Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Another Fun Evening With David Sedaris

Last night my daughter, Sarah, and I attended a reading by David Sedaris at the Long Center For the Performing Arts in Austin, Texas.  This is the third time we have seen him read in Austin.  It has become a yearly tradition for us.  David Sedaris is my favorite author.  I love his insightful observations of our culture and his masterful descriptions that allow me to see everyday events from a new perspective.  Well, that and his writing makes me laugh out loud. 

Austin has been a stop on David's book tour for many years.  He has outgrown smaller venues and last night's performance at the Long Center For the Performing Arts was sold out.  The announcer introduced David by sharing a conversation that they had before the show.   Several years ago, after out growing the Paramount Theater, David's reading was booked into a large church in Austin. (This is Texas people, the churches are HUGE!)  The crowd in the Long Center chuckled at the idea of David Sedaris, who is known for stretching the limits of acceptable conversational topics, performing in a religious environment.  David told the announcer that he had toned down his performance out of respect for the location.  To which the announcer reminded him that he had said "cocksucker" four times!

My favorite part of hearing David Sedaris read is when he shares entries from his diary.  Last night was no exception.  He manages to make a story about waiting in line for coffee not only hilarious, but a reflection of our society.  The YouTube clip below is David reading a different selection from his diary on Late Night with David Letterman.

David Sedaris is now an enormously successful author.  Those of us who write might have fantasies of making the New York Times best seller list and doing book tours around the world, but last night at the Long Center before the reading started, I took a picture of the audience from just in front of the podium.

Can you imagine reading for a crowd this size?  Four tiers of seating and by showtime there were only a few empty seats.  We laughed at all the right places and applauded vigorously.  I'm not sure of the capacity of the Long Center, but it is well over a thousand people.  David signed books both before and after the reading...there was a long, long line.

This is big time success, but his travel schedule is grueling, a different city every night.  A lot of rewards, but a lot of work too.  I can't wait to hear him again next year. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nana Remembers

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana

The spouse likes to watch the History Channel.  Around our house it's called the Hitler channel because every other program is a documentary about the second world war.  On a lazy Sunday afternoon we found ourselves watching yet another documentary, The Third Reich: The Fall.  The program told the story of the the fall of the Third Reich through home movies taken by Germans both civilians and soldiers. 

At the start of the program there were warnings about graphic images, but the beginning of the documentary focused on the lives of civilian Germans. There were home movies of families on holiday and children's birthdays interspersed with footage taken by German occupation soldiers in Paris.  Beautiful, smiling families watched toddlers take their first steps and Nazi troops looked like tourists at the Eiffel Tower.  In the early part of the war life in Germany was little changed.  There were no shortages of food or goods and the population enjoyed prosperity fueled by the profits of war from neighboring countries. Both the German civilians and the military were unaware of the death, destruction, and misery that lay ahead.

It was at this point in the documentary that I remembered the quotation about the lessons of the past.  I wondered if we are at that same point in our history.  We enjoy the highest standard of living in the world.   We want for nothing.  Yes, we'd all like to earn more money and pay less taxes, but most of us do not go to bed hungry.  We are safe and our children are educated.  Yet, we are fighting wars on three fronts.  We are at war, but our everyday life in unchanged. Most of us are untouched by the current military actions.  Most of us do not have an immediate family member in the military.  We have rained death and destruction on three fronts, but our lives are unaffected.

I was unnerved by the parallels of history.  How many of us have home videos of toddlers taking their first steps?  I bet our soldiers home on leave are taking videos at amusement parks.  I wonder if we are blind to the consequences of war because we have not learned from the past.

I voted for Obama in part because of his anti-war stance.  Three years later the war has expanded.  When will we ever learn?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Nana Pays Her Share

Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.
Oliver Wendall Holmes

I spent most of Saturday finishing up my taxes.  I had started them early this year, but then I saw that we were going to owe a bundle more than what had already been deducted from our paychecks and I lost interest in completing them.  Since Monday is the deadline for filing, I had lost the opportunity to continue to procrastinate.

