Adoption in Russia: Babies? No. Dogs? Yes.

by Greg Pollowitz

Americans still can’t adopt babies from Russia, but if you’re visiting Sochi for the Olympics, why not take a few dogs home with you? Via ABC News:

An animal rights group is giving advice to Americans visiting Sochi, Russia, on how to adopt one of city’s stray dogs – which the government sought to kill ahead of the Olympics.

Humane Society International advises visitors on its website to check with the Centers for Disease Control to confirm what shots dogs need before being entering the U.S., then consult with a local vet in Russia and finally contact the airline about its policies relating to traveling with a new pet.

Hundreds of dogs have been culled in a government effort to rid the Olympics of strays. Several animal rights groups have condemned the practice, and a Russian billionaire has paid to spare the lives of many animals and remove them to local kennels.

HSI recommends three shelters at which to find strays for adoptions and lists five local vets.

The group says it could cost travelers at least $150 to make accommodations with the airlines, some of which require dogs to be shipped with cargo.

The rest here.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Thoughts on Christ

by Nancy French

Over on The Corner, Ben Shapiro talks about the untimely death of Philip Seymour Hoffman:

… His self-inflicted death is yet another hallmark of the broken leftist culture that dominates Hollywood, enabling rather than preventing the loss of some of its greatest talents. Libertarianism becomes libertinism without a cultural force pushing back against the penchant for sin; Hollywood has no such cultural force. In fact, the Hollywood demand is for more self-abasement, less spirituality, less principle, less standards. No one knows what sort of demons plagued Seymour Hoffman. But without a sound moral structure around those in Hollywood who have every financial and talent advantage, the path to destruction is far too easy.

I came across an article by Jeffrey Overstreet which touches a bit on Hoffman’s thoughts about Christ after his sister became an Evangelical Christian. “If you read anything about Philip Seymour Hoffman this week,” writes Overstreet, “read this, by the insightful and inspiring Fr. James Martin, SJ: “The Gospel According to Philip Seymour Hoffman.” 

His perspective changed when one of his two sisters became active in a Christian evangelical movement, to which she still belongs today. She encouraged her brother to accompany her to meetings with her friends, and Phil went along happily. “There was something that was so heartfelt and emotional,” he said. “Nothing about it felt crazy at all. And my sister was certainly the sanest person you could ever meet. It all felt very real, very guttural, even rebellious.”

The idea that a young person could be sane, generous, intelligent and Christian held out great appeal for him. So did the palpable sense of community he felt with his sister and her friends. Still, he held back from the total commitment that his sister made. “It was a little too much for me,” he said. “And by that time I was more into partying and acting.”

So Phil, who describes himself as a believer and someone who prays from time to time, carried this positive approach to Christianity with him into the Public Theater during the rehearsals for the new play about Jesus and Judas. “My time with my sister and her circle of friends is something I still think about today.” He noted that he is often defensive about the way that many actors react to the idea of evangelical Christians. Is there a bias, I asked, against that kind of person in the acting community?

“Absolutely!” he said. “It pisses me off that there is this knee-jerk reaction against them. There is certainly an antipathy against them in the acting world, just like there is an antipathy in the politically liberal world. And, as a result, the liberal Christian is not heard from as much. And, you know, a liberal person who has a deep belief in Christianity can be a very powerful influence on things.”

His natural curiosity also prompted a desire for further study of the Gospel narratives. Consequently, Phil was sometimes the most animated person at the table readings at the Public Theater, especially when we talked about Jesus of Nazareth. “My image of Jesus is someone who is exciting,” he said after the show had closed. Though that word is too infrequently used to describe Jesus, I agreed with him.

“Were he alive today, he would be causing havoc!”

A Pediatrician’s Argument for Vaccines

by Colette Moran

It’s getting scarier as childhood diseases that had been held at bay through vaccinations are now making a comeback. Whooping cough (pertussis) cases alone reached a fifty-year high in 2012. More and more we hear heartbreaking stories from parents who have lost an infant to pertussis. 

Doctors are not taking this lightly. Listen to what one pediatrician had to say about declining new patients who have not been vaccinated:

No contemporary phenomenon confounds and confuses me more than seemingly sensible people turning down one of the most unambiguously helpful interventions in the history of modern medicine…

I always ask [parents of potential new patients] if the children are vaccinated, or if the parents intend to vaccinate once the child is born. If the answer is no, I politely and respectfully tell them we won’t be the right fit. We don’t accept patients whose parents won’t vaccinate them. 

It’s not simply that we think these beliefs are wrong. Declining vaccines is, at best, misguided. But of course those inclined to refuse them don’t agree with me, and I’m not going to try to change their minds. I’ve had too many of that kind of conversation over the years to hold out hope that anything I can say will sway them.

And that is precisely the problem, in this doctor’s book. 

I have no doubt that these parents love their children immensely and are making what they believe to be the best decisions for them. I don’t dispute that. But any potential partnership we might create in caring for them together would rely on their belief that I have something other than a signature on an order form or prescription pad to offer.

