Saturday, January 31, 2009

3 Good Things (wicked cold Saturday edition)

1. High R-value insulated windows.
2. Silk longjohns.
3. Super-efficient radiant heating.

Sadly, I have none of these things. But I do have a Snuggie! I’m just not sure that’s a good thing.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Smart (or as we say in Boston, "Smaht")

I finally got Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? from the library and finished it last night. Coincidentally, I also started it last night. It's that thin. But, man! is it full of good, easily accessible information (the author states in his opening, A Note about Economics, that "No concept was included until it was declared to be clear and easy to understand" by his advisory group of students, business managers, and investors).

The book starts with the amusing poem, Smart, by Shel Silverstein from Where the Sidewalk Ends. The seemingly clueless child who narrates the poem may be onto something here.

Penny Candy gives some interesting lessons in the history of money, its debasement by governments looking to fund public projects, and the use and counterfeiting of fiat money more recently. The book, a revised edition of Precious Metals, Politics and Paper Money: Key to Understanding Inflation and Recession, written in 1978, was last revised by the author, Richard Maybury, in 1993. I'm guessing not even the author had an idea how important understanding the facts presented in his little book would become for all of us.

If you are concerned about, but confused by what is going on with our economy, I recommend this thin book as a primer on your way to becoming "smahtah" about the economic situation today.

And you can thank Beth for the pointer, too.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

3 Good Things (olfactory edition)

1. Babies’ heads.
2. A lover’s skin.*
3. Bacon cooking.

*I just finished Twilight. ‘Nuff said.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Al Gore: The World Domination Tour

Al Gore is at it again. Only this time, the choir he’s preaching to is more inclined to help make his maniacal dreams a reality.

We are here today to talk about how we as Americans and how the United States of America as part of the global community should address the dangerous and growing threat of the climate crisis. We have arrived at a moment of decision. Our home – Earth – is in grave danger. What is at risk of being destroyed is not the planet itself, of course, but the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings.

That sure does sound bad, huh?

- the United States will regain its credibility and enter the Copenhagen treaty talks with a renewed authority to lead the world in shaping a fair and effective treaty.

A fair, effective and balanced treaty will put in place the global architecture that will place the world –- at long last and in the nick of time – on a path toward solving the climate crisis and securing the future of human civilization.

What Gore believes is necessary for success in Copenhagen:
• Strong targets and timetables from industrialized countries and differentiated but binding commitments from developing countries that put the entire world under a system with one commitment: to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants that cause the climate crisis;

Sounds like the establishment of a Gore Global Central Planning Office.

• The inclusion of deforestation, which alone accounts for twenty percent of the emissions that cause global warming;

Sounds like illegal taking of private property.

• The addition of sinks including those from soils, principally from farmlands and grazing lands with appropriate methodologies and accounting. Farmers and ranchers in the U.S. and around the world need to know that they can be part of the solution;

And more illegal taking of private property.

• The assurance that developing countries will have access to mechanisms and resources that will help them adapt to the worst impacts of the climate crisis
and technologies to solve the problem; and,
By what means shall developing countries gain access to mechanisms and resources? By being entitled to take them from the people who have developed them? Sounds like removing motivation for the best and the brightest to develop new technologies.

• A strong compliance and verification regime.

Sounds a lot like the establishment of a global police force.

We don’t have to worry about global warming, folks. The blatant disregard for individual rights and establishment of a world-wide man-hating tyranny represented by these five items alone will make the planet uninhabitable for human beings.

I hope Congress has more sense than to take his half-baked plan for world domination seriously.

Update: For some insight as to why this crazy train tour hasn't been derailed yet, read this.

Snow Dog.

Here is our dog, Izzy, enjoying the great outdoors today.

As you can plainly see, she loves the snow.

This is a little game I like to call: Find the Pug.

Oh, she’s in there. You just need to find the one spot in the yard where there is no snow.

She will stand on any surface that is not covered by snow. She's not proud.

After a solid three and a half minutes of play,

here she is, reticent to go back in.

A Pug is hardly a dog at all, but more of an adventure in “what the hell was that noise” for its humans.

Speaking of show dogs (well I was thinking of them), the Westminster Kennel Club AKC Dog Show is coming up! I haven’t been this excited since the return of season 4 of Bones!

And don’t worry if you can’t take in the show both nights. I’ll be sure to update you.

I just love those crazy dogs!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Whose kid is it, anyway?

While I have been railing against the a burgeoning paternal government with each new policy and regulation designed for our own good, I recently got a shocking reminder of just how parental it had already become.

In discussing vacation plans with a friend, she said that she couldn’t take her daughter out of school for vacation next year (5th grade) because the school wouldn’t allow it. What? Where do you live, I asked incredulously knowing full well where (in my own state), but trying to make a point.

Apparently the school makes life very difficult for your child should you not choose that attendance at school, each and every day it is open, is in the best-interest of your child.

