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, December 31, 2012

Misused, Overused and Generally Useless

One of the things that's trending right now is the never-ending compilation of lists that hope to encapsulate the outgoing year in an attempt to kick the pop culture can down the road to a spot that is not so "meh." However, since the YOLO meme has inspired passion among literally thousands of people anxious to double down on their degree of cool. the rest of us are forced to suffer the indignity...much as we do when someone uses the "singular they" in speech or--gasp--in writing! While that pronoun misuse might not mean much to the average person (obviously, since almost everyone I hear speak or whose writing I read has used it), ridding the world of people who use the plural pronoun "they" with a singular noun--as in "A speaker should think before they use a plural pronoun with a singular antecedent"--is definitely on my bucket list of things to accomplish. Perhaps, if people ate more superfoods and less (or is it "fewer"?) boneless chicken wings, they could figure all of this out.
Or maybe I should just move to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan in an attempt to establish the new normal in a place where folks actually CARE about such things.
You see, that location is the home of Lake Superior State University, a probably-not-ivy-covered institution of higher learning that every year publishes a list of words (accumulated by submission from around the world) that they (see how easy it is to screw this up?) feel must be obliterated from common usage as being unfit for human consumption.
Last year, for example, the list included the hated "man cave" as well as other notables such as "baby bump," "trickeration," "ginormous," and the aforementioned "new normal." This year's list is a compendium of terms that rival the hated "Gangnam Style" dance craze.
Those terms doomed for exclusion in the 38th annual list are as follows:

"fiscal cliff     kick the can down the road     double down     job creators     YOLO     passion     spoiler alert     bucket list     trending     superfood     boneless wings."

Sadly, today was the first time I'd even heard of YOLO...not surprising, I guess, since famous teen miscreants are not on my daily "must watch for" list, and I am the type that spells out everything in a text message as well as including punctuation. Of course, there is always good old LSSU.
They get more snow than we do in Titletown, too!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

I Get It Now

As the country verges on vertigo standing atop the fiscal cliff with just over a day to find a solution, it occurred to me that I don't really like anybody on either side of the stalemate. Each side seems somewhat unreasonable and prone to saying unkind things about the other side: affixing blame solely on the shoulders of the other political party. While the rest of us swing and dangle on the end of an expensive noose, our elected leaders continue to affirm the best of intentions while disparaging the "other side" as being the ones holding things up. There is little chance I will like either side even IF this gets resolved. Thus, it should come as no surprise that even children like kindness.
Sure, sometimes researchers go out of their way to p"prove" something anybody could have told them, but I find Kristin Layous' findings interesting anyway. Layous, a psychology faculty member at UC-Riverside, conducted a study recently to determine if "forcing" children to be kind would actually improve their popularity. Here's what she did:
Four hundred school children between the ages of nine and eleven were divided into two groups for the study. Both groups were polled at the beginning of the study to determine which students were most likely to be picked as a group member for a school activity (assuming the selection corresponded with popularity). One group was told to visit three places every week for four weeks and write in a diary about their experiences. The other 200 students were assigned three acts of kindness every week and also asked to record those acts. Two things need clarification: 1) the study was done in the spring so students already knew each other rather well, and 2) the acts of kindness did NOT have to be directed at fellow students. Acts such as "I gave my mother a hug because she was stressed" and "I shared my lunch" are examples.
To absolutely nobody's surprise, the students who performed acts of kindness for three weeks were judged far more likely to be picked by their classmates for group activities when the 400 students were polled at the end of the study.
Bottom line: when was the last act of kindness you saw from anyone wrangling over the economic issues in Washington? Right. me, neither.
Thus, there is no hope I will ever feel positively about them...and I suspect I will not be alone.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Get the Picture?

I have alluded to Susan Sontag before in this blog: She wrote a book called On Photography that I read as part of my task tutoring students. One of the significant points I remember was that she felt that photography had ruined our memories and our ability to impress images on our minds as we saw them. We have become, according to her, so used to taking snapshots of everything that we do not store the images in our memories: instead, we store them in a photo album...or, in our case today, in The Cloud.
It's true; I think it's also true that we fool ourselves into remembering events not as they really occurred but as one or two positive order to remind us of only the positive, happy moments while conveniently forgetting the not-so-fond memories that we might otherwise hold.
Significant events like weddings and major holidays provide great examples. As one looks at the photos, all that "appears" are the pleasant memories of important days--not the crying, the shouting, the emotional trauma that always seems to take hold when we expect an absolutely perfect occasion and get, well, something more human.
The yearly family photo reminds us how much we love those around us while allowing us to repress the simmering resentments and anger that generally come up from the subterranean pit where they lie most of the time. Whether it's the influence of a child's meltdown followed by poor parenting pointed out by family members or some generally petty jealousy, these events  cast a distinct pall over the occasion, and various members of the assemblage either try to look the other way or find an excuse to walk to the kitchen to "clean up."
The elephant in the room remains to cast a great shadow over the proceedings and personal relationships; sometimes remaining for years, though mostly removed as the group photos become the overriding image of the gathering.
But in those cases where the shadow lingers over each succeeding gathering...
Pictures aren't enough.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Go South, Young Man

