Monday, January 30, 2012

Turn the tables on your teen. It's fun!



            “You still have clothes in the dryer.”

            “I know. Thanks.”

            The voice floating down the stairs has a petulant tone about it now. “What do you want me to do with them?”

            “Just leave them in there, honey,” I call, heartlessly icing another enemy in Mafia Wars. “I took out what I needed to wear today, but I didn’t have time to fold the rest. I’ll take care of it later.”

            “Can you do it now?”

            “I’m busy. I told you I’d take care of it later.”

            “But I need to put my clothes in the dryer.”

            “Oh. Well, just fold my clothes then, and leave them on my bed. I’ll put them in my drawers later.”

            “You’re kidding, right?”

            “No. Why would you think I was kidding?”

            The big sigh is followed by an extended period of grumbling.

            I chuckle. This exact same conversation has taken place at our house a hundred times, but it’s the first time I’ve been on the winning side. Sometimes it’s good to be the parent.

Friday, January 27, 2012

What is the euro good for? Well....

            People come up with the most interesting things to do when they’re in a tight spot. Take for example the story of Mr. Frank Buckley of Dublin, Ireland.  Jobless and homeless due to the collapse of the construction market, Mr. Buckley is building a home for himself out of a material the rest of Ireland thinks is worthless. Take a guess? Mr. Buckley’s home is made of shredded euros. $1.8 billion worth of shredded euros, to be specific.

            Mr. Buckley’s home is located in an office building that has never been occupied. His “euro-trash” art decorates the lobby, and yes, he lives in it. Made completely from bricks of euros that the Irish government shredded, Mr. Buckley’s house makes a definite statement about his political and financial views. He doesn’t appear to be hopeful that life in Ireland will improve anytime soon; he has plans to construct a kitchen to make his home more comfortable. Of his choice of material, Mr. Buckley admits that the euro does have one good quality – “it’s a great insulator.” Oh dear.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Canker-blossom" and Other Great Shakespearean Insults

            When was the last time you had one of those “speechless” moments? You know, those interminable seconds when someone has just insulted you or said something so stupid that it is unfathomable. You find yourself standing there, mouth open, desperately wishing that for once you could think of something to say. Oh, you’ll think of just the perfect come-back later while you’re doing the dinner dishes or standing in the shower. Unfortunately, by then it’s too late.

            A few weeks ago, my friend Dawn solved this problem for me. She gave me a mug that is decorated with insults written by none other than the master himself, William Shakespeare. It was an awesome gift, because I can fill it with coffee and carry it around with me. Now I’m never at a loss for something nasty and Elizabethan to say when I need it.

            One of my favorites is “Thou art a boil, a plague sore.” In my experience, when you say this to someone who is acting ugly, there is never a come-back. Of course, there is a distinct possibility that this is because he has no idea what you just said. He might be “light of brain” with “not so much brain as ear wax.”

            If this bit of Shakespearean wit doesn’t win the battle for you, try these:

“beetle-headed, flap-ear’d knave”
“bolting-hutch of beastliness”
“veriest varlet that ever chewed with a tooth” (you have to love that imagery)
“mountain of mad flesh”
“highly fed and lowly taught”
“infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise-breaker”
“clod of wayward marl”
“foot-licker” (not as vulgar as the modern expression, huh?)
“poisonous bunch-back’d toad”

Surely one of these magnificent insults is bound to be appropriate for your “speechless” moments.  Oh, and don’t forget to follow it up with this zinger as you walk away: “I do desire we may be better strangers.”

            Let’s hear it for William Shakespeare, master of insults as well as iambic pentameter. You rock, sir!

Want a Shakespearean insults mug for yourself? Help out the Unemployed Philosophers Guild and buy one! http://www.philosophersguild.com/Shakespearean-Insults-Mug.html 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Surprise! Pastor Fred Phelps Spreads More "Christian" Hate

            Does it shock anyone that the Westboro Baptist Church has announced its intention to picket Joe Paterno’s funeral on Saturday? Of course not. Fred Phelps and his family, who comprise the main core of the small Kansas church, are best known for picketing the funerals of marines in order to protest gays in the military. These people are so irrationally fearful of homosexuality that they react by torturing the grieving families of fallen servicemen and women. What self-professed Christian does something like that? Obviously, Fred et al are a few gospels short of a full Bible.

