To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Monday, January 30, 2006

At work the other day we listed stories that we remembered reading in high school. (Yes, we have these brief bursts of random conversation in the midst of our grim travails.) Here are a few I remember, many of which showed up in F's lit books too.

The Interlopers (Saki)
The Lottery (Shirley Jackson)
The Scarlet Ibis (James Hurst)
The Monsters are Due on Maple Street (Rod Serling)
All Summer In a Day (Ray Bradbury)
The Monkey's Paw (W.W. Jacobs)
Life and Death of a Western Gladiator (Charles G. Filley)
The Bargain (A.B. Guthrie) (edited to add: my thoughts here)
The Devil and Daniel Webster (Stephen Vincent Benet)
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
Gift of the Magi (O. Henry)
The Cask of Amontillado (Poe)
To Build a Fire (Jack London)
The Luck of Roaring Camp (Bret Harte)

The texts of a lot of these are available online. I enjoy the blast from the past when I find one and read it. I remember the debate over "The Bargain", whether the storekeeper's actions were murder or not (I said they were); the numbskulls in my class who denied that the snake died at the end of "The Life and Death of a Western Gladiator"; the appalling teacher who argued that the kid in "The Scarlet Ibis" was better off dead; and so on.

I think the story most people remember more than any other is "The Lottery". Here are Jackson's own comments:

I had written the story three weeks before, on a bright June morning when summer seemed to have come at last, with blue skies and warm sun and no heavenly signs to warn me that my morning's work was anything but just another story. The idea had come to me while I was pushing my daughter up the hill in her stroller - it was, as I say, a warm morning, and the hill was steep, and beside my daughter the stroller held the day's groceries - and perhaps the effort of that last fifty yards up the hill put an edge to the story; at any rate, I had the idea fairly clearly in my mind when I put my daughter in her playpen and the frozen vegetables in the refrigerator, and, writing the story, I found that it went quickly and easily, moving from beginning to end without pause. As a matter of fact, when I read it over later 1 decided that except for one or two minor corrections, it needed no changes, and the story I finally typed up and sent off to my agent the next day was almost word for word the original draft. This, as any writer of stories can tell you, is not a usual thing.

It had simply never occurred to me that these millions and millions of people might be so far from being uplifted that they would sit down and write me letters I was downright scared to open; of the three-hundred-odd letters that I received that summer I can count only thirteen that spoke kindly to me, and they were mostly from friends. Even my mother scolded me: "Dad and I did not care at all for your story in The New Yorker," she wrote sternly, "it does seem, dear, that this gloomy kind of Story is what all you young people think about these days. Why don't you write something to cheer people up?"

Curiously, there are three main themes which dominate the letters of that first summer - three themes which might be identified as bewilderment, speculation, and plain old-fashioned abuse. In the years since then, during which the story has been anthologized, dramatized, televised, and even - in one completely mystifying transformation - made into a ballet, the tenor of letters I receive has changed. I am addressed more politely, as a rule, and the letters largely confine themselves to questions like what does this Story mean? The general tone of the early letters, however, was a kind of wide-eyed, shocked innocence. People at first were not so much concerned with what the story meant; what they wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch.

So this is the kind of thing we like to traumatize our teenagers with. I gave my daughter and my niece, and my daughter's friend's little sister who was in the hospital, copies of Jackson's We Have Always Lived In the Castle. They all loved it.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Somebody at church this morning had an e-mail that he had been sent entitled "You Know Your Church Is a Redneck Church If...."

I about died laughing when I read it.

I went looking for this on the net and found different versions. I'm going to divide this between "Redneck" and "Country" because the two are not synonymous.


You Know Your Church Is a Redneck Church If...

The finance committee refuses to provide funds for the purchase of a chandelier because none of the members knows how to play one.

When the pastor says, "I’d like to ask Bubba to help take up the offering", five guys and two women stand up.

Opening day of Deer season is recognized as an official church holiday.

