries portrayed them in a negative light, which — coupled with the maneuvering to keep it off the air — was enough to pique my interest. My daughter and I found the series, which went on to win four Emmys, on Netflix. Each episode was both dramatic and straightforward about the famous Kennedy flaws. We used the episodes to learn more about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the lobotomy that Joe Kennedy forced on his daughter, and the family’s connection to Frank Sinatra. (Oddly, Ted Kennedy was left on the cutting-room floor, but one has to assume that the producers had to make some tough choices in order to tell the story in eight parts.)

So when the Jackie Kennedy audio recordings became available, we watched those ABC specials too and smiled when we heard Jackie articulate some of the feelings of the time about the role of a proper lady. (My daughter and I particularly were struck by her statement that all of her political opinions came from her husband, though Caryl Rivers does a nice job of explaining how the former first lady’s conventional attitudes about marriage and women’s social roles evolved as she aged and matured.)

And after all the recent media, I still can’t get too excited about that family or the supposedly better time of American history they represent. In fact, it’s very illuminating that Democrats consider this far-from-perfect family their Platonic ideal, in spite of all of their very public character flaws. In one episode, Joe Kennedy ordered a prefrontal lobotomy on his daughter without his wife’s consent or knowledge. The scene where Rose sees her for the first time after the surgery, which left her permanently incapacitated, was so chilling that my daughter looked at me and said, “This is the best the Democrats have to offer?”

In other words, you don’t have to be a wistful Kennedy fan to use the recordings and the miniseries to talk to your kids about politics, history, and marriage. However, note that the miniseries might not be suitable for younger children. Though it does not have sexual scenes, it does (obviously) allude to infidelities and affairs, and it has some language your kids would get in trouble for using at school.  If you don’t have Netflix and don’t want to purchase the DVD, the Reelz channel will re-air The Kennedy miniseries on November 6.

The Character of a Queen



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Colette Moran has a beautiful blog post about high-school-homecoming queens.

Like me, she went to an all-girls high school, so the whole homecoming phenomenon is a bit foreign to us. But Moran has daughters in public high school now — and one of them is dating a boy who is a homecoming-king contender — so this world is becoming more familiar in her household, giving her a new-found appreciation of it all.

But you don’t have to have a king or queen in your home to appreciate the young women she points to. They model and inspire royal character.

Meet Brianna Amat, soccer star and queen, who knowsyou don’t have to compromise your talents or your femininity.”

And meet Mariah Slick, 2011 Azle High School homecoming queen. Mariah is also an athlete, bursting with school spirit. She was also born with Down Syndrome. The odds are statistically high that Mariah wouldn’t have gotten a chance to live beyond an initial pre-natal diagnosis. Her school sounds plenty happy she did. 

Mrs. Slick tells a local reporter: “For the kids in the school to love Mariah and nominate her, I feel so blessed and so honored.”

The choice Mariah’s parents made to welcome their daughter into the world is a blessing to everyone who clicks on her homecoming story.

When Marriage Becomes Going Steady



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Marriage needs help — cultural, financial, moral. So what does one Mexico City lawmaker suggest? Taking it less seriously! Via USA Today

 

Some Mexico City lawmakers are proposing “renewable” marriage contracts instead of lifetime commitments so that newlyweds could avoid the often torturous process of divorce.

Under the proposal, couples planning marriage would decide on the length of their commitment, with the minimum contract being for two years.

If they decide not to renew the contract, they would be able to opt out without a legal hassle, Reuters reports.

“The proposal is, when the two-year period is up, if the relationship is not stable or harmonious, the contract simply ends,” says the bill’s co-author, Leonel Luna of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, Reuters reports. The party holds a majority of the assembly’s 66 seats.

Reuters says that around half of Mexico City marriages end in divorce, usually in the first two years.

‘Spouses need not be alike to make a marriage work’



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Kathleen Gallagher writes about “Reconciling Irreconcilable Differences.”

Is Men’s Stagnation Good News for Women?



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According to feminist logic, women are supposed to root for the wage gap—that’s the term for the statistic difference between what the median working men and media working women earn—to close. I’ve written before about how the different decisions men and women make about work (professions, specialties, time spent at work, etc) drive differences in earnings.

