Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Open Mouth, Insert...Literature Tweets?

Francis Bacon...Disguised

That famous writer A. Nonymous has written more prolifically than perhaps any other author in history (nothing to shake a stick or a spear at!), and I think his/her best work might be this: "A closed mouth gathers no feet."
I think of this every time somebody goes to the Twitter account and posts 140 characters about what's on his/her mind, and it ends up being totally ludicrous. Innuendo and libel fly back and forth between individuals, apparently without regard for the the fact that the whole world can access this drivel...and reduces the English language to some kind of Sanskrit-type communication. Which is why I'm surprised that the Library of Congress cares.
The archivist at the Library of Congress has announced that every (I mean EVERY) tweet since March 21, 2006, is being archived by that institution. Every drunken, pornographic, vitriolic and just plain stupid message we have sent out for general (or otherwise) consumption is now a matter for public that tattoo of a naked chick that was so cool the day you turned 18. Only more permanent.
I believe the idea was to make a comment about popular culture, and tweets seemed like a good way to do that. I wonder how many less than useful plans have begun with, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." Although, I admit that it's probably a more effective look at preserving pop culture than saving all the episodes of The Girls Next Door or Jersey Shore.
So, what can we look forward to?
Snarky comments about who did and did not get invited to the team picture.
Inane questions from Kim Kardashian.
Stupid marriage proposals and rejections.
ad nauseam.
But there's one that might prove interesting, provided by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
It seems that last year cast members thought it would be a great idea to "perform" Romeo and Juliet in 140-character tweets by the cast members. While I get the impression that it's either complete or the cast members got tired of it, but I could not figure enough of it out by reading the compiled tweets to tell.

You try it:

In parting, methinks that a tweet by another other name would sound as sweet.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sausages, Laws and Tacos...

When Otto von Bismark made the quote, "Laws are like sausages: it is better not to see them being made," he was obviously referring to the oftentimes dubious contents of each. We all know how much "pork" goes into ANY bill before it can become law, no matter WHAT Constitution Rockhad to say about that. And this week's overwhelming repeal of something called a "secret hold" does nothing to reduce the idea that some chicanery goes on all the time behind hallowed governmental halls. To say nothing of what is widely reputed to go into the makeup of your favorite hot dog or wurst. Even if the label indicates that a product is "all beef," that doesn't mean that it's made up of things other than lips, eyelids and, well, you get the idea. And now Taco Bell is being sued for purportedly BSing its clients as to the actual substance of its taco "beef."
According to the suit, the meat used in said chain's tacos is barely 15% actual beef--the remainder being made up of things we'd prefer not to know about.The little Chihuahua has responded that its meat, while never having claimed to be ALL beef, is actually 88% cow...which parts, it doesn't say. The Border gang even went so far as to divulge its "secret" spice concoction just to prove how healthy and "natural" it is.
I'm not a scientist who can dissect the stuff and tell what is or what is not "real," but I've eaten enough hot dogs in spite of what I suspect might be in them, to say that it's not about the's about the condiments. Put enough of a variety of those things on, and anything is palatable. Folks do the same thing with sugar and its substitutes: heap that on, and down the hatch.
We're generally not picky about things like that.
Besides, Taco Bell has a lot of choices without meat.
And they could always use pork instead...plenty of that going around!

Friday, January 28, 2011

At the Half: Environment 1--Corporate Greed 0

If "open for business" in Wisconsin means "screw the environment," there is at least one corporation that (thus far) has resisted the ravenous fingers of corporate greed in favor of the environment...truly a remarkable thing lately. And I tip my hat to Bass Pro Shops for the nonce, at least.
It seems as if, in an attempt to extend its money-making arm further in order to afford the cost of doing business in Green Bay, a certain professional sports operation petitioned to develop a parcel of land that was considered a wetland and, therefore, unavailable. As luck (?) would have it, Wisconsin's newly-elected governor has decided that the wetlands are not important where business is concerned and proposed a legal way to get around the restrictions concerning filling in said land. The measure is expected to come up for a vote by mid-week next week (the height of Super Bowl madness). This would clear the way for development of a Bass Pro Shops outlet and eliminate the natural wetlands. "Not so fast," said the company this morning.
A spokesman for the company (claiming ignorance of the wetlands issue) indicated that it would never build anything if it meant replacing a wetland environment, and the deal was off. A hunting/fishing enterprise concerned about the environment? Seems more than logical to me...but a corporation eschewing profit for the public good? That's a man-bites-dog story.
Of course, by this afternoon, the politicos seemed confident in their ability to persuade Bass Pro Shop to reconsider as long as a new "law" got passed by next week declaring the are NOT to be a wetland.
Rushing headlong into environmental overtime, I suspect.
For my part, I called the corporate office in Springfield, Missouri, and complimented them on their decision to protect the environment. 1-417-873-5000
But, as Ray Ciha was known to say, "I'm only one guy."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What Goes Around...

