Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Banned Books Week 09

Welcome to banned books week! It seems incredible to many of us that there would still be people trying to ban books in the year 2009, but it actually happens all the time. In the past seven years, more than 3700 book challenges were reported to the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom. It is believed that this represents a small portion of those books actually challenged since not all institutions report such events to the ALA.

The single greatest reason for such challenges was concern over sexually explicit material. Other challenges occurred because of offensive language, violence, or homosexuality. At least 200 books were challenged over a "religious viewpoint." Some of the frequently challenged authors were:

-Phillip Pullman
-J.K. Rowling
-Chris Crutcher
-John Steinbeck
-Katherine Paterson
-Walter Dean Meyers
-Mark Twain
-Maya Angelou
-Toni Morrison

Of course whenever I hear about a book challenge, it always makes me want to go out and read the book in question. I hope this kind of list causes these authors to do better, and not worse, on their quarterly earnings reports. Therefore, go out and buy a challenged book today! More info about Banned Books Week may be found here at the ALA.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

1909 Prices

I was just flipping through a book of old magazine articles from the early part of the 1900s. I love to read through the old stuff just to see what was popular back one who century ago. Certainly, the articles are about different topics such as "Should Women Be Given the Vote?" and "Why Women Shouldn't Be Given The Vote" and "Millie: The Fictional Story of One Woman Whose Life Was Ruined By Getting The Vote" (I am not making any of this up I swear).

However, given that this was a women's magazine, some of the topics were really very familiar to those you might find today. "Managing Your Home on a Small Budget" was a topic repeated many times with different titles. "Fashions For Real Life" was another. One of the parts that was most striking was the inclusion of prices on a sample shopping list:

Food & Beverages

Apples, .15/6 quart basket
Beef, Sirloin steak, .16/lb
Butter, fancy creamery, .39/lb
Chicken, roasting. .22/lb
Coffee, Best Maracaibo, .20/lb
Eggs, .26/dozen
Fish sardines, .03/can
Flour, 1.75/49 lb sack
Lamb, leg, .16/lb
Lemons, .10/dozen
Macaroni, .10/pkg
Mustard, Colman's, .10/pkg
Peanut butter, .11/lb
Potatoes, white or sweet, .10/6 quart basket
Rice, Japan, .05/lb
Salt, .07/pkg
Soup, Campbell's, .25/3 cans
Tea, 1.00/2 lbs

It all sounds shockingly cheap, but given that the average blue-collar worker earned only about $30-$50 per month, it does put things into a different perspective. Nevertheless, I have to wonder what percentage of income people spent on food or housing versus what they spend today.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Get Well Soon Justice Ginsburg

Here's hoping that one of my favorite Supreme Court justices, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, is on the mend at last. She's been hospitalized repeatedly in the last few months, and even fell ill in her own chambers last week. At least we have a Democrat in office who could choose her replacement, but I would far rather see the 76 year-old stay on the court. Her sense of law, and of history, are amazing.

"So that's the dissenter's hope: that they are writing not for today but for tomorrow."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Co-Worker Agony

I'm trying really hard at work to shift off a responsibility that's been mine for years, but should always have belonged to someone else if you really read the job descriptions. I've tried a few times before to readjust the situation with no success. This time, however, I think I have a real shot. The new person in that "other" role is ready and willing to take on the task, and now we are in that phase where I try to break her in without breaking her.

Last week she called her very first meeting to discuss the next project. She presented the plan, and all I did was nod and smile and offer a little encouragement. However, before she called for comments about the proposed project, I did speak up to remind the group that her experience as leader was entirely dependent on the way they chose to treat her.

I tried to explain that constructive comments about the proposal were helpful, but that too many cooks will spoil the proverbial pot. I also told them to respect her judgment and professionalism is creating the proposal. After the fact, my boss told me that he was very glad I'd spoken.

What do you think happened next? Some people did take my advice to heart. There were several who looked at the proposal and said that it seemed like a decent and reasonable idea. However, you guessed it, there were several who felt that if we would just make a few "tweaks" to the plan it would really be ever so much better.

There were even a few who actually went so far as to suggest throwing out her plan entirely to come up with something that would be more "fun." These people have never tried to write one of these proposals, and they really have no idea how hard it is to come up with something that will work on a broad level. That didn't stop them from criticizing for one second. Why? Why? Why? Must people be so insufferably nitpicky!? It's not just rude but counter-productive.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

To-Do Over Obama

I just had to share my shock and amazement that the to-do over the Obama speech to kids actually infected my school. It seems that the talking heads on TV succeeded in stirring up trouble, and there were enough parent phone calls to create administrative concern. Each teacher had to register if they intended to show the speech, and parents got an email message letting them know that they could have their child excused. Then, each teacher got a list of kids who were to be sent out while the speech was on. All that organizing and agonizing, and what do you think happened on speech day? Three kids went to the library instead of watching. Three.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Modern Dilemma

Imagine, if you will, a totally hypothetical company. Perhaps this is a science company called Smith Labs, for example. In this company, scientists work in small teams do research projects. Each team is made up of equals, or people who are considered to be on the same professional level. Each manager runs several different teams, but he or she does not actually work on any team.

Now imagine that one team has a member who is consistently an underperformer. This person is talented and bright, but does not contribute even half of what they should to each project. The nature of the work, and the required division of labor mean that the under performer can never clearly be caught out for their lack of participation.

When members of the team press the under performer about the lack of participation, this individual makes vague noises about "depression" issues. Now a split emerges between the other members of the team. Should they press management about this continuing problem person, or should they respect the difficulties of living with depression and put up with the problem for good?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hey Pesto!

