Sunday, November 30, 2008


Maggy's getting ready to go back to New York. I don't know if the cats are saying, "Don't go." Or, "Take me with you."

Jake's more nonchalant, but I think he's sad, too. Or maybe that's just me.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

They're Back

There were a dozen turkeys at the feeder for Thanksgiving. It's not a turkey feeder, but the blue jays and squirrels manage to scatter enough seeds on the ground to attract the big birds.

I admit, we had turkey for dinner - a beautiful, big, fresh, organic turkey from Wegmans. And squash and burssels sprouts and cranberries and potatoes... And two kinds of pie.

Of course, Maggy's here, too - doing her favorite things: resting and reading. She says this picture looks just like me but without the coffee cup and cigarette.
It has been, once again, a Thanksgiving that couldn't be beat.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"They Believe In Different Things"

I've only written about Barack Obama once (okay, twice) since I introduced him to this blog and my other blog in 2006. So, it's possible you don't know what a big deal this election has been to me. I still think this speech in Iowa in 2006 is Obama's best.

[T]here’s always been this other idea of America. This idea that says we have a stake in each other. That I am my brother’s keeper. That I am my sister’s keeper. That I’ve got an obligation. Not just for my self, not just for my family, but also for you. That every child is my child and every senior citizen deserves protection.

A commenter at Dryden Democrats said, "Barak Hussien [sic] Obama's motto could be: 'From each according to his abilities. To each according to his needs.' I understand that this was meant as a warning. But I have to say, it's not the worst idea in the world.

I was talking to a Republican colleague about it recently. Pretend for a moment that we don't know who originated the idea. Just think: in my family (neighborhood, company, community, country) everyone does the best they can and everyone has what they need. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? The idea obviously had some appeal for my Republican friend. I watched his face as he silently puzzled out, "So, why doesn't that work?" He realized quickly that some people don't do the best they can. Some people just head for the break room when the shop still needs cleaning up. And I'll tell you the other part. We don't make sure that people who are doing the best they can get what they need. Maybe it's impossible. But it's not a bad idea. Wouldn't it be good if people could believe that hard work would keep them safe?

Last year in my office there was a "Secret Santa." You know the drill. You draw the name of a co-worker and anonymously give them a gift. No one in my office is particularly well off. But no one's actually hurting either. This year, we called the local school district and got the name of a family that needs help. Well, we didn't actually get the name. We got a description of the four children and what they're wishing for. You can't read the description with out getting a little chill. The teenager wants a scientific calculator and the six year old wants a pink dress. You can't help thinking how easy it would be to provide the things these kids need. Or, of the unused things on your shelves that would really enrich their lives.

If you live in this district and want the contact info for the person who can hook you up with someone who needs help for the holiday, call me. Or just call your school district. They know who needs help.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Prepaid Bank Cards

I heard an ad on TV for a prepaid Visa card. "Low fees. No interest. Helps control overspending." Well, that sounds like a good idea in this credit crazy culture.

  • Shop online or by phone
  • Pay bills
  • Easy way to track your spending and stay within budget

Oh, Wait. There may be a catch. Oh, yeah.

  • Activation fee.
  • Reload fee.
  • Monthly maintenance fee.
  • Withdrawl fee.
  • ATM fee.

Oh, look: purchase transactions - free. Live customer service - free.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Okay, Now I'm Worried

Despite my feeble, intermittent efforts to train the cats, I've never really succeeded in convincing them that they don't own the tables and countertops. Magda, especially, delights in the game my kids use to play: go from one side of the house to the other without touching the floor.

This may take her from my desk, to the dining table, to the wide windowsill obstacle course that requires her to wend her way between the houseplants and the window - often tipping one or more of the plants onto the floor.

If I'm not around to disqualify her, she's nearly home free with a stroll across the counter with the glass surface electric range, an easy hop to the kitchen table, a longer leap to the kitchen counter and perhaps onto the top of the refrigerator for the coup de gras, up through a ventilation space into the second floor bedroom (the door of which is closed to keep cats out. Sigh.)

Returning for a moment to that counter with the electric range... I'm resigned to wiping off the kitty footprints in the morning and picking up the pile of papers they've pushed onto the floor. But last night they apparently turned on the stove. I'm serious. See those knobs on the right side of the range?

I came down this morning to notice the little glowing light that warns, "Hot Surface." I know I don't use the electric range this time of year, so I couldn't have left it on. I thought maybe the sensor that turns that light on was broken. So, in my pre-coffee fog I didn't look at the burner knobs, I just put my hand on the burners, one by one. Sure enough, one of the back burners was HOT. And sure enough, its knob was turned to "medium." Even when I use the range in the summer, I only use the back burners if the front ones are already occupied, maybe for a dinner party.

Then I noticed that one of the little wicker bread baskets that normally hangs above the stove was on the floor. Now I'm imagining that basket having landed on the hot, or at least medium, burner. And I'm thinking of the pile of papers that the cats push onto the floor most mornings. It could almost as easily go the other way onto the stove. So, I'm thinking, "What are the chances?"

