Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Search for Truth

Truth will out.

There are no whole truths: all truths are half-truths.

Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.

If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. – Mark Twain

These are just a few of the hundreds of quotes about truth. My favorite is perhaps one with many attributions – my version: There is no truth; just perceptions of the “truth.” Mark Twains is the one I’m planning to write about today.

If you don’t read a newspaper, news on the Internet, listen to television news or interviews, you will remain uninformed; but if you do all of those things, you are very apt to be misinformed. I have found that it takes real work to come close to being informed. It’s ironic that if you can watch only one-half hour of television in search of the truth about what’s going on in the world today, your best bet is Jon Stewart, who professes to be a only a comedian, but whose sense of irony probably gets you closest to the truth.

Rush Limbaugh’s recent diatribe about President Obama’s authorization for using whatever force necessary to secure the safe release of the sea captain hostage of the pirates off the coast of Somalia is a perfect example. “Now we’re killing children!” Prior to the release, of course, his invectives against the President included, “Why isn’t he doing something?” One has to know that another scenario of an unhappier outcome would have led to a tirade about this liberal anti-military President being soft on terrorism. A no-win situation! No truth anywhere to be found, yet this man speaks for many in our country – and they believe his words to be true

Countdown with Keith Olbermann or The Rachel Maddow show are a shade better, but then that’s probably because of my liberal point of view. You still have to do a bit of sorting and weighing to come near the truth. I even listen closely to the interviews of Charlie Rose and Bill Moyers, although I am addicted to both.

Recently I watched Bill Moyers interview with Arne Duncan, President Obama’s new Secretary of Education, and found myself quite impressed with the choice. His merit-pay and incentive based learning ideas sounded really good – at first blush – but then I got to wondering just how they plan to go about judging the “merit.” Thus far measuring student’s learning has tended to be ephemeral, with teachers teaching to the test, cramming stuff into kids’ heads – mostly forgotten even days later. How much of what you memorized in high school do you remember now? Better measures of student learning would have to include evaluation of portfolios, exhibits, presentations, etc. to give credibility. A standardized test is only an abstract slice of the pie. And that doesn’t even bring up the subject of how political merit pay could become.

High school has become, in many communities – especially in the inner cities – more about controlling teens and teaching to the test, not opening minds and stimulating excitement about learning. Universities have to remedy that, and it takes time and effort. And it doesn't always work. This is a huge distraction, eating up a lot of resources, as well as undermining the value of a four-year degree. We all agree we really need to fix our K-12 system.

As a part of that “controlling teens”, according to a recent article by Andy Kroll in the Tom Dispatch, is a big part of Duncan’s Chicago school system, “…the most militarized in the country, boasts five military academies, nearly three dozen smaller Junior Reserve Office Training Corps programs within existing high schools, and numerous middle school Junior ROTC programs…. Nearly all are located in low-income, minority neighborhoods. This merging of military training and education naturally raises concerns about whether such academies will be not just education centers, but recruitment centers, as well.

I’m reminded of the day I read of the graduation of one of my former students from Davis's Independent Studies Program. Extremely dyslexic twin brothers, had been referred by their DSIS advisor when they were just twelve years old. Their mother, who had recently died of breast cancer, had been homeschooling them for several years, even taking them to a special reading program in the Bay Area, but they had yet to learn to read even on a consistent first grade level. In fact, perhaps because of emotional turmoil during their mother's last illness and death, they had probably regressed.

We had worked diligently with a program I had just learned about, as well as with Lindamood-Bell techniques, and within the year, I had them reading at a level DSIS thought would give them some success at a modified program in junior high in Woodland, where they lived.

One of the boys had a degree of success, but the other, thoroughly miserable and the victim of cruel junior high harassing, asked to be returned to my tutoring room for independent studies. We worked for three hours every day for the remainder of that year and through the summer on social studies, math, and writing, eventually achieving a reading level that would permit him to work independently the next year with some support from a neighbor.

Some time later, I was elated to read of his graduation from high school. I immediately called to congratulate him, asking of his future plans. He told me he planned to go to Yolo Community College for one year and then join the Marines. When I asked him what had brought him to that decision, he replied, “The Marines are an elite corps…and I want to be elite.”

Although the words came from his mouth, I knew they were not his words. He had been recruited. I wept. Recruiters prey on just this type of young man – one without the grades to get into a four-year college, one who would probably struggle with even a City College. This boy, who had worked so tirelessly and with remarkable motivation to be the best that he could be, would eventually join up and become Iraq fodder. This from the militarization of our public schools as they now are!

