Thursday, February 27, 2003



If you live in a wintry climate, here’s something you can do that those poor, deprived souls of the southern persuasion cannot: make ice candles.

Save a few large tin cans in 48-ounce or 64-ounce sizes or larger, such as from chicken broth, group-sized stewed tomatoes or baked beans for a crowd. On a day that’s definitely below freezing, and you plan to be home for a few hours, fill them with water and set them outside.

Watch them carefully. When the water is almost frozen into solid ice, a few inches in the central core should still be liquid. Slip the ice “candle” out of the can and dump out the remaining water. Set the ice in place to dry and continue freezing.

In the evening, place a votive candle inside the opening in the ice. If you’re having people over, there’s no more elegant welcome at your front door than several lovely specimens of “fire and ice.”

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


Here’s an idea that could save the nation hundreds of millions of dollars in substance abuse treatment expenses. When you realize it’s time to kick a nasty habit – or when a stern-looking judge sentences you to that task – instead of checking in to an inpatient treatment facility at tremendous expense, just spend your evenings with a family with a 2-year-old child, and give that child his or her bath.

Talk about your mind-bending experiences, mood-altering conversations, and altered states of consciousness. Nobody would need psyche-changing drugs or alcohol after they tune in and turn on to the 2-year-old worldview.

Last night, it was a 45-minute monologue during our toddler’s bath. The naked rubber baby floating in there with her is a girl named “Scottie,” and one night “the bad guyth” tippy-toed into our house and put Scottie into a “mousie hole,” but our 2-year-old found her and tried to pull her out of it by the legs, only Scottie’s head was too big and got stuck, so our 2-year-old had to “go around the other way” and get inside the mousie hole and shove the dollie OUT the mousie hole, and THEN. . . .

That was only 30 seconds’ worth. There’s more. Much more. Enough to fill the typical four-week drug-treatment treatment regimen, and then some.

After listening to a little one get clean, you can get sober real, real fast.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


A Zogby International poll of more than 1,200 parents of K-12 schoolchildren found that they strongly oppose the “normalization” of homosexual behavior in the classroom and on the school grounds, adding more pressure on educators on how to handle that hot topic and please all sides.

The poll, released Feb. 13 and described on, found that parents don’t want schools to teach children that homosexual behavior is normal or that homosexual relationships are comparable to heterosexual ones.

Pro-homosexual material can be delivered in preK-12 curriculum, sex education classes, “safe schools” programs, “diversity” or “tolerance” programs, anti-discrimination codes, teacher training, student groups and by outside guest speakers.

Schools around the country have reacted to studies in prestigious journals that point to sharply increased risks of mental, emotional and physical health problems in homosexual and bisexual youth. Schools have sharply increased the amount of time and the intensity of the content in teaching children about homosexuality.

Most school discipline codes already deal with bullying and violence, but content directed at protecting students because of sexual orientation is added on top.

Around the country, litigation is showing that it is expensive to ignore bullying on school grounds, but now the traditional lawsuits involving kids who are teased, harassed and abused for being fat or short are now being joined by harassment suits claiming harm to students because of their aberrant sexual orientations. A recent $312,000 settlement to Timothy Dahle of Titusville (Penn.) Area School District is a case in point.

In addition, threats of lawsuits from homosexual activist groups such as GLSEN, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network and government requirements in California and elsewhere also put pressure on schools to ratchet up the homosexual programming.

But have schools gone too far? Could be.

Critics point to the flip-flop in the percentage of teenagers and young adults, subjected to pro-homosexual advocacy in schools for years, who now accept facets of homosexuality that their parents and religious institutions do not. It is problematic to have school curriculum that is in diametric opposition to the sincerely-held religious beliefs of the families that pay the taxes that run those schools, especially since in many cases the parents’ anti-homosexuality points of view are not given equal time.

Parents in Novato, Calif., recently filed suit against their school district for authorizing pro-homosexual assemblies that exposed children as young as 7 to gay and lesbian content in skits performed by outsiders invited to school, without any prior notice to or obtaining the written consent of the children’s parents.

There also is litigation risk in findings that teenagers engaged in homosexuality commit twice the mean number of risk behaviors as the overall population of teenagers. That includes increased cocaine use; increased drug, alcohol and tobacco use before age 13; increased instances of sexual intercourse before age 13; increased instances of having four or more sex partners, and increased sexual contact against one’s will. That is according to a Harvard Medical School study of 4,000 high-school students published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

So public schools face legal liability for negligence in case a child experiments with homosexual behavior and suffers illness or damage, after being told by homosexual teachers, counselors or guest speakers brought in to school that it is normal and “OK.”

But the same liability's there if they don't take reasonable steps to educate the student population about bigotry, and protect all students to the fullest extent of their abilities, or if they raise the ire of pro-homosexuality groups if they teach that it is not normal and not "OK."

It’s the old “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” paradox.

But there is help for educators who wish to navigate these choppy waters: see the November / December 2002 article, “Homosexuality and Children” by Peter Sprigg, Family Research Council.

An excellent resource to send to state board of education members, school board members and school administrators is the downloadable report, “The Legal Liability Associated With Homosexuality Education in Public Schools,” by the Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values.

Monday, February 24, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Q. I couldn’t believe it when my 11-year-old had to ask me what “6 times 4” is. Don’t they teach the times tables anymore?

In most schools, kids are still memorizing and drilling on their math facts – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. They may not spend as much time on this in class as past generations did, which is another reason smart parents should buy flash cards and other at-home aids to build computational skills in their children.

But growing numbers of schools have switched to “whole math” curricula with an emphasis on abstract problem-solving, not basics.

The hope is that kids will gain “higher-order thinking skills” from “creative” assignments such as group projects and discussions about math. But that’s not true. They need the basics to do the advanced.

Standardized tests and international comparisons are clearly showing that American students are falling behind past generations, and other nations, in their computation skills. Erosion is showing up in the abstract problem-solving areas, too. Why? Deficient basics.

Unfortunately, most parents do not recognize innumeracy until the child is in middle school. Without automatic math skills that come only from lots of practice with the basics, that child may struggle with algebra and geometry and have limited options in college and life.

If school won’t teach math facts and you can’t afford a math tutor such as the Kumon organization, try things like carpool math:

-- Drill your child and the carpool on math facts while driving them places. Kids love to have fun while learning, so make it a game. How many problems can they solve per mile?

-- Key off the day of the month. If it’s the 15th, use “15” in your questions: 15 x 3, 15 + 19, 1/15th as a decimal, and so on.

-- Use distances to ask percentages and decimals: 8 blocks is what percentage of a mile? Express that in decimals.