Horace Greeley notwithstanding, employment today is better in the South than in any other part of the least in one aspect (well, TWO, if you don't like snow).
A recent survey of 522 full-time workers conducted by Adecco Group North America found some interesting job-related information, and in the area of vacation packages, the workers in the South are far ahead of the rest of us (somewhat like the SEC in football).
At issue is the number of days workers get for vacation and how often they lie about being sick to get another free day. While none of the results were particularly startling, it is somewhat amazing that people are willing to prevaricate just to get out of working without realizing how their coworkers feel about their absence.
The researchers found that fully 44% of those questioned had called in absent utilizing a lie. Jury duty was the top reason workers used to get out of their daily toil: 27% of those surveyed indicated that they had used this excuse. Legal issues were used only slightly more often than deaths int he family, a lie that was featured by 26% of the respondents. Obviously, people close to us die, but, for some reason, there's always a bit of suspicion among coworkers and bosses when this happens. Nearly fifty percent of those responding indicated that they were unhappy about fellow employees being gone...mostly because the absence caused more work for them. This fact is important because almost 75% of respondents felt that the ones absent were faking it a majority of the time!
It's also not surprising that men were twice as likely as women to use the bereavement gambit and four times as likely as women to use the jury duty ploy. Perhaps there are just that many more men in the workforce...or perhaps, men are just bigger slackers. At any rate, there was wide diversity in the amount of satisfaction full-time workers felt for their vacation compensation.
Forty-three percent of workers surveyed in the South felt perfectly satisfied with their vacation packages, but the numbers dropped off dramatically as the rest of the country weighed in: only 23% of workers in the Northeast were satisfied, and a paltry 15% of folks toiling in the West liked what they had.
Of course, using sick and vacation days as the only criteria for job satisfaction is a bit simplistic, but I think it matters more to people who have "jobs" as opposed to those who have "careers." I've had both, and, although a career definitely has days in which one would rather not be there, the attachment is different.
...and I like snow.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

I didn't believe Nostradamus' predictions; many of them are "adjusted" by folks who attempt to pair events with hazy "predictions" to prove how right he was and that we should all change our ways from whatever they are before it's too late. I suppose somebody said that to the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans as well...but they didn't listen apparently, and slipped into relative anonymity save the odd historian/philosopher.
Nonetheless, I shoveled the driveway today in haughty defiance to the Mayans. While I respect what had to be an amazing culture prior to the Spanish incursion and/or mysterious departure not unlike that of the Anasazi in the American Southwest, the world just isn't ready to end. Life as we know it has its amazingly inept moments: climate change, religious-based violence and politicians, but no matter how much some may wish it to be so, I don't believe it. Others, however, do.
A Reuters global poll announced by the BBC today indicated that 10% of the world actually believes today to be their last day of life as they know it. How crazy is that? So crazy that the Minister of Emergency Situations in Russia actually took to the airwaves to declare that there was absolutely no chance that the world was going to end on the 21st. (Of course, by now it IS the 21st in Russia, so if it had disappeared, I'd have heard about it).
In France, a group of people have decided that UFOs are coming to pick them up so they've all gathered on a hill near Bugarach.
Of course, we have the "preppers" in this country who have stocked food, water and enough firepower to make "Red Dawn" look like a meeting of the local Cub Scout pack. They, at least, make sense: if the world doesn't end, they are at least prepared for ANY threat; of course, threats don't come often in the hills of the high plains, but one can never be too secure or have too many 100-shell magazines for the AR-15.
Tomorrow IS, however, the Winter Solstice so that may be why the date is many people do.
All I know is that I shoveled the driveway today, confident that it (and I) will still be here tomorrow morning...when I'll get the pleasure of doing it again.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Well Read...Mostly