A member of the church requests to be buried in his 4-wheel-drive truck because "It ain’t never been in a hole it couldn’t get out of."

The choir is known as the "OK Chorale".

In a congregation of 500 members, there are only seven last names in the church directory.

High notes on the organ set the dogs on the floor to howling.

People think rapture is what you get when you lift something too heavy.

The baptismal pool is a #2 galvanized washtub.

The choir robes were donated by (and embroidered with the logo from) Billy Bob’s Barbecue.

The collection plates are really hub caps from a ‘56 Chevy.

The minister and his wife drive matching pickup trucks.

The communion wine is Boone’s Farm Tickled Pink.


You know your church is a country church if...

The doors are never locked.

The Call to Worship is "Y'all come on in!"

People grumble about Noah letting coyotes on the Ark.

The restroom is outside.

Never in its entire 100-year history has one of its pastors had to buy any meat or vegetables.

When it rains, everybody's smiling.

Prayers regarding the weather are a standard part of every worship service.

The church directory doesn't have last names.

The pastor wears boots.

Four generations of one family sit together in worship every Sunday.

The only time people lock their cars in the parking lot is during the summer and then only so their neighbors can't leave them a bag of squash. [I love this one and it's TRUE - I have had to fend off zucchini, and my church is in the city! But I don't fend off the tomatoes!]

There is no such thing as a "secret" sin.

There is a special fund-raiser for a new septic tank.

Finding and returning lost sheep is not just a parable.

You miss worship one Sunday morning and by 2 o'clock that afternoon you have had a dozen phone calls inquiring about your health.

People wonder when Jesus fed the 5,000 whether the two fish were bass or catfish.

It's not heaven, but you can see heaven from there.

The final words of the benediction are, "Y'all come on back now, ya hear!"

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Apparently American schools aren't the only ones with issues.

I could have guessed that, of course, but some of the French issues are the sames as ours: how much centralization is appropriate, how much privatization, teacher qualifications, standardized curricula.

“We don’t want to end up with an American system," said Marie-Claude, a middle school history teacher in Paris’ 13th arrondissement. When pressed to elaborate, she explained: “It’s a system without public servants, without national diplomas or even national health care.” For her and many of her colleagues, changes in the education system are a first step down a slippery slope.

We do have public servants. What she means by public servants, of course, isn't what we mean.

As far as not having national diplomas, perhaps France would be better compared to one of our states. The states do have diplomas. Tennessee standardizes what that diploma means by administering "Gateway" tests in English, math, biology, and history. Without passing the Gateways, a student doesn't get the diploma. Before the Gateways were developed, there was a minimum score students had to attain on the TCAP. And there's a state-approved list of textbooks and certain classes the middle and high schools all must offer. But individual school systems set their own curricula. We didn't have a standardized curriculum in Memphis until several years ago a high school valedictorian wasn't able to graduate because he couldn't score high enough on the TCAP. After that there were standards for each class offered in the district. That's pretty ambitious for a system whose individual schools' average test scores run the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous. But our urban standards aren't applied to rural systems.

As to national health care, may it never happen here.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Some notes on Sally Brown, who knows her onions.
The actual origin of the phrase "she knows her onions" isn't known. You run across it now and then but it seems to have appeared in the 1920's along with some other whimsical phrases. It simply means that Sally has common sense and knows what she's about. Scroll down for more.

"She's in a Ziegfeld show".

"She don't get out and walk" - Sally has no need to economize by getting off the bus or out of the taxi before it takes her all the way to where she's going.

"All she gets is forty per" - Forty cents per hour? Forty dollars per week? Don't know.

"You ought to see her lavalier

(Lavalier: (Negligee Pendant): A necklace with two pendants of unequal length suspended from it.)

"She stays out after 'leven, right in the city's whirl,
'Cause she believes that heaven protects the working girl".

"She hates finale hoppers."

