Friday, December 30, 2011

Worried about how to get rid of that extra $16,000? Some suggestions for you.

            If I had a spare $16,000 lying around the house, I would buy….

            What would you buy? Aw, don’t give me those boring answers like “paying off bills” or “saving for retirement.” Of course that’s what you should do with a stray $16,000 you might find in an old coat pocket, but what do you wish you could do with it?

            Do you want an awesome home theater with an enormous flat-screen TV? How about a trip to some exotic locale? A new wardrobe, perhaps? Would you prefer to donate the money to your favorite charity? Or are you just itching to buy a virtual sword so you can beat your fellow players in the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) of your choice?

            A man in China took his – supposedly – unneeded $16,000 and plunked it down on a virtual sword for the game Age of Wulin, which hasn’t actually been released in China yet. He anticipates being able to kill dragons and eliminate bad guys with one stroke of his mighty virtual sword. He’ll be invincible! At least that’s the theory. Who knows how many other people will fork over their spare change to get one of these amazing virtual weapons? Um…right.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Signs from Jesus

            Have you ever wondered why you haven’t been chosen to receive a sign from Jesus? I have often pondered that very question. Does Jesus ignore me because I am not worthy? Have I received signs that I simply disregarded, going about my business completely oblivious to spiritual messages? Are people who see signs from Jesus a slice short of a complete loaf? These are heavy questions, requiring a considerable amount of introspection.

            It is pictures like this one that lead to my reflective moods. I do laundry nearly every day, but I have never seen a picture of Jesus form itself from the creases in a sock. Sarah Crane, of Kent, England, left her washing out on the line overnight and awoke to discover the face of Jesus staring back at her. Why her and not me, huh?

            All I can say is that right now, at this very moment, I have laundry hanging on a drying rack. You can be darn sure that I’m going to look at each piece carefully before I fold it and put it away. The next message from Jesus might just be for me.

Monday, December 26, 2011

To Post or Not to Post - Is That REALLY the Question?

While watching a recent football game, I saw a commercial for the U.S. Postal Service. I thought this was rather odd, because I can’t remember the U.S. Postal Service ever advertising before. I mean, the post office has been an American institution since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Why would they need to advertise?

Of course, you’ve most likely heard rumors that the postal service has been losing money lately. As a matter of fact, they’ve been losing lots and lots of money for years now. The stress has been making their employees a bit unstable, hence the popularity a while back of the term “going postal.”

So why is Benjamin Franklin’s pet project in jeopardy? Well…do you pay your bills online? Do you send emails or texts instead of writing letters? Do you even know that stamps haven’t had to be licked since 1994? There you have it – that’s why the post office has had to resort to advertising. Their customer base dwindled away as we started to use more modern methods to communicate.

Unfortunately for the postal service, it is unlikely that these ads are going to convince anyone that snail mail is better than electronic communications. Is putting a check in an envelope that travels from your post office to a truck to a different post office to a mail carrier and then finally to your electric company really safer than paying a bill directly from your checking account online? I don’t think so. I’ve been paying my bills online for years.


How about this second ad? Is receiving your mail directly from the hand of a smiling mail carrier more reliable and safer than receiving an email or text? Not in my experience. I’m not sure what my mail carrier looks like; he/she chucks my mail in a box at the end of the driveway, where anyone could take it before I get home from work. My email, however, is password protected and located on a secure server.

The U.S. Postal Service has not adapted to modern technology, and so it is becoming as relevant as the pony express. I bet Benjamin Franklin would have switched over to email right along with the rest of us. After all, the issue is not whether or not we need the postal service – it’s about how we can communicate most efficiently.

Need a laugh? Watch Conan O'Brien's new Postal Service ad:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Morning

    Spending the day Christmas shopping. I know it's not Christmas Eve yet, but I figured I'd start early this year. I hope you enjoy reading this blog from Christmas past.      

