Friday, October 31, 2008

Alien Invasion

Specifically, one little alien of whom I am exceptionally fond.
He comes in peace, though if there is no candy delivered pronto things may get quite ugly.
Four handed trick-or-treating is much more efficient than the old-school two-handed model.


JT is pretty excited that October 31st has finally arrived. He's been ready for the day since he persuaded Grandma to get out her sewing machine in August. This afternoon the Lower School costume parade will wind it's way around the big elm tree in the center of campus. It's JT's sixth year in the parade and he's come to rely on this happy tradition.

In the early evening, he'll join his classmates for a round of Trunk-or-Treat. The parents park in a lot down by the fields and the trees of the canal and then decorate the trunks of their cars. The kids trick-or-treat through the lot with their school friends. It's an incredibly efficient way to collect candy in your Halloween bucket and JT is quite keen on the arrangement. Once the sun sets, we'll join his friend D for some traditional walk-around-the-block trick-or-treating, another pleasing tradition.

Last night, we selected a large pumpkin and then carved it up. We haven't carved a pumpkin together for a few years now, and it was nice to claim that tradition back for ourselves. JT enjoyed scooping out the goopy innards.
I handled the carving and was pretty pleased with the old school jack-o-lantern design.
The jack-o-lantern will join me when I distribute candy at Trunk or Treat. I rather like his toothy grin. He'll get to stick around for election day if he doesn't rot and start to smell funky. Come to think of it, that's largely how I feel about this year's GOP candidates as well.....

Thursday, October 30, 2008

All Politics, All the Time: Asking and Telling

In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton issued an executive order to end a long-standing Pentagon policy that rejected candidates for the military if they answered "yes" to the question: Are you gay?

Clinton's goal was to permit gays and lesbians to serve in the Armed Forces and when he issued the executive order he was fulfilling a campaign promise. But the decision was by no means popular and despite Clinton's best intentions, by the end of 1993 the president's order was made all but meaningless by Congressional adoption of a policy that came to be known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Don't Ask Don't Tell was a policy drafted by Senator Sam Nunn, a Democrat from Georgia and the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The policy basically codified into law a ban on the service of openly gay men and women in the military. Instead, the military began to employ Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The military wouldn't ask about your sexual orientation and, if you didn't tell, then everything was fine. On the other hand, if a gay service member was outed, then they were immediately cast from the military's ranks, receiving a dishonorable discharge for their troubles.

The implicit irony of "Don't As, Don't Tell" should be lost on no one: in exchange for a pledge to protect our nation's freedom, gays and lesbians are required to give up part of theirs. The policy boldly requires them to cover up their sexuality and to lie about their lives and their families. And that isn't good for any of us.

Since the policy was adopted, nearly 12,000 service members have been discharged for being gay. Countless others have been harassed and terrified because of their sexual orientation.

It's inexcusable.

American public opinion is increasingly in favor of allowing openly gay service members to proudly serve. Last year, a CNN poll found that 79% of Americans feel that gays should be allowed to serve in the military. In an era of over-extended forces and stop-gap policies, it's foolish to prevent gays and lesbians from joining the military. If they want to serve, we should let them.

As a candidate on the stump, Barack Obama has opposed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." But it will require more than an executive order to end this foolish policy. The president will have to ask Congress to support an explicit overturn of the ban. For the sake of equality and liberty, he should lead the way.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

All Politics, All the Time: Food Security

Many of us are familiar with the locavore food movement. It encourages people to buy locally-produced food; food produced via sustainable, land-friendly techniques. Locavores make the argument that local food is both fresher and has less of a carbon footprint. It's food that's good for us and good for the environment.

And then, of course, there is the matter of the safety of our food supply. From concerns about e-coli in U.S. mass-produced food (from beef to spinach, it's a problem that's not going away) to melamine in Chinese-produced food, it's time to acknowledge that modern agribusiness is not serving the world very well.

It's time for new ideas.

Consumption of locally-produced food will do a lot more than improve the quality of the food we eat. Locally produced food grown using sustainable techniques by our regional neighbors has the effect of ensuring that our land is being maintained by responsible land-stewards. Back in the day, we called these folks farmers. But farmers in the United States are an increasingly extinct population, as major corporations have taken over the business of growing our food. Government subsidies for corn and soybean growing have ensured a cheap, though nutritionally-weak, food supply. But it's also a low-quality food-supply, produced by an industrial-model that favors the use of pesticides, fossil-fueled machinery, massive processing and then long-distance transportation. The result is relatively cheap food. It is also nutritionally questionable food. It's time for a new food-production policy; one that helps the nation and our national health.