(Young man who arrives after all bills are paid.)

and finally,

"She hardly ever dances with a collegiate sheik.
She don’t take any chances – she likes ‘em old and weak.
Never goes on auto dates
Without taking roller skates.
She’s a girl who knows her onions."

I once read an autobiography of Louise Brooks. Sadly, it appears to be out of print. It was funny and readable and had a lot of interesting stuff in it. Apparently in the '20's it was the thing for wealthy older men to pick out a girl, an actress or a chorus girl, to spend lots of money on. It gave him status among his peers if she could show up at nightclubs wearing very expensive furs and jewelry, and being driven in showy cars and so forth. Brooks said that, believe it or not, most of the time those relationships did not involve sex. You can see why the girls would try to keep it on that level if they could. For one thing, reliable birth control was not readily available. If the girl got pregnant, she couldn't keep working and she couldn't count on continued support from her sugar daddy. The law was not on her side in those days, and public opinion certainly wouldn't have been; not like now, when I'm faintly surprised whenever a pregnant celebrity turns out to be married. For another, these girls had to really guard their reputations because they were on a slippery slope anyway. If they were thought to really be prostitutes, they were one step away from standing on a street corner. (Think of Gigi, and how carefully her grandmama and Aunt Alicia guarded her reputation until a contract could be signed with Gaston to provide for her future.) So Sally Brown's perspicacity was revealed in the fact that she was never in a position where a man could compromise her. Apparently that meant giving up good-looking boyfriends her age, but it was a price she was willing to pay.

So it's a cute little piece, and I hope I haven't analyzed it to death. Where did I run across it? Well, that's another story.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Here is a thoughtful and actually kind of humorous article about assisted suicide.

For me, the frightening bit about assisted suicide is, of course, the possibility that I might change my mind. I see myself sitting in the pizza parlour for that final family meal, surrounded by the beaming faces of my many descendants, their expressions contorted into a finely judged blend of agony and supportiveness.

I see us all holding hands and singing songs and telling old family jokes; and then I become aware of this nagging voice at the back of my head, and the voice cuts through the pain and the despair and says, "I say, hang on a second. Am I really sure about this death option? What about life? Why don't we give that a go - just for another day, hmmm?" But then I look again round the faces that have spent so long coming to terms with my decision or trying to talk me out of it; and I think: can I really back out now? Won't they be irritated?

I realize that this part of what is otherwise a mostly serious article may seem horribly frivolous to people who have gone through bad end-stage illnesses with loved ones. But I think too that sometimes people make snap judgements on issues like assisted suicide without seriously thinking them through. "If I ever get to where I can't take care of myself, just shoot me." Or seeing someone stuck in a hospital bed for years, "I wouldn't want to live like that." Who would? I'd rather be healthy and walking around, of course, given the option. What if that's not an option?

I've heard a lot from old folks about living wills, that you "have" to have one on record or they'll stick tubes in you and do all sorts of things that nobody in their right mind would want. The thing is, sometimes those tubes and respirators and so forth are temporary support systems that a person's body needs so it can heal from sickness or trauma. My 80-something-year-old mother-in-law was desperately ill for a few weeks last year, and she had a feeding tube. It probably saved her life. Once she was well enough to start eating again, the tube came out. To see her now, and compare how she was before that illness, you wouldn't know anything had happened. I hear all that stuff about the living wills and I don't hear people talk about who gets to decide whether a person is end-stage or not. I've also heard that sometimes those old folks who have DNRs actually have to go to the emergency room because they're suddenly taken ill and they tell their doctors, "I want everything! Do everything you can for me!"

So maybe a little whimsical imagining about what it would really be like to face those decisions could be a useful thing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I'm feeling a little grim lately. How about a little Vaudeville. This is the Happiness Boys.

She knows her onions.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Here is an article about changes in the way some schools are administering tests. The title of the article is "Legalized 'Cheating'". There are lots of different kinds of "cheating" described here, some of which I think are perfectly fine and an obvious improvement.

