Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Muffled Thud

One of the homely sounds of our household, since we have been living in this house, anyway, has been the 6am twonnnng of the newspaper hitting the security gate in front of the door. The gate was here when we bought the place--they're a pretty standard SF feature, usually made of dull silver metal of some sort. Ours is a series of large curlicues set onto a door-sized grid of diamond-shaped lozenges; the grid is meant to keep malefactors from getting past the curlicues and trying to prise the lock open. Ours is not a high-crime neighborhood, but the 90+ year old woman who owned the house before us had the grille put up some years ago; it made her feel safer about living alone.

The problem is that the damned thing was really ugly. So this weekend, filled with girlish enthusiasm (or stupidity) I got some paint and decided to paint the grille. How long could it take? Well, so far I've spent five hours on the thing, spread over three days. I've done the grille, both sides, on about a third of it, all the decorative curlicues on the front, and the basic frames. Then it began to rain, and I had to stop. It's going to be beautiful when it's finished.

But there's been a sonic change: gone is that musical twonnnng; in its place a muffled thud. I love the look of the grille, all shiny and black; somehow it makes my house look more approachable. But I miss the twonnnng.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


We had a perfectly lovely Thanksgiving, which ended (the loveliness part, anyway) at 11pm that night, when YG tossed up everything she had eaten all day all over her bed and herself. We got her cleaned up, and the poor wight did it again several times (into a bowl, fortunately...there is a limit to how many changes of bedding we own). I slept with her most of the night, for the better holding of hair and rinsing of mouth a l'instant. Yesterday she appeared to be on the mend--had a slight fever, but was able to hold down dinner. And this morning she woke up cheery, pranced around for a bit...then spent a hectic ten minutes throwing up again. So we went to see the pediatrician, who said, predictably, stomach bug. Keep her hydrated. So that's what we're going to do. It casts a bit of a pall over the holiday weekend, but it did keep us in the house and away from the horrors of Friday-after-Thanksgiving-shopping, so we're going to tuck the kid up in the sunroom and let her watch movies.

It's nice to know, per the doctor, that I didn't somehow obscurely poison my child with too much turkey.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

An Era's Demise

As of Thursday, the end-of-evening pub cry, "Ladies and Gents, Last Call" will be a thing of the past. Or at least, pubkeepers will have the option to make it so. In an effort to stop the 11pm flood of drunken British from spilling out onto the streets (and why am I hearing an echo of Monty Python and soiled budgies flying out of people's loos and infringing their personal privacy?) the government has made licenses available for 24-hour service--on the theory, I guess, that this will spread the number of drunks weaving on the streets across the whole night. About 700 establishments, including 240 pubs, have applied for the permits.

Does this mean London Transport is going to start running the Underground later? That would be nice.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


...inlaws. Will report back if we all survive.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Thoughts on the Eve of a School Strike

There is no money for education in the Great State of California. As a matter of fact, Our Governor (who has never been a teacher, but once played a cop playing a teacher on TV) took multiple billions of dollars from the state's education funds last year to pay elsewhere. And the San Francisco Unified School District is only just recovering from years of financial, um, mismanagement (Arlene Ackerman, the outgoing Superintendent, is loved by some and hated by others, but no one disputes that the money problems got cleaned up under her aegis) so there is no extra cash there. And the SEIU workers--the support staff, the cafeteria workers and janitors and other unsung non-instructional, non-administrative staff--are threatening to strike on Thursday. And if they do, the teachers--who are in the queue right behind SEIU for contract negotiations--will refuse to cross the picket lines. According to the SFUSD, school will go on--administrators will teach, and parent volunteers will help, and somehow the kids will all get educated. Or not.

I don't blame the SEIU or the teachers; it's reasonable to want a raise every couple of years. It's reasonable to want to hold on to, or improve, your health benefits. I don't entirely blame the school district--I wish their finances were more transparent so that when they say there is no more money it could be demonstrated to one and all that this is the case, but given what I do know about education funding in this state, I'm inclined to believe that they're cash poor. The District has offered a small raise, with a little more money next year; once they settle with SEIU they'll have to negotiate with the teachers, and that'll cost some money too.