From her school district:


The AnyTown School Committee and the Anytown Public Schools believe in the importance of regular attendance by all students. Students are expected to attend school 181 days since vacation periods are built into the yearlong school calendar.

Except in cases of illness and extenuating circumstances, students are expected to be present when school is in session. Parents are strongly urged not to schedule family vacations during school days and not to extend the scheduled vacation periods.

Should a parent choose to keep a student out of school for reasons other than illness or extenuating family circumstances, teachers will provide the normal range of assistance upon the student's return to school. However, it is the student's responsibility for identifying and making up missed work.

Teachers are not required to provide advance assignments to students, and the school and the individual teacher(s) are not required to assume responsibility for providing individual tutoring or extensive individual help for the student when he/she returns.

Adopted by the AnyTown School Committee, 2007

I certainly don’t have a problem with what this policy says about making up missed work, but clearly there is a threatening tone issued to any parent who decides that something other than blind attendance at school would be in her child’s best interest.

This state, in its wisdom, has decided that a minimum of 180 days and 900 hours (for elementary) and 990 hours (for secondary) of instruction is what is in the best-interest of your child.
And I do mean period.

603 CMR 27.00: Student Learning Time

27.01: Authority, Scope and Purpose
27.02: Definitions
27.03: School Year Requirements
27.04: Structured Learning Time Requirements
27.05: Early Release of High School Seniors
27.06: Waivers
27.07: Implementation

27.01: Authority, Scope and Purpose
(2) The purpose of 603 CMR 27.00 is to ensure that every public school in the Commonwealth provides its students with the structured learning time needed to enable the students to achieve competency in "core subjects" and "other subjects" as defined in 603 CMR 27.02. [emphasis added]

I appreciate the utility of both structure and time in my homeschooling practices, but neither guarantees competency. What is so ludicrous is that there is NO WAY IN HELL the kids are “learning” that many hours. It’s a bunch of arbitrary nonsense!

27.04: Structured Learning Time Requirements
(1) No later than the 1997 - 1998 school year, schools shall ensure that every elementary school student is scheduled to receive a minimum of 900 hours per school year of structured learning time, as defined in 603 CMR 27.02. Time which a student spends at school breakfast and lunch, passing between classes, in homeroom, at recess, in non-directed study periods, receiving school services, and participating in optional school programs shall not count toward meeting the minimum structured learning time requirement for that student.
(2) No later than the 1997 - 1998 school year, all schools shall ensure that every secondary school student is scheduled to receive a minimum of 990 hours per school year of structured learning time, as defined in 603 CMR 27.02. Time which a student spends at school breakfast and lunch, passing between classes, in homeroom, at recess, in non-directed study periods, receiving school services, and participating in optional school programs shall not count toward meeting the minimum structured learning time requirement for that student. [emphasis added]

Has anyone been in a school lately? Without time passing between classes, school services and optional school programs, they’d basically have math class for an hour a day. The rest of the classes are full of enrichment activities, assemblies, free periods, nurses visits, computer room time, etc. That’s it - just math would remain. Besides, doesn’t the non-directed study provision conflict with the definition of structured learning time?

27.02: Definitions
Structured learning time shall mean time during which students are engaged in regularly scheduled instruction, learning activities, or learning assessments within the curriculum for study of the "core subjects" and "other subjects." In addition to classroom time where both teachers and students are present, structured learning time may include directed study, independent study, technology-assisted learning, presentations by persons other than teachers, school-to-work programs, and statewide student performance assessments.
[emphasis added]

What’s worse, the schools (perhaps only on a local level - I'd need to research more) have legal authority to withhold credit (fail class, stay back) if the child has been out for more than the seven excused absences in a semester. Note from a parent? Not an excusable absence!

From the same local district:

Excused and Unexcused Absences

Examples of excused absences are absences for illness of the student (a doctor’s certificate is required for an absence of 5 days or more), a medical appointment (a doctor or dentist certificate should be provided for appointments scheduled during the school day), death in the student’s family, observance of a religious holiday, court appointments, college visits, or school sanctioned absences.

An unexcused absence occurs when school-aged children are absent from school, with or without parental approval, for any other reasons, (such as family vacation, doing errands, cutting classes, etc.)
[emphasis in original]

So how can a large institution better meet the actual, individual educational needs of each child? Allowing the parents to take responsibility for their own children might help.

Each time I sign my daughter out of her “independent study” last class of the day, I leave the “Reason ” in the sign-out sheet blank. It feels good. Perhaps I need to do more.

This Day in History

In 1756, Mozart was born in Salzburg.
In 1888, the National Geographic Society was formed
In 1988, Andrew was born (those other two were just carriers).

Monday, January 26, 2009

3 Good Things (animal print edition)

[For instructions on how to make your own zebra print binder, go here.]