For instance:

Twas a situation every middle-schooler dreads. Bonnie Pitzer was cruising through a vocabulary test until she hit the word "desolated" -- and drew a blank. But instead of panicking, she quietly searched the Internet for the definition.


In Bonnie Pitzer's case, teacher Becky Keene says using the Internet helped the seventh-grader, but in the end, she aced the test because she demonstrated she could also use the word in a sentence. "I want the kids to be able to apply the meaning, not to be able to memorize it," says Ms. Keene.

I actually have no problem with this. I think I have a fairly broad vocabulary, but I look up words from time to time. Who doesn't? If the student can demonstrate that she can look up the meaning of a word on the internet, and then apply the word appropriately, I think that's about the best we can hope for. You can't expect to memorize every word there is.

It's the same with formulas and tables and other things that can easily be looked up. Why make a kid memorize these things, when they're probably going to forget them after the test? Isn't it better to have the kid show that he can get that information any time he needs it?

But I do have a problem with this:

At Ensign Intermediate School in Newport Beach, Calif., seventh-graders are looking at each other's hand-held computers to get answers on their science drills.

It's OK in my book to look up a formula. How often in your life are you going to need the ideal gas law? (PV=nRT, for those of you who were going to look it up.) But the student still needs to be able to figure out how to plug values into that formula and get results. Some things you have to struggle with to learn. You have to pull it out of yourself. Somebody else can show you what they did but it's not the same at all.

And then this reminds me one of the things that I observed during my daughter's odyssey through middle and high school that I thought was a really Bad Thing.

The changes -- and the debate they're prompting -- are not unlike the upheaval caused when calculators became available in the early 1970s. Back then, teachers grappled with letting kids use the new machines or requiring long lines of division by hand. Though initially banned, calculators were eventually embraced in classrooms and, since 1994, have even been allowed in the SAT.

Calculators are one thing. Graphing calculators are something else again, and wisely, they are not allowed on the SAT. Early in the year that F took Algebra II, I picked her up from school one day and she started telling me how frustrated she was. She could not understand how to do her homework. She'd asked her teacher for help, and her friends, and she could not get it. She was just about to the point of tears telling me this.

I took her to Starbucks and got us drinks, and then I said, "Show me." F pulled out her book and her notebook and her TI graphing calculator and started trying to do the homework. I realized right away that her mental focus was splintered between trying to understand the math concepts, and trying to make her calculator work the problem. In the example problems, the book even approached the whole thing in terms of making the calculator do the work. (Do they get kickbacks from TI?) Some people can learn step-by-step instructions when they don't make any sense, but not my F; she has to understand what she's doing. (I think that's a good way to be.) I shoved her calculator aside and took a piece of paper and drew an X and a Y axis, and started working the examples that way. Here's the y-intercept. Here's the slope. Shazam. Now, here is what this graph is telling you about the relationship of these things in the problem. Well, the light bulb went on. She worked all of her homework problems, with increasing speed and confidence, drawing the graphs on a piece of paper like I did. We checked the answers to the odd-numbered problems in the back, and they were all correct. Once she was done, I pulled the calculator back over and said, "Now make the calculator do it." Now that she understood what it was the calculator was supposed to do, that was a piece of cake.

I think teaching kids math by way of those graphing calculators is a big mistake. Math teachers that I've spoken to don't agree. They say that they can introduce advanced ideas more quickly because the kids aren't spending time plotting points and drawing graphs. But for some kids (like mine) I think that's where the learning occurs. I think it's harmful to rush past that process. It splits off the kids who can get all that stuff intuitively, which probably describes the math teachers and is why they don't see the problem, and it makes all the other kids think that they just aren't good at math. Unless they have parents who can teach them at home.

