Friday, October 31

The Best

Hurray for Halloween!
Season of fun
spine-chilling shouts
from house to house
make kids run
dragging their loot
in a Spiderman suit
or witches - all sizes
princesses, too
eager for candy prizes
smiles as bright
as gleaming jack o' lanterns
in the black, black night.

By the way, did you see this festive Michael Jackson mask? The creepy-factor is off the scale only because it happens to be so true-to-life.

Wednesday, October 29

Defining Moment

A new low in the American political arena prompted me to research the definition of Hate crimes in the U.S. Wikipedia seemed to satisfy an answer to that.

Then, deciding to read various articles on the topic (and being a little challenged in all things computer), I didn't notice the source listing on a title I wanted to read, "Gov. Palin 'Effigy' in a Noose: Halloween...". Now I had accidentally landed on Greta Van Susteren's blog.

My next move was to notice a button for VOTE: Do you think the Palin effigy went too far? I clicked on that. I was asked for my name and my e-mail (with privacy assurances, of course), and a message window followed. I thought, "Oh, I guess it's like an e-mail message vote." I gave my whole name and my whole thought process on the topic at hand.

When I had finished, I clicked the SUBMIT button. The little hour glass icon pulsated for a while, and then ~ kapow. There I was, on page 75 of 7, 461 responses to the issue with my full name as the title to my comment. Swell. Based on my exceedingly limited experience glancing at exhaustively long lists of comments to blogs of different types, I knew I would be in questionable company.

At least I hadn't written anything in CAPITALS!!!!

Wednesday, October 22

Full of Himself

There's only one thing more universal than the language of love...a good laugh. A cheap novelty product has been launched from complete obscurity to star status because Le Pouty President lacks a pithy comeback.

The intrepid French President is positively steaming about this little voodoo doll fashioned in his likeness. He was pretty upset about his former chief of police spreading titillating gossip of the Sarkozy private party life, too, and is suing him big time. But that was yesterday. Today it's all about the doll. And the pins, I presume.

The emotional Presidential quotes printed on the doll are not in dispute. Nor is the realistic rendering of the famous face floating detached above a modest black body suit. Nick clearly takes offense that his image is used at all. It's sounding very commercial as his attorney sputters, "... he has exclusive and absolute rights over his own image!" Well, la-tee-da.

Sark! Put a pin in yourself, s'il vous plait; it's funny. In case you didn't know, voodoo isn't real. You will be O.K. You should have learned something from the whole 'let them eat cake' incident a while back. Seriously!

Oh! And at your next press conference, rub your neck or your shoulder and mention a sharp, pricking sensation that is nagging you. Allow for a pregnant pause, then smile knowingly directly into the camera. Trust me. It will make up for a lot of partisan carping from the little people.

Thursday, October 16

Negligent Homicide

Carpet is wet
with my mail-order friends.
Spilled entirely by accident.
Little brothers
are a hazard,
and cannot make amends.

*An add in a Marvel Comic book sealed my fate: I had Sea Monkey Fever. For about $1.75, one could mail away an exciting order for “Instant Life”; scientific magic crystals that when added to a special salt water solution, would brew tiny aquatic pets any kid would delight to own.

During the interminable 4 – 6 weeks waiting for delivery, I imagined the fun dancing and playing my very own Sea Monkeys would perform for my viewing pleasure. Based on the promotional illustrations, I knew they would all have smiling faces like so many teensy-weensy water babies.

After mixing my coveted crystals with the brine solution in a mason jar, it was almost a week before I could actually see my precious friends with the naked eye. I would lie on my stomach in front of our living room window for the longest time, gazing at the jar sitting on the carpet in front of my nose impatiently willing the Monkeys to grow. One afternoon I carelessly got up from my vigil to get a snack ~ and left my Sea Monkeys tragically vulnerable to toddler attack.

Sea Monkeys are a type of brine shrimp first marketed in 1957 by a true American gimmick master Harold von Braunhut as "Instant Life". He christened them "The Amazing Sea-Monkeys" on May 10, 1962. (Braunhut is also the inventor of x-ray glasses.) Sea Monkey adds were known for their exaggerated advertisements and packaging, which featured smiling anthropomorphic creatures alien to reality. Promotions appeared regularly in comic books throughout the 60’s and early 70’s.

*excerpt from 'Station Wagon Wars ~ growing up in the 60's' by cTanner

Monday, October 13

The Awful Awesome

The Santa Anas are back. (view of Porter Ranch area)

Oblivious of national news while focusing on a painting for which I missed the submission deadline (don't ask), an e-mail today from my Aunt Lois in Van Nuys caught me by surprise. "...You can add all of us in your prayers..." she said.

