How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

 

The husband dragged me to a “Small Animal Show” to look at chickens last weekend. Okay, okay, I wasn’t completely against the idea. But his confession of wanting to purchase two more Wyandottes there . . . and one of them a rooster!  . . . AND with the idea of starting to breed them!! – well, that was too much. I had to go along if for no other reason than to stop this insanity.

The first thing we saw on arrival was an absolutely gorgeous Wyandotte couple – and so obviously in love! And a big blue ribbon was hanging on their cages. Suddenly I was half on board with the whole breeding idea. I wanted those chickens! But, alas, these particular two were not for sale. The ones we could have were clearly inferior. I was less on board. We needed a little time to come to a decision.

We walked around and looked at the other animals for a while – more chickens and other sundry, questionable species. Here is a sampling of the lovely specimens we saw.

 

And then came the moment when I saw her – the perfect chicken.

Beautiful form and coloring. According to the information by the cage, she was also a good layer of eggs AND a good meat breed (not that we’d ever eat one of our own chickens.) Sturdy. Uncomplicated. There was only one tiny problem: the name.

This was a “Deutsches Reichshuhn”. Translation: a “German Reich’s Chicken”.

There was no way my Austrian husband was going to welcome a German Reich’s Chicken into our flock.

 

How can I explain this?

. . . hhhmmm . . . ?

Have you seen the film “The Sound of Music”? (Of course you have!)  So, tell me, in what scenario would Captain von Trapp welcome a German Reich’s person into his beloved homeland? None!!  Never!! Think of my Austrian husband as Captain von T. Now . . . were I anything like Maria von Trapp – in the film, anyway – I would have understood my husband – maybe even admired and supported his stance . . .

There were a few problems though.

First – that German Reich’s hen really was an attractive chicken. Secondly, those Wyandotte’s were so obviously substandard. Thirdly, let’s face it – I am nothing like Maria von Trapp – at least the film version of her.

I do happen to know, though, that the real MvT was also nothing like Julie, because I actually read her book. It was . . . disappointing to say the least Only “The Thornbirds” supersedes it on the “Worst Book Ever” list. It did, however, give me a new insight into the real Maria – who didn’t want to be married off to a rich widower with seven snotty kids. She wanted to be a nun. She was coerced into the marriage gig by her Order and subsequently went through life with the martyr’s mantra “God’s Will Hath No Why”. She was certainly no part of any resistance.

So . . . I channeled her, meaning the true, non-julie-andrews, Maria von Trapp and argued with my husband about our poultry decision.

I said, or actually, I sort of . . . barked in a gruff 1930s German accent:

“I sink zis German Reich’s chicken is EXACTLY what our sorry flock needs! She will finally bring some ORDER to our chaos! JA WOHL!  Zere will be a new attitude! Our chickens, zhey will get back to work! Zhey will tear out all zose pesky Edelweiss weeds by zhe roots! Egg production will increase! Zhe neighbors will learn to respect us again!”

 

For some inexplicable reason, my arguments didn’t work.

 

We took the sorry, second class Wyandotte pair home with us. The rooster became Gustav’s special friend fairly quickly. The hen refuses to enter the stall at night. She sneaks under the fence and then waits there, in front of the hen house(or under it), for me to come down, pick her up, open the door and stuff her in. She clearly likes the special attention.

Egg production, in general, has not increased.

 

And then there were nine.
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Dam Cracked

 

Not to diminish the insult or pain caused by Confederate statues, but it strikes me that discussions around them take our attention away from the true horror of Charlottesville. There were Nazi’s and KKK people marching proudly and openly in front of live cameras!  With guns and torches. Quoting first Hitler and then Donald Trump. In an American city.

Take a moment and really consider that.

It demands a response from every thinking person with a conscience. But what can possibly be written that hasn’t been said already by 1000 talking heads and one or two Republican senators?

As my subconscious gnawed on these recent events, a childhood story popped into my head. The one about the little boy who plugs a hole in a dike with his finger and saves the town (or was it the whole country?) I guess I thought of this story because it was somehow the metaphorical opposite of what I want to see happen.