1. Zebra on the inside of my otherwise conservative eyeglasses makes me feel secretively saucy.

2. Outerwear accessories in leopard add a little zip to my step even on the grayest of winter days. (Did you know that collecting them is hereditary?)

3. A vinyl giraffe purse from the streets of NYC may scream, “That’s enough tacky now, lady!” to the rest of the world, but to me, it just purrs (or whatever quiet noise self-satisfied giraffes make).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why is cheese delicious on Italian food?

Good stuff. Or bad stuff. Depends on your outlook.

Crossing the Midline

Another free video from the wonderful Robert Krampf, science guy.

In this video, Mr. Krampf shows us a simple activity designed to show how the halves of your brain work (or don’t) when you cross the imaginary midline of your body. It’s harder than it looks!

Take a look at the original Laurel and Hardy Kneesy, Earsy, Nosey clip on you tube.

And while you’re watching classic old movie clips, watch Who’s on First, just for fun.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

It could be worse.

Recently, I changed my last name from a very common English one to a less common one of French heritage. Everyone knew how to spell and pronounce the English one; I just said it and - boom - it was recorded correctly. No fuss, no muss.

This is not true with the French name which has been Anglicized three different ways. I must constantly go through the spelling of it, usually several times per conversation whenever I have to give my name over the phone. I try to point to cultural references (on the off chance that the operator is Canadian, that is) that might ease the spelling situation and shorten my time on the phone. Frankly, going into a fair amount of explanation with the sales associates has become a bit of a burden.

At least I thought it was a burden, until I found this article which kind of puts things in perspective for me.

Friday, January 23, 2009

3 Good Things (clothing design edition)

1. I own three sewing machines.
2. I can follow directions (mostly I choose not to, but I can).
3. Today, I found a Betty Draper-like dress pattern!

Go me!

Now if I could only find the right fabric….and then if I only had the right place to wear it.


Mere details.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Going Green Tips #2 and #3

#2 Nag your parents.

From Meet the Greens, “WGBH's online series The Greens gives kids a fun primer on sustainability and green living”, we discover ways to convince doubting parents of the righteousness of going green.

#3 Scare your kids.

Here is what the Green dudes report as “pretty cool” numbers; they might as well call them Numbers of Shame and stop beating around the bush – that can’t be good for the bush, which is probably green. Not as scary as Professor Schpinkee’s Greenhouse Calculator (because no one gets to be as fat as a hog and blow up!), The Greens Carbon Calculator presents leading questions designed to make the respondent feel guilty about, if not despise his standard of living.

I guess these guys didn’t get the “hope over fear” message yet.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Are You Shovel-Ready?

I thought this article (via AWAD) regarding the origin of the term “shovel-ready” into the political lexicon was fun and informative.

First, what does it mean? Executives at the company, then called Niagara-Mohawk Power, figured entrepreneurs would be more likely to develop the brownfields if they knew in advance that the sites already had electrical service and gas and sewer lines, as well as preliminary environmental permits. But they needed a catchy way of saying that.

Now that we know what it means and how it’s used, we should be aware and ready to take advantage of our own shovel-ready opportunities. Once he establishes a solid infrastructure, each American, as protected by the First Amendment, has always had, and still retains, all the permission necessary to begin developing a better future no matter how polluted the site may seem.

Too metaphorical?

Combat bad ideas entrenched in our country with principled arguments.

Well, that’s what I get out of it, anyway.

I’ve got to go inspect my power lines now.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Icing Capades

This is too wonderfully creative not to share. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

(via Cake Wrecks - a hilarious blog about all things cakey.)

Update: I just found out that this is from a 1993 video called Opera Imaginaire in which twelve arias are animated. This one is done by Guionne Leroy and there is even one on the Lakme aria I posted about a few days ago.

3 Good Things (emergency edition)

For anyone who was as taken aback by the sheer volume of religious rhetoric in the inaugural address of Barack Obama, I share with you my emergency list of three good things:

1. The government moves slowly.
2. The First Amendment still holds.
3. Reality always prevails.

Say it again if it helps.

3 Good Things (new beginnings edition)

1. Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson;
2. Raising chickens in the backyard;
3. Washing machines (more of a necessary re-acquaintance than a new beginning).

Monday, January 19, 2009

All "eography"s sound alike

Insofar as two girls can reenact it, this is what you get at my house when you remind a child to do her GEOGRAPHY.

(Is Vera Ellen really making that tap noise with her one foot? It boggles the mind.)

3 Good Things (house edition)

Except for the knotty pine room (gag), I think this little…okay, I’ll use the word, postmodern home in Cambridge is very cool. I think I’ve seen it in DWELL magazine (personal favorite), in The Boston Globe, and somewhere else probably – but now it’s for sale. If I remember correctly, the owner/architects built their own house right behind it. Anyway, I really like the use of the translucent material for the wall, and old corrugated steel for the roof and siding. There is no way I could live that Spartan, but I do appreciate its design features.