It's just like people who started doing chromatography after the chromatographic software became available. I started doing gas chromatography back in the day when you had a strip chart that moved at a constant speed, and a little pen that drew the chromatograms on it as it went; you made an injection and wrote on the chart what you were injecting, and later drew your baselines and measured retention times and peak heights with a little six-inch plastic ruler. (We used millimeters, of course.) I'd never want to go back to that, but I think people who never did it that way tend to think there's something magical about the way the software identifies and measures those peaks and manipulates the data. I wonder if they really understand what's happening.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Study: Most College Students Lack Skills

A "study" showed that [m]ore than 50 percent of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks.

That means they could not interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school.

The results cut across three types of literacy: analyzing news stories and other prose, understanding documents and having math skills needed for checkbooks or restaurant tips.

I took a fairly challenging class in microbiology at the local state U last year. There appeared on the message board a note to the teacher that I had to save a copy of.


my name is [blank] and I have been attending your classes. I had the second day that you had took role and financial aid said I only have nine hours and for them to fix it you have to send them a letter about me, that have been attending your class and putting me there for 2/2/05, since I have been going to your class. By you not taking role each day i come to class ,you don't of the days I have been coming to class.

The fact that this person graduated from high school, let alone gained admission to the university, indicates something very wrong with the system. I realize that some people think that correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation are only called for on papers that are being graded by an English teacher. But I think the problems evidenced in this note go beyond mere carelessness, and they are by no means unique among college students.

Her financial aid is most likely my tax dollars. Don't get me wrong - I am very willing to be taxed for the privilege of living in a city of educated people. But the fact that it is my taxes paying for her education gives me the right to critique what's happening here. Somebody dropped the ball with Miss X, probably a long time ago, and her attendence at college isn't doing her or anybody else any good. She could possibly benefit from some remedial classes but that micro class was not one. What happens is that the school accepts her, gets the financial aid, and lets her flunk out. What do they care? They get the money, so for her to fail at something she should never have attempted means nothing to them. This was also the case with other students in my class who didn't have literacy problems, but also didn't have the chemistry and biology background to understand the lectures. I know this because some of us formed a study group. There used to be prerequisites for the class, but for some reason they were dropped. Our median grades were in the 50's for all the tests. And the tests weren't unreasonable; all of my grades were in the 90's.

I think a big problem is the lottery-financed Hope scholarships. I doubt that Miss X qualified for one. But I do think that there is way too much emphasis put on getting kids into the colleges and universities, and not nearly enough put on making sure they have what it takes to be successful there. It's like money is the only obstacle between those kids and that degree. If that ever really becomes the case, then the B.S. or B.A. will be the new high school diploma.

I keep reading and hearing that Memphis has trouble attracting and keeping high- or even medium-tech industries because of the poor quality of the local labor pool. While I am skeptical of local stories bashing Memphis, because I suspect that you could hear similar stories at other cities, I have to say that job interviews I've been in on, and hirees I've worked with, tend to bear this out. Our new school superintendent is trying very hard to fix the schools, and I sure hope she has a lot of success, very soon.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Sometimes when I read the news about the latest politician who opened his or her mouth I wonder how they could let themselves say the things they do. Today I'm going to hand out a couple of Tin Ear awards.

Tin Ear Award 1 goes to:

Hillary Clinton.

"When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about," Clinton, D-N.Y., told the crowd at the Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem.

Yes, I'm sure that Hillary's urban audience knew all about what plantations are like. Just by virtue of being black, of course.

Tin Ear Award 2 goes to:

Ray Nagin.

Mayor Ray Nagin apologized Tuesday for a Martin Luther King Day speech in which he predicted that New Orleans would be a "chocolate" city once more....

Meaning that the "vanilla" residents of NO are chopped liver. Well, at least he apologized. But this comment is telling:

The political analyst added: "He also tends to speak to the literal audience he's with at the time instead of the whole world he reaches through the TV, radio and print media."

That means that he said what he wanted that audience to hear, but didn't think about the wider audience that would hear him. Missing in this is whether he meant it or not. If he did, what was the apology for? If he didn't, he says whatever he thinks his audience of the moment wants to hear. Which means you can't believe a thing he says, but I suppose that's a politician for you.