Remember the "best days of your life"? At least, that's what our parents said they were: we headed off to college while they continued to work and (hopefully) send us money. For most, college seemed like the ultimate good life what with MTV, lots of members of the opposite sex who didn't know what dorks we were, and Spring Break, to name a few of the Philistinian pleasures we experienced. Oh sure, there were classes to (mostly) attend, tests to take and papers to write at the very, very last minute (using correcting tape and liquid paper instead of a computer terminal), but all in all, not a bad life. Things have changed, apparently.
College freshmen now claim to be among the most stressed-out occupants of the planet, and much is being made of their apparent angst.
I suppose it's only natural since the entire population of the world seems to be suffering elevated stress levels...somewhat like the environment, to make an appropriate simile.
So, are you "stressed out," too? According to the American Institute of Stress (you KNEW there had to be one), there are 50 common symptoms of being overly stressed (URL below). Fifty? Fortunately, the college life seems to note fewer than 10 symptoms of exaggerated stress levels, according to

1. A change in sleeping and eating patterns. Doesn't this happen the minute someone walks onto campus?
2. An increased frequency of headaches. Professors will do that to anybody!
3. Increased frequency of levels of frustration and anger. Sounds like the dorms to me.
4. Being more irritable than usual. See #1 to understand this one.
5. Recurring colds and minor illnesses. Nos. 1 and 3 explain this.
6. Frequent muscle aches.
7. Being more disorganized than usual. Well, SURE since Mom isn't there to do it for you anymore!
8. A greater sense of persistent time pressure. "I will NOT put writing a paper off until the last minute NEXT time!
9. Increased difficulty in getting things done. "Jersey Shore and Gray's Anatomy are on tonight? Sweet!"

But the real eye-opener in all of this is that my life is increasingly filled with those EXACT symptoms!
It's just that the reasons are different.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No Surprises Here!

Every now and then I get entranced by online surveys/quizzes in an attempt to find out something about myself that I didn't know. While realizing these are all far too basic to actually be of significance, it's still an interesting diversion. Today, I decided to see which career might be right for me, based on a seven-question survey found on the BBC news site (URL below).
The questions were of a fairly specific nature based on John Holland's Model of Vocational Choice in which he identified six types of people: realistic, conventional, social, enterprising, artistic, and investigative. Hypothetical situations concerning development of a specific product and the respondent's role in that production led to responses that eventually identified not only areas of strength but areas that one should probably avoid. While it is probably too late in the game to decide on a possible career choice for myself, I thought it would be interesting to see if I'd made choices throughout life that corresponded to my view of myself.
Turns out...I have.
It was suggested that I was NOTa conventional type of person who would enjoy working within systems in a large organizations (I even hate crowds at social events!) with a focus on efficiency and accuracy.
Also noted was my poor outlook in the realistic domain: those people who prefer actions to words and would rather work with things than with actual people. While I don't necessarily see myself as a "people" person, too much solitude is boring...I need somewhere between unloading returned toilets from trucks (which I've done) and tussling with tourists in Door County fudge shops on the weekend (not one of my best moments!).
There were some bright spots, however, as I fervently hoped there would be.
I scored well in the social area, the enterprising area and the artistic area so suggested careers involved the activities of teaching and supporting others, self-expression, persuasion and influencing others as well as managing and (my favorite, perhaps) controlling others.
Spending the ten minutes to check out the possibilities was a far better use of my time than reading about all the rebuttals to the State of the Union address, at least. (No surprises there, either).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Sure Way To Cut Down on Food Intake

31 Filling Ounces

Not that I've ever been considered tubby by any means...I am roughly 30 pounds heavier than I was back in the day when I was a college runner. I am on a real exercise-and-no-eating-at-night kind of thing this semester, and I weigh myself once a week. Losing a few lbs might prolong my life, though if it comes at the risk of enjoying myself...well, that's a road to be decided upon at a later date.
At this point, any reasonable dietary aid is up for consideration; that's where the folks at Starbucks seem to be looking out for me. The new 31-ounce drink recently unveiled by the coffee folks (called a trenta by the barista--Italian, I think, for "more coffee than you can drink in a day") might be just the thing I've been seeking.
Oh, I've read opinions from all the naysayers like Dr. Jessica Bartfield of Loyola University's Health System who says that the trend toward larger portions is what got Americans so morbidly obese in the first place. Bartfield also contends that each two-fisted drink might contain up to an extra 200 calories that would add up to an additional two pounds of "more-to-love" every month. She also contends that the new 31-ounce size will contain as much as 4 or five times the caffeine as a regular 6 or 7-ounce cup 'o Jo. To me, that seems like 6 or 7 times as much energy boosting to wear OFF calories instead of adding them, and that doesn't even count all the trips to the bathroom! And one more thing...
The National Post, a Canadian news source, reports that the amount of liquid involved in the trenta (or, for that matter, Dunkin' Donuts 32-ounce behemoth drink) contains MORE liquid than is contained in the human stomach! Perfect! With all that liquid, there's no room for food! This could be the perfect diet solution.
If a person can lose weight on a complete McDonald's diet, I should be able to do the same with Starbucks!
I might even be able to cut down on exercise at this rate!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Now Here's A Real Challenge!

