Friday, February 25, 2011


NBC recently aired a special on various "commercials" that had aired over the years on Saturday Night Live. It provided me with a welcome evening of laughing, and also reminiscing as old faces popped up--Gilda Radnor, John Belushi among them.

One commercial in particular struck a most topical note--it was for a product that turns teens' posts on Facebook or their text messages on cell phones into Mom friendly content. The commercial was titled "Damn It, My Mom is on Facebook".*

In its wry way, SNL had poked fun at an issue parents today face. True, parents have always faced this issue--that is finding out what your children are doing, and whether or not as a parent you are ever justified in snooping.

Years ago, I knew of a mother whose family called her "J. Edgar" for her snooping ways. She rifled through their dresser drawers, she read anything she found in their room, she looked under beds, lifted mattresses and so forth. I can't imagine what she would be doing in the present world of electronic communication.

Where once the parental dilemma might have been "should I read that diary or not?" now the question is "should I friend my child on Facebook or not?" Some parents handle the dilemma, especially for pre-teens, by not allowing a Facebook profile to their children under a specific age. Some parents limit computer and cell-phone use.

Many advice givers intone sternly--make sure your child does not have a computer in her room; place the computer in a family accessible location. Or, don't give your child a cell phone until...or get a plan that doesn't allow texting. Or whatever.
I have wondered what it might have been like for my husband and me as parents to raise our children in this over-exposed electronic age. Our questions dealt with more passive electronic--should she have a TV in her room or not. It is with great amusement that I recall the dilemma of my own teen years--having a radio in my room. I listened late at night, turning the volume way down low so my aunt and uncle (with whom I lived) wouldn't hear--generally rock and roll was verboten.

What do parents today do? Whatever it is, I would venture that the temptation to be a sleuth still rises within each parental breast. I come down on the side of honoring your children's privacy, but being very watchful and attuned to them.
How about you?

*By the way, you can watch the SNL "commercial" here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Real Culture War

No doubt about it, there is indeed a culture war afoot in the U.S. While there are many differences among Americans on issues of personal morality, the war to which I refer is an economic war.

I am almost apoplectic about the current happenings in Wisconsin--the governor there has declared war on public employees, one of the largest group of employees working for middle class wages. He has decided that the state's budget deficit must be fixed by slashing benefits, specifically pensions, of state workers, including teachers.

Sadly, too many people are blinded to what I believe to be his true motive--breaking the unions. It is a simple equation--break the unions, take away collective bargaining rights, and thereby weaken the power of Democrats, because unions have traditionally supported Democrats.

This approach is rather like grabbing that goose that lays golden eggs and killing it. Why? Because, as Robert Reich has
persuasively argued, it is the middle class that drives the engine of our economy. He makes the point in his recent book Aftershock that without middle class buying power, our economy will continue to falter.

One of the arguments that Reich makes is that without middle class buying power, the other segments of our economic layers cannot make up for that loss. The desperately poor cannot buy goods to drive the economy, and the type of goods the rich buy will not: yachts, luxury goods, McMansions.

I am even more outraged when I learn that Wisconsin's governor received huge amounts of funding for his run for governor from two sources: Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers. The New York Times ran
a recent story on this funding. The Koch brothers are the primary funding source behind that so-called populist movement, the Tea Party.

Paul Krugman, in a
recent editorial, labels the Wisconsin governor's move for exactly what it is: a naked power grab.

I feel like yelling--PEOPLE, STOP SLEEP-WALKING. The super rich are funding movements to have the little guys vote to take power away from themselves.

One of my birthday gifts that I received is a book I have wanted for a while--What's the Matter with Kansas. I am looking forward to reading it. I want to try to figure out how we have been duped into voting against our own interests.

OK--enough ranting. I need to get back to building the barricades, and standing on the ramparts. Oh, say can you see. . .

Friday, February 18, 2011

Taking It Easy

One of my favorite music groups is the Eagles. So, this week, I find myself humming one of their classics: "Take It Easy". We are spending a bit of time in the San Diego area. By circumstance--that is to say, not specifically precipitated by my birthday--we were offered an opportunity to visit southern California. The only birthday I ever celebrated in California (at least to my knowledge) was when I turned one. So, it was fun to celebrate number 66 here.

