Tuesday, April 29, 2008

As a Wellesley alumna and a parent, I am not happy with Hillary Clinton

When I went to Wellesley College, math was part of the core curriculum and there was an honor code, which amazingly, everyone (or nearly everyone) adhered to. But I guess what happens (or happened) at Wellesley, stays at Wellesley. At least in the case of fellow Wellesley alumna and political science major Hillary Rodham Clinton (Class of 1969).

As far as I know, there wasn't an exception to the rules that said "except if you are running for office." We all knew what the rules were, up front, and we all agreed to the rules. Breaking the rules had consequences, not just for the rulebreaker but for everyone. Ah. That notion seems so quaint now, doesn't it?

So here's my beef with Senator Clinton: Like the rest of the Democratic field, she agreed not to campaign in either Florida or Michigan after the Democratic National Committee stripped both states of their 366 (total, combined) convention delegates for holding primaries too early in the process, which was a violation of party rules. However, despite publicly agreeing to honor the rules, she remained a presence in Florida and remained on the ballot in both states, although her current opponent, Senator Barack Obama, honored the DNC's rules in both states and even had his name removed from the ballot in Michigan.

On top of that, she has the gall to repeatedly declaim that the voters of Florida and Michigan have been unfairly disenfranchised and their votes should count -- even though both states' legislatures knew full well the penalty of moving up their primaries, as did the voters (though they didn't get a say in the process), as did the candidates, who agreed not to campaign in those states; and as previously noted, Barack Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan.

Do you think Senator Clinton would be so noble had she been ahead in the delegate count and/or the results of the Florida and Michigan primaries been reversed and Senator Obama had "won" those nonbinding noncontests in Florida and Michigan? I think not.

I know I am probably in the minority here, but would it not have been far nobler for Senator Clinton, in keeping with her Wellesley training, and the bylaws of her party, to have declaimed that rules are rules and are meant to be followed, and that the candidates were honor bound to follow them, even if they did not like the result?

I fully understand all about wanting to win, and that to many folks winning means winning at all costs, rules be damned. But I (perhaps naively, or foolishly) believe winning only has real value if you win fair and square. Whatever happened to, It's not whether you win or lose but how you play the game? (Okay. You can stop laughing now. Really. Get up off the floor. You're embarrassing your co-workers.)

This past weekend my almost 10-year-old daughter competed in a tae kwon do competition. Although she is a black belt, she is not the best student, in terms of athletic ability, at her tae kwon do school, and she knows it. Yet she has more heart and drive and smiles more than many other students there. Still, that doesn't win you medals. Yet she waited patiently (over three hours) for her turn and despite being at a slight disadvantage, size, rank and age-wise, competed honorably -- no low punches or illegal kicks.

During and after the tournament I heard tales from other parents about kids (they said from other schools) who fought a bit dirty, hitting and punching too hard, even hurting other children -- yet who won their competitions.

I know that the children who did not win gold medals (or even silver) must have been disappointed. Yet the amazing thing was, at the end of the day, my daughter (who competed against an older, more experienced student , whom she lost to) and her fellow students, all of whom played by the rules, were still happy to have competed and felt really good about themselves, even though they may not have gold or even silver or bronze.

As a parent, I am enormously proud -- of all of them. And as a parent, I am enormously ashamed of and disappointed in Senator Clinton. Yes, I know politics can be as rough and tough and bruising as tae kwon do -- more so, especially when people look the other way, or worse, applaud, when a candidate throws a questionable or dirty punch. But I wish Senator Clinton would recall her Wellesley roots, and the fact that willingly or not she is a role model (like all parents are supposed to be), and uphold the honor code she once adhered to (and check her math), even if it means losing.

To me, someone who can lose gracefully is a real winner.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Cat on a Hot Tin Hood

This is Felix...

He is a bit of a basket case...

Who likes to jump on things...