They must believe I have a perspective worth understanding.

I often wonder why a parent who believes vaccines are harmful would want to bring their children to a medical doctor at all. After all, for immunizations to be as malign as their detractors claim, my colleagues and I would have to be staggeringly incompetent, negligent or malicious to keep administering them.

Read more here.

The Left’s War on Conservative Women Contd.

by Colette Moran

While the Left is wringing their hands over how poor Wendy Davis is being questioned regarding discrepancies in her bio — that she herself put out there — they find no problem attacking conservative women for, well, simply having conservative principles.

MSNBC writers and tweeters posit that the “right wing” broadly and uniquely bears hatred for multiracial families.

MSNBC host Alex Wagner might have meant no ill will when she asked of GOP congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers “where’s the needlepoint,” but imagine if a conservative host had asked that about a Democratic woman. And there’s no real innocent interpretation of NY Times editor Andrew Rosenthal calling Rodgers a “Stepford” wife.

It’s not hard to see a theme here: New York liberals holding conservative women in disdain. I’ve seen that Rosenthal mindset plenty: the assumption that a woman who holds conservative views does so only because she has had her brain removed and reprogrammed by manipulative men.

Can you relate to this one? Have you been treated at times as if you must have been seduced by a Svengali who stripped your ability to make decisions?

I’ll admit that it was my husband who opened my eyes to conservative economic policies.That meant steering me to the long list of studies and evidence that supported them, not fooling or charming me into forgetting what I had heard for so many years from the Left. I had already seen through so many of their fallacies thanks to their contradictory abortion stance.

But as the um, unenlightened, article from a couple weeks ago by Amy Glass entitled “I Look Down on Young Women with Husbands and Kids and I’m Not Sorry” illustrates: It’s not just having conservative beliefs that the Left finds necessary to attack. Living a life that doesn’t emulate Sex in the City or Girls –  not caring about wild oats and not pursuing a career they find valid before we “arrange” our lives to fit in a single child (two at most!) – is to be disdained.

Feminism should include supporting the very important job of motherhood. Too many radical feminists don’t get what successful entrepreneur-turned-stay-at-home-mom Julia Forshee said in a response to Glass:

You talk about major accomplishments. I can tell you that all the sales goals that I hit were immediately forgotten the next month when the new goals rolled out. My children however will be greatly influenced by my everyday actions and will be remembered long into the future…

I don’t care about feminism. I don’t need to push a cause. I need to make the best decisions I can with where I’m at. Do I miss getting paid monetarily well for what I do? Absolutely. Do I miss the mental challenge and adult interaction? Absolutely. Do I miss getting to leave work and be done with work? Absolutely. But, I chose to get married and have children, and I am choosing to put the same energy and dedication into this job that I would if I were getting paid $200,000 a year to reach sales goals. You may not make the same decision. Again, that’s ok. 

As my children grow, and when my children graduate from high school and college, they can look back and understand what I “sacrificed” to be with them. I loved them so much I wanted to be with them. Not because I couldn’t figure out how to have a “real accomplishment,” but because I chose to make them my accomplishment for this time of my life. It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

Could it be an insecurity about certain choices that makes the Left feel they have to attack, rather than just acknowledge it as different? Hmm . . .

Ending ‘Rape Culture’ with ‘Consent Panties’?

by Greg Pollowitz

I’m not sure sexy underwear is the best way to end the “rape culture” on college campuses, but what do I know? I did my part to end “rape culture” the old-fashioned way and told my eleven-year-old son if he ever did anything to hurt a woman when he grew up, he could rot in jail. His mom and I added we’d even testify against him. But, sure, give the undies a shot, too:

Oh, and I’m doing my best to make sure my daughter ends “rape culture” as well. She’ll be a black-belt in Taekwondo by the time she’s eight and is competing in a sparring competition this weekend. 

How to Be Rich: a Review of Andy Stanley’s New Book

by Nancy French

My dad, the son of a coal miner, grew up in the Tennessee mountains in a two room house with seven brothers and sisters. He used an outhouse, didn’t have a toothbrush until he was fifteen, quit high school six times, and never graduated. To escape the poverty of the mountain, he lied about his age, created a new identity (complete with a new, older-sounding name) and joined the Marines at 15. On his first day there, he got to eat a steak in the mess hall – the first time in his life he didn’t still feel hungry after eating.

He later got a GED and graduated from college in his fifties. In a way, my dad’s story became my story, and I grew up with an appreciation of hard work, the opportunities of capitalism, and the discipline military life provided.

As an adult, I carried the story in my heart, that my family comes from poverty, but (because of my dad’s hard work and the grace of God) overcame it. When I married someone who had graduated from Harvard Law School, it felt particularly poignant. 

I was thankful. I moved away from Tennessee — to New York, then Philly, Kentucky, and back to my home state. Over the years, my husband and I had two kids and many adventures. Three years ago, David and I decided to add to our family of four through adoption. So, we packed up our two kids and went to Ethiopia. In order to meet the grandmother of our new daughter, we had to take a five hour drive from Addis Ababa. The trip was long and windy. Our van sped within inches of disabled people laying in the road, narrowly missing their prone bodies.

