Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

May the world be a kinder, more peaceful place in 2006.

Missed opportunity

I have never asked my grandmother these questions (and more), and now, as she's too feeble to carry on conversation, I can't:

1. Were you there when I was born? (Yes, I can ask my mother, but that will be my mother's version.)
2. When and why did you move back and forth between Illinois and Maryland? (I know why she moved to MD at one point in the 60's -- to get out of my uncle's way when he married, even though he would NEVER have asked her to do so; that's why she did it. I know why she moved back to IL for good -- to care for her aged mother. But she made this move numerous times. Why did she move the other times?)

3. Tell me about your lousy marriage. (She once told me she would, but she never did. I never pushed it because I didn't want to dredge up her painful memories. Now I think that was a mistake.)

Then there's a question she probably couldn't answer -- what took away your boldness? She was a girl who routinely rode a horse standing on its back. By the time I knew her (and she was only 40 when I was born), everything from physical items to social situations was an occasion for potential disaster: slamming car doors, negotiating stairs, taking on positions of responsibility, choosing to be educated.

I'm going to think about the questions I want to ask my mother, and this time I'll ask them and get my answers. I won't make the same mistake twice.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

More beauty: A really bad hair day

I was almost asleep last night when I remembered something my grandmother told me recently.

She had her hair cut a few weeks ago, and apparently the stylist was scissor-happy and snipped it very short, man-style, the shortest she could recall her hair ever being cut. She said everyone agreed that the haircut was drastic and not "her."

She's dying, she has a bad haircut, and she hasn't had the chance to grow her hair back.

Damn. A lousy hairdo for the rest of eternity.


I once read that every little girl thinks her mother is the most beautiful woman in the world. That may be a slight overstatement ... but I know I did. And I was right.

She still is beautiful; she's just a little older. So am I.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Never mind...

Although I haven't written about it here, I have discussed with friends the story that a student at UMass Dartmouth was visited by Federal agents following his checking out a copy of Mao's Little Red Book.

It turns out the kid lied.

The young man's professor

said the whole affair has had one bright point: The question of whether it is safe for students to do research has been answered.

"I can now tell my students that it is safe to do research without being monitored," he said. "With that hanging in the air like before, I couldn't say that to them."

Sounds a little non-sequitur-ish to me. The young man lied, but that doesn't mean the professor's students' library records aren't being monitored. I mean, really...

The bitter with the sweet

Christmas was a gentle day; even Tall Son, whose girlfriend recently broke his heart, seemed to find the day pleasant, even if he would rather have spent it with the woman who has sent him away. Far-Away Daughter -- still far away -- and her family were ill on Christmas Eve, but recovered by the big day, and she and her husband, Semi-Doc, had an exciting time with the kiddies and her inlaws. Marine Son and his wife, Indian Princess, drove down just for the day. We ate until it hurt, we opened gifts (a stunned Bitty received a new computer via gift cards and an IOU; we picked it up yesterday), and then overwhelmed me napped. While I was sleeping, Marine Son picked up his boy, First Grandson, and later in the day the three of them drove home. First Grandson is spending the week with his father and stepmother. A good time was had by all.

Before Marine Son and family went home, we called Grammie. Uncle G answered the phone. When I said I was glad he was still there so I'd get a chance to talk to him, he said softly, "Oh yes, we're all still here. We can't leave her alone any more." When I talked to Grammie she sounded weary (as she had the last time we'd spoken, on the 23rd), but she sounded cheerful. She catalogued all the people who had called her -- quite a long list since my mother alone has 10 children -- and when she was finished, she catalogued them at least two more times. Then I talked to Uncle D, who promised to call me privately later to tell me what was really going on.

My mother called me yesterday. Uncle D called her and asked her to pass the message on. Grammie must go to a nursing home. She has reached a point -- details not necessary -- that she needs someone nearby at all times, 24 hours a day. Uncle D and his saint of a wife, A, wanted to take her to their home, but she refused. So sometime -- very soon -- she will leave her home for good and pass into the care of strangers. I hope they will be kind strangers. Although there are so many nursing home nightmare stories, I've also heard that if relatives are involved, the patients get good care. My uncles will probably be there daily...and none of us expect her stay to be very long.