And here is one of my favorite local renovations. It started as a ranch with a walk-out basement, and became so much more. I love the series of photographs, particularly the before/after roll-overs. The residential use of commercial materials is always a plus, but the pièce de résistance is the courtyard. I love, love, love the idea of having an enclosed (or semi-enclosed) bit of outside, inside! It’s also funky to be able to see out of and then back into your own home in the same glance. I'm going to have to incorporate that into my house somehow, at some point, someday.

Finally, and only because I like you, I give you the Guest House at Field Farm. I found this little gem while researching local Bauhaus architecture and surprised my husband with a little trip there for his birthday several years back. We've been back every year because it is just so fabulous. It's remote (surrounded by over 300 acres of woods), filled with original and reproduction Bauhaus furniture, has sumptuous linens, incomparable views (except for you folks with real mountain views - we are in Massachusetts here), a sculpture garden, walking trails, interesting artwork, cork floors (yes, we were inspired by this to put cork floors in our own addition), and it makes me take a deep restful breath just thinking about being there.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cult of Snuggie!

Seriously, I just saw this commercial on TV and thought it was so goofy that I needed to find it on You Tube. Well, not only did I find it, but I found that I was not alone in my assessment of the advertising efforts.

My question: why is the Mom nice and warm and the baby subject to the elements?

My advice: if you see these folks at a sporting event - don't walk - run!

But can you dance to it?

Currently, there is a discussion on the Harry Binswanger List about music appreciation. Stephen (aka Mr. Music) and I have often discussed the relative importance of music in our lives as well. It has sparked some interesting conversations at home, and a discovery that my approach to music is much like my approach to the rest of life which can be summed up in one word: impatience.

Lyrics are generally immediately accessible. I want to know what the song is trying to say and then I’ll decide if I like it. “What lyrics?” Stephen often asks as if his ears don’t even pick them up.

The melody also has to be interesting. Not necessarily beautiful or wrenching, but something that piques my interest. This is not the same as challenging, because even though a challenge can sustain my interest, I don’t usually sit and study the music I’m listening to. It is usually incidental to whatever else I’m doing.

Oddly, I can’t stand when the music is designed to be incidental, as in large pieces written for ballets, because it sounds, well, like incidental music – a holding pattern, a mere conveyance until the next big melodic section. I like to be smacked with the melody.

There are music geeks aficionados who become absolutely enraptured by the complicated patterns, rolling melodies which fold back on themselves with only slight variations in tempo, tone, and meaning, and the ebb and flow of dynamics. Then there are the climax junkies who thrive on the bombast.

My immature music appreciation notwithstanding, I have discovered some lovely melodies from some unlikely sources. The following is a partial list of music I have heard on TV or in movies that I loved so much that I tracked them down only to find that they were, in fact, from classical compositions.

Eric Carmen’s haunting melody from “All By Myself”, was just lifted from Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.2 (and he caught hell for it, too). Actually, it was when I heard the classical piece years later that I remembered the hit from the 70s.

A little pop music, Jem’s “They” really struck my fancy, so I was delighted to discover the same melody while listening to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, specifically, his Prelude in F minor.

Two commercials have prompted me to seek their musical sources. First, the British Airways theme song from years ago used the Flower Drum Duet, from the Lakme Opera by Leo Delibes directly as do the Barilla pasta commercial use Andrea Bocelli singing beautiful operatic pieces.

But my favorite introduction to a piece of classical music has to be when the farmer sings a lovely little song to an ailing pig, in Babe. I was so impressed with “If I Had Words” that I made Stephen watch that part of the movie to listen to it. He laughed (I’d like to think in joyful recognition of the piece rather than at me) and told me that it was from Camille Saint-Saens’ Third Symphony (the Organ Symphony). The symphony beautifully weds the complexity appreciated by classical music lovers and the needs of the impatient climax junkies with a precious melodic background. What fitting music, therefore, to wed us.

Here is a better sounding excerpt of the same piece. Warning, its artificial end point at the one minute mark might leave you feeling quite unsatisfied, so you'd best go out and buy the whole thing for your collection. And don't micro-manage the volume, either; just be patient and let the deeply melodic and dynamic sounds wash over you. (I can learn, I'm just resistant to being taught.)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Porphyria's Lover

by Robert Browning (1812–1889)

THE rain set early in to-night,

The sullen wind was soon awake,

It tore the elm-tops down for spite,

And did its worst to vex the lake:

I listen'd with heart fit to break.

When glided in Porphyria; straight

She shut the cold out and the storm,

And kneel'd and made the cheerless grate

Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;

Which done, she rose, and from her form

Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,

And laid her soil'd gloves by, untied

Her hat and let the damp hair fall,

And, last, she sat down by my side

And call'd me. When no voice replied,

She put my arm about her waist,

And made her smooth white shoulder bare,

And all her yellow hair displaced,

And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,

And spread, o'er all, her yellow hair,

Murmuring how she loved me—she

Too weak, for all her heart's endeavour,

To set its struggling passion free

From pride, and vainer ties dissever,

And give herself to me for ever.