“Wait! Was that a person?” I gasped, looking back into the street at the body.

“It’s okay,” our driver said. “She is . . .” He made a motion to indicate the person we’d almost run over, the person in the middle of the street, was mentally disabled. The message was clear: Her life meant nothing.  I looked out the window and saw beggars dragging their bodies through the streets.  One man had tennis shoes tied to his elbows and was crawling, pulling himself across the dirt road. We saw kids who’d never seen running water, starvation, shriveled bodies, death.

Suddenly, my perspective changed, and I had a new “story.”  Here’s the new version:

My dad was fortunate enough to be born into one of the richest countries of the world. As one of seven children of a coal miner, he was able to take advantage of amazing economic opportunities and a strong military which trained him in the ways of the world and fed him nourishing food. We lived in a big house he built from scratch, on acres of beautiful, wooded land. Our family was wealthy beyond imagination, and has only become more wealthy.

See the difference? Being “rich” is so relative.

Pastor Andy Stanley, in his great new book, How to Be Rich: It’s Not What You Have, It’s What You Do with What You Have, talks about how to be rich, not how to get rich. Why? Because you already are rich. Everyone has heard those statistics about how living in America is like winning the lottery. However, we never feel this, because “the rich person” is the one who has more than we do. It’s all relative. Stanley points out that Gallup did a poll about quantifying wealth. People who make $50 thousand per year believe that “rich people” make $100 thousand. Those who make $200 thousand believe true wealth begins at $400 thousand. And so on and so on. That makes the definition of “rich” simply “more than what I have.”

“Therein lies the problem,” Stanley writes. “Rich is the other guy. Rich is that other family. Rich isn’t just having extra. Rich is having as much extra as the person who has more extra than you do. Rich is having more than you currently have.”

In other words, people who are rich almost never feel wealthy, just as bone-thin anorexics don’t feel skinny.

Stanley’s book offers a nice perspective about how what we call poverty today “would’ve been considered middle class just a few generations ago.” Now, the average “poor family” has amenities rivaling middle-class families of the 1970s — air conditioners, microwaves, and color TVs.  As a Federal Reserve economist said, “the rich may have gotten a little richer, but the poor have gotten much richer.”

In other words, if you’re reading National Review on your laptop while sitting in a coffee shop drinking a non-fat latte, you’re rich. Neither false humility nor a denial of this fact helps you deal with your relative wealth in a healthy manner.

That’s where Stanley’s book comes in. The subsequent chapters, anecdotal and breezy, explain how to be good at being rich. If you are like most Americans, you aren’t doing “rich” well. (No judgments — when my attorney husband left for war, we had $70,000 worth of debt. We weren’t pulling it off too well either.) Stanley offers practical solutions to solve the problem of being an inept wealthy person. Lessons include how to own your money without it owning you, how to be generous even in your current circumstances, how to prepare your kids for their inheritance, and why you should increase your percentage of giving as your income increases. 

In an interesting story, Stanley tells how Bill Gates traveled to India and discussed health care and poverty in a small hut with an impoverished woman. After he left, through a translator, a journalist asked if she realized she was just speaking to one of the richest men in the world. Unfazed, she responded that everyone from the West is rich. She sees us as all the same.

Being rich is a big responsibility. What are you going to do with your money?  

Wendy Davis: When the Truth Is Not Enough

by Nancy French

“Where were you born?” Every few months, I sit across the table from a new client with a recording device. “Let’s start from the beginning,” I say, after pouring a cup of coffee and settling in to hear their story. I’m a “ghostwriter,” or – as some prefer to say — a “celebrity collaborator.” That means I listen to the details of people’s lives and help form them into narrative, book form.

Over the course of my occupation so far, I’ve traveled over 12,000 miles and conducted interviews on a presidential-campaign bus, in an Olympic training center, in a Tex-Mex restaurant, and in a nail salon. Regardless of location, however, every book begins with questions designed to get to the heart of each person’s story.

Lately, I’ve wondered what it would be like to sit across from Wendy Davis.

Davis, as you may remember, is the Texas state senator who filibustered for abortion rights and was instantly catapulted into the Democratic stratosphere. She’s attempting to parlay her newfound fame into being her state’s first Democrat governor in almost 25 years. Her story of adversity, strife, and hard work has been a cornerstone of her campaign and fundraising.

Davis, we were told, was a divorced teen mother who worked her way from a trailer to Harvard through true grit and independence. What she claimed to be a “real Texas success story,” however, has turned out to be a bit more nuanced. Some of the details were wrong.

Davis divorced when she was 21, not 19 as she has claimed. She did live in a mobile home – her parents’ – but it was only for a few months until she found an apartment. Then she married a lawyer who was 13 years her senior. He paid for her last couple of years of college and her years at Harvard Law School. She divorced him the day after he paid the last bill. During the divorce, he accused her of adultery and received custody of their two children. Her husband said she claimed she said she “didn’t have time for children.”

