Archive for April, 2010


Independent Parties

Gov. Charlie Crist announced Thursday that he is leaving the Republican party to run independently for the United States Senate.

I’d like to see more of this.

Our two-party political system just isn’t working for this country. As the article points out, the campaign strategy consists of two stages: move far to the right or left to secure your party base, and then to the center as you near election day to try to secure all those people in the middle. The result is hypocrites as our elected leaders, and an increasingly polarized electorate; extremism takes over, and nothing gets accomplished while people on dramatically opposite sides shout sound bites and wave their fists at each other.

English parliament has representatives from 12 parties; Italy 17; France 4; in Canada 4 are currently represented in the House of Commons, with 15 other parties registered with Elections Canada.

Do we really believe that what this country needs can be represented by one of two parties? That’s like saying there is the need for only two religions: Judaism and Catholicism. Everything else is just a subset, right?

(And yes, for those who wonder, I also think we need to revamp the electoral system. The current one was devised when only landed, white, educated men could vote. Patchwork amendments are just not doing it anymore. And while we’re at it, how about we look at the constitution as a mission statement and stop treating it like it’s the Holy Word?)


College Students and the New Paradigm

I’ve talked to people at various institutions, and this problem, or at least some form of it, seems to be universal.

Students behave irresponsibly, and then cast around to find someone else to blame for it.

Some stories from the trenches:

They don’t write down what the assignment is: the teacher did not communicate it effectively. They don’t prepare sufficiently for a quiz: the material was covered too quickly or not thoroughly enough. (I actually had a student tell me once that it was my job that he learn the material.) They don’t note the date, time, and place of the final exam, or show up 45 minutes too late, and report to your director that you were not present as arranged. They cheat on a test, deny it, and are allowed to continue their studies. They fail to show up 50% of the time, are given a poor grade, and have their tuition-paying parents call the provost, who instructs the instructor to give the student a B.

Too many students take too little accountability for their lives, education, actions. Too many parents, teachers, administrators are too willing to enable these irresponsible behaviors. Too many students are too eager to cast the nearest scapegoat under the wheels of the bus in order to attempt to save their own skin.

Too many colleges/universities employ too many adjuncts, who have too little power to fight this trend with confidence of protection by the administration. Too many tenure-track faculty fear the result to their application for tenure if they try to uphold academic and integrity standards.

Meanwhile the students who behave responsibly and with integrity receive degrees from institutions who risk losing credibility if these practices were widely known.

It’s too scary, any way you look at it.


Interesting Oil

My husband is reading the ingredients list on a box of animal crackers as a) we give my son a hard time for living on them and b) I hold out my hand asking for some.

I am initially encouraged by the fact that the first ingredient listed is enriched wheat flour. This victory of sorts is short-lived, though, as I read on and discover that the 2nd “ingredient” is actually a list of oils that “may” be included, notably “interestified soybean oil.” I’m afraid I can’t divulge what is done to soybean oil to make it more interesting; this information is not included on the package. I guess I might feel better if it was “increasinglyhealthfulfied soybean oil” but maybe the technology for that doesn’t exist yet.

Meanwhile, we continue to be astounded at how cheap it is to buy food that’s bad for you (i.e. McDonald’s hamburgers at $1.00 a piece) and how expensive it is to eat healthfully (i.e. I paid $5.32 for 2 leeks and $3.99/lb for green peppers today). I worry about this as my oldest son moves out of his dorm in a week and starts buying his own food. They teach a lot of things at that college of his, but how to buy groceries is probably not one of them. At the same time the food-packaging middlemen continue to shrink package sizes and sneak sugar/sucrose/corn syrup, msg, and things-that-don’t-exist-in-nature into our food. It may be “interestified,” but it would be even better if it was honest, healthful, and tasty.


Ugly Shoes

These are just unspeakably ugly.

What are these designers thinking?

These might kick shoe-design a@# (I can’t decide: I like them, then I really don’t, then I do, then I don’t), but just looking at the picture makes my back hurt:

And is this picture about the shoes? or about her legs?

And what about these?

Words fail me. This never happens.