            Westboro Baptist intends to drive home its message about the depravity of homosexuality at Joe Paterno’s funeral. I have tried to follow the reasoning, but I’m not really sure there IS any logic here. Perhaps it’s that the recent allegations of child abuse in the football department at Penn State have damaged Paterno’s reputation and left him vulnerable to being “tarred with the same brush” as Sandusky? But that issue isn’t about homosexuality. The sexual abuse of children is an unforgiveable crime; same-sex relationships between consenting adults, on the other hand, are simply a normal and natural way of life for many people. I fail to see what the two have in common.

                        Of course, logic, compassion, and Christian values are woefully lacking at the Westboro Baptist church.  I suspect that the only reason Phelps and his kin decided to protest at Joe Paterno’s funeral is because they expect to get some publicity from their actions. They can spread their message of hate much farther with media coverage than they can without it. Don’t let the haters win. On Saturday, let’s ignore the Westboro Baptist Church protesters and their disgraceful, hurtful message and just focus on saying farewell to Joe Paterno.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Just Say NO to SOPA and PIPA!

"Men fight for freedom, then they begin to accumulate laws to take it away from themselves."  ~Author Unknown

            On January 18th, some of the websites many of us rely on were shut down to protest H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and S.968, Protect IP Act (PIPA). While admittedly artists and writers deserve to be paid for their work, government censorship of the internet is definitely not the answer. Don’t be misled into thinking that only the government can stop online piracy. Google lawyer David Drummond explains:
 “Fighting online piracy is extremely important. We are investing a lot of time and money in that fight. Last year alone we acted on copyright takedown notices for more than 5 million webpages and invested more than $60 million in the fight against ads appearing on bad sites. And we think there is more that can be done here--like targeted and focused steps to cut off the money supply to foreign pirate sites. If you cut off the money flow, you cut the incentive to steal.
Because we think there's a good way forward that doesn't cause collateral damage to the web, we're joining Wikipedia, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Mozilla and other Internet companies in speaking out against SOPA and PIPA.”

I’m an American, so it is my First Amendment right to speak my mind, write about the topic on my internet blog, text my opposition to a friend, e-mail my view to my Congressmen, and shout about the subject from atop a soapbox in front of the White House. These proposed government bills do not specifically detail what internet piracy is or what steps the government will take to stop it. Instead, the bills offer a broad definition of piracy and allow the government too much latitude in enforcing the laws. We don’t need a government that has the ability to restrict the content of the internet for any reason. It’s unnecessary, and it’s censorship, plain and simple.

If we sit silently while our government passes laws that restrict our freedom of speech, will Congress believe that we agree with their actions? Absolutely! Now is the time to exercise your freedom of speech. Make yourself heard. And for heaven’s sake, let’s vote these misguided, power-hungry Congressmen out of office. There must be someone with principles and a bit of intelligence willing to take the job.

"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."  ~James Madison, speech, Virginia Convention, 1788

A great article about the online protest of SOPA and PIPA:

The good news is that Wikipedia is now back online in case you want to read more about your First Amendment rights:

August 2017 update: There's an interesting new site that really digs into the First Amendment rights and what it means for online "free speech." It's definitely worth a read if you're interested in this topic: https://www.comparitech.com/blog/vpn-privacy/the-first-amendment-what-it-means-free-speech-online/

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Late, Too Late, Never

            You can reschedule a dentist appointment if you’re running behind schedule. You can throw away that batch of burned cookies. You can get notes or meeting minutes from someone else if you’re late to class or to the office. You can pay the fee when you forget to send the check to the electric company, although it might involve getting your service turned back on depending on how long the bill was left forgotten along with the McDonald’s wrappers on the back seat of your car. You can be late, but it’s no big deal. Stuff happens.

            Now, you can be “too late” to buy tickets to the Toby Keith concert. You are “too late” to send a baby gift after the child starts kindergarten. You are “too late” to be the designated driver after you’ve ordered your third mojito. “Too late” in these cases means just that – “too late.” It doesn’t mean “never.” Next time, you’ll be standing in line early enough to get those concert tickets, you’ll send that baby a nice high school graduation gift, and your friends will remind you that it’s your turn to be the DD as they hand you a diet coke.

