Archive for July, 2010


New Dollar Coin

Received this email:

dollar coin

in my inbox today; it has been forwarded several times (Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:) and the original sender is unknown to me, but the fact that it has been sent to me as part of a mass mailing to dozens by the sister of my sister-in-law signifies its possible virulence.

(I have preserved the original grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. I have reduced the size of the largest fonts, but suffice it to say, I felt several times as if I were being electronically shouted at.)

I would like to take a moment to deconstruct this person’s arguments:

1. I resent the implication that I am  a “True American” only if I share your religious beliefs.

2. What has begun exactly? (Paranoid, party of ???)

3. You don’t have to repeat yourself. Telling me to do something based on a specious argument and then repeating it two more times does not make it more convincing, unless maybe you’re talking to a moron.

4. No, I didn’t guess it. I had no idea what your point could possibly be.

5. Maybe you could explain to me what exactly trusting in God has to do with our method, and use, of currency?

6. Don’t instruct me to “send it on to everyone”; if I think something is worthy of passing on, I am perfectly capable of making that decision for myself. But oh, that’s right, you think you’re talking to a moron.

7. You are perfectly free to trust in God every day; does this mean that if you aren’t reminded by the miniscule writing on a coin you might forget?

8. Your writing sucks. You have poor grammar, make persistently poor use of punctuation, and don’t even bother to proof something that you obviously hope everyone in the country will read. If your ridiculous argument didn’t reduce your credibility to zero, this will certainly do the job.

Is the argument really that the only way we can be unified is by a consistent belief in the same version of an Almighty Deity? If that’s true, then we’re doomed, as community, country, species.

Our versions and visions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, fairness, decency, and community can only be based on the recognition that we ARE already community — that what’s good for everyone is ultimately what’s good for us, that if we don’t look out for and take care of each other we have no hope for our future, that our survival depends not only on our individual abilities and intelligence and opportunities but on our variety of strengths and experiences, on our interdependence as well as our awareness and appreciation of it. Can YOU feed yourself? clothe yourself? keep yourself warm in the winter and safe from the elements and disease without the help of many other people? Do you know the faith of the person who raised the chicken you ate for dinner last night? or who wove the cloth that made the shirt on your back? If your child’s teacher is smart and compassionate and kind does it matter if the church they go to is a synagogue or a mosque or the woods?

I have some dollar coins in the change drawer in my car. I don’t have one with me right now to look at to see if it actually says “In God We Trust” or not. What I really can’t see, no matter how hard I look, is how it can possibly matter.


Whining Liberals

I read this article this morning from last Sunday’s New York Times. It’s about the hardship a fisherman based on the Gulf Coast is facing as a result of the Blackwater oil disaster. I have a lot of sympathy for a lot of people who are truly suffering as a result of this debacle, and a great deal of concern for the ecology of the Gulf as a whole, but this is ridiculous. The sympathy I am being expected to generate in this case is because, while he is making twice as much money a month as he would shrimping, he is no longer his own boss.


This is the kind of crap that gives liberals, (of which I am, by most standards, considered to be counted among), and the New York Times, a bad name.


Yesterday’s Pizza

Mix in a food processor, using the dough blade:

1 c. wheat flour

1 c. unbleached flour

6 3/4 oz. warm water

1/8 c. olive oil

1/2 tsp each: salt, sugar, yeast

Let rest while doing the following:

Preheat oven to 450˚ with pizza stone on lowest rack. Let it get good and hot.

Blend 4 T pesto with ~ 3 oz. goat cheese using a fork.

Caramelize one large onion: slice onion paper thin, sauté in olive oil in cast iron skillet, decreasing heat as the onion cooks to avoid ANY browning — the whole process should take at least a half an hour or you’re cooking it too fast.

Chop 1/2 c. sun-dried tomatoes (in oil).

When the onions are done, remove from pan and throw in ~ 1/2 lb of baby spinach. Cook gently until the spinach wilts.

Sprinkle a piece of parchment paper with coarse corn meal. Roll 1/2 of the pizza dough out using a piece of saran wrap over the top so you can get it really thin. Spread the goat cheese/pesto onto the dough. Top with tomatoes (include any olive oil that’s come along for the ride), brown, syrupy caramelized onions, and spinach. Slide the pizza onto the well preheated pizza stone (keep the parchment paper underneath) and bake ~ 6 minutes.



Green Energy

Saw these signs on my way to the aforementioned swim and sunset last night:

Make No Mistake On the Lake

As far as I can tell, they are referring to the signholder’s desire that the state of Michigan refrain from installing windmills as sources of energy because of concerns about their ability to withstand ice (a valid concern) and the possibility that they’re going to adversely affect property values.

