Friday, January 30, 2009


On the difference between homelessness and having to sell one of your four large mansions:

Yesterday President Obama was reduced to the role of schoolmarm or country pastor when he scolded Wall Street operatives for their irresponsible bonuses.

Steve Goodman knew about it:

I saw the boss come walking down along that factory line,

Saying "We all have to tighten up our belts."
But he didn't look any thinner than he had a year ago
And I wondered just how hungry that man felt.

That's because it ain't hard to get along with somebody else's troubles;
They don't make you lose any sleep at night.
Just as long is God is out there busting somebody else's bubble,
Everything's gonna be all right.

Tell me, did you ever have to pay for something that you didn't do,
And did you ever figure out the reason why?
When the doctor says "This is gonna hurt me a lot more than it hurts you,"
Did you ever figure out that it's a lie?

He knows it ain't hard to get along with somebody else's troubles;
They don't make you lose any sleep at night.
Just as long is God is out there busting somebody else's bubble,
Everything's gonna be all right.

Still no pitchforks?

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Sunday, January 25, 2009


I Knew It!

According to The New York Times,

"Drinking coffee may do more than just keep you awake. A new study suggests an intriguing potential link to mental health later in life, as well.

A team of Swedish and Danish researchers tracked coffee consumption in a group of 1,409 middle-age men and women for an average of 21 years. During that time, 61 participants developed dementia, 48 with Alzheimer's disease.

After controlling for numerous socioeconomic and health factors, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure, the scientists found that the subjects who had reported drinking three to five cups of coffee daily were 65 percent less likely to have developed dementia, compared with those who drank two cups or less...."

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What's so terrible about a cheese sandwich?

Lately there has been a big dispute in the local public school board about how to deal with parents who fail to pay their children's lunch bills in a timely manner. Until recently, the board focused on getting those who might be eligible (under federal guidelines) for free or reduced cafeteria services to actually apply. The board seems to be in a quandary about how to approach those whose income does not qualify them for subsidized meals.

I had my own experiences with this process when my son and daughter were in grade school. Although the meal charges were never more than I could afford, I often forgot to pay them. I can't remember whether they mailed me a bill or gave it to one of the kids to take home, but the bills got to me. I just didn't always take care of them. Once, when I went in to pay a late bill, I remember apologizing to the cafeteria lady and thanking her for letting my kids charge so many lunches. "We don't let students go hungry," she told me. "Even if you totally forgot to pay it, we'd give your child a peanut butter or cheese sandwich."

I found her attitude reassuring. I have also seen school cafeteria workers pay for kids themselves when they know that the family is having financial problems and may be too proud or afraid to fill out the paperwork for a free lunch. All this is an introduction to why I was so disgusted by this recent story in the Albuquerque Journal:

APS Seeks Sandwich Alternative

Anti-Hunger Group Would Raise Funds to Pay Off Debt

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Albuquerque school district officials said Friday they may be willing to stop giving cold cheese sandwiches to children with delinquent lunch accounts if the community can pay most of the $100,000 debt.

However, school board member Jon Barela said he fears that rescinding the policy will push the debt up, as deadbeats and others return to charging meals without penalty.

"We don't want to be bailing people out of their responsibility because they know the community is going to step up and pay this bill," Barela said.

Students receive a cheese sandwich in lieu of a hot meal if they have exceeded a set amount of charged meals, ranging from two at high schools to 10 at elementaries. The district has already collected $40,000 of the initial $140,000 debt in the three weeks the policy has been in effect.

District officials met with anti-hunger advocates on Friday to work on an agreement that could be presented to the school board during a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Albuquerque Public Schools City Centre.

Randy Royster, Albuquerque Community Foundation executive director, said within a 90-day period, his organization is willing to raise money for the $50,000 debt incurred by children who have since qualified for the federal free and reduced price lunches.

However, the anti-hunger officials said they would not accept a policy that still includes an alternative meal because it stigmatizes children. They said APS should use collection agencies and other enforcement to go after deadbeat parents.

At one high-poverty school, five families that owed $100 or more per child were rejected for the free lunch program after showing incomes of $100,000 or more, food services director Mary Swift said.

Here is another memory: A few years ago I had the opportunity to know a couple from Albuquerque who worked as missionaries in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. I was impressed by a lot of the things they did, operating on a shoestring through prayer and contributions, to help out people who had real needs. In the morning they drove their unassuming, much-repaired van across the border bridge from El Paso, Texas. It was their habit to prepare a big stack of cheese sandwiches that they handed out on the bridge, along with water bottles, to the many vendors who crisscrossed through the slow-moving traffic on the Mexico side of the bridge. These genuinely hungry people were thrilled to see them, and crowded around the van.

