Monday, September 26, 2011

The Pizza King

Do you remember that great scene in "Back to the Future" when Dr. Emmett Brown doubts Marty's story that he is from the future.  So he asks him: Then tell me, "Future Boy", who's President in the United States in 1985? And Marty replies:  Ronald Reagan.
To which Dr. Brown says in utter disbelief: Ronald Reagan? The actor?

Well, folks, if the seasoned Republican voters in Florida have their way, get ready for the pizza king.  That's right.  Herman Cain WON the Florida straw poll, beating Rick Perry with 37 percent of the votes to Perry's 15 percent.

Now, I grant you, it in no way grieves me to see Perry lose.  But to the Pizza King?  (In case you have been living in a cave--which, come to think of it, doesn't sound so bad these days--you may not know that Herman Cain's SOLE claim to fame is that he was the chief executive officer for Godfather's Pizza.)

True, the number of Republicans voting in this straw poll was  2,657 people.  So 1,062 people think the pizza king should be president.  Maybe they like his 9-9-9 plan: 9 percent tax rate on personal income,  9 percent tax rate on corporate income, and 9 percent national sales tax.  The simplicity is breath-taking.  Even though no serious economist gives this plan any credence.  Oh, for goodness sake, we want simplicity. 

We don't want to have to think about anything.  And if someone tells us that something is a THEORY, well, kiss that piece of knowledge good-bye.  After all, doesn't theory mean "not proven"?  Republican candidates are falling all over each other trying to see who can "diss" science the most.  Poor Jon Huntsman (uh-oh--here's one of those inescapable word combos--you, know, like "the doomed Donner party" or "the ill-fated Titanic") took the bold stand of supporting evolution by saying "Call me crazy, but..."

But, folks, think we must.  For example, how can Herman Cain with straight face propose the simple 9-9-9 plan, when the last 9 means poor people (and everyone else) paying a 9 percent federal sales tax.  If you're poor, paying 9 percent sales tax is a killer.  A rich guy won't mind paying 9 percent on his yacht, but a poor guy paying 9 percent on food?

Or another example, how can Rick Perry say he thinks the science on global warming was rigged, when Texas is experiencing unheard of weather extremes, and is--as one analyst noted--on fire?  Literally!

Well, if Professor Brown couldn't believe that Ronald Reagan, the actor, was president, how about the pizza king? 

Oh, do you want that pizza with extra cheese or pepperoni?
Full disclosure--the photo of the pizza?  Why, that's from Godfather's Pizza website.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Where are They Now?

Occasionally, I fall for a magazine, stacked up at the cash register of a grocery store, when it trumpets from the cover WHERE ARE THEY NOW?  Usually, there is a photo spread of stars of yesteryear, or other people in the public.  I am always curious about the paths that people's lives take.

With the arrival of social networking sites, such as Facebook, we can now indulge in our own version of "Where are they now?"  Maybe you have played this game.  After you sign up with Facebook, chase down immediate friends, relatives, neighbors, whoever--eventually you get to the point where you wonder "who else can I friend?"  (Sorry, it annoys me as much as you that we have converted yet ANOTHER noun into a verb!  After all, isn't "befriend" a perfectly good verb? Yet FB insists on "friend" as the verb form...but I digress.)

I love the graph below suggesting who finds YOU on Facebook.  Thus far that has not been my experience.  I have, however, had the experience of befriending someone who later, summarily "unfriended" me.  And, truth be told, I have done the same thing.  After all, no need to be subjected to reading updates about things which matter not on whit to me.

If you like the above graph, you can find more at

Recently, one of my Blogger friends, AC, hauled out a third grade photo, and had his readers guessing which cherub was him. That post engendered another, as he found a second grade photo as well.

That got me to musing...I know somewhere I have a fourth grade photo.  So I hauled it out.  I have only one such school photo.  Most of my elementary school days were spent in government run schools in then Rhodesia.  I don't think they took class photos there.  At any rate, in the mid-1950s, my parents returned to the U.S. for a furlough (extended vacation time).

Time enough for me to go to part of third grade and fourth grade at the Shepherdstown Elementary School.  My teachers were Mr. Meyers and Mr. Ryder.  How unusual then to have had two men as grade school teachers.  Looking at the photo, I have distinct recollections of most of the students.  One girl, standing right next to me, was named Ginny. 

I suspect every class has someone like her.  You see, her problem was cleanliness.  Or rather lack thereof.  She came to school day after day, frequently in repeat clothing.  Her hair was dishevelled, her face unwashed.  And her body odor was painfully rank.  Poor girl.  No--really.  POOR girl.  I don't know who cared for her, if anyone.  No one in class would tell her she needed to bathe, and use deodorant.  We all steered clear as much as we could.