According to the article I just read about Arne Duncan’s Chicago charter school/military academies; this is what he may have in mind for cities across the country. This did not come out in the interview with Bill Moyers. There had been no mention of militarization, although he had praised the Charter Schools of Chicago.

Higher education offers its challenges, too, as it becomes more expensive each year. Does every student – even the prepared ones - need four years of study at facilities that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to construct, run, and maintain to learn the curriculum of a course of study that could be accomplished via methodical independent study. Tests could be offered that would confer the equivalent of a college degree.

Educators and parents urge their children to get a college degree, but can you take a four-year degree and go teach? No, I’m afraid not. You have not learned what you need to know. You have to now get a teaching certificate and preferable a Master’s.

How about Business College? Are you ready to open a business? I think you would find there is a steep learning curve, and that your business education at the University of California didn’t prepare you for it.

What about a degree in English? Could you earn a living writing? Not likely. If you’re lucky, you will find an internship or entry-level job somewhere on one of the few remaining newspapers that haven’t yet folded at a salary less than you could earn asking, “Ya want fries with that?” If you want the skills of a pro, you won’t find them in a four year college. You’ve got to practice, practice, practice…or you can write a blog.

I wish Secretary Duncan well, but I’ll be keeping an eye on him and his ideas. I’m looking forward to learning more. And it will take reading Truthout, Huffington Post, TomDispatch, as well as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, listening to Charlie Rose and Bill Moyers Interviews, Jim Lehrer’s News, and Jon Stewart, plus reading many of the non-fiction books recommended…and still, I’m guessing, there is no truth, only perceptions of the truth.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Bill Moyers' Journal - a must see!

Oh, if you didn't see Bill Moyers' Journal last night, it's a must see!

And after you've watched it, don't miss reading some of the comments about last night's show on the blog. There are 'pats and pans' - something for everyone! I'd love to know what you think.

The Black interview's veracity may be debatable, given the confusion over the law related to "taking over the banks" vs. bankruptcy, etc., but the discussion about the state of journalism in this country is, in my opinion, right on target. It is difficult to find a newscast or interviews, such as Meet the Press, etc. that doesn't contribute in the dissemination of the current propaganda with very little true journalism. Bill Moyers Journal and Fareed Zakaria being two exceptions, I think...and maybe Jim Lehrer's and Charlie Rose, although they don't seem to be willing to be too confrontational either. As these two guests mentioned, it is ironic that Jon Stewart, viewed as a comedian, is our main source showing the hypocrisy and, indeed, malfeasance of the media...particularly cable news.

I loved Tim Russert for his willingness to confront his guests and show their inconsistencies, etc., but remember being horrified when he said that he only relayed to his listeners things he gleaned from the administration only if they released it - this during the Scooter Libby/Valerie Plame debacle. Where are the muckrakers when we need them? I care little about what the First Lady is wearing to meet the Queen, but I certainly care that Larry Summers, our President's senior economic advisor, received millions in fees from the very financial firms being bailed out, on his advice, by our government. A definite conflict of interest! The foxes appear to be guarding the hen house!

Meet the Press today, instead of calling Larry Summers to task today, interviewed the new CEO of General Motors, asking him time after time how he planned to get the company back on track and whether he is preparing the company for bankruptcy. Give the man time to get the work done...he's only five days into his 60 day deadline. Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, however, have some answering to do, it seems to me, and not just about the TARP program, but about their relationships to the recipients.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Dichotomy of Religion

I remember the day not quite as if it were yesterday, but I do remember it. I was in fifth grade, ten years old, maybe nearly eleven. Father Ryan had come into our classroom at my parochial elementary school in Hoquiam, Washington, to talk about our catechism lesson, as he did regularly. At some point, we had learned about original sin, baptism, and one "fact" that caught my attention: if babies died before being baptized they would end up in a limbo-like state in purgatory, since they had not been absolved of mortal sin through baptism and therefore could not enter heaven.

I’d been struggling with faith for some time, as I was a child who had to have logical reasons for everything. (Nothing much has changed in the ensuing sixty-seven years!) At my first opportunity, I questioned Father Ryan. I don’t remember the exact wording, of course, but it was probably something like this: “If a mother goes to heaven when she dies, how could she ever be happy knowing she would never be joined by her baby, who is in purgatory?” “If God is looking after us, looking down on us at all times, why does he let bad things happen to people?” “If God exists, it would seem that either he doesn’t care or he can’t do anything to stop these things from happening – like the war. So that would mean he’s not all-knowing and all-powerful, wouldn't it?” “There must be a lot of people praying for the war to be over and for their sons to be home safe. Why isn’t he answering all of those prayers?”