Of course, she’s not alone in misrepresenting her story. Barack Obama’s memoir has many claims that turned out to be distortions, according to Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist David Maraniss, including:

• His claim that his grandfather – a cook in the British Army – was detained by the British in Kenya and tortured.

• The story of his dad’s stepfather being killed by Dutch soldiers as he fought for Indonesian independence.

• Obama’s claim that his father abandoned him when he was two years old.

• His complaint that upper-class Hawaiian girls wouldn’t date him.

And a character called Ray whom Obama called a symbol of “young blackness” was actually half Japanese, part native American, and part black. And he wasn’t a close friend of Obama’s.

If we’re truthful, many of us tell stories in ways that enhance our own reputations. Right?

Read the three reasons why I believe it’s so hard to tell one’s own story . . . honestly.

The More Parents Realize How Poorly Their Schools Perform . . .

by Colette Moran

. . . the more they want reform

Findings reveal that when respondents learn how their local schools rank in comparison to the performance of schools elsewhere in the state or in the nation as a whole, they become more supportive of school choice proposals, such as making school vouchers available to all families, expanding charter schools, and giving parents the power to trigger changes in their local school. Upon learning the rankings of their local public schools, Americans also give lower evaluations to these institutions, just as they express less confidence in and support for teachers.

And support for vouchers is not limited to low-income families.









There’s more here, including parents’ reactions to teacher compensation and the unions.

Encouraging Married Parenthood

by Colette Moran

The buzz generated by MTV’s show 16 and Pregnant may have played a part in the decrease of teenage pregnancies, although it may have also led to more abortions. (Though, the teen abortion rate overall is down.) Jessica Grose at Slate took issue with this finding, pointing out that two other MTV shows — Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2 — may have had a different effect. She argues that the young mothers involved with those two shows have attained such notoriety that teens may want to emulate them.

But perhaps the more important issue we should look at is the growing number of single mothers of all ages. We all want to support single mothers – recognizing their dedication and understanding that they could have made a different “choice.” Yet we still have to admit that children growing up without fathers — and fathers shirking their responsibilities — is a tragedy in our nation. What to do?

As the MTV shows indicate, pop culture is a tremendous influence. Going back a ways, while we all wanted to applaud Murphy Brown for choosing to have her baby, Matt K. Lewis has pointed out that it’s about time everyone just admitted that Dan Quayle was right — single parenthood is not the ideal. And everyone, including liberals, should do what they can to promote married parenthood.

This evinces a worldview which sees the arc of history bending in one direction (toward unwed mothers), which assumes that this is a fait accompli. As such, it presents the reader with a world in which liberals are confronting the tough, pragmatic problems of trying to “accommodate the decline of marriage,” while conservatives are tilting at windmills when they try to attack the root problem.

I’m left scratching my head, thinking: “Why not use this as an opportunity to champion reforms that might actually help solve the problem?” — “Why not be all contrarian and give a full-throated endorsement of Marco Rubio’s efforts here, arguing that liberals ought to support ending income inequality, even if it (gasp!) entails supporting culturally conservative policies?”

Ross Douthat admits that promoting marriage without cruelly shaming single parents is a fine line to walk, but doesn’t think it’s impossible:

It seems pretty obvious that there are forms of social pressure that don’t amount to “cruel shunning” and “deliberate cruelty,” but that shape people’s behavior in meaningful ways nonetheless. I think you can see this…in the way that elite culture subtly disfavors out-of-wedlock childbearing and divorce (especially divorce while the kids are young) among the college-educated upper class. In neither case are people who violate these soft norms being ruthlessly excluded from society or deliberately punished by policymakers. But in both cases there’s a gentler kind of stigma at work, one that mixes sympathy with disapproval, a promise of tolerance with a warning of negative life consequences, and that seems to have had some real effect on people’s choices without requiring vicious ostracism or abuse.

Now I’ll concede that the soft social pressure on these fronts would probably have to become more explicitly moralistic to influence the deeper trend toward non-marital childbearing, and I tend toward pessimism about the likelihood of that actually happening, given the social-libertarian drift of both political coalitions. But I still think it’s wrong to suggest….we face a stark choice between totally empty pro-marriage rhetoric and cruelly patriarchal, Magdalen-laundry style treatment of unwed mothers. Rather, I think it’s pretty easy to imagine how pro-marriage rhetoric could play a role in rebuilding a non-punitive cultural consensus around the two-parent norm, one that shapes and channels behavior without treating outliers as the absolute worst of sinners. Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow … but given where we’re currently headed, I see nothing wrong with giving it a try.

Douthat goes on to suggest how we can make this a part of public policy.

Michelle Obama: ‘Never Say Never’ about Plastic Surgery

by Greg Pollowitz

Via CBS News:

Michelle Obama, who turns 50 later this week, isn’t ruling out using plastic surgery or Botox in the future.

