Archive for the 'Economy' Category


the real cost of that $5 T-shirt

This is a long, (but completely worth the time), documentary about the true cost of cheap clothes.

We tell ourselves that it’s better that these workers have a job making $3/day than their not have a job at all, but I wonder if that’s really the answer. At one point, we’re told that doubling their salaries would add 3 cents to the cost of a T-shirt. That seems more than fair. In fact, let’s raise their salaries x100.

The scenes at 1:20 are shameful; the scene a few moments later — when a garment worker has to leave her young daughter with her extended family, a daughter who she will then see a couple of times a year, because the conditions in the city are not conducive to her health or education — is heartbreaking.

There has to be a better way.

Enter “TakePart” to watch…


What the 1% don’t want the rest of us to know

And it’s not just that they make a wholehelluvalot more money than we do.

It’s not too early to start our own Progressive movement.

Firstly, we all need to stop protecting the rights of the 1% just in case that clever gadget we thought of and are going to get around to getting a patent for as soon as we have time ends up becoming the Thneed That Everyone Needs and earns us a bajillion dollars that we want to make sure we can hand down to Junior, even though by then he’ll be spoiled and entitled and lazy.

Secondly, we need to realize that there are worse things than a social safety net. Actually, we need to realize that the benefits of the social safety net make society better for everyone — whether we “need” it or not (we do), it helps us.

I wish people would talk more specifically about the literal costs to us caused by our relatively low tax rates — pay to “play” (sports, drama, music, chemistry class),  constantly deteriorating roads and the resulting depreciation of our vehicles; medical costs despite having what would be considered by many to be enviable health care ($1,100+ for each of Only Daughter’s 2 CAT scans this summer; $385 for Second Son’s cavities filled — and this is WITH dental insurance), college tuition — $7,605 per year, average public university in US in 2010; $4,524 in Canada; in France you can expect to pay an average of €452 per year — yeah, that’s right, €452 (that’s around $585) for MEDICAL SCHOOL.

(I actually love it when people compare us to France, making France sound like such an awful alternative. Yeah, there are all those vacation days and maternity leaves and universal health care; I TOTALLY see what the problem is. And that’s not even taking into account the wine and cheese.)

Anyway, these two will say it way better than I do.



Joseph E. Stiglitz: Rule Breakers and How They’re Sickening our Politics

Joseph E. Stiglitz: The People Who Break the Rules Have Raked in Huge Profits and Wealth and Its Sickening Our Politics | Perspectives.

And it’s time we do something about it.



humility is strength; arrogance is just arrogance

Frank Bruni, writing in the New York Times about the relief and hope that Pope Francis’ humble words and attitudes inspire in him.

Since I’m chronically busy, and am reading this section of NYTimes two weeks after it was written, this stood out:

FOR a textbook case of humility gone missing, consider right-wing Republicans’ efforts to derail Obamacare by whatever crude and disruptive means necessary. The health care law has its flaws, some of them profound, but it was legitimately passed, in accordance with the rules, and to stray outside them in order to make it go away is to believe that they don’t apply to you, that your viewpoint trumps the process itself. It’s the summit of arrogance.

This is part of what I can’t figure out.

This law has passed. The budget has been approved. The bills need to be paid.

How is it possible that democracy is constructed in such a way that a Congress can refuse to meet the financial obligations THEY HAVE ALREADY AGREED TO MEET by holding hostage a law that they ALREADY PASSED?

Maybe I really do need a polisci lesson.


now isn’t that special

As if it’s not bad enough that adjuncts are bearing half of the teaching load at most community colleges, at ~ 1/4 of the pay.

Good thing they have unions so that their voices can be heard and they can at least exert SOME kind of power over the. . .

Oh, yeah.


(All of the adjuncts in this country should quit. Or we should at least declare a day of protest, or a week. Let’s see how many colleges and universities are unable to meet their obligations to their tuition-paying students. Let’s see whether THAT collective voice can be heard.)


what he said

Child poverty, athletes, and the question of fairness.


Yeah, that sounds like fun

Dear MoveOn member,

Americans are talking about the economy—a lot. They’re talking about Occupy Wall Street and the Super Committee, about an economy that only works for the 1% and about unemployment.

But thanks to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, lots of talk about the economy means lots of misinformation about the economy.

So if you’re spending this Thanksgiving holiday with friends and family, and want to be ready with the facts to gently correct any myths you hear (they are family and friends, after all), we put together a short guide with five common myths you might hear and easy-to-remember facts to respond to them.





Looking for the picture above, found this:

That’s funny.


the view from the 99

Maybe we’re all tiring of hearing about the 99, percent that is, but I hope not. I hope this is not one of those cases where our pathologically short attention spans do us in (what’s going on with the Fukushima Daiichi power plant? is there still oil in the gulf? who killed Jon Benet?).

P.J. O’Rourke was on NPR the other night, being his usual pithy and witty self, and, shockingly, I found myself agreeing with him; mainly, that life isn’t fair, and that our children need to learn this in order not to make themselves absolutely crazy. But one of my children asked me once, after I reminded them that life wasn’t fair, whether maybe we shouldn’t at least try to make it so, at least in our little corner of the world?

Good point.

And then there was O’Rourke’s basic premise: that wealth isn’t a pie, that there is always more money to be made if we just figure out what to make/do/sell and then convince everyone else they can’t do without (a Thneed comes to mind, but I think Dr. Seuss already covered that one). And that taking away some of the money that the 1% is making wouldn’t necessarily mean that the 99% would make more.

He seems, to me, to be missing the point. Now I haven’t had a math class since the early 80s, so there might be some kind of flaw in my thinking, but let me just run this theory by you all for your consideration:  If, as postulated by the AFL-CIO, the average CEO is being paid 343 times the salary of the average worker, and someone decided something radical, oh, I don’t know, maybe let’s just pay him 50 times the salary of the average worker, does it not compute that some of that surplus could be well, maybe, oh, I don’t know, paid to the average worker?

So here’s my attempt at math:

Average worker making $45,000/year.

At 343 times the salary, CEO making $15,435,000/year.

Let’s assume the company has 1,000 employees.

At 50 times the average salary, the CEO would make $2,250,000 — still seems like an awful lot of money.

We redistribute the remaining $13,185,000 dollars among the other 1000 employees, and we now have the “average” worker earning $58,185.

Would you look at that.

It IS a pie!!! More for you means less for me.

Is that really that hard to figure out?


In a related story, the faculty at my college are “forbidden” from taking a personal day on the day before or after a school holiday, so I am sitting right now in an empty classroom because no one has come except me.

But the president of the college left over the previous weekend to spend a week traveling hither and yon visiting family and friends; a fact we have been informed of through his “Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving with Friends and Family” email, where he reminds us of how important this time is and hopes that we enjoy and treasure it.  Just not too soon.


feminist financing

I bought my house in July of 2007. Came back from my summer camp job for one night (stayed at a friend’s), signed the papers the next day, collected my keys, and drove back to camp without even going to the house (I didn’t have time). When I did come “home,” 3 weeks later, it appeared that a tree had fallen across the road and some mysterious fallen-tree-removing elves had come and cleaned it up. I waited for months for the bill.

Anyway. This was a big deal for me. I had separated from Former Husband about 8 months earlier, a man I married while in graduate school, and this was probably the first actual adult thing I had done by myself.