I think it was after only one of these sessions with Father Ryan that I was assigned to go to help the altar boys practice their Latin responses during catechism class. I always wondered why, but I think I know now.

My questions have never been answered satisfactorily. The unbaptised baby going to purgatory issue was resolved, however, when the Vatican decided in 2007 that unbaptised babies can go to heaven instead of getting stuck somewhere between heaven and hell. I’m beyond this questioning now, of course,, but I wonder if there isn’t a fifth grade child somewhere who wonders, “If limbo doesn’t exist, what’s happening to everyone who supposedly has been there for years and years.”

In fact, I’ve added many more questions to my list. As a teenager, however, I finally chose to abandon trying to believe in God and the religion I found to be hypocritical rather than to blame God for abandoning people. My main concern these days is how religion has become so entwined with the politics of our country, how a candidate must profess to be a Christian in order to have a chance to be elected, and how religions continue to fracture our world.

In his book Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris, an avowed atheist, cites, Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, saying, “ ...(he) surpassed the Christian Bible in terms of morality with one sentence: “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.” Straightforward and to the point, no if’s ands or buts.

Just today I heard on a brief news clip that Afghani President Karzai in his quest for re-election has proclaimed that an Afghani woman may not leave her home without express permission from an adult male family member, as well as "she can no longer refuse her husband sexual relations," thus apparently condoning marital rape, and I don’t know what other assault against her humanity in the name of Islamic law.

I reread parts of Harris’ small but powerful book this week. His withering attack on Christianity in the form of an open letter is stronger than I would make. I call myself an agnostic or humanist, as I believe it impossible to know, the existence of God cannot be proved one way or another. That’s why it is called “faith,” I guess.

“According to a recent Gallup poll, only 12 per cent of Americans believe that life on earth has evolved through a natural process, without the interference of a deity. Thirty-one percent believe that evolution has been “guided by God.” If our worldview were put to a vote, notions of “intelligent design” would defeat the science of biology by nearly three to one. This is troubling, as nature offers no compelling evidence for an intelligent designer and countless examples of unintelligent design….The same Gallup poll revealed that 53 per cent of Americans are actually creationists. This means that despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of life and the greater antiquity of the earth, more than half of our neighbors believe that the entire cosmos was created six thousand years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue. Those with the power to elect our presidents and congressmen – and many who themselves get elected – believe that dinosaurs lived two by two upon Noah’s ark, that light from distant galaxies was created en route to the earth, and that the first members of our species were fashioned out of dirt and divine breath, in a garden with a talking snake, by the hand of an invisible God.” (Letters to a Christian Nation)

I find the whole religion dichotomy frightening. Religion may have served some useful purpose, and still does, in forming social groupings; churches certainly provide a place to belong and do much good work. But it is frightening to me that a significant percentage of the American population would not see a mushroom cloud over the United States as a horrific thing, but as the return of Christ – a glorious thing. It might be the prophesied single event – the Rapture. It is frightening to me that a significant percentage of the world believes on the basis of religious doctrine that suicide is not just legitimate, but highly commendable when undertaken for reasons of jihad (holy war). Going into war knowing with the certainty that one will die, they argue, is not suicide but martyrdom, a much praised form of self-sacrifice in the path of God, a way to win the eternal affection of God in Paradise.

There have over the years been several movies and books written about the
Rapture, including Daniel J. Gansle’s book, Rapture Redux: Living with Hope and Purpose in the Last Days (Infinity Publishing 2007), which tackles the contentious question of whether dispensationalist Evangelicals have gone too far in supporting war in the Middle East (Iraq in particular) in order to hasten the Rapture and the return of Christ. It provides a fictional look into the post-Rapture world, and how the Rapture doctrine is believed by some Christians today, some of whom may be or have been leading our country.

The very idea that our elected officials must profess their belief in any religion, let alone one that by extremists looks forward to the apocalypse, in order to be considered electable, I find offensive and frightening! That our candidate for the highest office of the land and one who would be leader of the free world should have to believe, that is, have faith that something is true that is beyond all logic and scientific evidence to the contrary, based on a book filled with contradiction after inconsistency, seems frightening to me, Like Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion, “I dare you to read this book.”