“Women should have the freedom to do whatever they need to do to feel good about themselves,” the first lady told People magazine in an interview hitting newsstands Friday, her birthday. “Right now, I don’t imagine that I would go that route, but I’ve also learned to never say never.”

Her message to women is to be healthy. Mrs. Obama says she has never missed a health checkup, including mammograms and Pap smears. She’s also had a colonoscopy.

“I don’t obsess about what I eat, but I do make sure that I’m eating vegetables and fruit,” added Mrs. Obama. “And as everyone knows, I do exercise.” Her “Let’s Move” campaign to reduce childhood obesity rates through the combination of exercise and healthier eating enters its fifth year next month.

Her workouts have also evolved from weight-bearing and cardio exercises to include things like yoga that she says will help keep her flexible.

Asked whether she has peaked at 50, Mrs. Obama joked that being first lady is “pretty high up.” She said she’s always felt that her life is “ever-evolving” and she doesn’t have the right to “just sit on my talents or blessings.”

Weird. The message I’m trying to send to my seven-year-old daughter is that you don’t need to inject toxins into your face “to feel good” about yourself. So maybe I’m a feminist?

A Reminder to Be a Discerning Parent on the Internet

by Colette Moran

My goal is to be as informative as I can here on the Home Front, but if I were to review all my posts — well, once or twice I may have fallen into the trap that Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry warns about in “Almost Everything You Read about Parenting on the Internet is Wrong.”

The parenting stories that are all the rage have all the hallmarks of why our current bourgeoisie is insane. Here are a few:

  • A puritanical bourgeois view of success. The goal of education, if you read these stories, is for your children to have good grades, sit still, go to a good school, and have high lifetime income. That’s it… The idea that the goal of education should be the freedom and happiness of your adult child (let alone helping them grow into fellowship with, say, a deity) seems not to have occurred to anyone.
  • A purely mechanical view of being a parent. None of these actually describe being a parent and helping a child grow. What they describe is the mechanics of being a parent. At what time should the kids go to bed. How much allowance should you give them… The very word “parenting”, the neologism being currently used, enforces this view. This is parenthood-as-sex-manual… Yeah sure technique is fine but it’s not the heart of it.
  • A ridiculous pseudo-empiricism. …No parenting blog post is possible without citing A STUDY. Here’s the thing: there’s almost nothing that proves less than a parenting study because it is one of the fields where the causal density is the highest and where it is nigh impossible to isolate one potential cause from the others. The vast majority of parenting studies are just throwing darts on the wall, and the few that have some credibility merely corroborate common sense…

Read more here

Frozen’s Hidden Biblical Truth: Don’t Trust Your Heart

by Nancy French

A beautiful princess, an evil protagonist, melodic tunes, pretty gowns, and — yes – Prince Charming. Disney movies have always included certain staples. But Disney’s new movie Frozen has a striking Biblical truth that differentiates it from its predecessors. Frozen tells young viewers not to listen to their heart. Not “listening to your heart,” of course, flies in the face of advice children may receive in most other Disney flicks. Pinnochio’s “When You Wish Upon a Star” song dreamily tells us:

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you
If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do.

(In fact, this song has become such an iconic part of Disney’s lore that the first seven notes are used as the horn signals on their wonderful cruises.) To put an even finer point on it, Mulan’s “True to Your Heart” theme song has these lyrics:

Though you’re unsure why fight the tide
Don’t think so much, let your heart decide Y
ou must be true to your heart, that’s when the heavens will part…
Open your eyes.
Your heart can tell you no lies…
Why second-guess what feels so right?
Just trust your heart and you’ll see the light…

Wal-Mart even sells “Follow your heart” princess merchandise.

But  Disney’s newest movie, Frozenshows the natural consequence of following that ubiquitous advice.  (Warning: Spoilers!)

Bloomberg vs. de Blasio on NYC Public Education

by Greg Pollowitz

The New York Post has been covering a troubled elementary school in Queens, PS 106. The first story was published on Sunday, with a follow-up yesterday and an editorial today

The stories focus on the horrible conditions at the school while the school’s principal, Marcella Sills, is paid a $125,000+ salary and is seen frequently in fur coats and in a BMW. 

Here’s an excerpt from the Post’s editorial today hitting de Blasio for wanting to end Bloomberg’s policy of closing down allegedly failing schools like PS 106:

Bill de Blasio and Carmen Farina: Meet the test of your education policy.

It’s called PS 106 in Far Rockaway. And as The Post’s Susan Edelman laid out in horrific detail Sunday, it’s one of this city’s failure factories. So the question is: What do the mayor and his new schools chancellor intend to do about it?

Mike Bloomberg’s education policy wasn’t perfect, or PS 106 wouldn’t have fallen through the cracks as long as it did. But Bloomberg was pretty clear about what he wanted to do with failing schools: He wanted to close them down.

In sharp contrast, de Blasio campaigned hard against that policy, and presumably his new schools chancellor agrees.