Of course this was right before the mortgage crisis really hit. If the bank had looked past my stellar credit rating (I was told it was in the top .1 of the top 99 percentile) at my laughably meager income they wouldn’t have loaned me quarters for the parking meter. But they did. And here I, and Husband, live happily with Only Daughter, Sophie the cat, Bear the snake, and (someone should really name the fish) the goldfish (I don’t name them because I usually kill them. Accidentally of course. This one, interestingly, has lived for a year and a half, and is still nameless). Oh, and maybe-to-be-named-Dexter the puppy who comes home a week from today. (So much for the rule of never having more pets than you have children.)

When I bought the house, I was granted the wonderful interest rate of 6.5% Seemed like a good deal at the time.

Now it’s 3.5%, so we’re refinancing.

And putting Husband’s name on the mortgage too.

These are both good things.

But I feel kind of strange about it.

I “found” the bank guy, but my schedule’s crazy plus I have to keep all this time free to write on my blog, so Husband is doing the follow-up.

He’s been asked for pay stubs and W2s, but it isn’t clear if mine are needed, too, so right now he’s sending his.

I know that this doesn’t really mean anything. He makes enough money to qualify for the tiny little mortgage on this tiny little house, and we will make sure that both of our names are on the mortgage, but a part of me feels irrelevant, marginalized. Not because of anything anyone is doing or saying, mind you, just because.

For the past three years I’ve been trying to convince Husband that this is His House Too, even if his name wasn’t on the mortgage, but I don’t think he ever really felt that way. And now I kind of understand. Because there’s this tiny little voice that’s saying to me, “But it’s your house.” And I can’t figure out where that voice is coming from.

Maybe because it is, really, the only thing of value that I own. My retirement fund is laughable. I do own a Baldwin grand piano that’s 111 years old. And a Prius. But that’s it.

Maybe that’s all it is.

I joke that Husband actually married me for my money, and this is all just of his diabolical scheme to get his grubby paws on my dough.


But I think it’s more “feminist” than that. He makes more money than I do, he has a lot more saved for retirement than I do; maybe subconsciously my ownership of the house helps level the inequality a little. I guess I could ask to have my name put on his retirement account (guess I just did), but I don’t think that can be done, and that’s not something I’m worrying about anyway.

Is this a reaction to something that is purely symbolic? Or does it represent something more significant, more important?

In a related story he, laughingly (I found out later; I thought he was serious) suggested we roll in enough to put a hot tub on the deck. I’m angling for a heated driveway so I can get my little Toyota up the hill and into the garage all winter. Shall I open it up for discussion?


today in politics

Today’s headlines re: the Republican candidates.

Just what this country needs; someone who can’t manage their own campaign.

But we all know what we really need, more jobs. Maybe Rick Perry has the answer. (If you click on each ad banner it will take you to the whole article.)

But then there’s this:

Meh. Details, details.

And then, last but not least, the stalwart long-suffering “front runner,” Romney.

Oops. That wasn’t the one I meant.

That’s funny, I didn’t even do that on purpose.


This all just makes me tired.

I actually got an email from People or the American Way a few days ago, with this in the subject line:

“Is it time you ran for office?”

I snorted and thought, as if! What sane person wants to run for office. And then it occurred to me.


In a related story, I re-posted this on facebook today, from a post that I can now attribute to Axis Mundi:

When Egypt’s people protested, we supported them. When Libya’s people protested, we supported them even more than we supported Egypt. When our people protest, we ignore them, shoot them, gas them, beat them, arrest them, and make fun of them on TV, the radio, and the internet.

As an American, how do you justify this?

And a friend replied:

we cheered and supported them in their fight over tyranny, and for a chance at maybe democracy, although that remains to be seen. I think our protests are seen as something altogether different and can’t be compared as apples to apples. If we are to avoid bankruptcy, drastic measures must be taken, and unfortunately, that means tougher times.. And yes, we will always have the rich, as we will always have the poor. Some things won’t change..Sorry..I think that’s why so many look at our protesters as a bunch of sob asses
I fear he’s missing the point.
Maybe some of these protestors are “putting on airs” by comparing the plight of the American middle class with the plight of Arabian people oppressed by brutal dictators — this is unfortunate, and regrettable; but at the same time, I believe it was Goethe that said that none are so hopelessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free. Our “democracy” is a fallacy, with our government being sold off to the highest bidder, and his statement that “we will always have the rich, as we will always have the poor” made me first wonder if he was actually quoting Jesus. (Knowing him as I do, I doubt it.) But when 1% of the population controls 40% of the wealth of the country, and the government is for sale, we’re all in trouble. A nation can only thrive with a thriving middle class. And while I count myself lucky that I’ve so far managed to keep my head above water, my children fed and housed and educated, I am exactly that. Lucky. The fact that I’ve earned a Doctorate and have 20 years of professional experience in my field, and the best I can hope for is piecework as an adjunct with no salary, no benefits, and no security is only one piece of the pie chart that shows the trouble this country is in.
Basta. It’s past my bedtime.

a sign of what we all should fear

Art Pope, who inherited from his father of a chain of discount shops known as Variety Wholesalers (basically a smaller but still incredibly profitable version of WalMart), is systematically purchasing legislative seats in North Carolina. (Click on the picture for a link to the whole article.)

He claims this is all done out of completely altruistic motives — rampant capitalism and the creation of wealth as the system that will save the world. His explanation of the existence of poverty and low incomes is that these are merely a factor of youth and poor education, but “usually, as people get older. . .they [will] save and retain wealth, and [eventually] work their way up.” He also claims that most poverty exists as a result of “self-destructive behavior.” Tell that to the nearly 33% of the minority children living in his state who are living in poverty. What were their self-destructive acts, one might ask? Being born to the wrong parents?

Meanwhile, he funds  battles (even more easily than he did before, thanks to helpful decisions like Citizens United) that put people who think like him into state government and on school boards and as trustees of major universities where budgets are cut and one of the best integration systems in the country is decimated, seeming completely to miss the point that he has made earlier — that a lack of education is one of the things that keep people from prospering.

And never mind the fact that he was born into wealth, status, and privilege, and that the “work ethic” that produced most of his wealth comes from the parents he was born to, the writing of the will that passed it on to him, and the people who work for his company at minimum wage.

He claims to be both a “traditional conservative” and a “classical liberal” (whatever that means), and that his philosophy is based in his belief in the “marketplace of ideas.” Meanwhile, he machinates the drastic cutting of university budgets, followed by a benevolent offer to donate millions of dollars to fund programs that would turn liberal-arts educations into “personal creation of wealth” trade schools.

So many voters have been beguiled by the (family foundation-run) Civitas-sponsored robo-calls and misleading-to-the-point-of-racist-sexist-and/or-libelous postcards deposited into their mailboxes that Republicans have gained a majority in the North Carolina legislature for the first time in a hundred years.

Pope reassures us, though, that there’s plenty we can do about it. If his opponents disagree, they’re welcome to “fund their own side.”

Because all those people working minimum-wage jobs and/or struggling to put their children through colleges that are getting more and more difficult to afford have the resources to do so.

We’re selling our country, and the running of it, to the highest bidder. When will we stop being sheep? When will we stop believing every ridiculous lie told to us by the people with money we all secretly wish we had? When will we hang up on the robo-calls and throw the postcards into the trash where they belong and actually bother to research the people for whom we are being asked to vote? And where are the true liberals — those who believe in both economic opportunity and social responsibility, those who recognize both the benefits of a free market and its perils, those who can frame our arguments in compelling and actionable terms, those who not only believe that we have a moral responsibility to make this world the best we possibly can for everyone but who can help us recognize that what is best for each of us is what is good for everyone?