Death brings people together in all sorts of interesting ways. Because of Grammie's cancer, Marine Son and I went to see her in October, and in doing so, I reconnected with my uncles and Aunt P, and I met Uncle D's wife. I never got around to writing about that. Maybe I will someday; maybe what I'm saying now is all I need to say about it. Although I sent Christmas cards to them over the years, and when Grammie would be visiting any of us, she'd call the others and make us talk to one another (an awkward situation since we didn't know each other well enough to do much more than discuss the weather), I hadn't seen my uncles and Aunt P since I was a teenager. That was a very long time ago. So Grammie's illness has reconnected me with these relatives and made me a member of the family again.

I've also had long conversations with people whose loved ones have died like Grammie, not suddenly but due to lingering illness, and their stories are remarkably the same. One friend described it as the reverse of birth: the dying person acts much like the newborn, sleeping all the time, unable to converse coherently, dependent on others for food and basic hygiene.

I haven't called Grammie yet. I'm afraid I can't without crying. But I must before the end of the day.

This is life, though: great joy and love alongside deep sorrow. The secret of life, I suppose, is learning to deal with that juxtaposition.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy holiday!

May your December 25th be a day of laughter and togetherness and good food, whether you're celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwaanza, or just the opportunity to put your feet up!

Joy and love to all.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Meme of four

Taking up Waveflux's challenge, I hereby offer my answers to the following meme:

Four jobs you've had in your life: Tax preparer (H&R Block); general office schmuck (Social Security Administration and several other places); legal secretary; English instructor
Four movies you could watch over and over: A Christmas Story; Return to Me; About a Boy; Othello (Laurence Fishburne version)
Four places you've lived (as opposed to merely visited, as in two questions hence): Abingdon, Maryland; Patuxent River, Maryland; Rock Island, Illinois; Somewhere, Florida (good thing I only need to name four, because that’s it)
Four TV shows you love to watch: It depends on what you mean by four -- Lost (the only show I can’t bear to miss); NYPD Blue (have a thing for Sipowicz); all the Law & Orders, but especially SVU & CI; almost anything on HGTV.
Four places you've been on vacation: San Diego, CA; various relatives’ homes in Illinois; Washington, D.C.; Disney World
Four websites you visit daily: Waveflux, Salon, writing as jo(e), BitchPhD
Four of your favorite foods: Chicken chef salad from Steak ‘n Shake; salmon; Maryland-style steamed crabs; Maryland-style crabcakes
Four places you'd rather be: My daughter’s house; my sister’s house; my grandmother’s house; in bed, asleep

(Alanna, you have no blog, but feel free to do the meme in the comments! You, too, F!)

Merry Christmas please don't yell at me

Against my usually better judgment, I made a stop at Target today. I'm still beyond angry about its policy of allowing pharmacists to dispense prescriptions according to their personal belief systems. However, I needed speedy one-stop shopping, so I headed for Target. Two days before Christmas, pragmatism must take precedence over principles.

I checked out with a personable young woman of about 18. She was cheerful and efficient, and I was ready to leave in no time. As we concluded our transaction and she handed me my receipt, she wished me a Merry Christmas, but it sounded more like a question than a declarative sentence. Maybe I read too much into it, but I could have sworn that at that point, there was more than a hint of trepidation in her voice. I wondered if Target had instructed her to say goodbye with that phrase (versus the now-poisonous "Happy Holidays"). I wondered if she'd been suffering lectures in both directions: praise for using the "correct" phrase or disdain for her lack of sensitivity by not being all-inclusive. I thought about asking her about it, but that would get her into the kind of conversation that she just might be dreading.

Really, she was a kid making $6.50/hour. I'm sure all she wanted to do was put in her time and cash her paycheck.

So I said, "You, too," and I left.

Happy holidays, everyone.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Best Wishes for a Christmas of peace and joy and a New Year of triumph over terrorism

This barely requires comment by me.

Except I do wonder if the Bushes have theirs on display.

(The rest of the story...)

One more thing that's wrong with network news

White House Correspondent David Gregory of NBC News has been showing up to work in the past months, challenging both Scott McClellan and George Bush to account for themselves.