In my three weeks in the States, I detected changes in the vocabulary people used to discuss the latest daily Twump farce. Way back during the campaign we had heard tentative expressions about “false statements”, “untruths”, “misrepresentations” and “distortions” – now people were saying straight out “he lied again”. An earlier “unprecedented outrage” was now yet another “idiotic” stunt. Words like “narcissist”, “pathological”, “obsession”, “unhinged”, etc. were now being thrown around with impunity. Newscasters began to smirk when saying the words “The president tweeted today that . . . .”  and no one talked about his brilliance in business or deal making anymore. And yet, everyone still danced on tiptoes around two topics. The first was his mental state. The second was fascism. Any remark comparing Trump’s playbook to that of historical fascist regimes was immediately pronounced “out of bounds”.

Still, it seemed to me that the vocabulary of dissent was growing in volume and intensity. I discussed this with my sister many times to make sure it was not just wishful thinking or me hearing what I wanted to hear. I was sure this drip drip had turned into a trickle at least. I wondered what it would take to turn this dribble into a stream and then, finally, maybe a torrent. What would make the dam break? Access Hollywood didn’t do it. Nor did the Comey firing. None of his many nasty attacks got his party members running, nor did the fact that he lied five times a day on average since taking office. Could Charlottesville be the thing? – the one that finally could not be simply waited out? When an important senator openly questioned the pwesident’s mental fitness for office and CNN started debating the question the next day, I thought this might really be it. The three words “on many sides” would open the flood gates. I braced myself and . . .

dribble . . . dribble . . . dribble . . .

I should have known that the senator’s words would not equate with metaphorically unplugging the hole in the dike. (His name was “Corker”. It was a sign.)

I googled the story anyway (search terms: boy finger dike) and discovered a lot of confusion. No one seems to know the origins of the story, but it was made famous by an American woman in the 19th century when she included it in her book about life in Holland: “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates”. This woman had never been to Holland when she wrote it and apparently most Dutch people were not and are not familiar with the story. (This detail doesn’t surprise me at all. I have met literally thousands of Austrians and can only name three who have seen “The Sound of Music”.) Even so, there are (erroneously named) “Hans Brinker” statues in many cities in the Netherlands today. Wikipedia suggests they were put up for the benefit of American tourists.

And now I am back to statues.

It seems our objectionable statues have about as much true connection to our country’s heritage and traditions as the Hans Brinker ones do to Holland’s. Who believes that these ugly monuments, put up during Jim Crow, were meant to glorify a bunch of 19th century generals fighting a lost and immoral cause or the man who occupied a short-lived and illegitimate presidency? No, they had a different purpose and it surely wasn’t to attract tourists. And who believes that the present day defenders of these pieces of concrete are there to honor history? If anything, it is a bunch of 21st century generals fighting a different lost cause they are chanting for, along with the current man occupying a (short-lived?) and illegitimate presidency. The man whose words encouraged them to creep out of the closets and remove the hoods. These people clearly have an affinity to and recognize a common cause with the pwesident.

So . . . it seems that self proclaimed neo-nazi’s can say publicly that “he is one of us” but the rest of us are still not allowed to say “he is one of you”.

I am almost desperate in my need to hear Washington lawmakers and serious news people start openly discussing this man’s true political leanings as well as his mental capacity and health. He keeps going lower and he’s taking the country down with him.

There were Nazi’s and KKK people marching proudly and openly in front of live cameras!  With guns and torches. Quoting first Hitler and then Donald Trump. In an American city.

Take a moment and really consider that.

The Mobiest of Dicks

Call me Ishmael.

I, too, once suffered from recurrent wanderlust which kept me traveling around the world after college for several years. There was nothing like taking off for a new place to cure restlessness and malaise. Eventually, however, I settled down far from home and it is from here that I watch my country battle the great white whale.

