Saturday, October 29, 2011

Effects of Evolutionist Religious Beliefs

Robert O. Adair may be laying it on a little strong here (if he's the one identifying himself as a Cherokee, he has quite a beard) but everybody needs to know the facts he presents in this article.

Don't take his unsupported e-friend is a poet, and some of the language in the article is obviously rhetorical. Check out the facts for yourselves. They are true.

African-American Quilting Books and Links

A few years ago I acquired a few dozen craft books, including some books about Anglo-American traditional quilting, from a charity sale. I've been reselling these older books since; there are posts about some of them on this site; there will be more.

Meanwhile, e-friend Lee Hansen has sent me a link to a beautiful update page about non-Anglo-American quilts. Art collectors and artistic quilters can click through the links here to compare and contrast, admire, and purchase new books that I've not read yet:

Surviving Mold Attacks and Other Uses of Cotton Balls

This article by Charlotte Kuchinsky has been online for a while...

It's relevant today, because when I get back from the computer center, after the hot-air fan has had time to dry out the puddle on the floor, I'm going to be applying bleach to the floor, in order not to develop the gruesome symptoms that even garlic junkies can get from prolonged exposure to black mold.

Cerebral Activity Beats Antidepressants: Bad Day Blaaahg

First I woke up this morning in my default mood--quiet, eupeptic, apt to laugh easily.

Then I took in a few facts of my life that I don't usually write about because they're so familiar.

Fact: it rained all day yesterday. The roof, which was loosened by the cyclone in April, has never actually been mended; I slept in the office room because I still don't have lights--or, on a cold night like last night, heat--in my bedroom. The office room is in the newer part of the house where the attic didn't flood and short out the electricity because there is no finished attic, so rain just leaks inside. Although there are four buckets arranged on the floor in the office room, enough water managed to splash out of them that the floor was still wet. Fact: setting my feet on a wet floor early in the morning has a very dampening effect on my mood.

Fact: there weren't any encouraging phone messages about interesting jobs this morning, either, because there is no phone. I have no idea how the cyclone may have affected the phone wiring in my house. People weren't calling about jobs, so the phone had been disconnected to save money before the cyclone hit.

Fact: I have a little over $2 in liquid assets, until whenever I do a job or sell something. I was planning to use this money to buy today's lunch. Then I used up the last of a personal hygiene product I use before putting on clothes every day. Do I eat today, or smell normal tomorrow? I'm still deciding.

Fact: nobody, not even the Empress of Frugal, can live this way for long. I don't know exactly how many more days I can eat a cheap junky meal, or none, before going diabetic. I know that, without being diabetic, I went into and out of ketoacetosis from "starvation" a few times last winter. I could have died; people younger and stronger than I am, who weren't diabetic, have died from ketoacetosis. It's a quick, painless, nonviolent way to go, and if people don't appreciate what I'm doing in this world enough to pay me enough to prevent it, I choose to let it happen when it happens.

I do not want "help" just to go on breathing a little longer. I've had an awesome, adventurous life. I'm not particularly interested in dragging through a miserable, pitiable anticlimax to the first half of my lifespan. I've loved and lost some incredible people, and the idea of joining them in the hereafter as an active, healthy, independent person who can still be mistaken for a "perky brunette student" (at least at a distance) appeals to me a lot more than the idea of hanging on to this world as a useless welfare cheat.

For now, I can still get out of bed and start writing, on an empty stomach. Ah...although there weren't any paid job orders on the phone this morning, the computer at least offers a mental challenge. A living writer I've quoted on this blog wants to be interviewed. We were acquaintances, 27 years ago, but not close friends, so what questions am I going to ask her? I focus on solving this problem, and distract myself from the facts of my depression-free, but extremely discouraging life as a prematurely retired poverty-stricken widow.

The interview will be a separate post, later. Let's finish this one now, because I don't intend to go on writing about this topic.

If anybody who knows me in real life reads this post, I know what the obligatory reaction will be. "Oh, but we'll miss you..." Sit on it. Bite your tongue. If your emotional feelings do not produce corresponding behaviors, specifically the behaviors of thanking me and paying me for specific things I do, they're not worth talking or writing about.

I'm still healthy. I'm still eupeptic. I'm not even diabetic yet. I got out of bed, turned the hot-air fan on the wet patch on the floor, fed the cats, and walked to the computer center on an empty stomach. If you start paying me--for jobs in real life, or for writing on the Internet--there's no reason to anticipate that I'll die, or become ill, or even show more grey hair than I already have, during the next year or two.

So, if you care, say it now. With cash.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Decoding Stieg Larsson

How many of us take the trouble to research answers to all the questions we have as we read a foreign novel? Maria Roth not only looked up, but shared the answers to the questions she had when reading Stieg Larsson's bestsellers. The answers are here:

I seldom read bestselling "thrillers" until they reach the dollar-a-dozen racks at charity stores, but I do happen to have some of the Bill Bergson books. I'd planned to save them for my nephews. Others are, of course, selling copies (for collector prices) at Amazon.

Asexual Awareness

Finally, since I admitted The Blaze to my reading list, something other than The Blaze has shown up on my reading list page when I logged in. What fun! Here's the link to the fifth part of a five-part series about the asexual lifestyle choice...

Tallest President Update

Hard to believe that so many people haven't corrected the outdated information found here:

At 6'4", Abraham Lincoln was our tallest President...until we elected Bill Clinton, whose official height measurement was listed at 6'5".

A Post for Grayzel

So far I've posted about Mogwai and Bisquit. What about Grayzel? Well...Grayzel is a quiet cat. She has a quiet, "diluted," well-camouflaged gray and tan coat, with some cream-colored spots below. She's a Listening Cat and can be affectionate when she's alone with me, but seems reluctant to ask for attention. Born outdoors, to a mother who was really feral (never at ease indoors), Grayzel actually likes being an indoor cat when the weather is cold, when she has kittens, or when she's team-hunting with her relatives and a mouse has crept into the walls.

Even if she could read, I don't think Grayzel would really mind being left out of the Cat Sanctuary Blog.

But, for such a quiet cat, she does have a lot of energy...and watching her bring up her kittens was what came to mind when I read this first-person article by Juniper Russo:

Priscilla Needs a Good Home

The purpose of this post is not to ask you for money--although anybody can support this blog by clicking on the Paypal button at the top of the page, and everybody who has an e-dime should...this post, anyway, is about the Internet search game of typing someone's name and the word "needs" into a search bar. This game shows how much our favorite search engines know, or don't know, about what you need.

According to Yahoo, "Priscilla needs..."

1. "You" on Myspace. I've not checked this out, and I don't plan to. That's some other Priscilla.

2. Connections to classmates from Gallaudet University. The way this one's written, "Needs" may be the person's actual family name. Anyway, I didn't go to Gallaudet.

3. Parties celebrating "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the Musical." LOL.

4. A good home. (This was what I expected would come up first, based on the last time I played this game, and indicates where this article is actually going.) This page shows a picture of a very fluffy, long-haired black and white cat, thought to be seven years old, and up for adoption.

5. Numbers on Facebook. That's not I.

6. A better car. The link indicates that after posting this request at, this lady found the kind of deal on the kind of car she was looking for. Glad to know! Maybe I'll check out this site. This definitely wasn't I.

7. Er, um...chickens. At least, in order to get the link through the Yahoo porn filter, they made the link sound as if it was about chickens. The Cat Sanctuary is not actively looking for chickens. We took in three, a few years ago, and only one survived long enough to find a permanent home.

8. Special prayer. Multiple links about this one come up. They're about Priscilla McGruder, the gospel singer recently diagnosed with cancer. Let's all send prayers or good thoughts to Mrs. McGruder.

Of course, you're all welcome to pray for this blog too...but when I started typing this post, my plan was to call attention to the fact that almost any human name you type into a search engine is likely to generate a link to some lovable homeless animal who's been named after you, or your friend, and who needs a good home. Animal shelters, rescuers, and sanctuaries have started doing this to help more people discover these potential pets on the Internet.

This article constitutes official notice that I, Priscilla King, support and encourage the practice of naming animals after me, especially if they're black cats. My online image has always been, and will always be, a black cat (there've been four different ones over the years). If every single person who reads this blog adopts a friend's kitten, a shelter cat, or a feral cat, and calls it "Priscilla" if female or "King" if male, I'll be delighted. Extra props if it's a short-haired, mixed-breed, black cat with amber eyes...but a good home for any cat in need is a very good thing.

Strange Histories of Popular Names (Perks!)