Seriously...It's Not That Hard

Maybe it's the "old school" in me...maybe the first day back to school WAS a bit frustrating...I mean, when a college sophomore cannot work through information on a website to find out ten things, including an email address, of a national group...greeting at Wal-Mart was looking better. Watching an episode of The Simpsons (Safety Salamander episode) helped a bit, but then I was challenged to do nothing for two minutes but look at a picture of the ocean and listen to the waves. I thought, "How hard can that be?" as I read the accompanying article.
The attempt at getting us to slow down and rewire our brains just a bit comes from one Alex, Tew, the guy who in 2005 sponsored the "Million Dollar Homepage" on which he divided his homepage into a million pixels and offered advertisers the opportunity to buy one at $1 each...four months later, he was a million dollars ahead! (yes, I know..."Why didn't I think of that," I hear you say.)
While one would think that spending a contemplative two minutes NOT touching the mouse or the keyboard would be an easy task, a report in the Huffington Post indicated that more than 22% of respondents to its poll COULD NOT LAST TWO MINUTES!
Seriously. In fact, the average time noted by those failing was a mere 58 seconds.
Not that I wasn't distracted: I was. I noticed that I might have to be going to the bathroom sooner rather than later, and I wished I had expanded the screen just a bit since the icons on my desktop were a bit distracting, and watching the time count backwards (there's a "fail" message if you backslide, and the timer starts over) was a bit annoying, but I focused in on the ocean and all the times I'd been there (or the Lake Michigan shoreline) and recalled my peace at simply listening to the waves...and I made the two minutes without fail.
But then, I'm old school.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

If U.S. Grant Read 50 Pages a Day...

Somewhere in the past, I read that even during the Civil War and his presidency, Ulysses S. Grant read 50 pages each and every day without fail. I find it hard to comprehend since he certainly had more weighty matters on his mind during those times. Maybe it's just folklore; maybe he was reading trashy novels instead of more erudite fare. Whatever HIS case, I have a task in front of me not unlike his...though I suspect 50 pages per day won't be enough. Twenty-one, count 'em, twenty-one. That's how many books are piled on my desk at this moment for me to read over the fourteen weeks of the next semester, covering subjects ranging from politics to human development to anthropology to literature. Such is the life I live as a tutor. Fortunately, I am more than moderately familiar with a few of them, especially the ones assigned "my" students as requirements for Women's Literature and an introductory literature class: Homer, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou. Others, even some of the literary requirements, are unfamiliar for now. The political science tomes are approximately 500 pages, and there are two of them...EEK! And those are just for starters. It's just the trickly before the waterfall (as it were).
As the semester moves into the first few weeks, there will be more students with more reading, but this semester, I am going to try a new technique. Instead of merely reading along and discussing what was read, I am going to ask my students to write out what they think they read before we discuss the reading, and then give them a short test a couple of days later on each reading.
In a recent study, researchers found that method to be even more effective than taking copious notes, writing in the margins, highlighting and reviewing just before a test, and I am anxious to see if it is as effective a method as it is purported to be. If nothing else, the students will get a significant dose of higher-level thinking about what they read instead of just looking for a summary and trying to guess what test questions might be asked.
The only sad part for me is that reading for pleasure has been moved to the back burner until sometime in June. With an average of 23 or so students, I really have no time to read for myself, but that simply means I'll just start making a summer reading list, and I will begin with historical fiction about Attila. I read the first of a three-volume set last week, discovering it too late to get all of them done before the start of the semester; books, however, are timeless.
They will wait.
Attila isn't going anywhere.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