So we’re eager to see what this means for PS 106. On Sunday, The Post characterized it as a “school of no”: no Common Core textbooks, no gym or art classes, no real library, no nurse’s office, no special-ed teachers, no substitute teachers. One parent says kindergartners sit in “dilapidated trailers that reek of animal urine.” And sources told The Post that the principal, Marcella Sills, is a frequent no-show.

But here’s the problem: PS 106 was not failing. Far from it, actually. That is, if you believe in the Bloomberg policy that gave letter grades to the schools. PS 106 was rated an A in 2011 and a B in 2012:

Maybe PS 106 “fell through the cracks” as the Post claims, but if that’s the case, PS 106 fell through the cracks for the very reason Bill de Blasio said a school like PS 106 would fall through the cracks. Here’s a NYT article from November explaining the de Blasio position:

Mr. de Blasio has denounced the letter grades, which were introduced in 2007, as blunt instruments that do not convey a nuanced portrait of a school’s strengths and weaknesses.

Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio, said on Wednesday that letter grades offered “little real insight to parents and are not a reliable indicator of how schools are actually performing.”

I have some experience with this as my son attended a public school in Harlem for three years before I moved to Florida. The grading system that Bloomberg uses is inherently flawed, and the parents I knew never felt the grade ever gave a true picture of the school. Here’s a summary of the Bloomberg system, from that same NYT piece: 

Mr. Bloomberg took the idea of grading schools to a new level, inviting data experts to design a model that did not penalize schools with high populations of disadvantaged students, in the hope that they could be judged more fairly against affluent schools.

The result was one of the most complex grading systems in the country, which compared schools serving similar student populations and focused on how much progress students made each year on exams — not just their overall performance.

To sum that up, you have schools that are graded an “A,” but all that really means is that they’re the best of the worst schools in the city. That’s worthless information to a parent, and it obscures schools that, even if they are improving, are still failing their students.

De Blasio’s educational policies might prove to be a disaster, but the Post should spend some time focusing on what Mayor Bloomberg did wrong during his tenure rather than simply make this a de Blasio vs. Bloomberg policy fight.

On the Education Front

by Colette Moran

With an uptick in cases of measles and whooping cough, many states are considering making it more difficult for students to opt out of having vaccinations. 

Citing problems created when students don’t have enough to eat at lunchtime, the USDA is now reversing its limits on food portions

Another good year for school choice: Ten states acted to create or expand private-school choice programs in 2013.

Debating evolution in Texas — the place where many school textbooks originate.

A look at some new approaches in the school-choice movement from the Milwaukee School Choice Conference.

A new study ties future potential earnings to the highest level of math taken in high school.

From changes in the AP and GED tests to MOOCs to Common Core: What’s ahead for education in 2014.

Science: The Benefits of Breastfeeding and Drinking Wine While Pregnant

by Greg Pollowitz

Nursing Times:

Breastfeeding linked to lower risk of arthritis in women

CBS Atlanta: 

Study: Moms Who Drink Wine While Pregnant Have Better Behaved Kids

I think it’s time the N.I.H. studied the effects of drinking wine while breastfeeding. Who knows — maybe it will produce super-children with surprisingly fit mothers?

Flu Vaccine: Yes or No?

by Greg Pollowitz

I’m a strong believer in vaccines, but I just can’t get a true sense on the flu vaccine and if it’s necessary for my kids every single year. One of the things that bothers me the most is that major media reports don’t do a very good job of reporting the actual facts on the studies behind the vaccine’s efficacy. For example, here’s CNN from January 3:

The exact number of flu-related adult deaths is hard to track and varies from year to year. The CDC has estimated that from 1976 through 2007, between 3,000 and 49,000 people died of flu-related causes.

“It depends on the season; it depends on the virus,” Jhung said.

Last year, 381,000 people were hospitalized and 171 children died in what’s being called a relatively severe season.

However, the CDC estimates that flu vaccination prevented 6.6 million illnesses last year, 3.2 million doctor visits and at least 79,000 hospitalizations.

Flu vaccines are recommended for everyone 6 months and older, especially pregnant women and those at high risk of complications, including the elderly, children younger than 5 years and those with underlying medical conditions such as asthma or diabetes.

Antiviral medications are a good treatment if you do get sick, Jhung said, particularly those at high risk for complications. Ideally, antivirals should be started within two days of when symptoms appear.