I thought it would be Obama. I’m not sure anymore, especially because he seems to be so busy being conciliatory and careful he never really seems to stand up for what I’m sure he still believes in. But I am sure that it isn’t any of the current Republican candidates either, and I am constantly perplexed by the centrists who voted for Obama, are disappointed in what has or hasn’t happened since his election, and think that Rick Perry or Mitt Romney might be a viable alternative.

Meanwhile I’m too busy trying to scrape together a living from my three part-time jobs to participate in marches on any street, and am tiring of the flooding of my inbox by petitions that need to be signed and worthwhile causes that need donations. Where is all that wealth I’ve been educated for (doctoral degree) and work for and still can’t seem to accumulate while I pay down my $120,000 mortgage and try to put three kids through college?

Or maybe having three children without a multi-millionaire father and business to inherit qualifies as “self-destructive.”


annoying for a reason?

First of all, can I just express how disgusted I am that it’s Thursday and I still don’t have internet at home. It’s been out since Monday morning; a technician came last night and tested it and for the two and a half minutes he was there it was working, and then it wasn’t working anymore. Someone’s coming again tomorrow. Hopefully he/she will be more effective than the last guy.

I have also been promised a wiring upgrade, which is supposed to help overall speed, although, at this point, I would just like to be able to get my email, even if via pony express.

Two questions.

1. Is it someone’s job to sit in a room somewhere and either compose or find the most irritating music on the planet to play over the phone line while the customer is on hold? It’s almost a guarantee, if you weren’t irate enough over whatever has prompted you to call in the first place, that you will be Irate Enough by the time you actually get a live person on the other end of the line.

I understand that they want us to be comforted some kind of signal that we are still, actually, “on hold,”  but I wonder if that could be communicated through some soft intermittent clicks, or maybe Tony Bennett or Caetano Veloso or someone.

My theory is that they want your “on hold” experience to be as painful and irritating as possible, as this may cause you just to give up, thereby requiring them to hire fewer customer service people both to man the phones and to actually do any repairs.

2.  What is up with the continuation of “monopoly” practices in divvying up internet service providers to limited areas? As far as I can tell (through my careful research done over 10 minutes yesterday via iPhone) I have two options, and they cost virtually the same, and both have approximately identical reputations for rampant “down” time and indifferent customer service. I thought we were in America, the land of the free access to all and sundry companies-who-want-my-business, where, if I’m willing to spend my money, I can have whatever I want.

Oh, that’s right, that’s just in politics.

Silly me.

Apropos of nothing, I made granola this morning.

It’s delish.



Mix 6 c. raw, whole oats (not the instant kind, the coarser the better) with 1 c. whole wheat flour, 1 c. sesame seeds, and 1/2 – 1 c. chopped (start with sliced) almonds.

In a blender, blend 1/3 c. each canola oil, real maple syrup, and honey + 1 T. vanilla or 2 T. orange juice concentrate until the mixture is opaque and thick.

Pour over the oat mixture and stir to coat.

Spread in two cake pans, and bake at 300˚ for an hour, stirring every 15-20 minutes. (it might take 5 minutes or so less)  Mixture should be quite brown, but may still be a touch moist until it’s cooled completely.

Cool completely. Add 1 c. of dried fruit of choice (we like dried cherries; chopped apricots, apples, raisins work well too.)

Really really good, and way cheaper than Kashi cereal or store-bought muesli. Plus it’s WAY lower in sugar and fat, because I’ve cut the liquid ingredients significantly from most recipes.

Great with soy or almond milk.




monday blues, and tuesday

Yesterday was a very demoralizing day. Spent a lot of time teaching classes of students who seem to be either catatonic or apathetic (how does one tell the difference, one might ask?). There are a few scattered among these who seem to care, which makes trying to get through to the rest even more difficult — I don’t want to lecture the class, I don’t want to make those who are invested squirm in their seats, but I just want to shake most of them.

Came home and taught piano lessons to children of all ages — four hours that flew by compared to the two hours of class that dragged. It seems most of my professional aspirations were to teach at the college level, but, ironically, most of the students in college can’t be taught at that level after all.

And no internet at home, going on two days, after weeks of intermittent and frustrating outages. So I can’t post midterm review documents on blackboard, I can only check my email through my iPhone (although my new ZAGG/mate keyboard makes this much easier to type, it’s still not that easy to read more than a few sentences on its tiny little screen), and I can’t write on my blog unless I sit in my office at school, so here I am.

Some great articles in the Sunday NY Times I’d like to recommend.

Wall Street Protestors and who should be listening

What the world lost when Steve Jobs died, and whether we can ever find it again
(I fear not.)

And yet another example of how the world of working women still hasn’t really changed, and what we all should do about it



1. Senator Brown posed nude for Cosmopolitan to help pay tuition for law school?

2. Senator Brown, when questioned about Elizabeth Warren’s statement that she kept her clothes on, and took out student loans to pay her bills, responded with “Thank God”?

3. Cosmopolitan carries pictures of naked men? Since when?

But seriously, circulated a petition this morning asking Senator Brown to apologize. It went on for two pages.

I have just a couple of questions.

First: Are we so short on attention span or lacking in commitment to an idea we must have a link to click on every three column inches or we won’t be bothered? Is it too much work to scroll up in an email? The problem is, if you’re like me and don’t really like to be told what to do or what to think, by the third iteration you’re probably just feeling irritated and/or rebellious. (No. I don’t wanna. You can’t make me.)

And, while his comment on her supposed level of attractiveness may be what is making some people angry, isn’t what we really should be getting angry about the fact that he could pose nude and dismiss it with an offhand comment while any woman doing the same thing wouldn’t be elected township clerk?

It seems to me like this is all just a bunch of noise to distract us from some of the real issues at hand.

Why don’t we talk, instead, about what Ms. Warren said so eloquently, and which, as far as I can tell, remains unanswered?


My feelings about this, this pathological avoidance of actually talking about things that actually matter, are being fanned by the latest statistic:

So, while police posts are closed, and our roads and bridges crumble, and unemployed benefits are cut, and disadvantaged college students limp to class because they can’t afford health care for their chronic neurological problems, and art and music programs are removed from schools, and teacher’s pay is cut, CEOs who make four hundred and seventy five TIMES what the average worker makes shouldn’t be asked to pay more in taxes.

And this opinion is popular among the masses because ???


Sorry, I’ve gone way off on a tangent.

Or maybe not. Tangents seem to be the method of choice by most politicos to deflect actual conversation, actual decisions, actual acts. Better just to talk about stuff, and say a lot of things that don’t matter, or don’t mean anything.

Mitt Romney, today: “If you want a president who wants the United States to be the most powerful nation in the world, I’m your man. If not, well, you have that President already.”

Oh, that.

The questions of a) what makes a country “powerful,” and b) why does the United States have to always be the MOST powerful (isn’t that what kind of pisses off everybody else about us?) remain to be answered.

Maybe tomorrow.



comfort food

I think I’m having a midlife crisis.

Okay, I won’t soft-pedal it; I’m having a midlife crisis.

I can’t alleviate this crisis by leaving my husband and taking up with someone younger/richer/more handsome because I love him dearly and right now he seems like maybe one of the few things I’ve “done” right in my life, and I can’t imagine a day without him.

Besides, the crisis is mostly professional. For the first 10 years after my masters degree I mostly raised children. I couldn’t figure out how to practice 4+ hours a day, teach enough students to help make our budget more-or-less balance-able, and take care of busy toddler boys, so I just did the latter 2 out of 3. I played when I could, a little collaborative work here and there for area graduate students and miscellaneous faculty, accompanying my bff Jackie’s violin studio when she took them to contests or played recitals, that kind of stuff.