Following Scooter Libby's indictment,
[T]he president glowered at NBC News reporter David Gregory, when he shouted at Bush, "Are you embarrassed by these charges?" The president had to walk within a few feet of the correspondent to get to his helicopter on the South Lawn, and Bush stared hard at Gregory as he continued to shout questions.

At a press conference, Gregory told McClellan point-blank that

his credibility "may very well be on trial with the American public" and ask[ed], "Don't you agree?"
Then there was this very recent gem of an exchange between Gregory and McClellan, in which Gregory accuses McClellan and the administration of being "hypocritical [and ...] inconsistent [...] ad nauseam":

Q Scott, the President told Brit Hume that he thought that Tom DeLay is not guilty, even though the prosecution is obviously ongoing. What does the President feel about Scooter Libby? Does he feel that Mr. Libby --

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. First of all, the President was asked a question and he responded to that question in the interview yesterday, and made very clear what his views were. We don't typically tend to get into discussing legal matters of that nature, but in this instance, the President chose to respond to it. Our policy regarding the Fitzgerald investigation and ongoing legal proceeding is well-known and it remains unchanged. And so I'm just not going to have anything further to say. But we've had a policy in place for a long time regarding the Fitzgerald investigation.

Q Why would that not apply to the same type of prosecution involving Congressman DeLay?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just told you we had a policy in place regarding this investigation, and you've heard me say before that we're not going to talk about it further while it's ongoing.

Q Well, if it's prejudging the Fitzgerald investigation, isn't it prejudging the Texas investigation with regard to Congressman DeLay?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think I've answered your question.

Q Can I follow up on that"? Is the President at all concerned that his opinion on this being expressed publicly could influence a potential jury pool, could influence public opinion on this in an improper way?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that in this instance he was just responding to a question that was asked about Congressman DeLay, about Leader DeLay, and in terms of the issue that Peter brings up, I think that we've had a policy in place, going back to 2003, and that's a White House policy.

Q But that policy has been based in part, in the leak investigation and other things, on the idea that it is simply wrong for a President to prejudge a criminal matter, particularly when it's under indictment or trial stage. Why would he --

MR. McCLELLAN: And that's one -- this is an ongoing investigation regarding possible administration officials. So I think there are some differences here.

Q There are lots of times when you don't comment on any sort of legal --

MR. McCLELLAN: There are also legal matters that we have commented on, as well. And certainly there are legal matters when it goes to Saddam Hussein.

Q So the President is inconsistent?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, David, we put a policy in place regarding this investigation --

Q But it's hypocritical. You have a policy for some investigations and not others, when it's a political ally who you need to get work done?

MR. McCLELLAN: Call it presidential prerogative; he responded to that question. But the White House established a policy --

Q Doesn't it raise questions about his credibility that he's going to weigh in on some matters and not others, and we're just supposed to sit back and wait for him to decide what he wants to comment on and influence?

MR. McCLELLAN: Congressman DeLay's matter is an ongoing legal proceeding --

Q As is the Fitzgerald investigation --

MR. McCLELLAN: The Fitzgerald investigation is --

Q -- As you've told us ad nauseam from the podium.

MR. McCLELLAN: It's an ongoing investigation, as well.

Q How can you not -- how can you say there's differences between the two, and we're supposed to buy that? There's no differences. The President decided to weigh in on one, and not the other.

MR. McCLELLAN: There are differences.

Q And the public is supposed to accept the fact that he's got no comment on the conduct of senior officials of the White House, but when it's a political ally over on the Hill who's got to help him get work done, then he's happy to try to influence that legal process.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, not at all. Not at all. You can get all dramatic about it, but you know what our policy is.
So how dismayed was I to click on the TV this morning and find Crusading Reporter David Gregory co-hosting the abomination that is Today's 3rd hour?? (He might have been there all morning, but these few minutes were all I saw.) Following a promo for the Brian Setzer Orchestra's performance tomorrow, the "gang" sang along with Setzer and prodded Gregory to awkwardly join along as they writhed to the music in white-folks-can't-dance mode (made all the more ironic by the fact that Al Roker was one of the writhers).