Some reviews of Letters to a Christian Nation:

“Sam Harris’s elegant little book is most refreshing and a wonderful source of ammunition for those who, like me, hold to no religious doctrine. Yet I have some sympathy also with those who might be worried by his uncompromising stance. Read it and from your own view, but do not ignore its message.” –Sir Roger Penrose, emeritus professor of mathematics, Oxford University, author of The Road to Reality“

Reading Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation was like sitting ring side, cheering the champion, yelling ‘Yes!’ at every jab. For those of us who feel depressed by this country’s ever increasing unification of church and state, and the ever decreasing support for the sciences that deliver knowledge and reduce ignorance, ... “I dare you to read this will not leave you unchanged. Read it if it is the last thing you do.” —Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion

“It’s a shame that not everyone in this country will read Sam Harris’ marvelous little book Letter to a Christian Nation. They won’t but they should.” —Leonard Susskind, Felix Bloch Professor in theoretical physics, Stanford University

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Enough Senators have signed onto a new revised downward bill that it will pass a vote and go to a joint committee of the House and Senate. The following is a list of the cuts that have been agreed upon by Senatore negotiators, including Republican leadership:

$40 billion State Fiscal Stabilization

$16 billion School Construction

$1.25 billion project-based rental

2.25 Neighborhood Stabilization (Eliminate)

$1.2 billion in Retrofiting Project 8 Housing

$7.5 billion of State Incentive Grants

$3.5 billion Higher Ed Construction (Eliminated)

$100 million FSA modernization

$50 million CSERES Research

$65 million Watershed Rehab

$30 million SD Salaries$100 million Distance Learning$98 million School Nutrition$50 million aquaculture$2 billion broadband$1 billion Head Start/Early Start$5.8 billion Health Prevention Activity.$2 billion HIT Grants$1 billion Energy Loan Guarantees$4.5 billion GSA$3.5 billion Federal Bldgs Greening
(Smaller cuts -- $10-$600 million -- after the jump)
» Continue reading List of spending "cuts" in Senate bill
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$100 million NIST$100 million NOAA$100 million Law Enforcement Wireless$50 million Detention Trustee$25 million Marshalls Construction$100 million FBI Construction$300 million Federal Prisons$300 million BYRNE Formula$140 million BYRNE Competitive$10 million State and Local Law Enforcement$50 million NASA$50 million Aeronautics$50 million Exploration$50 million Cross Agency Support$200 million NSF$100 million Science$89 million GSA Operations$300 million Fed Hybrid Vehicles$50 million from DHS$200 million TSA$122 million for Coast Guard Cutters, modifies use$25 million Fish and Wildlife$55 million Historic Preservation$20 million working capital fund$200 million Superfund$165 million Forest Svc Capital Improvement$90 million State & Private Wildlife Fire Management$75 million Smithsonian$600 million Title I (NCLB)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Beware of Free Lunch

An e-mail this morning from Dan Hollister of Integrity Financial Resources makes promises for getting out of debt that at first blush sound interesting, interesting enough to perhaps be enticed to read his special report and sign up for his $49 CD that promises to show you how to get out of debt in 5-7 years? Not quite, because I've heard of Dan Hollister before and I long ago learned there is no such thing as a free lunch.

The main pitch of the e-mail says that "armed with the right information, you can be free" of the bonds of your mortgage much faster than previously thought, even with your current income. He tells about back in the 17th and 18th centuries many people who wanted to come to the new world couldn't afford the boat ride, so agreed to be indentured as servants, committing to work for someone for a few years in exchange for their passage. Often, however, they became further indebted and, in effect, became indentured servants for life.

I'm reminded of company store owned by the same people who operated the shingle mill where my Dad worked back in the 30's. The company store in a rural area stocked everything a family might need and offered credit to workers and their family. For many of the workers, by the time payday came around, all of their check might be owed. It became a vicious cycle.

It's not too different now, only we can blame easy credit through credit cards and for many it was the enticement of sub-prime mortgages that created what has become a calamity.

As Mr. Hollister says, if you dissect the word "mortgage", you get 'mort' from the Latin word "death" and 'gage', meaning 'pledge, so effectively a pledge to death. Mortgages typically are for 15 or 30 years, but lenders make it oh so easy to refinance for a new car, the new roof, remodeling, or the cruise you've always dreamed of. And now they've instituted the "reverse mortgage", so that the older person who may have paid off their mortgage or have substantial equity can borrow against their equity in the house, to be paid back with interest from the proceeds if and when the house is sold.

In an effort to understand this global financial crisis, I've been reading George Cooper's The Origin of Financial Crisis - trying to understand at any rate. The Economist says, this is "A must-read on the origins of the crisis." The trouble is you have to have a PhD in economics to really understand - if then.

I've concluded the cause is due to a complex interconnection assocated with rising debt, weakening production, outsourcing, consequent unemployment, stagnant wages, rising costs, growing class inequality with a dwindling middle class, along with global economic instability, and militarism and imperialism of the past eight years, plus exploitive corrupt practices while leaving pressing needs, such as infrastructure and health care of the country, unaddressed
unaddressed. A simpler explanation may have to do with the central banks system.