It Seems Like Yesterday

Christa McAuliffe

Super Bowl XXXXV (or VL) is weeks away, and controversies over Skins and Amy Chua's latest book seem to dominate the news now that the Tucson shootings have (sadly) fallen somewhat out of the limelight and Keith Olbermann's abrupt departure from MSNBC after a suspicious buyout by a Republican-controlled Comcast Communications occurred has failed to generate much freedom of the press discussion. But 25 years ago, even though Super Bowl XX was fast approaching, everyone's thoughts were on NASA and the launch of the space shuttle Challenger...due to Christa McAuliffe's presence as the first true civilian to be rocketed into space. I had a special interest in the happenings since I was one of the thousands whom NASA rejected as applicants to be the first teacher launched into outer space.
I had spent a month in preparation for submitting my application: an enormously comprehensive, 40-page document that contained a personal statement, an essay detailing what I would study and how students would benefit from my experience, and the qualifications that I felt made me the best possible choice. Letters of recommendation were, quite obviously required as well. I, however, had an ace int he hole to my way of thinking.
That winter I had constructed a virtually life-sized model of the space shuttle out of snow in my front yard. The local newspaper photojournalist Kevin knew a great shot when he saw it, and the photo and accompanying article made it to the big-city newspaper in MIlwaukee. I was certain that this would be the final piece to the "Pick Darrell Patterson" puzzle that would sway NASA. How could they refuse?
Well, refuse they did, and while I was disappointed, I was still keenly interested in the event.
Called to the phone from class on January 28, 1986, I was dumbfounded when a reported asked me how I felt about the tragedy...since I had been in class all day, this conversation was the first I'd heard about it, and I was decidedly filled with ambivalence: horrified that the unimaginable was now reality, yet a bit relieved that I was still breathing. It was definitely one of those moments when I had to step back and rethink things.
The time has gone by...we've had yet another shuttle disaster (Columbia in 2003) and NASA has continued its move to explore space, yet now, I don't think people even really notice it anymore. For those of us that remember Kennedy's absurd promise to take an American to the moon and bring him home again, nothing is routine.
So, on the 28th of this month, stop for a moment and remember Christa McAuliffe: pioneer.
I know I will.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Survey Says...No to Snooki?

In spite of the fact that Nicole Polizzi is incredibly popular right now as Jersey Shore enters its second season, only 3% of respondents in a recent survey wanted to be her. What's not to want? Party, tan, occasional fistfights and generally, the casual life which does not generally involve housework or jobs? Of course, Snooki's manager says she keeps an exhausting schedule: up at 5, making appearances, and in bed after midnight!...must be tough.
However, more than a third of those responding to the survey said they would rather be Steve Jobs (despite mysterious health issues) or Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway. Right away, my Spidey sense began to tingle as I smelled something fishy.
First of all, how many people under, say, 30 even know who Warren Buffett IS? (and how many would start singing Margaritaville at the mention of his name? Secondly, both Jobs and especially Buffett are OLD! In fact, the others mentioned in the survey are not exactly spring chickens (as it were) either: Martha Stewart, President Obama and Anderson Cooper. So, you can see the problem with this survey: researchers gave it to people over least! I would venture to bet that nary a person under 35 was asked any of the questions concerning what luminary would be most appealing.
If they had asked people under 20, I would imagine Snooki would have gotten a much higher percentage...but then, these are the same people who are going to tune into Skins, MTV's new program which it unveiled this week and is already being pilloried by parents and church groups everywhere as pornographic and thoroughly abominable (ensuring tremendous ratings among the younger set). Take the first episode: in 40 minutes, there were 41 references to drugs and/or alcohol use among actors younger than 18 (some as young as 15) in addition to countless sexual references and implied acts...or the promised third episode in which a young man experiments with erectile dysfunction drugs and runs down the street naked: that's must-see TV there.
Now, ask the same people who would like to be Jobs or Buffett if Skins would be on their DVR and, well, you get the idea.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Does the Left Always Know What the Right Is Doing?

I've got to admit that there are many things of which I am totally unaware...sometimes blissfully so; such is the case with a malady called Alien Hand Syndrome. Had I not been reading the BBC news today, I could have gone to my grave ignorant of this amazingly dumbfounding condition...but now I do know, and I'm overjoyed not to be Karen Byrne.
Byrne, 57, of New Jersey had a simple (supposedly) operation completed at age 27 in order to cure her epilepsy from which she had suffered for almost 20 years. Normally, the procedure involves identifying the offending brain section and removing it. However, when that doesn't work, surgeons often cut the corpus callosum (the narrow band that attaches left to right hemisphere in the brain). This band ensures constant communication between left and right. Most of us know that the hemisphere of the left side of the brain controls the right arm and leg as well as language while the right hemisphere controls (obviously) the left side as well as spatial awareness. Apparently, the corpus callosum keeps the two functioning as one with one side overriding the other at appropriate moments. The fact that each has function independent of the other was part of Nobel Prize Winner Roger Sperry's (1981) which became increasingly important to Karen Byrne.
After the second operation, she found that her left hand would do things completely unbidden...such things as unbuttoning her shirt, stubbing out a cigarette she had just set in an ashtray with her right hand, and slapping her own face! Many times, she was completely unaware of the actions since they were not products of conscious muscular contraction. Incredible! Imagine having to keep an eye constantly glued to a certain limb to keep it from doing something unknown and, probably, unwanted!
I'm happy to report that Ms. Byrne's doctors have found a medication that will ease the problem, but what a nightmare.
And now you know something you didn't know about yesterday...probably...I didn't.
Rather makes me want to wear a helmet everywhere.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What, No Cheese Curds?