Water and sandwiches weren't the only things they brought, of course. They also exchanged prayers, stories and companionship, and treated both Mexican and U.S. allies with respect. Maybe that's one of the reasons that I have a hard time seeing the offer of a cheese sandwich as an embarrassment.

As a parent, and a taxpayer, I find the cheese sandwich solution much preferable to the expense and real public relations nightmare of setting bill collectors on parents.

Item: I'd like to know who are these "anti-hunger advocates" the Albuquerque Journal keeps quoting. Do they wear masks, like Zorro? Since when does a decent reporter use this kind of vague attribution?

Item: There is a pointed and entertaining take on this issue (from a teacher, no less) on the "'Burque Babble" site.

an excerpt:
Public school cafeterias are the sight of rampant, pervasive and endlessly fascinating/alarming (for us sociology types) stigmatization, discrimination and every -ism you can possibly think of, including racism, beauty-ism and capitalism. In short, the public school cafeteria is like Lord of the Flies meets Thomas Hobbes meets the Black Hole of Calcutta. Only worse.

So for someone to object to the "stigmatization" brought about by APS
making the sons/daughters of deadbeat parents (who aren't eligible for "free/reduced lunch", yet don't give Joanie/Johnny a couple of bucks to pay for lunch each day), let me remind everyone that the kids (especially the middle school ones) are WAY, WAY, WAY ahead of the adults when it comes to finding potential discerning points ripe for stigmatization.

For just one example, let's look at the "free/reduced lunch" issue. At my school, there are two kinds of kids at lunch: those who stand in the line for the APS
lunch and those who buy lunch in the "snack bar" line. There are also a few kids who bring their own lunch, and these anomalies are openly ridiculed for being different, eating sensibly, etc. Notably, it is these "bring their own lunch" kids who invariably look among the most healthy/fit in the school.

But back to the two larger groups. It is universally taken as fact that a student who stands in line for the APS
lunch is getting a "free/reduced lunch". Otherwise, why would these folks eat the crappy APS lunch? This line is very slow-moving because all the kids have to punch in their "free/reduced lunch" numbers into a device near the cash register. The cash register in the APS line almost never has change, as almost all the students punch in the little numbers.

Meanwhile, all the "rich" kids overeat in the "snack bar" line, getting airport-priced slices of pizza and convenience-store priced "baked" Cheetos (baked because of new dietary guidelines...whereas the pizza is nowhere near such guidelines).

It is from this dichotomy that tons of other class/other distinctions follow, including all those race/looks/language issues that still plague our society. And, being public school, you've also got your bullies and assorted other losers who get to have the time of their life at age 13 intimidating kids, everyone knowing the likelihood that life for these bullies/losers is most certainly headed downhill from here.

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Monday, January 19, 2009


Forwarded Email: it can be toxic.

I have several different people who forward emails to me. One is a Mexican-American co-worker who sends out very funny, but often offensive, jokes about the battle between the sexes and about his ethnic group. Other well-meaning friends send me cute photos and blessings that include instructions to pass them on to five hundred people within five seconds or suffer a run of bad luck. Occasionally I receive a warning about a product, phishing scheme or computer virus -- the first easily verified or discredited on, the latter two by a quick email or call to my ISP.

Then there are the political screeds. I have a bunch of people who send me original and forwarded jokes about and criticisms of George W. Bush (and Republicans in general) and a couple others who supply me with a reliable "right-wing wacko" viewpoint. I am less likely to read the political stuff. But when I do, here is a warning: Don't send me anything inflammatory if you aren't prepared for me to light it up.

Email is so much different from ordinary conversation. In a conversation, even a disagreement, you can see the other person's face and hear their tone of voice. If they choose to repeat a story they heard, they'll unavoidably infuse it with their own voice and attitude. Forwarded emails do not have this advantage: they aren't personal, and they are usually designed for the maximum emotional response. That's why jokes and visual gags tend to work well in this medium.

Some of the people who forward stuff to me obviously do not read all of it before they send it. That's all right. I don't read it all either.

Recently someone who I like and respect, and generally think of as a friend, forwarded an email to me with a headline that offended me deeply. I didn't read the rest of the letter. I was hurt that she thought I would want to. She is someone who puts thought into what she passes on and to whom. I have always known that there were certain issues that I view differently than she does, but we've been able to exchange ideas respectfully in the past. As far as I can tell, here is what went wrong:

The message she sent did not reach me in her voice. The part she thought was important was apparently somewhere farther down in the missive, in the part I deleted. When I reacted angrily, she replied defensively. My reply pretty much gave her no choice. Factually, she and I are pretty close on the issue she raised. But our points of view differ dramatically. In person, that would have been immediately obvious.

We have to be careful of the global community that we've all joined here online. It means we are able to interact with people who are far away, and whose experiences and prejudices are quite diverse. That's a good thing. Even if it sometimes leaves us angry with our friends.

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