I completely understand. I mean look at how much worse this looks:

compared to this:


Butter Door Design

Refrigerators have been around since the mid 1700s, with many improvements made in the 1800s and an ever-increasing list of special features. They are self-defrosting, make ice, dispense filtered water, have temperature and humidity controls that allow us to dictate various “zones” for the various types of foods, etc. etc.

But every insertexpletivehere time I open the butter door a stick of butter falls out.

This compartment has one task: to house butter. Apparently no one has concerned themselves with the fact that one needs to access this butter by lifting this compartment’s little door, which invariably nudges one of the sticks just enough that it totters to the floor.

How hard is this, really?



Community Living

Passed on the way to the beach for a swim and sunset: Majestic Ridge Estates.


First of all, we’re all perfectly qualified to judge whether a location is Majestic or not; is this not a quality which, by definition, should be observable by the naked eye?

For example, this is what one might call a “Majestic Ridge”:

We see the majesty, and the ridge, even without someone telling us it’s there.

This, on the other hand, is just a big house you probably paid too much money for:

And look, no ridge in sight.

Lastly, was this name selected by the requisite resident tyrants neighborhood association committee (houses of yellow brick or tan siding only, no clotheslines, any car valued at less than $50,000 parked discretely in closed garage) following submissions to the Most Pretentious Names for a Neighborhood contest?

If we’re striving for truth-in-advertising, I guess I’m glad I live in Hilly Woody Place Overrun with Deer, Deer Ticks and Daddy-Long-Legs in Neighborhood Surrounding Algae-Ridden Pond Lake. Too bad that doesn’t fit on a sign.


Ultrasound Woes

Hearkening back to the good ol’ days of being pregnant with my sons. Many of you remember, perhaps with some discomfort, that when you’re going to have the ultrasound  you must drink 32 oz. of water the hour before so that the technician can use the full bladder to help locate the uterus. I’m thinking that if the technician can’t find a uterus with a fetus in it, maybe he or she should pursue another line of work.


Yam Salad with Lime, Cayenne, and Ginger

Grate 2 large yams.


juice of 2 limes

1/4 c. canola oil

1″ piece of fresh ginger, FINELY chopped

1 dried cayenne pepper, with or without seeds to taste, snipped in tiny bits

1/2 c. flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Stir and let flavors meld.



The Latest in Fashion

No. Please, really, no.

How about this instead?


Who Cares II?

Ran across this link while reading this article. Followed that up by going to their home page and wondered why anyone cares.

Little help?


Hurricane Katrina: Postlude, Continued

Just read these two stories in the New York Times.

I’d heard some about these events, but not much in the way of specifics. I’m appalled, to the point of nausea, as we all should be.

We can try to imagine the chaos and fear these people were living under at the time, but isn’t that supposed to be part of what the police are trained to handle? And does that training not include awareness of what to expect regarding your own potential response to chaos and fear, and a strongly-ingrained reminder that you are armed, and your job is to PROTECT these people around you, not to kill them randomly and violently?

We all know that Louisiana politics and police departments have been struggling with corruption for 100 years. We all also like to believe that we now live in a more reasoned, enlightened age. This kind of thing happens still, and we should all, for the sake of all, demand that it stop.


To Cheat or Not to Cheat, or is it Even Cheating? Ethics in the 21st century

I’ve been mentally toying with this topic for a couple of weeks now, where to begin, what “tone” to take; it now seems to be rising to the fore with this latest op-ed/Room for Debate piece in the New York Times.

I wrote a couple of months ago about the “children” of today (meaning teens and college students) and their propensity for stealing “downloading” their media from the internet, including their college textbooks, movies, and music. This saddens, frustrates, disappoints, and worries me. Jason Robert Brown, a popular and illustrious composer, posted this debate he had with a teenager regarding the impropriety of her offering his music for “trade” on the internet. It is a frustrating conversation, which he handles with grace, dignity and respect. I’m not hopeful that this particular argument was won, but I do hope that the attention this discussion has gotten will at least get these kids thinking, and maybe help prompt interested techies out there to work vigorously to create a solution. The alternative is that we end up in a cultural dark age because no one can afford to produce anything stealable “downloadable.” The problem is that it is now culturally acceptable to cheat, to steal, to justify it and believe wholeheartedly that there’s nothing wrong with it — nothing physical has changed hands, no one was “hurt,” “I” only wanted to “borrow” it or “use” it or “trade” it, and it is, ultimately, all about “me.” (Isn’t it?)