At last! The semester has ended. No more getting up at 5, skipping my workout, tutoring students and reading essays until the wee hours. It's been non-stop grading and preparing students for tests for the last week and a half, and I'm exhausted...still waking up at 5 but on a more leisurely schedule for the next five weeks. The result was mixed: some did well; some did not.
One thing that I will not miss over the next five weeks is constant reading of textbooks and academic writing. I've read at least 15 books this semester: none of them page-turners, I assure you. My wealth of information has grown incrementally, but it hasn't been great fun. So, today, on my first day of vacay, I went to the library, checked out three books, and await the snowstorm rapidly approaching. (Yes, I made sure the snowblower was working properly...though I think shoveling is great exercise, the machinery helps me get the raw material in place for this year's snow sculpture extraordinaire--photos eventually).
However, during the last part of the semester, the university library polled everyone on campus to find out what his or her favorite all-time book was. No explanation was required...just the name and author of one's favorite book. The top ten are listed below, and I am pleased to say that my all-time favorite book notched the top spot!
It was obvious that college students were involved in the poll by the inclusion of #5, # 10 and, possibly, #9. I know "Fifty Shades" was required reading for the Women in Literature class this fall so it may have gotten a boost there. I have read none of those and probably won't. I won't see the movies that have been or will be made about them. I was not a big fan of "Pride and Prejudice" when I read it...maybe it's time for a revisit to the book.
The others on the list? Classics...and I've read them all though the only film adaptation I've seen (or will see) is the Gregory Peck version of "To Kill A Mockingbird."
Having had my reading tastes reinforced, I'm off to read for fun again.

 1)   The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger, 1951
   2)   To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee, 1960
   3)   Harry Potter series, Rowling, 1997-2007
   4)   Animal Farm, Orwell, 1945
   5)  The Hunger Games series, Collins, 2008-10
   6)  Nineteen Eighty Four, Orwell, 1949
   7)  Pride and Prejudice, Austen, 1813
   8)  The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien, 1954
   9)  Fifty Shades of Grey, James, 2011
   10) Twilight series, Meyer, 2005-08

Monday, December 10, 2012

Overlooking the Fiscal cliff

The rumblings are ominous from our nation's capitol: we're about to plunge into a recession/depression if we cannot figure out an effective way of cutting spending and raising revenue. Each side would have us believe it has the right answers, and I'm not convinced either side does...though there are some definite possibilities being thrown around. Trouble is...nobody on the other side will agree that some of these are good ideas. I say, "Leave it to Starbucks to solve the financial woes of this country!"
Of course, we wouldn't survive as a country if it depended on ME drinking Starbucks, but I think I might be in a majority.
To wit: Starbucks recently unveiled 5,000 limited edition cards that sold for $450.00. While that might seem somewhat steep, it was loaded with $400 worth of product purchasing power at Starbucks. I know you're are thinking to yourself, "Wait a minute...that's $50 MORE for the card than the customer gets back!" Exactly. While the corporation claims that it cost more than $50 to produce the cards, I'm not buying that, either figuratively OR literally.
The point is, though, that people DID buy them. In fact, the run of 5,000 cards sold out in six minutes...and then entrepreneurs began selling them on EBay where the most expensive one sold last week for just over $1,000! 
See what I mean? If Starbucks can generate that kind of income with something as simple as a gift card, think of all the ways it could solve our current debt issues! In fact, they've already gotten a good start because we can now spend a hefty $7 for a 16 oz. cup of ultra premium Costa Rican coffee!
Wow! Ultras premium...even my gas station doesn't flaunt its product to high rollers like that.
So, the president and the Speaker of the House (not my wife, the OTHER Speaker of the House) need to simply call the Starbucks folks to a meeting, and we'll all have a happy Christmas.
Folger's just won't get it done.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Looney Tunes

There was, of course, reliable science behind the development of the word "lunatic." Observers of the sky seemed to find a correlation between the occurrence of a full moon and erratic behavior; this led them to decide that the Latin word for "moon" would be an adequate way to describe someone who is acting in a completely abnormal way: as a lunatic. Of course, they also thought the world was flat, and the solar system revolved around the earth, so it's difficult to put much faith in what early philosopher/astronomers had to's good to see that there are people, legislators in this country no less, who care about the word and its stigma.
It seems that the United States House of Representatives this week passed a measure 398-1 to strike the use of the word "lunatic" from every Federal document and piece of legislation. This follows the lead of the U.S. Senate that passed the same legislation back in May. According to Kent Conrad, a sponsor of the bill," Federal law should reflect 21st century understanding of mental illness..."
This is, of course, a reasonable way to view current ideas that focus on the aberration of some folks, but ...back to the single vote AGAINST the measure. The vote was cast by Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, not because he has some sort of vendetta against people he considers to be medically/psychologically incompetent (or affected the the full moon--werewolves notwithstanding), but because he considers it "madness for lawmakers to waste time on such a measure when more serious measures such as the federal debt loom." Gohmert also added, "Not only should the word NOT be stricken, but is should be used to describe people who want to continue with business as usual in Washington."
This is a legislator for whom I could vote.
But then, there are 398 folks who don't see it his way...must be how Galileo felt.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Join Me in January on a Tour of the Everglades

