Monthly Archives: August 2010

Why Glenn Beck Gives Me a Stomach Ache

I do not understand what Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, or the Tea Party mean when they say we have lost our “honor.” Are they talking about having an African American president, who they have not worked well with for one minute? They imply he is a Nazi, a Socialist, not an American citizen, a Muslim (i.e., a terrorist). These are not your garden variety criticisms, and they say more about the conservative right than they do about Obama.

They imply that the state’s rights are being trampled by the federal government, but I don’t think the states have the financial resources to fund all the things that our forefathers defined as state’s rights. If we want the states to be empowered to do all the work that is not designated to the federal government, then we should pay the bulk of our income tax to our state of residence, and not to the federal government.

No one has touched anyone’s guns, so I don’t understand where the fear of gun control is coming from.

This is the moment, perhaps, that I have been dreading, the moment when someone tries to turn America into a fundamentalist Christian nation. This is the moment when we decide if we want the Christian version of the Taliban in America. Since women lose the most freedom in a fundamentalist society, I am especially concerned.

We have, perhaps, instead of losing our “honor,” lost our center, our faith in America’s transcendence, but I really believe this issue is more economic than moral. If we can get our economy back to robust health we will feel our confidence growing. If we can, somehow, restart a robust economy that also takes climate change into account, our confidence as a nation will soar.

Let’s hang on to our center, hang on to our American can-do spirit and please let’s not get scared enough to turn America into a fundamentalist religious “cult.”

Enhanced by Zemanta

Book to Movie – The Time Traveler’s Wife

Last night I watched The Time Traveler’s Wife. It was just like the book. It is so rare to watch a movie based on a book, that lives up to the book. Maybe it’s because we “image” what we read, what the characters will look like, the places, the times. It would be impossible for the writer and director of a movie to match everyone’s imagination. However, sometimes the movie truly does not live up to the book because the story gets rewritten. The rewrite may be a hatchet job. This rewrite was not.

This story matched my imagination almost perfectly. I know we have no documented time travelers in our world. I know this is a story of fantasy, but the love between the two characters is so sweet and based on such a slow-growing regard that it makes the fantasy believable. The feelings I experienced were the same ones I remember experiencing while reading the book.

Audrey Niffenegger has written her second book, a follow-up to The Time Traveler’s Wife. It’s called Her Fearful Symmetry and it’s on my never-ending list, and I hope, when I get to it, it’s as good as the first one.

Glenn Beck and America’s Honor

Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are not the keepers of America’s honor, not even close. This rally is not about honor, it’s about money. If Americans were not worried about giving up our place as “first economy of the world”, we would not give credence to either of these two people, especially on the anniversary of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. And although honoring our soldiers is never wrong, I think they are being used in this case, as the opening act in an alleged political drama.

I think our honor is doing much better presently; it’s our economy that stinks.