There is a state dinner tonight in Washington for Chinese President Hu Jintao (And if you didn't see Letterman do a parody of Who's on First last night in reference to the Chinese missed it). I was not invited, but for that matter, neither was Rick Bayless (a famous Chicago chef who HAS worked the White House before, and who HAS restaurants in which I have eaten). It's probably a good thing that I was not invited because there would be far too many forks, and choosing which one to use might be awkward. Starting from the outside and working inward toward the plate has always been my rule of thumb (or "thumbs" if I drop one or two), and that works great at Perkins, but I would suspect a formal state dinner would require, oh, say four or five forks, three or four different wine glasses (though I might be tempted to use the biggest one a la Jake Blues), and a couple of different plates.
Then, of course, would be the problem of the menu. Growing up dirt poor in the middle of nowhere, I learned not to be picky with food. In fact, being picky usually got me, no, I've never been fussy (after all, there WERE all those starving Chinese children who would give anything for what I had on my plate). But then, you never know what they're going to serve at a fancy schmancy dinner, especially one with a foreign dignitary from China. You can bet they won't be bellying up to the buffet line at China Garden tonight. So, my somewhat more advanced palate could suffer if there was a Chinese delicacy involving the innards of some rarely-found fish from the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean. While I realize that presentation is important for any dish not containing bacon, there's no telling what a graduate of the Iron Chef might toss out for consumption at such an affair.
However, I was able to find a copy of this evening's menu, and I'm rather sad that I wasn't invited. Crashing the affair would be impossible after the last couple of people did that...besides, I wouldn't want to end up on a Desperate Housewives type program like she did. Here's the menu, and, to be honest, I think I've had at least representative samples of everything on it:

D’Anjou Pear Salad with Farmstead Goat Cheese
Fennel, Black Walnuts, and White Balsamic

Poached Maine Lobster
Orange Glazed Carrots and Black Trumpet Mushrooms
Dumol Chardonnay “Russian River” 2008

Lemon Sorbet
Dry Aged Rib Eye with Buttermilk Crisp Onions
Double Stuffed Potatoes and Creamed Spinach
Quilceda Creek Cabernet “Columbia Valley” 2005

Old Fashioned Apple Pie with
Vanilla Ice Cream
Poet’s Leap Riesling “Botrytis” 2008

I don't generally have a sorbet to cleanse my palate between courses, but there seems to be enough wine so that Hu can get snockered and agree to cancel our national debt. Apple pie and ice cream? Couldn't get any more American than that, though I might replace the evening's entertainment (various jazz musicians performing under the auspices of the Thelonius Monk Institute) with a replay of the final game of the World Series...if we're going American, let's go all the way, I say.
More wine, too!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mother Might Not Know Best

Who could work after eating all this anyway?

I spent my youth with Cheerios and Wheaties, as I recall. This was, of course, before the age of sugared cereal, so we'd pour sugar on when Mom wasn't looking. Naturally, there was nothing for the sugar to adhere to so it ended up a congealed mess at the bottom of the bowl that even made the milk taste sickening. But it was better than oatmeal, as far as I was concerned. You may or may not remember the television commercial featuring a ghostly bowl of oatmeal or Malt-O-Meal that followed the young man around all day ensuring that he was taking great care of his personal health...well, his mother was anyway. Mothers worldwide (except in those places where people are lucky to get anything to eat, let alone three, balanced meals) probably still regale their children with tales of how a good breakfast gets them off to a positive start that will last all day, following them around like the spiritual bowl of oatmeal of my nightmares. Maybe that remains a truism, but it won't help someone who is trying to lose weight, according to research done in Germany.
Recently published in BioMedCentral's Nutrition Journal were the results of a study done to determine the effect of a hearty breakfast on weight loss. The theory was that if one ate a filling breakfast, he or she would not eat as much during the day, resulting in a lower caloric input and, therefore, weight loss. Turns out to be false hope.
Two hundred and eighty obese people and 100 "normal" folks ate the same breakfast for two weeks: cereal, cornflakes (aren't these the same? Maybe not in Germany) and sausage or butter, bread and cheese before going about their day. The supposed lessening of food intake throughout the day was not evident. It seemed that each group member ate the same amount at lunch and dinner as they had before. This meant that a big breakfast only increased the amount of calories taken in, so, instead of losing weight, folks gained weight or remained virtually the same. There was no real result pronounced in the article I read.
Weight gain/loss seems to be important to us as we get older, and it is obviously more important to some than others, so, while having breakfast to jump start the system after an entire night of using up calories, perhaps I might reconsider the "Heart Attack Stack at a local restaurant...that is, if I want to lose weight.
Maybe older women LIKE pudgy.
On the other hand, I hate oatmeal and cornflakes get soggy far too quickly for me. High fiber/low fat? And Mom is not around to tell me what to do...Who knew this could be so hard?