Here's a list of popular given names that have been traced to really unlikely "meanings"...

Of course, the real meaning of your name is whatever it meant to the person or persons who gave it to you. Name dictionaries can trace a name like "Mabel" to the Latin word amabilis, meaning "lovable," or the French ma belle, meaning "my pretty (daughter)," but if you were named after your Aunt Mabel the real meaning of the name might be "kind" or "quirky" or "Let's hope Aunt Mabel leaves her some money."

Anyway, shameless self-advertisement is what blogs are for...I've been collecting names and their histories and probable meanings for many years, and own a computer database incorporating the contents of over 30 "name dictionaries" (most in English) and ten foreign-language dictionaries. Most popular given names have acquired anywhere from five to twenty different "meanings." If you want the full story about your name or your friend's name, here are the three steps to take:

(1) Send a message listing the names that interest you.

(2) Contribute $1 per name to this blog.

(3) Indicate whether you want the name stories e-mailed to you personally, mailed to you personally (your address won't appear on this site), or posted on this site for others to enjoy.

Somewhere in the file of things I've written that will appear on this site, whenever my limited online time permits, are sample histories for the names "Zachary" and "Tamara."

Wishing the Children a Safe and Happy Halloween, Too

This Yahoo article may fall into the "Duh!" category, but unfortunately there are a few people who still need to read it. More unfortunately still, they won't read it.

What can we do? Think about the people we know to whom this article is addressed. Send them a link, if they ever check their e-mail. Show them a printout, if they don't do e-mail but do know how to read. But in most cases we will need to do more about these people. Go after them. Aggressively demand that, if they are going to "party" in ways that involve alcohol and other drugs, you will be their designated driver...or else be their self-appointed "nark"!

Wishing All Black Cats a Safe and Happy Halloween

Posting a cartoon image of a black cat on a door or window is one of the traditional ways Americans invite children to ring our doorbells on Halloween night.

For some sick souls, however, Halloween suggests other ideas involving black cats. Some members of the Church of Satan like to gross people out with a "sacrifice."

So, heed Nancy Czerwinski's friendly warning...

This blog recommends bringing all urban and suburban cats inside (at least inside a shed or garage), having fish for dinner and giving them a portion for their "treat," and thinking of other nice things we can do for other animals to make up for the nastiness of other members of our species.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Do Sounds Have Intuitive Meanings?

Word lovers, click here for some delightful intuitive wordplay:

Where Should Maxine Waters Go?

Those who seriously believe in the Place of Eternal Torment for the Unsaved know that no created mortal has the authority to tell anyone to go there; therefore, when someone tells someone else to go to Hell, we can assume that they're talking about the town in Michigan. If you don't want to go there, these days you can buy souvenirs online here. If you'd rather just read about it, the Wikipedia story is here.

My point here is that some of us just don't get into that dropping to the ground in a fetal position and wailing, "Oh, oh, oh, what s/he said was sooo hurtful." Some of us have matured to the point where we can deal with snarkiness. When I'm told that Maxine Waters has suggested that I take time and money I don't have to go to a place I don't particularly want to visit, I reply, "So, where do we think Maxine Waters should go?"

Pick one, Gentle Readers:

(a) Afghanistan, where she might score a few publicity points by dancing with our troops.

(b) Flint, Michigan, where she might have an opportunity to hang out with Michael Moore and recover a sense of snarky humor.

(c) Chernobyl, where she might have a chance to see exactly why some people, such as this writer, support the Green movement, the Tea Party movement, and any other movement that's likely to lead us away from there.

(d) Add an alternative suggestion...

Palmaris Longus Tendon: Yet Another Way I'm Weird

I've always known I had a fairly prominent double palmaris longus tendon. I've even wondered whether it does serve a purpose; I can move my middle and ring fingers more independently than most people, can flex them further (i.e. scratch my wrist with the same-side hand), can type faster, and have typed much longer than most people could without developing carpal tunnel syndrome, and my palmaris longus tendons move when I'm doing these things.

However, because so far as I ever noticed everyone else in my family has a double palmaris longus tendon too, I didn't realize that having this feature put me in a minority until I read this short article:

Merger with the Weebly

Last summer I opened a Weebly, a wee-little-bitty free Web site offered to people who don't want to do full-sized blogs or pay for full-sized "store" sites. It didn't attract a lot of readers. In the next week or two I'll be dismantling the Weebly, moving the links, posts, and tags that are still relevant to this site; they'll be back-dated to reflect the day they appeared on the Weebly. When that project is completed, the Weebly will disappear.

How to Be Controversial in Middle School

John W. Santrock wrote at length about a study that classified elementary school students as “popular,” “neglected,” “rejected,” or “controversial.”

As I read Santrock’s book, I realized that any child or adult I ever liked would have been primarily “controversial.”

“Popular” is not necessarily a good way to be in elementary school. While college students and adults may become “popular” because of their charm, beauty, and talent, elementary school students don’t usually have these things, or have any idea which students are likely to develop them later. Elementary school students who were “popular,” the study showed, were the ones who gave out material rewards. If your parents buy you lots of cool toys and allow your friends to play with them, therefore, you will probably be “popular.” However, although people who are “popular” in elementary school are nearly always people who have extravagant parents, people who are "neglected," "controversial," or even "rejected" in elementary school are more likely to become popular as adults.

“Neglected” students are the ones nobody notices. What being “neglected” implies for a student’s future is not clear. People who are “neglected” in elementary school may be extremely quiet because they don’t feel well, or don’t speak English well...or they may just be naturally quiet people who would rather have one or two real friends than be part of a noisy crowd.

“Rejected” students are the ones other students actively dislike. The best thing about being in this category is that it usually won’t last long.

“Controversial” students are the ones who have actually said or done things that some people liked and others didn’t like. In middle school, this includes just about anything. People who will have interesting adult careers are likely to be “controversial.”

Everybody does some genuinely stupid or embarrassing things during their middle school years. People who are bored and want to have a “school enemy” will always find a few things to say that embarrass another kid. It’s unlikely that anyone will get through four years of life without getting chewed gum stuck to his or her shoe, missing an easy catch and causing the team to lose a game, or having some visible, revolting medical problem like acne or diarrhea.

The trick is to do some “controversial” things that will distract any potential enemies’ attention to things that mean more than chewed gum on a person’s shoe. For the benefit of middle school students who would like at least to be teased about something besides glasses or braces, here’s a Top Ten List of Controversial Things Middle School Students Can Do With Pride:

1. Know what you do and don’t enjoy. If other people want to play a game you like, play well, be a good sport, and give everyone a real game. If other people want to play a game you hate, leave them to it, and find something you’d rather do. Spend at least half of your total free time doing something you enjoy and do well, like music or gymnastics.

2. Get to know people who are unpopular for reasons that you think are stupid reasons not to like someone, such as having to wear a back brace, or speaking with a foreign accent.

3. Ignore someone who is trying very hard to be “popular” by doing things you don’t like, such as talking about body development or “boyfiriends and girlfriends” all the time, or smoking, or making snippy remarks about someone else’s braces or foreign accent. Look at this person as if something were stuck to her or his shoes. With any luck at all, this person will think something is stuck to his or her shoes, and bingo, you're cooler than this person is.

4. If you’re lucky, you will have at least one teacher who is tough, but fair, and makes you work. Other students will make nasty remarks about this teacher. Don’t say anything until someone looks at you or calls you by name. Then say, “Nahhh, he’s all right by me.” Then change the subject.

5. At some point in your middle school career, somebody will probably have a family emergency. You’ll know it’s a real emergency because a member of the family will come to pick up this person at school. The family member will not be well groomed or well dressed, will seem ill at ease, may be crying. When Mean-Mouth Mike starts making fun of this family member, loudly say, “That’s not funny. Speaking of funny things, how many saw/heard/read...” and mention a movie, book, or TV show that you thought was funny. (Even if nobody else knows or likes it, the point is changing the subject, not fighting with Mike.)

6. The first day someone who is new in town and/or different from everyone else in some way joins your class, ask that person to play a game or eat lunch with you.

7. Let people from your school see you pushing your five-year-old sister around on your bicycle. Wave, smile, and ask them if they want a turn. If they say, “No, I don’t play with babies,” cheerfully say, “That’s too bad, because we’re waiting for my Dad to take us to the circus.”
8. At some point in your middle school career, somebody in your class will probably start to look like a high school student. Rumors and gossip will start going around about this person (a) beating people up, (b) having sex, (c) with adults, and so on. Actually, you notice that Tall Paul has become very quiet and stopped hanging out with friends. Show that you don’t believe the rumors by acting friendly toward Tall Paul. You don’t have to hang out with him after school if you don’t want to. Just inviting him to join a game, showing that you’re not afraid of him, will make enough of an impression on the more timid types in your class.