I’ve since spent the last 14 years as an adjunct at various colleges, while adopting my daughter from Korea and completing my DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) degree in 2005. This was prompted by the realization, as I worked as an adjunct in various college/university music departments, that I was as good a performer and probably a better teacher than a lot of the people I was working with, who had full-time, tenure-track jobs, so why shouldn’t I go for it? But you won’t even be considered for such a position without a Doctorate these days, so, after 5 years of 100-mile-each-way commutes, reading and writing and practicing and studying and performing while still being the primary parent (oldest son was 10 when I started), I had a DMA. And now I’m a fully-credentialed musician in a world with way more fully-credentialed musicians than there are jobs, and in an academic climate which favors piece-work-paid adjuncts over full-time professorships.

I don’t know the numbers on how many pianists graduated with DMAs in the past year, but there is currently ONE tenure-track position in piano posted at the College Music Society. One. In the whole country. One.

So, I’m having a crisis, and as far as I can tell, there are two things I can do about it:

1.) I can suck it up, be grateful I have any work at all, and continue to work at ~ 25% pay for the rest of my life (when compared to what full-time, tenure-track faculty are paid) or

2.) I can find something else to do, and by this I mean something for which I will be paid, which does not include such activities as writing a blog that 135 people read every day or eating my weight in potato chips. Fun as these activities may be, they do not contribute to paying the mortgage.

So. What are my options?

1.) Areas I am interested in and could maybe make a living at:

a) Nursing. Would have to start from scratch, reconcile myself to being a complete “newb” at the age of 50, and probably do things like hold bedpans and inject people with needles.

b) English/Language Arts for secondary school instruction. Would have to  start from scratch, reconcile myself to probably 4 years of school while still paying off loans from my DMA pursuit, still teaching, which can be rewarding, but is also frustrating as there seems to be a general dearth of curiosity/interest in learning amongst “students” today. And are there any teaching jobs anymore?

c) Writing for Pay. Have written two children’s books that start “Nicholas Picholas Tickle-Me . . .” and based on the mischievous antics of my now 18-year old. Also started one called “Hannah’s Hungry,” but haven’t finished it. Don’t know how to get them published, can’t seem to find anyone else who knows. Presumably this is done, routinely, given the number of books out there. And some of them are really dreadful. Have also considered trying to write articles and submit them to magazines, but have not done so, partially in interests of time. Also have a few short story ideas and a family history/memoir/birth-order-memory-what-makes-us-who-we-are book idea but not enough time to really pursue them. Would have to take some time off from earning actual money to see if these lead anywhere, and no windfall/lottery wins/inheritances in sight. Also feel like it’s an act of supreme arrogance to think that I have anything to say that that many people would want to read, and yet here I am. . .

d) Opening some kind of bed-and-breakfast. What I would really like is to move to Italy and buy a few acres and a little villa somewhere and grow my own grapes and host and cook for tourists. I could even teach piano lessons to all the little Italian children in the area, but would have to improve my Italian first. Or offer it as piano -and-English-lessons or something. Although sometimes I don’t even want to teach any more.


Lots of ideas, lots of ways to talk myself out of them.

I joke sometimes that my life’s goal is

2) to be a kept woman.

I don’t think I would be very good at it, though. This is the first semester in a few years I haven’t taught a Music Appreciation class, and, despite still having a pretty full teaching schedule, the lack of this prep has made my days seem rather long.

I’m trying to talk Husband into a dog. A little white Havanese, named Zuzu.

What do you think?

Meanwhile, I can always cook. Am making gumbo today. Have thought about starting a second blog called “Soupy Sundays,” and making a different soup every Sunday and writing about my life, my week, what’s going on with my “crisis” although it seems a little too Julie Powell.

Maybe just a new category then.

Today’s soup:


Heat 1/2 c. canola oil in a large cast-iron soup pot, then whisk in 1/2 c. whole wheat flour and lower the heat to low/low-medium. Allow to brown for 5-10 minutes, whisking occasionally.

Meanwhile, chop:

1/2 large onion

3 stalks celery

1 large red pepper

1/2 lb. okra (slices)

2 cloves garlic (slice, then mince)

Add the vegetables to the roux, stirring to coat, and allow the vegetables to begin to soften.

Add 8 c. chicken stock (recipe below), 1/2 tsp. cayenne or 1 or 2 dried red chilies, snipped into flakes, or 1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes (use both cayenne and pepper flakes/chilies if you like it really spicy), 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp coarse black pepper.

Bring to a boil, then add

12-16 ozs. andouille sausage (the nitrite-free kind if you can find it)

and allow the soup to simmer for as long as you’d like — 1 – 3 hours.

A few minutes before being ready to eat, add 1 lb. of peeled shrimp (the big ones are great, but cut in half so you have bite-size portions in your soup spoon), bring soup to boil and boil just long enough to cook the shrimp.

Serve with a crusty bread, and over cooked rice if desired.

I’d include a picture, but the shrimp aren’t in the pot yet, and I’m drying 7 bags of leftover bread bits on my stove, so I’m a little embarrassed. Maybe next time.

Homemade chicken stock

Every self-respecting cook should make this themselves. Way too much sodium in even the low-sodium kinds, and it’s easy. I like to roast a chicken for an easy meal, and then make the stock overnight.

In a large soup pot, put one chicken carcass, and add water to cover by several inches. Add coarsely chopped onions and celery (the top part with the leaves is the best), a handful of whole peppercorns, a couple bay leaves. You can leave the skin on the onion if you want a golden broth, and add garlic or carrots if you want it more flavorful, but this will make it a little less adaptable for certain recipes because the garlic especially adds a very distinctive flavor. I don’t use any salt, so I am free to salt the final dish.

Cover and bring to a boil, and then allow to simmer for HOURS. We often leave this overnight and put it in a bowl to chill the next morning.

This part is important: Pour the stock through a strainer into a large bowl, and chill the broth thoroughly; then skim the fat off the top before putting into 4-cup containers to put in the freezer.


Meanwhile, if anyone has any life- or career advice: Please share!








my own personal “core” club

An invitation to my newly opened “core” club

No “initiation” fees, no membership fee. You’re welcome to bring your gadgets, but please don’t “talk” on them while talking to me. I’ll feed you, make you coffee, share our latest under-$7.99/bottle wine discovery, and even do the dishes afterwards. You can dry, but only if you want to. I might commiserate over facial blemishes, but only if they are actually visible under natural light. If you are taking your family to any exotic country via your own private Gulfstream, I will NOT commiserate about the difficulties of modern travel. Your difficulties are not mine. I just flew coach, had someone’s chair back resting on my forehead all the way over the Atlantic, and was asked please not to use the bathroom in the middle of the plane anymore.

I can’t help but wonder if you or your spouse or your parents or whoever has earned all this money you apparently have, if any of you have actually done anything worthwhile for society. Some kind of contribution — cured cancer, invented a clean alternative energy source, taught first graders how to read. Somehow I doubt it.

I guess I shouldn’t be so hasty to judge. Some of the more exclusive clubs do go to great lengths to make sure you don’t have to stoop so low as to pop your own pimple. They will apparently even run out and buy your favorite beer at the corner store if one of their bartenders is a victim of his own bad judgment and they run out (I wonder what the price differential for that turns out to be; anybody want to guess? And I guess, once you earn a certain amount of money, it’s unreasonable to GO TO THE STORE YOURSELF).