            Sadly, there are occasions when “too late” really is “too late.”  A young man in Thailand put off making wedding plans with his girlfriend of ten years. He wanted to make sure he had a good income and solid prospects for the future before they tied the knot. But the future doesn’t always play out as we wish it would. Last week, the young woman died in a tragic accident, leaving behind her inconsolable boyfriend. The combined wedding and funeral he planned was heartbreaking. He slipped a ring on her cold finger and said those things he desperately wished he had said when she had been alive. Then he buried her. “Too late” meant “Never.”

Monday, January 16, 2012

Are Students Winning the Latest Battle in the Academic Wars?

            Cheating on tests sure has come a long way. Remember when you had to create a “cheat sheet” that you had to smuggle into the classroom and pull out when the teacher was looking the other way? Or how about the time-honored tradition of writing the answers on your arm? Disney’s character Mulan chose this method; unfortunately, her writing got smudged and her answers were just slightly off – and hilarious. Last, but certainly not least, was positioning yourself next to the smart kid so that you could copy her answers. That method also had its drawbacks; if you sat next to the smart kid who didn’t actually study for the test this time, you could end up copying some bizarre answers. For example, correct answers to the question “List 3 things that Leonardo DaVinci is known for” do not include “being a teenage mutant ninja turtle,” “starring in the movie Titanic,” or “being the first man in space.” Duplicate bizarre answers are a red flag to teachers, who will lol at both the answers and the stupidity of copying a ridiculous answer before giving the papers big fat zeros. Teachers know a lot more about what goes on in their classrooms than students give them credit for.

            Modern cheating works better than the old-fashioned kinds. It is basically an upgrade on the cheat sheet and arm-writing tactics. You see, you had to create your own cheat sheet, and if you didn’t understand the information or you forgot what chapters the test was going to cover, your answers could very well be useless. Bummer, huh? Cell phone cheating more or less eliminates this problem. Unless Wikipedia has erroneous information about Leonardo DaVinci – and how often does that really happen? – you are sure to find stuff about the Mona Lisa, helicopters, writing notes in mirror image, and dozens of other things that Leo is famous for. You still have the problem of doing a web search without your teacher noticing, but at least you’re going to get the right answer. Cool, right?

            Not if you’re a teacher. It’s an escalation of the academic warfare that has been going on since the first time a stone age teacher said, “…and there will be a test on making arrowheads on Friday. Make sure you study, please.” Students have added the equivalent of machine guns to the traditional arsenal of low-tech cheating tools. So what is an educator to do?

            A principal in Austria installed a signal-blocking device at his school during final exams. Cell phones were useless while the block was on, thus ensuring that there was no electronic cheating. Unfortunately, blocking cell signal is illegal in Austria (and in the U.S. in case you American teachers were thinking that this is a fabulous idea). We’ll have to think of something else to discourage our students from high-tech cheating during exams. Come on, teachers, think! We can’t lose the war now!


Friday, January 13, 2012

I Want a Pony!!

            When asked by his grandparents for a Christmas list this year, PJ requested a pony and socks. Yeah, he’s adorable. He’s also 25 years old. My mom gave him socks; my sister gave him a My Little Pony action figure. He was thrilled to get everything on his list. I wish I had taken a picture of him combing his pony’s mane with the little pink plastic brush to amuse his 17-year-old brother.  It was hilarious.

            Our homeowners’ association didn’t object to our keeping PJ’s new pony in the house. That’s really good, because I know he would have been heartbroken to have to find it a new home. There’s a woman in England, however, whose neighbors have been objecting for weeks now about the new pony in her house.

            Of course, Stephanie Noble’s pony is a bit larger than PJ’s. It also eats hay, makes messy piles of poop, and knocks over the knickknacks in her dining room, where she has built a make-shift stable. Her neighbors fear that keeping a pony in the house will damage the property, thus causing their own property values to plummet.

            Neighbors have complained to the public health officials that keeping a pony in a residence is “environmentally unsafe.” Public health officials, while certainly not advocating keeping a pony in the dining room, have not found any health reasons to ban the pony from the house. Animal cruelty officials, to no one’s surprise, have found no evidence of abuse; a woman who loves her pony so much she keeps it in her house because she can’t find a nearby stable that will house it is not going to abuse the animal.