-- Math teaching aids in cars: gas mileage, odometer, maps, tire gauge . . . gentlepersons, start your math engines!

Homework: More ideas on Math Nerds.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
– Proverbs 16:18

One day in junior high math class, the janitor stood for several minutes outside our classroom door trying to scrape masking tape off the glass. We all sat there and laughed . . . because the tape was on the INSIDE.

How well I know the feeling. I’ve stood many times in the produce aisle struggling to get the little plastic sack open and feeling as though I have the brains of the Roma tomatoes I would put in it, if I could get the dang thing open.

Every time I leave a tag showing at the back of my neck all day, or can’t find my car in a parking lot, or forget to plug something in and think it’s broken because it won’t work, or forget the secret password that controls access to our entire financial fortune (what there is of it, after four children), I feel stupid. And that’s even without a snickering audience of know-it-all junior-high kids.

Nobody likes to look dumb. But everybody does dumb things. You know what the secret is: a sense of humor. If you don’t laugh, by golly, you’ll cry.

It took a REALLY dumb thing to make a friend of mine get this.

She’s one of those outrageously gifted people that you just want to slap. She has an IQ of 9 kazillion and a dress size of 2. She never messes up, never snorts accidentally or on purpose, never loses anything, and never has the hair on one eyebrow pointing ridiculously up while the hair on the other eyebrow points the regular way.

If you are gleaning from this that she is my diametric, antithetical, polar opposite, you would be correct.

If you tell her you have made an exciting, new, gourmet dessert, she has already made it, with two cherries on top, not just one, and served it to the Queen of England at her last soiree.

If your child walks into school proudly carrying an igloo made of sugar cubes, HER child brings an authentic scale model of the Louvre as it looked in 1793, complete with a replica of the Mona Lisa that the child painted holding the brush between her toes while singing “La Marseillaise” . . . in French.

You always leave an encounter with her full of admiration, but also feeling as though, compared to her, you are spending your days scraping masking tape off the wrong side of the glass.

But one cold winter night, us lesser mortals got our sweet revenge. There was a big meeting of school volunteers. Everybody who was anybody was there. Old business and new business were addressed and disposed of, chop chop, all the way down the terribly efficient agenda, typed, I suppose, by Mrs. Perfect right after she ghost-wrote the inaugural speech of some Third World president.

We all went out into the icy night together. Mrs. Perfect had a big, beautiful SUV. It was awesome. It was powerful. It cost more than my house.

As some of us chatted on the sidewalk, Mrs. Perfect started up the Perfectomobile and revved up the engine preparing to back out of the parking space . . . but it wouldn’t budge. She was just spinning her wheels.

She revved it some more with her expensive leather boots, and the wheels spun and the ice chips flew backwards like a rooster tail, but it wouldn’t back up. Wouldn’t pull forward, either.

She announced to all of her admirers on the sidewalk that she must be “stuck on the ice.” It was a perfectly flat parking space, but winter does dastardly things around here.

Several of us went over to see if we could help. Mrs. Perfect had us pushing and pulling. She even put the floor mats under the front tires for traction. We strained and struggled. No go.

Finally, she pulled out her cell phone and called her husband. You could hear the irritation in her voice, that there was something wrong with this fancy big car and a bunch of pinhead women couldn’t budge it, either, so he’d better get on over there. Chop, chop.

Several of us waited with her. He arrived. He got in the car, and . . . don’t miss this, it is key . . . released the parking brake . . . and backed up several feet, then looked at her. Voila.

In the streetlight, the look on her face . . . the look on HIS face . . . the look on my fellow pinheads’ faces . . . it was surreal.

But then Mrs. Perfect did what none of us expected. She burst out laughing. It was a full-throated, jolly, helpless, sincere laugh. “Oh . . . my . . . God,” she chortled. “I can’t . . . believe . . . I did that.”

We all joined in, surprised and relieved. She had made a mistake in front of people, and she could laugh about it! She made a lot of friends that night. I always felt a lot more comfortable around her after that, and reminded her of it many times, to our mutual delight.

It’s no fun up on a pedestal. There’s no one to play with.

When pride has you stuck and on thin ice, humor and humility can get you going again.

Saturday, February 22, 2003



Sending a group of preteens to a shopping mall is a routine Saturday excursion. But you can make it special by adding just one thing: a disposable camera. Tell them they can’t disrupt any store and certainly can’t make a mess or interfere with other shoppers. But they can have fun without spending any money by going from store to store and taking pictures of each other in funny poses. Trying on an outrageous hat with a grandma-style purse and fuzzy slippers is fun and makes a great picture; then everything goes back on the shelf and the kids can move on to the next store. Once the photos are developed, split them up for everybody’s scrapbooks.

Friday, February 21, 2003

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


The best, cheapest, easiest, most effective and longest-lasting child psychiatry is . . . drum roll, please . . . loving touch. That's right! What do you think we have skin for? Children who aren't touched a lot by their parents in loving ways grow up thinking that they are somehow less-than, untouchable and even unloved.

Don't underestimate the profound power of human touch to communicate caring, to soothe, to encourage and to show love. Even if you don't think of yourself as a touchy-feely person, there's no time like the present to become one, because that's the best kind of person to be. You will naturally vary those touches as your child grows, from the constant cuddling of the months of infancy, to the lap time of the preschool years, and the unbreakable habit of bedtime hugs and kisses, and off-to-school pats on the back.

Mothers who breastfed their children for many months often report that in the toddler years, it takes only one loving stroke from them to quiet the child. That's because of the hours and hours of skin-to-skin contact and the trust relationship that was established early on.

You would be amazed how many grown men "wake up" in middle age and report that they can trace some of their personal problems to having had "under-nurturing" mothers. Perhaps they were afraid of making their sons sissies or weak . . . but the truth is, the toughest, biggest, strongest people come from moms who had that special loving touch and used it over and over and over, day after day after day.

Thursday, February 20, 2003



Every neighborhood needs somebody with a creative flair for making passers-by smile. Ours is a family who purchased a metal cutout of a cowboy for out by their mailbox. Along the way, they decided it would be fun to decorate him. Right now, he's wearing a bright red knit cap and scarf. In the spring, it's bunny ears for Easter. In the summer, he wears an old beige cowboy hat. During football season, he wears . . . what else? . . . a Nebraska football helmet. I don't even know their name, but as far as neighborly spirit goes, my hat is off to them.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


She was filling her Suburban with gas – a car she calls “large, black and obvious.” She had run inside to pay for the gas and met up with an old friend in there. They talked and laughed for a few minutes.