But really, those luxuries are really just your rights once you are earning, on average, $13 million a year. Not really that much more than the rest of us. Last year, for example, I made how much you make in, just a minute, I have to get out my calculator. . . .hmmm, like a day and a half or something. Not really that far at all.

Whatever. We won’t run out for your favorite beer, but in the summer we usually have a few Coronas in the fridge, and a couple kinds we made ourselves in the basement — right now I think there are Viennese lager and a stout, but I might be wrong. There is a cat. She sheds, and is a little evil, but she’s very cuddly, and most people aren’t allergic.

There’s also a snake (in a tank in my daughter’s room), and, well, full disclosure requires that I point out that there are also a couple children. And a fish. But I have two tomato plants that the deer haven’t eaten yet, and the basil looks like it might do something this year, and the light, about 45 minutes before sunset, when it slants through the trees behind the house, is quite lovely.

I might ask if I can try on your Manolo Blahniks, since I really like shoes, and could never spend that much on a pair. Plus I have wide feet, and a bad back, so I probably won’t steal them or anything. But you’re probably privileged, and entitled, and snooty, and I’m generally intolerant of all of those things, so maybe it’s better if you just go to your club and I’ll just stay home.

Never mind. Sorry to bother you.


Oh, and NYTimes, what’s up with the “precious” writing? “. . .honeyed streaks conjured by some magician at Frédéric Fekkai”?  “It was the handbag that told the story, of course, as a handbag often does”? Seriously?  I can’t tell if I’m reading an article, or ad copy. I expect better from you. Please try harder.


America Held Hostage

Obama is being held hostage by the Republicans.

I wonder if it would “work” if he let them close the government down — stop paying Medicare, soldiers, interest on the debt — allowing the country to come to a shrieking halt, hopefully, briefly — just long enough for people to realize that the radical Republicans they believe in so firmly aren’t actually looking out for anyone but themselves and big business.


stupid people

Heard on NPR this morning:

1.  On a report regarding Obama’s recent tour through the country touting the need to balance the budget fairly and encouraging development of green energy technologies, an energy student comments to the NPR reporter:

“Gas prices just keep going up and up and up; when’s it going to stop?”

Okay, first of all, there are those who believe that these little spikes aren’t really all that significant unless we panic about them, and that the biggest reason they cause such widespread reaction is because these signs are big and lit up and we watch the numbers spin while we gas up our car. Do you know if the milk you bought last week is more expensive than it was the week before? How much do you think a gallon of beer costs? And which do you think is easier to produce and deliver?

While consistently and dramatically elevated gas prices do hit us harder — affecting the profit margins of energy-dependent manufacturers, for example, or causing airlines to raise their rates by 50% and charge astronomical fees for luggage (adjustments which were not seen in reverse when gas prices went back down ~ 25% a year or more ago) — this little spike is probably not one of them.

Secondly, it’s a finite resource, and we pay the least for gas of any developed country, and probably less than some less-developed countries, so yes, the law of supply and demand would probably dictate that, as it becomes more scarce and harder to get to, it’s going to get more expensive. Stop whining and take a bus.

Which reminds me, why doesn’t this country do more about creating and using reliable public transportation? Millions of Europeans rarely drive their cars, and they all get where they need to go. They are also probably more healthy because they walk more, and less stressed because they have time to read a book or the paper, play Spider Solitaire on their iPhones, or post pithy insightful observations on Twitter while taking the train to work.

BUT — when the consumer is duped into paying more for gas because oil speculators and companies like Exxon want to take advantage of Middle-East unrest, that’s a different matter. When’s somebody going to do something about THAT?

Commenting on the same story is a young woman bemoaning the fact that gas prices are different in one state than they are in another, followed by a statement that the President should do something about that. Does she really not realize that states are allowed to tax gas at THEIR OWN RATES?

2.   Regarding the upcoming, IN TWO YEARS (criminy), presidential election:  Donald Trump is everywhere, and Sarah Palin has half a million Twitter followers.

He’s everywhere? With the hair? How can a man with this much money have this bad of hair? And if he either doesn’t have the sense to listen to people who tell him otherwise or is so intimidating no one dares, how good of a president could this man be, really?


Half a million? That’s 499,992 too many (I’m allowing for her immediate family, because they have to). Maybe she sounds less stupid when she Tweets, but I doubt it. The only positive outcome of Sarah Palin’s running for president is it gives Tina Fey more material.


stating the obvious

I get a message much like this almost every day of the week:

Dear MoveOn member,

The fight over our budget is really heating up in X, and your state legislators need to hear from you today.

Governor X’s proposed budget would slash funding for public schools and universities—while cutting taxes for large corporations. But most shocking of all, Gov. X’s budget would push 14,000 children into poverty by repealing the Earned Income Tax Credit—raising taxes on the working poor.

Call your state legislators today. Tell them, “It’s immoral to raise taxes on low-income working families, who are struggling most in this recession. I urge you to vote to protect the Earned Income Tax Credit.”

Do I really have to tell my legislators this? Don’t they know it already? What am I missing here?

And I get so many of these, day in and day out. How many petitions can I click on to sign and still feel like I’m actually accomplishing anything? I thought I was tired because I work too hard, or don’t get enough sleep, or maybe have mono, but maybe I’m just tired of all this.

Posted this on facebook the other day, “borrowed” from someone else:

I’m tired of America being dumbed down. I’m tired of a country who thinks that The Arts should be the first to go. I’m tired of fighting wars instead of teaching our children how to avoid them. I’m tired of a shrinking middle class. I’m tired of corporations and lobbyists running our country. I’m tired of a budget where defense is more important than education. I’m tired of a Nation divided. I’m tired of people texting other when they are sitting next to a real person and not talking to them. Maybe I’m just tired. Period.


Wake Up!

Republicans want to cut taxpayer funding of NPR. They argue that this is in the interests of fiscal responsibility, but the effects of this cut on the budget are negligible at best.

What they really want is to silence the voice of reason, one which presents all sides to the story, a “fair and balanced” view of the world and the events going on in it, rather than the FOX news version.

It’s so much easier to govern the ignorant.

I also worry that it’s yet another step in the efforts to privatize everything. (David Mitchell writes effectively about this in his beautifully-written book Cloud Atlas, although I wish the part about the journalist researching lax safety practices at a nuclear power plant had been “real” rather than “fiction.”) In Michigan, the governor is trying to overturn democracy, all in the name of handling our “financial emergency.” These steps include giving him the right to dis-incorporate towns and take over school districts and turn them over to “financial managers.” Of course, these would be privately-run companies, and there would be no guarantee, for example, that the person put in charge of your school actually has any experience at all in education.

THEY want to take THEIR country back? From who? And so they can give it to the corporations? Are this many of MFA really that stupid? How can these people, middle-class, hardworking people, believe that any representative of the current incarnation of the Republic party is looking out for them? Do we really need to protect the interests of the wealthiest just in case someday you win the lottery and don’t want to pay any taxes on it?

And don’t we all realize that if we prodigiously pollute our planet, and don’t educate our children, and don’t provide basic services for the ill and the poor, we all will pay? That we’re paying already?

I feel like we’re at the beginning of the fall of the Roman Empire.

Fire Rick Snyder


is it worth it?