But passion sometimes would prevail,

Nor could to-night's gay feast restrain

A sudden thought of one so pale

For love of her, and all in vain:

So, she was come through wind and rain.

Be sure I look'd up at her eyes

Happy and proud; at last I knew

Porphyria worshipp'd me; surprise

Made my heart swell, and still it grew

While I debated what to do.

That moment she was mine, mine, fair,

Perfectly pure and good: I found

A thing to do, and all her hair

In one long yellow string I wound

Three times her little throat around,

And strangled her. No pain felt she;

I am quite sure she felt no pain.

As a shut bud that holds a bee,

I warily oped her lids: again

Laugh'd the blue eyes without a stain.

And I untighten'd next the tress

About her neck; her cheek once more

Blush'd bright beneath my burning kiss:

I propp'd her head up as before,

Only, this time my shoulder bore

Her head, which droops upon it still:

The smiling rosy little head,

So glad it has its utmost will,

That all it scorn'd at once is fled,

And I, its love, am gain'd instead!

Porphyria's love: she guess'd not how

Her darling one wish would be heard.

And thus we sit together now,

And all night long we have not stirr'd,

And yet God has not said a word!

I thought this poem was fascinating. What is Browning trying to say?

Parts of the poem read like a pamphlet on How to Deal with Victorian Hussies. It's interesting to note that porphyria is an enzymatic disease whose symptoms may have contributed to the rise of vampire legends; something, it seems, Browning knew. He seduces the reader, then makes him follow the inevitable blame, denial, and eventual defeat of the succubus. But in all his heroic posturing, he gradually leads us to the final question of the poem: which is the more demonic?

3 Good Things

1. “Fa-yeh” 2% Greek yogurt. Sure, it’s spelled FAGE, but that reminds me of a bacteriophage and that just clouds my enjoyment of its creamy deliciousness.

2. “You’re like my conscience, only better - I can see you.” My fifteen year-old describing one of our afterschool conversations.

3. Ramalama (Bang Bang) by Róisín Murphy (made popular in a “So You Think You Can Dance” routine I’ve been told. You can listen to 30 seconds on iTunes, but I have no idea how to link to it).

Friday, January 16, 2009

Wait Listed

While I'm waiting for my boiler to heat up and push out enough hot water in order to keep up with the call of the thermostat (a 12 degree difference!), and waiting for the library to email me to let me know that my book, a Whatever Happened to Penny Candy, is in through the inter-library loan system, I've been inspired by all the list making going on around me lately.

First: Cool beans.

Real Simple, January 2009 issue, "The List Issue" gives us some cool lists, like 78 chairs under $100. Let me say, don't go looking for the plastic Eiffel chair (shown on left and on the cover page of the story) at Overstock for $90. I wasn't too surprised that this iconic Eames reproduction wasn't there; however, I was pleasantly surprised to find in a pair for $165 on the net. But before you jump on the deal, think about this: is the tres cool design worth the inordinate increase in static electricity shocks? For me, yes. For my youngest, no way.

Also from Real Simple, according to the list 3 things that the happiest women do (1. They cancel appointments to get more time alone. 2. They don't always answer the phone. 3. They know how to say no.) it's no wonder why I'm so damn happy.

Secondly: Good for me.

I might give the listing exercise Three Good Things another try. Amy at The Little Things has been posting for hers a while, Rational Jenn has recently jumped in on it, and I started this exercise last year based on a recommendation on Jean Moroney's Thinking Directions. After a brief time, I gave it up as I was already quite happy. But the thing is, I had forgotten the point of the exercise. Making lists of small things that are good help you to identify what is consistently important to you and possibly where and how to focus your attention. I don't know about you, but I can always use help focusing my attention. Oh look, a chicken!

Finally: Need to know.

In exploring the economic crisis, Beth at Wealth is not the Problem has been really inspirational to me. When discussions about the economic crisis pop up, and where don't they these days, I feel immediately stymied by the lack of depth of my economic knowledge. But I am determined to learn more. In addition to some great posts, Beth has listed a lot of great resources for the new year. As learning is hierarchical, I'm starting with the basics. I think I can handle it.

And if you're looking for a brief readable history of the road to individualism, I recommend the series of posts in Sylvia Bokor Comments.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

“I’ve got you on camera. I’m watching you, boy.”

I had to link to (rather than embed) this video today. Apparently it was taken somewhere in Great Britain on the 3rd of January. What’s interesting about it is that the camera is trained on the police, not the crowd. The police are actively running away from the protestors whom we can guess, outnumber the police.

