Monday, October 8, 2012
The days are growing shorter, a nip is in the morning air, and the hunt is on. Like the men who are starting to dream of the six-point deer they will defeat come November, I too will hunt. Shoes are a wily prey. They seek safety in the company of dozens if not hundreds of other pairs of shoes. They warn each other of approaching hunters, and dive deeper into their boxes or their online skid numbers. How they can tell anyone is coming is a mystery, since they lack noses. But they do. Man may hunt for food, but woman hunts for shoes (and clothes). Men have it easy. They can use guns. They can hunt in pairs or in groups to help each other fill their tags. They are allowed to go without distractions such as shaving or showering – even for days at a time – until at last success strikes. But woman tracks a wilier, trickier quarry. The men may pair up, but here it is the shoes that pair up to make her look silly for thinking she could outwit her opponent. The men do not have to worry too much about what size or color their quarry is – just about any size will do although larger is better. And the deer's coat is not the primary deciding factor in whether to shoot or let that one go Women let pair after go until they feel that they have the right one. I mean the right pair. The pair that will make her look and walk like a queen in her court. The pair that will match that suit or shirt just right, in a color that brings out one's eyes – no matter that the shoes are as far from the eyes as they can be without running for the safety of a closet. No matter that the average man will not notice the shoes on the average woman's feet even if she steps on his toes. Men do not understand why women will have dozens of pairs of shoes in her closet. It is all right for men to capture just one deer in a given year. It is all right for men if they only capture one trophy-worthy buck in their lifetimes. But women who are so seldom validated for their skills in anything, whether at work or at home, the shoes in their closet represent so much more than mere footwear. They are TROPHIES.
Sunday, October 7, 2012
by Minnie Apolis When it comes to discovering what the opinion of the founding fathers was on the value of public education, it rapidly becomes clear that they considered it essential to the survival of the democratic form of government – or to be more precise, our democratic republic form of government. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison both weighed in on the side of full support for educating the masses. Others who lived in the same era who also pushed for public education were Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Noah Webster, and Benjamin Rush. While Thomas Jefferson tried and failed to convince the Virginia legislature to set up a system of public schools – proposing a generous full scholarship to the College of William and Mary for one child from the district every two years – he was vehement that education was essential to the survival of the American experiment. Yet it remained for Horace Mann to institute the first public schools in the nation in the state of Massachusetts, a mere sixty years later. Jefferson is quoted as saying that “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Jefferson's proposed program of courses was top-heavy on history, but included writing and arithmetic. The reading segment was almost entirely made up of history “from Grecian, Roman, European, and American history.” He explains that “history by apprising them of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views (Jefferson, “Notes on the State of Virginia”).” While President Jefferson may seem a bit optimistic about the power of public education, to be fair one must admit that his program of courses has not been applied in modern times, there being more emphasis on social studies and self-expression. Yet there's a lot to be said for his approach of skimming off the cream of the crop for further education at the higher levels. Choosing who will advance on the basis of merit was, he felt, a tool to ensure that talents are not wasted. “By that part of our plan which prescribes the selection of youths of genius from the classes of the poor, we hope to avail the state of those talents which nature has sown as liberally among the poor as the rich, but which perish without use, if not sought and cultivated (Jefferson, “Notes on the State of Virginia”).” James Madison applauded when the State of Kentucky appropriated funds for a general system of education in 1822. In a letter to William Taylor Berry in August of that year, he stated that “a popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” After stating his particular interest in observing the progress of the state of Kentucky, he wrote that “its rapid growth and signal prosperity which is now providing for the State a Plan of Education embracing every class of Citizens, and every grade and department of Knowledge. No error is more certain than the one proceeding from a nasty and superficial view of the subject: that the people at large have no interest in the establishment of Academies, Colleges, and Universities, where only a few only, and those not of the poorer classes can obtain for their sons the advantages of superior education. It is thought to be unjust that all should be taxed for the benefit of a part, and that too the part least needing it. If provision were not made at the same time for every part, the objection would be a natural one. But, besides the consideration when the higher Seminaries belong to a plan of general education, that it is better for the poorer classes to have the aid of the richer by a general tax on property, than that every parent should provide at his own expence (sic) for the education of his children, it is certain that every Class is interested in establishments which give to the human mind its highest improvements, and to every Country its truest and most durable celebrity.” And echoing Thomas Jefferson's statement that democracy depends on an educated populace, Madison stated that “Learned Institutions . . . throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.” Madison notes that nations around the world were watching the American experiment with interest. “The American people owe it to themselves, and to the cause of free Government, to prove by their establishments for the advancement and diffusion of Knowledge, that their political Institutions, which are attracting observation from every quarter, and are respected as Models, by the newborn States in our own Hemisphere, are as favorable to the intellectual and moral improvement of Man as they are conformable to his individual and social Rights. What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, that that of Liberty and Learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual and surest support?” Benjamin Franklin started an alternative to the Latin-based grammar schools by creating the American Academy in 1751 in his hometown, Philadelphia. This was the beginning of high school as we now know it, with instruction primarily in English. (The Academy later became the University of Pennsylvania, the first modern liberal arts college in the country.) He served as its president for the first five years; Franklin also started the first lending library of its kind in Philadelphia. Benjamin Rush, another Pennsylvanian, was considered the father of public schools since he was the first to advance the idea of free public education – education for both boys and girls, a radical idea at the time. Although by profession a medical doctor, he wrote the first American chemistry textbook and took part in the public debate on many issues. Rush felt that a school should teach the subjects of history, arithmetic, reading/writing, economics, chemistry, poetry, mythology, vocal music and religion, as well as physical education. “While we inculcate these republican duties upon our pupil, we must not neglect at the same time to inspire him with re publican principles. He must be taught that there can be no durable liberty but in a republic and that government, like all other sciences, is of