And explore... Which can be quite exhausting.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Aussie tax dollars hard at work

A single male reader sent me this news item the other day.

While I am all for cancer prevention, what I really wanted to know was if the participants experienced a significant decrease in vision after performing the experiment many times over.

Mercy! (Which also happens to be the title of my new fave song, by an artist named Duffy.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

That sound you are not hearing is me shredding my Citibank AAdvantage MasterCard

I set one foot outside the country and warning bells apparently start going off at the Early Fraud Detection department over at Citi Cards. Happens every time. Of course, do they call me on my mobile phone? No. The automated system calls my home phone, which being out of the country, I am not inclined to check.

While I am happy that Citi Cards has an early fraud detection system in place, this time the system went too far. Waaaay too far. Can you say HAL?

So, after charging away restaurant, attraction, and hotel bills in the UK for a week, I come home Saturday, see a reminder to "buy new glassware" (we've been using recycled Pom juice containers to supplement our rapidly decreasing high ball and low ball supply of cheap glasses), go onto Macys.com, place my order, and click. Only to get an error message. I try again. Click! Click, click, click! "I'm sorry. We are unable to process your order." Wha?!

So I call the Citi Cards customer service number, talk to a very nice rep, who, after verifying some recent charges, takes the block off my card, and click! my order is processed.

Sunday morning. I get an email from Lands End, announcing free shipping for just three days. Great, I think. I need to buy my daughter a few warm weather things. I'll just do it now. So I fill up my shopping cart, go to check out, and EH! [insert loud buzzer noise here]. No dice -- or dresses or swim goggles. My credit card has been rejected. I try again. Nope. Nada. Nyet. Uh uh.

As I am sitting in front of my computer, seething, Lands End calls me. They know I am a customer in good standing and are checking on my order, because my card isn't going through. Bless them.

I pick up the phone and call Citi Cards. This time I speak to not one but TWO customer service reps, who apologize profusely and swear to me that the problem has now been fixed. And you know what? THEY LIED. (Shocking, I know.)

I call back Lands End. Card still isn't going through. I call back Citi Cards. And... Let's just say I wound up charging the items on my VISA debit card.

Monday rolls around. I go to sign my daughter up for a summer activity -- again on a site I have used before. And (you know what's coming, right?)...

Again, I call Citi Cards. And again I speak with a very nice customer service rep and an account manager, who, apologizing profusely for the inconvenience, tell me it's basically not their problem. That it's a problem with the Early Fraud Detection system, but that hopefully the problem should be resolved, soon.

That's very nice, I say. (Amazingly, despite serious sleep deprivation and a lack of food, I have kept my temper in check and remembered to say "please" and "thank you" throughout each exchange.) But, I inform Vladimir, I am about to go grocery shopping and would really, really like to be able to charge my groceries, as I always do. "Shouldn't be a problem, ma'am," Vladimir tells me.

So, I go to Stop & Shop, do my shopping, and go to pay with my Citibank AAdvantage MasterCard and... (I know. You are howling on the floor with laughter.)

This time, I decide I need to take a slightly stronger, more authoritative approach in my dealings with Citi Cards customer service. So I get out my microcassette recorder, stick in a tape (I tried digital, but I can't transcribe off a .wav file), and place the call. This time, I get Christina, who, naively, asks how she can help me.

"Hello Christina," I say, just as sweet as pie. Then I inform her that for quality assurance purposes, I am recording our conversation. (I kid you not.) She is a little taken back but goes along with it.

I explain, as I have already to Kay, Sean, Vladimir, Hunter, and two other people whose names I cannot remember, that I am unable to use my Citibank AAdvantage MasterCard and would very much like, once and for all, to have the Early Fraud Detection department remove the block on my card, that the card has been in my possession at all times, that I have repeatedly verified all charges on said card, that I have been a customer in not just good but excellent standing for more than 10 years, and that if Citi Cards does not resolve this problem in the next few minutes, I will be canceling said card and will never use another Citi-backed card again, capiche?