She returned to her car, chuckling all the way. She put the large, black, and obvious car in “Drive” and moved away, still chuckling to herself and self-absorbed. She was just getting ready to pull onto a busy road, when something caught her attention.

She turned and saw people running after her, flailing their arms, and yelling. They were bug-eyed and frantic.

She looked back and saw a 20-foot gas pump hose dangling out of her car. She looked at the hose and then at the people . . . beginning to see $$$ signs in front of her eyes and hearing her husband’s voice stretch over three octaves, "You . . . DID . . . WHAT?!"

She immediately knew she wasn't going to tell one single soul what happened. But then she saw her friend, back at the gas station, doubled over, laughing, with tears streaming down her face.

Friendship . . . it can be such a gas when you’re in the right place at the right time.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


Science news today is the stuff of sci-fi comic books from a generation ago: medical research on human embryos . . . aborted fetuses as sources of stem cells . . . cloning . . . even claims that the biggest science fiction of our day, the theory of evolution, is true despite the mounting evidence that it is fiction, not fact.

The complexity of the issues just makes it doubly important to define terms precisely and to use our language to promote understanding, not confusion.

Basically, it comes down to one’s definition of when human life begins. At conception? At birth? Some other time?

At what point should a human being be considered a “person” whose life deserves respect and protection? At the instant of DNA transfer from both parents? Or at the first breath into his or her own lungs?

And at exactly what point do positive ends (research findings and possible cures) justify negative means (entangling taxpayers with abortion by using aborted fetal tissue for tax-funded medical research and a sure step away from rationalizing use of human embryos and live fetuses in the future)? The Nazis used “the ends justify the means” as their rationalization for the unethical research they did on Jews and other Holocaust victims. How is that different from what is being done in some of the nation’s leading-edge laboratories?

Fortunately, there are some excellent websites with information to help you decide where you stand on some of these thorny issues. Here are some good ones:

President’s Council on Bioethics

The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity

Pro-fetal and embryonic stem cell research

Pro-adult stem cell research

Monday, February 17, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Q. Our school board is having a public hearing on whether to switch from half-day to full-day kindergarten next year. It will bring more money into the district. But is it best for kids?

There doesn’t appear to be any strong evidence that doubling the amount of time in kindergarten class gives academic benefit to the vast majority of children, especially middle-class, suburban ones. Young children should be spending as much time as possible at home with their parents as loving, adult role models, and away from structured, out-of-home settings like day cares and schools.

They need “lap time” and exposure to books with their parents, good naps and a low-pressure environment. They need freedom to choose their own activities, manage their own time, try new things at their own pace, and most of all, read and think in peace and quiet.

Of course, with half-day kindergarten programs, working parents have to make child-care arrangements for the other half-day of the kindergarten year. Others choose to work part-time so that they can be home with their child that half-day. But those are matters of private choice, not public policy. All-day kindergarten programs do cost taxpayers extra money, after all, and as such, should be analyzed on a cost-benefit basis. And for the most part, costs outweigh the benefits, and so all-day programs aren’t advised.

Now, disadvantaged children and those from non-English speaking homes do show an academic benefit from a full-day kindergarten program that can compensate for various deficits in their homes. Most experts believe these families should be offered full-day programs free of charge for their 5-year-olds. But it is questionable in these days of government budget deficits whether taxpayers should be funding all-day programs for all the rest of the kids, whose homes are fine, and who don’t need them. In fact, we shouldn’t.

How best to approach this issue and the hearing:

-- Educate your administrators and school board members privately, quietly and in advance. To avoid hurting feelings or polarizing people, avoid pejorative terms like “glorified free day care at taxpayer expense” and “enabling child neglect.”

-- The two key tasks of kindergarten are (1) to build phonemic awareness and to teach children phonics, the building blocks of literacy, and (2) give them a taste of school before first grade begins. Those services can be delivered in just a few minutes a day, and anything more than that really is just babysitting for parent convenience. From a cost-effectiveness standpoint, all-day kindergarten doesn’t measure up to the standard of tax-funded programs that should be delivering services that the private sector can’t or shouldn’t. Child care is a private-sector service, for the most part, and government should not be engaged in it.

-- Tell them you can’t find any scientific evidence (not just opinion) that full-day programs provide academic benefit on down the road. Without the data, why make the change?

-- On the other hand, there is significant research pointing to increased aggression, difficulties with attachment to parents and self-esteem issues, and “sour attitude” about school, in young children who are placed in controlled, out-of-home environments at too young an age and for too long of a time period. Surely your district doesn’t want to do anything to increase children’s behavior or learning problems.

-- Recruit other parents and older taxpayers to your cause; most people think “more is better” when it comes to spending on school programs. But that’s not true. Position this as a tax-saving issue, because it is.

-- Recognize that schools are under a high degree of peer pressure to adopt all-day kindergarten, even though it is clearly not in the best interest of most children. If neighboring districts offer all-day programs, they feel they must, too, to attract enrollment. Offer to help lead a public information campaign to discredit all-day kindergarten, promote strong family relationships, and praise districts that understand early childhood development and put the needs of young children ahead of “featherbedding” and “empire-building.”

-- If the all-day program goes through, anyway, ask that it be made optional. Also ask that parents be made to pay for the extra half-day of service, since it is a “frill.” And insist that systematic, intensive, explicit phonics instruction be part of the half-day your child will attend, for 20 to 30 minutes daily.

-- Read and interact a lot with your child before first grade begins. Voila! You’ll “grow” an excellent learner at no charge to taxpayers . . . and in just minutes a day. Parents can do what no school ever can: love that child with all their hearts.

Homework: see the book “Miseducation” by David Elkind, background on pre-literacy at the National Right to Read Foundation and Darcy Olsen’s work on what’s wrong with universal preschool programs at Cato Institute.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night . . . the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
-- 2 Peter 3:10

Sometimes we have real trouble understanding our 2-year-old, Madeleine McGee McGoo McGuire Mufasa Mimi “Whoopsie Daisy” Williams.

And sometimes she makes herself crystal clear.

As an example of the mystery of the 2-year-old mind, no armchair cover is safe with her. You know those little sleeves of fabric that go on the arms of chairs to keep them from wear and tear? She hurls them to the floor wherever she goes. We have no idea why.

No one could predict what she thinks about. She refuses to get out of the car unless I go around to the passenger side and let her imaginary friends out first. I am still living down the day I accidentally stepped on her imaginary dog, “Spike.” Fortunately, he didn’t bite.

She wears a battered aluminum colander on her head and runs around the house proclaiming herself to be “a fire engine boy.”

We have eight inches of snow on the ground. But for the past few days, she has insisted on wearing her little pink flowered swimming suit and jazzy sunglasses. A pox on anyone who would dare suggest more suitable attire for the dead of winter.