a progressive nature.” he wrote. The study of the so-called dead languages was imperative, in his opinion, to developing young practitioners of “law, physic or divinity.” It may be a relief to modern readers of this page that Noah Webster did not support the heavy emphasis on learning the speeches of ancient Greeks and Romans. Of Demosthenes and Cicero he wrote, “These are excellent specimens of good sense, polished stile and perfect oratory; but they are not interesting to children. They cannot be very useful, except to young gentlemen who want them as models of reasoning and eloquence, in the pulpit or at the bar.” OK, so what did he propose that the curriculum include? History, primarily American history, plus geography, “an acquaintance with ethics, and with the general principles of law, commerce, money and government.” Again, Webster echoes the belief that proper education is the first defense against tyranny. “In despotic governments, the people should have little or no education, except what tends to inspire them with a servile fear. Information is fatal to despotism . . . In our American republics, where [government] is in the hands of the people, knowledge should be universally diffused by means of public schools.” He believed that “the more generally knowledge is diffused among the substantial yeomanry, the more perfect will be the laws of a republican state.” As a side note, it is interesting that according to historian David McCullough, the Founding Fathers were all well-versed in Greek and Latin, steeped not only in the language but in the history, ideals, and philosophy of the best of those cultures. Jefferson, for example, “began the study of Latin, Greek and French at the age of 9 under the Reverend James Maury, a learned man, in the finest classical tradition . . . [and] attended William and Mary College in Williamsburg at sixteen years old.” In a letter he wrote to a British friend in 1800, Jefferson declared that “that to read the Latin and Greek authors in their original is a sublime luxury, and I deem luxury in science (possession of knowledge) to be at least as justifiable as in architecture, painting, gardening, or the other arts.” Diametrically opposed to Jefferson was Alexander Hamilton, who stood on the side of a kind of Social Darwinism in which the domination of the wealthy was justified as proof of the superiority of the upper classes. Also it should be made clear that during the colonial period (the 1600s), public education at the time was more like what we now label parochial education. In the New England colonies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, children were educated by the churches, who saw a duty to teach children to read the (English-language) Bible. But as a tide of immigrants from many nations and creeds came to object to forced acceptance of just one sanctioned view of the Bible's message. As a result, private schooling had become the norm by the eighteenth century. The private schools were free to instruct in English or the language of the community, or add courses in classical languages. However, the best schools were available only to the wealthy classes, a state of affairs that became the target of reformers like Horace Mann in Massachusetts. In many ways the format of the modern high school curriculum was a resounding success. Attendance skyrocketed among American teens; from 1900 to 1996 the percentage of teens who graduated from high school rose from a mere 6 percent to around 85 percent. Most states now have laws making public education compulsory to the age of 16. SOURCES: Friends of Poquessing.org, “Dr. Benjamin Rush,” undated, friendsofpoquessing.org, http://www.friendsofpoquessing.org/Benjaminrush.html Jefferson, Thomas, “Public education as the engine of republicanism,” Library of Congress, August 3, 2010, www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/jeffrep.html Madison, James, Letter to William Taylor Berry, August 4, 1822, http://classicliberal.tripod.com/madison/barry.html “Pennsylvania's University,” undated, The Franklin Institute, http://fi.edu/franklin/timeline/univpenn.html Rush, Dr. Benjamin, “Thoughts Upon The Mode Of Education Proper In A Republic,” 1786, reproduced online at School Choices dot org, http://www.schoolchoices.org/roo/rush.htm Shuford, Thomas, “Jefferson on Public Education: Defying Conventional Wisdom,” Education News, June 28, 2007, www.educationnews.org/articles/jefferson-on-public-education-defying-conventional-wisdom.html Thatthai, Deeptha, “A History of Public Education in the United States,” undated, www.servintfree.net/~aidmn-ejournal/publications/2001-11/PublicEducationInTheUnitedStates.html University of Chicago, Epilogue: Securing the Republic, “Noah Webster, On the Education of Youth in America,” 1788 (posted online 1987), http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch18s26.html
The current PBS series Downton Abbey is loosely based on the real history of Highclere Castle, the ancestral home of the Carnarvon clan in Hampshire. The book, “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey” is a treatment of the life of Lady Almina and her husband the fifth Lord Carnarvon, who is most known for financing the dig that in 1922 unearthed the dazzling treasure of King Tut's tomb in Egypt. I would like to call the book a history, but it is plainly not written by a historian. The beginning is almost like a long society column, with details of the wedding dress and dinner, and of life in a castle. Almina was the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild, and fact of her irregular birth, shall we say, made it a sticky business to find a suitable place to hold events such as the wedding breakfast. Even though Almina's parentage was an open secret, for form's sake Rothschild was referred to as Almina's godfather. She went to all the right balls but was barred from the most fashionable salons. That she managed to snag one of the most eligible bachelors in Debrett's Peerage was a testament not only to her money, but her beauty and charm. George Herbert, the fifth Lord Carnarvon, married this “pocket Venus” as she was called, on June 26, 1895. His interests at the time included racing cars at breakneck speed, a habit that led to a terrible accident in 1901 that nearly claimed his life. Forced to give that up, he took up raising thoroughbred racehorses, photography, and in 1907 begin the annual digs in Egypt that eventually secured his main claim to fame. The early years of their marriage were a social whirl of parties, dinners, hunts, and seances. Frequent visitors to the estate included the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, the Prince of Wales, assorted aristocrats and government figures, and Howard Carter. Almina first got interested in nursing when helping her husband recover from the above-mentioned auto accident. This interest eventually flowered during World War I when she decided to convert Highclere into a hospital and rehabilitation facility for the duration of the war. Recuperating officers were waited on by footmen at the dinner table, and enjoyed sitting or walking outside in the manicured grounds. Almina hired nursing staff, and paid for their uniforms from her own pocket. The resumption of the search for an Egyptian tomb after the war eventually resulted in the fabled treasure trove of the boy king, but not before nearly bankrupting Lord Carnarvon. In 1936, the Egyptian government reimbursed Almina 36,000 pounds in exchange for transfer of ownership of the discovery into Egyptian hands. This volume is a pleasant glimpse into the end of the Victorian era and the Edwardian era, and a harrowing account of the home front during WWI. It succeeds less in the more historically interesting phase of the Egyptian excavations, lacking details and perspective. To remedy that, I suggest reading the detailed account in the book, The Search for the Gold of Tutankhamen by Arnold C. Brackman (Mason Charter, 1976). For an excellent treatment of the treaty negotiations after WWI, I recommend Paris, 1919, by Margaret MacMillan (Random House, 2001). (MacMillan is a historian and professor at the University of Oxford.)