Many things impress a visitor to this area. First, what's with all the highways and the cars that are rolling rolling rolling--constantly on the go. Of course, there is traffic anywhere in the U.S., given that we are a car-crazy society. But in southern California, the traffic is non-stop. Thank goodness for our friendly little GPS unit--we have gone various places with nary a mis-direction.

Second, this is a place of great natural beauty. The vistas are stunning, the skies blue--except for the first rain of the year in the San Diego area, and the gentle winter sun is a welcome respite from a biting cold winter.

We managed a few adventures--or, at least what passes for such, at our age!

A view to lovely beach housing on Point Loma.

The Pacific in view. I loved the mostly unspoiled views of the ocean. I know if we traveled further north, these lovely views would disappear in over-developed areas.

The force of ocean breezes shapes trees along the coast.

We did one day's worth of driving--the California entertainment. We headed north, then turned east and drove CA Highway 74, the Ortega Highway. Oh my, what a fun drive--if you enjoy palms sweating, toes curling, and quick glances down the steep hillside. Once at the coast, we turned south and ended up at Point Loma, at the Cabrillo National Monument (pictured above).

But lovely cacti greet us along the road side almost everywhere.

We spent two days visiting San Diego's famous zoo and Safari Park. Maybe I will post some other animal photos--but for now, enjoy these flaming flamingos. Love that raucous orangey-pink.

My birthday evening, we drove to Carlsbad, and watched the sun set across the Pacific. The changing light infused the red cliffs with a wondrous glow.

And the cloud formations put on a special show, until finally the sun slipped below the edge of the world.

I mentioned to my husband that next year's birthday celebration will be hard-pressed to beat this year's.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Double Six in View

Maybe the title sounds like an ode to a famous route, or a high-roll with a pair of dice. But, no, dear reader--the title alludes to my natal anniversary, looming straight ahead of me.


I am now official a Medicare beneficiary as well as someone collecting Social Security. I guess I join the ranks of curmudgeonly seniors snarling--get your hands off my entitlements. Oh, please don't let me become self-centered and selfish.

Anyway, it is time to run a bit more of my parents' biography. This story is taken from my father's account of the day I was born. While all the details, and most of the words are his, I have edited it a bit. At the time of my birth, my parents were living in Waukena, California, where my father was the pastor of a church in central California, and also a public school teacher in a school some 25 miles away.


I was born on February 13 on a Tuesday evening. Because the due date was five days later, my father had gone to school that morning all unsuspecting that "today" was the day. While my mother was beginning to have feelings and symptoms pointing to the fact that she would likely soon deliver their first baby, she had not told my father. It was his week to drive to school. After school, he had dropped off his fellow teacher with whom he car-pooled at her home. When he arrived home, he found a friend there with my mother, who had been having labor pains all day long and she was beginning to become concerned knowing that my father did not know. She had walked over to a local store and Post Office in the morning and told the store owner. Eventually, word got around to the friend who stopped by just before my father got home; she was prepared to drive my mother to the hospital.

When my father got home and learned that "now" was the time, his first feelings and emotions were to be overwhelmed at all that was happening. So he took my mother in his arms and hugged her, with the friend hovering over them and urging--go, go, go.

So, off they went to the "East Tulare Hospital", about twelve or thirteen miles away. About halfway on the trip, the car began a knock in the car engine, and my father felt the car losing power. He kept the accelerator down and kept moving until they got in closer to town. They had to cross a railroad track, the Southern Pacific Rail Road, as they approached the hospital. Looking ahead, my father saw a slow moving southbound freight train coming to the crossing. Trying to keep his speed up, for fear the engine would die, he turned on to another street to avoid the crossing altogether.