Verizon LG Cosmos

I got a new phone over the weekend. Verizon wanted to charge me $20 to transfer the photos from my old one; and apparently it’s one of 5 or 6 that you can get if you’re not interested in spending an additional $10/month for mandatory internet service. They’re not even trying to hide the fact that they’re fleecing you anymore; the methods of doing so are wide, deep, and shameless.

Anyway, it’s a “cool” phone, and satisfies the techie in me. Feels nice in the hand, slides open to a QWERTY keyboard for texting, my son uploaded a beautiful Van Gogh image to use as my wallpaper.

Funny thing, though; I’m not any happier now than I was before I got it.



Is it finally here?

Apparently, if I want some space in between my photos, I have to write something, or wordpress just bumps them all together.

I love how the sun peeks into the corner of this picture; I don’t love how it made that weird circle in the middle of it though.

I was striving in this one for the focus to be on a deeper branch, with the branches in the foreground and the rail in the back blurry.

I was hoping that the people who lived in the house that belonged to this tree didn’t mind that I was practically lying down in their yard to get this shot.

I won’t tell you how long I stood on the other side of this line of trees trying to figure out how to get a closeup without trespassing; I finally decided it was hopeless, took 7 steps, and then realized that there was a little alley-street on the other side of it. Duh.

I did lay on the sidewalk for this one. Nobody was looking (I checked).


Wherever you go, be there!

Vignettes from the week:

A young couple out for a walk on a beautiful spring day; they’re each talking on their respective cell phones; I presume not to each other.

A student gets hit by a car while texting as she crosses the street. (I’m not making this up.)

A women sits in the audience at a concert and checks her email, plays solitaire and “surfs the net” (does anybody say that any more, well, besides me just now?) on her smartphone.

You all see this, all the time. You’re at your child’s music concert or play or awards ceremony, and everybody’s elbowing each other to get in position with their video cameras; but is anybody watching?

I read something once (of course, being me, I can remember NONE of the details, such as what the book was, or who wrote it) about the true route towards spiritual peace and happiness, and that it was to do everything with full attention. (“Mindfully, young Patawan.”) If you’re washing dishes, feel the soap on your hands and pay attention to the contour of the pan and the soothing quality of the repetitive scouring motion. If you’re folding clothes, notice the softness of the clean fabric and enjoy the interplay of colors in the piles of folded shirts. Taste your food, watch the sun rise (or set, or both), listen to your cat purr as you stroke its fur.

I think this is probably one of the most beautiful things about the tradition of yoga. I had a wonderful yoga teacher for a while who used to tell us to say things like “hello hamstrings” when we stepped into that first downward dog, or “hello feet, thank you so much for carrying me through the day” as we did bound angle pose. We would all laugh, a little, but think about it — do you really appreciate what your feet do for you? (I also learned recently that a quarter of the bones in your body are in your feet. Interesting. . .)

So now I’m going to go mindfully fold my towels.

Ommmmm. . . .


The Human Cost of Coal

According to, we consume 3.5843 billion short tons of coal per person per year in the United States.

This coal is extracted by men working in conditions such as this:

(Think about that next time you’re complaining about how claustrophobic your “cubicle” is.)

Granted, there are more dangerous occupations, namely logging, and fishing/hunting/trapping. And while I think we would all benefit from a little less logging in the world, I guess I would be reluctant to give up seafood Mondays.

It does give me pause, though. As the NY Times article points out, we have robotically-assembled automobiles and pilotless drones, but we still send human beings down into the depths of the planet to work in incredibly dark, cramped places, breathe noxious fumes and coal particulates, and risk death by explosion or tragic equipment accident, all in order to keep our refrigerators and factories humming. I wonder how many trees I’d have to cut down to get sufficient solar power to run my house (and then I have to ask myself, would anyone be injured in the process?)

(Of course, this doesn’t even get in to what the use of coal is doing to the planet, or what the cost will be to us and our children and our children’s children if we don’t find some alternatives and fast.)

I don’t suppose it would help if, for every 1,000 KW of power or every pound of fish consumed, or every time we bought lumber at our neighborhood home-improvement store to add on to our house or build a deck, we sent each of these workers a thank you note and a voucher they could apply towards their life insurance premiums.