by Minnie Apolis Elvis Cole and his sometimes partner, Joe Pike, take turns starring in novels by Robert Crais. This time around, it is Elvis who does the talking, which is just as well; Pike is not the talkative type. In the newest novel, Taken, Elvis is prevailed upon by a widow to search for her daughter. Elvis is not alarmed by the fact that the college-coed daughter is off for the weekend with her boyfriend. After all, lots of young women extend their weekends with their significant others. But the mom plays back recorded calls asking for money. The voice on the machine has a heavy Latino accent when the daughter actually has none. There are other discrepancies that turn up as Elvis probes the case. (Yes, he does take the case. Bribed, in part, by custom-printed tees proclaiming him the “World's Greatest Detective.”) Nita, the mother, fears that they have eloped. But as the chapters unfold, it turns out that the daughter, Krista, and her boyfriend have both been caught up in the uglier side of smuggling humans across the border. Krista has been investigating the coyotes, as the guides who bring in illegals are called. But there are even worse entities who prey on the illegals and the coyotes, stealing the truckload of illegals and holding them hostage for ransoms. Things look very dark for our hero, Krista, and her boyfriend, Jack. Krista hoped to survive by playing ignorant and uneducated, hence the accent on the phone calls. But it is only by claiming that Jack is very rich that they can actually survive long enough to be rescued. The tension steadily mounts as we learn what kind of ruthless killers he is up against. The unusual use of multiple points of view allows us to follow the progress of Cole, the hostages, the assorted coyotes and gangs, and the friends of the young couple. Elvis needs the assistance of his partner, Pike, and others to rescue himself and the hostages – and to play one group of coyotes against the others and against the party of Koreans that paid for a group of illegals to be delivered. Elvis assumes a false identity in order to offer to buy the hostages as illegal workers for his own purposes. Everybody that is supposed to survive to another day, and another novel, does – but it is a mighty close squeaker. This is the fifteenth novel featuring the Cole-Pike team. Crais has won the Anthony, Barry, Shamus, Macavity, and Gumshoe awards, plus the Ross Macdonald Literary Award in 2006. He previously wrote for several popular TV shows such as Hill Street Blues, Quincy, Baretta, Miami Vice, Cagney and Lacey, and L.A. Law. Taken, Robert Crais, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 2012, 341 pages. ISBN 9780399158278 See also RobertCrais.com and penguin.com, or facebook.com/TheRealRobertCrais
Lake Michigan can be a treacherous lake for mariners, especially in the month of November. Over half the shipwrecks in the twentieth century occurred during that month. On Nov. 18, 1958, the lake claimed another victim in the Carl D. Bradley. Fire and Ice: Shipwreck on Lake Michigan
Everyone knows about the Great Chicago fire, yet most of us have never heard of the Peshtigo fire. They occurred in the same month. The same drought that afflicted the City of Big Shoulders was felt throughout the upper Midwest.
Today the Supreme Court heard conflicting testimony as to the real circumstances of the birth of Barack Obama, the president-elect. While official documents state that Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii as a result of a normal birth to a mortal human, witnesses gave sworn testimony to a decidedly unnatural birth. Several testified that they saw the baby Barack pulled from a woven basket found drifting in the reeds along the Nile River. Hard evidence is lacking, as the basket (and its DNA cargo) no longer exists. The Nile River is in Africa, and this implies that Obama was not born in the United States and is therefore ineligible to serve in the office of president. The implications of this testimony are obvious. Yet other witnesses state that he sprang from the head of Zeus, fully formed as an adult. The witnesses were administered Breathalyzer tests, which most of them passed. Because there were still three witnesses whose stories corroborated each other's, the tale cannot be summarily dismissed. The absence of records by an attending physician complicates the court case. Unimpeachable sources have been hard to come by in this controversy. He may as well have sprung from the ocean foam like Venus, aka Aphrodite. That was another famous and legendary birth not attended by a physician. There were also rumors of witnesses claiming that the birth of Obama was heralded by a huge star in the firmament, which led three Wise Men to a stable in Nazareth, but no credence was given to such outlandish claims. Was Barack Obama born to his alleged mother Stanley Ann, or was he delivered to the world by extraordinary means not usual among mere mortals? Could Obama really be The One? Inquiring minds want to know. (This has been SATIRE. This is NOT a real news report.)
by Minnie Apolis Abraham Lincoln has been the subject of dozens if not hundreds of books and articles. Some of them mention the most famous of his prophetic dreams or visions, the one in which he sees his own catafalque (a temporary structure placed over the coffin of people of note) and is told that the President has died. But that was far from the only such dream, vision, or encounter with the Other Side. He and Mrs. Lincoln, the former Mary Todd of Kentucky, were rather avid attendees of seances and discussion groups with like-minded souls. Abe Lincoln's mind was on the spirit world almost as much as it was occupied by the gigantic job of managing the Civil War effort. He was probably more disposed to entertain the possibility of life after death after the untimely death of his son, Willie. He wrote that “ever since Willie's death, I myself involuntarily talking to him as if he were near me – and I feel that he is.” Willie was eleven when he died in February, 1862, of typhoid fever. (1) We may as well deal with the best-known incident first, the one referred to above in which Lincoln receives a premonition of his own death. Some months after his second inauguration, Lincoln and a few friends were discussing dreams mentioned in the Bible. He said that a couple nights earlier he had a dream in which a deathly stillness pervaded the White House. He “heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. “I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. It was light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me. But where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? “I kept on until I arrived in the East Room, which I entered. Before me was a catafalque in which was a form wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were soldiers who were acting as guards; there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the catafalque; others weeping pitifully. 'Who is dead in the White House?' I asked one of the soldiers. 'The President,' he replied. 'He was killed by an assassin.' Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me up from my dream.” Furthermore, he told William H. Crook(2) on Good Friday that he had dreamed three nights in a row that he would be assassinated. Crook tried to dissuade Lincoln from going to the theatre that night, but he felt duty-bound to fulfill his promise to Mrs. Lincoln to take her to the play. As early as the year 1840, Lincoln was attending meetings of spiritualists. About that time, he attended one such meeting in Illinois in which Peter Akers predicted that a time would come when the slave trade would no longer be conducted. Akers (3) is said to have predicted that the man who would lead the country through the turmoil of banishing slavery may be in the crowd that day. As indeed, he was, in the person of a young law clerk named Abraham Lincoln. There is some difference of opinion on whether any seances were actually conducted in the White House during Lincoln's terms of office. Some say that Mr. Lincoln did not attend, but that goofy Mrs. Lincoln did. Adding in an undertone, well, she went crazy later, anyway. The British seemed to consider it an open secret. If you happen to find an old copy of the British sheet music for “The Dark Séance Polka,”(4) you will find Lincoln on the cover, sitting in a darkened room holding a candle; underneath is the caption, “ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND THE SPIRITUALISTS.” At any rate, the Lincolns both consulted mediums after Willie's death. It appears that one woman became rather a favorite with them, a lady named Nettie Colburn Maynard (5). Historian Jay Monaghan(6) confirms a séance was held in the White House on Feb. 5, 1863 by Mrs. Maynard. She reportedly was playing the piano when it began