In addition to the unusual imagery of the retreating police, we see various objects (sticks, perhaps from the protestors placards, and traffic cones) being thrown at and hitting the police as they retreat, and some type of escorts or handlers (signified as such by their orange vests) asking the protestors not to become too violent. The most unsettling thing about the video, however, is the audio.

The protestors shouting, “Free, free Palestine” the apparent subject of their protest, are also taunting the police saying “Run you cowards”, and “Run you swine”. But the most chilling and revealing sound can be heard after the warning issued by the protestor with the camera (at 9:23). He and some cohorts laugh arrogantly after threatening the police with the fact that he has their actions on videotape. That scorn is the sickening sound of Western civilization being strangled by multicultural relativism.

(via HBL member post)

Stay Warm

According to our "Classroom Thermometer" it’s -11° outside this morning!

Okay, I reported it in degrees Celcius for effect, but it is 12°F. That’s cold.

While I seriously doubt the claim of the title of the article, "How to Stay Warm While Still in Fashion", I have to report that I am a recent fan of the blanket robe (I refuse to call it by its brand name). It's really, really cozy, if not conducive to traveling on the staircase or tap dancing (unless you want to reenact Happy Feet).

Today, this could be me - if my home decor were from Rent-A-Center (rather than IKEA), my hair dirty blond (rather than dirty black - more a state than a color, really), and my Dell silver and larger (rather than floppy-lidded and blue), that is! Basically, this is the snuggie I got for Christmas from my mother. And except for the name, I'm not ashamed to say I love it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Stomp, Chug, Tap, Heel, Flap, Shuffle, Ball Change.

That's really all there is to it says this tap dancing guy.

Well, why didn't you say so?

If you can do this, you're already way more advanced than I am.

But I'm working on it in my new dance studio - so watch out!

It's All About Mii

I’d like you to meet my video game avatar Wii Fit family: The Mom (that’s me in all my constant sunglass wearing glory in the middle), and the rest of the crew.

What’s interesting about this little display (other than the disruptive moiré pattern) is how much my husband (right) and my son (2nd from left) look remarkably like their Wii folks (okay – it’s more accurate to say that their Mii’s look like them). Is that a figure of merit? To be able to be well represented by a limited amount of changeable cartoon characteristics?

When one is playing Wii, it certainly is – especially for your opponents. (Or, in general, if it makes you look cooler than you really look.)

While making her world of Mii friends, the youngest did not forget her littlest, hairiest friend...
Izzy the Pug-Mii.

And yes. People really do chuck their Wii-motes in all the excitement. Ask my mother (fortunately, there was no damage to the remote or the metal DDR pad into which it flew)!

Update: Check out this Pug-Mii construction!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Forms of Government

Maybe it's because my 10 year-old is now studying some forms of government as they existed in Ancient Greece. Or maybe it's because I'm tired of explaining to people that we don't actually have a democracy. In both cases, I found watching this video to be ten and a half well-spent minutes.

(via Wealth is not the Problem)


No, this isn’t about the military dirge, I hope.

To the uninitiated, this may look like an ordinary pair of black slip-ons with some shiny metal soles. To me it looks like a great big dancing adventure!

Tonight, I begin tap dancing lessons. It’s only an 8-class session, to start, but I think it will be fun. Yes, as Danny Kaye says, the best things happen while you’re dancing. And if you can make clickety-clack noises while doing it, so much the better (I added that second part myself).

Being completely enthralled when I watch all the old tap dance routines, I have noticed and noted that it seems impossible to be anything less than totally happy when tap dancing. Unfortunately, I think I began to endow my shoes with magical happy properties, for when I placed them on my feet, I began to – well, not exactly dance, more like – flail around.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on myself as the last time I tapped with regularity, I was five. Still, I thought it would all come back to me. Let me tell you, it’s not like riding a bike. However, even with the minor set-back of not having magical shoes, I think I’ll have a good time, as it has been my habit, if not my nature, to be happy when I’m dancing.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Medea Hypothesis

In yesterday’s The Boston Globe, writer Drake Bennett discusses the theory of paleontologist Peter Ward’s latest book: The Medea Hypothesis. The author posits the Medea hypothesis as the antithesis of the Gaia hypothesis (man as unnatural blight on the “hospitality” of Mother Earth) under which the last 30 years of environmentalism has flourished. That is to say, nature itself, is an anathema to life.

I found the article quite interesting.