A very much belated second "thank you" to the lovely person who gave us the food processor for our wedding. I must admit that it's taken me until recently to become fully involved with the glories of the fabulous machine. M, with all his techie affinity, understands the complicated workings of the various blades and features. I, on the other hand, am still trying to figure out simple things like locking the safety lid. Nevertheless, I recently ventured into the realm of pesto.

Now I have to say that I've made pesto before. You can accomplish the task in a blender, but it is not any easy thing. You have to constantly mash around the nuts, basil, and cheese with a spoon to get them all to blend properly, and at the end, you still have a sort of chunky product. Pesto with the Cuisinart is a whole different story. Pop the afore mentioned items in the bowl, lock the lid, and add oil as you whiz away. Viola! Pesto!

I was amazed. It was so easy and quick to make the pesto that I decided to make hummus as well. A can of chickpeas, a little tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil, another whiz, and again practically instant food! This thing is addictive. Now I'm on the prowl for things I can whip up in the magic machine. I hear gazpacho is a good option, and it's supposed to be great for coleslaw too. There are just so many wonderful options. Now if you could just spare a moment to help me with this sticky safety lock?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Seen at a Stoplight #2

While waiting for another light on another day, I had my chance to observe fascinating stoplight moment number two.

The first thing that drew my attention to the SUV was the accordion quality to the whole front end. It was clear that this driver had experienced a rear-ending in a big way, and the car was still unrepaired. A moment later, I had cause to look up at the same car because the cars behind it started honking.

It soon became clear that the SUV driver had failed to see the light turn green, and he was just sitting there doing not much. Finally, as the honking got worse, the SUV began to move slowly forward. At this point I could see that the driver was not looking at the road at all, but had his eyes glued to the small device resting on the lower portion of his steering wheel. Sheesh! Move over drunk drivers, texters are here to challenge you for the title of most scary people on the road.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Hayao Miyazaki is, in my humble opinion, a film genius. His more famous movies, such as Totoro, Princess Monoke, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle are nothing short of brilliant because they have a unique and fascinating style. His newest movie, Ponyo, isn't quite up to these illustrious standards, but it is still definitely worth the time. Elder Niece and I agreed that it is the best and most beautiful retelling of "The Little Mermaid" story that we have ever seen. Go and see it if only for the incredible hand drawn visuals.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Great Quotes #849 and #925

These two are so quite insightful, and they really do seem to go together:

"The more I study religions the more I am convinced that man never worshipped anything but himself."

Sir Richard Francis Burton

"If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing."

Anatole France

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Seen at a Stoplight #1

Recently I was waiting at a stoplight (near the campus for a certain corporation we all know and love) when I happened to see a man come running around the corner. He was dressed in the modern runners' outfit of expensive athletic shoes, spandex, and more spandex. He also looked like one of those people who lament out loud at dinner parties that they may never reach 4% body fat. But what was most striking about him was the way he was running. He was barely moving at all. I could probably have walked faster than his pace. It was a very strange scene since he looked like the sort of person who would do so much more.

Then, from around the corner, came another man. This one was not dressed in the latest running fashions. He had on jean shorts and a huge, flopping white t-shirt. He was also quite a large man with far more than 4% body fat. This man was running for all he was worth. All of a sudden, the whole thing made sense. Serious runner guy said to his friend "I can help you get into running. I'll even run with you to get you started. Maybe we could run together at lunch time?" and the friend agreed. Or so I imagine. I hope they keep it up. I also hope newbie runner guy gets a smaller t-shirt.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Count Your Blessings

As the summer comes to a close, I sometimes find myself making grumbly noises about having to return to work. Life at school can be intense, stressful, frustrating, and exhausting. This is one of those jobs where you just don't get to have an off day. If you do, somebody ends lighting somebody else's hair on fire (yes that really happened at one of my schools). In other words, whine, whine, whine.

Then I use two strategies to get myself out of this pity party. First, I think of all the great things about the profession (I've already blogged about these at length). Second, I think back on all the jobs I used to have before I became a teacher. During my teen and college years, I had a wide variety of part-time jobs in order to get by. Here is a partial list:

-Baby-sitter (who hasn't done this?)
-Stable-hand (surprise, surprise I loved this job)
-Vineyard worker (pruning, picking, pressing grapes and keeping yuppies happy)
-Nanny (for many years)
-Print shop assistant (only in the summers)

The reason I listed the last one several times is that I worked as a clerical temp for about 18 months, and so I got the fun of experiencing several different working environments. The tax office was stuffy and particular (oh the dress code!). It included a guy who chased me around the office and blocked doorways, so I couldn't leave until he decided to let me. The gravel crusher machine company was cold, dusty, and FAR away from home. Then there was the emergency supply sales office which was freezing and filled with ants. You get the idea.

But the worst, the very worst, of my temp positions was at the motor home R & D facility. This was the place where I answered the phone on a help line where people called to report mechanical failure on vehicles still under warranty. Over 300 calls a day from people who were royally pissed to discover that their brand new $100k motor home was broken.

This job was boring (mind-bendingly so), stressful, pointless (it's just that I was cheaper than a robot), depressing (every single person in that office HATED their job), and choked with strange smells and diesel fumes. Plus, I am not making this up, we had to listen to top 40 hits all day every day because the office manager decreed that we would. Certain pop songs from the turn of the millennium are permanently burned into my brain, and I think of them with horror every time I smell diesel.

Ah, there we go, I'm feeling so much better already. I love my teaching career. It is not often boring, most of my co-workers are reasonably cheerful kinds of people, and my room is usually clean, warm, and comfortable (and ant-free). Sure, it can be stressful, and I still do have to get up at an ungodly hour, but at least my work means something in the long run. I could not (easily) be replaced by a robot. Also, nobody, but nobody, can force radio upon me ever again.