My husband and I both teach at the college level. It has recently been brought to his attention that there is a website called “Course Hero” which is touted as the “Number 1 Study Resource for College and High School Students.” Sounds great, doesn’t it? And haven’t we all been grateful for the ease with which information can be found via this wonderful tool known as the internet. Just the other day I was able to track down the exact procedure used in 2005 to remedy a pesky problem with the emissions system of my now very old and much driven minivan.  The problem is that this website is not a “study resource,” it’s a ginormous electronic arm with the answers written on it. Apparently one of the requirements for “tutors” to upload their homework answers and test answers and completed papers is that they provide a copy of the assignment without the answers filled in, so that cheaters students can test their own knowledge by completely ignoring reviewing the questions before stealing checking their answers against the completed work. Right. I can’t even comprehend why someone who has done this work themselves would want to give it away. Do they value their own efforts that little? Is that part of the problem? Is peer pressure so great that friend A can’t say to friend B, when asked for the answers to yesterday’s homework assignment, “Ummm, no, dude, but duh, do it yourself”?

One of the arguments put forward by the contributors to the NY Times piece is that students cheat when they feel that the teacher has set up a system (i.e. curving the grade) where they are being unfairly compared with their colleagues, or when the teacher isn’t adequately doing their job. This sounds, to me, an awful lot like it was written by someone who did some cheating of their own and wants to justify it by blaming someone else. Wow, that sounds familiar. Perhaps the real cause of this problem stems from the fact that the “children” of today, hell, even some of the adults, think everything that happens is someone else’s fault.  I don’t care WHAT the situation is, CHEATING IS WRONG. Your work should be exactly that, YOURs. Why is that concept so hard to understand, much less sympathize with? Besides, if that were the case, why are they not ALL doing it?

Another contributor points out that technology has also made it easier to catch cheaters. (It’s also made it a lot easier for them to text in class, play internet poker, or look up the answer to a question I pose in class on Wikipedia rather than trying to make sense of their own inadequate notes.) While I have routinely caught students plagiarizing their papers for the music appreciation course I teach — easy enough to type in particularly and unusually articulate sentences and then be lead immediately to the performing group’s website — how does one catch a student cheating on a test or exam? Right answers are right, often singularly so, and presumably we have talked about this material in class with the expectation, optimistic as it may be, that the students will study and learn it. And while we can all point out that “cheaters never prosper,” the problem is, sometimes, they do. Unless they are so foolish as to routinely perform abysmally and then suddenly ace an exam, it might not even occur to the teacher to call the student in to have an impromptu discussion about the topic to see if they actually know what they are talking about. There are also incidences where the student has been called in for exactly that, senses impending danger, and refuses to answer any questions at all.

I see two more key contributors to this epidemic: 1. The focus of acquiring an “education” has become more and more about getting The Grade (has anyone heard of Grade Inflation?) and then The Job than it is about advancing The Mind (Seen on a billboard for an area university: X State College in 2 words: You’re Hired), and 2. students have gained too much power.


A barely-earned C changed to a B+ after pressure from a student’s parent; despite FERPA laws which prevent US from talking to a parent, apparently parents can talk to provosts.

A student sends an email at 11:30 p.m. in a panic that I’ve included material on the review sheet that I said wouldn’t be on tomorrow’s exam. Not only am I expected to reply, sympathetically, but am subject to the student’s observation, ~ 7 emails into the discussion, that she “doesn’t like my attitude” when I point out that some things are just worth knowing, and ask her why her discovering something at the last minute on a review sheet that has been available for 3 weeks is suddenly my problem. If I don’t reply, helpfully and promptly, the student can indicate on her faculty-evaluation form that her professor is ˚unsympathetic to a student’s difficulties and/or ˚unavailable for help outside of class. These evaluations are given tremendous weight by those in administration, who see students as customers, tuition dollars as profit, and instructors, especially those of the adjunct persuasion, as dispensable if not downright disposable. There are also plenty of stories about perfectly qualified, articulate, and dedicated tenured professors forced out of positions because of the nature of their student-generated faculty evaluation forms.

What’s wrong with this picture?

So many things. . .

The first, and most obvious problem, is that we seem to be forgetting what the word STUDENT means — one who, through force of diligence and discipline, applies him or herself to a topic in order to learn something. Students who cheat cheat themselves out of this very thing. I would ask, if they’re only paying money to get the grade, and not really concerned about whether they actually learn something, why do they even bother? And something every administrator and teacher and parent and student should know and/or remember is this: part of what this student needs to learn is how to get along in the world as an ethical, diligent, responsible person, one who acts, in all events and circumstances, with integrity. I’ll even go out on a limb and propose that this might even be the most important thing.