Monday, January 16, 2006

R was kind enough to go with me this evening to an American Chemical Society meeting. I'm pretty sure we have had this speaker before. He spoke about myths of molecular science, including the myth of ionic bonds. There's no such thing as an ionic bond, folks! Sodium chloride? Covalent!

I asked a professor at one of the local universities about it after the talk. It's been (mumble mumble) years since I was in a classroom, except for the microbiology class I took last year. How mainstream is this, really? He took a dim view. I was glad because I thought perhaps I had told F wrong things.

The talk centered on physical chemistry, which was not my forte anyway. R didn't study any of this really, but he found himself understanding random bits of the talk due to his background in electricity and electronics.

When this speaker was here before (I'm pretty sure it was him) he talked more about different species of water molecules. It's not just H2O, you know. It's H3O, and H4O2, and H5O2, and H6O4, and so forth and so on. He likened water molecules to sticky marshmallows. In fact, he said you can think of water as just one big molecule. Hm.

But it did make me think about rain. Sometimes (like this evening, unfortunately) it rains and the water hits your windshield in small hard dots. Other times it rains and the drops are big and soft, squishy, almost viscous. I've always wondered why that is....

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Precious Lord, take my hand,
bring me home through the night,
through the dark, through the storm, to thy light.
I have been to the mount,
I have seen the Promised Land
Precious Lord, precious Lord, take my hand.

Precious Lord, take my hand
bring thy child home at last,
where the strife and the pain all are past.
I have dreamed a great dream
that love shall rule our land
Precious Lord, precious Lord, take my hand.

Precious Lord, take my hand,
take thy child unto Thee,
with the dream of a world that is free.
For that day when all flesh
joins the glory thou hast planned,
Precious Lord, precious Lord, take my hand.
Here is in article in the local paper. Sorry, although it's free you have to register to read it. Here's the first couple of paragraphs.

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- It wasn't what an off-duty state trooper and his wife expected to see when they glanced at the DVD screens in the backseat of the sport utility vehicle in front of their car.

But there it was: hardcore pornography playing on two screens as the driver cruised down Main Street the day after Christmas.

There was no one in the car besides the driver, and he claims that he was watching the movie himself and didn't realize you could see it from outside the car. It was playing on two screens in the back.

The article mentions similar cases in other states.

My first thought is, how are you going to safely drive a car and watch any movie at the same time?

But again, this goes back to community standards and who gets to say what they are. Also from the article:

In 2004, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted a law that prohibits such display and provides a fine of as much as $50 for doing so.

Memphis police have cited at least one person for violating the law, but a Shelby County Sheriff spokesman reports that the law probably has not been used in his office's patrol areas.

R has seen this himself in Memphis. I haven't (yet).

I have a real problem with the driver being able to watch a video inside his vehicle while he is sharing the road with me. I don't want to have a wreck because somebody was not paying attention.

I guess that if people in the back seat have got to see a porn video, that's not my business AS LONG AS it is not visible outside the vehicle. It's funny how the right to have porn used to be nailed to the right to privacy, and now that the regulation of it has pretty much been given up on (rightly or wrongly) some proponents seem determined to make other people look, or trick them into looking. I've gotten spam about "lower your interest rates" and when I clicked on the link (only did it once) it took me straight to a porn site. My daughter had to abandon her hotmail account when she was about 14, mostly due to pornographic spam, and once again, the subject line and message text were always very innocuous. (Hotmail does a better job now of screening that stuff.) Surely people who want to view that stuff know how to find it. But that's not good enough, apparently. It's not about privacy any more. They have to SHARE. It's an interesting commentary on that kind of psychology.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I heard a very sad story at work this week.

J decided to make a pot of chicken soup. She cooked the chicken, took it off the bone and shredded it, and returned it to the pot. Added some vegetables and cooked all that. It smelled and looked great. At the last minute she decided to add some pasta so she dumped a box of it in - and it was full of bugs.