The real problem, the problem that makes me crazy, is that we don't value people who teach and care for children in this country. I'm as guilty as the next man: when we had babysitters (I refuse to say "nanny," which sounds far too, um, nannyish) we paid them whatever we could, but we couldn't afford to pay them as well as they deserved. But we expect the people who teach our children to love them, keep them safe, stuff them full of learning, socialize them, mark their papers, supervise their play time, know and appreciate them. And not just one or two kids: a couple of dozen of them at least.

We had a parent-teacher conference this morning. YG's teacher clearly thinks she's the bee's knees, and she reciprocates. And he has an eye on her social interactions as well as her schoolwork. She's one of his students identified as gifted, so he has to make sure she's adequately challenged. Of course, he has to do this for 28 kids--some of whom are gifted, many of whom are English-language learners, some of whom require remediation. He's got 28 plates spinning in the air, and he keeps them in the air, and they love him. Multiply this one guy by hundreds in the city, hundreds of thousands in the nation. All of whom deserve to make a living wage. So when I hear the odd screed about the selfishness of teachers and school workers it makes me crazy. What, they should pay me for the privilege of working with my kids? They're wonderful children, but I don't kid myself that the honor of working with them is sufficient payment...

Will striking help the SEIU workers and teachers get what they want? The principal at YG's school, who has been through some strikes over her 40-year tenure in the SFUSD, says that strikes are generally divisive and leave the school community with all sorts of resentments and anger.

In the meantime I've got two kids who the Districts says should be at school on Thursday, come hell or high water. They will have to cross the picket lines, and that could get nasty. I have all sorts of mixed feelings: keep them home and honor the picket lines? Sarcasm Girl notes that most of the kids who are "honoring the picket lines" are doing so to avoid going to school. Send them through the lines to school (so that, quite selfishly, I can get some work done?)

According to the local news reports there's a "last minute scramble to avoid a strike." That'd be good. I certainly don't know how to solve this problem, but it seems to me that honoring our teachers and school workers would be a good start.

Big Day

This morning we had YG's parent-teacher conference at 7:20 (**shudder**). Later, I'm going back to the school to meet Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is making a visit. Sarcasm Girl has a voice lesson, YG a guitar lesson, and, I have fencing class. Somewhere in there I have to make food and make sure everyone does their homework. We are having too much fun.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Talk to God. Or a God-bot. Someone has too much time on his hands.

Via Sarcasm Girl, who also has too much time on her hands. Try God out with a little Abbott and Costello (but don't be surprised if Monty Python stumps him.)

Friday, November 11, 2005

"I Need More Violence!"

Sometimes the peer pressure thing rears its ugly head in the most rational child. Not that mine are. Rational, I mean. Not all the time, anyway.

So today, as it is Veteran's Day, the young had the day off, and YG went to my current favorite cafe with me. Somehow, on the way back, we got into movies that were, or were not, appropriate for her to see. My first prejudice is in favor of letting the kids watch whatever they want, on the theory that it will all shake out--but I have been proved wrong enough times to know that this isn't an entirely sound policy. It's one thing to let your 10-year-old daughter watch Shakespeare in Love with a shawl to pull over her head during the sex scenes (this practice gave rise to the term "blankie moments" to describe scenes of sex or violence that the watcher decides not to participate in. It's another for the same kid to watch Titanic and get monumentally disturbed by the emotional violence of the mother trying to force her daughter to marry (ick) Billy Zane. Or the character he's playing, for that matter. So I have become more restrictive as the years have gone on. I'm still, by my husband's lights, too easy-going, which causes some interesting, um, conversations chez moi.

YG went from protesting the fact that sometimes at the Boys and Girls' Club they show movies which in her judgment (and mine, too) are inappropriate for an audience that ranges from 6 to 13, to the fact that a lot of the kids she knows get to see movies we haven't let her see yet. I'm trying to talk to her about appropriateness in terms of story and thematic complexity; she's talking about language and violence. So I find myself walking down the street with an angry nine-year-old who is declaiming, "I need more violence! Everyone else gets to see movies with lots of violence! I want to see The Matrix Reloaded!" All my attempts to explain to her that we hadn't shown her The Matrix Reloaded, not because of the violence, but because it's a crappy movie, were as naught.

"I Need More Violence! I need to be like everyone else! You're ruining my life."