The last time my brain started associating the events of Election 2016 with some work of literature, it conjured up a mental image of Dragon Lizard Donald devouring Goat Clinton for show. Now I keep thinking of a larger-than-life book I never actually finished (the Cliff Notes sufficed for the test) but whose symbolism must be familiar to all English speaking people (who have also not read it.) The extended metaphor works in so far as I am somehow removed from the action, observing from a distance. It also works in that many adversaries of Trump view him as pure evil while others see him merely as a wild animal acting on instinct. But then the metaphor breaks down in a major way. Where’s my Ahab?  All I see are a whole lot of Ahab-ettes, mad at losing a leg to stand on, defiantly convinced of their righteousness, chucking their little harpoons from the confines of a cable news studio or for the benefit of cameras. So far I don’t like where any of this is heading.

moby

No Holiday for Ingrates

If not for the internet, I would have completely forgotten what day it is. Thanksgiving is one the holidays that has fallen by the wayside in my emigration. I attribute this to the fact that I don’t like: 1) stuffing, 2) cranberry sauce, or 3) pumpkin pie. And I am not thrilled by turkey either. I also attribute it to the fact that the Thanksgiving family gatherings of my childhood were often nerve-wracking affairs with the one and only upshot being we all resolved to behave ourselves better at the next celebration 4 weeks later.

You’d think I would be a bit more patriotic about the whole thing – seeing as how my ancestry on one side has been traced back through the Civil and Revolutionary Wars, all the way to the Mayflower. There is some discussion among the genealogists in the family which of several paths is the truest, but all agree on direct descent. I could join the DAR (“Daughters of the American Revolution”)!! And yet, I have never felt the remotest inclination to do so. I feel no affinity to those people and suspect they would return the feeling. In modern terms I would consider the Pilgrims to be obnoxious religious fanatics and in turn, they would take one look at the riffraff assembled around my family’s turkey and think “Look at this pack of gluttonous heathens! Is this what I puked my way across the Atlantic for?!”

I didn’t always feel this way. In Grade School I got the same romanticized and whitewashed stories of America’s “discovery” and the intrepid first settlers as I assume most American kids do. I even vaguely remember a picolumbuscture in my history book showing the savage “Indians” bowing down to the god-like Columbus – like this one I just picked off the internet:

 

Thanks to more honest High School teachers interested in promoting critical thinking, my knowledge of these events was slowly updated and revised. After literature studies at college and a slow resurgence of Native American culture and arts, I got to fold in new information on these events from other perspectives. But it is a more comemade-in-americadic “historian” (although, maybe not the most academically serious one) who has implanted a truly resilient image of those Pilgrims into my brain . . . Bill Bryson who wrote “Made in America”. After relating how the crew of the Mayflower “referred to them as puke stockings, on account of their apparently boundless ability to spatter the latter with the former,”  Bryson continues his description of the Pilgrims:

 

It would be difficult to imagine a group of people more ill-suited to a life in the wilderness. They packed as if they had misunderstood the purpose of the trip. They found room for sundials and candle snuffers, a drum, a trumpet, and a complete history of Turkey. One William Mullins packed 126 pairs of shoes and thirteen pairs of boots. Yet they failed to bring a single cow or horse, plow or fishing line. Among the professions represented on the Mayflower’s manifest were two tailors, a printer, several merchants, a silk worker, a shopkeeper, and a hatter­–occupations whose indispensability is not immediately evident when one thinks of surviving in a hostile environment.’ ( . . . )
They were, in short, dangerously unprepared for the rigors ahead, and they demonstrated their incompetence in the most dramatic possi­ble way: by dying in droves. Six expired in the first two weeks, eight the next month, seventeen more in February, a further thirteen in March. By April, when the Mayflower set sail back to England,* just fifty-four people, nearly half of them children, were left to begin the long work of turning this tenuous toehold into a self-sustaining colony.’ ( . . . )
For two months they tried to make contact with the natives, but ev­ery time they spotted any, the Indians ran off. Then one day in February a young brave of friendly mien approached a party of Pilgrims on a beach. His name was Samoset and he was a stranger in the region him­self. But he had a friend named Tisquantum from the local Wampanoag tribe, to whom he introduced them. Samoset and Tisquantum became the Pilgrims’ fast friends. They showed them how to plant corn and catch wildfowl and helped them to establish friendly relations with the local sachem, or chief. Before long, as every schoolchild knows, the Pil­grims were thriving, and Indians and settlers were sitting down to a cor­dial Thanksgiving feast. Life was grand.
A question that naturally arises is how they managed this. ( . . . )
The answer, surpris­ingly glossed over by most history books, is that the Pilgrims didn’t have to learn Algonquian for the happy and convenient reason that Samoset and Squanto spoke English-Samoset only a little, but Squanto with to­tal assurance (and some Spanish into the bargain).
That a straggly band of English settlers could in 1620 cross a vast ocean and find a pair of Indians able to welcome them in their own tongue seems little short of miraculous. It was certainly lucky-the Pil­grims would very probably have perished or been slaughtered without them-but not as wildly improbable as it at first seems. The fact is that by 1620 the New World wasn’t really so new at all . . .