Her dog was allowed to eat a bowl of it, and she threw the rest out.

I TOLD her that she could have just thought of the bugs as extra protein, but she took a dim view. I am the person who pokes through each cup-measure of rice looking for mutants before I cook it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


When I picked Gnat up from the after-school program she was in the auditorium, listening to a lecture.

“And we should remember that when we cut down the forest to build shops and houses that these are homes for animals,” said the lecturer.

Why do they do this to little kids who can't think critically? When F was in the second grade her school had a speaker who told the kids that every time they ate a hamburger, they were helping to destroy the Amazon rainforest. She refused to eat the hamburger I prepared for her dinner that night. I was so irritated - it felt like somebody had gone into my kitchen and thrown out food. I finally asked her if her school cafeteria served hamburgers. Well, yes, they did. "Wouldn't you think that if they were that torn up about it, they would stop serving hamburgers?" Uh, yeah, come to think of it. "Don't let yourself be jerked around. Eat your burger." And that was that.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Molly still has not caught that printer troll but she's determined to stay on top of the situation.

Monday, January 09, 2006

I've read a lot about affirmative action, its pros and its cons, and I have to say that this is a new one on me.

"A black police bodyguard who protected the Duchess of Cornwall has won $70,000 compensation after suing Scotland Yard for "over-promoting" him because of political correctness."

Sunday, January 08, 2006

When is what one person does another person's business?

Around here, kids are taught very early not to be tattle-tales. I remember that when I was kindergarten-aged, in Sunday School, we were supposed to bow our heads and close our eyes during prayer. Frequently some kid would rat on another kid, that he had had his eyes open during the prayer. The teacher always told the tattler that the only way he could know that was to have his own eyes open, and that he needed to concentrate on doing what he was supposed to do and not what everybody else was doing.

It was appropriate for us to learn that at Sunday School, because the New Testament is full of that idea. Don't try to get the speck out of someone else's eye while you have a 2X4 in your own. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. No man judges another man's servant. There's the story of the rich man who went to temple and thanked God that he was not a wretch like the tax collector in the corner; the tax collector only prayed for mercy for himself because he knew he was a sinner, and he was the one who found favor.

Even after being raised in that culture, plenty of grown folks still feel like they have to tell on each other and get each other into trouble. Where I used to work, the people I supervised complained about each other all the time. I had to have a meeting one day, and tell them that I needed to know if there was a safety issue, a quality issue, or somebody was preventing them from doing their job. Otherwise, I didn't want to hear it.

On the other hand, nobody lives in a vacuum. What one person does inevitably affects other people, especially in a city where there are a lot of people living in close proximity. We have noise ordinances, and rules about keeping the grass mowed, and so forth, so that we don't get on each other's nerves too much.

For some issues, it's fairly obvious that you have to mind somebody else's business. I called the child abuse hotline once to report a neighbor who let her two-year-old play in the street. I took him home the first time I saw him, and told his mother where he was and that it was dangerous (duh). When I saw him in the street again, I dropped a dime. That situation is a no-brainer, to me anyway.

What about noisy neighbors - how do you deal with that? What if your neighbor smokes dope occasionally but doesn't cause you any problems? What if your neighbor smokes dope and has scary-looking visitors come to his house at various times? What if your child tells you his friend has taken to carrying a weapon to school because he's had threats made against him? What if your child tells you his diabetic friend trades his lunch for sugary snacks every day?

How much responsibility do we have for public morals, for lack of a better expression? I used to drive past truly disgusting billboards and bus stop ads that advertised a radio morning show. You can turn off the TV, or not buy a magazine, but you can't help looking at a billboard that's in your face. They set a tone for the city that I didn't appreciate. Some other people didn't appreciate it either, and complained bitterly in letters to the editor of the local newspaper. The ads have disappeared; hopefully they were found to be ineffective and there won't be any more. But who gets to say what kinds of ads and signs and billboards are to be tolerated? Should we pick an arbiter of morals? Should we resign ourselves to the lowest common denominator?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Today we took F back to school and left her there.