            It made her laugh to see the television commercials where the children eagerly wake up their parents on Christmas morning. It was usually the other way around in her house, and this year was no exception. The children were nestled all snug in their beds, but she couldn’t sleep. “It’s Christmas,” whispered in her head; how could they sleep so soundly?

            She put on her robe and tiptoed down the stairs at 5 AM. She plugged in the tree lights, and stood still for a moment, hugging the Christmas magic to herself. It took her breath away to see the presents mounded under the Christmas tree, proof that Santa had already been and gone. Somehow, she never seemed to catch him filling the stockings, no matter how early she came downstairs.

            She had put the teakettle on the stove when her mother padded into the kitchen. It was always this way, she and her mother, drinking tea together on Christmas morning. It was a ritual, one she wouldn’t give up for anything. She looked forward to spending this time with her mother all year. It’s not that they didn’t spend time together at other times of the year, it’s just that this was special time, Christmas time.

She and her mother would wait until they couldn’t stand it another minute, and then they would wake up the rest of the family. The kids would bound down the stairs the minute they were properly awake. The dads would come down, bleary-eyed but happy. The last one down was always her sister, pushing at her bed-mussed hair and grumbling under her breath like a humbug.

Christmas was special, a day given to her as a gift. She treasured every moment of it, pulling it into her so that she would always have the memories to keep her company. She loved her family – each and every one precious to her – and she loved Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Words that Describe Life as We Know It

Merriam-Webster’s List of Most Looked-up Words in 2011
  1. pragmatic (meaning: practical as opposed to idealistic)
  2. ambivalence (meaning: simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings toward an object, person, or action; a continual fluctuation as between one thing and its opposite)
  3. insidious (meaning: awaiting a chance to entrap; harmful but enticing; having a gradual and cumulative effect)
  4. didactic (meaning: designed or intended to teach; intended to convey instruction and information as well as pleasure and entertainment; making moral observations
  5. austerity (meaning: the quality or state of being austere which means stern and cold in appearance or manner)
  6. diversity (meaning: the condition of having or being composed of differing elements)
  7. capitalism (meaning: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods)
  8. socialism (meaning: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership)
  9. vitriol (meaning: a sulfate of any of various metals)
  10. apres moi le deluge (meaning: a French phrase which is literally translated to mean “after me, the deluge”)
These words tell us a lot about the human condition in the year 2011, don’t they? We try to be pragmatic about our economic woes, but Americans are definitely ambivalent about what government programs need to be cut or reduced in order to improve the situation. While Congress does nothing, the insidious decline of the American way of life continues, with corresponding disastrous effects on the rest of the world.
Didactic speeches are given by politicians, radio talk show hosts, and anyone else who can find a soap box on which to stand. Many preach austerity, but austerity measures are highly unpopular in the world today. We don’t want to cut back on spending. We don’t want to make do with less.
Perhaps the answer to our economic distress is to diversify our economy. Instead of relying on government to solve the crisis, we can invest in small businesses and try to stimulate the economy by providing a climate in which workers and businesses can thrive. With the cultural diversity in the United States, there are many people who “think outside the box.” We need them to be creative and innovative.
The United States was founded on the principles of capitalism. It was thought that anyone who worked hard could be financially successful here. Entrepreneurs found businesses that provide jobs and improve our way of life. Where would we be today without Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Bill Gates? It was the importance placed on capitalism by our founding fathers that has allowed the United States to build the number one economy in the world.
Socialism, however, relies heavily on government ownership of businesses. Many countries around the world rely solely on their governments for such things as health care, transportation, and education. The United States unhappily appears to be moving in this direction. I’ll spare you a vitriolic rant on the subject; my blood pressure doesn’t need to be any higher. I suppose I would feel better if I just said après moi le deluge and dismissed the whole topic. My children and grandchildren can clean up the mess.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Political Correctness to the Max

            When can we definitively announce that political correctness has gone too far? Right now, it’s not okay to show Winnie-the-Pooh’s friend Piglet on a tissue box in a kindergarten class lest Muslims be offended. It’s not okay to display a picture of Santa because non-Christians or the Keep-Christ-in-Christmas Christians might be offended. It’s not okay to use the word “man” when you mean “mankind” because women might be offended. Have we gone too far with political correctness yet? Apparently not.

