Sunday, September 30, 2012

Banned books & living in the library

Starting today, a writer & editor (& fan of Kurt Vonnegut & free speech, I am guessing) will live in the Kurt Vonnegut Library in downtown Indianapolis.  His plan is to stay into October, through the end of  Banned Books Week

Well, good for him.  I am planning on reading a banned book; I have started the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor because I adored Witch's Sister & the sequels when I first read them  when I was maybe ?12?  I am guessing they have been banned somewhere as well (witchcraft!).

More interesting to me, though, is this business of living in the library.  I am interested because last month someone returned a dachshund to our local library.  The librarian does rescue cats, & feeds strays (& underfed "pets") & our best guess is someone knew she would find a good home for the little dog (& a good home has been found). 

Cats & the occasional dog are not the only ones who call our local library branch home.  According to the 2010 census, this particular town had a median income of $12,345 (to put this in perspective the 2010 threshold for poverty for a person under 65 was $11,344).  This town has no community center (although there is a Senior Center that does an excellent sideline with mentally disabled adults of any age).  There is not even an in-town high school; the kids that stay in school go to high school in the booming metropolis next door (population 3,630 per the same census). 

What is does have is a well funded library.  This is because the county has a well funded library & this branch is part of that system (not coincidentally, the school district is also county wide & one of the best in the country).  If the library seems like a waste of money in a town were people are barely scraping by, I promise it isn't.  This place is hopping pretty much any day you go in:  On school days, the tables get set up for all kinds of board games in prep. for the school bus unloading, the computers with internet access have long sign-up sheets & as it gets close to closing time, the kids line up to use a phone (in a just-scraping-by community, the kids don't all have cell phones, never mind smart phones).  Earlier in the day it's moms & grandmoms & great-grandmoms with toddlers having their own story hours on the carpet in the miniscule children's section.  On Sundays, after church, the Mennonite ladies stop in for their romance novels & the Mennonite men surf the web. 

For the start of this Banned Books Week there are big, big plans; here the first day of Banned Books Week is the Family Literacy Festival.  Because the first step in getting books off the burn pile & on to the shelves is teaching everyone to read.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A second attempt at a simple red scarf

Earlier this year I got the bug to make a scarf for the Red Scarf Project.  Naturally, I did not follow the guidelines as far as dimensions went.  Fortunately, I also missed the deadline by roughly 11 months so I have had plenty of time to make another scarf the right way.  Plenty of time, but I still had not started by the first of this month.

Luckily, I have until the first week of December to begin, finish & get the whole thing off in the mail (to arrive by December 15).  So I am starting again.  I used my 30% off your total purchase to buy a few different kinds of red yarn (& by red I mean ever-so-loosely red; I certainly did not feel obliged to limit myself).  The Red Scarf Project site has links to several patterns (emphasizing reversible patterns, which is great), but I decided to revisit my own, but do it right this time.

Using the same yarn as in the old post pictures (but red, of course), I cast on 33 stitches to meet the 5-8 inches wide requirement; in the end it was 10.5 inches on the nose but honestly 8 inches looked so spindly.  Besides, I know it is going to get longer with use so it will move closer to the required width over time.  In the end, mine was around 52 inches long, but that made it long enough to wrap & tie, which was suggested.  The pattern remains:

Knit for seven (7) rows.

For the rest of the scarf, up to the last seven (7) rows -& I bet you can guess how those will go- repeat the following three rows:

Row 1:  Knit
Row 2: Knit five (5) , purl to the last 5 stitches, knit five (5)
Row 3: Knit

Continue until scarf is desired length.

I made mine so that it ended the opposite of the beginning (if the first three rows were knit on the same side, they were all purled on the same side at the end).  If you don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry about it. Lastly, A tells me the fluffy yarn makes it a girls-only scarf; I hope he is wrong. Now that I have finished this one, my plan is to get another on the needles quickish; I figure if I knit instead of playing Angry Birds I will actually have a nice little pile to ship off.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The 9 minute 1/2 mile

I still have not broken the 18 minute mile consistently; I can average it but not maintain it (there is always one set that runs a shave longer & one or two that run so much shorter).  I am still doing walking intervals every 4, 5, 6, 7 8 or 9 minutes though, so that probably explains the drag.  What I do know is that the two quickest half miles are absolutely covered in 9 minutes or less....each.

I realize of course that predicting the miles in general by the fastest half mile is absurd.  A funny thing about that--many many years ago (yes, we can say decades) I was briefly involved in collecting data about how children learn (specifically how they learn to express themselves).  My end of things was interviews designed (not by me) to elicit precisely the same response in terms of perspective, but record the different ways it was expressed.  By the parents.  I asked questions & parents answered knowing full well they were being recorded & these recordings would be seen & heard by the people who cared for their children & so, naturally, we expected lies about the home routine & BOY-O-BOY did we get them.  Seriously parents, the people who take care of your kids upwards of 4 hours a day know more about your life, including details of your sex life, than you do; they don't WANT to know, it just happens.  There is almost no point in telling these people anything that isn't true..

That is all an aside.  I am more interested these days in the data collection that was going on in the next office & by "office" I mean cubicle & by "next" I mean we shared a computer table that had a cardboard screen propped between the two monitors; our chairs were side-by-side.  There was roughly the level of privacy between us as there is between your child & the person changing your child's diaper.