Chapter 15 – 1968

It was the summer of 1968. I was done with teaching for now and out looking for a job. I found one almost immediately at the university in the Psych. Department. They had a federal grant to study Head Start programs around the state to see if pre schools were an effective use of government funds. I was impressed. I did not realize that our government exercised such detailed oversight. I thought they just saw a problem, threw some money at it, and let the chips fall where they may, until they took the money away and threw it at some new problem. But, anyway, not the case with Head Start. Apparently twelve different universities scattered around the nation where conducting a variety of studies. All of the projects were set up to test all Head Start students at randomly selected centers both pre-program and post program.
I worked from a little office, on the other side of the same park where I lived, with some very interesting characters. Our secretary, Jackie Jarvis, was from Jamaica. She could speak the “patois” of the island. She was exotic and, at times, raunchy. Our boss was blond, Scandinavian, gorgeous, and from a wealthy family. I was a tester and a coder. Reenie, the other tester was a thin blonde dying to be in love with our Jonnie. The three of us would be scheduled out of the office traveling several days per week and in the office coding the days when we weren’t traveling. Most of our traveling was done as day trips. At one center we did have to stay in a hotel for a week at a time. This was a busy job and a great job. Of course, four-year-olds are not very verbal, so IQ questions were pretty basic. Introduce subject to cow, show picture, say – “This is a cow.” Show next page with cow mixed in with other animals. Ask, “Can you find the cow?” Head Start children were often even less verbal than a typical four-year-old as Head Start looked for children who were “disadvantaged” in some way (often in several ways). Some of our urban kids had never before seen or heard of a cow. The rural kids had. It made a difference, but even so you could see that the tests revealed information about cognitive content and process. Other tests asked basic questions – What is your first name? – What is your last name? – Point to red. – Point to the circle. – Who is your best friend in school? Every child in our sample schools was tested.
Jon, Jackie, Reenie, and I loved our jobs. We felt the task was relevant and the job was not difficult. We were all so light-hearted together, laughed so much and smoked so many cigarettes. You could smoke cigarettes almost anywhere in those days, except in the Head Start centers. You could smoke in offices, in restaurants, in cars, in homes, at outdoor rock concerts, in hotels, in airplanes. Reenie and I smoked up a storm riding to the various centers while she pined over Jon, who, if we were to believe Jackie, was not interested in women. Reenie refused to believe it. So we would smoke and Reenie would yearn as we criss-crossed the state testing four-year-olds. We also had to have a year-long study. We chose the area of “positive” and “negative reinforcement” or “praise” and “blame”. We would quantify the amount and type of “praise” or “blame” given to each subject on a grid, code our findings in FORTRAN and forward them to the federal government.
Every Friday we would rest in the office and Jackie and Jonnie would start. It always began the same way. “Jonnie, my left tit itches,” Jackie would say, in her lilting island way. And they would be off, on a perfectly safe but exceedingly hot sexual riff while Reenie and I listened, at first shocked silly, eventually used to it, happily entertained.
Although I was busy during the week I was still available to go barhopping with Annie on weekends. Sometimes Reenie came along. Luke still showed up from time to time with some pot that we were all happy to smoke. We’d get the album cover and the papers and the rolling lessons would begin. Rolling a good joint took time and concentration especially if it wasn’t the first one of the evening, if the music, maybe a Beatles album, was sucking you in and out like a tide and everyone was mellow and hungry. Small, tight, and uniform were the qualities you were judged on. As the “j” passed from person to person, as breaths were held all around the circle, the “j” could not fall apart enroute and had to last down to the hot rolled paper at the end when only a roach clip would safely hold it. Sometimes there was hashish in a small pipe or a hookah or a bong. People dropped by, time flew away like bubbles- oh, look at that – pop – gone – where’d it go, next bubble – oh-h-h.
We started out conservatively, me in my little teacher clothes, the stockbrokers in their office clothes. Annie and I continued making the rounds of the bars, admittedly sometimes setting off slightly stoned. But my new job did not require formal attire and we were living near a big university. Everyone was getting “hippified”, groovin’, with long swingy hair on boys and girls, afros everywhere, dreads. Gradually we put aside our mini dresses and our skirts and blouses. We shopped at the army-navy stores – painter jeans (both the cream and the blue), and work boots – at the import store – embroidered tops from Mexico and India. We wore beaded or macramé bracelets and sometimes headbands. Annie left her job working with the stockbroker. She took a job in retail. She was not so into the pot scene but liked being stylish so she looked the hippie part.
Summer was the best time to be a hippie because what was happening was a group phenomenon and people liked to parade around the university area with other “freaks”, or sit on a sunny hill, across from the main university business district, with very little grass, dubbed “the beach”. We attended outdoor concerts all that summer where joints were passed through the crowd. “Give peace a chance.” It was a huge love fest. We felt that we were all one consciousness, one mind, and one heart. Since the communication was mostly nonverbal except for whatever music we were listening to, and a few polite “man, want a hits” accompanied by an arm tapping yours with a joint held out for you, it was easy to be in sync. We all did our weekly work, but it wasn’t what our life was about. “We can change the world, rearrange the world.”
Lena came by our place with a kilo of grass. That was a lot of grass. Grass usually came in nickel or dime bags, which after you picked out all the twigs and seeds, had to be used sparingly. We knew grass was illegal so we did hide it. We also knew how to act straight even though we were stoned “out of our gourds.” But it didn’t feel all that illegal. Everyone smoked right out in the open. In the neighborhoods where we lived people smoked pot in cars, even at indoor concerts. Rarely was anyone arrested unless they were belligerent or rowdy. We called the cops “pigs,” but they usually showed remarkable restraint where we were concerned. I only realized how different the rest of the world was when I went home to Smithvale on Sundays. At first it was easy to blend my two world, but as I became more of a “stoner” it was much more bizarre to go home.
So Lena brought the kilo to our apartment and we all helped clean and weigh and package it. With her New York City connections she had decided to go into business. We got so high just breathing and handling the marijuana, not smoking it, just taking it in through our pores, a magnificent “contact high,” that we gave no thought at all to the legality, morality or anything but the pleasure of the music pounding around us, and the conversation, however repetitive and evanescent, and the high.
Sometimes there were parties with outsiders. Linda knew a lot of people. Annie always had some cutie hovering around. But I liked it best when it was just “family,” especially with Linda trying to steal all Annie’s men. I found I did not like conflict. I was a peacemaker. I wanted life to flow along happily from day to day without personal stress. Where there are people, there is always conflict, which even I, with all my talent and energy, could not defuse.
By the summer of 1969 we were many tokes away from the summer of 1968. Life was very, very good. Even news from the world outside reached us only intermittently. The fact that campus strikes could and did become violent registered. Black Power registered. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King made a huge impression. But our revolution was non violent. It was all peace and love. We were aglow with the wonder of “grass”roots, evolutionary change, at least some of us were. When Bobbie Kennedy was assassinated sadness and fear rocked paradise, but paradise steadied again and “Reefer Madness” ruled the day. “Don’t bogart that joint.”