            Since there are no laws prohibiting Stephanie Noble’s pony from living in her dining room, the local city council has taken a hands-off approach. As long as Grey Lady Too doesn’t pose a public health threat and Ms. Noble continues to treat the pony with all due love and respect, the pony can stay.

            I love it when individual freedom is respected. And no, PJ, you may not put a live pony in our dining room. Sorry, son.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Impaled on the Horns of a Dilemma

            “I stopped off at Publix on my way home from work today.”

            “I appreciate it,” Chris answered, swallowing his mouthful of chicken smothered in mushroom gravy. “Dinner’s great!”

            “Thanks. Anyway, while I was at Publix I encountered a moral dilemma.”

            “Really? At Publix?”

            “Yes. It’s Wednesday, right?”

            “Has been all day.” He put down his fork and gave me his undivided attention. “What happened?”

            “On Wednesdays senior citizens get a 5% discount.”

            “Oh dear.” Chris tried his hardest to hide a smirk. I knew it was there.

            “I was finished checking out when I realized that the cashier had assumed that I qualified for the discount and simply gave it to me.”

            I narrowed my eyes at him when he started to chuckle.

            “This is no joking matter,” I said sternly. “Aside from the fact that I must look….” I shuddered.

            “Mature?” Chris interjected helpfully.

            I shook my head.

            “Experienced?” he suggested.

            I shook my head again and sobbed. “…old!”

            “Oh honey, you do not look old.” He had nearly thirty years of marriage behind him, and he recognized a cue when he heard one. “You’re just as beautiful as the day I met you.”

            “Um…right. As I was saying, aside from the disturbing fact that I must look elderly enough for the senior discount, I feel like I stole from Publix. I’m only 49 years old. They gave me a discount I didn’t deserve and I didn’t say anything. You see my moral dilemma?”

            “Not really, no.”

            “It wasn’t right for me to take the discount when I wasn’t old enough. I feel like I need to return that $4.16.”

            “I’m sure the cashier thought she was being nice by not asking your age. Lots of women don’t like that. She saved you the embarrassment of having to ask for the senior discount.”

            “I wouldn’t ask for the bloody senior discount because I’m not bloody old enough!”

            Chris nodded and chose the least formidable path. He popped a large bite of chicken into his mouth. “Got it. Then take the money back if you feel so strongly about it,” he mumbled.

            “But then I’d have to explain that the cashier thought I looked old so she automatically gave me the discount and the whole thing would be humiliating.” I’d thought about my dilemma for hours and hadn’t been able to come up with a solution I liked. I guess that’s the problem with moral dilemmas.

            “I don’t know what to do,” I whined miserably.

            “Good luck with that.” Chris swallowed his last bite. “I’m sorry to leave you with the dishes, but I have to…um…go finish up that …uh…paperwork that I didn’t get done before I left the office.” He kissed the top of my head as he passed by me to put his plate in the kitchen sink. “I’ll see you later.”

            “You haven’t been very helpful,” I called to his back.

            He pretended that he didn’t hear me as he jogged down the stairs to his basement office.

            So I sat there alone, contemplating impending old age, senior discounts, right and wrong. I finally reached a decision. What I decided was... to get up and do the dishes. Chicken with mushroom gravy is revolting when it gets cold and congeals. As for my moral dilemma, I decided that I would think about it tomorrow. Putting off until tomorrow is a time-honored Southern tradition that started with Scarlett O’Hara. It’s one of my favorites.

Want to know where the expression "horns of a dilemma" comes from? http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-hor2.htm            

Monday, January 9, 2012

Substitute Teaching and Other Horror Stories

            Boy, does this cartoon bring back memories! Being a substitute teacher definitely ranks up there as one of the most difficult jobs I've ever done. It's harder than being a classroom teacher because, as a sub, you walk into a room full of strange children, you don't know their names, you don't know the routine, AND you know that THEY know that you're at a disadvantage. They've got your number. How you react is what separates the good subs from the bad, the strong from the weak, the quick from the dead, as it were.
            I'm sure we all owe apologies to the substitute teachers that we abused so terribly when we were kids. We're sorry, really. Substitute teachers rock!

Thank you to Joe for sending this cartoon along. It made my day! http://www.thecomicstrips.com/subject/6520/The-Substitute+Teacher-Comic-Strips.php

Want to know more about that weird saying "the quick and the dead"? http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/quick.html

Friday, January 6, 2012

What if...?