            Toddlers at a school in North Yorkshire, England are no longer allowed to make hand gestures when singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” These babies, who had been taught a few hand symbols to make singing this old song more fun, have been accused of making rude gestures. Apparently, the hand symbol used for “diamond” means “female private parts” in one of the many sign languages used in England. Although no children or parents involved in the school are deaf, administrators at the Sure Start center have banned the use of hand gestures with the song so as not to offend the hearing impaired.
            What can one say about this particular example of enforced political correctness? I’m rendered speechless.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Censorship and Other F***ing Bad Ideas

            So what is with people who feel the need to restrict the freedoms of others in order to “make the world a better place?” Are these politicians, parents, religious leaders, etc. truly holier than thou? Do they really know what’s right for everyone?

            Australian Senator Stephen Conroy is one of those people who knows exactly what you need to do, and he wants to use the law to make sure you do it.  The minister in charge of television and radio broadcast standards, Conroy advocates censoring the internet in Australia.  Since even communist China has been unable to completely censor the internet, I am nearly certain that Senator Conroy has taken on an impossible task. Just the possibility that he might succeed makes me angry, though, and I don’t even live in Australia!  

            It takes a lot of chutzpah for someone to stand up in public and declare that censorship is necessary. It takes a lot of something else – stupidity, perhaps – to drop the f-bomb on live TV while doing so. Yes, Senator Conroy used the f-word while answering a question during a live television press briefing. Ironic, huh?

            Perhaps Senator Conroy needs to promote good manners instead of censorship. I’m pretty sure the f-word wouldn’t slip from my lips if I were on national live television. My mother taught me better manners than that. I bet poor Senator Conroy’s mum is horribly distressed by his public rudeness. Now all of her friends think she didn’t raise her son properly. Perhaps Senator Conroy, fallible as he has proven to be, is not someone who truly knows what’s best for the rest of us. Hmm.

I wouldn’t presume to know what’s best for everyone, but I do have a suggestion. Maybe if we advocated for freedom of speech AND polite behavior, the world would be a better place. Let's make rudeness illegal! Now wait…would that be censorship? 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Anger Management Class a Bust

            Every teacher plans lessons, teaches content, gives feedback, and keeps her fingers crossed that her students will be successful. In these days when teachers are required to demonstrate results, it is a catastrophe if students don’t do their part. The teacher’s paycheck could be on the line. That’s big.

            Some teaching jobs are more difficult than others. Yes, it’s hard to motivate middle and high school students to learn, but it’s not an impossible task. However, what if your job is teaching anger management to adults who have been arrested for road rage or heat-of-the-moment assaults on another person? Now that has got to be a job from you-know-where!

            Take for example the sad case of one Mr. Philip Croft of Manchester, England. Mr. Croft has difficulty controlling his temper. This was patently obvious to the cop who pulled over Mr. Croft to give him a warning for speeding. Mr. Croft proceeded to harangue the officer with language that polite people don’t use in public. Instead of receiving a warning for speeding, Mr. Croft ended up having to pay a large fine for a public order offense.

            What makes this scenario ironic is that Mr. Croft was on his way home from a court-ordered anger management class at the time of the incident. Apparently, a fight had broken out during the class, and Mr. Croft was still angry about that when he was confronted by the officer. I’m sorry, but this has to be considered an epic fail on the teacher’s part. Sending angry students home from an anger management class is a bad idea.

            I certainly hope that the teacher’s pay isn’t based on Mr. Croft’s ability to control his temper. The probability of successfully teaching Mr. Croft anger management techniques that he will use seems slim to me. Yup, some teaching jobs are definitely harder than others.


