Archive for April, 2009


But it’s not about them

My political nemesis at the office caught me in the hall today. “So, Obama’s not going to prosecute anyone on torture.” I point out that as it stands, there will be no charges against those that tortured as they were working within the parameters of what they were told were legal. However, they were looking into those who set those legal parameters. As he edged away from me to continue on his way, he raised his finger in the air and said “Well, if they got information that prevented an attack on my city, then it was worth it!”

I let him go on down the hall and muttered “24 watcher…” under my breath and I went back to my desk. We can go into all the arguments about the effectiveness of torture and the consequences of torture and what it means in light of the Geneva Convention. That is pertinent, but the real point is that the torture issue isn’t about them, it’s about us. Who are we? Does torture fit our moral code?


How Smart Got Its Groove Back

I enjoyed Thomas Friedman’s column today.  thomas-friedman-swimming-without-a-suit It is correct. We need to find those best practices and use them. But, he is missing a big point and what I think is ultimately the biggest problem.

Smart isn’t cool.

This morning was one of those mornings for me and my boy. Started off great. I come out of my bedroom from getting dressed and he is already dressed and in the kitchen trying to stuff his lunch bag into his book bag. Wow. Then I realize he has rushed to get dressed and in there and get his lunch in his bag so I am not the one doing it. He hadn’t brushed his teeth or made his bed. He wasn’t ready. He was trying to sneak a toy to school. I removed it and told him to go finish getting ready. On the five minute drive to school he asked about playing after school and I reminded him about his homework. Then, I went into why it is important to do well in school. That school is not a place to bring toys, it is not about friends and playing – it is about learning. I told him his friends were the icing on the cake. It was great that he got to see them at school, but that wasn’t the reason he was there. I told him that his friendships came with responsibility. If he were really their friend, he wouldn’t distract them from learning either. He was mad at me and told me he didn’t like me yelling at him. I pointed out that I wasn’t, just telling him things he didn’t want to hear – like that he actually had to prepare for the standardized tests he has coming up. He got out of the car mad at me.

There are many problems with our schools. Those standardized tests are one of them. So much of the time is taken up with making sure they pass the tests that they never really learn anything. And it is boring. I cringe every time I tell him he has to do what he is suppose to do at school, that he has to mind. Of course I want him to be well behaved, but I don’t want him to be an automaton just remembering factoids by rote. I want him to think, not just remember.

As hard as that problem is to solve, it doesn’t even touch the coolness issue. Smart is not cool. Smart = nerd (and not the good tech-nerds). Smart = more work. One of the most popular books over the last year was “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”. I made my boy quit reading it a short ways in when the main character explained that he tried to moderate his performance on a test so he wouldn’t be put in with the gifted students. You want to get your kids to read, but do you want them to read something that says “Hey! Don’t try your best you might have to work!” They get the same message on TV. The smart sister is a brat and pain. The smart kid never gets the girl and never has any fun. Even the parents roll their eyes at the smart kid. Ordinary is better. Average is good. Fitting in, looking like everyone else. Being just like everyone else – that’s cool. Being smart? Nope.

Some days, like today, I feel my quest is Quixotic. I cannot shield him from the influences of culture or his friends. Obviously my most heartfelt talks don’t get through either. Praising him for A’s use to work. Then paying him for A’s worked. Even monetary incentives are not enough to induce a fire in him. My approval is no longer an indictment. As he gets older and the pull of his friends get stronger, it will only become difficult to get him to see the importance and value of learning. It’s not just me that needs to change. It’s not just my boy. It’s society.

How do we make smart cool?

Why can’t the homecoming queen be a straight A student and the top jock also be in the chess club? When did we disassociate success from smart? How can we get it back?

President Obama is not a panacea. He has a lot on his plate. But, he is smart and he is cool. Maybe just like a CEO can moderate a company’s culture just by example, he can do the same. Maybe the coolness of smart could trickle down to the masses. That’s a trickledown theory I could actually get behind.