The second most pressing problem comes from the idea that the STUDENT is qualified to evaluate the TEACHER. This premise is ludicrous, but routinely sanctioned through the actions of the administration. There are a great number of things I hope to impart to my students beyond the immediate topic at hand. I don’t even necessarily want to tell them what that is. Sometimes I pose a problem without giving any hints about the solution because the best way for them to learn what I’m trying to teach involves their wrestling with that very thing. (˚Professor does not provide guidance in problem solving. or ˚Professor does not explain topics sufficient for understanding. or ˚Expectations for the course exceeded that which was reasonable.) If I provide the powerpoint outline and the notes and the listening guide and the answers to the questions not only have they not invested anything of their own — time, attention, thought; the act of organizing their notes, constructing outlines, researching and pondering and solving problems themselves, the means by which they will develop complex understanding, has been taken from them.

Instead, I have been compelled to add to my syllabus, under the heading “Student Outcomes” goals such as that they will develop independence, self-sufficiency, and responsibility through RECORDING THEIR ASSIGNMENTS AND QUIZ TOPICS themselves. Apparently this is unusual, unexpected, and interpreted by students as evidence of my lack of concern for their success. I announce it in class, I write it on the board, but I don’t hand out little slips of paper (as they do in elementary school) nor do I post it on Blackboard (makes it too easy not to come to class; my philosophy: if you want to know what’s going on today, and what’s going to go on tomorrow, show up).

There are cultures where “cheating” is not a word or concept that’s discussed, not because it doesn’t happen, but because it is the norm — where plagiarizing is seen as paying the original author tribute, where The Grade is The Most Important Thing No Matter How It’s Attained. Unfortunately, I think that the path we are headed down is even more insidious, because it seems to involve all areas of our children’s lives: from how they get into college to what they do once they’re there, from how they access culture to how they’ll behave on the job. Junior wants to win the Pinewood Derby or the essay contest so dad makes the little car or writes the paper; what has Junior actually learned from this endeavour? All you have to do is look at the financial services industries, shortcuts taken by oil executives, the desire of every overpaid businessman to avoid taxes and incorporate their business on a “favorable” island — something for nothing, with the highest possible benefit to “me.”

The New American Way? At what cost? We should all shudder to think.


The First Thing to go is the Mind. . .

I can’t tell you how many times this happens. I’m having a rant conversation about something while out in the world or busy somehow and think “I should blog about this” and by the time I get to my computer I can’t remember what it was.

Happened again today. Driving second son to his first college visit, to a school he doesn’t think he’s interested in but which has some good programs related to what he wants to do, so I insisted. It was a fun drive — he was chatty and funny, we addressed many sensitive issues that I had been wanting to broach with him when I had him trapped his undivided attention, he actually looked interested once or twice during the presentations despite his best intentions.

But I can’t remember the bloggable idea (bloggablidea?) I had in the car. I hate that.

I could write about watching all of the teenagers trying to look cool while trying not to look like they care if they look cool and checking out whether the kids around them look cool or not and whether those kids are noticing them being cool even though they clearly don’t care about being cool.

Nah, too complicated.

Watching the various teenager/parent dynamics was interesting too. What a weird world we find ourselves in. (Of course, WE don’t care if we look cool or not. Or DO we?. . .)

Have spent the past 5 days trying to save a goldfish from Ich. Did you know that you can add 1 T. of salt per gallon of water to a freshwater fish’s tank and it helps them build a healthy slime coat and repel various aquarium diseases? The things you can learn online. What did we do when we didn’t have the world of information at our fingertips? (Actually. . .sometimes too much information. Watch for an upcoming post, but I don’t have time to get “into” it right now.)

Have also been spending a fair bit of time over the past week thinking about my blog. I know I have some readers out there, because wordpress counts them for me, but very few of you comment. Please comment! I really relish the conversational aspect, and would love to hear YOUR thoughts in response to mine.


Jessica Hiltout, and “Authentic” soccer

Discovered this amazing photographer and her collection of photos of soccer at the grassroots level in Africa from an article in the NY Times.

The photos in her collection are beautiful, spare, haunting. I especially liked the pictures of the fences, and found myself wondering if the feet in the authentic soccer shoes were the envy of the village.

The ingenuity involved in the home-made soccer balls was also quite impressive.

What is lost when one is freely given everything one needs?


Grace II

Was going to blog tonight about feeding ungrateful picky children, who turn up their noses at anything interesting, and the cumulatively demoralizing effect this has.

But went to the beach first, and saw this over a 30-minute span (or so).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It calls to mind this line from Rilke:

Silent earth of many distances, feel how your breath enlarges all of space. Let your presence ring out like a bell in the night.

Had coffee ice cream on the way home, then a shower and a glass of cognac.

Life is good. Wonder what we’re going to make for dinner tomorrow. Maybe Pad Thai. . .

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