9. Make your own lunch and book containers. Make at least some of your own school clothes.

10. Take up a collection for your favorite charity at school. Be sure to pick something that everyone will agree helps people in need, such as a food pantry, library, or emergency service. Your school probably has a rule against collecting money for one particular church or political campaign.

Chances are that someone who wants to relieve the boredom by having an enemy will tease you about doing these things. It’s important that all you do, unless of course you have to defend yourself from a physical attack, is smile pleasantly. Let someone else be the one to say “Mean-Mouth Megan thinks she’s cool, but she’s nothing but a fool.” You always knew that. It's cooler just to be cooler than Megan than to lower yourself to Megan's level by quarrelling with Megan. Try, if possible, to be kind to Megan.

Halloween Party Playlist

Realistically I'm not sure how possible it is, but some day I would like to have Lady Samantha as the DJ at some sort of all-day fundraiser-fest. The time and genre ranges of her playlist are amazing...

Another Adult View of Occupy Wall Street

If I could afford to buy this article, I'd ask Donald Pennington to put in more specifics. No importa. We've all seen similar coverage of this bring-back-the-sixties business by now. Yahoo's running it as an opinion piece, and before disputing with the opinions, please check out the links...

NASCAR School Pictures (Chuckle for the Day)

Can we really look at a child's picture and guess what the child will look like as an adult? Test your prognosticating skills on nine pictures of NASCAR racers, as teens (or tweens) and as they look this year, in this Snakkle gallery:

Michele Bachmann Joins Glenn Beck in the Casual Fashion Field

No typos here...anyone looking for a new winter jacket can sport a fleece piece with "Bachmann for President" embroidered around the shirt-pocket line. Buy it online for just $75:

But something's missing from this page...I'm not seeing any assurance that these jackets were made by laid-off American workers.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Check That Bill: Dittos Lee Hansen

Here's Lee Hansen's story:

A story of mine that makes the same point was published on Yahoo, years ago, as "How to Minimize Your Water Bill." Although I like to take at least one and usually more long, warm baths every day, at one point the city water people wanted to come out and check the meter because they couldn't believe our household water consumption was really as low as it seemed to be. So they deliberately sent out an inflated bill, in order to get an invitation to check the meter. The meter was working properly and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission cheerfully adjusted the bill.

However, although this part didn't seem pertinent to an article about reducing your city water consumption, I was told by neighbors that our ethnically mixed neighborhood was often "scammed" by the W.S.S.C. Many residents who were still trying to become U.S. citizens were intimidated by inflated bills and would pay the bills without question.

Then there's a story that properly belongs to Grandma Bonnie Peters, but explains why I've never done much to publicize Columbia Union College, the small church-sponsored school where my parents thought I'd be adequately chaperoned as a seventeen-year-old college freshman. Although Grandma Bonnie was my mentor and supervisor in home health care, she took some "external degree" courses through Columbia Union College. And paid. And continued to receive bills. And she checked those bills carefully, and eventually went to court...and collected a settlement that more than repaid the amount she'd paid for the courses, as well as the cost of her trip.

During her visit to suburban Maryland, Grandma Bonnie stayed with me, and I went to court with her. (She didn't look or act especially "old" or frail, but was recovering from a nasty injury.) That same morning, the judge who awarded her the settlement heard similar claims that other senior citizens had never paid for their "external degree" courses, ignored the statute of limitations, and ruled in favor of C.U.C. because those other people had ignored C.U.C.'s demand for a court hearing.

So, check your bills carefully...and, if you have friends who are elderly, or who have language or citizenship problems, you may want to help them check their bills too. As long as there are people who just pay an inflated bill to avoid hassles, people who seem vulnerable will go on being specifically targeted with inflated or inaccurate bills.

Should Pets Be Euthanized?

The decision to end a pet dog’s, cat’s, or other animal’s life is never an easy one. Different ethical value systems give individuals slightly different rules for making this decision. Here, for what they’re worth, are mine.
1. If the animal is going to die and is likely to infect other animals, obviously you want to destroy it at once. Animals don’t recover from rabies, distemper, or viral leukemia. Nor do they lie down and die quietly. Put them out of their misery before they put anyone else into the same kind of misery.

2. If there is a chance that the animal may recover, obviously you want to help it recover. “Lifeboat decisions” are irrelevant and silly. Of course there’s a healthy animal somewhere who would appreciate your love as much as an injured animal does. So? Maybe you can adopt the healthy one too.

3. If the animal is likely to survive, but with a disability, I’d recommend not being too hasty to decide what the animal can and can’t live with. Some animals, as well as some humans, live productively and contentedly with disabilities.

4. If the animal seems likely to benefit from a simple surgical procedure, like correcting a broken bone or removing a skin tumor, I’d incline toward trying it.

5. If the animal’s condition seems to suggest something analogous to “heroic medical measures” performed for humans, I’d think long and hard. Many humans refuse “heroic measures,” life-support machinery, open-heart surgery, organ transplants, etc., because they suspect that the pain and danger involved in these procedures may outweigh any possible benefit the procedures can bring. This can easily be the case for animals, whose lives are shorter and who have more undiagnosed disease conditions. Humans rarely go back to work, or live even five years, after dialysis is recommended; I wouldn’t be inclined to experiment with dialysis for a dog.

6. If the animal’s condition seems to suggest that it would be in pain, I’d try to let the animal tell me how bad it thought the pain was. Cats’ neurological systems are structurally similar to humans, but cats, dogs, horses, and other animals are very different from humans. In humans, we know that reactions to comparable types and degrees of pain vary drastically. After initially feeling the pain of an injury much as we would, other species may have more efficient access to their bodies’ “natural painkillers.” If an animal screams, twitches, bites itself, or attacks others, it probably does need either pain medication or euthanasia. If it walks stiffly, limps, makes certain movements differently, recoils when touched in certain places, but otherwise seems content, it can probably handle whatever pain it’s feeling.

7. If the animal’s situation seems likely to cause stress, I would never blame the animal for acting stressed. Some animal shelters try to identify the sweet-tempered, lovable animals by torture-testing each “rescued” animal’s personality. Animals who growl when they’re slapped, when food is offered to them and then yanked away, etc., are euthanized. Funnily enough, although most of the cats who’ve stayed at the Cat Sanctuary more than three months have become cuddly pets, run to me when called, followed me about, sat on my knees for as long as they had the chance, never seriously scratched or bitten any human, never harmed other cats, and generally been about as sweet-tempered as I could stand, I think all of them would have growled, and most of them would have bitten, if they’d been slapped. However...

8. If an animal has deliberately killed a human, I wouldn’t try the hands-off approach to rehabilitating that animal. A few years ago, we all saw a well-known television tiger maim its human companion. The man actually wanted to salvage his relationship with that tiger, saying that it was just having a bad day! Exceptions might be made for guard dogs who obey their humans’ orders to protect their humans from violent attacks...but the professionals who train police dogs for that purpose have not forced the law to recognize these exceptions.

9. Animals can have psychotic disorders, just like humans. I personally am not convinced that we know enough about diagnosing and treating psychotic disorders in humans to start trying this with animals. I once knew a small dog who had either spasms of lingering pain from nerve damage, or flashbacks of post-traumatic stress disorder, after being beaten. I personally would not have chosen to live with that dog, although humans I respected did. I would not have wanted to risk aggravating that dog’s obvious distress with tardive dyskinesia or Prozac-type dementia or similar painful side effects. If she'd been my dog, I would have had her euthanized.

10. Sometimes it seems that animals can live with horrific diagnoses because they don’t know what the labels applied to their symptoms mean. When my cat Mogwai was five months old, she went spastic, and her eyes seemed to lose focus; her squirrelliness was diagnosed as a likely symptom of a brain tumor. “CAT scans” aren’t done on cats, so we didn't really know whether it was a tumor or just a neurological symptom of an infection. Although Mogwai was a Listening Cat, if the words “brain tumor” meant anything to her, it must have been “How can I squeeze as much enjoyment into every minute of life as possible?”Or, “So I get dizzy sometimes, so I fall down sometimes, so I have a tremor now and then, so what? I’m still the cutest kitten you ever saw.” So I paid for a course of antibiotics, aware that they might only aggravate the pain of Mogwai's last days if she had a brain tumor...and she recovered.

