Monday, November 30, 2009

Concerning American Girl

American Girl is the name of a product line put out by a company of the same name. They began with a series of books (with corresponding dolls) and have expanded from there. We discovered them when my daughter borrowed some of the books from the library. We started reading them as a family and soon we were hooked. Even the boys like to listen, and don't mind too much that it's "girl stuff".

The books are quite good. They mix a little history, a little bildungsroman, a little morality play, and a little "Stuff Girls Like", like dogs, cats, horses, clothes, etc. They teach good values, such as the importance of family, being a true friend, and being aware of and involved in the world around you. And, of course, believing in yourself.

The heroines are good and decent girls. They don't always have their priorities straight or their perspectives properly aligned, but they invariably undergo appropriate adjustment before the end. Things don't always go their way, but things do always turn out as well as they can.

In short, if I had to pick one fiction series for my daughter to take to heart, it would be these books. The girls in these books are just the sort of girls I'd like my daughter to become--and for my boys to associate with.

That's not to say they don't market the concept to death. They do. Every year they come out with a new Girl, with the corresponding product line. But their success is not undeserved, by any means, and if someone has to get my money I'd prefer it be American Girl over, say, Bratz, Star Wars, or My Little Pony. Bratz seems to be designed to produce shallow, image-obsessed girls. Star Wars is all about excitement, shallow story lines, vague morality, and pushing product. My Little Pony is all about cramming little girls' heads with cotton-candy inanities.

American Girl is about substance. It's about producing smart, confident, considerate, modest girls. It's about letting girls be girls--focused, grounded, well-rounded girls.

Tonight drove that point home pretty well. It was our family night, and it was my daughter's turn to come up with refreshments. We had a little mini-parfait made of brownie chunks, chocolate pudding, whipped topping, and candy-cane pieces. It was quite good, kinda different, and elegant-yet-simple. It turns out it was a recipe from the American Girl magazine.

I picked up the magazine for a quick glance while we were eating. The cover touted an article about throwing a "Party with a Purpose", so I flipped through the magazine to check it out. There was an article on how to throw a party for your friends centered around making hand-crafted items to take to local animal or homeless shelters. Included was a list of thoughtful questions for the girls to discuss while they worked.

I was somewhat taken back by what I saw. I belong to a church that places a great deal of emphasis on developing young women of depth, substance, and spirituality. American Girl covers the first two quite well, and goes as far as they can with the third without getting religious. I would be pleased as punch if my daughter were to come to embody all the American Girl values, quite frankly.

So I don't say this lightly: American Girl is a company on the side of parents. They're an excellent resource. Quite frankly, I wish there was an American Boy, as well. Yes, they're out to get their share of your money, but unlike most companies out there tapping into the kid and "tween" markets, they deserve it.

Bravo, American Girl. Keep up the good work. You and your products are welcome in our home and in the lives of my children.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


There's a fair amount of buzz lately about the scientists in the UK that a hacker exposed fudging data, withholding information, and stifling dissenting opinion. Of course you'll only find that buzz on the Internet, as the mainstream media is staying so far away from the story they're almost on their way back toward it.

Defenders of course claim that this is an isolated incident. We're expected to believe that this hacker just happened to pick on the one bad apple in the Global Warming community. The trouble is, if the GW community were really acting like the scientists they're supposed to be, they would have exposed these frauds themselves.

It would be quite impossible for four scientists to cover themselves so thoroughly for so long if the rest of the GW community were approaching their work with anything even remotely resembling healthy scientific skepticism. But no, the fact that these "bad apples" were not exposed by other scientists is a strong indicator that they are by no means the only ones involved in the suppression of GW dissent and skepticism.

It's not just one bad apple--that much is certain. Chances are it's the whole tree.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thank a veteran--and run!

Today being Veterans Day I thought I would try thanking the veterans I know. At work I had a chance to thank the new guy who I overheard was in the military recently. He seemed genuinely surprised and pleased, and said I was the first person to remember today.

After work my wife told me she had made a cake to take to someone. She had gone to our kids' school for their Veterans Day program, and the principal had given her the idea to find a veteran to show thanks to. Our older son has a friend whose dad served recently in Iraq and has now retired into the National Guard and local law enforcement. We decided to take the cake to him as a family.

He wasn't home when we showed up at his house, but his wife was very grateful. She called him at work and told him about it, and he called our house and left a message on our answering machine before we could even get home. He seemed very astonished and grateful that someone would do that for him and his family.

So I've come to the conclusion that it's hard to thank a vet and not come away feeling like you got more gratitude back than you gave. Next year I may have to try random, drive-by thankings. Take that!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Scozzafava reveals what pols fear

The NY23 house race is over, in which a Republican, a Democrat, and a Conservative all ran for the same seat. The Republican dropped out. In the end the Democrat won in an area largely leaning Republican in the past. Why?

Because the Republican threw her support behind the Democrat. Criticized by many for being a Republican In Name Only (RINO), she decided to prove it.

What this shows is that there is one thing that our two main parties hate more than each other: the idea of a third viable party. Oh sure, there have been a few independents reach office here and there, but those often are people who started out with one party or another and became Independent-in-name-only (uh...IINO?) after their party abandoned them.

No, this was a case where a candidate from an actual third party ran and nearly won. Even though there are more ramifications for the struggling GOP, the message is clear to both parties: you are both losing your grip on the electorate. If Americans get the idea that "none of the above" is a viable alternative to the classic Rep vs. Dem dichotomy both parties stand to lose power.

And in the end that's what this is all about. Both parties crave power. They're not so much interested in helping the country as keeping their power. To do that they have to keep the American people firmly divided into two camps; Us against Them. They would rather see one of the approved opposition win than someone supposedly closer to their own values who is outside the artificial two-part structure.

Congratulations to you, Doug Hoffman. You nearly started something. You may still have. But it's obvious that this race mattered, because reports of the outcome are buried in the news. barely even acknowledges it, even though it provides counterpoint to their lead story of several key GOP victories. Since it doesn't fit the GOP vs. Dems narrative it's just not important, I suppose.