Monday, December 12, 2011

A Southern Tradition: Mistletoe Shooting

            I grew up in Pennsylvania and moved to Georgia when I was well past my formative years. I’ve now lived in the South for 22 years, but native Georgians still consider me a carpet-bagging Yankee. I will never be a “true” Southerner. It’s obvious that there are Southern traditions that I will never understand.

            Get this – there is a tradition in Georgia of decorating your house with mistletoe at Christmas. That’s not the weird part – we did that in PA, too. No, the weird part is that instead of buying your mistletoe at a store, in Georgia you’re supposed to shoot your mistletoe out of a tall tree using a 12 gauge double barreled shotgun.

            Bill Robinson of Decatur, GA (near Atlanta) decided not to travel to the woods this year to get his annual mistletoe. There was a fine bunch of the stuff at the top of a tree practically in his backyard. He took his shotgun out, fired one shot that brought down the mistletoe, put his gun away, collected his mistletoe and prepared to take it home. Unfortunately, a skittish shopper at the North DeKalb Mall had called the police when she saw the man with the gun in the mall parking lot. Mr. Robinson was arrested, believe it or not.

            When asked if he thought he wouldn’t get in trouble for firing a shotgun on mall property, Mr. Robinson answered, “I guess I assumed that everybody knew what I was doing.” How come I had never heard about this well-known, beloved Southern tradition before now? I guess it’s a secret not passed on to Yankees….

Friday, December 9, 2011

Parents Hold Incompetent Teacher and Colleagues Hostage

            No one ever said that being a teacher is easy. Teachers these days have to be able to control disrespectful students, competently teach the curriculum so that students can pass high-stakes tests, fulfill the paperwork and meeting demands placed on them by administrators, and communicate clearly with parents. It’s a tough job, no doubt about it, and teachers are bound to have some less-than-perfect moments.

Luckily, it is still highly unusual for a group of unhappy parents to hold a principal and teachers hostage in order to get a teacher fired. Parents of young students at the Notre Dame de Caderot private school in southern France claimed that the internee teacher “lacked authority” and was “behind in instructing the curriculum.” Wow! When was the last time you heard about an incompetent teacher and his colleagues being held hostage by parents? Um…never?

The local Catholic diocese agreed to fire the internee teacher after a stand-off of 17 hours. The parents “won” this battle.  You have to wonder, though, what their children learned about handling difficult situations from this example. Did they learn that people can work through problems by talking to each other? Did they learn that sometimes compromises have to be made? Of course not. The lesson taught here was “might makes right.” If student bullying becomes a problem at the school, the parents will have no one to blame but themselves. They have clearly demonstrated to their children that it is acceptable to use force to get what you want.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Competitive Pee-ing: A new Olympic sport?

            Did you know that it takes a man an average of 55 seconds to urinate? I didn’t know that either, and quite frankly, being a woman, I don’t care. That little factoid falls into the category of TMI for me. However, there is a company in London that finds the statistic fascinating – and profitable.

55 seconds doesn’t seem all that long to me, but apparently there are men out there who get bored staring at blank white tile while they do their business. Captive Media has designed the first urine-powered video game system to alleviate the boredom. Gamers use their personal …um…“joysticks” to aim their urine streams to the right, left, or straight in order to earn points. Players can add their scores to a leader board, thereby making the urinal game a competition. I guess winners have the right to call themselves the “Most Accurate Pee-ers” in Britain.
Currently installed in a loo in The Exhibit bar in Balham, south London, the urinal video games are enormously popular. The bar owners are happy; sales of beer are way up so gamers have the opportunity to play several times during their visit to the pub. Advertisers are happy, too. The equipment is sponsored by companies whose ads are shown on the sides of the screens during game play. If I were smart, I’d buy stock in Captive Media. That company is going to make some serious money.