Most cats don't seem to understand human words at all. Many cats are deaf. Mogwai was exceptional. She definitely did understand labels like "funny-looking." She also understood the nonverbal nuances with which humans express the different meanings of "funny." She would do, and call attention to, and repeat behavior that humans considered funny/amusing/cute, like folding herself up in an empty take-out box the cats had been allowed to lick clean, or lowering herself from a tree or stepladder onto my shoulder. But once, when an old, grumpy, censorious volunteer said things like "There's something not right about that kitten" and "Isn't 'Mogwai' some kind of devil name?", she growled and sank her claws into his skin.
When I wrote the first draft of this article (meant for Yahoo, never posted there), Mogwai's condition still seemed a bit precarious. Although she responded well to the first dose of the antibiotic, her hind legs remained slightly spastic for weeks afterward. She pushed herself to build strength and coordination, though, and by the time she grew into her legs she was a strong, bold, and graceful cat.

"Should you let that poor kitten suffer so?" Let's just say I'm glad I did. During the three years she stayed at the Cat Sanctuary Mogwai was a real pet. I have to admit that, although I care about animals in general, I don't really bond with most of the cats who've lived with me. With Mogwai I did. She was the most affectionate cat on the place; she took over her uncle Mackerel's job of listening to human words and communicating them to other animals, so she really was a friend and partner as well as a cuddly pet. And even as an awkward kitten with long, stiff, spastic legs, she didn't seem to be "suffering" unbearably; as a mature cat she seems, so far as we can know these things, to be healthy and happy.

"Gate City, United States"? Why Yahoo's New Feature Puts Me Off

Yahoo e-killed me on subsidiary pages with "" in their web addresses, but still accepts my comments on pages whose web addresses begin with "" Odd, but tolerable. However, I'm turned off by their latest innovation.

Actually, I don't care much for innovation, period. I like things I use to be reliable, the case of computer software, get the program right and then leave it alone. I don't like to waste time un-learning and re-learning much of anything just because somebody wanted to make a bid for attention.

Anyway, Yahoo decided it would make the comments more interesting if they automatically displayed the locations from which people post comments. Of course this is interesting, because the Internet is global. But they messed up the way the locations displayed by showing only city and country names.

Why doesn't this work in the United States? One obvious reason: towns and cities in different states can have the same name. There's only one Gate City in Virginia, but there are a few other places called Gate City in other states--notably the one in Georgia that's often mentioned in the novels of Fannie Flagg. There are at least four other cities, besides the "twins" on the Virginia/Tennessee border, called Bristol. If you have online time to kill, try typing the name of your city into a search engine to see how many other places share its name.

But there's a deeper political reason than that. The States were not originally meant to be analogous to the provinces, shires, or "departments" of European countries. That rhetoric about "a sovereign nation of sovereign states" was originally more than just rhetoric. Each state was a separate political entity with the right to make and enforce its own laws. That's why we've never had any kind of rule, or policy, preventing cities in different states from using the same names.

The only city that could grammatically be identified as "[name], United States" would be our national capital, which was meant to be independent of any state. However, because George Washington wanted the nation's capital to be called "Columbia" rather than "Washington," we've developed the habit of writing "Washington, D.C." instead of "Washington (or Columbia), U.S.A."

For other cities, it's grammatically incorrect to write things like "Gate City, United States," or "Los Angeles, United States," or whatever. If you're writing about the Gate City in (a suburb of) which I'm typing this post, you write "Gate City, Virginia," as opposed to "Gate City, Georgia." So far as I know there's only one "Los Angeles," but the correct form is still "Los Angeles, California." Or "Honolulu, Hawaii." And if you write "New York, United States," you're correct if referring to the state of New York, incorrect if referring to the city.

I'm not sure whether "Gate City, United States" is more like "Edinburgh, United Kingdom," or like "Moscow, U.S.S.R.," or like "Port of Spain, Trinidad And Tobago," since each of these mistakes clunks in a slightly different way for slightly different reasons...but I'm withholding my location from Yahoo until Yahoo gets it right. I may be sitting in Gate City, Virginia, or in Wise, Virginia, or Pennington Gap, Virginia, or Nickelsville, Virginia, or Kingsport, Tennessee, or some other place, but I'm not in "(city name), United States."

If there's only room to display two terms that describe my location, the alternative to "Gate City, Virginia" would be "Virginia, United States." I offered Yahoo that option, but their oh-so-sophisticated-and-innovative new software wouldn't take it.

Well...I usually comment on Yahoo articles only when they're posted by e-friends who've become semi-familiar with the small towns of southwestern Virginia by reading my articles, anyway. And maybe it's better for the whole world not to know when I'm on the road. When using the Internet it's a good idea to try to think like a criminal, because criminals use the Internet. Do we really want professional burglars to know when we're not at home?

Healthier Foods and the Monsanto Boycott (Update)

What kind of foods are classified as GMO (genetically modified organisms)? What's the connection with Monsanto? Mary Oberg explains:

If I had five dollars in my Paypal account (by the way, that's what that "Donate" button is doing at the top of the page) I'd buy this article. Since I can't buy it and want youall to read it, I'll just list some key words from the article to encourage everyone to read what Mary Oberg has reported about them: Corn. Canola oil. Soybeans. Weedkillers. Sugar. Papayas. Corn syrup. Zucchini. Veggie burgers. California. Pennsylvania. Georgia. North Dakota. Iowa. Idaho. Indiana. Oklahoma. Arizona. West Virginia. Butter. Hogs. Beef cattle. Chickens.

And I'll add this reminder: Although they're not currently being produced for the commercial market and you practically have to know Grandma Bonnie Peters personally to get one...Grandma Bonnie's "Allergy-Ease" Veggie Burgers contain neither soy nor corn. If you want to participate in the current Monsanto boycott and still eat veggie burgers, this is the brand to buy.

Meanwhile, About Rick Perry...

I don't know Governor Perry, but I'll take it from a conservative Texas voter who does:

Fair disclosure: Due to their religious differences, it's possible that Donald Pennington may be biased against Rick Perry.

Why Do People Support Michele Bachmann?

Candidate Bachmann recently polled her supporters to identify the opinions of this sub-group of Republicans. Here are the poll results:

•97.19% oppose the strategy of $450 billion in new spending advanced by the President's proposed second stimulus.
•96.39% disagree with the approach of "leading from behind" in foreign policy advocated by President Obama's top advisors.
•96.32% agree that it is necessary for Congress to fully repeal Obamacare.
•96.2% think that illegal immigrants should not be given government benefits.
•95.71% believe the U.S. government should do everything it can to allow for U.S. energy exploration.
•91.37% favor cutting government spending as the best way to reduce our nation's deficit.
Fair disclosure: Although I like many things about Bachmann, I'm wary that that line about "government should do everything it can to allow for U.S. energy exploration" could indicate more strip mining and "sacrifice" of nature distinct from the exploration of energy alternatives and cultural change that I think we need. Red flags! There probably are Bachmann supporters who do see Bachmann as a more mature, less baby-burdened rerun of Sarah Palin, but personally, if I wanted to vote for Palin I'd vote for Palin already.
If only she'd said that government should do everything it can to allow for SUSTAINABLE energy exploration...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gate City Blue Devils' Comeback

Sometimes it's pleasant to be wrong. After having predicted gloomily that Union High School, in the next county, was going to walk away with this year's football championship, I'm pleased to report that they're not doing it. After three embarrassments in a row, the Gate City Blue Devils have pulled themselves together and won the next five games...and on Friday night, after a fairly intense game, they beat Union.

Wonderful Old Words

From a fellow Live Journalist, this collection of obscure and obsolete words:

Can Wife Beaters Go to Heaven?

All wife beaters go to Heaven
To be with all the wives
Who were beaten or neglected
Throughout their earthly lives.

And they stitch until their fingers bleed
All on their wives’ white gowns,
And they crawl along the golden streets
Picking pebbles for their crowns,

And they sprawl in Heaven’s gutters
Where all step upon their backs,
And they toil up glassy mountains
With their wives in rickshaw hacks.

And they gasp and sweat and struggle,
And the radiance nearly blinds,
But such reverence and penitence
Pervade their feeble minds

That they cannot pause to draw breath
Without falling stupefied
Headlong upon the shining streets
Where the splendid ladies ride.

And the wives can grant no mercy,
As they might have done on earth,
For they too are being punished
For not teaching men their worth.