Sigh. Probably won't be the last time, either.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Dance of Happy Rationality

All of Shwarzenegger's Propositions were defeated. He is now talking about "working with the legislature." And the deeply ugly Parental Notification prop failed, as did both the drug program props. See Your Hostess dancing.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Subway Gunman Wants Your Vote

Via Derryl Murphy, The Banterist has a Superficial Voter's Guide - NYC 2005. It's all comic enough--but what floored me was the appearence, two thirds of the way down the page, of Bernard Goetz. That's right--the "subway gunman" who shot down four Black kids who threatened him on the subway two decades ago, is now running for Advocate in NY City.

This is the sort of thing which makes me feel like I'm living in a bad Heinlein novel.

Election Day

California is a strange state. We elect a state legislature and then make all the governmental decisions via proposition. This year there are Props at the State level, most of them proposed by Our Governor. Then there are the city props. There are also county props. This year we only had to elect three actual humans; the rest was propositions of various sorts. And the advertising for a lot of these proposals makes considerable noise about the Evil of Legislators ("Hey, if the legislators are for it, I'm against it!"). But we don't seem to let the legislators do any legislating (all the big things are decided by You, the Voter, who can be swayed by advertising and don't have the time or resources to research the issues, and can be relied upon to vote emotion or pocketbook). This is a strange state.

I blame civics classes. I don't know what they're teaching kids these days, but I do know I grew up believing that government was a high calling. And I still believe that, somewhere deep in my cynical, irritable, panicky soul. Government may screw up, and because of the money and power involved, sometimes the wrong people are called to it. But I blame those people (I've got, as you might imagine, a long list of people I am happy to blame) and not governance. I don't want outsiders running my government; the learning curve is steep and time gets wasted. I want people who think that government is a high calling, and want to be part of that. You know, the kids who grew up thinking that anyone can grow up to be President, and doesn't regard that as an entitlement program or a curse.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Bits of Sun

Spent the weekend in Portland, Oregon, at Orycon, a very nice regional convention. Worked hard (two panels on Friday; a reading, three panels, and an hour and a half stint on "Who's Line is it Anyway" on Saturday; and two more panels on Sunday) and had a good time. It was raining in San Francisco when I left (waaaaaay early) on Friday morning; and there was sun in Portland when I got there. That, of course, changed within a couple of hours: rain and gray and cold set in shortly thereafter. Sunday morning there was sun; the hotel is downtown, right on the river, and the trees are turning; there were two big trees right under my window (I think they were maples, but couldn't get close enough to check the leaves) one of them still green, the other a lovely mix of green, yellow, and brilliant red. By the time I finished my last panel and started off toward the MAX light rail station to get out to the airport it was clouding over, but I was feeling pretty pleased at being able to get around a town I don't know on public transportation. Of course, light rail service was interrupted because of repairs to a bridge ("They figure it's easier to put you on a shuttle bus for a day while they fix those little cracks in the bridge than it would be to fish a whole MAX out of the river" the bus driver informed us via PA) so I got to have an adventure. And by the time I got back on the MAX to get to the airport, it had started to rain. I'm sensing a theme here.

When I got back to San Francisco, YG had a fever of 101 and SG was feeling sick too. This morning SG has gone to school, but YG, still feverish, is in bed still. I know this is not all part of a plot to make me feel guilty about going away. It just feels that way.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Tall Tales

I occasionally get recruited to come in and help out with the writing curriculum at YG's school. The fifth grade are involved in writing tall tales, and I went in to talk to the kids and look at their stuff. What's fascinating is that a lot of them, who I'm sure have the full complement of kid imagination, are so preoccupied with getting it right that they're afraid to take a chance on anything. "Is this a good name for my character?" "Well, do you like it?" "Um, yes, but is this a good name?" "It's your story..." and so on. The teacher and I came up with some ideas for the sorts of tall tales that explain local features--why the top of Bernal Hill is bald, how the Bay came to be, how Alcatraz Island was formed, etc. I immediately had six ideas for tall tales, and the kids were rather bewildered: how could I come up with all those ideas? It's a muscle, I explained. If I spent all day doing lay-ups and jump shots, my basketball skills would be pretty good. I spend all day thinking about stories, so I have plot skills. I think most of them would rather be playing basketball.