Over the years I've watched the stock market be greatly influenced every time the Fed would raise or lower interest rates. Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan just had to raise an eyebrow and say a word and the Dow could turn handstands. So when some talking head recently said, "The economy is sound. The downturn is psychological," I didn't doubt there was some truth to his statement. Although if you've just lost your job or your house is in foreclosure, it is far more than psychological, of course. In the past, the Fed would just have dropped the interest rate 1/4 or 1/2% with the promise of more if that didn't work. And the Dow would respond accordingly. The trouble is that the interest rate can't be dropped any more. And therein lies the rub!

Today reports came that another 598,000 jobs were lost last month. Are Republican senators serious when they suggest that instead of the Democratic financial stimulus package each single person be given a tax credit of $5000+ and a couple $10,000+? Hasn't this been tried before? Granted, it was a smaller amount, but did it work? What's that saying about the definition of stupidity, e.g. doing the same failed thing and expecting different results?

We voted for change. We voted for rebuilding infrastructure, improving education, evaluating our trade policies in an effort to level the playing field, health insurance for all, global climate change, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and changing the way Washington works. I'd like to see President Obama succeed in accomplishing even a fraction of these things. Unfortunately, we're witnessing first hand this week how the sausage is made in Washington. The public may have to have an "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more" moment.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

An American Moment

An Open Letter to Congress:

We're dyin' here, folks! ...while you play politics with the life of our country. You were willing to write a blank check to the banking industry with no plan for how the money was going to be spent, no oversight at all, and we've all seen how that's turned out. While Secretary Paulson promised that ours would be a 'par' investment in the banks, e.g. $1 stock for $1, as it turns out it is about only 2/3 of that, with no assurance we will ever see any return ever. Besides that the money appears not to have been used for the intended purpose. So I can understand why y'all might want to be extra careful about another trillion dollars. And, yes, by the time we pay the interest on the $900,00 billion, it will top out at at least a trillion, I expect. However, let's get real here and think about some of your ideas for this "stimulus" package, which besides stimulating the economy is to create jobs.

From where I stand it looks like Republicans want tax cuts and tax credits for spending. Tax incentives, such as a tax credit to anyone purchasing a new car, sounds good to me, except for the fact that most of us are so nervous about how we've been losing half of our retirement savings that I don't think any sensible person is gonna go out and buy that new car right now.

Let's talk about the long list in the Democratic economic recovery package to which the Republicans and even some Democrats object, and I'll grant you I've taken a look at the benefits that will come to California, and I'm somewhat dubious about the number of jobs that will be created compared to the job losses that have been suffered. Nineteen governors and several mayors support the recovery package, and it is little wonder. A look at what California stands to gain shows that it would serve to wipe out a good part of California's predicted budget shortfall, much of which is due to Med-Cal. They predict 421,000 new jobs in California and an additional $100 a month in unemployment benefits to those out of work. Four billion dollars would go toward education, which would limit cuts currently in progress. In addition, there would be $2.8 billion for highway projects, $950 million for transit, $435 million for clean water, such as prevention of beach pollution, and $45 million for energy assistance for low-income families struggling with heating and/or air conditioning. And that's just California!

Republicans and, to be honest, many in middle America object to a list of what they decry as "pork". Included in the list of objectionables, of course, is the $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, which always seems to head the list; $1 billion for National Science Foundation, $14 million for cyber-security research by Homeland Security Department, $850 million for Amtrak, $400 million for climate change research, and $400 million for sexually transmitted disease research. Talking heads say that the Democrats have now that they have the chance just added all their pet projects that have been denied over the past ten years. All totalled, these items add up to less than 1% of the total.

Even so, I can do a fair amount of justifying in my own mind most of these things. As for the National Science Foundation, scientists are closing in on understanding the nature of viruses and nearing a break-through on stem cell research; surely this is a time to provide additional funding to continue this important research that may ultimately provide huge savings on health care, plus preserve research jobs.

Why not additional funding for Amtrak? I suspect the auto industry and Exxon are eager for this one to be dumped. It looks to me as though it could provide some jobs and make improvements so that more people might use train for travel.

Climate change research - well, now we have an administration who actually believes the science, so what could possibly be their reasoning for not wanting to give some financial support to something that has been short-changed for so long?

It doesn't take a genius to figure out why they want the money for research and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases eliminated. While several of their colleagues have been found in compromising positions involving sex, with this one they're thinking of voters back home rather than the jobs that could be created and the potential health-care savings. They're probably the same ones who believe in the failed abstinence only approach to sex education in the schools and were the ones that insisted on eliminating the condom program.