We already spend billions of dollars to subsidize the food industry, so let's use our dollars to solve some of the big problems on our planet: environmental improvement via sustainable farming methods, providing good local jobs, and making healthier food produced using less fossil-fuels. Better care for our land will result in a cleaner environment. We can ensure ourselves a safer food supply with an emphasis on local growth and consumption; utilizing organic and sunlight-based land care. Food produced in an environmentally friendly way will require more labor, but that's okay, as we have people in this nation who need work. If the United States produces and consumes food grown here at home, other nations will also do the same, thus guaranteeing them a safe, locally produced food supply sustained by local workers.

It won't be easy to change our habits. Americans love cheap, highly processed food. I'm not immune to the pleasures of drinking a high-fructose can of Coke while I eat my salsa and tortilla chips. We can still enjoy those pleasures, of course, though we will likely drink less soda when its costs are no longer artificially lower than a glass of juice or milk. Healthier food grown on healthier land will give us healthier bodies. It will sustain us in so many ways. It will be better for the nation and it will be better for the world.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

All Politics, All the Time: A Green Economy

Two of the most significant political issues in the last few years have seemingly nothing in common: the changing climate for industrial-production jobs and concerns about the world's environment and the need for alternative energy.

The situation in a nutshell: in the last 40 years, as the American economy has shifted from industrial production to a service-based economy, a lot of good-paying factory jobs have disappeared. Much of our former industrial production has shifted to the global south economies, a factor that is well-worth exploring, though that is not my focus today. For now, let's just stipulate that factory workers all over the United States, but especially in the Rust Belt, are finding themselves unemployed with very few decent-paying job options on the horizon. For lack of opportunity, a lot of small towns and cities in middle America are struggling to keep their populations.

At the same time, the rising price of oil means that it costs us a lot more to drive our cars and heat our homes. We have suddenly become aware of the myriad ways that energy costs influence our lives. Add to that our increasing fears of the very real problem of global warming, and you can see that we need to make some changes. Soon.

I propose that we solve problem one (the loss of industrial jobs) with programs to address problem two (climate change and the need for sustainable energy and responsible environmental habits). To whit: the government should structure programs and incentives for industry to develop these technologies. From production of alternate fuel transportation (cars; public transport and more and NOT simply bio-fuels) to wind, solar, and other alternative energy technologies and water-renewal technologies, American innovation should be unleashed to develop the new technologies that will save the world's environment. And then we should produce the products here, providing good jobs for American workers.

In the same way that the Silicon Valley tech boom of the 1990s fueled the economic surge that got us out of our 1980s-era debt, and helped to grow our economy, we can use a Green Industry movement to make our world better, get our labor force back to work, and fuel the economic growth we will need to get ourselves and the world out of the current recession. The new president and Congress should set the stage for the growth of a new Green Economy. It's the kind of forward-thinking innovation that will enable us to do good by doing right.

Monday, October 27, 2008

All Politics, All the Time

Unless you've been living in an underground bunker for the past 18 months, you've heard about the upcoming election. Starting today and running through November 4th, I'll be writing about politics every day. I'll take a time-out for Halloween, the most sacred day on JT's kid-dom calendar, in order to post an unreasonable number of photos of my much-adored little boy in his costume. But then I'll return to my all-politics diet.

In my previous life I was a full-time political scientist. These days, I'm just a part-timer, since I also teach history. But it would be fair to say that I spend three to four hours every day reading and writing about politics. It's an obsession.

I like to think that it's a healthy obsession...and in the next week you can be the judge of that.

I check out the website a few times every day, and it has the electoral map that I trust the most these days. Let's just say that things there look quite promising right now. But there are other electoral maps well-worth my political junkie time. Try this one or these folks for more information than you could possibly use. And if you'd like up-to-date daily polls about Senate and House races, Ron over at politics 1 has got your daily fix. The upshot of all of these websites: Blue Nation.

I know that winning is the focus right now, and I'm just as thrilled as the rest of the progressive world to see a Democrat back in the White House. I'm happy that the Congressional balance will also favor the Democrats. But winning is only half the battle. In the aftermath of November 4th, Barack Obama and the Democratic party must demonstrate that they can use their victory to govern well. So for the next few days, I will indulge my wonkish self with some ideas about how to make that happen.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Walking home from the movies last night (High School Musical III....JT highly recommends it, but then he also liked Alvin and the Chipmunks, so take his recommendations with a grain of salt), JT noticed that our new neighbors, who happen to be from New York, had pulled a lot of trash to the curb.

He looked at the trash bins, shook his head in disgust, and announced, "that's New Yorkers for you."