Women should also take a look at Figure 2 from this Census Bureau report (h/t TaxProf Blog). It shows that in real terms, women’s median wages have increased by roughly 30 percent since 1975, while men’s have stagnated, or even declined slightly.

Why aren’t the ladies breaking out the champagne when shown this great news about how women are catching up to men? Because women outside of academia’s liberal enclaves know that they aren’t better off when their husbands, sons, and brothers earn less.

This brought back to mind the Washington Post’s 2004 headline “Female Athletes Continue to Gain Ground,” which cheered how America was sending nearly equal numbers of men and women to the summer Olympics that year. The U.S. had 282 men and 263 women representing our country in 2004, while in 2000, there were 338 male and 267 female Olympians. So actually fewer women went to Athens in 2004, but because male U.S. athletes suffered at even worse drop off (our baseball team failed to make the cut in 2004), this was supposedly great progress for women.  

This may be feminists’ vision of progress, but I’m sure most American women would disagree. We want the men in our lives to have good, paying jobs (as well as success in the sports arena), just as we want success for women.  

Not Letting Garbage into Your Own Home or onto Your Barley Field



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There’s been a lot of talk about not letting people say and do things on television that you wouldn’t let them say or do if they were real people walking into your home. Why let the profanity and vulgarity into your living room through The X Factor, for example, if you don’t normally allow your children to be exposed to it at school or in the community?

Well, a farmer named Alan Graham had a chance to take a stand against the indecency of the entertainment industry on his own property. After agreeing to let the singer Rihanna use his muddy barley field for a video shoot, he realized it had gotten out of hand.

Mr. Graham, 61, was riding his tractor when he realized the singer had taken off her dress to reveal a bikini. The Examiner said that “the sight became too much for Mr Graham’s Christian beliefs and he politely asked the filming to stop.”  

Mr. Graham, who hadn’t heard of the singer before being approached for use of his property, calmly dealt with the situation which could have been very awkward. “I don’t want to say what I said to Rihanna or what she said to me. We had a conversation. We shook hands and parted company on good terms.”

Do Blue States Have Higher Divorce Rates?



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Why I Watch Reality Television with My Kids



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After “Putting the X in the X Factor,” I got some mail suggesting that I just turn the television off instead of watching these reality-television shows with my kids. But there I sat on Monday night, watching The Sing Off, and we witnessed a touching, redemptive moment.

My oldest two kids — who are all about-Africa ever since we traveled there to adopt a little girl — were excited to see a group of singers called Messiah’s Men from Liberia.  I guess you can tell by their name that they are a gospel group, specifically an “Afro-centric” gospel group.  Following a group that sang Katy Perry’s “Extraterrestrial,” they sang about faith –  a topic they knew a great deal about. These men met in Liberia and left Africa to make a better life for themselves in America. They’ve been together for eight years, made two albums, toured the United States, and received numerous awards in the gospel world.

Of course, they got voted off.

However, this is just one of many great moments on these shows that I’m not ready to give up. They are stories I want my children to see.

We’re moved by their tear-jerking stories and jaw-dropping talent. They are just normal people who are able to touch us with their melodies and inspire us with their stories. As Rebecca Cusey wrote, describing last season’s auditioners on American Idol, these are “people who make us realize that although Hollywood makes great stories, fiction can never match the beauty and heroism of reality.”

For example:

Adrienne Beasley is an African-American child of white parents growing up in Kentucky. It wasn’t easy. But, as her mom says, “I just see Adrienne as Adrienne. She’s just ours.” Dad? Well, he’s “tickled.”

When Paris Tassin got pregnant at 18, her doctor told her the child might not survive and recommended she terminate the pregnancy. She kept forward with the pregnancy. Kiera, her daughter, has some problems with hearing, but is the reason she sings and “is the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life.”

James Durbin’s dad was a musician who died of a drug overdose when he was nine. He’s been diagnosed with Tourette’s and Asperger’s, but when he sings “it all just goes away. I don’t have a care in the world.”

Chris Medina promised to marry the love of his life, but she was hurt in an accident. He stays by her side even though her injuries are devastating.