Christina (poor thing) capiched all too well. Like the long line of sweet-talking customer reps before her, she attempted to resolve the problem on her computer, but it was just too much for her -- and she asked if she could put me on hold. (Btw, I think I am pretty safe in saying that the phrase "May I put you on hold?" is one of the most feared in the English language.) Do I have a choice, I asked her? Not if I wanted to get this matter resolved, she replied sweetly, but she promised not to transfer me. That was the only promise she kept.

Several minutes later (in fact, it took so long I shut off the tape), she came back and announced she was pretty sure the problem had been resolved. Pretty sure?!

So I asked her, very sweetly, albeit with teeth clenched, if the problem has not been resolved, to whom should I speak over there? She replied, the Early Fraud Detection department. Fine, I said. And do you possibly have a direct number for them, so I don't have to go through voice tree hell for the eighth time in 48 hours? "I'm sorry," she said. "I don't." Of course not. I then, smoke slowly starting to puff out both ears, politely thanked her for her help and hung up.

I then got on the computer and applied for a much better, annual fee-free, rewards points giving, anytime travel, concierge service included VISA card through Merrill Lynch, for which I was immediately approved and which will arrive tomorrow via FedEx. And you can be s**t sure that as soon as I have activated it, I will be shredding my and my spouse's Citi AAdvantage cards and canceling my account.

UPDATED 4/23 at 6:35 P.M.: Despite being told my new Merrill Lynch VISA card would arrive via FedEx today, it didn't. How do I know? Because I waited around the friggin' house ALL DAY waiting for said card (because I was told that I had to be here to sign for it). You're chuckling, aren't you? Frankly, I don't blame you. Interestingly, today my Citi AAdvantage card magically started working again. (I had an automated payment set up, which went through. Gotta change all of those when/if the new card arrives. Thanks to "the little sister I never had" for reminding me.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

You could win the lottery, or CERN could create a life-sucking black hole -- same odds

Here I am in London (currently hiding out in the loo while the husband and child sleep in), having a jolly good time (not in the loo but on the trip in general) when my spouse asks me last night, "Hey, have you seen this article about the collider?" (as in the Large Hadron Collider CERN is building under Switzerland and France).

Of course, I hadn't seen the article as a) we have been in the UK madly running around with little time to read anything; b) although we have a computer (his), I have barely been on it; and c) if I have gone on it, it is only to briefly check email, not to search out articles about the Earth's impending demise. But once you open Pandora's Box...

So I read the article, an essay by the New York Times's Dennis Overbye titled "Gauging a Collider's Odds of Creating a Black Hole." The good news: According to one report Overbye sites (about the Brookhaven, NY, collider, which, as far as the general public knows, has not created a non-evaporating black hole that is slowing sucking Long Island into its maw -- though some would argue that would not necessarily be a bad thing, though the beaches are quite lovely), the odds of a major disaster occurring due to a collider experiment are just less than one in 50 million, or put another way, about the same as an asteroid crashing into the Earth (the reason why we currently exist, btw, and why there are not T-Rexes still roaming around the Dakotas) or just less than a chance of winning some lottery jackpots.

Some may find this risk analysis comforting. Not me. Have you seen (or heard about) the number of Powerball and Mega Millions winners out there?! Just in the past year alone there had to have been a least a half dozen. That said, if we are destined to be sucked down a black hole, Lord, could I win the Powerball first? Please? (Though I know I can't take it with me. Still... )

Okay, okay. I know that I may be overreacting to all this. (Shocking, I know.) But my attitude (and apparently the attitude of some scientists) is why take the risk? And why spend billions of dollars on such an endeavor when the money could be used to save lives -- and discover things like fresh sources of water, clean sources of energy, the cure for cancer and other diseases?