to levitate. Lincoln and Colonel Simon Kase attempted to sit on the piano to hold it down, but it shook so violently that they gave it up. It also appears that Mr. Lincoln had some precognitive ability of his own. He reportedly awakened staffers at a telegraph office, demanding that they get a line through. He had had a vision, and he wanted to send a warning to the Union army regarding Confederate forces about to break through Union lines. A record to this effect was kept in the old War Department about this incident. This warning was received in time to avert a military embarrassment. Virtually from the moment he was nominated to be president in 1860, Lincoln had visions of what was in store. One of Lincoln's first biographers, Noah Brooks (7), recounts this tale. Lincoln had gone home to rest after a long day of political news. “Opposite where I lay was a bureau with a swinging mirror, and looking in the glass, I saw myself reflected nearly at full length, but my face had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other. . . I got up and looked in the glass, but the illusion vanished.” Lincoln saw it again, though, upon lying down again. He also noticed that one face was paler than the other. He got up once more, but the image melted away again. He told Mrs. Lincoln about it later in the day, and she interpreted it for him. She felt that it portended he would be elected twice, but would not finish the second term. After President Lincoln's death, not only mediums but ordinary persons reported unusual incidents. When Lincoln's body was taken by train to his home town in Illinois, townsfolk reported sighting Lincoln's ghost wandering between the vault and the crypt each night until he was interred. And all kinds of reports of a ghost train surfaced among railroad workers along the route taken by his body to Illinois. Switchmen, track walkers, brakemen, other rail workers, and even hoboes along the New York Central Railroad (which later became the Penn-Central), reported seeing a ghost train on the rails about midnight every April 27-29 (8) – leaving as the only proof that something eerie had happened the fact that all the watches and clocks were suddenly five to eight minutes slow. And the ghost of Lincoln himself has been seen or felt in many reports in years afterward. Among those who spoke of seeing his ghost include Eleanor Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, and others. He also appears at Fort Monroe in Virginia, usually standing by the fireplace in the aptly name Lincoln Room – named because he stayed there when he met with his generals. Footnotes: 1- William Wallace Lincoln, 1999-2012, MrLincolnsWhiteHouse.org, http://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/inside.asp?ID=18&subjectID=2 2- Crook, William Henry and Gerry, Margarita Spalding, Through five administrations : reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook, body-guard to President Lincoln, 1910, http://www.archive.org/details/throughfiveadmin06croo 3- Bray, Robert, Abraham Lincoln and the Two Peters, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 22 Issue 2, Summer 2001, p. 40, Univ. of Michigan Library, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jala?page=home 4- Taylor, Troy, Séances In The White House?, 2003-2008, PrairieGhosts.com, http://www.prairieghosts.com/a_lincoln.html 5- Maynard, Nettie Colburn, Was Abraham Lincoln A Spiritualist?, 1917, p. 33, snu.org.uk, http://www.snu.org.uk/Images/pdfs/Abraham%20Lincoln.pdf 6- Mary's Charlatans, 1999-2012, MrLincoln'sWhiteHouse.org, http://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/inside.asp?ID=13&subjectID=2 7- Rogers, Lisa Waller, Bad Omen #1: Lincoln's Doppelganger, March 3, 2009, Wordpress.com, https://lisawallerrogers.wordpress.com/2009/03/03/abraham-lincoln-the-omen/ 8- Schlosser, S.E., Lincoln Death Train: A New York Ghost Story, 1997-2010, AmericanFolklore.net, http://americanfolklore.net/folklore/2010/07/the_lincoln_death_train.html
It should be so obvious by now. The Republicans are backing such measures as discouraging insurance coverage of birth control, obstructing abortion in every way possible, and apparently wishing women back into the “barefoot and pregnant” 1950s. And what does this accomplish? If women get pregnant with second and third babies, then what with the cost of daycare, they may as well stay home and economize. And that is how the unemployment problem will be solved, GOP style – by taking women out of the workforce. Voila, with fewer people chasing the reduced number of jobs available in this country, the unemployment figures go down. Thereby making them (the Republicans) look good. Taking 46 percent of the work force out of the labor market will of course tend to open up the job market for males of all ages, even those over 50 or over 65. Assuming that all these males are actually able to perform the jobs that open up – and that is a huge assumption – then that naturally will tend to get them off the unemployment rolls, easing state UI deficits, and returning America to that mythical (and I emphasize the word mythical) golden era of the 1950s. What do you think – am I goofy to think this is their not-so-secret plan to cure unemployment? And yet – Mitt Romney has done another flip-flop (of course!). Videotape from January shows him saying he supports forcing poor women to go to work – even though he and wife Ann now declare that stay-at-home mom-ism is the way to go. “MSNBC’s Chris Hayes discovered that in January of this year, Mitt Romney told a crowd in New Hampshire that he wants to force poor women who stay at home to care for their children to go to work.” Roll the tape: http://www.addictinginfo.org/2012/04/15/mitt-romney-poor-stay-at-home-moms-should-work-video/ (VIDEO from MSNBC) FACTOIDS: Of working married women, 48% provide half or more of the household income (they are the primary bread winner and if we pay well, they want your jobs) (Source: Families and Work Institute Study) In 2007: Sixty percent of married mothers of preschool children are now in the work force, four percentage points fewer than in 1997. The rate for married mothers of infants fell by about six percentage points, to 53.5 percent. (Source: United States Bureau of Labor Statistics study, “Trends in Labor Force Participation of Married Mothers of Infants.”) In 2011 and 2012, women comprised a steady 46.8 percent of the total labor force; a steady 53 percent of all women were in the labor force. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t01.htm)
"Goodnight Nobody" is a very good novel that is several cuts above the average mystery which is forgotten as soon as you finish it. An unusual mix of the literary with satire and mystery, it is hard to peg but easy to recommend. Kate is a fish out of water in her new Connecticut suburb, where everyone else is a Supermom and is careful to feed their kids only organic foods. She tries to befriend Kitty, but unfortunately she turns up dead when Kate and her kids show up for a play date. Oops, sorry to bother you, Kitty. Oops, the discovery turns on her latent reporter instincts and she is off nosing around for leads and interviews. There is much humor and hilarity in the novel, aside from the satire. Her own feelings of inadequacy, fed by her children's excellent timing in upchucking, her inventive lies which backfire on her, her best friend Janie who calls her back to herself as a reporter -- I only wish she had referred to her new hometown as Upchuck more often. Underneath are themes of self-erasure and identity. Women marry and move to "Upchuck" and we hardly have any idea what they did or what they were before they moved. None of the housewives have a paying position outside the home, and they are rather shocked when it is discovered that Kitty was helping write or research a famous columnist's material. On top of that, Kate's own husband seems to be less than supportive of her efforts to uncover the truth behind Kitty's murder. At the end, Kate and hubby Ben are separated while they sort out their marriage. Goodnight Nobody, by Jennifer Weiner , Washington Square Press, 2005, 371 pages plus a helpful discussion guide for your local book club. ISBN 978-0-7434-7011-7