CNN never links to the actual report from the CDC, however. I did some digging, and you can read the CDC report for yourself here

CNN gives a good summary of the CDC’s findings, but doesn’t mention a single one of the CDC’s self-reported “limitations” with their own work. Here’s what the CDC wrote (emphasis mine):

The findings in this report are subject to at least six limitations. First, influenza vaccination coverage rates were derived from vaccination status reported by survey respondents, not vaccination records, and are subject to recall bias. Second, these rates are based on telephone surveys with relatively low response rates; therefore, selection bias might remain after weighting adjustments. Third, these surveys only cover the noninstitutionalized population. Fourth, estimates of the number of persons vaccinated based on these survey data exceeded the actual number of doses distributed, indicating coverage estimates used in this report overestimate averted illness resulting from vaccination (5). Fifth, the model only calculates outcomes directly averted by vaccination. If there is indirect protection from decreased exposure among unvaccinated persons in a partially vaccinated population (i.e., herd immunity), the model would underestimate the number of prevented illnesses. Also, although the impact of vaccination in preventing severe outcomes is most pronounced among persons aged ≥65 years, if vaccine effectiveness were lower among frail elderly persons, the model might have overestimated the effect in this group. Finally, adjustments for underreporting of influenza hospitalizations were based on studies conducted in 2009–10, as were the extrapolation of hospitalization rates to estimate rates of illness and medically attended illness. Because multipliers were calculated during a pandemic, if the ratio of hospitalizations to other outcomes or the underreporting of hospitalization rates were different in 2012–13 (e.g., through changes in health-seeking behaviors or testing practices), the model might have underestimated or overestimated the effect of vaccination.

These seem like pretty damning limitations to me. Why can’t we get better data on flu vaccines in general? 



Caring for the Poor, an Immigrant’s Story

by Nancy French

His grandfather was a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine. His mom and dad were both physicians. Even his brother was a doctor.

When Ming Wang was born in Hangzhou, in the Zhejiang province of China, his destiny seemed to be all but determined.

However, dictator Mao Tse-tung had other ideas. Though Ming made all A’s in school, he had the misfortune of attending school during the “Cultural Revolution.” During that time, the government had a “forced education” program for the youth, which meant the government decided Ming’s future occupational trajectory. Mao shut down colleges, ending the education of Chinese children after high school.

Ming, if the dictator had had his way, would have been a farmer in a remote peasant village for the rest of his life.

Ming’s parents believed in education, but were afraid that if they sent their son to high school he would be deported like other youths. So, when he was only fourteen, his parents took him out of school. At thirteen, his education was over and the only job available to him in his province was janitorial work.

Instead, he had an idea.

He knew that the Communists needed professional musicians for use in their propaganda efforts, so he began playing a traditional Chinese stringed instrument called the er-hu.

“I picked up the er-hu, not as a hobby but to survive,” Ming says. Every day, he sat down in his home and practiced for fifteen hours a day. Since his family had no heater, he’d get frost-bite on his fingers due to excessive practicing during the cold months. However, the government swooped in and destroyed that dream as well.

Once they learned that teenagers were learning musical instruments to avoid deportation, they made a sweeping proclamation not to accept any musicians from Ming’s city.

Ming’s dad illegally taught his son medicine, by sneaking him into classes he taught at a local college. Though there was no chance that his son could ever become an actual physician, his father believed that knowledge for the sake of knowledge was important. After a year, however, the government caught wind of his illegal activities and expelled him from classes.

Just as his parents were about to relent and accept Ming’s fate of hard labor, Mao died.

For the first time in years, colleges were opened up and Ming had a chance to get in by cramming all of the years of missed education into two short months. Miraculously, he pulled off this stunt, got accepted into the “MIT of China,” impressed a visiting American professor, and ended up in America. Business Leader sums up his educational trajectory:

On Feb. 3, 1982, Wang arrived at the National Airport, Washington DC, with $50 and a Chinese-English dictionary in his pocket, knowing no one in this vast new country but carrying a “big American dream” in his heart. He worked very hard, realizing how precious in life such an opportunity is for learning, and how close he once was to giving up all hope for studying and for a better life. Five years later, Wang graduated with a doctorate degree in laser physics and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr. Wang then went on to receive his second doctorate degree — this time in medicine — from Harvard Medical School and MIT, graduating with an MD (magna cum laude). His graduation thesis received the award as the best thesis of his graduating class from Harvard that year. He then received his training in ophthalmology at three of the nation’s top four ophthalmic institutions — Harvard Medical School in Boston, Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia (ophthalmology residency), and Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami (corneal fellowship).

Dr. Ming Wang now works in Nashville as a corneal refractive surgeon who believes in the American dream, limited government, and helping the poor. How does he balance his belief in small government and liberty with his desire to help the poor? Through volunteer medical care within a system that helps facilitate that care. He wrote about his approach in a recent Tennessean article:

Ten years ago we established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit sight-restoration foundation. It provided a system to identify indigent patients and make the arrangements to get them to the appropriate doctors. The foundation consists of three parts: a team of eye doctors who donate their services, a group of medical companies that contribute supplies and a board of philanthropic leaders in our community who donate financially and assist in fundraising. To show that this system does indeed work, I will share one recent example.

Last year at the foundation’s annual gala — the EyeBall — attendees were captivated and deeply moved as Christian missionaries Steve and Lynn Hendrich shared the story and photos of Maria, a 15-year-old blind girl whom they had found in an orphanage in Moldova. Maria was born prematurely and had a retinal detachment in her left eye that resulted in total blindness, and an end-stage cataract and uveitis in her right eye that left her with only light-perception vision.