Maybe we each ought to be willing to work in each of these fields for a day. Like many vegetarians say — if you’re not willing to strangle the chicken, you shouldn’t be willing to eat it.


Villainous Parents

I just read an article in the Sunday New York Times about the new villain in books for young people — the busy parent.

That does it, there’s no hope for me.

If feeling particularly sorry for myself, I can still bemoan the fact that my mom, a mother of 8 children, rarely had time to read with me or to play games, which is really hard to understand given that she was feeding all of us three home-cooked meals a day, doing countless loads of laundry, keeping our home spotless and helping manage the family farm while pursuing an associate’s degree in accounting. How terribly selfish of her.

Meanwhile, I hold firmly to the belief that a sleeping child is a good child, and that we’d all be better off if everyone under the age of 18 and/or unable to behave properly at the dinner table disappeared from view from 8:30 p.m. on so that I can enjoy an apertif and a good movie or scintillating conversation with my husband without having to cope with such trivialities as nosebleeds or achy legs.

One of the, unfortunately somewhat typical, incidents that in my opinion qualified me for a mother-of-the-year nomination went something like this:  Son #1, (probably 7 or 8 at the time) has come home from school with the information that adults should let children win at games. I point out that I want my children to have the benefit of learning from my superior game-playing skills, and to know that when they DO win (as if), they will have the satisfaction of knowing that they really and truly won. Son responds that I am damaging his self esteem. I reply that this is good, as it will give him something to talk about with his therapist when he’s older.

Now the article in question does not comment on parenting via sarcasm, but in retrospect, I can see that I was wrong.

I should have recommended a book deal.


Foul Play?

So a plane crashes in heavy fog, killing the president of Poland and dozens of political and military leaders after the crew was warned repeatedly by ground controllers that they were not in the appropriate location or position to land.

Is no one suspicious? Maybe I’m paranoid, or cynical, but this doesn’t look a little “funny” to you?


The Secret Scripture

From the book by Sebastian Barry; an elderly woman with a mysterious past is being visited by her doctor in the institution where she has been “residing” for most of her adult life. The doctor is sympathetic, but much of the information regarding her commitment is missing, and he is unsure how to proceed and reluctant to violate her peace or her privacy. He has visited her this day, and spoken of a recent visit to the zoo, and of the beauty of the giraffes.

His talk had locked me in silence, I know not why. It was not opening, easy, happy talk like my father’s, after all. I wanted to listen to him, but I did not want to answer now. That strange responsibility we feel towards others when they speak, to offer them the solace of any answer. Poor humans! And anyway he had not asked a question. He was merely floating there in the room, insubstantial, a living man in the midst of life, dying imperceptibly on his feet, like all of us.


Botched Adoption

I had a fair bit to say about situation regarding the Tennessee woman who decided she wasn’t qualified to deal with her adopted son’s emotional and psychological issues and flew him back to Russia.

Unfortunately, I said it all on the godammiti’ blog, and don’t know if it’s “kosher” to repeat myself on my own blog. Click on the blog title above and follow the comment thread if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, anybody got any input on blog protocol?



What is up with the two bathtubs?


Interns, the New “Unemployed”

I have a series of buttons on the bookmarks toolbar of my browser: facebook, my bank’s website, wordmonkey (in case I want to know how to translate the works of Shakespeare or my grocery list into any of 45 languages like Catalan or Czech), the local 10-day weather forecast, etc. Included in these buttons are links to the human resources pages for a few places I’d like to work — a music education publishing company, the local symphony, etc.

I’ve noticed recently that the list of open positions at the local symphony seems to be getting longer and longer. . .but they’re all for interns, unpaid. Right now they have posted internships for:  Marketing Internship, Education Internship, Development Events Internship, Volunteer Coordination Internship, and Fund Development Internship. All this for a mid-size symphony in a mid-size midwestern city.

Okay, I guess it’s possible that I’m cynical, or paranoid, or both. First, remember the very important adage: just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean the world isn’t out to get you. In any case, does it strike any of you as a bit suspicious? It seems to me that what this company has is two full-time administrative positions that they can’t afford, or aren’t willing, to pay for. So instead they post 5, 20-hour/week positions which they hope to fill with energetic, intelligent, ambitious, capable young people who don’t need to earn any money for trivial things like college tuition or living expenses.