What they were tracking was standardized test scores.  In those days, standardized tests were just a blip on the horizon.  When I was a high school freshman, our class was given a test along with a handful of other districts around the state.  As I understand it, the schools involved largely volunteered.  I have no memory of ever being given an all-students style test again.  Anyhow, the results of the annual volunteer tests were being gathered together & used to determine averages, highs, lows, etc.  I remember one memorable fall semester when for whatever reason a certain chunk of the test taking schools failed to forward their tests in time for the scores to be calculated & entered into the system before the student slave labor let for winter break.  Someone made the ingenious decision to just go with the test results they had in-house & for several years (& maybe still, I graduated after all & never looked back), it was the high water mark of standardized testing, as the averages of the class of  1988 were noticeably better than all the others.  It turns out, though, that schools that can turn in paperwork on time generally have higher scores on these things than schools that get bogged down.  Also shocker of shockers, schools that volunteer for these kinds of tests often have significantly higher scores than schools that don't.  Soooo, it seems that basing an average on the higher end of the performance scale may not be the best way to motivate everyone else to do better.

& we are back at my 9 minute 1/2 mile.  In short, it does not an 18 minute mile make.  Still, I am covering more ground in less time. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Your flag decal won't get you into heaven anymore

I have said before I am not the world's biggest fan of people who fly the confederate flag.  Whatever I have estimated your intelligence to be, a flag decal on your vehicle will cut it in half.  One of the things that put me off the tea party very early on was the diatribe about how the US wasn't for her people anymore & those people were sporting confederate flags.  Imagine if you will a group of protesters in France complaining that their government was disrespecting them as they flew the Union Jack; absurd, yes?  Then imagine England's succession had not been successful. 

SIDEBAR:  When A was teaching at a small eastern university, many years many you ask?  Well I can say exactly, it was a week before the presidential election that removed Jimmy Carter & put Ronald Reagan in the White House.  More to the point of this story, it was the tail end (although we did not know it) of the Iran hostage crisis & pretty much the only americans in Iran were hostages.  That week, A looked out his window & saw a group of Iranian students protesting & carrying signs.  Their signs said "America, get out of Iran".  Two things struck him.  The first was, of course, how stoopid could they be & the second was that not one single person was interfering with them while they marched around on a busy college campus.  No one was harassing them or cursing or throwing rocks.  He likes to think they were disappointed.

Where were we?  Oh right, the streets of Paris complaining that the French govt was ill-treating British people who didn't want to be there & had tried to get away before & were now trying to take over.  

This whole picture is lost on most confederate flag sporting types.  They don't need you to tell them their history, after all it is THEIR history & they know it well.  Lately I have taken to asking questions about the confederacy of people sporting this flag:  name a single member of the Confederate States of America Cabinet (I used to ask them to name two, thinking Jefferson Davis was a gimme, but turns out he is not).  I do not ask that they stick with the original members, which opens up the field a teeny bit.  One old guy hung in there insisting that Stonewall Jackson had to be one of them (he wasn't), but I said I will give you the point IF you can tell me where the battle that gave him his nickname took place (& you have to do better than "near a stone wall", which while probably correct is not how the nickname came about anyhow); this one battle also has two well known names & I would have taken either of them in lieu of a state/territory name, but he could name none. When I told him one of the names he was QUITE INSISTENT that that could not be correct because that battle was fought against indians (yikes).  Finally, the old guy really didn't like hearing General Jackson actually did not die in battle, he died of pneumonia in the weeks following battle field surgery required because he was (accidentally) shot by Confederate troops.  

Back in the days when I thought up this question I naturally assumed that one person with such a flag decal would be able to answer that one question (they never have), so I thought up a second question:  Name the chairs of the Confederate States of America Cabinet.  I will give you President & Vice-President, there are six more.  One of them, my personal favorite, was largely honorary as the field it was intended to oversee was performed by the Union officer of same as the Confederacy had no....can you guess?    If you can name that one I will give you credit for the whole she-bang.

I have never gotten to the second question (never mind the extra credit option of the second question) because people who do work on our place have stopped wearing confederate flag t-shirts when they come here & they avoid my eye if they happen to run into me in the grocery store while in such garb.  Mostly they are nice people, the ones I know anyhow, who have latched on to that idea the way a drowning man latches onto Jesus; they have filled it with what they need it to be which bears a passing but not detailed resemblance to what it was. 

Today, in 1864, citizens of two confederate states formalized plans to rejoin the Union.  They were Tennessee & Louisiana.  In less than five years, all the confederate states would again have representation in the US Congress.  Say what you will, this does not sound like the behavior of a persecution government. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

4th Annual International Vulture Awareness Day

So here we are, between the two waves of the political conventions & just the right time to talk about vultures.  This does rather do vultures an injustice, but well it was just so easy.

Living in the country, I have an appreciation for vultures that maybe people who are routinely unaware of what happens out of their line of sight. It is easy in a city, or even a well-groomed suburb, to forget that when you put that garbage out at the curb it goes somewhere.  You know it goes somewhere else, but that it continues to be there, at that somewhere is shockingly easy to forget.

Out here, though, there is no garbage pick-up, at least not for Mother Nature's garbage.  & the fact is she has PLENTY: trees that fall & decay over years, plants that burn in the first frost & are just husks a few days later.  Birds & insects & even small mammals do what they do & slowly it all gets turned over.  But those birds & small mammals & even large mammals also keel over & then what?  Enter the vultures.

It is a rare day that I do not see a carrion bird of some kind & good thing, too.  If it weren't for them we would be stacked up to our eyeballs in cadavers.  We wouldn't care, though, because the stench & the disease from all those bodies would have killed us before the pile got past our knees.

Which brings us to today's holiday, of sorts, dedicated to the not only unsung hero but the villainized hero.  That would be the guy who does a job that is so repellant the most mild mannered among us swerve to avoid associating with them, while others routinely throw rocks.  But like it or not, a vulture doesn't do the killing.  At best they clean up everyone else's mess, at worst they start circling a bit early when they spot a volunteer.

Happy International Vulture Awareness Day