“Ward is open to the criticism that he’s taken things too far; what’s important, he believes, is weaning people for the idea that the earth works better without us. Even if Medea is an incomplete framework for viewing the natural world, it introduces a hardheadedness into environmental debates often driven by an unexamined idealism about Mother Nature.”
So far, I’m with the guy. But in the very next sentence, the article reveals a startling leap:

“Ward himself believes that the only help for the planet over the long run is management by human beings – whether that means actively adjusting the chemical composition of the atmosphere or using giant satellites to modify the amount of sunlight that reach us. As Ward sees it, the planet doesn’t need our help destroying itself. It will do that automatically. It needs us to save it.” [emphasis added]
And later:

“Faced with a planet where life is almost guaranteed to wipe itself out – and take us with it – he is urging us to be active, and occasionally intrusive, guardians.”
I’m completely in the camp that technological solutions are essential to solving problems which arise from by-products of civilization – localized problems. But other than suggesting that the nature tends toward the destruction of life, rather than providing its sustenance, Ward is pedaling the same one-size-fits-all crud as the Gaians: global environmental policy is the only way to sustain life on earth.

While I welcome the questioning of the wisdom of Gaia, I do not support the globalization of the care and keeping of the Earth. I suppose then, I agree with “others” reported in the article who describe the Medea hypothesis “as simply Gaia’s dark twin, a model undermined by the same inclination to see one tendency as the whole story”.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Children as Mirrors

A recent exchange between my oldest and youngest children.

1: Well, that man was helpful.
3: Really?
1: Yeah, why?
3: Because when Mum* says that, she's being sarcastic.


Sarcasm: it's just not a good teaching tool.

* 3 is quite the Anglophile and has begun to refer to me (both in writing and speech) as Mum. I fully expect her to don her wellies and go play in the garden before I have to call her in for tea.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Next Summer Olympics?

If you enjoy dressage competitions, you might be interested in this short show.

If you've ever given thought to why certain animals are better for domestication, you might be fascinated by this display.

If you just like to watch fun animal videos from YouTube, you should definitely watch this tidbit.

But can he do unsupported transit?

(via NoodleFood)

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Bane of My Existence

As all mothers know, socks are the bane of one’s household existence. Not the wearing of the items, which I highly recommend, at all times even, in our house especially, but rather the effort required to get them through the wear-wash-return cycle as a pair.

In addition to the ubiquitous unsolved mystery of sock-eating dryers, in our house, we have a big industrial-sized bucket of dirty clothes into which mostly everything thrown down the laundry chute from the second floor drops. The problem is that only selective small items can be retrieved from the bucket. Some socks seem to commit sock-icide by flinging themselves out of the bucket and landing in no man’s land (on the filthy, uneven concrete of the basement floor behind the industrial-sized bucket). Even if I am lucky enough to get the socks into the wash as pairs, the transfer between laundering machines is fraught with the potential peril of single sock-loss. Then there is the sorting.

Years ago I had adopted the “white socks policy” (no nod to Chicago). This means that everyone wore white socks and that each person had brand name that he or she wore to lessen the burden of sorting. My success was limited in that there were still stragglers from pre-policy days. There are some even now. But, like Agent Booth, I have a penchant for wearing colorful socks (not to mention white socks are boring for little girls), so the colors and wild designs crept back into the sock stream.

In taking stock of things I own, I have discovered, or uncovered, 43 unmatched socks in the “unmatched and waiting” section of my sock drawer. Just mine. At least thirteen of which are all black – but unmatching! And I have, this very morning, had an epiphany of sorts: throw the damn things out!!!

Why hadn’t I thought of this before? It is my Yankee (again, no nod) upbringing which drives me to save everything I have ever owned thinking “Someday, I might need this single burled brown cotton-poly blend foot covering in an emergency”? And, “There’s nothing wrong with it.” (It should be noted here that I have no problem throwing out socks with holes. Darning is not among my skills set.) It’s not as if I don’t have other socks. Maybe reducing the supply will help control the problem.

I’m quite sure no charity wants my widowed socks (maybe some rogue puppet company), and because they don’t really match (most importantly in height, texture, and pressure), it’s unlikely that I’ll ever wear them as pairs. But deciding to rid my closet and my home, and yes, I don’t think it’s too dramatic to say, even my life of my unmatched socks is really quite a moment for me.

I feel free, I tell you. Free from the holding pattern of “lost and looking” sock maintenance!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

An Epidemic

Today's The Boston Globe carried the following headline: State readies campaign to curb obesity epidemic. The first three lines are priceless.
Major restaurant chains in Massachusetts would be required to prominently post the calorie counts for all their offerings - at the counter or on the menu - under a far-reaching anti-obesity campaign that Governor Deval Patrick's administration is expected to announce today.

The administration's battle against bulging waistlines also calls for public schools to measure the height and weight of first-, fourth-, seventh-, and 10th-graders and calculate whether a child is overweight. The finding would be sent home with students along with detailed advice on eating better and exercising more, with the goal of reducing the incidence of health conditions once almost unheard of in the young, including type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol.

But, alas, the fatuous program is not.

In addition to the horror that is administrative costs of any new government program, the question of invasion of privacy, and the obvious beyond scope of the government questions, I'm left wondering. Why does anyone think this will help?