Of course, it is anatomically impossible for women to compete in the urinal games. But don’t feel too bad, ladies. Captive Media is working on a solution for us. They will soon unveil a video quiz game to be placed near hand dryers in women’s restrooms. These games are supposed to alleviate the boredom of having to stand in long lines waiting to use the facilities. All I can say is that I’m quite impressed. Who said that creative thinking is a thing of the past?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fairy Wasps and Other Tiny Topics

            “You’re kidding!”

            Alex and I looked at Chris in disbelief. We were sitting at Chili’s eating lunch, and the topic under discussion – wasps – was not particularly conducive to a relaxing meal.

            “No, I’m not kidding,” Chris continued. “There are fairy wasps that are smaller than a paramecium or an amoeba. Imagine a wasp with thousands of cells that is smaller than a one-celled organism.”

            My mind flashed back to ancient times, where I saw myself looking at pond water through a microscope.  If you can remember anything at all about middle school science class, it’s probably the first time you saw microscopic living creatures swimming around in the water from your local swimming hole.

            “That’s highly disturbing,” Alex responded.

            I nodded, totally in agreement.

            Chris looked confused. “I don’t see what’s disturbing about it.”

            Alex explained, “I don’t like the idea that there’s a wasp I can’t see.”

            “I have to agree with him,” I chimed in. “My experiences with wasps have been rather unpleasant. It’s creepy to think that there’s a wasp flying around that I can’t see.”
            “You’re both nuts,” Chris stated bluntly. “These fairy wasps are a miracle of science.” He held up his iPhone and showed us a picture of the tiny creature. It looked like a very small…wasp.

            “It’s adorable, dear.”

            Alex bit his lip to keep from laughing when Chris rolled his eyes at me.

            “You should thank me for imparting all of this interesting knowledge to you. If I hadn’t introduced you to fairy wasps, you’d still be ignorant about them.”

            Alex and I grinned. Chris really did teach us a lot of interesting science stuff.

            “Thanks, Dad,” Alex answered. Only a teenager can say “thanks” and have it mean the exact opposite. I guess it’s all in the attitude.

            Chris chose to ignore the tone. “You’re welcome.” He turned to me. “You’re welcome, too.”

            “I appreciate everything you do to keep me from wallowing in ignorance,” I replied, winking at him.

            Chris snorted.

            In truth, his interesting conversation topics are one of the things I love about him. Just don’t tell him that, please.
If you must, you can read more about fairy wasps in Discover Magazine:

Friday, December 2, 2011

Scrooge Goes Shopping

            I have a reputation for being Scrooge pre-ghosts during the Christmas season. I find Christmas to be extraordinarily stressful, and I would prefer to let it pass without notice. Cleaning, cooking, putting up a tree, and the number one stresser - shopping! make me nuts.

            Sometimes I have wondered if I’m the only person who feels that way. Wandering through crowded stores decked out in red and gold, blaring old Christmas music, and displaying signs that have festive messages such as “Have yourself a merry little holiday” definitely brings out the Grinch in me. I would rather be confronted by a poisonous cobra than to go to a mall in December.

            But you know what? I am not alone. A new study from the University of Oxford reports that the “merrier” the store, the less business it gets. People just like me, stressed out from the joys of Christmas, tend to flee festive stores without buying anything.

Nancy Puccinelli, Associate Fellow at the university’s Saïd Business School, explained the results of her research: “In the final days before Christmas many a shopper will be feeling the pressure of the holiday season – with gifts to buy and preparations to make – leading to undue stress. The extreme contrast between consumers’ negative feelings and the atmosphere in the store, be it festive decorations, Christmas music or overly enthusiastic staff, actually makes them feel worse and less willing to purchase.”

Yes! That’s exactly it! Now we have scientific proof that the stresses of preparing for Christmas make a person grumpy! So if you, like the Grinch, “hate Christmas, the whole Christmas season,” don’t worry. You have company, and lots of it. “Bah humbug!”