 

So there you have it. My mental image of my ancestors – and it is not a pretty one. Particularly now, having battled a stomach flu for the past two days, it seems the only thing I inherited from these distant relatives is the ability to puke.

It suddenly occurs to me that I have managed to write a Thanksgiving post on the subject of ingratitude, which is kind of weird. So let me rectify the situation quick before I click on “Publish”.

On this particular Fourth Thursday in November I am thankful for NeoCitran, pretzel sticks, 7-up, saltines and stomach-friendly herbal tea. I am thankful for my coworkers who covered for me. I’m thankful for my elder daughters’ ability to cook her own lunch. I’m thankful for the friend who will give my younger daughter a ride to her Hip Hop class. I’m thankful for the living room couch. I’m thankful for my husband’s homemade beef soup – the first thing in two days that has made a one-way trip to my stomach and not returned. And now that I am feeling a bit better, I am thankful for Samoset and Tisquantum.

Rainmaker Riposte

First – a re-blast from the past . . .

Metaphorical Money

March 6, 2015

Over the years of listening to hundreds of business student discussions, it started to occur to me that the way we talk about money –– the idioms and metaphors we use –– have changed over the decades. I started collecting those idioms and metaphors and discovered that they generally fell into three distinct groups. One for each of the three physical states any substance can take: solid, liquid, and gaseous. Let me explain.

A hundred or so years ago, money had the physical properties of solids. It was dough or bread. You could hold a big wad of cold hard cash in your hand or jingle the coins in your pocket. You could stockpile money, put it where your mouth is, throw it around, or stuff it in your mattress. Like Scrooge, you could stack up your wealth against someone else’s or squirrel it away. You could pinch pennies, hold the purse strings, have money to burn or have money burn a hole in your pocket. Money talked.

Then something changed –– maybe it was abandoning the gold standard or deregulation. Who knows? But it seemed that the revved up economic motor got hot and money melted. Liquidity was born and savings turned into cash flow and liquid assets. Companies no longer went broke, they became insolvent. They didn’t fuse, they merged. A small amount of money was a drop in the bucket. More and you were awash in it. See a good investment? Then dive in! Some of the money evaporated. Some of it trickled down.  But even in its liquid form, there were still some natural barriers to keep money contained; you could pool it, but not for too long, because then it would go stagnant. Money had to keep circulating. And some of those pools had bubbles in them.

The economy heated up a little more and then, in 2008, came the “Great Economic Meltdown” which strikes me as a misnomer. The economy had been melting for a good long while. This was more like the ”Great Economic Vaporization”. We suddenly discovered that money had become a gaseous substance somewhere along the way. At first it had seemed to be everywhere and limitless; you could just breathe it in. You could make money out of thin air. No need to produce anything or do actual work –– let the Chinese do that. We could just buy and resell stuff to make money because it was not connected to anything on the ground anymore. The FIRE economy (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate – in which nothing is actually produced) ascended, while roads, bridges and schools crumbled. But in money’s new form, it started, like most gases, to rise upward, collecting in the stratosphere. For the 95% of us down here on earth, huge portions of it simply floated away; there was suddenly no financial oxygen around anymore, no cash flowing or trickling, nothing solid or tangible to put in your pocket. Poof. Gone.

What now? As I admitted at the start, I am a language teacher, not an economist –– or a chemist for that matter – but it seems to me there is no way to get all those escaped gasses back. And simply printing more money as some have suggested won’t do anything to reverse the chemical processes that have been set in motion. I think we have to start building things again. Let’s start with things that keep the planet cool. Like wind turbines. And solar panels. And schools.