Speaking as someone who really is ugly…

Tonight my husband was catching up on his favorite blog (not mine, I might add!).  He pointed out that even he had a link to the clip of the wonderful Susan Boyle.  My boy asked to see it and my immediate reaction was “no” as if it was some contraband.  We let him watch it and he was as appreciative as he could be seeing as she didn’t sing hip-hop. 


My gut reaction was to shelter him from this because it has seemingly gone so wrong.  Trolling the Huffington Post I saw a title “Should Susan Boyle Get a Makeover?” Later I saw a post about her being an “ugly woman”.  It all seems rather cruel.  She is a middle aged woman from a little village.  She is anything but ugly.  Seeing those headlines, I couldn’t help but feel how hurtful that would be to me.  You have your 15 minutes in the sun followed by being raked over the coals. 


Watching the clip, you can’t help but love her and root for her.  She is the underdog.  She blew them away with her voice and didn’t need to look like a super model to do so.  Wow. What a novelty.  I hope that is what my boy took away from watching that clip.  That maybe talent – or personality, or kindness, or love – can win out over superficiality.


Give me a T for Texas

First of all, I don’t see how anyone can cover the “teabagging” parties with a straight face. Seriously, don’t this people know about Urban Dictionary? You really should check these things out. Although, maybe they are simply OK with the double entendre. From what I see of the clips on the news, they seem like the crowd who would hang a pair of balls from their trailer hitch.

Second, the entire thing is a joke – unless you watch Fox. If you watch Fox it is a grassroots uprising. If you watch anything else, you see it is a promotion for Fox News. There is no formulated platform, just a lot people mad that they have to pay taxes that pay for the public areas in which they held their protests. They are angry and fired up with many offensive and racist slogans and signs. There are the screaming grandmas in straw hats festooned with teabags dangling in front of their face, apparently unaware of the sexual innuendo-Minnie Pearl references.

All this we could just mark off as crazy. That would be easy enough to do. But, then you have Texas. Oh, Texas! Always so proud and independent. I thought it was just hilarious when Chuck Norris wanted to run for President of the Republic of Texas, but Governor Perry, you just beat all I’ve ever seen! To see the Governor pandering to the teabagger with his “If you’re right-wing extremist, we’re with ya!” was just, well, so darn Texan! And when the crowd started chanting “Secede! Secede!”, why, it was all any rootin’ tootin’ Texas cowboy could want! When asked about secession he said, “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.” This bit of theatre follows his denouncing the federal government as oppressive and signing a piece of legislation that asserts Texas’ sovereignty. Is he trying to get out of running against Kay Bailey Hutchinson next year? I wonder if Chuck would settle for VP of Texas?


Why I worry that GM won’t ever really get it right

Poor Saturn. I was reading another story today about Saturn dealerships closing up shop. There is hope that some dealers and a private equity firm are looking to buy it. I hope so. I have such fond memories of my Saturn. I drove it for 11 years, my niece drove it for 2. It was sold and by now is probably scrap metal. Still, I loved it and it was a good car. It wasn’t fancy, but it worked. The odometer did quit on it at 139,000 so I don’t know how many miles it ended up going. I do know that it took me on a week long road trip to Colorado and it took me the 500 miles every other weekend to see my boyfriend/fiancé/now husband for the four years we commuted to see each other. On my last road trip in it, to St. Louis, it was rear ended and technically totaled. We limped home in it regardless. The frame was bent back into shape and it served my niece her last two years in college.

My Saturn was an early one. It was still made in Spring Hill, Tennessee back when they had “Homecoming” picnics for owners to come see the plant. A few years later, that changed. Saturns were made in several locations throughout the country and the plant in Spring Hill was making something else. Saturn was suppose to be a different kind of car company. It was suppose to be the model for the way GM was heading. It was suppose to be innovative. It was an entirely new management style where the workers and managers worked together. It gave the workers a stake in the car and in the company. But, this new kind of company didn’t set well with the old company. The grand notions were dismantled long before this current dropping of the brand. The old guard couldn’t see a new future.