Music Shock

The crowd at Woodstock fills a natural amphith...Image via Wikipedia

OK – I was a Hippie. I went to Woodstock. I swore I would never lose track of music. But the other evening my nephew was visiting from Tennessee. He and my sister started throwing around the names of groups they like and concerts they have been to, I did not recognize any (or at least very few) of the names they were throwing around. What happened to Jimmi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin?

Here are some of the bands they discussed. It is not strange that my nephew should know these groups, after all he is young, but my sister is getting up there a bit (not nearly as up-there as me, but still) and she surprised me.

Shinedown                        Anberlin

30 Seconds to Mars          Godsmack

10 Years                           Chevelle

State of Shock                  12 Stone

Avenged Sevenfold           Five Finger Death Punch

Linken Park                      Paramore

Disturbed                          Holywood Undead

Three Days Grace

Then I looked on-line and I found all these: Lustra, Nevershoutnever, The Cab, The Academy Is, Boys Like Girls, Broken Cycle, Cobra Starship, Coldplay, Forever the Sickest Kids, The Fray, Fallout Boy, Good Charolette, Life house, Medina Lake, The Medic droid, Metro station, My Chemical Romance, Millionaires, Nickelback, O.A.R. No Doubt, Saving Able, Switchfoot, V factory & 3OH!3, AC/DC, The Black-Eyed Peas, Panic! At the Disco

I’m sure they also mentioned some of these and I have actually heard of some of this last group, but my sister couldn’t recall the whole list in the short amount of time I gave her. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out (I’m sure I did, so sorry).

Enhanced by Zemanta

Schooling in America

I want to talk about education, so important in a free society in which everyone is allowed to speak her/his mind. If people are going to speak, it is more tolerable if they have something intelligent to say. Just kidding! Free speech is free, not only for educated snobs. But democracy is hard, if you participate. You have to understand the documents that form the basis of your country’s government, you need to have skills to read about candidates and recognize the techniques people in politics and the media use to hide flaws and to perhaps, dare I say, mislead voters. If people in a democracy don’t participate, they could easily lose their freedoms.