All wife beaters go to Heaven
For reasons plain to tell:
Their first thousand years in Heaven
They believe they are in Hell.

Government Health Care Poem

(Once in a while I experiment with free verse. This poem uses a poetic technique called enjambment. I've seen at least one magazine warn people not to send in any poems that used enjambment. If you, too, hate this style, I'm sorry; it's just the way this story came out. It's a true story.)

When I left university, I

Had hepatitis, however
The Community College accepted me as a
Candidate for a degree in
Geriatric Nursing Care, because
The Community Nursing Home was
Desperately in need of fresh bodies, because
Nobody wanted to work there very long. So
The classroom part was a
Piece of cake, and I
Felt ill only once, the day
Madalyn, who had just been fired from
A home-care job, for beating a
Patient, nearly got expelled for
Smoking in class, so
They chalked it up to “allergies.” The main thing was
Experience in the Community Nursing Home, and as
Everyone else in the class was married, or had been, they
Assigned me to bathe the men, because they said
Everyone else had a man of her own to practice on, and the men
Tried to Be Kind about that, and I thought
They looked as if they were afraid to complain, but
Maybe that was only because,
If they complained, the teacher might have
Sent them Madalyn. But the next time we went there
The teacher assigned me to a women’s wing where
I knew three of the patients, and someone was
Screaming and screaming for water, and they said
They never did answer when that one called, otherwise
They’d never get anything done, so
Leave her for last. I was looking around for
Miss Ethel, Miss Olivia, and Miss Cora, but
Had to work my way down the wing, and
Sponge-bath a lot of old women who plainly
Would rather have died, and
Stick feeding and watering tubes in, and
Change sheets, and worse. Miss Lizzie
Moaned and cried, the whole time. Miss Daisy I think
Tried to wet on Madalyn’s hands, but
Madalyn got out of the way. Miss Edna said
Why couldn’t she die in peace, but we just
Ignored her, and finally came to
Miss Cora, who said
She had to go home to her husband, who was
Sicker than she was. A nurse told me,
That one’s never going back home, and
She never did. Along the way we saw
Jessica, who thought she could find time to
Feed her Aunt Maude with a spoon, and the teacher said
You’re running out of time, you two, and Jessica
Dipped the spoon in and held it up, and Miss Maude
Took the beans in, and choked, and
Freckled Jessica all over with
Half-chewed beans. So I moved on, and came to
Miss Olivia, who kept a
Dairy farm, and sold milk, and used to
Smooth and ditch the gravel road with a
Long-handled hoe, before she
Broke a hip, and I said,
I know they need you at home, and she said,
They need me all right, but they won’t
Take time to help me do things, I know,
I know I will never go home. And
She never did. Her roommate, Miss Betty,
Said nobody ever got a glass of water, except
With meals, if they had time to drink then, or maybe if
Relatives came to see them. (This was
Supposed to be a visiting day, but
I never saw any visitors.) Miss Betty said
They always got meals, those who could eat them,
Or not, but nobody ever asked why you couldn’t
Eat what was on the tray, and they always got
Pills pretty close to schedule, and usually
A bath every two or three days, mostly from
Students, and there were supposed to be
Chairs to sit up in, a common room, and
TV and magazines, not that she liked
TV or magazines herself, but they were
Gifts. The Home could not afford things like
Newspapers. But, Miss Betty said,
Nobody ever pulled up a chair for
Her to sit up in, so she never knew
Where the common room was, much less
Whether they had a TV there. Maybe
The nurses went there, when the patients called
And called, and called, and nobody came. Miss Olivia
Said, if that one who’d been screaming
All day long didn’t lose her voice in a day or two,
They’d put her on sedatives, and that’d be the end of
Her and her mouth. Miss Betty said,
No loss. Now, of course, the Home was short on
Staff, but if they’d just push up those
Chairs where a person could get in and
Roll around, people like Miss Betty could
Actually be useful. A nurse said,
That one will talk all day, if you let her. So
I came to the screaming patient, whose voice sounded
More like a crow’s than a person’s, and that was
Miss Ethel, who was blind and
Raised strawberries by touch and
Let kids walk her dog if they would
Read her a page from the Bible. I said,
What happened to you, did you
Break a bone? and she said,
Nothing happened to me, but
My son went into the hospital, and
The caseworker said they couldn’t leave me
Alone in the house, which they might as well
Have done, it would have made no difference, as
He went out to work at six and never came
Home before midnight. I said,
Can you sit up? and she said,
I could, I’m not sick or
Hurt, but is there a chair to
Sit in? and I said,
Right here, and a nurse said,
Why are you doing that, don’t you know that one is
Demented, and I said, No, I don’t know that, she seems
Smart and sassy as ever to me, and the nurse said,
Always yelling and carrying on, now don’t make
Extra work, just leave that one in bed where
She belongs. Now Miss Ethel
Did eventually go home, that spring, but not before
They’d put her on sedatives, and her family said
She never seemed to know much of what was
Going on, after that. So I felt
Sort of funny about not getting a chance to
Wheel Miss Ethel around, but anyway
Got her a glass of water, and went out and
Looked around, and found that
Common room with the TV and the magazines,
Vogue and Cosmopolitan and one copy of
Good Housekeeping. I thought that was
Also funny, because all the old ladies I knew read
Readers Digest and Guideposts, and mostly in
Large type, so it seemed that those were
What ought to have been donated. I went on and
Found a bathroom on a wing where
No students were working. Patients were in there but
Not talking or yelling. It was quiet there, and
I could hear the piped-in music, and
It was a soft rock song I liked well enough to
Sing, and play on the piano, at parties, but
My parents hated that kind of music. Most
Older people did. People like Miss Ethel
Said it was Satan’s music, but my parents just
Said it stank. And that was how I knew
It wasn’t about being short of money or staff, although
Probably they were, and maybe
Not even because of embezzlement, but the bottom line was
The staff they had just totally did not care.

Time to Clean the Dryer Vent?

Autumn makes us think of fires, but the clothes drying machine is not the place where we want those fires to be. Maybe it's time to use Maxwell Payne's tips here:

In fairness, I know responsible adults who've never done this and have never had a fire. But they've probably gone through several more drying machines than they might have. The more lint you can get out of the machine, the longer it's likely to work.

Good News: Couple's Innovative Business Still Afloat

The computer says that some people found this blog by searching for the word "encouragement." That must have been some search...but don't we all need some encouragement? Here's the happy news story from today's e-mail:

Flu Limerick

When I have to stay home with the flu
And have nothing productive to do,
I whine, moan, and groan,
"Please don't leave me alone!
Distract me! Tell me about you.
(On the phone!)"

This means my reaction to the flu is just about opposite from Peter Flom's:

(If you sing it to a tune I use to standardize the meter of any limerick, the envoi "(On the phone!)" makes a nice little chord cadence at the end. It's also a good thought for others who crave chat when they feel ill.)

How Occupy Wall Street Became Confusible with the Tea Party

Yahoo's Washington correspondent has the story about Occupy Wall Street:

Some Tea Partiers are calling for at least a thorough audit of the Federal Reserve Bank, too. Both movements have attracted the interest of some non-wealthy (or less wealthy) citizens who want to know exactly what the super-rich have been doing with our national money. Although the goals of the movements as such are different, I'd bet that, if the average man or woman in either movement were allowed to watch the full audit, his or her reaction would be identical.

But here's a new web page a Tea Party group have constructed to explain just part of the problem they see:

(This is not to be confused with the National Right to Work site; it's specifically about the corruption that forms when public employees belong to unions.)

Baby Bunny Rabbits Link

Juniper Russo shares a picture of an infant rabbit and offers advice for living with rabbit families.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Weddings for Charity: Creative Tightwaddery as a Trend

The trend has been around long enough that non-trend-following types can safely take it seriously. The Top Ten Tips for Planning a Charity Wedding were taken from a Kingsport Daily News feature section in 2009; I'm sure AC would have appreciated the article if I'd found time to post it in 2009--but I didn't. Anyway, charity weddings are still trendy. Here, especially in view of e-friend Yvonne Leehelen Dowell's article on this theme, is the story:

One rule for wedding celebrations is constant: Middle-aged people are supposed to keep them quiet. A few relatives as witnesses, a minister or justice of the peace, a dark suit and some sort of dress (not white), are all we're expected to splurge on.
This year, however, my local newspapers are acknowledging the reality that a lot of June brides and bridegrooms won’t be fresh out of school. As the Daily News puts it, “By the time many couples get married, they often don’t need an extra toaster.”
That’s putting it mildly. It’s not just that the modern first-time bride and bridegroom may have lived alone and furnished their own homes for ten years, before they married and tried to pack two houses full of supplies into one house. Consider the possibilities for the second-time bride and bridegroom who, while living in that house cluttered with both of their favorite things, inherited even more household paraphernalia from their first spouses and older relatives.