Saturn could have worked. It’s not the only time GM lost sight of where they were heading, though. They had an electric car. They had people test driving them. Then they rounded them up and crushed them and made more SUV’s. They didn’t get it then. They could have been ahead of the curve and the technology could be a lot further down the road. Instead – scrapped. They are the brink now and I wonder if they get it now. I just don’t know if they can. I hold out hope, there is the Volt. But, GM is going to have to be that different kind of car company that they could have been building for the last fifteen years.



Do we really want a land war in Somalia?

The reporting has been hyperbolic. “Are they terrorist?” “Are they part of Al Qaeda?” Pirates were never more than Captain Hook until it involved an American ship. It’s horrible. It’s terrible. It needs to be stopped, but let’s not lose sight of things. There are methods already in place to bring pirates to justice. It might be one of the only things that the world seems to agree on. And let’s not forget that these are, in the end, kids trying to make a buck. They are sent out by the ‘kingpins’ on the mainland. I’m not defending them, but if you want to stop the pirates, you need to solve the problem which is the failed state of Somalia.

“The ultimate solution for piracy is on land,” said Vice Adm. William Gortney, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and the Combined Maritime Forces. “Piracy around the world stems from activity where there is lawlessness, lack of governance, economic instability; things of that nature. And wherever you have that, you’re going to have criminal activity at sea,” he said at a Monday briefing.

But, that doesn’t mean we should use brute force. Yes, make sure piracy doesn’t pay. Yes, prosecute pirates. But also, remove the root cause.


Resurrection of a deity? $30.00.

Three years ago, my then-new wife and I took in my 8-year-old grandson. His father, my son, had a great number of personal problems that he is still working his way through.

When we got the boy he was, to put it kindly, rag tag. He had nothing but a bag of clothes and gum disease. He was an insecure kid who was thankful for every crumb you gave him, be it attention or material.

Now, just 3 short years later, he is a typical, indolent spoiled American kid. If you offer to buy him something, he wants it “super-sized”. Ask him if he wants to go get a coke and he’ll say, “Can I have an ice cream too?” Ask him if he wants a toy and he wants two. In point of fact, he has more money most of the time than things to want. He goes to the store looking for something that will cost all the money in his pocket. Don’t get me wrong, I love him dearly and admit my part in his transformation, BUT…

His first Christmas my wife bought him a video game console and my mother-in-law gave him a TV for his room. He also, of course, got an entire wardrobe and everything he had asked for. By his third Christmas it was difficult to find something he didn’t have, which leads me to Easter.

I noticed, on his first Easter with us, the habit of my mother-in-law to lavish gifts on her other grandchild and asked that the whole gift-giving thing be kept under control – eggs, baskets and maybe a little candy seemed sufficient to me. We don’t really need another holiday where we lavish gifts on our children; at least that’s what I think.

You would not believe the 3 day argument I had with my wife and mother-in-law! In the end, his grandmother took me aside and said, “Now don’t be mad…”. She had done exactly as she wanted (and exactly as I had asked her NOT to do) and he had a ton of loot. Of course it was not a pretty holiday.

Which leads me to this year, and the title of this piece. This year my wife and grandson went to grandma’s without me. Because of personal issues of her own, his grandmother was unable to shop for him. When they arrived home he quickly announced that he had $30.00. I asked, in front of wife and grandma, where he got 30 dollars. I asked 3 times and never got an answer. After grandma was gone I found out she had given him 25 and his uncle had kicked in another 5. When I confronted my wife, her best argument was that everyone does it – and that I should tell grandma, not her…and that she thought it was ok (she gave him a tennis racket and a can of balls).

Now I realize I am more sore about putting my foot down and having it stepped on than about the sorry state of spoiled American kids but I’ll work through that myself. What I want to know is, am I wrong? Should I give this boy more than he needs or even wants because everyone else is doing it?

Not that I seem to be able to stop it, of course…