by Minnie Apolis Stepping out of the shower to find that the bathroom mirror no longer registers your reflection does tend to give one pause. In “Calling Invisible Women”, the author addresses issues of self-erasure and feminism in a sweetly humorous way. The heroine, Clover Hobart, is a doctor's wife and mom of two young adults. She's at the age when a lot of women feel like they're invisible, anyway, but in her case it is literally true. It takes a couple of weeks before she is shocked to discover that she is not the only invisible woman, and in fact that several invisible women have been secretly meeting at a hotel conference room. The premise would be the stuff of farce or satire or both, but in the author's hands it seems to be merely a premise that allows her main character to go anywhere and be the fly-on-the-wall on the school bus and in her husband's offices. Along the way she busts up an attempted bank robbery, and orders her grown son to go home when he and a pal enter a tattoo parlor. Once she accepts that there is an upside to being invisible, she becomes fearless! The invisible women's support group informs her that a certain combination of prescriptions commonly written for menopausal women is the likely precipitating factor in their condition. And how many millions of women will identify with these victims who take meds for osteoporosis, hot flashes, and depression? Lots, I bet. Only very late in the novel does Clover finally meet a future son-in-law's mother, who is also invisible. She is more radical and insists on storming the gates of the pharmaceutical giant to get justice. Clover's reporter instincts kick in first in writing a first-person account of the bank robbery – while keeping her secret. Only later does she come out of the closet in a clarion call for all invisible women to unite against the corporate monster who did this to them. The takedown of the pharmaceutical company is much too hurried and pat. I would have liked to see a much different novel, with the emphasis on telling the story of invisible women coming out in the open and organizing a grass-roots campaign and/or boycott against the company. Kind of like Norma Rae, Part Two. Still, it is a likable novel with sympathetic characters who do not waste much time on self-pity. Clover gains support first from her best friend and neighbor, Gilda, her mother-in-law, and other invisible women. Predictably, the men are all hopeless and do not even realize she has become invisible. That list includes her husband, son, and physician. Clover aggravates matters by passively waiting for them to realize what is wrong, though – but once they become aware of her condition, they rally to her side. The themes bear some resemblance to another book I recently reviewed, titled "Goodnight Nobody" -- though they are not really in the same class with each other. But feminists will find pleasure in both. I'll give it just two and a half stars out of five. Promising draft, but needs more work. Might make a fun comic book or cartoon show, with little outlines for the invisible characters... The author is notable for taking up writing novels at the age of sixty, after a career as a nurse. Calling Invisible Women, Jeanne Ray, Crown Publishers, NY NY, May 2012, 246 pages. (review of uncorrected proof copy)
by Minnie Apolis There are many novels and films whose plots will fit easily on the back of an envelope. Most of them fill in the spaces with lots of action or car crashes. This one does not; instead we we are smothered in more detail than is necessary to explain the plot. Believe you me, it was about enough to make me scream – or at least take a stern red pencil to the pages of the novel. A small-town doctor suffers guilt after a patient dies in childbirth. Said patient should have known enough to get to a doctor or hospital when her water broke, but that is an issue not addressed. This part of the story was much too drawn out, in my opinion. So anyway, the good and decent Dr. Fitch leaves his young wife to volunteer his services in London at the height of the Blitz. I was going to say that the story follows two women in the days before the United States got involved in World War Two. But on second thought, there are actually three. The young wife of the above doctor, named Emma. The postmistress in the same small town that Dr and Mrs Fitch live in; her name is Iris James. Then Frankie Bard, the radio reporter who gets a minute or two on Edward R. Murrow's broadcasts to relate her stories. The basic plot is that Dr. Fitch leaves a letter in the care of Postmaster James in case of his demise to give to Emma. But since the doc is overseas on his own, no one is responsible to report whether he is missing or not. The postmaster does receive a letter from Fitch's landlady in London, saying that he seems to be missing, but that letter is not delivered. Well, needless to say the doc buys the farm fairly early in the novel. By chance, Frankie scoops up his last unmailed letter to his wife, intending to mail it to Mrs. Fitch. But Frankie is about to spend three weeks in France and Germany, riding the rails and recording people's stories. She never mails it, but after a rest, travels to the Fitch's hometown to hand deliver it. Well! Is she ever stunned to realize that no one has told Mrs. Fitch that she is a widow. She never delivers the letter, but the postmaster finally delivers the doctor's letter that he had entrusted to her safekeeping. So that is the basic synopsis. If it sounds like something you might want to read, by all means follow up on that. It did not do much for me, sorry about that. It reads like it might have been a memoir written by the fictional Frankie Bard. The author did a fair amount of research on the era, on postal equipment and regulation, on Mr. Murrow, and on the war in Europe 1938-1941. Yet the resulting story seems awfully wispy, with few plot turns and rather sketchy character delineations. The one theme that could have been hammered home a bit more, but is not even mentioned in the study guide in back, is the rationale for telling the news. WHY do reporters insist on telling the news, and to whom are they speaking anyway? And WHY for gosh sakes do they insist on telling us BAD news? How much of that do they think we can take, as if we don't have enough to struggle with in our own lives. So as the sage reporter, Martha Gellhorn, once told Frankie, “I belonged to a Federation of Cassandras, my colleagues the foreign correspondents, whom I met at every disaster.” And all the Cassandra reporters gasp out their reports of news so bad that we cannot believe it is really so, we cannot see it for ourselves, and then when the press does show us, we cannot bear any more of it and look away. The fictional Frankie keeps trying to tell the story of the millions of refugees in Europe desperately trying to get out, but no one wants to hear about those horrors. While it was a novel and a theme worth addressing, I remain disappointed in the result. Oh, BTW, one cool tidbit is that the first notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony are the same as the Morse code for the letter V (dit dit dit dash), which the resistance hums as a message of defiance at their Nazi oppressors. (Morse code video on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0HrbCbfwlg) THE POSTMISTRESS, by Sarah Blake, Berkeley, 2010, 352 pages of novel plus brief notes and study guide. ISBN 9780425238691
by Minnie Apolis One of our own, Benno Hansen, has written “Ecowar: Natural Resources and Conflict”, an interesting book on the topic of the relationship between climate and wars over resources. Benno maintains that wars are more often waged over resources – whether because the resources are scarce, or because they are valuable – than over religion. Climate change comes into play because a slightly colder climate will tend to make food scarcer, forcing tribes or nations to compete for farmland, storehouses, etc. Even a difference of one degree, as he mentions in a section on China, will start to be reflected in population records. “A 1 degree cooling,” he writes, “coincided with the fall of the Ming dynasty. Population growth is seen to rise during the 1741-1805 warm phase and drop during the 1806-1850 cold phase. The war periods generally lag the onset of cold phases by 10 to 30 years which makes sense since it would take some time for the reduced agricultural productivity to manifest as resource limitations and overpopulation (p. 16).” Research like this is only possible in countries that keep detailed records for long periods of time. Another culture that keep useful records for this kind of research was Bavaria. The records showed “significant correlation between the amount of rain, the price of rye and the rate of property crime: They rose and fell together (p. 20).” Another fascinating tho bloody episode was the war in Angola, with one side funded by the oil trade and the opposition funded by the diamond trade. Now there's a twist on the term “resource war”! While most of the conflicts discussed in the book are historical, some conflicts are sure to hit the headlines as global warming and melting ice caps increase competition for everything from oil to fishing stocks. What will the fish in the Bering Sea do when the waters get too warm for them? Will they swim north or die off? And will it be economically feasible for fishermen to follow the schools north, if that is indeed