Woe to anyone who would dare to attempt to put her to bed without making sure the Tweety Bird nightlight is off, not on. She hates the Tweety Bird nightlight’s light. But she likes how the nightlight looks in the daytime. She won’t let us take it away. So it stays in place, useless and unused. A 2-year-old majors in paradoxes, I guess.

Woe, too, to anyone foolish enough to try to put her to bed without giving her, in this precise order: Binky, Blanky, Fop (the pink elephant), Bunny, Baby, her fluffy blanket, her pretty blanket, the bathroom light on, the bedroom light off, “blow away the ghosts” in the closet, a “talking” story and a “song” story, a kiss blown to her just so, the words, “See you in the morning light!” and “I love you!” and a final artful tiptoe dance down the hall.

All that, or it’s a grand mal seizure. I mean, it’s more intricate than a chemical formula devised by the biggest craniacs at MIT.

But she does have her sophisticated side, too. She can get her point across with grace and style. Once, the paper cover fell off a chunky yellow crayon and she chortled, “It’s a NUDIST!”

And when she had the flu recently, she communicated perfectly in just a few words: “Yucky lunch came out of my mouth.” That was apt. So was her description of feeling tired the next day: “I need new batteries.”

She’s my fourth 2-year-old. I’m quite used to being bossed around by short people with dimpled elbows and dimpled knees. But I still was taken aback, floored, mystified, puzzled and a little scared by something she said the other day.

Of course, I’ve been paying attention to the rumors of war on the media. I’m well aware of all the speeches and protests and predictions, and friends’ sons and daughters being called up and all of that. We haven’t talked about it much around the older children, and certainly not at all with little Maddy. But war and rumors of war have been on all our hearts.

Well, the other day, Maddy went over to the sliding-glass door in her little pink flowered swimming suit with her colander helmet on. She looked outside, and frowned, and said:

“All the houses are going to melt.”

I was standing in the kitchen, but heard her as clear as a bell. I hurried over to her and crouched down.

“My bicycle is going to melt.” Her lower lip jutted out dramatically.


And then she said, “All the big restaurants are going to melt.”

I put an arm around her. I couldn’t help thinking that the biggest buildings she ever went into were probably restaurants, and to her, a vision of skyscrapers falling down in wartime would be like “big restaurants melting.”

My insides clenched. I mean, I’m no end-time fanatic. But I know what the Bible says.

I took a hold of her hand. “What about us, Maddy?” I asked.

Instantly, she replied, “We will be OK. We will be on the carpet. We won’t melt.”

Hunh? Carpet? I know Jesus said He was the “door,” but never the “floor.” Could she be trying to say “carpenter”? Or will we be whisked away from nuclear war, as on a magic carpet? The Rapture on a piece of Scotchguarded plush?


Was this the Holy Spirit speaking to me through my little girl?

Or just some innocent babbling by an imaginative child, spurred by the sight of the afternoon sun on a backyard snowbank?

I don’t know. But I know this: she seemed pretty sure about it, and not a bit scared. She kept holding my hand, and started chattering about something else.

So maybe as this war talk goes forward and a future that is scary at times unfolds, we should all take a clue from Maddy.

We may not understand all that goes on and all that we see . . . but we ought not to be scared as long as we remember Who it is we stand on . . . and we ought to just keep holding hands.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

SATURDAY: Lookin' Up


They say Moses wrote the Book of Genesis thousands of years ago, and said that God created the whole shootin' match, including the Earth and everything in it, in a particular order, on purpose and deliberately. That's Genesis 1.

But most state education departments have busily rewritten their standards of learning for science education to white out that truth, and direct science teachers to tell kids that noooooo, Genesis 1 has it wrong, and actually, the universe and everything in it, including the kids themselves, all came about through mindless, undirected random chance, mutation, and gradual change over lots and lots and lots and lots of years. That's according to evolutionary theory.

Consider Nebraska's science standard, which defines evolution this way:

"Evolution is a series of changes, some gradual and some sporadic, that account for the present form and function of objects, organisms, and natural and designed systems. The goal is for students to recognize that objects and systems change over time."

Doesn't that seem to suggest that the teachers need to assume that evolution explains life and its diversity on earth, and that it is a done deal and a true fact?

Of course, the theory of evolution is NOT true, and fortunately, science is advancing to where we can PROVE it: the Human Genome Project is blasting holes in the theory of common descent from mutual ancestry . . . astronomy is showing that the Big Bang probably did happen and its evidence is more consistent with rapid, directed creation rather than mindless, purposeless random development over billions of years . . . more and more people are learning about the science behind Intelligent Design theory, including the mathematical impossibility that the 3 billion base pairs in human DNA arranged themselves in order by chance, and the irreducible complexity of so many biological structures and processes, from the reproductive system of the humans to the intricate motion "machine" complete with flagellum of the common bacterium.

Be sure to browse my new report, "Show 'n' Tell on Evolution," for more: it's posted on the Nebraska Civic Digest and I hope parents, teachers and students will use it as a great starting point for study, discussion and, I certainly hope, better science education, both in our classrooms and in our government.

Friday, February 14, 2003

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom

Helping Your Child SOAR

Here's a good acronym for helping your child develop leadership skills. You could write this on an index card and tape it to the inside of your child's closet, or somewhere he or she will see it every day:

S . . . Serve others patiently

O . . . Obey God completely

A . . . Accept God's plan for your life willingly

R . . . Rejoice for yourself and with others at all the things that are good

Thursday, February 13, 2003



A fun Valentine's Day activity for children or maybe elderly folks in a group setting would be to make Valentine's Friendship Crowns. Cut pink construction paper into lengths to fit around people's heads, form into loops and staple as the main part of the crown. Cut sections of red pipe cleaner and tape six or eight around the edge with about two-thirds of their length sticking up vertically. Then write the first names of the child's or person's Valentines and friends on six or eight small, pink construction paper hearts. Tape them onto the tops of the pipe cleaners. It's fun to go around wearing your friends' names like a crown . . . because friends, after all, make you feel like a king or queen!

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


My cousin has a birthday on Valentine's Day. I love him with all of my heart, mainly because he supplied our whole family with so many laughs when he was younger.

There was the time he buried the car keys and refused to tell where, and my uncle had to borrow a metal detector to finally find them.

There was the time he spread peanut butter over the entire bathroom mirror when my sister was babysitting and got them both in trouble.

There was the time he was getting ready to throw a bucket of water at a friend at the country-club pool, only at the last minute the friend ducked . . . and the water doused a well-dressed, well-coiffed (well, she was well-coiffed BEFORE) society matron.