I am a rule follower.  I may complain about some rules, but I believe in following them.  I think our society would be a better place if everyone followed the rules.  With that being said, I have been know to drive 71 in a 65 zone on our nearly deserted eastern Oregon freeways, but that really is the extent of my law breaking.  So, on Saturday I settled in to finish my taxes before the deadline.

Recently the spouse and I have been arguing about politics.  He has a job where he spends a lot of time in his pickup driving.  He listens to the radio, conservative talk radio.  He also listens to NPR, but what seems to stick with him is the anti-Obama, anti-government rhetoric of the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.  He comes home ranting about how the rich pay a greater percentage of taxes than anyone else.  He's become an advocate of the rich.  He seems to forget that we are very far from coming anywhere close to benefiting from tax cuts for the rich, but will be financially impacted to a significant degree with future cuts to social security and medicare.

I usually enjoy political discussion, but I'm ill prepared for debate with the spouse because I don't listen to Rush or Glen.  So before I can enter into battle I have to research whatever incident the spouse is ranting about, with hopes of finding out, as Paul Harvey would say "The rest of the story."

This is another one of those issues where there is a lot of common ground.  I don't know anyone who doesn't think we should balance the federal budget and begin to pay down our national debt.  Everyone I know recognizes that there are areas of waste in the budget.  Everyone would like to see smaller government.  And is there anyone who wants to see continuation of the wars?  Why can't we have a civilized discussion about our federal budget without mud slinging and grandstanding? 

Like millions of Americans (and unlike General Electric), I paid my taxes.  I don't have any fancy tax loopholes or shelters.  My house is paid off, so I can't even take a mortgage interest deduction.  I paid my fair share.  It was a healthy chunk of money, but when I reflect on what this country has given me and my family, it is money well spent.  I agree with Oliver Wendall Holmes.  Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Nana Mourns a Lost Art

Last week I substituted in a social studies class at the high school.  The teacher had left directions to watch a short video and have students write down fifteen facts.  Not a brilliant lesson plan, but the video was somewhat interesting and because there was accountability to produce notes, the students stayed on task. They were to turn in their notes at the end of the period.  I also wrote down facts during the video and we compared notes as a class.  I wrote my notes on the white board and a student said "Mrs., I can't read cursive."

My teacher-style cursive is easy to read, but more and more these days I have students telling me that they can't read it.  It used to be that only the students who had come to our schools from Mexico couldn't read or write cursive, but that's not the case now. Our students from Mexico usually wrote with clear block printing.  They had never been taught to write in cursive.

Recently there was a story on the news about schools abandoning the instruction of cursive writing.  Since so much writing is done on a keyboard, the thinking is that cursive writing is no longer a useful skill.  Based on my experience in the classroom, even if schools have not yet officially dropped cursive from the curriculum, many students have failed to learn this skill.

When I was first learning to write grants, I wrote them out longhand on yellow legal pads using a number 2 pencil.  I frequently found myself cutting up the pages and rearranging paragraphs.  It was difficult for me to make the transition from writing on a yellow pad to writing on a computer.  Now, years later, I do almost all my writing on the computer.  But, when I'm struggling with words, I frequently pull out the yellow pad and write out ideas.  There's something about the connection of pencil to paper that helps the words flow for me.  Cursive is so much faster than block printing.  When the words are flowing, I don't want to take the time to print.

I realize that there is only so much time in the instructional day, but I'm not sure that the instruction of cursive writing should be eliminated. 

But, maybe I'm experiencing a sentiment similar to what the blacksmiths felt when the automobile was introduced...and we know how that turned out.  Time moves on, things change, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.  I guess I'm settling in to my status as a senior and mourning the loss of the good ole days.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

WTF Wednesday: Kangaroo Therapy Animals

WTF Wednesday is a semi-regular feature of this blog. It documents the things that have made me pause, slap my forehead and say "What the f**k!" Well, that and I just like saying WTF. I'm retired. I don't have to watch what I say anymore. I'm not any one's role model.

Where exactly is she putting her hand on that kangaroo?

So there's this woman in Oklahoma with depression and she gets herself  a disabled kangaroo as a therapy pet.  See the original article here.  Apparently city codes do not allow kangaroos to be kept in residential areas and she is now fighting the city to keep her kangaroo.