NBC: Don't squander credible reporters such as David Gregory on this kind of piffle. This nonsense makes Gregory look almost as non-credible as those fools he's done such a fine job of challenging in the recent past.

Sidebar: I only watch Today in drips and drops, but I've noticed that in the recent past, as part of Today's highly questionable attempts to boost ratings, Katie and Matt quietly disappear in the third hour, and we're treated to a heavy dose of the not-good-very-bad-quite-horrible posturing of Alexis Glick. (Now I feel a little badly about publicly bashing Glick. But only a little. She's probably a nice person personally, but as a "journalist," she's fawning and annoying. She asks dumb questions when she's not reading from a card, and her phony cheerleader demeanor drives me nuts. Somebody please find her a nice infomercial job somewhere, please, and get her off my TV in the morning.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Breaking News: United States Senate Grows Spine

Earlier today, I was dismayed as I listened to a news report about the filibuster intended to delay passage of the much-needed defense spending bill as a protest against the not-needed ANWR drilling provision that was added to the bill. That's all anyone thought would happen at that hour: that the filibuster offered a delay and that drilling in ANWR was inevitable. CNN reports:

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, who led the floor debate in opposition to the drilling provision, called it [adding the ANWR drilling to the defense bill] "legislative blackmail" and said Democrats agreed they "were not going to get jammed" by the tactic.
And she was right. Today Senate Republicans could not scare up enough support to override the filibuster and bring the bill to a vote.
Republican leaders could not break a Democratic filibuster threat over the drilling issue, falling three votes short of the 60 votes need to advance the defense spending bill to a final vote. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, left the bill in limbo as he, [Ted] Stevens and other GOP leaders gauged their next move.

The measure was widely expected to be withdrawn and reworked without the refuge language, although Stevens warned he was ready to stay until New Year's if necessary to fight for the drilling, a cause he has pursued for 25 of his 37 years in the Senate.
Puts me in mind of Inspector Javert...

New York State of Mind

One New Yorker discusses living with the transit strike.

So does another...

And me all warm in my Florida home (where it is currently 39 degrees, thank you), and enjoying my winter break. I almost feel guilty.

Paranoia'll Destroy Ya

Early March, 2003. At the anti-war protest, the one guy was clearly out of place, or so said My Friend. He was hyper-clean-cut, and while he was dressed in casual clothes like the other protestors, his tennies were unscuffed, his jeans appeared stiff and unfaded, his sweatshirt had none of the gentle pilling of washing. In short, he looked newly-minted. At least that was My Friend's take on him.

Clean-Cut Guy also had a fascination with photography, My Friend declared. Oddly, he didn't seem to be taking interesting group-protest shots; he was snapping individuals, so reported My Friend.

Any time the camera was pointed in his direction, My Friend turned his body away. "It's the government spying on protestors," My Friend told me.

With Friday's revelation that George Bush authorized domestic surveillance without the benefit of court order and his subsequent announcement that he'll continue to do so, My Friend no longer sounds so paranoid, does he?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Needed: an intervention

If I gain weight these holidays, it will be for one reason only:

Danish Butter Cookies

Someone please help me stop. Please.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Customer No-Service

In the computer age, when even a really young kid can successfully surf the net, Barnes & Noble maybe ought to rethink its customer service procedures in its brick & mortar stores.

I heard about a book on Diane Rehm's show yesterday and I knew immediately that it was the gift I wanted for my friend L. The problem is that I've been kind of overworked lately; to compensate, I went nowhere near a computer all of yesterday through about 6 p.m. today. So I walked into B&N unprepared. I couldn't remember the name of the book, but I knew it was sort of like The Republican Dictionary. I waited quite some time for one of the very busy customer service people to get off the phone. When one did and I got my turn, she couldn't find anything in the computer based on my vague recollection.

Naturally, as soon as I stepped away from the customer service booth, I remembered the name: The Dictionary of Republicanisms. Alas, it was too late. "My" customer service rep was leading a pair of young men somewhere, presumably toward their desired purchase, and the other rep was continuing the conversation that the poor young man had been having for at least 10 minutes with someone about Narnia books. And four people were waiting in line.

I went home.

I ordered the book from Amazon and am having it shipped straight to L. I'll give her a printout of the webpage in a card tomorrow.