But now I have heard a report from a reliable source -- my OTHER cousin, his sister -- that the sweet revenge of parenthood has finally caught up with him. Yes, Michael now has a wild child of his own.

She got her older sister in trouble and the two of them were sent to their separate rooms to think about it before they could come out. The older sister, who has never been in trouble for a nanosecond of her life before this because she is just like her mother, who is NOT a wild child, spent the time sitting on her bed sobbing. But the YOUNGER sister, the wild child, the one whose genes most closely express Michael's, spent the time in the adjoining bathroom doing SWIRLIES.

For the uninitiated, "swirlies" usually are inflicted on weaker kids by bullies in the bathrooms at school. The bully holds the weaker kid's head in the toilet and flushes. The net effect is that the weaker kid's hair "swirls." You get the picture.

But this wild child was totally unremorseful. She spent her penance time not doing a whit of punishment, nor penance. She was happily doing swirlies on her very own self.

Have fun during her adolescence, Michael!

And Happy Birthday, you wildhair.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


Since the Nebraska legislature and most of its citizens have been discussing the possibility of expanded gambling in the Cornhusker State, including full-blown casinos, it's time for the only legitimate authority figure on questions like this to speak.

And I am happy to serve as the temporary spokeswoman for that influential force. I am a mom -- speaking on behalf of the Sisterhood of Maternal Political Power and Cupcake Distribution, almost all of whom, I would bet, if I were a betting woman, and of course I am not, but I suppose almost all of us moms see it this way:

No more gambling. No way. No how.

Expanded gambling violates the following Rules of Motherhood. Legislators who violate these rules will "get sat" in the corner to think about it. Those who obey these rules will get an extra cupcake in their lunchboxes. Low-fat, of course. Who loves you, Baby?

And here they are:

1. If Mom doesn't know who you're going out with, you can't go out.

What in the Sam Hill are we are doing even considering getting involved with the kind of people who are behind organized gambling in this country? And why on earth we would even consider expanding their influence and power over the good people of Nebraska? Hey, you pro-gambling legislators: you're grounded.

2. You can't get something for nothing.

This is what we teach our kids. But gambling suggests that you can. Well,
you can't. Why work at cross purposes with Nebraska's mothers? We have a
hard enough time as it is.

3. Don't hurt weak people.

Gambling hurts the weak. The last thing we want to do as a society is to
make money off people's weaknesses and foibles. We teach our children to
protect the weak and try to make life better for them. Why would we do the
exact opposite with public policy that allows such a destructive force that
hurts people, especially the low-income citizen?

4. Do the right thing and resist peer pressure.

We hear a lot of people complaining that Nebraska dollars are going over the
river to the boats and if you can't beat 'em, you might as well join 'em.
That's the same peer pressure that we mothers work so hard to help our
children resist, whether it's drinking, cheating, Britneywear, you name it. Gambling is NOT the right thing to do and we should NOT bring any more of it into our state. We can't help it if Iowa and South Dakota already have. That's their problem. Meanwhile, a common-sense solution would be to ask those states to pass a law making their casinos share the proceeds of gambling with Nebraska charities in proportion to the amount of Nebraska money that is wagered in gambling facilities in their states. Happier now?

5. The best offense is a good defense.

What does all this excitement about expanded gambling say about Nebraska?
That it's boring! People are just looking for something to do. We need to be
developing our own attractive alternatives in Nebraska to keep those dollars
turning over and over within our state. Expanded gambling cuts the throats of our own existing restaurants and other businesses by allowing casinos to take those leisure dollars. It sends a lot of our money down the drain into
Las Vegas, where it's no good to any Nebraskan any more. What's the best way to make new entertainment options happen in Nebraska? Give government a business bath: cut government spending on all levels. The only way to grow new businesses and attractions is a solid tax cut to put the money in people's hands who'll do things that are positive for Nebraska and keep our money here.

6. If you can't make ends meet, cut your spending.

We moms sympathize with public officials in Nebraska who are faced with
enormous challenges in dealing with our budget deficits. But let's get real
here: with anybody's budget, when expenses exceed revenues, you cut spending. That's what we moms do. Why can't you? Gambling may seem like an easy way to be a hero, but encouraging it to metastasize in our state just makes you a villain in the eyes of us moms. Is that what you want? I don't think so. We just want our children to grow up in the best possible Nebraska, the most G-rated environment possible for our kids, with the most opportunities and the highest quality of life. Cut spending! You can do it!

7. Mother Knows Best.


Monday, February 10, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


In almost every case in which a child is struggling in school, the problem revolves around reading. Unfortunately, years have usually passed before parents are aware that the child's reading foundational skills are lacking. The reason, just as unfortunately, is likely to be poor reading instruction in the early grades of school.

Is your child getting what he or she needs to become a strong reader? There are five levels of reading readiness that build upon each other. The first ones are the most basic, but the vast majority of schools are not delivering the skills that deliver mastery in those first few areas. Why not? Because they use Whole Language methods of reading instruction instead of traditional, orderly, systematic, intensive, explicit phonics.

If your child hasn't mastered the first two skills, your child does not have the tools to master the next few skills, at least not well. This is why many children flail away at reading and get so frustrated; it's very similar to being up a creek without a paddle. Without phonics, they are pretty much left to their own devices on how to figure out what a page of text means. It makes them vulnerable to bad mental habits which are increasingly being misunderstood as "learning disabilities." They're not: they are just the signs that the child didn't get the reading basics and is now struggling to make up his or her own solutions.

So as you assess your child's abilities in these five levels, decide whether the steps to literacy have been well-ordered and well-placed for your child . . . or if your school's reading program needs an immediate remodeling!

1. Phonemic awareness: the ability to hear and remember the order of the sounds that letters make in words.

Does your child know the alphabet? Does your child enjoy rhyming and rhythm? Can your child "glue" and "unglue" words? For example, have your child say the word "jumprope." Now ask your child to take away the "jump." Can your child remember the proper response, "rope"? For a child in third grade or higher, see if the child can speak in "pig Latin." Remember? Ou-yay an-cay ake-tay is-thay est-tay. If the child can't rearrange the sounds in words like that, the child most likely was never taught to discern them.

2. Phonics: the ability to match the sounds that the letters make to the written symbols on a page and decode those written symbols (words) quickly and accurately.

Does your child know the short vowel sounds? Long vowel sounds? Does your child know the 70 phonograms, or the various sounds that the English language makes by alphabet letters alone or in combinations?