Growing up in the Valley, I had little awareness of dangers associated with one of childhood's most beloved seasonal features. Every September like clock work, the Winds would begin. They were warm and velvety gusts on gentle days ~ shuffling the crimson and gold leaves shed from our sweetgum trees into crunchy piles against my bedroom window. More often they were fiercely hot and blew with a tireless, eiree force that seemed otherworldly. It was
fun despite the number of kites it trashed in seconds (until the plastic *"bird" kites came out, boss!) - and superwoman contortions required to keep our skirts from going over our heads on the playground.

One day I chased a scarf whipped from my head for blocks until it soared so high it literally disappeared from view. Day after day, week after week, the Santa Ana toyed with us tiny people and our tiny people things.

When we left home for Arizona on August 21, 1971, Porter Ranch was still a vast and mostly untouched scrub land up in the northern foothills. Movie stars built horse ranches out there during Hollywood's heyday. We had a Regional church picnic there once. It was beautiful, open land dotted with oak and sycamore trees and classic, grass-filled Southern California rock-crested hills. Soon after our departure, development that had infiltrated all of San Fernando Valley finally began to chisel away at Porter Ranch. Too many people building too far up into canyons and hills too heavily wooded to thwart the evil bride of Santa Ana. Fire is hungry, and the 'homeland' is brimming with fodder toasted dry and eager to burn.
The winds are too strong for kites this year.

*Delta style kite we didn't see until the late 1960s.

Friday, October 10


Oh, man, do I wish I was Eric.

What a lucky guy!

He’s got divorced parents.

His real dad just sent him a bike -

a brand new Schwinn Orange Krate,

it sure is nice ~

it’s like he has every birthday twice.

Then there’s the kid across the street.

He’s an only child.

He’s sure got it sweet!

No little brother’s stuff piled up

all over the place.

I swear, he’s really livin’ in style -

he gets whatever he wants with just a smile.

And did you hear what happened to Lloyd?

His two mice got out,

and his mom went freakazoid!

The whole family flew screaming about

(and their dad in his underwear)-

just tryin’ to catch a stupid mouse.

Yeah, Dan saw it all - he was at their house!

And even a sissy like that Julian Truss -

it just ain’t fair

he’d be luckier than us!

He saw a dead squirrel all swollen in the sun,

and got to poke it with a stick ~

some guys just have all the fun.

I wish for once I could be the lucky one.

Luck is a relative perception. Cognizant that divorce was a terrible thing in an era that described the aftermath as a “broken home” instead of “single parenting“, we nevertheless focused on the more attractive issue (to 3rd party kids like us, anyway) of the impressive gift-giving sometimes offered by absent fathers. We never saw Eric’s real dad, and it didn’t seem like Eric saw much of him, either. But he sure sent him some cool stuff.

Oh, and it was really Eric who witnessed the crazy mouse chase. Only it was at our house, not the fictional Lloyd's. He was standing at our front door looking in the window wondering what the heck was going on.

Bicycle giant Schwinn saw the writing on the wall in 1963 with West Coast fascination for customizing bikes, and began offering the classic banana seat and variations of stylish handle bars. A few years later, the Sting Ray with a killer mag wheel front sprocket was born, igniting a bicycle love-affair with kids on every suburban block. However, the defining moment of peddling prestige was 1968; the year of "factory custom" Sting-Rays ~ the bold, the beautiful, the screaming orange "Krates." By 1970, you needed $94.95 to roll one out the door. A brand new Sting Ray could be had for only $56.95. Hence our buddy Eric's instant status boost when his glorious Krate arrived and had us standing breathless in a reverent semi-circle.

*Excerpt from "Station Wagon Wars" ~ growing up in the '60's by cTanner

Wednesday, October 8

Cyberspace Validation

An extended cousin in London e-mailed me today with startling news: "Was that you?" he wrote. "...I came across a very moving letter from an LDS woman with your own name. If so, bravo." He was referring to Feminest Camille Paglia's online column, and MY comment posted there.

Here is my write-in, on page 3 following Paula Cook from Dayton, Virginia. Paglia's original article which prompted my letter is here.

Silly me. There was never even the slightest hint in my brain that 1) the author would actually read my e-mail, 2) it would be posted online, and 3) she would personally respond.

Thanks, Camille!

Wednesday, October 1

Beautiful Vision

The scriptures identify men with divine vision as prophets, seers and revelators. This title is officially an office in the Priesthood, yet there are exceptions ~ as in the case of Miriam, sister of Moses, Deborah, the 'prophetess' and mighty Judge in Israel, and 'Anna' the 'prophetess' who recognized the infant Jesus as the Messiah. There are many other scriptural references to both men and women who, though not ordained to their callings, were nevertheless sustained in their divine gifts by the people anciently, and most importantly, by the Lord. It was not considered a remarkably unusual thing ~ that some holy person outside of official protocol should exercise their divine gifts to the benefit of the people. In fact, accounts of their social and political roles read with an acceptance that suggests familiarity.