What do they want instead? Senator Lindsay Graham wants to give a $15,000 tax credit to first time home buyers. They're talking about an interest rate of 4 to 4.5% for those same first time home buyers if they can qualify and somehow inspire the banks, who unfortunately aren't very interested in giving loans. Kind of a Catch 22!

Aside from the above tax credit and more and more emphasis on reduced taxes, I've not seen a lot of constructive input from the Republicans, although they complain they've not been included in the process.

A bipartisan group of 19 governors, including California Governor Schwarzenegger and Charlie Crist of Florida have expressed support of the bill as it stands. Everyone hopes that something will be done to prop up the housing market, which is, of course, a major cause of the financial crises.

I'm one of the big 'D' Democrats, who believes that The National Endowment of the Arts needs more help than ever during an economic downturn. I definitely support its being given some funds in the stimulation package. The current economic situation facing everyday Americans is likewise contributing to the challenges that nonprofit organizations, especially those involved with the arts, are beginning to experience. The arts preserve our culture, provide forward thinking and are responsible for enhancing our spirits, an essential part of our country. I'm reminded of an old Afghan proverb: "If you have two coins, use the first for jasmine, the next for bread. One will give you life, the other a reason for living." (This is a saying with variations, such as "Flower" in place of jasmine, common to many cultures.) In our household, we believe "use the first for the arts, the next for bread."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

It Might Have Been Otherwise

For several people I know, 2009 has brought challenges and crises. For most, they might have chosen it to be otherwise, but it could have been worse. By now I'm sure that everyone has heard about the birth of octuplets last week. That's right - OCTuplet - eight babies, and thus far all seem to be thriving. I immediately recalled the Dionne quintuplets and their mixed up, messed up lives, dominated by press and overprotective doctors. I immediately assumed in-vitro fertilization and the ambivalent feelings the new parents must be having at this moment - ambivalent - happy and yet concerned about how to care for so many infants. I had initially missed the fact that these eight babies were delivered to a single mother of six children under the age of seven. Oy vez!

She did this on purpose! She says she just loves being a mother. She has always dreamed of being a mother. She hoped to add another girl to what for most people in our culture would have been a large family. And somehow she found a fertility clinic to go along with her plan. When they discovered there were seven fetuses (they had not been able to see the eighth), doctors were unable to convince her to abort any of them, so that the survivors would be stronger, etc. Is she crazy? How does she, a single woman, plan to support and raise thirteen children?

There are now thousands of blogs devoted to the outrage people are feeling toward this mother-obsessed woman, who has already hired a public relations firm looking for a two million dollar book or television deal. She wants to host a TV show as a mothering expert. Well, maybe she's crazy like a fox?

Before her in-vitro fertilization conception, she worked in a mental health facility. I dare say she should have been a client, but that's beside the point. My question is to the medical profession who, at least in theory, swears to "first do no harm." How could you, I ask, in good conscience, believe that enabling this single, obviously obsessed, woman to have yet another child would not do harm? I find it hard to believe that a reputable fertility clinic might not have had reservations at the second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth child, let alone the seventh. Instead they have enabled what appears to be an obviously mentally ill woman to create a family that will take a small army and several million dollars to raise and educate to age 17.

Even the corporations who would usually be lined up ready to give houses, diapers, baby food, clothing, etc., are being cautious as they feel the outrage of the bloggers. My outrage is more at the fertility clinic that cooperated and enabled her obsession. It might have been otherwise, but then maybe the 47 people it took to deliver and care for the preemie newborns will each seek a book deal, too. Maybe they'll turn the economy around...or maybe the taxpayers will find themselves having to bail out this family, too. It might have been otherwise. Someone somewhere along the line might have said, "Enough, already!"

I grew up during the Great Depression, one of only three children. When my children were school age, I resurrected a family recipe from the mid-1930's, which may come in handy for this mother of fourteen during this economic downturn. It takes no time at all to mix up, which I'm sure this sure to be busy mother will appreciate. In fact, with a little help the eldest, the 7 year old, will even be able to make them. He'll probably be doing a lot of helping out, I'm guessing. Child labor laws don't apply to family members, you know.

Poor Man Cookies

Boil 1 cup raisins in 2 cups water until about 1 cup liquid remains.

Add: 1/2 c. margarine or Crisco
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. soda
1 egg
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
2 c. flour

Mix and pour into greased jelly roll pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
Frost with a thin powdered sugar/lemon or orange juice glaze.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Measure of My Days

Ed often asks me, "How was your day?" when he gets home from work. Thirty years ago that question could elicit a long conversation. Today? Not so much. What is the measure of my day? I've been thinking a lot about that lately.