As he slowed to make a left turn the motor died completely. It would not budge. They coasted to the side of the street. My father jumped out and ran across the street to a house where several people were sitting on their front porch. He said to them, "I'm taking my wife to the East Tulare Hospital and my car died." They had seen and observed that fact, and the "East Tulare Hospital" was a maternity hospital only. So they took in the situation immediately. A young man there jumped up, ran into the house saying, "Where are my keys?", grabbed his car keys, ran out to the carport at the side of their house, backed out and pulled his car up beside their car. My mother was transferred to that car, and the three of them sped across town to the "East Tulare Hospital."

With my mother safely in the hospital, my father made his way to the house of one of his church members. They then took him back across town to the car to tow it back to his place. It was parked where he had left it, parked at an angle partly out into the street. After they all got back to the church members’ house, my father wanted to go back to the hospital right away. But the church members assured my father that it could be hours and hours yet, that the first baby usually took a long time coming. So they insisted he eat supper with them.

By the time my father got back to the hospital, I had been born. My father came into the room to see my mother just as a nurse came along and popped a thermometer in her mouth. Anxious to learn of his child, he asked her, "Is it a boy?" And she shook her head "NO". My father then said, "Is it a girl?". And she shook her head "YES".

Monday, February 07, 2011

A Cautionary Tale

I recently finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s newest novel The Lacuna. While I love everything of Kingsolver that I have read, I kept reserving judgment on this work. It is a slow growing work—moving along with the life of Harrison Shepherd, son of estranged parents—his father a U.S. minor bureaucrat functionary working in Washington, D.C., and a Mexican mother with a wanderlust, and sometimes just a plain lust. Harrison grows up in Mexico, and early on encounters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo (yes, those famous artists). Their lives entwine with Trotsky, exiled in Mexico, so young Harrison encounters Trotsky as well.

He leaves Mexico twice—first as a young boy who is sent off to live with his father for a time, and then later as an adult when he eventually settles in Asheville, NC. Drawing on his childhood, he begins to write novels of the fallen Aztec empire, reworking stories he heard in his childhood. These novels are wildly successful, and provide a livable income for him. But, he harbors a personal secret. For me, the major frustration in reading the novel is that the secret is only touched on, and never explored in depth.

All his life, he has kept diaries. These diaries provide the literary conceit which moves the story along. As a successful author, he employs a personal secretary who eventually becomes the recipient of the diaries, and it is her telling in the second half of the novel that moves the story along. By now, the time frame of the novel is the mid-1950s. The height of the House Committee on Unamerican Activities and the Senate McCarthy hearings. Harrison’s prior contact with “Communists” comes to light. And thereby hangs a cautionary tale.

I could not help but think of current events. There is a kind of drumbeat in this country to have only one kind of thinking. Maybe that is too dire a pronouncement, but to hear some of the commentaries that air on television, the acceptance for diverging points of view is minimal. You don’t think as I do—the fault and blame is yours. MY WAY IS THE ONLY RIGHT WAY.

Things are far worse in places where religious extremism reigns. I read stories of the Taliban in Afghanistan or Pakistan stoning people to death. There have been two recent such instances. As if the actual event weren’t bad enough, the stonings were videotaped. Maybe the video bears witness to the practice—and needs to be shared.

Maybe there is something built in to our human nature that just wants to point the finger and say—YOU, you are the transgressor. You must die for not thinking, or acting as I do. Or you must be banished. Or silenced. Somehow you must be removed from having any influence on the world in which I live.

I recall that stunning story by Shirley Jackson “
The Lottery.” If you've never read this story, you should--though prepare to be horrified. It too is a cautionary tale. There are difference between the events portrayed in The Lacuna, and in Jackson's "The Lottery." But the driving motivation behind them is the same--it is oh so tempting to find someone to blame--to point the finger--to cast a lottery and pick someone to stone, because that process gives us the illusion of safety.

Can it happen here again? Would we go through the kind of horror that reach epitome in the McCarthy hearings? I fervently hope not. But it takes vigilance on all our parts. We need to remember that only as we are tolerant, only as we live and let live, only as we acknowledge that the path each of us has chosen is NOT necessarily the path others must walk--then with that level of awareness and acknowledgement, we might be able to escape the cycle of history.

Read The Lacuna, by all means. Enjoy its peek into an era. But also think of it as a cautionary tale.