And don’t get even get me started on The Biggest Loser. Sometimes reality television shows us Americans at their best. And as long as I’ve got DVR and the ability to fast forward through most of the filth, we’re going to be right here with a Kleenex box at our side.

Chemical Warfare



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Last week, an advocacy organization called the Breast Cancer Fund released a report claiming that “there is a toxic chemical lurking in your child’s Campbell’s Disney Princess soup, in her Chef Boyardee pasta with meatballs, even in her organic Annie’s cheesy ravioli.”

Oh brother!

#more#These alarming claims seem commonplace now. Earlier this month, Oprah protégée Dr. Oz dedicated an entire show to scaring the heck out of parents by claiming there are dangerous levels of arsenic in apple juice. Of course, what Dr. Oz failed to mention is that there are two kinds of arsenic — the bad one (you know, the Cary-Grant-Arsenic-and-Old-Lace-smells-like-almonds-you’re-being-poisoned-type arsenic) and the perfectly harmless, naturally occurring arsenic, which is found in many foods and is perfectly fine for human consumption. Of course, the truth really can be a bummer — particularly when a daytime talk-show host is trying to get higher ratings.

The Breast Cancer Fund’s report is similarly dramatic, playing fast and loose with the facts. The report states that the “toxic chemical” Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in the lining of canned foods “leaches into the food and is then consumed by adults and children alike.” To illustrate this leaching, the Breast Cancer Fund sent a selection of canned goods to a laboratory for analysis. Sure enough, the results came back showing BPA had indeed leached into the food. The amount of BPA in the tested foods ranged from a high of 148 to just 10 parts per billion (ppb).

Yet, what the Breast Cancer Fund failed to do in its shiny new eight-page report, replete with pictures of smiling children eating canned food, is explain what these levels actually mean. While a number like 148 ppb might sound like a lot of BPA, it really isn’t when you consider that currently, the European Union sets 600 ppb as the daily limit of safe consumption for BPA and that the European Food Safety Agency has proposed to increase that level to 3,000 ppb per day.

In fact, the safety of BPA has been known for some time. In 2002, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) examined the average person’s dietary intake of BPA and found the total intake from all food sources (including the lining in canned foods), was in the range of 0.00048 to 0.0016 milligrams per kilogram body weight per day, far below the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) set by the SCF of 0.01 milligrams per kilogram body weight per day.

Yet, somehow this reassuring study didn’t make it into the Breast Cancer Fund’s report. In fact, the report doesn’t even mention “tolerable daily intake” which shows that this report has an agenda other than just informing the public. 

The report then goes on to say that because their lab results show these foods did contain some amount of BPA, that eating canned foods “beyond a single serving on a regular basis could lead to exposure to levels of BPA that have been associated with abnormalities in breast development and increased risk of developing breast cancer, and adverse effects on brain development, reproductive development, prostate weight, testis weight, puberty onset, body weight, metabolic immune system functions, and gender-related behaviors including aggression and some social behaviors.”

Yikes! Cancer, brain development, and reproductive problems. Geez, these sound really scary. And they are . . . if you’re a rat residing in a cage in a laboratory.

The “studies” cited in this irresponsible report were conducted on rats who were injected with BPA and received much higher doses than are consumed by eating a few servings of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup.

In fact, of the seven studies the report cites, only one was done on humans, and was conducted on cells extracted from women at high risk of developing cancer. In this study, the researchers actually “introduced” the donor’s “high-risk . . . breast epithelial cells to BPA in concentrations that are detectable in human blood, placenta and milk.” In other words, the cells were directly injected with a massive dose of BPA. Luckily for us, the canned food industry isn’t stabbing us in the arm with a syringe-full of BPA.

Of course, the handwringers at the Breast Cancer Fund missed another study released just this year by a team of scientists from U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. In this study, actual humans volunteered to eat a diet with higher levels of BPA than is normally consumed by the average American. The volunteers’ blood and urine was then collected and analyzed. The results showed that in the majority of samples, no BPA was detected.

FDA scientists Ronald J. Lorentzen and David G. Hattan recently wrote about the tendency of these organizations to ignore the important issue of “dose” in order to drive home their scientifically inaccurate point. In the online journal Nature, the scientists explained that “[V]irtually every situation or substance is hazardous under some conditions, or at some dose, and to refer to hazard (detection) alone paints a profoundly deficient portrait of risk to the public.” In other words, even your sweet grandmother’s homemade rice pudding will also kill you…if you eat two tons of it.