3. Fluency: the quick, efficient and accurate decoding of words, read rapidly and with expression.

Give your child something to read that is NOT that day's schoolwork, but that you think is about grade-level complexity for your child's age. Example: a library book. Listen to your child reading aloud. Does he or she stumble? Pause? Skip words or entire lines of text? Does he or she read in a monotone? Does he or she get tired really quickly? These are symptoms that the child is having to work too hard on decoding the words and has no energy left for actually reading them, a sure sign of a phonics deficiency.

4. Vocabulary: does your child use a lot of different words, or are they all very simple, common words?

Again, show your child a book from outside the classroom with words that are about that child's reading level. Ask your child to count how many words on each page he or she has no idea about the meaning. Estimate the percentage of unfamiliar words. It should be pretty small. A stunted vocabulary is another sure sign of a phonics deficiency, because without the fast decoding power of the sound-symbol connection that you learn with phonics, a child is limited to remembering the visual patterns of letters -- "sight words" -- which is the main decoding strategy of Whole Language reading instruction methods, but a weak one, since it is silent and misses out on the power of sound that comes with phonics.

5. Comprehension: how well does your child interpret the meaning of text and enjoy the reading?

A sure sign of decoding distress is if a child's reading comprehension is poor. If you can understand the meaning of spoken language -- if your "listening comprehension" is good -- then if you cannot understand the meaning of written language, the problem isn't with you. It's with the weak ways you were taught to decode text. Without the accuracy and fluency that comes with careful phonics instruction, the reading comprehension of the average Whole Language student begins to show declines right off the bat, and the difference in comprehension skills between Whole Language readers and phonics readers becomes dramatic in the secondary-school years.

For more on this and related topics involved with reading problems, see No comments:
Oops! Proper link for the last line of the reading story is LDOnline

And on to . . .

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.
-- Ephesians 3:9

We have these friends. They seemed totally conventional, out here in suburbia. And then we heard about their first date.

It's a great Valentine’s Day reminder that love really does triumph and God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes the Lord of Love uses some mighty unusual kindling to fan the flames of romance.

Mighty unusual.

See, our friend started off in life as an agricultural entrepreneur. He had a cow / calf operation and also raised 150 Yorkshire brood sows with some champion boars on 800 rolling acres in Iowa.

OK, OK. He was a pig farmer.

But he's a hunk and he cleans up nice. And somebody introduced him to her. They hit it off and made a date.

Now, she's a city girl, or as close to it as you can get out here in the sticks. She is the type who ''gets nails'' and is beautifully dressed, petite and feminine all the way.

He told her he was busy ''farrowing'' and asked her to come over to his place and they could go out on their date from there.

She wasn't entirely sure what ''farrowing'' meant, but thought it sounded very manly and hands-on and so forth. So she arrived in her flirty little tube top and white shorts with brand-spankin' new white clogs.

''Miss Prissy,'' he describes her now.

Well, he wasn't at the house but the door to the outbuilding, which she later learned was the ''farrowing house,'' was wide open. So she went in.

It's not clear exactly why she shut her eyes. It might have been the blast of methane gas that erupted onto her hair, her clothes and her skin like a tidal wave of stinky.

Or it might have been the sight of her newfound flame . . . down on one knee with his arm all the way up a mama pig's behind.

Love at first sight is not supposed to be like this.

Whatever made her close her eyes, they snapped back open as soon as she heard him ask her to come over and stick HER arm all the way up the mama pig's behind.

''She’s already had eight, but this one's breech and it has to be turned,'' he was shouting. ''My arm's too big. Will you come over here and do it?''

Standing there in her flirty little tube top and white shorts and brand new white clogs, she just stared at him. He was filthy, and he was kneeling near the manure pit up to his armpit in moanin', squealin' mama pig, and we're talkin' 500 pounds of moanin', squealin' mama pig.

She stood there, speechless and squinting in the methane cloud.

He saw that she was hesitating, so he smiled his manliest, most entrancing, most persuasive smile. ''I’ve got a glove you can wear!''

You know, I'd like to be able to report that she was overcome with love and devotion for him, heard bells, was struck in the heart by Cupid's arrow, et cetera, et cetera, so she ran right over there and did it.

But I believe her actual response was closer to what most of us females would have said:

''In a pig’s eye, Buster!''

Another ending to the story might have him asking the sow to marry him. He was already down on one knee and was feeling very, very close to her, I'm sure. But that didn't happen, either.

What did happen is that our friend DIDN'T run out of there squealing like a . . . well, a . . . stuck pig. She stayed. He tried one more time with the breech and it worked. He finished farrowing all by himself, winding up with 14 nice piglets. Then he dashed inside, washed up, and left with the reluctant midwife out on their date.

They had a wonderful time. I mean, they already had something to talk about. Sort of.

But he didn't need to entertain her or impress her. She had already fallen head over heels in love with him. The pig stink and ridiculous position she'd seen him in didn't matter.

It was that smile. That's all she saw. That's all it took.

They were married shortly thereafter.

OK, you men: forget the red sports car. Forget the diamond bracelet. Forget the hours in the weight room and the tooth whitening regimen. Forget all the things you think are your best shots at wooing the woman of your dreams.

I’m not saying you need to get up to your armpits in pig dip to get her attention. But I am saying the Lord works in mysterious ways.

And brother, when it comes to winning the one who's meant for you, relax. He's on your side . . . and He's got moves you’ve never dreamed of.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

SATURDAY: Lookin' Up


On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being worldwide nuclear war, their little spat was only about a 1 1/2. The husband had grouched about some things that weren't exactly to his liking that evening: the dishes had been left in the sink all day, a file folder was missing and no doubt his wife had lost it because she lost EVERYTHING, and it was leftovers for dinner . . . AGAIN.

Plus, he had noticed that the wife had filled two shelves of a freestanding bookcase downstairs with old books that, placed up top like that, made the unit unstable and a safety hazard. It didn't matter that the books had been up there for nearly three years with nary a word spoken about them before. Noooo. That night, the grouchy husband decreed that they had to go.

Well, he went to bed, still grouchy. His wife, mournful over being thought 0-4 that night, stayed up and tearfully put the books away. She was grumbling about what an old grouch/grinch/grunch he was turning in to, and SHE shouldn't have to put UP with this verbal abuse, and yada yada yada.

Then she went to bed. As was her custom when he was grouchy, she slept in the spare bedroom. So there! Don't let the sun go down on your anger? (Ephesians 4:26) Well, the sun had set before his grouch-a-thon, and she had another 20 hours to reconcile with him before it went down again. . . so THERE!

Also as was her custom, she propped herself up in bed and took a hold of the Bible. She read three chapters every night, starting from wherever it opened.