My first concern of the day: Was I able to get on the internet? If so, there will be e-mails to read: from my sister, maybe my daughters, some friends, and then I'll read a few blogs. There will be the inevitable Scrabble plays with my sister, my eldest daughter, and a friend who lives two blocks away, but whom I only occasionally see. I may even write a page or two on this blog.

Who did Charlie Rose interview last night? That's almost my first question of the day. Thank heavens for TIVO! This morning I listened to his conversation with Rahm Emmanuel, in which they discussed President Elect Obama's management style and their recent interaction with Congress. Lots to think about! I "saved" it, knowing I'd want to listen to it again. Turning to CNN in time to hear the end of a pre-Inauguration whistle-stop speech in Delaware where the train coming from Philadelphia picked up Vice President Elect Joe Biden. I nervously watched
our almost new President walk out through the crowd, shaking hands, chatting, etc. I'm wishing he would keep his charismatic self behind bullet-proof glass! His taking the oath of office on the Lincoln bible and team of rivalry comparisons almost seem to be challenging, taunting, or provoking the unthinkable. It's making me crazy!

I knit. I write. I incessantly watch, read, and consider the political goings-on of the day. I have much more time to think about these things and to read the current books that are being discussed than I ever had when younger and when working. It is only because my own personal world has become narrower that I have the time or energy to become engrossed in the wider world.

I feel lucky that I enjoy my life. As a fairly private person who has always enjoyed solitude, I don't miss going out and about every day. As I am aging, my personal world seems to be getting narrower, however. I'm not yet what one would call frail, but my lack of easy mobility causes me to find staying at home easier than going out. And I am quite content. It might have been otherwise.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How long...?

Ever since I started getting home delivery from Safeway, our pantry has been overflowing. It's that "free delivery" if you order $150 worth and five of these items that gets me every time. And then there's the buy one, get one free. Anyway, I decided after my last delivery on December 24th that I would see how long we could get by living off the pantry, refrigerator and freezer before ordering again. Were it not for produce, I think we're good for a few weeks. Yesterday, I dug into the big bag of pinto beans that my Latina friend, Adela, brought me when she took care of me after my knee replacement surgery. That must have been five years ago...that bag of beans will last us a lifetime!

I cooked up two cups of beans with some Jimmy Dean Italian sausage, a diced up baseball sized yellow onion and some not quite shriveled carrots, canned tomatoes, fresh thyme and parsley left from that last delivery, and a bay leaf from Nancy Keltner's yard. Well, 2 cups of beans makes a lot of bean soup. We have bean soup to last us all weekend and perhaps then some.

We do love home delivery of groceries though. Ed doesn't mind stopping by in between deliveries to pick up some fresh produce, a loaf of bread, or a half gallon of milk. It's the big long lists of strange sounding names that he dislikes. And frankly, I'm often inspired by what is on sale or what I see when I'm browsing down the "aisles" on-line. Who knew, for instance, that Crisco now has a spray-on product that contains a mixture of oil and flour to prepare cake pans? Who knew that Kraft caramel now packages caramel chips? How easy those caramel chocolate brownie bars are now to make - no unwrapping of 50 Kraft caramels!

Our last delivery contained a prime rib roast ($26 worth) that I didn't order. It was the day before Christmas, so it was probably someone's Christmas dinner. I called Safeway customer service, thinking maybe the delivery person could come back for it, but they said, "Just enjoy it!" that they would just have to throw it away, that it could not be redelivered.

It doesn't happen often, but occasionally we are billed for something that wasn't delivered. Customer service is always most accommodating, giving credit on next order of more than the value of the item.

Friends gave us gift certificates for Schwan's Home Service for Christmas. I've never had anything of theirs, but do see their truck around town now and then. Jeanne says that they lived off of their meals when she was recuperating from her accident and subsequent surgeries, so she thought we might enjoy their service, too. She says their ice cream bars are favorites, but that they haven't had anything they didn't like. I need to continue bringing the freezer inventory down a bit before I order from Schwan, I think.

I'm able to sit here at this computer, browse with the help of Google, and find almost anything I want (or need). Some things arrive within a day from the time I order, including groceries from Safeway. Being agoraphobic wouldn't be a problem. How long, I wonder, could one stay within these four walls?

Friday, January 9, 2009

To Die For

I'm a self-acknowledged political junkie. I watch Bill Moyers Journal on Friday nights and Meet the Press and George Stephanopolous every Sunday morning. Frankly, we've had a bit of a conflict in our house the past few Sundays when football interferes with Fareed Zakaria. Before football season, we always TIVO'd Fareed and Ed and I watched it together. The past few weeks, however, the TIVO has been recording football, so that Ed can click through the commercials while watching the game. I've had to be sure to watch GPS live at 10 a.m. on Sunday - with commercial interruptions.