I am all for scientific discovery and understand that many great inventions have come from things like the space program (though apparently Tang wasn't one of them -- it was invented before and only became popular after the astronauts made it to the moon and back), but the Large Hadron Collider, even with its enormous cool factor, seems unnecessary and unacceptable, especially as we already have a perfectly good dollar-sucking collider right here in the old U. S. of A.

Well, my daughter just got up, which is my cue to end this post. Gotta spend time with her while I can.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Things you wish you didn't know... but do

I once had a supervisor who repeatedly told me, "No one wants to know how the sausage is made." Actually, though, I find sausage making fascinating. But maybe that's just me. In fact, I have, over the years, developed a growing fascination with how things -- all kinds of things -- are made and enjoy watching shows like "How It's Made" and "John Ratzenberger's Made in America." But some things, I don't want to know about -- and yet I do anyway.

Herewith a (partial) list of "Things I don't want to know about... but do," in no particular order, which I invite all of you to add to. And btw, I am not advocating ignorance (though I hear it can be bliss) of any kind or a lack of transparency in government. I just wish we lived in a safer, saner, healthier, Bush Administration-free world.

    Terrorist threats (particularly the unverified, unspecified kind that still get talked up on the news)
    That there are people out there who want to (and do) harm children

    The sex lives of people I know
    The sex lives of people I don't know (see politicians, priests, polygamists)

    How much oral sex middle-schoolers are having (Can't I keep my head in the sand a little longer? Please?)

    Boxers, briefs, or boxer briefs
    All the possible side effects of the various prescription drugs constantly advertised on TV (special honors to the makers of Viagra and Cialis)

    Lyrics to songs I can't stand listening to (with the exception of "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)")
    The state of my daughter's and husband's closet and dresser drawers

    The chance of a particle accelerator creating a tiny black hole (or a dragon, though that would be cool)

    Why dogs sniff each other's butts

    That there are parents who give their children names like Loser and Shithead (read Freakonomics) or Charman Toilette, Chastity Beltz, Wrigley Fields, Justin Credible, and Tiny Bimbo (though actually I find some of these names quite amusing)

    What that guy in the SUV next to me (or behind me or in front of me) is listening to on his tricked-out, bass-turned-way-up audio system

    George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld

    If any of the Presidential candidates did drugs in their youth (and by extension what politicians do in their private lives -- see "Sex lives of people I don't know" -- as long as it's not illegal, does not involve taxpayer dollars or harm taxpayers, and is not revoltingly hypocritical, i.e., is not directly counter to why we elected this person)
    How animals (chicken, pigs, cattle) are raised for slaughter
    Soylent Green

To be continued...

*For those who don't know about Dr. Randy F. Pausch, a computer scientist and father of three young children who has pancreatic cancer, and want or need some inspiration, read this and check out the links -- but have a big box of tissues handy.

Stay tuned for "Things I wish I did know... but don't."

Saturday, April 5, 2008

"Why do little boys want to blow up frogs?"

The title of this blog post is in quotes because I did not say it, my spouse did -- in response to my somewhat rhetorical questions regarding the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, which I posed to him over breakfast Friday morning.

"Why are these scientists spending BILLIONS of dollars to see a bunch of subatomic particles fly around and smash into each other?" I asked him while sucking down some Cheerios. "What is that going to get us?" To which he calmly replied, "Why do little boys want to blow up frogs?"

After more than 17 years, he finally found a way to (momentarily) shut me up. And I still don't have an answer. (Btw, if anyone reading this -- Dave S.? -- knows why little boys want to blow up frogs, please do leave a comment.)

In fact, the more I have thought about it, the more I am 99.9% certain that it never once occurred to me to blow up a frog. (Men, on the other hand, are a different story.) In fact, I would hazard that most females have not given much thought to frog demolition. But I digress.

The subject I am trying to get at (or to) is the Large Hadron Collider, which, per CERN's website (see link above): "is a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles – the fundamental building blocks of all things. It will revolutionise our understanding, from the minuscule world deep within atoms to the vastness of the Universe."