By the time my family returned to the U.S. in the 1960s, and I finished high school, returning to the same school system, many of those third grade classmates were still there.  But not Ginny. 

Well, Facebook hasn't revealed any Ginnys to me.  I do not recall her family name at all.  And, yes, there are times when I wonder "Where is she now?"

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Knitting at the Guillotine

We are now in the season of vetting candidates for the privilege of running for President of the United States. To that end, the Republicans are holding a series of "debates" (more like sequential staged monologues...but that's another post).

When the first debate was held, hosted by NBC, Brian Williams in his moderator role prefaced a question to Governor Rick Perry. He noted that the governor has presided over more executions than any other governor in a state--whereupon the audience burst into applause and hoots of approval.

While the question and audience response clearly didn't phase Perry, it absolutely took my breath away. The visceral, red meat, blood lust response was repeated in the next Republican debate when the question was posed about someone who does not have health insurance and is diagnosed with a life threatening condition. What should we do--asked moderator Wolf Blitzer--let him die? YEAH, the audience loudly responded.

While some may quarrel with the moderators--did they ask the right question; did they ask the question the right way, etc.--I can't help but wonder: what has happened to the United States? Why such vicious uncaring reactions?

We have become a nation of Madame Defarges, sitting with our knitting at the base of the guillotine, sopping up the blood while we blithely knit away. How did it become so?

There are two thoughtful, yet deeply troubling, pieces that I have read recently. One, recommended to me by our daughter, points out the disparity of Republicans' deep distrust of government--as evidenced by the constant drum beat of every single Republican presidential candidate--EXCEPT when it comes to the death penalty. If government fouls up everything it touches--the current Republican mantra--why can't Governor Perry think, for a second, that maybe, just maybe government also fouls up and sentences an innocent man (or woman) to death? Read the Slate article for yourself

The second article is one written by a long-time Republican staff person who retired after 30 years as a House and Senate staff person. In the article, titled "
Goodbye to All That," the author Mike Lofgren, meticulously catalogues the ways in which the current Republican leaders have intentionally changed the terms of the political debate. He opines that "it should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult."

Lofgren does not extol the virtues of Democrats--he tags them as hapless in the face of the current Republican approach. But his comparison gives one pause: in recounting the recent debt ceiling debate debacle, he notes that "everyone knows that in a hostage situation, the reckless and amoral actor has the negotiating upper hand over the cautious and responsible actor because the latter is actually concerned about the life of the hostage, while the former does not care."


I suppose the only cautionary conclusion I can draw from this musing on my part is that, while the guillotine began as an instrument of execution for one intended victim, by the time the revolution ended, those who cheered on the executions eventually became the victims.

Knit one, purl one, repeat...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Rule of Threes

We humans are an interesting lot--we note things by number groupings. It is an arbitrary approach to observing things, but we can't help ourselves. The number three is one way we note things. We hear of the death of a famous person, then another--and we wait for the third death. If we try twice at something that doesn't work, we say "third time is a charm."

Well, not sure if nature counts by threes, but this summer has brought three unusual events our way.

The first unexpected event this summer was the earthquake. I grant you, by California standards--or almost anywhere in the world far less tectonic plate stable than the east coast, it wasn't much. Still, since I felt it--and saw the walls move--it was plenty enough for me.

Then, the second event--Hurricane Irene decided to waltz through central Pennsylvania, as well as other parts of the north east U.S. No matter how loudly and heartily I sang "Goodnight, Irene"--she just wouldn't leave. We watched as our lovely tall evergreens in the back yard began falling: one...two...three. Several days later, the tree guys (who were SUPER busy these days) arrived, whipped their noisy saws into action, slung rope and pulley over a neighbor's tree, hoisted, dragged and pushed the downed trees through a large grinder.

That was quite enough for me. But, nature had one more little treat in store--the third event.
Hurricane Irene gave way to Tropical Storm Lee. As rain fell day after day, we watched anxiously to see if our usually dry basement would stay dry. This past Wednesday, both my husband and I had plans to be out of the house for separate lunches. I went to the basement around 9:30 a.m., just in time to see a portion of the basement floor with a slight inch of water creeping in and bubbling up.

We both changed our lunch plans and went to work. While I began syphoning up water with our wet vac, my husband made a quick trip to our friendly Ace is the Place Hardware store to rent an industrial size wet vac.

We worked solidly for five hours--emptying the vacs by lugging buckets up the basement steps. Finally, with the rain continuing, we gave up. We managed to rig up a small pump which normally is used in the winter to keep water off the swimming pool winter cover. By attaching a long garden hose to the pump, and then running that hose up the stairs to the family room level, we were able to have the water run down a drain in the laundry room.

That system ran all night. By morning, small patches of dry floor began to appear. We turned on the dehumidifier, and set up a floor fan. With the rain slowing down, then stopping, we "won" the water battle.