Wisconsin is noted for many things, and among them is the fact that hundreds of thousands of people go out  every year in search of the wily whitetail deer. Armed, at times, with nothing more than semi-automatic weapons, camouflage and special scents, these hunters laugh in the face of danger when it comes to the possibility of taking down the antlered beast. Of course, now that hunting season with guns is past, there is little to do except for waiting for the start of ice fishing (I went once and caught a LOT, but when I tried to cook it, it all melted). So, for those of you itching to kill and gut something, I propose we go to Florida in January.
The Everglades has been over-slithered (as opposed to being overrun) by Burmese pythons since the first one was spotted in 1979. With all the natural enemies thousands of miles away in, well, Burma (or Myanmar if one works for the government), the snake has proliferated to such a degree that estimates for declining populations of raccoons, opossums, and bobcats indicate a 99% drop in their numbers! Admittedly, running over a 'coon or 'possum on the road is icky, but 99% fewer? Wow!
To compensate for the fact that pythons have made the Everglades their personal Golden Corral buffet, the Florida Wildlife Commission has instituted its first ever Python Challenge contest. Once an individual pays the $25 entry fee (and, no doubt, signs a waiver of liability!) and completes an online training course in python-hunting safety, the game is afoot. The idea is to rid the Everglades of as many of these snakes as possible through use of an "incentive-based model," according to Carli Segelson of the FWC.
Incentives? Oh there are incentives: $1500 for the person who bags the most pythons between January 12, 2013 and midnight on February 10th. Add another $1000 for the person who sends the longest one to its maker, and you've got enough icentive for two reality shows featuring "hillbillies" or "rednecks" or whoever stars in those TV shows I don't watch.
Caveats? Oh, there are those, too. Burmese pythons get HUGE, as one can tell from the photo on top. The largest found to date was more than 17 feet long and weighed in at a hefty 164 lbs. As a result, one might suspect there's a modicum of danger involved...but still...
The goal, of course, is to kill not capture these predatory beasts, but it is important that said killing be done humanely. Recommended methods are to shoot it in the head or decapitate it with a machete; I suspect, though, that something that big might have other ideas, especially if one walked up brandishing a machete.
And hunting around midnight in the Everglades?
No, thanks. Only the fearless need apply.
And I'm not.
Watch for it on Discovery or NatGeo.

Monday, December 03, 2012

hppy bday, txting :)

There's no background music playing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," but that's only because the royalties would have been too expensive. However, the fact is that 20 years ago today, something momentous happened: the first text message was sent. really.
An English engineer named Neil Papworth sent the very first message: "Watson, come here, I need you..." oops. No, that wasn't it. The first message, sent on this date (December 3rd) in 1992 merely said, "Merry Christmas." I'm not sure how I feel about the whole thing even now.
Yes, it can be a convenience when people get lost in holiday shopping crowds, or there is an important message that needs to be communicated. Truth is, college students rarely use email anymore, but ALL of them send and receive text messages. My students who would never contact me otherwise, send texts about appointment times and various other related activities constantly; and I will admit that it relieves the frustration of waiting someone who is inexplicably late for an appointment. However...
The English language has taken a significant beating. True to my principles, I never abbreviate, and I always use punctuation, even though it costs me valuable characters. Some things are just not negotiable. Despite my misgivings, texting is here until the next big breakthrough comes along in, probably, less than 20 years. Some significant facts, though none is surprising:

In the U.S. 85% of adults 18-24 send and receive text messages, averaging nearly 4,000 per month. (teens were not surveyed because they were too busy texting to answer questions, I think)

Furthermore, 80% of American adults 25-34 send and receive nearly 2,000 text messages per month.

A much smaller portion of older Americans are devolving into texters: only 20% of them actually text others. I won't even begin to decide why that's the case.
I am in that group, and I text when I have to deal with the "younger" crowd, but if I need to discuss something with a "real" adult, I call. Emoticons not necessary.