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Just Wait 'Til YOU Have Kids"

What, no ride?

I am certain my mother must have said to me a gazillion times during my tumultuous childhood that someday (God willing), I would have kids, and they would be JUST LIKE ME...then, I would see how tormented I'd made her life. Well, I DID have children...fortunately, though, they are less like me than Mom would have wished, and frankly, a lot of their childhoods are simply a blur. I guess having four teenagers at once does something to mess up the time and space continuum...or something. Anyway, I get huge satisfaction out of watching the grandchildren as they take turns attempting to make their own way through crazy parents and doting grandparents. The little girl is the prize, though.
Her dad was in his mid-30's when she was born, and he was more of a sit-on-the-couch-surrounded-by-remote-controls-and snacks kind of guy...totally unprepared for a baby. The household consists of three adults (one grandmother) and a baby, and it is undoubtedly the little girl who runs the show. She seems to get anything she wants, and has been known to call us in the middle of the night (repeatedly) because she's playing with the cell phone. The plastic Target phone wasn't enough, and by wailing at decibels only dogs and parents could hear, she'd get her way. cute as she is, she can go right to"air raid siren" sounds in a second. And now that she can walk...look out.
She has free rein to grab and throw anything within her reach, and I don't think the family has the idea of baby-pr00fing the house yet. This means the X-Box, the stereo controls, jars of change and the iPad are all within her grasp...and grasp she does! (usually, just before throwing whatever she can lift.
As knowing grandparents, we wanted to encourage her to walk, so we got her a couple of push toys, culminating in a shopping cart for Christmas. I think we've manage to take away the only respite the harried parents had. She used to love to sit in the shopping cart and wheel through Target and Best Buy, but now, it seems that she feels the need to push the big carts as well. This is unfortunate because it put her at eye level with all the things on the lower shelves that she can now reach out and grab...or jump on or throw.
"Well, just say 'no'," I hear you saying. Would that it were so easy. You've not heard her wail and seen the huge tears she manages to squeeze out. And you have not seen her being just the cutest little thing EVER. I smile sympathetically but can't help wondering what this cutie is going to be like in fifteen years. If she can manipulate three adults now...
I can just hear her mother: "Someday, you're going to have kids JUST LIKE YOU!"
Now THAT I would like to see.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Best Way to Raise Children...Maybe

Amy Chua surely knows how to create a buzz...or an explosion, depending on how you see it as a parent. Her recently released book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has literally created battle lines among mothers across the blogosphere, especially within the Chinese and Caucasian communities. Really...she should have been a boxer because she holds no punches when describing what she sees as the failure of American motherhood when compared with that of the "Chinese Mom."
See, Chua is convinced that American Moms are too soft: they let their kids have sleepovers, playdates and encourage things like signing up for the school short, she thinks American moms are too permissive and allow their children to give up too easily. Understand, this is a woman whose 7 and 4-year-old daughters made her handmade Mother's Day cards...which she proceeded to throw back at them and tell them they weren't done well enough! At one point, she emphasized to her older daughter Sophia that she was "garbage" for letting her behavior slide. Nothing less than an "A" grade was acceptable unless it was in a drama class or a gym class, and Chua refused to let her children do anything but homework and practice the violin (though they also had a choice to practice the piano for hours on end). Her reasoning for this somewhat heavy-handed approach?
"Children never want to work which is why it is critical to override their preferences. Rote repetition is underrated in America."
Lest you think this is a) some crackpot or b) unusual behavior in a Chinese mom, I beg to differ. According to the report in the New York Times over the last few days, Chua is a Harvard Ph.D. and many of the responses to her books have come in the form of letters from women of Chinese descent noting that people could now understand why they were in therapy.
In recent editions, Chua has attempted to defuse some of the eviscerating criticism by saying that one really needed to read the WHOLE book before making a judgment, since she feels that she finally comes around a bit when her daughters refuse to be cowed by her as they aged.
This story has really had an impact: one the one hand, tell me that we DON'T let kids give up too easily or that we always hold them to a high standard. It would be hard to deny some of the claims she makes about what's gone "wrong" with either children or parenting in this country. her daughter performed on the violin at Carnegie Hall at age 14.
None of my kids did that.
But so far, none is in therapy, and I don't think any of them hate me.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Survival Knowledge