            It looks like a luxurious day spa. Women in robes sit in comfortable chairs, reading or listening to music on their iPods.  The atmosphere is hushed. Unfortunately, this is not a spa. This is the office of the best breast care specialists in the metro-Atlanta area.

            It’s my second visit here, so I know what to expect. There will be a very long wait, the painful squeeze of the mammogram, an ultrasound to catch what the mammogram missed, and a meeting with my doctor to discuss the results. I don’t mind the wait; I’ll have a good idea of what that scary lump is when I leave the office. Having to wait for days to get results is traumatizing; immediate, reliable results are one of the reasons these doctors have such a positive reputation.

            There is a certain stress involved with just having to be here. The what-if’s float in the air, bobbing against the ceiling.
  It’s probably not cancer, but what if it is? What will I do then?
  What if the cancer I thought was gone isn’t really gone?
  What if my cancer treatment isn’t working?

Women avoid each others’ eyes as they wait. Ladies like me who would normally chat with others in a waiting room sit silently, pretending to read. The patient in the seat next to me is probably the nicest person I’d ever want to meet, but it doesn’t matter. I have my own problems to deal with, and listening to her sad story is unthinkable. Worse yet is the woman who wants to pray with me; her prayers have the gravity of the Catholic Last Rites, and that’s just not where I need to go right now.

            Life is precious to those of us sitting here. We might not have even realized how precious until now. So we wait and hope that our doctors will be sending us home with good news. Our husbands, children, parents, sisters and friends wait even more anxiously than we do. We want to be OK for them, for us, for all the things we have yet to do. We will be OK. Won’t we?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

So who lets a nerd choose the name of a product anyway?

            Your stereotypical nerd is pictured as an awkward guy wearing glasses, a Star Trek t-shirt, unkempt hair, and too-short pants. You see him fiddling around with the little thingees (yes, that’s the technical term) on computer motherboards, playing video games, and snorting at jokes only other nerds understand. You’d feel sorry for your stereotypical nerd if you didn’t realize that
1.)    he’s making big bucks performing magic voodoo with modern technology
2.)    he’s the one you have to call when your computer is doing funky stuff and you need someone to remind you to plug it in or reboot it
3.)    he made Captain Kirk’s communicator functional, and you carry one in your pocket
4.)    he’s developing new technology that you won’t be able to live without 10 years from now
5.)    he’s pretty cool in his own special way

            Unfortunately, there is one other characteristic of the stereotypical nerd that tends to be true. Many nerds are socially inept. My husband, who is a non-stereotypical nerd, sent me a link to an article at CNET that lists the 20 worst tech product names. One can only assume that the socially-inept variety of nerd chose these names.

           The worst name, by far, is the TrekStor iBeat Blaxx. This product was an MP3 player that drew criticism for being a “racist product.” I doubt that the product itself was racist, but the name was certainly regrettable.
            Although CNET dislikes it, I think that the Tivoli iYiYi is an adorable name for an iPod docking station. Can’t you just hear your mum saying “iYiYi, turn that dreck down already”? Maybe that’s where the nerd who named this product got his inspiration.

            You have to appreciate all the intellect, creativity and hard work that went into making these products. Nerds rock! But was there no one with marketing experience working at these companies? Just saying.

Want to know what the other 18 worst tech product names are? Check out CNET: http://www.cnet.com/2300-33_1-10007438.html?tag=mncol;inside

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Pollyanna New Year

            I have the reputation, deserved or not, of being a glass-is-half-empty kind of person. I really have no idea why. My family, though, calls me “Pollyanna” as a joke, so they must have a reason. I don’t see it, myself.

Pollyanna was the title character in a novel written in 1913 by Eleanor H. Porter. The book was made into an adorable movie in 1960 starring Hayley Mills. In case you’re not familiar with Pollyanna, all you really need to know is that she is so sweet and so optimistic that she has been credited with bringing on diabetic seizures in unsuspecting readers/viewers.

Yeah, that’s not me.

Pessimist or not, I must admit that there is something about ushering in a New Year that makes me feel hopeful.  Perhaps the year just starting won’t suck as badly as last year did. How’s that for optimism? Just call me Pollyanna.

Happy New Year, my friends.
I hope your 2012 is all you hope it will be.