That night, it opened to Job 19:

"Then Job answered and said,

"How long will ye vex my soul, and break me in pieces with words?

"These ten times have ye reproached me: ye are not ashamed that ye make yourselves strange to me."

Tears spilled down her face and arms as she read the chapter where it is made clear that the only opinion about who we are and what we do that really matters is God's. And you shouldn't worry about a little meanmouth going on, because one day, He will make everything right.

"For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth." (v. 25)

And that will be one big HONKIN' so there. So THERE!

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never harm you . . . as long as you wear those heavenly earplugs that come with faith.

Friday, February 07, 2003

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


A few weeks ago, one of my daughters spoke on the phone with an aunt she doesn't see much. They had a lovely chat, and then as she was hanging up, my daughter said, "I love you."

A few days later, she received a card from this aunt, saying how lovely it had been to hear those beautiful words from such a beautiful girl, and how long it had been since anyone had said those words to her.

We were all just shocked . . . but then we remembered how sophisticated so many families have gotten, and how jaded and ultra-cool. Kid stuff like saying "I love you" at the end of every conversation went out with party lines and poodle skirts.

Or did it?

All I know is, Valentine's Day is coming up, and there may be no more important job for a mother than fostering love in her children's lives, starting with their own families and spreading out in appropriate ways. There is nothing more appropriate than telling a relative that you love him or her, each time you part. There may be no better habit in relationships, than learning to choose words that encourage, uplift, heal and bless.

If your children aren't doing that, there's no day like Valentine's Day to start.

Don't make someone YOU love have to wait so long to hear those three little words that make the world go 'round.

Thursday, February 06, 2003



1. Make your own cards with paper punches or other greeting-card technology and special paper from a hobby store.

2. Write a limerick rhymed with your Valentine's name.

3. If you're female, put on the reddest lipstick you have, and kiss the cards or the backs of the envelopes -- literally S.W.A.K. (Sealed With A Kiss).

4. Make thin brownies, blondies (using chocolate chip cookie dough) or Peanut Butter Cups:

1/3 lb. (1 pkg.) graham crackers, crushed
1 stick margarine, melted
1/2 lb. (1 3/4 C.) powdered sugar
1 C. peanut butter

Mix. Press into 9" x 13" pan or larger. Melt a 6-oz. package of chocolate chips. Spread over top. Let set.

Make any of these treats so that they don't rise as tall as usual, and bake for a little less time so they don't dry out.

Once they're cool, cut them with a heart-shaped cookie cutter. Remove to plate. Decorate with frosting, mini M&Ms or whatever suits your fancy.

5. Take handfuls of those candy hearts with little sayings on them, and glue them in place in an original rebus story that you write. Here's how: write a few words and then glue a candy heart in with words that substitute. So:

You make me (put a heart that says SMILE)

because you're such a (heart that says NICE GIRL)

and if I had (heart that says MY WAY)

We'd be together forever: (heart that says IT'S LOVE)

6. Scavenger Hunt: when the time is right (for married folks, it's when the kids are in bed), give your Valentine the first of several clues -- a single rose in the linen closet, some massage oil in the washing machine, twin wine glasses under the dining room table -- that wind up you-know-where, with you in a some nice new nightwear.

7. Write your Valentine a crossword puzzle using names, places and objects from your past romantic life: the name of the movie you went to on your first date, your favorite song, the name of the minister who married you . . . have fun!

8. Get a double picture frame and frame baby pictures of yourself and your Valentine.

9. Ask the person who set you up on your first date, served as your best man or maid of honor, or otherwise promoted and supported your love, to call your sweetheart and say how nice it is to see your love continue to grow.

10. Get a heart-shaped cake pan, and make and frost a heart-shaped cake, then clean the pan and make a heart-shaped meat loaf in it! Serve with a red Jell-O and strawberry salad and mashed potatoes, and for heaven's sake, eat by candlelight. If you have children, when you say grace, everyone should take a turn thanking God for something loving that someone did for them, and describe it.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


Someone I love who's over 21 -- by several TIMES -- has just been included in a supper club of some very nice 70-something people she has met. A weekly standard dinner invitation! Great news!

Then she found out WHY she was being invited: it's because she can drive at night.

Well . . . that's not so bad. So it's a lightweight party crowd? At least she can be relatively sure that she'll be home before curfew.

There are rules for Fogie Socializing, you know. Here are some:

1. If you go in two cars, be sure to leave abnormally early so that your carload can get the side of the table that has the good view, and THEIR carload has to "face the wall."

2. Don't sit by Rupert. He never shuts up.

3. Be careful around Gordon. He's fragile and falls a lot.

4. Blanche will not like her dinner.

5. Patsy and Bill will not go to restaurants that cost more than, oh, say, the neighborhood diner . . . in 1957.

And they think those "Survivor" games for young people are so challenging. . . .

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


An Omahan who wishes to remain anonymous has proposed an elegant solution to the problem of how to keep casino gambling out of the State of Nebraska. Iowa's "boats" and the jingle-jangling going on in casinos and expanded slot machines in surrounding states have provoked an anxious "keep up with the Joneses" mentality in Nebraska, despite the obvious evidence that expanded casino gambling would be a rotten idea for the Cornhusker State.

So here's his solution, and it's a win-win:

Force some of the money Nebraskans gamble away at adjoining casinos back to Nebraska.

Most Nebraskans are painfully aware of the harsh economic and social realities of expanded gambling. See my report, "Show 'n' Tell on Gambling," posted at the Nebraska Civic Digest with plenty of sources that expose gambling's ugly underbelly from all over the country.

What seems to really gripe people about keeping casinos illegal here is that Nebraska dollars don't "turn" in Nebraska once they're gambled away in other states, especially those "boats" in Iowa just across the Missouri River.

So? Let's make 'em "turn."

We could force Iowa and South Dakota legislatures to split the amount of gambling proceeds that are now going to charities in their states with Nebraska charities . . . or else we build our own casinos to compete with, and probably severely damage or destroy, theirs.

How do we keep track of where the gambling dollars are coming from?

Simple: computers. Have you been to Yellowstone or Disney World lately? Or just about any store? Notice how they always ask what zip code you're from? Duhhhh: they're building a database. It's not hard.

Well, gamblers could designate a home zip code for the money they are gambling. Once the "take" is tallied, it would be simple to pro-rate the charity proceeds to the various zip codes that the gamblers themselves have designated.

So if, say, 30 percent of the money gambled at the Iowa "boats" actually comes from Nebraska, then 30 percent of the charitable donations required by Iowa law would have to go to designated Nebraska charities.