To make matters worse, since Maria was 15, she had only one year left before she would have to leave the orphanage. Lacking the skills to survive, she would most likely be forced into human trafficking and prostitution, a devastating fate that has fallen upon many Moldovan orphan girls. The foundation decided to take Maria on as our next patient.

After a year of challenging efforts, Maria finally received her visa and made the long trip to America. Maria’s first visit was to our clinic for a complex and high-risk cataract surgery, which, by the grace of God, went miraculously well. When the patch was removed, Maria was able to see herself and the world around her for the very first time! Maria was then sent by the foundation to another doctor, Dr. David Shen, who provided optical care.

Want to see a video of Maria seeing herself for the first time? When she realized the girl looking back from the mirror was actually herself, she exclaimed, “I’m so pretty!” in Romanian.




Dr. Wang’s approach successfully reduces the financial and logistical challenges of caring for the poor, while protecting our freedom and choices. Ming, who has seen government oppression with his own eyes, said “There are simply not enough financial resources available to care for the poor, but if we don’t want a bigger government and higher taxes, we need to be proactive and take more responsibility ourselves in helping devise solutions.”

By the way, Ming still remembers how to play the instrument of his youth.

“I learned to play er-hu as a way to escape poverty then,” he says. “But now I play it for an entirely different reason. Today I play the er-hu, with its soulful, gentle and beautiful sound, to truly appreciate the music itself, to appreciate God’s blessings, and the opportunities that He has given me to learn, and to help others.”

Good News: Nancy Pelosi Is Learning How to Code

by Greg Pollowitz

A few weeks back, the non-profit, sponsored an initiative called “An Hour of Code” that was designed, through a one-hour online tutorial, to show students the basics of writing computer code.’s goals are:

Bringing Computer Science classes to every K-12 school in the United States, especially in urban and rural neighborhoods.
Demonstrating the successful use of online curriculum in public school classrooms
Changing policies in all 50 states to categorize C.S. as part of the math/science “core” curriculum
Harnessing the collective power of the tech community to celebrate and grow C.S. education worldwide
To increase the representation of women and students of color in the field of Computer Science.

This I have no issue with.What I do question is the look on Nancy Pelosi’s face after completing one of the modules. She’s so happy, you’d think she just successfully fixed the Obamacare website herself:

I did the same “Hour of Code” with my kids, ages six and eleven. My six-year-old also moved the Angry Bird a few boxes. Literally. You learn to move the Angry Bird a few boxes:

But my daughter didn’t share in Pelosi’s enthusiasm at what they had accomplished. 

Why in the world is Representative Pelosi so proud of herself? She’s supposed to understand this, no? Since she’s voting on funding for gigantic Obamacare websites and NSA technical programs, maybe she should have a little more instruction on how writing code works than what’s designed for a six-year-old. As should every member of Congress. 

Celebrating “Good” Motherhood

by Colette Moran

It’s funny how a simple single line from a television show can jump out at you. While enjoying the season premiere of Downton Abbey last night, Maggie Smith’s character — who often has pointed gibes, but also age-old wisdom — made a profound point to a grieving widow who doubted her abilities as a parent.

“There is more than one kind of good mother,” she told her granddaughter very matter-of-factly.

And with that simple turn of phrase, suddenly all the mommy wars seemed so pointless to me. There are so many really good blogs and so many different theories on parenting, from attachment to tiger moms. There’s even a book entitled The Good Mother MythI honestly feel it is about finding your own path.

I’ve always told new moms to keep their ears open to any tidbits from other moms, and to tuck them away in a mental “bag of tricks.” Even if it sounds totally absurd to you, the day may come (or the middle of a night) when you will give that advice a try out of desperation . . . and find that it works. 

And I also tell them to remember that being a good mother can look different from one kid to another. What works with one, may not with the next. Give yourself room to adjust and call audibles. And to start fresh the next day.

I’m not saying anything unprecedented here, but we all can use a reminder now and then. And we all can enjoy this truly touching tribute to motherhood:


An American Girl Doll Christmas

by Greg Pollowitz

My six-year-old daughter’s love affair with her American Girl doll comes and goes. This Christmas, the affair was back, with a vengeance. She’d grab every catalog as soon as they arrived in the mail and start adding items to her list for Santa  – yes, she still believes in Santa. But she also added out-of-production items that she had us find for her on eBay. She did question why Santa couldn’t just buy her what she wanted online, like this ukulele for $80. Sorry, kid. Santa is magic but he doesn’t have an Internet connection.

So, what did she get this year? Yep. The much-talked about Common-Core-aligned backpack set. And I can report the little tiny textbooks are replicas of the actual textbooks used in school, at least in her older brother’s school here in Miami.

She had a gift card to use as well, and she picked this — a school desk: 

Yes, she wanted her doll to do homework. 

There are certainly arguments for and against Common Core, but I have a kid who makes her dolls do homework. And American Girl at least deserves some credit for that, regardless of what tiny textbooks are included.