It could also create a tiny black hole that could quickly grow and reduce our big blue marble to a little black cinder . Pretty cool, huh?

Apparently, I was not the only NY Times reader who was morbidly fascinated and more than slightly unsettled by (What, me worry? You betcha!) the thought of the Earth being "eaten" by a man-made black hole. My favorite NY Times columnist, Gail Collins, also read the article by her colleague, Dennis Overbye, and then wrote a column about it, which appeared on Thursday.

As I already have enough to worry about, and am quick to worry (though strangely the thought of being sucked down a black hole, along with everyone I love, doesn't worry me as much as the thought of terrorists blowing up my flight to London next week or the possibility that the 757 we are scheduled to take is one of the ones American decided not to perform a necessary safety inspection of), I wasn't going to read Ms. Collins's column. But I happened to have "Morning Joe" on as I was getting ready Thursday and who should Mr. (Joe) Scarborough have on as a guest but -- you guessed it, Gail Collins. I reached for the remote to change the channel, but it was too late. I was sucked in.

I really do hope that the folks at CERN know what they are doing and that the safety inspectors aren't the same guys responsible for making sure airplanes are safe to fly. But I would feel a lot better if instead of trying to smash together subatomic particles those European scientists would have stuck to blowing up frogs (though I quite like frogs and do not wish them harm).

[For the record, my husband, who is reading this post while standing over my shoulder, just informed me that he did, in fact, once blow up a frog. Furthermore, he suggested I find an image of a frog with a firecracker in its mouth. I looked but could not find one. I am so ashamed... for so many reasons.]

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Teed Off

So on Tuesday night, I had my first golf lesson -- part of a five-session class I signed up for through Continuing Education. I think it was apt that the instructor had us use whiffle balls as I totally whiffed.

I'd like to think it was because the instructor was a bit of a swaggering jerk who spent most of his time schmoozing with the guys who already knew how to swing a golf club -- and because the class was oversubscribed, which meant he couldn't spend more than a few seconds with each person.

His advice to me: Relax. For this I paid good money -- and missed the first half of "American Idol"? Sheesh. I admit, a good part of my inability to loft the ball was emotional -- the ghost of my late father, a one-time scratch golfer, loomed above me (figuratively, though you never know). But good, hands-on instruction goes a long way (certainly a lot farther than any of the balls I hit Tuesday night).

Despite my daughter giving me permission to quit after just one session, I'm not ready to lay down my club just yet. That would set a very bad example, and I have to believe I can only get better. We shall see.

In other news... Came across this little gem in the NYTimes.com this week. (Despite the date of publication, it isn't a joke.) It's a discussion of a new book called I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me: Emblems from the Pentagon's Black World by Trevor Paglen -- and it's hysterical, in a military-industrial complex, Dick Cheney, Dr. Strangelove kind of way.

As reporter William J. Broad writes in the NYTimes.com article: “'It’s a fresh approach to secret government,' Steven Aftergood [as opposed to "Beforebad"?], a security expert at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, said in an interview. 'It shows that these secret programs have their own culture, vocabulary and even sense of humor.'”

Blowing up things certainly is funny! But seriously folks... I have to admit that some of the emblems, that is patches (just like the kind you might put on a Girl or Boy Scout uniform!), really are clever.

Again, to quote from Mr. Broad's well-written article:

"One patch shows a space alien with huge eyes holding a stealth bomber near its mouth. 'To Serve Man' reads the text above, a reference to a classic 'Twilight Zone' episode in which man is the entree, not the customer. 'Gustatus Similis Pullus' reads the caption below, dog Latin for 'Tastes Like Chicken.'”

Those wacky Black Ops guys!

To learn more about our tax dollars hard at work, do check out the article and/or the book. (Just click on the highlighted text.)

Lastly, speaking of fun and politics and tax dollars hard at work, here's a fun way/place to spend some of your tax refund. Enjoy!