I'm hoping for a long winter...really. Every year, I try to make something fun out of snow both as entertainment when I get bored and as a creative outlet (especially important since I'm so terrible at art-type creations). This year there was enough hard-packed snow for a pre-Christmas Lego scene, but a warming trend did away with that in a hurry, leaving me a bit disappointed at the quick destruction of my project. While there is still a bit of snow remaining, as well as one week's wait before the second semester begins, I'm wishing for more snow so I can actually try to build an igloo.
The kids across the street have been begging me for a couple of winters to do so, but it always seemed like something of an ordinary task, and I was into bigger and more bold endeavors. Now, though, I'm ready: I have plans! Yes, I know it seems simple enough, but even my rudimentary guesses concerning said construction were a bit off.
I figured it would simply be row upon row of snow blocks with each succeeding row moved inward just a bit so that they would eventually meet at the top. Not so. It seems that one needs to bevel the bottom edge of each succeeding row in order to make them slant inward and upward! Yes, I know it sounds simple, but I hadn't considered it...until today.
Just because I know you, too, are interested in learning something as well as creating an energy-efficient winter dwelling (far cheaper than the ice hotels in Scandinavia and Canada), I am going to provide you with the plans by way of the following URL:

Size obviously matters, but I think I'll start small and work my way up.
By the way, do you know how the blocks of snow stay together?

wait for it...



Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Hirsute Protest: Better Than Violence


It would appear that Belgium has no official government: who knew? Certainly, not I; however, it seems that the European country has been without an official government since June, setting a record for such a post WWII occurrence. (Apparently, places like Somalia don't get entered into such contests). Anyway, one can imagine how frustrating this must be for the general populace. Now, someone has begun what he hopes to become a nationwide protest of the inefficiency of politicians.
Benoit Poelvoorde, noted actor in the dark, comedic Man Bites Dog as well as the costume drama Coco for Chanel is proposing that every male in the country resist shaving until the government gets its act together and, well, forms a real one.
While this might not seem to be a spectacle designed to inspire a rush to govern, it might actually serve its purpose as women nationwide get fed up with bushy busses and scratchy snuggling...and we know that when women get upset, change is not far away. I will be anxiously following the protest through the auspices of the BBC from whom I heard about this in the first place.
Belgium, of course, has a history of famous personages with facial hair. Hercule Poirot was a famed detective long before any of the CSI characters was invented. Of course, he favoured (trying to be European in spelling here) only a waxed mustache, not the full frontal facial. Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus from the Tintin books, however, sported beards that would do Rip van Winkle proud.
This call to arms from an actor to all the males in Belgium is a clever way to galvanize an entire country to action. I would join them in sympathy except for that little bare spot just under my chin...and the amount of gray that would appear.
Solidarity, it would appear, goes only so far.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It Just Keeps Getting Stranger...

506 is a lot of pushups!

Every now and then, I get overcome (well, maybe "dumbfounded" is a better term for it) by the information that I find in the news of the world. Reading six newspapers every day keeps me well-informed, but it also exposes me to head-scratching accounts of just how unbelievable the world has become.
Before I begin to sound like one of those people who constantly refer to the past as being better than anything today's numbskulls can come up with e.g. "back in MY day...," let me remind you that the past has given us countless dumb things: numerous wars over real or perceived slights, All-Star Wrestling and Gorgeous George, Tiny Tim (the singer, not the literary character), Pop Rocks, Beta recording, 8-track tapes,Baby Einstein, and the Corvair, among literally zillions of other things. Compare any of them to an iPad, and there's little doubt that today is better. However, that's not to say people have gotten brighter. To wit:

A Griffon Vulture with a GPS collar was recently "captured" in Saudi Arabia, and the government immediately claimed it to be a spy, and part of a Zionist plot...this despite the fact that researchers at Tel Aviv University claimed to be tracking migration habits. No word at this time on the fate of the was not allowed to speak with a lawyer or the consulate.

In the same vein, politicos in Egypt claimed that Mossad (Israeli secret police) was responsible for the series of shark attacks of the Egyptian coast. Didn't we see something like that in one of the Bond films? Thus, it IS possible.

Having covered every last bit of minutiae concerning the BCS title game, the Los Angeles Times produces a three-page article weighing in on the heady subject of college mascots...emphasizing the number of pushups the Oregon mascot does at each game. No real news in California? Education? Taxes? Gay rights? Mudslides? (real mud and water, not the drink)

Some author whose name I've conveniently blotted out of my memory revised Twain's classic Huck Finn and removed several hundred uses of the "n" word. He said it was so that the book would not be banned in schools by the politically-correct police...but I suspect it was simply an effort to make money on his part. Any parent or school who cannot take the time to explain the history behind such a book cares not a whit for education or literature. Twain is decidedly rolling over and over and over.

]Birds falling from the sky all over! In the U.S. fireworks were Sweden, authorities say the birds were merely run over...but in Romania, researchers actually found something plausible: acute alcohol poisoning! It appears the birds there had consumed mass quantities of waste products of the wine-making process and simply died as a result.
"fireworks," indeed!

Today, a noted politician referred to the backlash from the Arizona shootings by using a term that was used for centuries as a way to persecute Jews, depriving them of everything they owned. While the term "blood libel" has been generally (though incorrectly) used to denote a person getting blamed for something he/she did not do, the lack of foresight into the derivation of the term belies an ignorance that is incomprehensible.