No, we wouldn't get the tax revenues from expanded gambling into government coffers to perhaps give us a little tax relief. But we ought to be giving ourselves a LOT of tax relief the simple, old-fashioned way: making modest and sensible cuts in government spending.

But think it over: even if we didn't get the additional tax revenues from casinos in Nebraska, we also wouldn't get any more of the enormous economic and social costs and the extraordinarily difficulties that casinos cause for families.

We've already got more than our share of gambling-related bankruptcies, divorces, crime, joblessness and child neglect from Nebraskans who've succumbed to the gambling that's now available. Let's not add to that pile of woe. Instead, let's try to help people with the charity plan . . . not hurt more of them here at home.

Wouldn't this be a lot fairer, make Nebraska business owners and residents a lot happier, and make the degrading, decadent specter of casino gambling seem a lot less seductive?

I think this one's a winner. How 'bout you? Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets. . . .

Monday, February 03, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


It's a fairly popular ploy, these days: educators say they need more money or kids will be shortchanged out of a decent education. It's pretty hard for other units of government to compete with that threat, much less taxpayers with a mind toward holding the line on government spending.

But then there are quiet voices of reason crying out in the wilderness. The most influential ones are likely to be the local newspapers. So parents and taxpayers who want quality education for kids without taxing everybody out of their homes might study what the North Platte (Neb.) Telegraph said, and urge your local newspaper to say something similar.

In a Jan. 22 editorial, that western Nebraska newspaper quietly and understatedly pointed out that state tax funds allocated to K-12 public schools in the Cornhusker State grew 4.8 times faster than the rate of inflation over the past 30 years. That's nearly 500 percent faster. Meanwhile, senior citizens are expected to be happy with inflationary increases and not a penny more. Certainly nothing like 500 percent more than inflation's toll.

That's probably fairly similar to what has been happening in other states.

So when schools come crying to legislatures and taxpayers saying that they are terribly and unfairly underfunded and kids are going to suffer, find out what has happened with school spending over the last few decades in your state. Then compare those numbers to the rate of inflation. A call to the school finance bureau of your state department of education, or perhaps the research office of your state legislature, should produce the necessary figures.

With statistics like that to back taxpayers up, when the schools come calling for more money, the answer can be quiet, clear, understated and emphatic: "N-O."

Sunday, February 02, 2003

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


All that hate me whisper together against me: against me do they devise my hurt.
-- Psalm 41:7

I have this wonderful, whimsical friend who is also my sparring partner. This is because he happens to be Jewish and I happen to be Christian. But we like each other, so we spar. He thinks he’s winning and I think I’m winning. So it works.

But sometimes he tells me things that make me think that neither of us is winning. Not winning at all.

Here is one, based on an incident that happened a year ago Christmas. I think Americans are going to find ourselves more and more caught up in situations like this. And I think we had better be ready.

My friend is a computer genius. Let him tell it:

“I was in (a Midwestern city) working on a large server at a very major national corporation. While in this massive room the size of a football field, full of noisy computers, I was surrounded by IT (Information Technology) managers and others, all concerned that my repair of the power supply and central processor for this vital machine go fast and smooth.

“Well, there were eight or 10 worried IT professionals breathing down my neck to expedite what is a complex, but straightforward and common repair job that had an urgency.

“Knowing that it takes about 15 minutes to perform the task without interference, I passed out dreidels to those around me to keep them occupied and maybe make them smile a bit during this stressful time.


“I had bought a few gross of little wooden dreidels (ancient four-sided tops with Hebrew symbols that children play with, especially at Hanukkah) at a party store that year, so that (his son) could pass them out in school. I kept a half gross for myself to pass out to customers. When I would go into companies around Christmastime, sometimes the receptionists would hand me a candy cane or something, and I enjoyed giving them a dreidel in return.

“Imagine the sight of grown men and women spinning dreidels on the tops of million-dollar computers! Some had never seen one before.

“Just as I was sliding the last component into place and making the final connections to bring the machine back to life, the man next to me asked:

“’Why didn’t any Jews get killed in the World Trade Center?!? I heard that all the Jews and Israelis stayed home or stood a few blocks away to laugh and take pictures!’”

“There was a long, silent pause.

“It was a few months after 9/11. I had a pretty good idea that this was a big lie, put out by people bent on demonizing Jews and Americans as well. I simply asked him, ‘Where did you hear this?’

“He said nothing. His co-workers remained silent. All you could hear was the nervous shuffling of feet and the whirring fans of the server as it executed its correct rebooting and self-test sequence.

“To this day, I have no idea what the others there thought about his comment. They just stood silent, fearful of saying the wrong thing, or of making a comment that they agreed, for fear of triggering some sort of problem with their jobs.

“But the fact remains that they were silent, either in agreement with him or in disbelief. Nevertheless, silence.

“I just let the server boot up and left for my next call after they had checked to be sure it was in fact online again and functional.”

End of story, at least his narration.

But his story lives on, in the shadows of my heart, where I don’t really like looking, because it reflects some things about myself and my country that I’m not sure I want to see.

Would I have scoffed at the man’s wild claim . . . or remained scared and silent, like the others?

Would I have likened it to the other urban legends that make the rounds . . . or would I have suppressed that rational response, choosing my co-workers over the feelings of this “outsider”?

Would I have acted as a true Christian, come to his defense, and exposed myself to the same pain and ridicule he was getting . . . or would I have gone with the flow in the comfortable mainstream of groupthink where, right under the surface, there may indeed be the ugly pollution of anti-Semitism?

I hope to God that I would have taken one of those little dreidels and twirled it on top of that man’s head with a quip like, “Now, THAT about TOPS it. Of COURSE that’s not true.”

But would I?

Would you?

Anti-Semitism is real, in this world. It seems to me to be getting worse. More blatant. When it hurts a wonderful, whimsical guy like my sparring partner, it has gone too far.

How about you? When the little dreidel of truth stops spinning and falls, whose side will you be on?

Saturday, February 01, 2003

SATURDAY: Lookin' Up


One of the more moving statements from the White House was made today in memory of the seven people killed when the space shuttle Columbia was lost. President Bush quoted Isaiah 40 about how God created and named the heavenly host, which most people take to mean the stars.

That's a great chapter that instructs us on God's power and sovereignty. It shows us that despite that incredible, unthinkable might, He is still a God who knows His creation down to the last molecule and bit of dust. It shows His capacity for love as boundless and unequalled . . . like the universe He made.

I really like how it ends and am picturing the seven lost souls of Columbia like this now:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. -- Isaiah 40:31

Good quote, Mr. Prez. And good watch, seven souls. For the rest of us: shall we keep our eyes on the stars, toward the heavenly host, always, faithfully, LOOKIN' UP?