what the fish will do? While most of the time the only instance when water rights hit the news is when an agreement is signed, in 2009 water became a serious issue in Kenya. The BBC reported that a crime syndicate was diverting half the water that was supposed to go to farm irrigation. The United Nations estimated almost 4 million Kenyans were in need of emergency food aid, and both water and electricity had to be rationed. (The hydro-electric dams were running dry!) Even in discussion of modern conflicts where we think we know pretty well what is going on, there are surprises. For example, in Darfur, Benno states that “a strong correlation between annual temperature variations and civil war in the 1980-2002 period for the area has been shown statistically.” Sudan is also in danger of losing its rubber business, as the long-term drought reduces the yield of the biggest rubber producer in the world. In spite of the wealth of material and research behind this work, I could make a laundry list of weaknesses. One is the near-total lack of graphic material. Talking about the correlation between temperatures, population and war is just not as strong as seeing a chart. And I am sure there are works of art – paintings, sketches, even mosaics and maps – that would help flesh out the verbiage. One of the few illustrations is an old ad, apparently from the time of the Berlin airlift, with the headline: “Milk . . . new weapon of Democracy!” What's there is good, but Benno just needs to write more of it. A book on such an important topic could run to several volumes, if you really wanted. But at any rate, I find 144 pages is just not enough to flesh out the theory or the history. One of the happy surprises in the book was an introductory section where that author talks in the voice of Neanderthal hunter living with his family on the edge of the glaciers. There, the competition was with sapiens, and obviously the Neanderthals lost. I would have enjoyed reading a bit more of his tales of life as seen through the filter of his theory, and as seen through the eyes of people who lived through eras of desperate competition for food, water, land and access to any and all resources. Benno wrote six such “Interludes” as he calls them. I enjoyed them and hope that he would consider adding more of them to illustrate struggles over resources, or perhaps develop them into longer “interludes”. Some of the Interludes are sure to be controversial. One deals with the shooting down of a United Nations plane bearing Dag Hammarskjold in 1961 by British forces over Rhodesia. It is far too brief, with no explanation of the African crisis that Hammarskjold was flying towards in hope of calming the situation. I suspect that Benno assumes that all of his readers know the details, but the fact is many of his readers were born after that tragedy occurred. Other types of violence can spring from resource scarcity besides wars. One of the more interesting segments was on the correlation between food prices to riots. “When marked on a graph of the UN food price index, riots clearly cluster around price spikes.” At the same time, Benno does acknowledge that the relationship between food prices and riots is a complex one. “The researchers do not conclude 'high food prices cause riots'. What they say, is that expensive food could be one factor among others setting the stage for riots. When populations are hungry, it takes lesser trigger incidents to kick-start a riot (p. 81).”
by Minnie Apolis “X O” is the oddly titled Jeffery Deaver novel of a stalker who trails after a country-pop engenue named Kayleigh Towne. It is a topic was played for laughs in one of the Stephanie Plum novels (Fearless Fourteen), but that's OK. Deaver is good at realism and thrillers, and of course with his recurring character Kathryn Dance, he can't miss. The stalker, Edwin Sharp, is spooky the way he hacks her newest email address within hours – never mind bombarding her with 50 or so emails. He shows up at a lunch at her fave roadside diner early in the book; how did he know when she would be there? Kayleigh is an enormously gifted singer-slash-songwriter in the country genre, the daughter of another country legend. Her squeaky clean image is the result of burying a deep secret from her teen years. Her mother, incidentally, died about the same time as that other ahem, incident. Strangely enough, her stalker has also gone through a tough period of rejection from a girlfriend and the death of his mother. Geez, they have so much in common, y'know? It's like, in another world, they'd be soul mates. The bodies start to pile up, with the victims having in common a motive clear to the mind of a stalker. They all stood in the way of the stalker and the object of his desire, or they threatened the well-being of the performer in some fashion. We know very early on that there is a stalker out there, and we meet him very early in the novel. But Deaver keeps the spinning the needle between Guilty or Innocent so many times that we, the reader, get dizzy from it. Sure he's weird, but he's just a harmless loser. Or no, he's not harmless, he's just a good faker and a really dangerous psychopath. We don't learn the answer till several red herrings have been played out. There are, as usual in a Deaver novel, several twists and turns in the plot, which turns out to have two guilty parties in this instance. The final, small twist on the last page is the one I am not buying, tho it hardly makes any difference in the larger picture. I'll give it three and a half stars out of five. I am a very tough grader, so you may rate it higher. X O, Jeffery Deaver, Simon & Schuster, 2012. 371 pages not including the lyrics to the songs mentioned in the story, which appear at the back of the book. ISBN 9781439156377
I happened across some old classic political campaign slogans earlier this week, and when contrasted with the very lame, unimaginative current slogans – well, let's say that it was no contest. In general, the candidate with the catchier slogan wins the election. That is a very general rule of thumb and there have been exceptions to the rule. The most notable one was the 1964 slogan for Mr. Goldwater, which we will discuss below. First, a look at a few classic slogans from the past: Lyndon Baines Johnson- 1964 “All the Way With LBJ” Seems kind of silly and childish now, and heck, it says absolutely nothing about what his policies would be about, but that doesn't matter now because it was a winning and memorable slogan. His opponent Mr. Goldwater had what some consider to be a stronger slogan: “In your heart you know he's right.” But the classic daisy campaign ad pretty much finished off Goldwater. Bill Clinton- 1992 had two: “Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” and “Putting People First”-- plus another semi-official slogan, “It's the economy, stupid.” However 1996's “Building America's Bridge to the 21st Century” was the one line that appeared on buttons and everything else. Wow, that really told you what their “vision thing” was about! It was all about being future-oriented and welcoming the application of new computer technologies to the work place. They did not mention that dirty old, well-paying manufacturing jobs were going to fall away, but that's another story. Al Gore- 2000 “Prosperity & Progress” Aw, man, this is where Gore went wrong. He went from sharing a ticket with one of the best slogans to sharing a ticket (with Joe Lieberman) on one of the weakest. A similar slogan (Peace and Prosperity) worked for Eisenhower in 1956 but he was already an incumbent. OK, at least it told you that he was looking forward and not backward. Ronald Reagan- 1980 slogan “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” 1984 “Morning in America” One of the stronger slogans in recent years, it told you that the U.S. could or should look forward to a renewal of strength and influence in the world. It was much stronger than Mr. Mondale's slogan, “America Needs a Change” - a phrase successfully tweaked by the Obama campaign years later. The 1980 tag line succeeded when running against Jimmy Carter, who in my opinion was a victim of economic history. Richard Nixon- 1968 slogan “Nixon's the One!” One of the simplest slogans ever, but it was often seized upon by comics and others once the Watergate scandal broke out. John F. Kennedy- 1960 Tagline was “A Time for Greatness” – a line full of hubris and just asking for it. But fortunately Mr. Nixon had an equally lame tagline: “Experience Counts”, while the official slogan was “For the Future”. Dwight D. Eisenhower- 1952 “I Like Ike” Another silly slogan but still it was memorable and that's what counts. Another feature in its favor was that it used a nickname for the candidate, helping voters to identify him as a friend or neighbor. It beat his opponent's (Adlai