From “Meet Dr. Freud,” New Yorker, January 10, 2011:

In recent months, there have been signs that the pressure [in China] is greater than anyone imagined. Last January, a nineteen-year-old named Ma Xiangqian jumped from the roof of his factory dorm at Foxconn Technology, where he had worked seven nights a week, eleven hours at a stretch, making electronic parts, before being demoted to cleaning toilets. In the months after Ma’s death, ten other workers committed suicide at Foxconn factories, which make iPhones and other products.”

Seven nights a week?

Eleven hours in a row?

Apparently this isn’t that unusual in Chinese manufacturing.

A paragraph later:

Foxconn wasn’t ‘any different from any of the other big companies who are doing the same thing’. . .Beyond the drudgery of the assembly line, workers in their teens, or barely out of them, were struggling to live far from home, save money, meet spouses, and educate themselves in their time off, all under the eye of a state with no organized outlet for complaint.”

Meanwhile, our (American) children underperform in high schools and colleges, delay getting married and having families, and take on student loans they not only have no idea how they are going to pay off, but don’t really care.

This, my friends, is why they’re “eating our lunch.”

p.s. I still want an iPhone, but now would feel guilty about buying one. As if I need another reason to feel guilty. But look how pretty it is.


the politics of breastfeeding

Apparently Michelle Obama has inflamed the ire of various conservatives with her support of breastfeeding.

The two main complaints are that women are busy and have enough pressure on them already without this type of coercion, and that Ms. Obama is out of line by suggesting that it would be reasonable for the IRS to credit the cost of breast pumps to women’s tax burden.

Yes, women are busy, and no one should be forced to breastfeed if they don’t want to. But does anyone really believe that milk from cows, meant for cow babies, is better for human babies?

And secondly, the federal government is already subsidizing infant formula for families in poverty already. Isn’t breast milk actually a lot cheaper? Last I checked, it was actually free, if you don’t count the “cost” of having to avoid 5-star spicy dishes at your favorite Thai restaurant and alcohol. And, isn’t it also, in fact, a lot more convenient? No bottles to wash, no need to have constant access to perfect water at the perfect temperature, no cans of formula to lug around on trips short or long?

Of course, Sarah Palin has to weigh in with another well-researched and intelligent response. “No wonder Michelle Obama is telling everybody, ‘You better breast-feed your baby,’ ” she said at a speech on Long Island. “’Yeah, you’d better, because the price of milk is so high right now.'” Except, according to the inflation calculator at the United States Department of Labor website, the cost of a gallon of milk, which was $1.69 in 1980, would cost $4.52 today. Is anyone paying $4.52 for a gallon of milk? I pay $3.99 for organic at my local grocery store.

But thank you, Sarah, for raising the level of argument yet again.



Borders on the brink

There’s a lot of concern that Borders, the store that really started the “sit-here-and-read-for-as-long-as-you-like” practice which led to every self-respecting brick-and-mortar book store containing a coffee shop/café and couches, may be in enough trouble to have to close their doors.

I’ve heard a lot of speculation, especially about that idea that most of their troubles have been caused by discount sales at BigBox stores, the spread of online-shopping, the nook, the kindle, the iPad, and the fact that Borders doesn’t have their own version.

I have a different theory.

I have never, in all of my years of trying, managed to successfully place an order online. Whether with or without a gift card, I really don’t think it can be done. You’ve written down your name and password, it doesn’t work. You have a new gift card you received from some generous piano students (thank you, btw), the numbers aren’t “recognized.” One time I managed to effectively place an order, I believe for Margarat Atwood’s Penelopiad, and several days later I received a travel guide to Zambia. I’m not kidding. When I called about sending it back in exchange for the book I had ordered (which was, btw, correctly listed on the invoice; apparently whoever was packing the book failed to notice that the title of the book on the invoice and the title of the book on the book had absolutely nothing to do with each other) I was told not to bother sending it back.

Imagine if they made that mistake for more than one customer a week.

That can’t be helping.

Guess I better hurry up and try to spend that gift card I got last month. . .maybe the collection of Saul Bellow’s letters. I’ll just create a new name and password so I don’t have to reset the old one that I can’t remember. Now I’ll enter those 16 digits from the back of the card. . .



In a related story: at a party last night a woman I had just met was carrying a book about herbs and spices she had recently loaned to our hostess. As a foodie, I asked her if I could have a look at it. She mentioned that she had heard of it, had checked it out at the local bookstore, and then went home and ordered it from Amazon. She says, with a little chuckle, “I probably shouldn’t do that, but it’s cheaper.” I wanted to say, I should have said, “you know, if, everybody did that, S_________’s wouldn’t be there anymore;” but I didn’t. I wish I had. I will next time. What is wrong with these people? Is it ALL about the $1.47 you can save by buying it from Amazon?



fund raising? or extortion?

Got this message from my daughter’s elementary-school “Webzine” today:

Friday, January 21 is $1 Crazy Hair Day at T____________!

Our Media Center needs some good old fashioned TLC and kids love “Fun Friday’s” at T_________.  Break out the gel, hair spray, wigs, wires and any other creative ideas to make some wacky hair-do’s.  We ask that each student donate $1 to participate and all collected funds will go into the Media Center Make-over bank to help purchase new decorations for the most-used room at T__________ – the Media Center!

Are they actually saying that I can’t send my daughter to school tomorrow with “Crazy Hair” unless she pays a dollar?


How poor ARE our schools, anyway? And do we even NEED new decorations for the Media Center? Can’t we just have books?

This is the 2nd year this has happened. Last year I actually wrote to the publicity person and asked the same question. Then I sent my daughter looking like this:

and didn’t pay the dollar.

I’d give them $5 happily if I weren’t being extorted for it.



capitalism, foreclosures, and greed

A real-estate “agent for investors” was apparently a little disgruntled at a recent foreclosed-housing auction at the fact that prices are creeping up, making his clients’ buy-’em-cheap-and-sell-’em-for-more venture a little less profitable.

I think this is shameful.

Never mind the fact that he’s/they’re in the business of throwing people out of their homes; never mind that some banks would rather sell houses at fire-sale prices and lose more money than they would if they helped borrowers restructure their mortgages; never mind that regulations (a term we should all use loosely at this point) relaxed to the point that people who probably could barely pay their car payments were given mortgages for homes way beyond their means, and then allowed to refinance, repeatedly, based on the imaginary increased value of their already-overvalued homes; never mind that the tanking housing market brought the rest of the economy down with it, and one of the things that might turn this economy around once and for all is if people aren’t losing everything they have.

No, we’re supposed to feel sympathy that this man, and the people he represents, who make their living not really doing anything productive for society, just moving “money” around, aren’t able to make as quick or as easy or as big a buck as they did last month.

And what is this: “agent for investors” anyway? I hate to sound like dear-ol’-dad and hearken back to the “good ol’ days,” but weren’t mortgages created to help hard-working people own homes while they still had need for them? I’m reminded of Mr. Potter (the banker, not the wizard) in It’s a Wonderful Life grumbling about how people, (referring to a particular demographic, I believe he called them “garlic eaters”), shouldn’t be allowed to own a home unless they could pay cash for it. The idea that you could invest your money in your home, and have some value out of that investment at the end of your life was a good and noble one; a little appreciation couldn’t hurt either, and it sure beat throwing your your money down the proverbial drain paying rent. But maybe we’ve gone a little too far from the original intent of the home mortgage when people think it’s a good idea to package them up and trade them like baseball cards. It’s MY house, my appreciation, not yours, and I really hate the idea that the interest I’m paying isn’t actually reflecting the cost of the loan, but merely a means of lining other people’s pockets.