I’ve been watching this unfold over the last several months; now the New York Times writes about it as a national trend, and I fear its impact not only on the energetic, intelligent, ambitious, capable young people who DO need to earn money in the summer but also on the not-so-young, energetic, intelligent, ambitious, capable, experienced people who have much to offer businesses of both the profit and non-profit persuasions.

Let’s all just hope this isn’t one of those grave mistakes we all regret later.


Spring, Closer?

I seem to have developed an affinity for fencelines. . .


Toyota, in Trouble

The United States government has issued a $16.4 million fine on Toyota for failing to notify the United States consumers about sticking accelerator pedals as soon as it could/should have.

They are also seeking a fine for the failure of a warning light to come on to indicate a problem with the emissions system which may result in a car sending too much pollution into the atmosphere.

Anyway, we all hope that these are legitimate fines for legitimate reasons, and not the United States’ method of ensuring success for American car makers because they can’t compete otherwise. Because, we all know, American car makers have demonstrated repeatedly their commitment to making good, clean cars which meet our needs while preserving our natural resources, and deserve to be given a fair shake. 


Fat Pants

I give in on Saturday, and bought three (3) pairs of pants one (1) size bigger than I want to wear.  First of all, it’s important to differentiate that from buying 1 pair of pants 3 sizes bigger; and okay, they’re actually 2 sizes bigger than I want to wear, but there have been 3 times in my life that I’ve worn a size 8: for ~ 6 months following brain surgery; after 6 months of the South Beach diet when not a bite of white sugar, bread, pasta, potatoes or rice passed my lips; and when I was in the process of being divorced from my husband of 21 years.

Anyway, I’ve realized something very important. A person looks a lot less fat when their pants aren’t too small. I’m trying not to see this as an act of giving up, but as acceptance. I will eat healthfully, I will be more active, I will be able to sit without my waistband cutting off my circulation, I will not beat myself up for not looking like mass-media’s version of the ideal female form.

I will also try very hard not to hope that by adopting this healthier mindset I will miraculously lose, and be unable to find again, fifteen pounds.

p.s. One of the funniest New Yorker cartoons I’ve ever seen:  Some fat globules are standing around mid-mingle at a party (Labeled: Your Lost Weight). One of them looks at his watch and says “Guess we better head back.”


It’s almost here. . .

Took a walk today to try out my new camera and attempt to record the world as it wrestles its way towards spring.

Not a lot blooming — some forsythia, daffodils – some shy, some a bit more extroverted, trees starting to show hints of pink or throwing off a faint green light.

The sky wasn’t cooperating, but I guess that’s just part of the “wrestling” process.


The First Walk of Spring

On the second 70-degree day in a row

I strapped on my favorite shoes and

put on my sunglasses and

went for a walk.

One of the pretty white shaggy dogs we saw last time

trailed along beside me on the other side of his picket fence

his partner-in-crime in the kennel behind

the garage, woofing, woofing.

I turned around where we usually turn right,

the route too long with only your absence

for company.

The wind caught up then, ruffling the river

and I closed my eyes, walking into it

in a sure straight line.

I met the same smiling, ponytailed girl on the way back

that I met on the way out,

still smiling, still ponytailed.

The spring flowers were peeking up out of dead leaves,

limply waiting for rain.

My tender, wintered feet started to blister,

the shoes not my favorites anymore.

Somebody’s wind chimes danced,

they sounded like old spoons.

I climbed the hill with today’s mail

in my hand, greeted the waving forsythia,

(me! me! pay attention to me!) and poured

myself a cool glass of water,

and waited

for you to come home.


Another Reason to Read

Studies are being conducted which demonstrate that people who read advanced, complicated works of fiction are doing good things for their brains.

Being able to keep track of several lines of narrative and the various levels of mental and emotional states of the characters in the book develop our social skills, can satisfy our desire for poetic justice, and is believed to have played a part in our evolution into the altruistic species we supposedly are.

Now if I could just figure out how being able to read all of these books on an iPad increased this beneficent effect, I could justify paying $500 for it.

Reader Appreciation Award

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