Stevenson) yawner of a slogan: “That Experienced Candidate”. Barack Obama- 2008 slogan was “Change You Can Count On” even though the stock market crash and subsequent recession made it difficult to forge new policies and revamp government. But fortunately his opponent Mr. McCain changed his slogan six times and never settled on a message. The 2012 Campaign: This year's campaign slogans are “Forward” and “Believe in America”. Can you even tell from the slogan which party it belongs to? NO! For future reference, the first one belongs to the incumbent, Pres. Obama, while the second one belongs to the challenger, Mr. Romney. Often the campaign directors settle on their final slogan or tagline around the time of the convention, so it is possible that we could see new, improved versions. But let's help them along, shall we? After all, you cannot trust committees with much. For Mr. Romney, who will probably be forever remembered as the Etch-A-Sketch candidate, a slogan incorporating that phrase is a must! I propose, “We'll Etch-A-Sketch American Jobs”. Like it? I thought you would. Now the incumbent, Pres. Obama, has a problem because as the incumbent he cannot propose “change” once again. So he has to have something that helps convince people to keep the same horse they rode in on, a proven winner. Or as the Lincoln's 1864 slogan, “Don't swap horses in the middle of the stream” He could tweak a campaign from the 1800s, “Vote Yourself a Farm” and change it to “Vote Yourself a Job”. That would make people get out to the polls and vote. Anyway, all this sloganeering brings up another variation, the parody of a slogan. Such as “In your heart, you know he's nuts” in reference again to the classic Goldwater slogan. There was an anti-FDR slogan in 1940 – “Washington Wouldn't, Grant Couldn't, Roosevelt Shouldn't” – referring to Roosevelt's running for an unprecedented third term. The many stories about Romney lend themselves well to a slew of anti-slogans – based on his maltreatment of the family dog, his offshore bank accounts, his Mormon religion, his stonewalling over releasing more than one year's tax return. Even the fact that he is raising so much money can boomerang on him. Oh, doesn't it just make ya wanna sink your teeth into writing catchy anti-slogans??? Something like “I Believe Seamus” - “Believe in Ben Franklins” or “Believe in Dead Presidents” - “You People Vote For Me, Me, Me”.
There are many ways to interpret dreams of meeting or talking with people who in real life have passed on. I recall a cousin who was rather alarmed to report a dream to her grandmother in which she had met someone that she knew had passed on years before. She was told not to worry, that just means you will meet someone that you have not seen for a long time. That interpretation seemed to work for her, so I won't belabor that instance. But there are other ways to interpret it and the only way to know what your dream symbols mean is to pay attention to clues in the specific dream. Often people find that their dream symbols mean something very different from the same symbol in someone else's dream. Wilda Tanner writes in her book, the Mystical Magical Marvelous World of Dreams about communicating with the dead in dreams: “Many people have had the dream experience of meeting and talking to people we think of as “dead”. This is quite commonplace, since their spiritual bodies are on the same (astral) plane where you and I travel every night; so it is perfectly natural that you should run into them from time to time. This is a frequent occurrence in dreams and nothing to be alarmed about. It is possible in dreams or in prayer, to ask forgiveness or give it, and to work out matters we were not ready or able to resolve before their departure. Or we can simply have a nice visit. Don't be surprised to find that months or years after a death, a dream may point out something which has not yet been forgiven, released or worked out between you. This may seem minor to you but can be a blockage to the progress of your loved one, so it's best to take the matter seriously and take time to cooperate in whatever seems necessary.”* I have several experiences of dreaming of people who have passed on. One was rather funny in the choice of venue: it was at an airport terminal. I met with my father and an uncle, both of whom had passed on, plus my mother who was still living. Everyone was just very happy to be able to get together and chat a bit. One that was rather puzzling was the dream in which my late mother wanted to move in with me, so I had to start looking for a larger apartment where she could have a room. Finally after waking up I realized how ludicrous this was. She's DEAD, I told myself. She doesn't NEED a room! The meaning of this dream still eludes me. I had one or two soon after my father passed on that were possible examples of communication with the dead. In one, I had a car that was having problems getting up the hills in a snowstorm. I kept trying to go up a hill in our neighborhood but the car kept slipping back down. It turns out that two of the tires were very low in air. I talk with my dad and he was trying to explain something. When I woke, I felt that he was trying to tell me died because he was “too tired” (two tired) to go on. * from Mystical Magical Marvelous World of Dreams, Wilda Tanner, 1988, Sparrow Hawk Press, Tahlequah, OK, page 180. ISBN 0-945027-02-8.
The middle volume in the trilogy of the vampire diaries is supposed to be the weakest of the three. If that is the case, then I am determined to find the rest of Jeanne Kalogridis' trilogy. “Children of the Vampire: The Diaries of the Family Dracul” is a well-written, well-researched novel of a clan's descendents who feel cursed by the family history. The reader is treated to diary entries of various lengths from two brothers – Stefan and Abraham Van Helsing – their mother Mary Windham Tsepesh Van Helsing (who is not a descendant of the clan but married into it), and of an aunt and uncle to the brothers – Zsuzsanna Tsepesh and Arkady Tsepesh. (Tsepesh means impaler in Romanian.)
I finally filled out a new voter registration application a couple weeks ago and sent it in. So yesterday was a great day because I received my little blue voter card in the mail. It gives my name/address, the polling place building name and address, the congressional and senate and house district numbers, a precinct number, even the school district number. A website and phone number are also kindly provided, in case you have questions about how to get there or what hours the polls are open. Surprisingly, the polling place is a church. That is a new one for me because heretofore all my polling places have been grade schools. Was there supposed to be separation of church and state, except for where you vote? Well, I am not going to question it if they have enough parking for everyone. If any readers out there still need to register, there is probably same-day registration in your state, but it is is helpful to do it ahead of time if you have any uncertainty about where your polling place is. Also if you need to assemble your required ID, the application lists the acceptable forms of identification. They are: State Driver's License: This includes a learner's permit or state ID card or the receipt for one. Tribal ID. The ID number of your Driver's License, US Passport, Tribal ID, State ID card, US Military ID, or Student ID. This is in case you are awaiting a replacement card or something, but have your copy of the order or receipt. Other Photo ID plus either a Utility Bill, State Fee Statement, or Student Fee Statement. Then there is a category of proofs that do not involve a current ID or utility bill. They are: Vouched for. Someone in the same home or a neighbor vouches that you live at said address. Late Notice. I am not sure what this is; could be a late notice re property taxes, or the library. Previous Registration in the Same Precinct. (if you moved only a few blocks away from your old address) Student ID with College List. I presume this means if you are not currently enrolled, or on student break, since a current Student ID alone is sufficient identification. I should mention one more thing: In some states, a pilot's license or other specialized licenses are acceptable proofs of identification. You will have to check your own state regulations on that. A pilot's license was acceptable when I lived in Wisconsin, tho I never met a pilot when I was registering people at the polls. I hope everyone who wants to vote, can get to the polls and do so this November. There are plenty of volunteer drivers who cart people to their polling station on election day for those who do not drive and cannot walk the distance anymore. Call your local party office or campaign office to be put in touch with the volunteer organizer.