Societies need educated people to keep their economic edge in the competitive world of capitalism. Right now science and math skills rule in the world of work and therefore, in giving a country that economic advantage that it needs to be near or at the top of the heap, and to offer its citizens the best of available lifestyles.

Yet, in America, our children feel a disconnect from schooling. They may start out well, but they are not finishing well. Our dropout rate is embarrassing, the disenchantment rate, even worse. After puberty our kids start to either hate school or excel in school. What can we do to win back older children to the value of schooling? Some of the kids who walk away fell behind before puberty but learned to push help away by using humor or misbehavior or both so no one could break through their shell to turn their school experience around.

I love public school. Education must be available for every citizen and resident of a free nation. But when our public schools are not able to educate such a large percentage of children, we must look at new models. Our school model is quite old and still works for many. For our failures we need some educators with vision to brainstorm new models.

Perhaps, since we have such a competitive society, we need a more competitive educational system with “level” tests that sort students into different programs of study, something like England does. Or perhaps we need to pull out the children who put up all the defenses and put them in schools where they get more individualized attention. Perhaps we need schools that are more interactive, where students do not sit all day at desk, but work in a more seminar and laboratory type set-up. Whatever we come up with, we need to improve the quantity of young people graduating and the quality of what they have learned. It is also possible that we will not be able to produce an entire nation of “geeks,” or maybe we can!

House Shopping X – The Home Inspection

Annie Laurie (film)Image via Wikipedia

Now this was to me the most interesting step in the whole process so far. Since I chose an older home that was in need of updating I was very worried that the house would prove unsound structurally, that it would need huge amounts of work with systems like HVAC, plumbing and electrical.

I had already seen that the porch windows did not open (for the most part) and that they had no screens. I knew I wanted these porch windows replaced. I knew the kitchen had not been redone since the 50’s except for the linoleum and that, while functional, it could use an update. The bathroom with its blue fixtures was also usable but quite dated and there is a ding in the enamel tub that goes through to the metal beneath.

I had been in the basement, which was built in the 1860’s and has gorgeous stone and mortar walls and a new water heater, but which I knew little about. And I had been told that the roofs were between 1 and 5 years old so I felt good about them.

My inspector, Annie-Laurie, has been crawling around houses since she was very young. Her inspection was very thorough and she had me tag along and showed me everything. The roofs turned out to have been poorly done with aging soffits, little flashing, insulation sticking out and various minor (although potentially damaging) shortcuts that need to be addressed.

The furnace was the other bad news. A Bryant, 150,000 BTU model from 1975, it is rusted and on its last legs. The plumbing is functional, although some galvanized pipe should be addressed and the electrical box was perfect, no issues with this. There’s a hole through the stone wall and an open coal chute near the sump which should be addressed.

Annie-Laurie said the house was sound and would not fall down around my shoulders. The living room ceiling needs to be replaced as the cheap material that was used is now drooping, but all in all, the house is sturdy and sound with few current moisture issues except along the soffits in the rear of the house and no mold issues.

I will ask the seller to fix the roofs and I will address the rest if I can get an FHA 203K mortgage. That’s my next step – getting a mortgage company to sign on. I have a feeling I will have to address the roof issues also.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Fighting Terrorism, or Off the Track?

Silk Road 1992Image via Wikipedia

Afghanistan is a land of dreams and nightmares for me. It’s the stuff of dreams if I think of the Silk Road winding it’s way out of the Orient, through all the steep passes and down out of the foothills through what is today Afghanistan.I imagine the caravans and the camels, carrying the silks and the tents for the silk merchants to stay in, and the bells on the camels tinkling as they travelled along. I believe that it was illegal to export silk worms from the East, so Europeans could not make their own silk. There must have been peace along the Silk Road for such a venture to be undertaken with any expectation of completion or profit.
This must have been one of the few peaceful periods for the people in the lands now called Afghanistan.