Googling "fire caused by cat" brings me lots of stories about cats dying in fires and a few of cats saving people from fires. But the ones about cats causing fires should more properly be headlined "Carelessness causes fire," tho' that isn't really so newsworthy. I'll skip the one from the NYT in 1884 caused by the cat knocking over a coal oil lamp. And I'm ruling out unattended candles and faulty electric strips. Uh oh, this one looks bad: Fire Officials Blame Cat for Fire:
The gray and white cat apparently jumped on an electric range in the basement of a two-story home at about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday and turned on the push-button control, said Darrell Christy, the fire department's chief of operations. Plastic containers on top of the range smoldered.

"We eliminated everything except for the cat," Christy said. A smoke detector alerted at least three people in the home, who were not hurt, Christy said.

Push button control?! Who thought that was going to be a good idea? At least I've got knobs. Plastic containers on top of the range? I don't know.

I'm going to check my smoke detector, right now!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bird Feeder

Hawks give new meaning to the term "bird feeder." Yesterday the sound of two birds hitting the window made me look up to see if anyone got hurt. No. Everyone seemed okay. But a hawk was perched on the log beneath the bird feeder. I'm not sure what "disappointed" would look like on that fierce hawk face. But as least she didn't have a bird in hand. Could she seriously be waiting to see if a bird would come back?

I watched for a minute, debating whether to savor the moment or risk scaring her off to get the camera. I backed off cautiously and snuck to an upstairs window with the camera. No dice. She flew off leaving me with only this picture.

But it's a good camera. And I've got Photoshop. One square inch in the middle near the top looks like this.


I was a computer programmer in the very early 1970s. Remember the mainframe Univac? Fortran and Cobol? Keypunch cards? I think the computer room in this photo is actually the one I used back then.

My first home computer in the 1980s, set up on a card table, gave me easy access to a little wordprocessing and a lot of Pac Man. In the 1990s I plunged into the internet with AOL and a dial-up connection (where I'm pretty much stuck.) My teenage daughter and a friend quickly figured out IRC chatrooms. But I stumbled around thinking, "There must be something interesting here somewhere."

Voila! Along came web logs. Very early web logs were literally simple lists of new web sites as they came on line. As the number of sites exploded, lists of favorites were born and the terms "web log" was shortened to weblog and blog. I still think the best feature of blogs is the links. (And one of these days, I really must update my sidebar.)

So, here's today's link. Last week Intercollegiate Studies Institute released the results of this year's America Civic Literacy Program quiz. Last year the quiz was given to 14,000 college students and the average score was about 53%. Pretty dismal. This year, for comparison, the quiz was given to 2,500 adults of various backgrounds. The average score was 49%. Even more troublesome, the average score of the 164 people who reported having held an elected government office at some time, was 44%.

As I took the quiz, I wasn't sure whether or not I'd share my result. But I'm happy to say I scored 91% (and apparently I need to know more about Puritans.) I will say that some of the questions are deliberately tricky. But how can it be that 83 of those people who said they'd held an elected office can't identify the three branches of government even in a multiple choice quiz?

My experience as an elected official and the 2008 campaign for president have shaped my thinking about qualifications for elected office. There was the Sarah Palin interview in which she said she'd consider becoming McCain's running mate if someone would tell her what the Vice President actually does. There is no job description for President of the United States and the only qualifications are age and birthplace and the ability to survive a two year campaign. No job description for Vice President. Or Congressman and on down the list. So, if we're making our choices based on, "Well, this person seems to know what (s)he's talking about..." no wonder we're sometimes disappointed.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Blogging Habit

I'm not sure quite when or why I started to let go of the blogging habit, but I want it back. I started writing for the fun of it in 2004 and absolutely no one else read the blog. Near the end of 2005 I began getting comments from strangers who apparently stumbled upon the blog by accident. In 2006 other bloggers and some local friends chimed in and readership peaked last year when I campaigned for a local elected office. That turned out to be a mixed blessing.

I'm starting over. Bear with me while I get back into the habit of thinking like a blogger. That is, actually having something to say. Since the last time I wrote we started siding the new part of the house. We've finished the log part and will continue on the second floor with cedar shingles. I use the pronoun "we" very loosely. I actually had very little to do with the siding.

I judged the local Halloween costume contest.

There are lots of prizes. But this might be my choice for cutest.

And most elegant.

I baffled someone by saying Halloween's my favorite holiday - except for the candy and costumes. I don't like sweets and I don't like to dress up. But Halloween is New Year's Eve in the Pagan calendar and I grasp at every opportunity for a fresh start - New Year's Day, first day of spring, first day of school, Mondays, daybreak, whatever...

I campaigned for Barack Obama and for Congressman Arcuri (far right) as well as our local candidates Don Barber, Jason Leifer and Joe Valentinelli.

And voted, perhaps for the last time on our beloved lever machines.

The cats are reminding me that the weather's turning colder and they're no longer willing to spend all day outside. Thanksgiving is around the corner. Before I know it Christmas will be past and I can celebrate another New Year.