I generally don’t like re-blogging stuff (even when it was written at the start when I had a readership of one), but I have found myself returning to this old idea lately because it still seems completely relevant to what is going on today, and more particularly in how economic issues have been dealt with in this election. One hears continually that decades of increasing financial frustrations turned into rage (with some help from a well-meaning socialist senator and a de-meaning wannabe strongman), leading us into our current political quagmire. Now we are being asked to choose between the classic medicines of the political left and right. Put her in office and she will try to push through her hundred ideas of how the government can help us. Give him the chance and he will wield the magical powers of money to save us.

Although I definitely fall in the camp that sees government as a useful and necessary institution, I believe now that old ways of thinking are no longer valid. For over thirty years of deregulation, wealth has slowly consolidated upward as the lion’s share of the tax burden shifted consistently downward to lower earners. All of these developments have made our economy precariously top-heavy and in constant danger of tipping.  Left/right solutions no longer make sense for an up/down problem. The core of our predicament is neither political nor economic – it is chemical . . . and mythological.

Ironically, the arguments behind three decades of deregulation have been disproven by their own implementation.

 

Myth #1: “Job Creators”
Let large companies keep their money and they will reinvest it, creating new opportunities for workers.

In reality, the vast majority of people are employed either by government or by smaller companies. When the large ones have more money, is it their first instinct to think “let’s go hire more people”? Or do they go shopping for smaller competitors, take them over, fire employees with redundant positions and make those remaining take on the extra workload? Seeing as how the prime directive of corporations is now “shareholder value”, the choice seems clear.

 

Myth #2: “Dishwasher to Millionaire”
A person can work their way from nothing to fabulous success.

At some point I learned that a person now needs money to make money. Horatio Alger might disagree, but it seems to me that there are more people working harder and harder just to decrease the rate at which their standard of living is sinking. We have become Gatsby’s, believing “in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us . . .So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

 

Myth #3: “Taxation without Representation”
Paying taxes means “the government is taking your money”. You are a much better judge of how your money should be spent than those bureaucrats in Washington.

Really? Personally, I don’t want to have to home school my kids, check the quality of my food, build my own roads, put out my own fires, dig my own well, confront the burglar myself, build my own generator, drive my injured friend to the hospital (on roads I built myself) or pay every individual (home-schooled) doctor out of my own (already empty) pocketbook (-and I haven’t even had lunch yet!) I don’t want to dine on cat food when I am seventy or build my own playground or define and defend my own rights.

And I don’t want others to have to do all that alone either.

Until the day arrives when not only the obscenely rich up there in the stratosphere, but ALL of us, down here at ground level, can afford private daycare, private schools, private transport, private doctors, private libraries, private security forces and private pension funds, I think we are going to have to keep working together. It would help us all a lot if we had more cash flow.

So let’s start by making it rain.

Conundrum

 

My husband and I have spent part of the summer de-junking the house. We are both the types to not throw anything away that might have some as yet unimagined future use, so an unbelievable mass of . . . let’s face it – crap – has accumulated in and around our house over the past 27 years.

There have been discussions.

For instance, about the box of old undefinable plumbing equipment – tubes, joints, spigots, (I really have no idea what I am talking about . . . ) I ask why we need to keep this stuff. He answers that we might want to do the kitchen someday. I respond, but will these 25 year old parts really be helpful?

He then discovers a box of old baby clothes. Now here is something we really don’t need! I explain that I might make a quilt out of them someday. He looks at me and asks me when the last time I sewed something was.

We agreed to be very honest about whether these things would realistically be useful again.

The plumbing box was carted away, as was the box of baby clothes.

libraryToday I got to my library. It is filled with things that will spend the rest of their existence collecting dust. 85% of these books have been read and therefore will never be read again. 10% are books people gave me that I have no intention of ever reading. 5% are books I bought and intended to read, but after 5, 10, 15 years of not getting around to it, I doubt they will ever be cracked open.

According to our agreement, most of them should go.

But all of that is irrelevant.

One does not throw away books.