The leaves are starting to fall this time of year, putting me in mind of one of the few sports that I could have performed at the Olympic level. I am speaking of Speed Raking, which like Speed Walking doesn't look like much at first. MY version of raking does NOT include any gas-powered machines, so forget that. MY version of speed raking involves old-fashioned tools known as “rakes” and sometimes the judicious use of garbage-can lids as leaf grabbers. Quaint, I know. But sometimes I am such an old-fashioned gal But one needs to have a plan of attack in dealing with the layout of one's own yard. Where are the trees that you have to rake around? Are they centrally located on the plot or near sidewalks? Try not to obsess about every single leaf. Face it, more leaves will fall within ten minutes of when you finish. Deal with it. Such is life, or in le Francais, c'est le vie. Where we might dub this Vitesse Raking instead. I liked to rake the yard when I was a kid and teen at the old homestead. It was a bit of a job, but I liked being out in the crisp air (appropriately dressed of course) and soaking up what might be the last sunshine till spring. However, I did not have the luxury of taking my time on a Saturday afternoon once I was taking care of mom and trying to work a full-time job. So I had to learn a new style of raking, yeah you read that right. Instead of laboriously trying for every leaf, I concentrated on the areas covered most densely with leaves from the apple trees we had and from the city elm and maple trees, plus the giant maple tree next door. That sounds like most of the yard would be carpeted in leaves, right? That sounds like I'd be wading knee-deep in crinkly foliage, right? Not necessarily. Ya gotta assume that I have been at least trying to stay on top of the leaf situation. And ya gotta assume that most leaves fall fairly close to the trees they came from, especially with the shorter trees and shrubs. So, that means that my plan of attack centers on concentrating on those puddles of leaves and bringing them to the nearest curb. No starting at the corner of the lot anymore – no time for that kind of luxury. Starting under the small cherry tree near the garage, I rake that bundle towards the next tree nearest the curb, a young tree with mercifully few branches and leaves. Try to picture a row of three small fruit trees along the inside of the lot line, facing three young trees along the center line of the lot, and the curb as the goal still further. I found that raking a row of leaves in high-density areas like this towards the curb was much more efficient than raking along the entire lot line. The latter strategy entailed a lot more work than I needed to do, and who wants to do that? No one gives ya any brownie points for that kind of thing. So about three-quarters of the way to the curb, I have a pretty nice mound about fifteen feet long, which I compress to maybe ten feet or so. At this point I can break off sections to take all the way to the curb, raking briskly all the while. You don't have to work up a sweat at this, because you are not actually lifting anything heavy. And the crisp air tends to keep you from overheating, anyway. I neglected to mention that this is a corner lot, so you may have had a hard time picturing this. But this side that just described is the long side, between the house and the garage. Next up is the front yard which is relatively a piece of cake, because I can just concentrate on the city trees along the curb and push leaves right into the road. About three short strokes of the rake covers the width of the grassy strip. At times all summer I have wished it were covered in gravel or something else I did not have to mow, honest, but right now it does not seem bad at all. Once the job is done comes the best part, the part where you sit down inside, your cheeks all rosy, with a hot cup of tea or cider or cocoa. And you can look out the window as ten, fifteen minutes later it looks like you did not rake. But that's how it goes, doesn't it? Now I have to caution you, the one downside that can mess up your speed-raking plans is the neighborhood dog-walker who has not cleaned up after his dog. Now, don't get me wrong, we all love the dogs. But it is the owner who is the mutt! Just watch your step and tiptoe through the tulips as they say. We have ways of getting back at those bad owners but that is another topic for another day...
There is so much in this book that it is hard to begin. The story part of the book centers on the main character, a young woman who suddenly becomes acquainted with pain after a day of swimming with a new romantic interest. While there may have been some guilt involved in precipitating the pain, it becomes undeniably a physical problem that she begins to deal with every day. Only after a year and a half does she get a proper diagnosis that this is a degenerative disease. Along the way we are educated on approaches to pain going back to the Egyptian era. The modern era is not a whole lot better, where doctors are afraid to prescribe enough painkillers so that victims can get at least some of their lives back. Docs would rather sacrifice patients' stomachs and/or livers on NSAIDs rather than prescribe opiates or other drugs. Which brings to mind the fact that many docs prescribe Wellbutrin, a drug normally given to depressed patients, because it has the side effect of reducing pain. The author, Melanie Thernstrom, works in a great deal of research into pain, some of which may or may not be useful to the reader. Such as, do you know that cursing (with the curse word of your choice) tends to allow people to tolerate pain or discomfort longer than not cursing? Do you know that chronic pain tends to shrink the brain mass? The latter conclusion comes from a study at Northwestern University (under Dr A V Apkarian) which found “death of neurons owing to excitotoxicity and inflammatory agents” and that “chronic pain appears to diminish cognitive abilities and interfere with parts of the brain that are involved in making emotions assessments, including decision making” among other things. That is disturbing enough, to think that chronic pain is in effect, making people dumber – or at least making them make poor decisions – and that people who do not have their pain controlled by proper medications or other treatments cannot give their best at work or in their private lives. The good news is that this damage is not permanent. Brain scans showed that chronic pain had “dramatically” reduced the amount of gray matter in patients' skulls, with the loss averaging about 1.3 cubic centimeters for every year of unrelieved pain. Even more alarming is that the loss occurred in parts of the brain that were normally able to moderate pain. However, a German research study found that patients who had chronic hip pain but got a hip replacement, their gray matter regenerated. Upon reflection, this study poses hope not only for sufferers of chronic pain but victims of brain degenerative diseases of all kinds. Other techniques offer hope for modulating or controlling pain. A study found that electrical stimulation of parts of the brain that modulate pain, produced not just modest pain reduction but total analgesia. Another approach is similar to biofeedback, in which people watch a picture of their brain function as they learn to to either increase pain or block pain. In other words, their thoughts controlled how much pain they felt at any given time. There is much reason to hope that medicine's failure to conquer pain, the final medical frontier, may finally yield to the insights produced by modern research. In the mean time, let's hope that physicians can learn to be merciful and prescribe proper doses of effective pain medications. THE PAIN CHRONICLES, by Melanie Thernstrom, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York, 2010, 329 pages not including notes and index.