It seems wrong to leave my baby. When she was a toddler she would fall on the grass and look at me, wrinkling her face to cry. I would say, "You're OK!" and she would get up and toddle on. I wanted her to be independent and self-reliant. Now that she's 18 I want to smooth her way. I want to tell all her professors and all her friends that they must be kind to her. I want to make sure every little thing goes right for her. And she's 150 miles away.

I knew this would be hard but it's a lot harder than I expected.
You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!

Well, that's a relief.

Friday, January 06, 2006

I've had a very productive week and gotten a lot of useful things done.

But this is how I would have spent my week if I'd had any sense:

It's very hard to leave the house to go to work, especially on cold mornings, with the cats lounging on the couch or the bed and waving "Bye!" before they go back to their naps.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

One more day in my week off. I haven't done everything I expected to do. Today was mostly wiped out by a %#%^ migraine. But I have gotten a lot accomplished: sorted, organized, threw out a bunch of stuff we don't need anymore, put aside other stuff for the Birthright thrift shop, and things of that nature. Tomorrow F has to get her stuff ready to go back to school. She's doing her laundry today.

I don't know why we accumulate all this STUFF. Every time the seasons change, when I put away the shorts and pull out the sweaters, or vice versa, I find clothes that we can't or won't use anymore and off they go to the thrift shop. Where does it all come from? We don't go clothes-shopping that often. People at work tell me they go through the same thing.

I have some little plastic tubs for saving leftovers and packing lunches, and somehow I have about twice as many tops as I have bottoms. How does that ever happen?

Why is it so hard to throw things away? I found a concave metal disk, about 4 in. across, and when R got home asked him what it was. He stared at it a moment, brow wrinkled in thought, and finally decided it was the end piece from a lighting unit that was taken off when we installed a ceiling fan, probably 4 or 5 years ago. We will never, never use it again. If the ceiling fan is removed, which we don't anticipate ever doing, there will be a new lighting unit purchased. Why was that stupid thing stuck in a drawer?

It's like junk DNA. Probably everything served a purpose once, but no longer. It just hangs around.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

This is so awful.

The miners' families were pretty well resigned to the worst, when the false reports of their being found alive came out. It seems that a mine foreman overheard reports of vital signs being checked and understood this to mean that the miners were alive. He started calling families and it went from there. They were allowed to celebrate for three hours before this was corrected. The mining company bosses knew within 20 minutes of those false reports but they said nothing: "A coal company spokesman explained, 'Let's put this in perspective. Who do I tell not to celebrate? I didn't know if there were 12 or 1 [who were alive].'" What he should have done was to announce that the reports were premature, that the rescue was still in progress and they still didn't know how many were living. Much better to think your family member is dead and then find that he is alive, than the reverse. I just don't understand the three-hour wait.

And there ought to be some sincere questioning of procedures among newspaper staffs. Our own local paper had a huge headline screaming "MIRACLES HAPPEN". Well, maybe so, but not in this case. Very sad.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Today was a holiday from work, and I am taking the rest of the week off as well, to get some stuff done around the house. I think women have a relationship with their home that men do not. We need to nest. We find it therapeutic to straighten out those drawers that have had things tossed in them for the past 15 years. So while I am doing things this week that are tedious and grim, I expect them to be strangely satisfying.

F goes back to school next weekend, probably on Saturday.

I discovered that Edith Wharton published The Reef in the year between Ethan Frome and The Custom of the Country. This surprises me. Her work is fairly spotty, I have found. I love The Custom of the Country and Ethan Frome, but The Reef sucks. It's like she was trying too hard to mimic Henry James, and only copying the irritating parts of his style. The plot was stupid, too. Maybe she had it stuck away in a drawer somewhere, and brought it out to keep the publisher busy until she had the next novel ready to go.