As I think about this further, I begin to wonder how many of the difficulties our country faces are, if not created, at least impacted by the fact that most people seem to confuse capitalism with democracy. Obama tries to make sure that we all have the right to one of the fundamental needs of our society, decent, affordable health care, and people hiss “Socialist,” which number one, it’s not, and number two, is it necessarily such a bad thing? Isn’t the Christian moral ethic (you know, the one that so many people seem to be shouting from the rooftops, ramming down people’s throats, and/or using as justification to villify anyone and everyone who doesn’t agree with them), built around the idea that we take care of each other? The widow, the orphan, the poor, the disadvantaged. . .  And what about the statement on the statue of liberty: Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed, I lift my lamp beside the golden door. We presume “she” doesn’t mean give them to me so I can ignore their basic needs and discriminate based on their income.

People also tend to confuse Socialism — a system of economics that acknowledges that all have a duty and responsibility to themselves, their families, and their society, to do their best, and that everyone’s contribution is not only important, but necessary, while at the same time providing basic needs like health care, education, and support for the disadvantaged or the needy; with Communism — a system of economics that believes that people are not capable of the above beliefs and behaviors and therefore such must be regimented and controlled by the government. (It’s ironic, in a way, that early organized religion probably came about for much the same reason. People won’t behave honorably if left to themselves, so let’s create a system of fear, judgment, retribution and reward to control encourage them. Too bad so many atrocious acts are committed in the name of religion, from the genocide of the Old Testament, to the Crusades, the killing of doctors who perform abortions, and the people who feel they have a right to picket funerals declaring that God is happy about their deaths as He punishes this country for its tolerance of homosexuality.)

Hmmmm. I seem to have gone off on a tangent. What was I saying?

Ah, yes, the role of capitalism in society.

Capitalism can be a wonderful thing, especially when it’s a part of society which respects the rights and needs of others and includes recognition that we ARE all family; that what we do, or don’t do, impacts everyone; that what’s best for everyone might not seem, at any particular moment, to be best for one particular person, but ultimately probably is. Until that’s the case (my own personal version of Utopia), regulations are important, as are prudence, fairness, justice, equality of opportunity, and the awareness that the tyranny, pursuit, ethic of the mighty dollar might not be the one on which we want to build humanity.

I’d like to propose that we find a way to get money out of politics, but that’s probably a topic for another day. . .


21st century quality

This is a Dobie pad, some might know it is a Chore Boy (stupid name, that):

This Dobie pad is 2 weeks old.

I used to buy a Dobie pad and use it for months; only throwing it out when it started to smell so bad even microwaving it didn’t help.

So yes, they’re still cheap, but you buy 30 of them a year instead of 3. So not cheaper, actually much more expensive, cumulatively speaking.

Same goes for laundry machines, refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes, shoes, etc., all poorly manufactured in the name of being either “cheap” or “energy efficient.” I have a washing machine in my basement that, when running, sounds like giant chains being pulled across the prow of a ship, but I don’t dare replace it because it will probably continue to work for longer than any new one I would buy.

Is anyone calculating into these equations the cost of all of this broken crap in our landfills and wasted resources used manufacturing stuff that doesn’t last?

Just curious.


Time for the Truth

We can’t afford to roll our eyes in frustration and limit our rants to preaching to the choir. The truth must be out, and we must out it. The Tea Party and hard-core Republicans want to “take back America,” and are attempting to do so by exploiting the worst in MFA through lies and insinuation. And from whom? The people who are holding the financial and mortgage industries accountable? Or the people who want to make sure that you can’t be denied health insurance because you have a preexisting condition? (Hell, if you’re alive, chances are you have a preexisting condition. Maybe you just haven’t had to change jobs since it was discovered. Heaven help you if you do.)

We can’t afford to play nice and avoid having difficult conversations with people who can’t bother to be informed before running off at the mouth. And we have to stop protecting the rights of the privileged and the wealthy in the hopes that one day we might be one of them. If you’re middle class now, you’re probably going to be middle class until the day you die. The way the economy looks, you’re probably looking at the first generation where your children are NOT going to be better off than you were. What are you protecting exactly? Their right to avoid inheritances taxes on the $17,000 in cash and twice-mortgaged house you leave behind?

According to Wikipedia, “. . .in 2004, the wealthiest 25% of US households owned 87% . . .of the country’s wealth, while the bottom quartile held no net wealth at all. The middle 50% of the country held 13% . . . of the total household net wealth. . .

In addition to unequal wealth distribution, it is also difficult for individuals in the lower income distributions to gain economic mobility which inhibits their ability to accumulate wealth. . .The Panel Study of Income Dynamics shows how stratification is becoming worse and worse since 1984. The lowest percentile has become worse, and the highest percentile has become wealthier. The fifth percentile has dropped further into negative net worth, while the 90th percentile has gained over four hundred points within the last twenty one years.

Yeah, let’s protect them.

Meanwhile, let’s also forget the principles on which this country is founded: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness; freedom of expression, religion, opportunity.

They’ve got one thing right: I don’t think it says anything in there anywhere about the truth.


National ADD

Apparently the Democrats are fearing many potential lost seats in the upcoming midterm elections. The theory is that MFA are unhappy with the state of the union (so to speak), and hold Obama and his party responsible.

Is our attention span really this short? Criminy.


Customer Service, NOT

I’ve had this happen to me several times in the past several years, and I become more and more incredulous as 1. the internet takes over an ever increasing portion of retail sales and 2. “local” business complain about #1.

What is “this” you ask?

It’s a situation where I require a minimum of service and/or fair dealing, and am rebuffed.

Some of these situations have been quite minor; for example, the personnel at “my” local yarn store can’t seem to be bothered to help me find a pattern or the appropriate-weight yarn in my desired color. Sometimes they start out helping me, but after just a couple of minutes wander away to tend to their other tasks such as re-organizing the sock-weight, which is apparently much more important than selling something.

Other situations might reflect a worthwhile and carefully thought-out store policy, such as, “Pay no attention to that woman with $1100 of computer equipment in her cart and a questioning look on her face. If she can’t figure out what she needs from the self-serving, enigmatic statements on the box she’s probably not qualified to purchase or properly use the equipment anyway.” (Best Buy, 2001)

One circumstance seemed particularly self-destructive. Local toy store, not part of a chain, has a wooden kitchen sink-and-stove set that I would like to purchase for my daughter for Christmas. I am told by the woman at the cash register that they would be happy to hold it for me for an hour while I investigate one other option. I call, in less than an hour, and ask if I can purchase the sink-and-stove over the phone, promptly giving her my visa number and telling her that someone will be there to pick up the said sink-and-stove promptly at 5:15. A couple of hours later, the owner (yes, really) calls to inform me that it is “against store policy to ‘hold’ items,” despite the fact that I’ve already paid for it. The sink-and-stove has now been resold to a present customer, and I am s.o.l.  (Sandcastle, 2004)

And, again, today. I bought over $200 of trees, hanging baskets, perennials, and vegetable plants at a greenhouse (Flowerland) on Saturday (2 days ago). When I got into my car today, I noticed the receipt was still on the front seat, so I opened it up and looked at it, only to realize that I had been overcharged by $20 for the Japanese Maple I had bought. I know how this mistake happened: there were 3 varieties of Japanese Maples in a row, the Queen (becomes quite tall, wide, draping branches), the Prince (a little less tall, but with more of a shrub-y habit) and the Princess (smaller, umbrella-shaped, more narrow). I bought the Princess, with the help and advice of a very friendly employee. When I was putting the tree onto my cart, I noticed there wasn’t a tag, and the helpful, friendly employee bent over and picked one up off the ground, saying “this must be it.”  Well, it wasn’t. And yes, I guess this is partially my fault, because I didn’t stand there after receiving my receipt (!) and read each line. In any case, when I stated my case to the woman at Flowerland today, as I stood there with $35 worth of hanging strawberry baskets, she looked at me suspiciously, and then went over and whispered to the nursery manager. Upon her return I was informed that I would need to drive all the way home, take a picture with my cell phone to guarantee that this was in fact the other tree, and return with the corroborating evidence to the store.