And, in the most incredible example of the bizarre world in which we live: "It's A Shore Thing" by Snooki was published this week.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

College Football Is About Graduation...Not

Clever Headline From The Oregonian

If reports can be accurate, given that they come from the national media, more people watched last night's national championship football game than any other program in the history of cable television. Seems unlikely to me even though I was watching a graduate of the University of Oregon, I felt that it was my duty since I continually refuse to give into cajoling from student-athletes who call every year trying to get me to give money to the school. Today, I feel a bit bad about that, especially since the head coach Chip Kelly lost the opportunity not just for a national championship trophy with a soft drink logo on it but also the $750,000 bonus he would have received had the Ducks won the game. (Winning coach Gene Chizek got a paltry $600,000 bonus for his efforts)
While it is a no-brainer that schools that play in major bowls make ginormous amounts of money, such investments rarely lead to what many of the uninitiated might consider an important statistic: graduation rates among players. Take Auburn, for instance (please!). The school dropped from 4th place on the graduation success chart to 85th over the last couple of years when considering the graduation rate of its players. Although white football players graduated at a rate of 100%, only 49% of the black football players at Auburn walked out with a sheepskin. This marks the fourth largest drop among the 125 major college football teams in recorded history. It's certainly a good thing that ALL of those athletes will get huge pro contracts that will keep them solvent for, oh, five years or so.
Auburn's downfall was documented by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, located at the University of Central Florida. It seems the problems began when a sociology professor noted that a player described on television as a sociology major had never taken a sociology class...OOPS! He then discovered that there were 18 such graduates who had never even taken a sociology class...and things spiraled downward from there to the point where in the most recent collection of data, Auburn the nation's #1 college football team, graduated 63% of their football players.
However, lest you think this is a rant against the team that beat my Ducks, let's look at the graduation rates of the top seven schools in the polls vs graduation rates sweepstakes (statistics on polls prior to Bowls season, I suspect):
#1 Auburn--63%
#2 Oregon--54%
#3 Boise State--65%
#4 Texas Christian University--71%
#5 Michigan State--55%
#6 Missouri--71%
#7 Alabama--67%
In fairness, graduation rates for regular students are not exactly stellar, either, with the most recent showing a drop out rate of nearly 50%. From that angle, it would seem that these programs are doing great.
But regular students don't have million-dollar teachers or multi-million dollar facilities and budgets, either.
And the disparity between black and white graduation rates is troubling, to say the least.
Maybe I should be sending money to ordinary students.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Truths About Air Travel

Having returned today from a brief respite in temperatures triple what they were here in Titletown, I think I can say without a doubt that there are several inescapable truths concerning air travel. I don't think it matters where one is going or what time of year said travel takes place, here are some absolutes:

1. If there is less than half an hour between connections, a delay will occur (in our case, clearing snow from a runway).
2. If there is less than half an hour to make a connection, your seats will be in the back of the plane (this happened twice, but only once to us).
3. If the stewardess really makes an attempt to get folks out by announcing that people with time should stay in their seats, EVERYBODY will get up and take their time leaving.
4. The less time there is between connecting flights, the farther the connecting gate will be from the arrival gate.
5. Nobody has any patience leaving but everyone is somewhat more relaxed going home (miss beach time or work time? tough call!)
6. The weather will be nicer in the location in which less time will be spent.
7. Home is always nicer than anywhere else.
8. Margueritas will have a normally quiet person shouting "Go Packers" at total strangers on the street.
9. Any trip through Chicago's O'Hare airport will involve a delay of some kind.
10. We continue to fly because it's so much "faster."
More fun stuff coming.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

But Can I Sit Down?

But can I get my arms in?

Just in time for my little vacay to warmer climes comes the news that I won't be paying any airline to check my baggage...I'll be wearing it instead: using the Scottvest Carry-On coat (available in only once color at this time).
As you might have guessed from the illustration, the coat is designed with 33 assorted pockets between the inner and outer layers, and into which one can stash everything one might need in case his or her luggage ends up elsewhere: enough, say the inventors, to carry on a two-day business meeting.
At $225, the coat is definitely not cheap, but at $25 per bag each way, you can see how it will pay for itself in no time. Luckily included is a trifold brochure detailing visually where everything fits...from a small velcro-closure pocket for the memory card to enclosures for a pair of dress shoes, an umbrella and the always-necessary iPad. Additionally, there is a plastic -lined pocket suitable for the TSA-approved liquids; and, since I have to take off the jacket at the security queue anyway, there will be no need to fumble through my backpack looking for the 1-quart plastic bag.
It's perfect, really.
Now all I need for my trip is a pair of those underwear that blocks the body-scan projector.