TIVO has been a great addition to our lives. I'm not sure how we could get along without it. There are some programs that I just never want to miss. For instance, Charlie Rose comes on much too late in the evening for me to watch it regularly. It does repeat at noon the next day, too, of course, but that's not a great time for me, so I TIVO his interviews every night and watch them the next morning - without fail. And moments later, you might find me in at my computer ordering a book that has just been discussed from or our public library.

My reading list this past year has had very little fiction on it. I've been reading such things as The Post American Era by Fareed Zakaria; The Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein, and The World is Flat by Tom Friedman. Not really light reading.

So when my daughter, Valerie, told me of a new mystery author that had been recommended to her by the owner of a used bookstore she and Sean had visited, I laughingly said I could use some mindless reading matter. She giggled a bit and added that they were mystery/romance. I asked, "You mean they are "pulsing manhood" books?

"Definitely!" She had read the two paperbacks she had bought on her first visit to the booksore, Drop Dead Gorgeous and To Die For, and had made a second trip for two more.

So I wasn't surprised when Val brought me the four Linda Howard books that she had thus far acquired. I'm no connoisseur of the romance novel, but I can assure you Ms. Howard is no John Grisham or even Robert Parker. But I have finished all four of the "romantic suspense" novels...and it is only January 9th! Even though not great literature or nail-biting suspense, the pages did seem to keep turning.

However, delivery today brought Suze Orman's 2009 Action Plan - Keeping Your Money Safe and Sound. The first twenty pages - "a brief history of how we got here" - didn't tell me anything I didn't already know: "It was a wild drunken party of dishonesty and greed on a national scale." I'm hoping the book will prove worth the read. Thus far, her advice seems sound:

  1. When it comes to money, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
  2. If you cannot afford it, do not buy it.
  3. Always choose to do what's right, not what's easy.

Do you know what your credit card interest rate is - currently?

Drop Dead Gorgeous

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Knit Two...

Last night I frogged the first of a pair of socks for the third time! Frustration!

Frogging for the uninitiated non-knitter refers to the "rrrriiiiippp" that takes place when you unravel knitting. It's not that it was such a complicated pattern, but just as I was about to turn the heel (the first time I had to rrrriiip), I discovered a dropped stitch about five rows down. Ordinarily, I could just knit it up using a crochet hook, but the pattern involved a k2tog and then knit into the first stitch...making a bit of a cable stitch. Not possible to do with crochet hook. I thought I might be able to just unravel down to the problem. Not possible!

The second time...I don't even want to talk about it!

Now the third time. I guess the pattern used more yarn than usual because about two inches above the heel, I became aware that I wasn't going to have enough yarn to make the sock tall enough for its intended owner. What to do?

My helpful husband suggested that I just continue and make it the length I wanted by using the second ball of yarn that I had reserved for the second sock and then use a different yarn for the toe/foot of the second sock. "It's going to be hidden in the shoe anyway, isn't it?" Who's to know...or care?

While I've knit many unmatched socks - almost anytime I use self-striping yarn, it tends to pool differently or I don't start with the yarn in exactly the same place, and the socks end up similar, but not exactly the same. But that's intentional - sort of. And they're striped. It's okay to have them turn out kind of funky. But these are dress socks. Sean will probably want to wear them to work. (Okay. I know he'll probably not take his shoes off at work!)

Well, I just couldn't do it. I rewound the yarn as I rrrriiippped...and have now started again. I am using a different yarn for the toe (as Ed suggested), but both socks will be the same - have the same "different" toe. A deliberate intentional difference.

I'm reminded of the time my aunt Teedy brought home a couple of lengths of navy blue serge that she'd found on sale. I can't remember for what occasion, but she planned to make me a gored dress - probably similar to something I'd seen Jane Powell wear in a movie.

She cut it out and sewed it up one night. In the morning when I tried it on, she and I both noticed that every other panel was black - not navy blue! In the dark they had looked the same, but in daylight that midnight blue was black. (Did you know that many men are unable to tell the difference - day or night!?) Fortuitously, it was every other gore, so it looked almost on purpose. It could have been worse.

Teedy, being creative in more ways than one, advised, "Just tell your friends this is the latest trend in Paris!" She did some fancy embroidery stitches that made the dress even more special - and more French-like. I loved that dress until I outgrew it and handed it down to a younger friend. Someone somewhere may still be wearing the dress - that serge would NEVER wear out!