So older couples are at the front of the trend for using weddings to support the couple’s favorite charity. Although I remember seeing this start in the 1990s, when suddenly everyone who was anyone in Washington wanted to be identified with a charity and some socialites actually met through the organizations they supported, it wasn’t exactly new or unheard-of even then; just a formerly quirky idea that had become trendy, and is now, apparently, going mainstream. As the newspaper story sweetly suggests, for couples who did not meet through a mutual interest in the same charity, “coming up with a list [of organizations both are willing to support] can provoke some meaningful conversations about values.”
Here, collected from the Daily News, Kingsport Times-News, and Virginia Star, are ten fashionable ideas for the Creative Tightwad wedding. I am not making these up. I’m not claiming that they sound as romantic, even to me, as the extravagant wedding parties that older ladies used to offer to stage for brides, coordinating everything “just so” for a modest additional fee. But each generation likes its own fashions, so here is what trendy young things are doing these days:
1. Go all out and ask your guests to make donations instead of buying objects. If you want a display of gifts at the reception, pick an organization that gives donors nice-looking thank-you cards.
2. Buy food and drinks that come in ordinary-sized packages. In the twentieth century, serving Entenmann’s (or Little Debbie’s) cakes and cans of ginger ale at a wedding reception would have been considered tacky. In the twenty-first century, if your charity distributes food to those in need, you can get away with announcing that any unopened boxes and cans will be donated to the cause. You could even invite guests to add their own unopened cereal boxes and bean tins to a collection table.
3. Decorate with live flowers and potted plants. After the wedding, donate them all to your favorite hospital(s) and/or nursing home(s). (In some places a battered women’s shelter might be a good beneficiary for leftover plants and flowers, too. In the Kingsport area, there aren’t enough battered women to enjoy them; there are lots of retirement homes.)
4. Buy the wedding supplies from stores and companies that advertise their donations to charities you support.
5. Donate the bridesmaids’ dresses to a charity that resells clothes. The Daily News even mentioned “an organization that supplies prom dresses to girls who can’t afford them.” You can do it online at
6. Register the wedding at You can send invitations with a charitable organization’s motifs on them electronically, or print and mail them, so people will know exactly what you’re asking them to support.
7. Make many small donations to a charity that gives pretty thank-you cards, on behalf of your guests, and give them the cards as party favors. Of course, this will be easy if you donate e-money to a charity from whose web page you can print official thank-you cards at your own expense.
8. Economize on decoration, invitation, favors, and food by choosing a color that gives a coordinated look to relatively cheap supplies. Why serve caviar when it would only clash with your “milk chocolate brown” theme? This idea has actually attracted a corporate sponsor. The Wilton school of cake decoration, many of whose products have been reviewed by AC’s Freakmamma, has produced a book called Wilton Wedding Style that suggests how to coordinate and decorate food in your color theme.
9. Sample a house style, or even a subdivision. If you’re in the market for a new or renovated house, some enterprising builders are actually offering a night or weekend in a sample of the kind of house they hope to sell you! For example, if you want a newly constructed log cabin with updated interior design, you can visit online to plan a honeymoon in scenic, mostly non-touristy Lee County, Virginia.
10. And, take care of business. The nineteenth-century bride wasn’t supposed to bother her pretty little head with concerns about insurance, prenuptial agreements, or checking accounts (and wasn’t given credit for being intelligent enough to be trusted with a joint checking account); that was the sort of thing her father was supposed to work out with her fiancé. The twentieth-century bride might have been excused for letting dreams of romance fill her thoughts for at least the first year after the wedding. The twenty-first-century bride, however, is expected to respond to ads for “FREE New Joint Checking Accounts” alongside the ads for “Beautiful Bridal Parties” and “Party Furniture Rentals.” The local newspapers don’t advertise medical supplies, such as birth control supplies, but recently a trendy 19-year-old who’s not even planning to marry a close relative of mine started telling me about the thought process that had guided her to choose a diaphragm!
Yes, Gentle Readers, that’s what they’re doing. This year’s June brides have an unprecedented choice. Do you want an oldfashioned, retro, even quaint wedding with toasters and coordinated pickle forks in factory-sealed packages...or a “Green” Tightwad wedding with computer-graphic gift cards? Long-stemmed roses, or green-bound checkbooks printed on recycled paper?
SOURCE QUOTED: Kingsport Daily News, May 8, 2009 page B-8

The Worst Teacher I Ever Had

This was written after I'd read her obituary...but it's not the kind of memory that needs to be read at a funeral. By now enough time has gone by that only local readers will remember which of my departed former teachers was "Miss Smith."

This story is for students who hate a teacher—I mean, hate having her or him as a teacher—and think the teacher hates them back; who think their teacher never was very good, and is now completely incompetent; who probably aren’t cruel people and don’t want to hurt the teacher, exactly, but think the teacher would have to be happier in just about any other line of work. I had one of that kind. I share these memories of her in case they may help you.
According to the obituary notice she was the last of her family, but just in case she has a living relative somewhere, I’ll call her Miss Smith. She had parents; she lost them early in her life. She had step-parents; she lost them early too. She had some half-brothers and step-sisters and half-nieces and so on; they, too, all died young. So far as was known, by the time I met her, Miss Smith was alone in the world.

Miss Smith was born with a gift for precise details like numbers and spelling. This made her kind of intelligence almost exactly opposite to mine; I was born with a sort of mild dyslexia that didn’t keep me from learning to read early and well, but does generate random mistakes whenever I do anything with numbers. Maybe that was why Miss Smith, who had taught fifth-grade math for twenty-two years, was my all-time least favorite teacher, and I must have been close to her least favorite fifth-grader.
Then again there might have been other reasons. Miss Smith went to college during the years when girls and women were doing everything on the home front, then joined the workforce at a time when these women were being told to go back to the kitchen and open up more civilian jobs for veterans. Miss Smith had the right type of brain to have been at least an accountant, if not a research scientist, but in her day jobs were advertised to either males or females only. Jobs for females who were good with numbers tended to involve teaching fifth-grade math.

Older people said Miss Smith had been young and pretty, and eager to teach fifth-grade math, for a year or two. Then she must have realized that she was going to spend the rest of her life going over and over fifth-grade math assignments.
The principal of the school was, like about half the people in our town, related to me. Not closely. In fact, since he was trying to get nominated for elective office by diligent work for the Democratic Party, and nearly all my close relatives were active Republicans, he was barely on speaking terms with my close relatives. In those days people believed in both positive and negative discipline. A good principal was supposed to stir people up with appeals to their pride, make people admire him and try to win his approval, and also be able to make them feel miserable with a word...and also, if a word wasn’t enough, address the Board of Education to the Seat of Learning. Our principal did all those things well. His relatives knew better than to expect any mercy if we did the things that brought other kids into contact with the Board of Education. The principal, however, had special standards for his relatives, so we were familiar with the Board of Education too. We thought it was unfair. We thought he hated us, and the feeling was mutual.

As a fifth-grader I thought the principal might have told Miss Smith to give me a hard time. Later, when I got to know some of the other teachers that age socially, they suggested that she might have given me a hard time as a way of getting back at the principal.
Then again, it seemed to me by that time, maybe she hadn’t even been trying to give me an especially hard time. As a fifth-grader I heard the insults Miss Smith hurled at me as being nastier things to say than the things she said to other kids. I got things like, “You made a mistake like that! Well, I thought you were supposed to be intelligent!” Other kids got things like, “One stupid mistake after another! Is that how that brother of yours got into jail?” Maybe everybody else thought they were the fifth-grader Miss Smith detested most, too.
It’s still true to say that the easiest way to define my demographic generation, elsewhere known as “baby boomers,” in my home town is to ask middle-aged people if we remember Miss Smith. People who were probably part of the same generation in their individual families, but who were “war babies,” are the ones who remember her as young and pretty. Baby boomers remember her as a miserable, spiteful old soul who made all of us hate math, at least temporarily, even if we had special gifts for math.
I don’t even remember the line of verbal abuse Miss Smith used to make one particular girl literally sick with fear. The girl, who had been my friend, had beautiful long blonde hair. Flu was going around. When ordered to work out a problem on the chalkboard the girl quavered, “I don’t feel well.”