WTF? Am I the only one who thinks this is weird?  Kangaroos can grow to 7 feet tall and 200 pounds. 

I am all for therapy, but perhaps this has gone too far.  This is a growing area of litigation for schools.  Parents of children with disabilities want their children to have therapy animals in school.  On the surface it sounds like a good idea.  Who doesn't have a warm spot in their heart for the bond between a child and his dog.  But then remember that the child is in a classroom with 29 other children and some of them have asthma induced by pet dander.  Some children have traumatic histories with animals and intense fear.  Do the wants or needs of one child override the rights of other children in the classroom?  Does every child with a disability have the right to bring an animal to school?  Do the benefits to one child come at the cost of an appropriate educational environment for other students?  ...and who is going to pick up the dog poop, teachers?

Everyone understands the role of a guide dog for the blind; both the animal and the disabled person have training specific to the use of the animal.  The same is not true of every animal that people claim is needed for real or perceived disabilities.  I'm pretty sure that the kangaroo was not trained to provide therapy.

Particularly troublesome to me are the "therapy" animals that people with autism or depression claim are necessary to reduce their anxiety.  Can we expect to see these animals everywhere we go?  So, in the produce department of the grocery store while I'm sorting through the onions can I expect to be surrounded by an individual with a six foot python draped around her neck,  another person with a large rat perched on his shoulder, and a small child with a therapy tarantula mincing his way up his arm.  I don't want your therapy animals around me or my food.  It's one thing to have a trained dog on a harness, it's another to have random animals invade traditional animal-free zones.  I definitely don't want a kangaroo sharing the cereal aisle with me at Safeway. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Nana Ponders Lies

There are classic lies: the check is in the mail, my dog ate my homework. There are white lies: Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. So lies can be benign, but they can also be hurtful. Sometimes the hard part is figuring out what’s a lie and what isn’t.

This morning I read a blog written by a fifty-something woman who graduated last May with a BS in Liberal Studies. Several years ago she quit her job, took out a boatload of student loans and returned to college to earn a degree.

In schools around the country there’s a big push for all students to continue their educations beyond high school. There is a lot of government money available to assist students in continuing their educations. Low income students can receive grants that they don’t have to pay back. All students can receive loans. Some loans are subsidized by the government, meaning that the government either covers the interest while the student is actively studying or they receive a lower interest rate.

You don’t need a high school diploma to attend junior college, you only need to be 18 years old. Junior colleges usually require placement tests of all students. Students who don’t meet educational standards are required to take non-credit level courses , at the same cost as college classes, to build skills before taking college-level credit classes.

Because the economy is down, a lot of people have returned to college. They’ve been told that education is the answer. If you want a good job, you have to have a college education. People with college educations earn more money than people who just have a high school diploma. So, the blogger quit her job, that was providing for her middle class lifestyle, got her government subsidized loans and followed her dream to become an educator. Now, several years later she has massive student loan debt and has been unable to find any job since she graduated in May. She has a BS degree but still needs another year of college to complete requirements for a teaching license.

My father’s wife (she’s younger than me, but that’s a story for another day) graduated a year ago with a BS in nursing from a state university. She passed her state boards and is a registered nurse. She had been told that there is a massive shortage of registered nurses. She took out a fortune in student loans and went back to school. Since graduating, she has taken temporary jobs and done home care for elderly patients, but can’t find a full-time position…most hospitals want RNs with experience, and she has only her nursing training experience.

So what do these little stories have to do with lies?

We’ve been lied to. A college education is not an automatic ticket to a good job and high pay. Student loans may enable everyone to attend college, but they also place a huge financial burden on the graduate for years after leaving college. Education is important and it can help you get ahead, but it isn’t a magic pill that will solve all your problems.

It is especially troubling to me to see so many young students taking out loans to cover their living expenses while in college. It’s one thing to have debt to pay tuition, but using government loans to support yourself for four years is a one way ride to massive debt.

If you're considering going back to school because there's a lot of student aid available, make sure that you're ready to actually learn something that is marketable.  Even if you're attending school on free money, you need to be receiving value for that money.  Learn something.  A degree is just a piece of paper and is worthless if you haven't acquired the skills and proficiencies you need to be a good worker....and that is no lie!
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