My point is this: almost all of us know how to quickly find books on websites. Why not revamp the system and scatter terminals around the store that would allow customers access to the B&N webpage? Why not link the webpage to the store's inventory and let customers know if the book is in stock and what section they'll find it in? (Most computer/electronics stores let online customers know if their desired purchase is in stock in the local brick & mortar store.) Why is the store's inventory a closely-guarded secret?

I somehow suspect that this wouldn't put the service reps out of work; people will always have questions. But why not let customers find the answers we're capable of finding on our own?

Bitty returns with a self-assessment

Having been buried under a paper blob of student writing for what seems like months now, I hope to actually blog a thing or two in the coming weeks.

I started my blogging day with a visit to Waveflux's acre of cyberspace, where I discovered a link to a quiz that helped me feel secure in my femininity...and my masculinity.

Three questions into the quiz I could see where it was going, but what I found interesting was discovering where I stand I comparison to others who have taken the quiz. Even though I'm apparently a female female, I'm rather certain that twenty-five years ago when I was married and meek I'd have scored a negative 20 on the masculinity scale. I've come a long way, baby.

You scored 43 masculinity and 83 femininity!
You scored high on femininity and low on masculinity. You have a traditionally feminine personality.

My test tracked 2 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 7% on masculinity

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 92% on femininity
Link: The Bem Sex Role Inventory Test written by weirdscience on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Sunday, December 04, 2005

"It's hard to imagine it's 25 years"

Thursday, December 8, will mark the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's murder. The AP is running a compelling article that recounts that night from the point of view of several witnesses to the evening's events. A sample:

Cullen [one of the police officers, upon his arrival at the scene] was struck by the lack of movement: the doorman, a building handyman and the killer, all standing as if frozen.

"Somebody just shot John Lennon!" the doorman finally shouted, pointing at Chapman.

"Where's Lennon?" Cullen asked. The rock star was crumpled inside a nearby vestibule, blood pouring from his chest. There were bullet holes in the glass; Cullen went to Lennon's side as Spiro [another policeman] cuffed the gunman.

Two other officers lugged Lennon's limp body to a waiting police car, which sped downtown to Roosevelt Hospital. The cuffed suspect directed Spiro to his copy of "The Catcher in the Rye," which was lying on the ground nearby with the inscription, "This is my statement." And then he spoke: "I acted alone," Chapman said.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Rush Hour at the Campus Snack Bar

The line was long.

When it was finally the Customer’s turn, she put down her coffee and Cheetos, and the cashier promptly advised her of her total: $2.18.

It was only then that she bent to the floor and began fumbling with a zipper on her wheeled backpack. Eventually, she pulled out a wallet and rezipped the backpack. Straightening up, she flipped through the wallet. Not finding what she was looking for, she flipped again. Finally, she pulled out a card.

The cashier slid the card through the reader. She slid it again. She slid it a third time. Frowning, she looked at it. “Ma’am,” she asked the Customer, who was neither a particularly young woman nor an old one, “do you have Blank Bucks on this card?”


“I’m sorry. You can only use this at (location 1) and (location 2) on campus unless you go to the food services office and put Blank Bucks on the card. ”

“Ok,” the Customer said. “I have another card.” She began flipping through the wallet. She flipped again. She flipped a third time. Finally, she pulled out a blue card with a Visa logo.

The cashier slid the card through the reader, and promptly handed the Customer her receipt. “Thank you,” the cashier said with a smile, and in the same moment began ringing up my Diet Pepsi and soup. “Three fifty-six,” she said.

I reached over the Customer to hand the cashier a ten-dollar bill while the Customer began fumbling with the wallet to put the two cards away. The cashier handed me change as the Customer zipped up her wallet. I picked up my things and walked around her. As I reached the door, I looked back. The cashier was handing change to the young man who had been behind me, and the Customer was bending toward her backpack to put the wallet away.

As far as I know, she might be there still.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Note to some of you

Remember when we were really, really little and we believed that if we closed our eyes, other people couldn't see us?

Some of you apparently still believe something very similar -- that if you aren't looking at us, we can't hear your incredibly loud and invasive cell phone conversation.

We can.

Cut it out.