What was ending for us was just beginning for the area. The Susquehanna is a lovely old river--almost a mile wide where Harrisburg, our state capitol, sits--this river can handle a lot of water. But it begins to flood at 17 feet. The original forecasts were for the river to rise to 29 feet.

Suddenly everyone was making the obvious comparison--to
Hurricane Agnes. Hurricane Agnes wasn't much of a hurricane, back in 1972. But this low-level hurricane stalled over Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York. Between June 19 to 24, Agnes dumped upwards to 19 inches of rain in Pennsylvania. Rivers rose, creeks rose, and even long-forgotten canals filled.

In Harrisburg, water backed up the Paxton Creek, which had been channeled into a canal which few people knew even existed. The result was that Harrisburg had water all around it, almost cutting it off.

At the time, my husband and I were living in an apartment outside of Harrisburg. We had recently had our first child, our son--who was six months old. We were not greatly affected, except by the excitement of the news.

So, when the comparisons began this time to Agnes, it brought back memories as well as a frisson of dread--would Lee be as dramatic as Agnes? Well, yes and no. The river level did not break the Agnes record--it crested just over 25 feet. But still, for all the folks who were displaced, who lost homes to the flooding, the height of a flood matters little.

This photo--taken for the Patriot News by Sean Simmers--shows a neighborhood in Harrisburg called Shipoke. We have three friends from church who live in houses facing the Susquehanna. All of them had to evacuate.

Here are some other photos by the same photographer.

Some places that had not been affected by Agnes were flooded--for example HersheyPark, a favorite tourist destination. Both of our children had worked there-so we had a frame of reference as we looked at photos of some of the places we knew. The roller coaster was not designed as a water ride.

Lee has moved on--and, with 15 1/2 inches of rain, it now takes its place as the SECOND wettest tropical system to dump rain on Pennsylvania, right behind Agnes.

Let's just hope that the rule of threes holds--that there are no more unusual events at least for this year.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Places in the Heart

For as long as I can recall, my mother's family has held a family reunion on the Saturday before Labor Day. Rather like salmon returning to the home waters, the offspring from the original grandparents return every year to a small community park in the Morrison's Cove area of Pennsylvania.

So, you can guess where we were this past Saturday. Not that I attend every year, I hasten to add--because we don't. It doesn't take me long to catch up with cousins with whom I have less and less in common as each year passes. Understandably, we have all moved on with our lives. The rough and tumble play of some 30 plus cousins is long past. In its place we find staid, solid folk with greying heads, aging bodies, aching knees, hips and backs. The annual softball game has long ceased

What remains is a fleeting contact, a chance to exchange hugs, eat some food, and then scatter once more.

This year, my husband asked one of the cousins who is older than I am if he could recall when the first such family reunion was. The cousin paused, and finally said that as long as he could recall, they had been holding the annual reunion.

Maybe this photo of my mother's family was taken at just such a reunion. All of my mother's brothers and sisters are there. Mother was one of eight children--from oldest to youngest they were: Ada, Paul, Andrew, Kathryn, Dorcas (my mother), Ezra (also called Fred), Mark and Davey. (My mother is the second one on the right, in the middle row, standing right behind her father.)

Now, the family tree has branched out. The first generation--my grandparents--are long gone. The second generation--the eight sibling--are also all gone. The third generation--me and all my cousins--are now in our autumnal or even winter years. Those of us that remain--that is. Because even in our generation, we have lost some to death. The fourth and fifth generation, as well as a sprinkling of sixth, are spread further and further apart. We no longer know each other by first names, much less which branch of the family we are attached to.

So, we gather, bringing our covered dishes.

We hold an auction of various items to help raise the money to pay for the pavilion in the local community park.

Some cousins, along with their sons or grandsons, get brave and give us a rendition of a song they have been practicing.

We bring cameras and take photos.

And we talk.

After we returned home, I kept thinking about my interaction with these cousins. Many of them grew up together. And I, along with my brother and sister, were miles away--in fact, an ocean away. When we returned home, we would make our way to my mother's home area--she loved it so--and we three alien siblings would be lost in a jumble of faces and names.

When my parents returned to mission work in southern Africa, I stayed here--in fact, in the Morrison's Cove area initially. I lived with Kathryn and her family. Her daughter and I spent a couple of years together--and made promises to be in each other's weddings--promises which we kept. We are not close now, but we share a common bond.

The thought occurred to me that what I hold in my heart are a multitude of memories of a time that is long past. Family members who are now dead still live in my memories. When I see cousins at the family reunion, I link them with their entire family. It makes for a constant bittersweet melange--a sense of what was, and what still is, bound up with joy at remembrance and sorrow at reality.

Places in the heart indeed.