Miss Smith yelled, “You’d feel better if you’d done your homework! Get on with it!” Blondie set up the problem, turned around to demonstrate, and vomited all over her beautiful hair. She was never again recognized as a good student, and she never again wore her hair longer than collar length. After escaping fifth grade she repeated a year, perhaps on purpose, to be in a class where people didn’t remember how the worst thing a fifth-grader can imagine had happened to her. When I met her again in high school, she was depressed and overweight and didn’t seem to want to talk to me.

However, back then verbal cruelty was considered a good teaching technique, typical of the best schools. If a parent had complained about a teacher calling a child stupid the universal reply would have been, “How else do children learn when they’re acting stupid? They’ll hear worse than that if they ever get jobs.”

The school system supported “tenure.” Miss Smith had that. So did a good half of the other teachers, who used verbal abuse too...but they used it only occasionally, when kids really were doing something stupid, and tempered it with encouragement and good will. Miss Smith seemed to lack any ability to understand the concept of good will. So by the time I was in the fifth grade, students and parents were starting to suspect that something might be wrong with Miss Smith, beyond her manners.
She had never been tall or thin. In my fifth-grade class, only one boy was actually taller than Miss Smith. In my brother’s fifth-grade class, several kids were taller than Miss Smith. People had started calling her “Goose Neck” because, “when she yells, she sticks her neck out.” It was true. Trying to straighten her head on her down-bent neck only called attention to Miss Smith’s swollen thyroid area. With hindsight I realize that having such dramatic cases of osteoporosis and goiter would have made anyone feel bad.
By the time my brother was in the fifth grade, students were quite sure Miss Smith was losing her least on her job. One of the boys who were taller than she was talked back, my brother reported, and Miss Smith charged down the aisle and tore the sleeve off his shirt. “It’s a fad,” I explained to our parents. “A lot of the boys are wearing grungy old shirts that will fall apart if you pull on them. They tear sleeves and strips off each other’s shirts.” Our parents still didn’t approve of a teacher participating in such horseplay.
A new flavor of soda pop appeared on the market. As a promotion, one morning before school, a disc jockey offered a free six-pack of the drink to the first person who called in with the right answer. After the commercial break the d.j. announced that Miss Smith had won the prize. “Lucky for you,” my parents said. “She’ll probably buy a lot of little paper cups and let everyone in your class have a taste. You won’t have to waste your pocket money to find out what the new soda pop tastes like, after all.”
After school we asked my brother how he liked the new soda pop. “I don’t know. I didn’t get any. None of the kids did. She brought that six-pack to school all right, and she sat there at her desk just guzzling one can after another.”
“Six cans of soda pop in one day?” I couldn’t imagine such gluttony. “She’s not as tall as I am. She would have been sick.”
“She’s too mean to be sick,” my brother said, “but she took a few extra breaks during the day.”
It was hard to believe some of the stories my brother told about this teacher. He hadn’t told lies about other teachers, but nobody could imagine even Miss Smith doing the things my brother and his classmates insisted she was doing. “Well, she’s losing her mind,” my brother insisted, “and if the principal can’t make her retire, then we ought to do it. The other teachers may be what the School Board could get for low wages, but Miss Smith is crazy.”
Older members of our generation were protesting all kinds of things back then. “Question authority” was the motto some of the more drug-damaged college kids yowled, as some of them held the deans of their colleges hostage at gunpoint, and some of the teachers dithered about how it was normal for young people to rebel against the older generation.

My family were lucky; our elders cared about us, and listened to us, and my brother and cousins and I all felt that it was possible to question authority in a polite way. Nevertheless, one of our cousins had organized a successful protest of a policy all the high school girls hated, and my brother and I had participated in a protest some of my junior-high friends organized to change a policy our neighborhood found discriminatory. My brother, though three years younger and two inches shorter than I was, could generally keep up with me. Maybe he wanted to show that he could organize a protest too.
Maybe it was the ad hominem quality of the protest that revulsed the principal so much. The successful protests had been against policies not people. Fifth-graders probably couldn’t have been mobilized to attack the concept of tenure as binding even when teachers obviously needed help, but they could be organized around the idea that Miss Smith needed to retire. Their plan was to drive poor Miss Smith even further around the bend, so that even the principal would have to admit she was no longer fit to teach fifth-grade math. She had, after all, taught fifth-grade math in the same room for twenty-four years. So their mission was to become impossible to teach. That assignment was easily within the capacities of all the fifth-graders.
More than the other teachers, Miss Smith was not impressed when students had mastered the material assigned, or willing to move on to something that might be new to them. More than the other teachers, Miss Smith wanted to see neat little folders of finished homework assignments. Everyone we knew, including adults, agreed that this regimentation was stupid; fifth grade wasn’t supposed to be like the Army. “So we’re on strike. None of us is doing any homework.”
Sometimes Miss Smith was supposed to lead the fifth-graders in outdoor exercises. Our school didn’t have much of a physical fitness program, but did give “fitness tests” once in each term. Anyone who “passed” all the fitness tests qualified for President Kennedy’s Fitness Award, but since grades for that marking period were averaged in with automatic A’s from the other two marking periods, nobody actually failed Physical Fitness.

Miss Smith was, however, supposed to teach to the test, so she went out on the playground and stretched and flapped and screamed, trying to drill the students. They threw themselves into the drills with competitive glee, proudly reporting which ones had done a hundred or more exercises before they’d had to pause for breath. “That old Miss Smith could only do nine jumping-jacks...only three sit-ups...and everybody left her behind when we ran laps, and she didn’t finish even one lap. We laughed at her.”
My father actually seemed to enjoy the homework strike, and the general idea of protesting a teacher’s unfitness to teach, but this was going too far. “You should never make fun of people who are weaker than you.”
“It’s not for being weaker than I am. It’s for pretending we need her to teach us how to do something every single one of us can do better than she can.”
Class elections were held on schedule. My brother was nominated for class president, he reported. Miss Smith didn’t want her chief enemy elected president, so she jumped in, “He can’t be class president, because I just appointed him class janitor. Pick someone else!”
“Being president of the fifth grade is nothing. Don’t waste your time arguing about that.”
“Who’s arguing? I am the president. Ask anybody.”
After a few marking periods, some of the parents ordered their children to surrender. My brother regretfully excused people from the homework strike if their parents had told them to back out. “There are other ways,” he said meaningfully.
The other ways seemed to work. By the third marking period, it seemed, Miss Smith was losing control of her temper almost daily. According to my brother, she screamed, jabbered in “the unknown tongue,” tore sleeves and collars off shirts, kicked children in the shins, and yanked on their hair and ears, at the drop of a hat. Or, more precisely, at the synchronized drop of one pencil after another all around the room...
Her efforts to micromanage the class lost all pretense of fairness. One rainy day a schoolbook was observed on a ledge below the window, rapidly getting soaked. Everyone could tell her how it got there: some other boy had picked up my brother’s book and thrown it out the window. Miss Smith rounded on my brother. “Then crawl out the window and get it!”
“I didn’t put it there.”
“You’re responsible for that book! That book is school property! Get out there and pick it up!”
My brother had a feverish cold. Also, though brave, he was immobilized by vertigo. He didn’t explain this to Miss Smith.
People often claimed to think that, when his relatives had little talks with the principal, we told him how we thought the school ought to be run. They were wrong. There was occasionally some chance of convincing the principal that we were delirious and needed to be sent home, but usually all the talking was done by the principal and the Board of Education. As in, “Are you a coward [WHACK] and a thief [WHACK]? Who did you think was going to pick up that book for you? [WHACK] Miss Smith?”
That much I could personally vouch for. The principal talked that way to girls, too, if they were relatives of his. Everyone saw him greet us by our first names and even pat us, in the corridors. On one occasion people had even seem him march me back into the cafeteria—I had actually left because the close damp air and the odor of the hot lunch were making me queasy, not because two silly girls had laughed at my queasiness—and call out the offenders’ names, and tell me to tell him if anyone else gave me any kind of trouble. But I knew that what he was doing was demonstrating the attitude our family were supposed to take toward lesser mortals. I was not above tattling to more sympathetic, motherly-type teachers, but I knew that tattling to the principal would get me another encounter with the Board of Education.
“It’s not that I can’t get through the window, sir. I can’t see. I get vertigo. My father does too. The doctor said it runs in the family.”
“Well, what would your father do about that? [WHACK] What do you think Helen Keller does? [WHACK]” (In the interest of survival, my brother would not have reminded the principal that Helen Keller had died.) “Look out and see where the book is, then go out and feel for it with your hand. You can do that much toward acting like a human being, can’t you?”
So my brother did. The rain was still pounding down. The outside temperature was about forty degrees Fahrenheit. The book was still in one piece, but only barely. My brother sat through the rest of the day in wet clothes and wet shoes. By the end of the day he was shivering and glassy-eyed, and determined that winning this battle was going to cost Miss Smith the war.
When he went back to school, Miss Smith obviously thought my brother had deserved to be ill. They locked horns again within hours.