Okay, first of all, this tree right now doesn’t look all that different from the other tree. The difference is in what will happen when they grow. They are merely requiring this because they don’t believe that I will bother. Second of all, it was THEIR mistake, so if they want documentation, I think THEY should drive over HERE and take a picture with THEIR phone. The fact remains that I was a satisfied customer of theirs, and now I’m not; they would have earned that $20 back with the plants I was going to purchase today, and didn’t. I was treated with suspicion, which I resent, since I’m the kind of person to take something back to the store that I was not charged for and insist on paying. Now, rather than their greenhouse being the first place I would go, it will be the last.

Wonder what THAT was worth to them. Apparently not much.


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.


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. 


Drastic Cuts

“The ____________ Public Schools Superintendent has proposed cost cutting measures that will force many students to travel by bus to another school to take band, choir and art classes.”

We continue to shift the focus of education from the bettering of minds and souls through the development of the ability to think and feel (through an immersion in history and literature and philosophy and logic and the arts) to trying to teach marketable skills.

Life without the arts — music, painting, sculpture, dance, poetry, literature, architecture — is life without beauty. Life without beauty is drudgery.

Is this the best we have to offer our children? Has anyone proposed cutting the football program? Or getting rid of the weight room? How about the boutique high schools with 3 assistant principals and better health insurance than anyone else in the state?

To quote the New Horizons website: Always among the highest expression of every culture, the arts teach us much about every historical period through its literature, visual arts, music, dance, and drama. Today it is recognized that to be truly well educated one must not only learn to appreciate the arts, but must have rich opportunities to actively participate in creative work. The arts are languages that most people speak, cutting through individual differences in culture, educational background, and ability. They can bring every subject to life and turn abstractions into concrete reality. Learning through the arts often results in greater academic achievement and higher test scores.

And an article from the New York Times from 1918, which is referring to literature directly, but which I believe addresses all of the arts as well as the times we find ourselves in:

“At a time when the habit of change threatens to unsettle all convictions and re-estimate all values, when war has concentrated the intelligence of the world on mastering the secrets of power latent in the physical forces of nature, when the readjustments of reconstruction direct attention to the practical needs of the importunate present, the American Academy [of Arts and Letters] wishes to record its abiding faith in those intellectual traditions and spiritual aspirations of humanity which in their sum constitute ‘the things that are more excellent.'”

Can’t say it better than that.


Recessionary Refusal

Saw this bumper sticker on a car today. This platitude is apparently becoming more and more widespread, and is motivated by a belief that all we need to do to overcome the current economic situation is change our mindset, persist in our networking, and continue to spend money in support of the economy.

What really troubles me, though, is the apparent complete disregard for reality. I’m quite sure there are plenty of people who would be happy to pretend there is no recession. I wonder if we could get all to participate — everyone show up for work as usual and pretend to get paid; banks imagine that you are receiving mortgage payments in full and on time; children, imagine there is enough food in your stomachs.

There. Isn’t that better?


The End of the World as we Know it

Let’s all try to make it a better one.

Op-Ed Columnist
The Fat Lady Has Sung

Published: February 20, 2010

A small news item from Tracy, Calif., caught my eye last week. Local station CBS 13 reported: “Tracy residents will now have to pay every time they call 911 for a medical emergency. But there are a couple of options. Residents can pay a $48 voluntary fee for the year, which allows them to call 911 as many times as necessary. Or there’s the option of not signing up for the annual fee. Instead they will be charged $300 if they make a call for help.”

Welcome to the lean years.

Yes, sir, we’ve just had our 70 fat years in America, thanks to the Greatest Generation and the bounty of freedom and prosperity they built for us. And in these past 70 years, leadership — whether of the country, a university, a company, a state, a charity, or a township — has largely been about giving things away, building things from scratch, lowering taxes or making grants.

But now it feels as if we are entering a new era, “where the great task of government and of leadership is going to be about taking things away from people,” said the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum.

Indeed, to lead now is to trim, to fire or to downsize services, programs or personnel. We’ve gone from the age of government handouts to the age of citizen givebacks, from the age of companions fly free to the age of paying for each bag.

Let’s just hope our lean years will only number seven. That will depend a lot on us and whether we rise to the economic challenges of this moment. Our parents truly were the Greatest Generation. We, alas, in too many ways, have been what the writer Kurt Andersen called “The Grasshopper Generation,” eating through the prosperity that was bequeathed us like hungry locusts. Now we and our kids together need to be “The Regeneration” — the generation that renews, refreshes, re-energizes and rebuilds America for the 21st century.

President Obama’s bad luck was that he showed up just as we moved from the fat years to the lean years. His calling is to lead The Regeneration. He clearly understands that in his head, but he has yet to give full voice to it. Actually, the thing that most baffles me about Mr. Obama is how a politician who speaks so well, and is trying to do so many worthy things, can’t come up with a clear, simple, repeatable narrative to explain his politics — when it is so obvious.

Mr. Obama won the election because he was able to “rent” a significant number of independent voters — including Republican business types who had never voted for a Democrat in their lives — because they knew in their guts that the country was on the wrong track and was desperately in need of nation-building at home and that John McCain was not the man to do it.

They thought that Mr. Obama, despite his liberal credentials, had the unique skills, temperament, voice and values to pull the country together for this new Apollo program — not to take us to the moon, but into the 21st century.

Alas, though, instead of making nation-building in America his overarching narrative and then fitting health care, energy, educational reform, infrastructure, competitiveness and deficit reduction under that rubric, the president has pursued each separately. This made each initiative appear to be just some stand-alone liberal obsession to pay off a Democratic constituency — not an essential ingredient of a nation-building strategy — and, therefore, they have proved to be easily obstructed, picked off or delegitimized by opponents and lobbyists.

So “Obamism” feels at worst like a hodgepodge, at best like a to-do list — one that got way too dominated by health care instead of innovation and jobs — and not the least like a big, aspirational project that can bring out America’s still vast potential for greatness.

To be sure, taking over the presidency at the dawn of the lean years is no easy task. The president needs to persuade the country to invest in the future and pay for the past — past profligacy — all at the same time. We have to pay for more new schools and infrastructure than ever, while accepting more entitlement cuts than ever, when public trust in government is lower than ever.

On top of that, the Republican Party has never been more irresponsible. Having helped run the deficit to new heights during the recent Bush years, the G.O.P. is now unwilling to take any responsibility for dealing with it if it involves raising taxes. At the same time, the rise of cable TV has transformed politics in our country generally into just another spectator sport, like all-star wrestling. C-Span is just ESPN with only two teams. We watch it for entertainment, not solutions.

While it would certainly help if the president voiced a more compelling narrative, I am under no illusion that this alone would solve all his problems and ours. It comes back to us: We have to demand the truth from our politicians and be ready to accept it ourselves. We simply do not have another presidency to waste. There are no more fat years to eat through. If Obama fails, we all fail.

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