When I think "epidemic", I think of a disease spreading rapidly and extensively by infection and affecting many individuals in an area or a population at the same time*, but not obesity. Isn't that a medical term for too much fat for your own good? It's not a disease. It's not contagious. It's not even necessarily unhealthy! I'm certain there are many obese people who are healthier than I am, in fact. But I digress.

As I sometimes like to do when I am presented with a rather asinine proposal, I will substitute an analogous subject matter. Another non-disease, non-contagious, but perhaps not-for-your-own-good body manifestation in place of the original to better judge the insanity.

Tomorrow, we may read that our state government, in its infinite wisdom and capacity to control our lives for our own betterment, is readying its campaign to curb body piercings.

*Okay. I got it from the American Heritage Dictionary.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Going Green Tip #1

When lunching with friends and business clients alike, remember to show your environmental sensitivity. If you don't have the luxury of cloth napkins, save some paper by wiping your hands on your pants and your face on your sleeve!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Unsupported Transit

What do the murder of a wife’s lover, Philip Glass, and The Matrix have in common? Eadweard Muybridge.

Mr. Muybridge (1830 – 1904) is an interesting man who made great strides in stop-action photography and the study of animal locomotion in the late 19th century. He was a commercial photographer who is credited with providing proof for a bet made by Leland Stanford, then Governor of California and race horse owner, that during a gallop, horses actually have all four feet off of the ground at one point. In order to get this photographic evidence, Muybridge eventually developed the multiple-camera technique which predated celluloid filmstrips, but is actually still used in multiple angle shots used to slow down the action (a process now called “bullet time” – think The Matrix).

Perhaps you’ve seen this famous series of photographs and the proof they provide for “unsupported transit”. Perhaps you were lucky enough to have a zoetrope top when you were little. Or perhaps, in researching optical toys for your exploration in optics class, you came across the praxinoscope and delighted in the simple magic of it. I am very lucky indeed, for I have experienced all three and find Mr. Muybridge a fascinating character!

Back to the original question: it appears that Mr. Muybridge, in addition to reinventing himself and refining some photographic techniques, had a rocky life in which he killed his wife’s lover, but was acquitted by reason of “justifiable homicide”! This makes the fact that they tried to plead not guilty by reason of insanity only the second most outrageous part of the trial. This whole episode is the basis for composer Phillip Glass’ opera, The Photographer.

Finally, as Mr. Muybridge considered himself primarily a photographer and not a scientist, it seems that he had no compunction about doctoring his less-than-clear photos for gain in his study of animal motion. A detailed chronology of his life can be found here.

While he was a photographic pioneer, who is sometimes referred to as the Father of Motion Pictures, Eadweard Muybridge never became a household name.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Three Books

I am currently reading the following three books: Mercy, by Jodi Picoult, The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, and The One Hundred, by Nina Garcia.

While I have often heard of Jodi Picoult (pee-KOE), possibly because she has, like, a gazillion best sellers, I have never read anything by her. After finishing this book moments ago (so - I was currently reading it this morning), I can say with some certainty, that I will not read anything else by her in the future. I don’t read a lot of best sellers so I don’t really know, but I suspect the sex scenes make sense, the character motivation is discernible, and there is someone you might like to see again in another novel at some point in most of them! Don’t look for that in Mercy.

I read it for our neighborhood book club and as always, I’m glad I took the time to read it because it makes me have to define what I didn’t like about it. Mostly, I’m excited to discuss this question: Who is the most selfish character? The most selfless? You can be sure my answers will be chewed up, if not upon.

Regarding the second book, The Alchemist, I am finding some of it interesting, and some of it just plain crazy-ass. It's a very quick read, but I am stalled due to the aforementioned insanity. I am reading it because Will Smith (warning: lots of primacy of consciousness here, but the last line is good) really likes it and I really like Will Smith (he does go on to say that his Grandmother taught him about alchemy when she said, “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade”, and I have no problems with that kind of alchemy). There is an interesting interview with Mr. Coelho on the BBC World Book Club which in part discusses what I’ve found the most interesting sub-story thus far: his metaphorical sheep which simply follow him, the shepherd, because he provides them with their basic needs.

“If I became a monster today, and decided to kill them, one by one, they would become aware only after most of the flock had been slaughtered, thought the boy. They trust me, and they’ve forgotten how to rely on their own instincts, because I lead them to nourishment.”

The book explores the connections between one’s choices, will-power, and destiny, but does so in a venue full of mysticism and magic. Basically, it’s a mixed bag, but probably worth the read.

Finally, The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own, which I continue to refer to as The 100 Dresses confusing my daughters no end, is just slightly more than fashion brain candy. In addition to the list of 100 things every stylish woman must own, it also has fabulous fashion cartoons, a lavish layout with no shortage of white space, fun facts, and Nina’s favorites, as well as some pretty fascinating fashion history. Of the list, you'll never guess #40. All right, then, I'll tell you: the investment bag.

Happy New Year, gentle readers.