A hero walks among us. He was not ordained to his calling, but he has answered it. His name is Geoffrey Canada. His vision is called The Harlem Children's Zone Project. His whole community concept is so revolutionary that it is actually working. It has rightfully been identified as a renaissance for the ghetto. Canada's original goal to save but some few of Harlem's children from gang slaughter has evolved into a massive effort to nurture all impoverished children from birth to college graduation. In so doing, he sees a future where parents support their child's rise up and out of the crippling generational poverty which every other government and private program has thus far failed miserably to do.

He drew a line in the sand around a 24 block radius in 1998 and began setting in motion what he called "the conveyor belt". Eventually Geoffrey's grand ambition realized integrated services free of charge in the form of 2 all day charter schools (to avoid the incompetence of public schools and the unions), a health clinic, a farmer's market, tax preparation and family counseling. With an equally dedicated team of hand-picked professionals, the South Bronx native and Harvard business MA grad has expanded that line to include nearly 100 city blocks and 10,000 children and their families. About 1/3 of his 40 million dollar budget is funded by
the state. The rest is acquired through donations. Children's Zone charter schools can and do fire teachers who do not perform. Everyone on board must believe in the vision that poor children can achieve and succeed. In fact, that's their promise.

A unique and critical aspect of his larger than life comprehensive plan, is the 9 Saturday mornings in a row parents commit to attend Baby College. With the instincts of an anthropologist, Canada minces no words in pointing out a devastating cultural flaw of the Black inner-city; parents do not know how to parent.

Likewise, parenting science (ie: 'Baby Einstein' style brain stimulation trend and parenting resources among middle and upper class society) had wholly failed to enter the decay and despair of central Harlem. An exploratory crew of 15 Canada case workers canvased the neighborhood like clipboard missionaries. Knocking on doors confirmed what he had already surmised; the classic and golden exchange between parent and child singing songs, reciting nursery rhymes and just playing together (taken entirely for granted in middle class homes), did not exist in poor neighborhoods. The vision could not begin if attention was not placed first with the real priority: children from birth to 3 years old. The dreamer told his team they MUST re-think their approach to the war against poverty.

His personal research hit pay-dirt when he consulted a psychological comparison study of childhood development in welfare homes vs homes with professional parents by University of Chicago economics professor James Heckman. He discovered why traditional programs designed to fight poverty (job training, GED training, etc.) don't work. Applicants had never learned the most basic of communication and problem-solving skills. Their non-cognitive skills were severely stunted; the ability to self-motivate, get up on time for work, exercise self-control, engage in open ideas and discussion. Heckman asked, "How are these skills formed?" Enter childhood development science. The results of the study were stunning. The biggest factor in a child's later success in school was not money, race or parental education ~ it was the sheer number of words spoken by the parent to the child. A middle-class child hears 20 million more words by the time they are 3 years old than a poor child.

The biggest obstacle parents of children age 0 - 1 who attend Baby College is the foreign concept of refraining from corporal punishment. Even within the circle of parents in class, the little children sitting at their feet with rattles in hand were "popped" with a chilling regularity. Baby College instructors engage parents in discussion about positive alternatives to hitting their children, and encourage them to speak more respectfully to them. The previously mentioned study also identified that middle class kids by the time they are 3 hear 500,000 encouraging words to 80,000 discouraging ones. For poor kids, it was the exact opposite. Canada said, "Everywhere on the streets, we hear harsh voices yelling at kids, 'Shut up! You get back here! Don't make me come over there to whup your sorry ass!' " Spreading his palms face up in petition, he says, "Who talks to a 2 year old like that?!"

Finally, to achieve the dream of successful escape from generational poverty - here is the winning technique Geoffrey Canada's Baby College is hinging everything else on: read to your child.

A young mother in the program, representative of multiple generations of teen pregnancy and school drop-outs, reported with great surprise the joy she feels to experiment with the Baby College way. She is genuinely and magically surprised her 11 month old son is excited to see his favorite story book again and again. She feels something else she didn't expect; pride. She is proud of herself for leaving the abortion clinic when she saw her boyfriend's tears. She is proud of her boyfriend's attendance with her to Baby College. And she is proud of her improved parenting to take the time to read 2 or 3 books to him every night after his bath, even when she is tired, because now she is beginning to see and believe in the Hope, and the beautiful promise that one hero saw for her son all along.

*see the Charlie Rose interview with a visionary man.