Not surprising, the Breast Cancer Fund report failed to mention the many other studies that have shown that BPA poses no risk to humans (h/t Michael Fumento at Openmarkets.org). In the United States, the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency have consistently stated that BPA is safe as used. A 2006 review by the European Union’s Food Safety Authority has declared PBA safe, as did a 2007 review by Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. In 2008, the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety examined claims of neurotoxicity in BPA but found the chemical to be safe. That same year, an evaluation by the French Food Safety Agency, a risk assessment by NSF International, and a study by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment each declared BPA to be safe. In 2009, BPA was deemed safe by a survey of canned drink products by Health Canada, a risk assessment by Food Standards Australia/New Zealand, and a modeling study of BPA in humans by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment.

BPA has been blamed for everything from obesity to autism to erectile dysfunction in Chinese men. It’s also now being accused of poisoning our children.

The Breast Cancer Fund claims it “works to connect the dots between breast cancer and exposures to chemicals and radiation in our everyday environments.” This study fails miserably to connect cancer or any other disease to BPA. But looking at the headlines that have accompanied this report (“More Worries About BPA” and “BPA Found In Kid-Friendly Canned Food”), they’ve succeeded in one small area: scaring the holy heck out of parents doing their best in tough times to nourish their families.

— Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

America’s Got Transvestites: Putting the X in X Factor



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What can families watch together anymore?

If you judge by the commercials, there are a number of good talent-based options. America’s Got Talent indicates that it’s a family-friendly show geared toward finding diamonds in the rough. The new X Factor is advertised as a place where the under-employed and under-appreciated can finally get a chance to shine. The Sing Off is just like the others, but without instruments.

Indeed, families who sit down with a bowl of popcorn around the television will get the feel-good stories Americans have always loved. On the season premiere of X Factor, a 28-year-old garbage man took the stage after the audience heard his terrible story of drug addiction. He’d only been sober 70 days when he confessed that he wanted to be the type of man of whom his son could be proud. When he launched into his own original song called “Young Homie,” it seemed as if it could be an immediate hit — touching, poignant, and inspirational. He and other contestants fulfilled all of the categories necessary to tug at the heartstrings: bad childhood, single parent, drug addiction, cruddy job, jaw-dropping talent.

But amidst all of these Susan Boyle–type stories are moments that make you wish your kids weren’t in the room.  For example, Seattle contestant Geo Godley dropped his pants during his terrible song (about emulating Bill Clinton?) with a big “X” blocking out his private parts. Paula Abdul left the stage and vomited, Nicole Scherzinger looked horrified, the awesome L.A. Reid said it was “disgusting, upsetting, and offensive,” and Simon asked him “what the bloody hell” that was. The Parents Television Council agreed with their sentiments. PTC President Tim Winter wrote, “If Godley performed his act in public, he would have been arrested. But if he performs it in front of a Fox camera, his act is beamed via the public airwaves into every home in the nation.”

In fact, the cameras did show at least one mother pulling her two daughters out of the theater. 

Is that mother the most sane person in America?

But strange sexual moments on shows rated “TV-PG” for families are very common. On the last season of the a cappella show The Sing Off, one judge demonstrated that she liked a performance by exclaiming, “Shawn over here was having a musical orgasm.” And after watching a few episodes of America’s Got Talent with the kids, I renamed it “America’s Got Transvestites” because of their constant parade of homosexual cross dressers. A bunch of friends came over after Wednesday-night church service to watch the last season of American Idol, and we agreed to fast-forwarding through the raunchy parts. Not only did it make the show considerably shorter, it allowed us to skip the Victoria’s Secret commercials, and Lady Gaga’s risqué rendition of “Edge of Glory” where she writhed in sexually suggestive moves atop a fake cliff on top of a half-naked man.

Are gay men wearing high heels pole-dancing onstage the worst thing in the world? Hardly. But when it happened on America’s Got Talent, it didn’t feel related to any particular talent or American quality we should celebrate.

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