“This kid had done his homework, or part of it, but he couldn’t find it. Miss Smith yelled at him in the morning. Then we went out for recess, the janitor came in and swept the floor, and when we came in the guy’s paper was on my desk. He’d worked five out of ten problems, four of them wrong. He hadn’t signed his name to that. Who would have? Only when Miss Smith asked what I was looking at, I held it up, and the stupid kid hollered, ‘That’s my homework!’ Miss Smith wouldn’t even change his grade when she saw that he’d got one out of ten answers right. She just accused me of trying to copy his paper. I said that in the first place I don’t do homework for her, and in the second place I don’t cheat, and in the third place, if I did, I would’ve known better than to copy that. So she told the principal I was cheating and calling her a liar.”
On the last day of school, some of the girls gushed out sentimental promises to come back and visit their dear old teachers in the future. Nobody ever made such a promise to Miss Smith, so she had time to inform my brother, “That wet book you brought in was completely unusable and had to be destroyed. Your parents will have to buy all your schoolbooks next year.”
The bizarre part of this story was that, instead of urging Miss Smith to retire, the principal urged her to go on teaching. “We can’t let those little Yippies run you off, Miss Smith! Schools may cave in to that sort of demonstration up North, but we don’t...”
She was loathed. She lived in a house on the main street of town, and when you walked past that house, even if you were a high school girl trying to “act like a lady,” you spat on the pavement. The goiter must have been treated; it didn’t keep growing bigger, but it never completely went away. The stoop got worse. Miss Smith was called “Humpback” as well as “ Goose Neck.” She stayed in town because she had nowhere else to go.
We grew up. I took a vocational course and became a Certified Geriatric Nursing Assistant; I couldn’t bear to be in the nursing home that had subsidized the course, but that summer I cooked, cleaned, and doled out meds for one of the retired teachers who were Miss Smith’s peer group, and was soon on cheerful first-name-and-friendly-gossip terms with the whole bunch. “Miss Edith” was now on the town council. “Miss Edna” was now an election judge. “Miss Ethel” was raising her grandchildren. “Miss Daisy,” my patient, was making it a full-time job to convince me that anything fresh or low-fat was unfit for Yankees or for dogs to eat, and teach me to cook greasy indigestible oldfashioned food; she was older than the others, as well as less healthy, but she wasn’t missing a beat.

And Miss Smith? They all looked at each other, whenever her name was mentioned, and said, “Well, she’s still herself,” and some of them would admit that they’d spoken to her, in the supermarket or across the back fence, but when they visited each other, Miss Smith stayed home. Alone. First Miss Daisy, then the others, suffered further declines, were sent to nursing homes, eventually died. Miss Smith continued to stay home. Alone.
Then, for a few years, while I was spending most of the time doing better-paid work in Washington, Miss Smith’s grim old house began to look as if someone in it were alive. Did Miss Smith have relatives? None very close, none willing to stay with her; but she had a nurse, a radical Christian who was too old to have formed any grudge against Miss Smith, even as the parent of a fifth-grader, and thought even Miss Smith needed love too.
Love wasn’t enough. Miss Smith’s house went up for sale. The rumor went around that Miss Smith had died. The new owners of the house had a fancy sign carved, with their family name on it, and set it up on the front lawn, so children and young people would stop spitting on the pavement.
But more than ten years after the house was sold, I met the nurse. She was in her late seventies. It showed. I wondered whether she had to have a home nurse of her own by now. She straightened up as best she could and wheezed up at me, “No, I’m still taking care of Miss Smith. But in my house, not hers, because hers was too big and too old and had too many stairs. She’s diabetic and has a lot of other problems, but she still knows what’s going on, and nobody who knows what’s going on should ever have to be in those nursing homes.”

Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven...I thought I should have gone to see Miss Smith. I hadn’t been the first to call her by names that made fun of her illnesses, but I’d laughed at those remarks and repeated those names. I’d been a well-behaved child, on the surface, and by the eighth grade I’d even started to imagine the professional frustration and emotional barrenness and physical misery of Miss Smith’s life, but never had it crossed my mind that I could have done or said anything kind to her.
My brother had shaken off his feverish cold, with no lingering effects. You could say his career was meteoric. After his fifth-grade year he and I forced people to recognize that we were “youths,” not children, by fighting a fire. That winter we earned money by tutoring children. That summer I helped cook and baby-sit for the men who rebuilt the burnt house, but my brother demanded that they let him actually work on the crew, and they did. The next summer he died, in an accident, a few days before his thirteenth birthday. It would be fair to say that showing kindness to one of the very few people who had wanted to hurt my brother, or the even fewer people who had managed to do that, was somewhere around position number 999,999 on my Top Million List of things to do.
But at some point during the next few years, a buried memory resurfaced. I think most people have the wrong idea about buried memories. I’ve known people who had been beaten or raped, as children, and, like Maya Angelou, they remembered all about that. They might not be able to talk about it, but they never forgot it. I don’t claim any particular insight into the hypothesis that some part of a child remembers having been cleaned by adults as a kind of rape or molestation; if there is a part of my mind that harbors such feelings, I think I’m better off keeping it buried. What we actually do repress, try to forget and occasionally even succeed in forgetting for years at a time, are the memories of the really tacky, stupid, spiteful, infantile things we did.
My brother’s venture onto the ledge was not the only incident that had involved Miss Smith, a member of our family, and a book. All the teachers maintained a stock of books for students to read. Popular teachers stocked new paperback storybooks and biographies, and let kids keep them at the end of the year. Old grumpy teachers stocked old schoolbooks, and held on to them. Miss Smith’s books were so old I thought she must have used them herself; actually they’d been printed before she was born, but people kept books longer back then.

I actually liked those old books because they were so different. Miss Smith let me take them home, because I enjoyed them. That was no special favor; it was standard practice, but I knew Miss Smith expected me to bring the books back. Even if they weren't special souvenirs of her childhood, they were collectors' items by that time.

Trouble was, my parents didn’t want to be responsible for having rare antique books in the house with a crawling, drooling infant, so in order to enjoy these books at home I had to store them somewhere else. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d chosen the barn loft, but for some reason that must have made sense to me at the time, I chose a nice, dry little cache, on the bank of a nice little stream, overlooking a scenic waterfall.

The books were perfectly safe there, did not get rained on, did not show any signs of mildew...until the once-in-a-hundred-years Clinchport Flood, when even that high mountain stream rose high enough to wash my whole box of books and trinkets away. I was no longer in the fifth grade and should have returned Miss Smith's books long ago, but had never found time to remove them from the cache on the way to school in the morning.

I never told Miss Smith. She never mentioned those books to me, and I never mentioned them to her. I told myself there was no point telling her about the books: they were gone, probably out in the Mississippi River, by the time the flood receded enough that school could reopen.
We live in an imperfect world, where every act is imperfect and has imperfectly just and imperfectly logical consequences, and sometimes this makes it hard even with hindsight to determine what would have been the best thing to do. If I’d gone to see Miss Smith, would she have remembered me? Forgiven me, or asked my forgiveness? Had a heart attack, or gone into a decline, from shock or a long-held grudge? Miss Smith had had so much time to nurture her grievances...

I never went to see her. I read the obituary with a sense of “She’s out of her misery at last.” So why tell you about this?
1. Because the teacher you love to hate is probably not as bad as Miss Smith.
2. And your conflict with that teacher probably won’t be as dramatic as my brother’s conflict with Miss Smith.
3. But it’s possible that you might continue to dislike or despise that teacher, after leaving that class or school.
4. And if you do, then it’s likely that you’ll realize, one day, that you ought to have been feeling sorry for that teacher and trying to be kind to her or him, instead.
5. As their next of kin, you will have plenty of opportunities for reconciliation with your parents. As a former student, you may not have many opportunities for reconciliation with your former teacher.
6. So, please, in memory of the wretched old woman I’ve called Miss Smith, try to empathize with your teacher and make peace with her, now, while you can.