Today this seems to be a land of men. I see women in pictures but few and always covered in clothing with heads lowered, and always in the background and seemingly ignored. I picture the tiny villages, dusty and poor, very simple, often without any modern conveniences. I picture the handsome men with turbans and mustaches, who may be growing poppy crops for opium. I picture various cultural and familial groups who sometimes live in peace, and are sometimes involved in centuries old hostilities or hatreds of more recent origin. I picture such men or several such men, college-educated, perhaps in America, returning to their homeland with their hearts full of anti-American sentiment for reasons that are not necessarily clear to us.
This man and his posse hide in caves and mountains. They plan and execute an attack on America. We go to Afghanistan, to the old Silk Road, to find and destroy these men.We don’t call this seeking vengeance, it is self-defense, showing strength.

But our mission keeps gettting bigger, it becomes about rescuing people from oppression, helping them find a new business to replace opium production, teaching them about democracy, fighting a war with their oppressors, the Taliban, and perhaps yanking them into the 21st century. We are no longer just trying to save ourselves, we are trying to save Afghanistan. They are not necessarily grateful for our efforts. They are not necessarily completely against the Taliban. They like their way of life.They like opium production. They see us as arrogant, and interfering, and perhaps imperialistic. They may see it as a religious issue.

Sometimes we think, what are we doing in Afghanistan now? This is so different from our original mission. It’s exhausting to see how many people around the world and in Afghanistan seem to hate America and by extension Americans. How did we get to be so misunderstood, all our good intentions misconstrued. Is it possible that sometimes there are Americans with intentions that are not so good? And once we get ourselves in, we seem to have so much trouble getting ourselves out. I hope we start saying good-bye soon to the Silk Road or that we start seeing signs that the Afghani people want to be modernized.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Book – My Favorite Science Fiction Stories

Robert Heinlein

Methuselah’s Children
The Day After Tomorrow
The Door into Summer
Starship Troopers
Stranger In a Strange Land*
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
I Will Fear No Evil

Arthur C. Clarke

2001: A Space Odyssey
Childhood’s End
The Narnia Series

Isaac Asimov

Foundation and Empire
Second Foundation
Foundation’s Edge
Robots and Empire
Foundation and Earth
Forward Foundation
Fantastic Voyage
I, Robot

Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse Five
Cat’s Cradle
Sirens of Titan
Breakfast of Champions
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Mother Night

Douglas Adams

Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Life, the Universe and Everything
So Long and Thanks for all the Fish
Mostly Harmless
And Another Thing . . .
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul

Frank Herbert – has written other books and series but the most famous and important are the Dune books

Dune Messiah
Children of Dune
God Emperor of Dune
Chapterhouse Dune

Harvesting Our Green Dream (Our Garden)

State fruit - TomatoImage via Wikipedia

In the spring my sister and I grew a garden. We have spent the summer harvesting one crop after another from our very small garden. First we got butter lettuce, arugula, and field greens. Then we got our French Breakfast radishes (long, thumb-sized, red and white, and hot). We had a few salads and popped a few radishes. Our lettuce was a bit bitter, not sure why. Next we got the green beans (bush beans). They were nice and big, tough when raw, but tender and tasty once cooked.

We made some mistakes. We put too many seeds in a row and didn’t thin them enough. This ruined quite a few of the radishes and the red onions were tiny, but delicious. We lost all the cucumbers to some garden pest. We did not use any insecticide.

Today my mom and I picked 12 nice red, much anticipated, tomatoes. (Wonder Boys) We didn’t want to waste any of them so we decided to make sauce. My sister, who helped plant the garden will only eat tomatoes if they are in a totally smooth sauce so mom and I had to dip the tomatoes briefly in boiling water, then place them in ice water, then peel them. Then we had to remove the seeds from the middle. We dices the tomatoes and simmered them on the stove with some water and seasoning in a covered saucepan on low heat for about 4 hours. We blended our cooked tomatoes with a stick blender. We served the sauce (passed through a sieve) on thin spaghetti with a salad. We used all twelve tomatoes and enjoyed a delicious sauce fresh from our garden. The tomatoes continue to produce. Next, BLT’s.

The last crop we expect to enjoy from our garden is the melons. Our garden turned out to be a very productive project that interested everyone all summer long.

Enhanced by Zemanta