His grandfather would be so proud.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Finding Safe Haven

Nebraska, a state where I lived for 8 years and where my son was born, has a safe haven law that protects an adult who brings a child to an established safe haven (like a hospital or a law enforcement office). The Nebraska law is unique because whereas most safe haven laws permit parents to leave an infant, the Nebraska law permits a parent to leave a child of any age.

The upshot has been a handful of instances where a parent seeks to abandon a child who is not a tiny, needy infant, but who is old enough to know that the adult who cares for them has given up. This story on NPR will fill you in. But prepare yourself, because your heart will lurch when you hear it.

After I heard the story, I marched right outside and held my son close. It was a confusing interruption to the day's game. But he's used to living with an emotional mama so he took it in stride and hugged me back.

I don't want to sit in judgment of these parents, because I can't imagine what it must be like to feel you have no choice but to abandon your child. I'm not saying what they've done is okay, because it's not. In my view, becoming a parent is making a sacred vow to look after the heart and soul of a child. Always. But I wonder what it says about our society that some parents are so desperate, so overwhelmed that they abandon their child. When you listen to the story, you'll learn that these people need help.

They need food. They need healthcare. They need mental health help – for themselves and their children. They need someone to listen and to help guide them. They need to know that society cares about them and their children; that society will step up and help out.

Some of that help is available, but the people who need it don't know that and we haven't made it easy to find or utilize. So we are failing these children and their parents. And, in the process, we are failing one another. I don't have any answers here. And I don't mean this post as a condemnation of Nebraska, because I know that if other states had similar safe haven laws, this would be happening to them as well. But I can't stop thinking about these children and their families and hoping that we find some way to do right by them.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A New Low

I make it a point to stay away from what I think of as political name-calling. So I tend to avoid reflections on people's character (and more often, lately, the lack thereof), I more readily ignore the foolish statements of elected leaders (I'm talking to you, John Murtha and Michele Bachman). Generally, I just don't think that these sorts of political moments are worthy of my time or attention. They're petty and I try to avoid them.

But I am making exception to my policy in light of a remarkable bit of information. In case you don't have time to read the link, here's the thumbnail summary: in the past 6 weeks, Sarah Palin has spent $150,000 of Republican National Committee money on new clothes, hair, and makeup for her campaign appearances.

I'm happy as can be to learn that the RNC, which is running dangerously low on cash in the last weeks of the election, had greenbacks to spare for Sarah's shopping spree.

Honestly, if I had known that new wardrobe was on the table, I'd have given a thought to being McCain's running mate myself. In fact, I could have outfitted myself and my son for less that $150,000....maybe $100,000? I could probably hit the sales and come in at $75,000 (but not a penny lower than that....I do have standards).

I assume that her new clothes from Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus have put Sarah Palin in closer touch with the regular, hard-working, loyal Americans of whom she is so fond. Though the consumer confidence numbers suggest we're all a little worried about our economic status, I'm sure that Main Street America is reassured that Sarah Palin is well-clad as she looks after our interests.

When Republicans ask why they lost this election, they might look to their own inexcusable hubris for the explanation.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


There are a lot of homes with Halloween decorations around here and JT and I often admire the efforts of our neighbors. On the way home yesterday, it looked like a house with a big yard just down the street from school had placed a bunch of graveyard headstones in the front yard. JT and I were interested.

But when we drew closer, we realized that what had looked like headstones from a distance were actually a bunch of McCain/Palin signs.


Though, on second thought, maybe the signs are just a symbol of coming reality for the GOP on November 4? I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Real Life Conversations with JT: Baby It's Cold Outside Edition

The backstory: It's Sassafras House policy not to fire up the furnace until November 1st. That's just 11 days away, which doesn't seem horrible until you realize that the temperature has recently dipped just below freezing at night. Monday morning, the house was a balmy 52 degrees as I headed to the shower. Getting dressed was a bit chilly. Last night, JT sought to challenge the House rules. He began by climbing into my lap. While we sat together, we talked about the furnace.

JT: Mama, I have a question.

Mama: Okay.

JT: When are you going to turn on the furnace?

Mama: On November 1st.

JT: Okay, Mama. But I'm tired of getting dressed under the covers of my bed. But if I don't.....well, Mama, I'd freeze my butt off.

Obviously, my Nebraska-born boy has gone soft. But soft or not, we can't have his bootie frozen. The furnace was fired up this morning.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Prep School Moments

On Friday, I took my government students to a display at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. This exhibit on the election was perfectly timed for my classes and we had a good time. We weren't the only school visiting that day, but we were the best-behaved group. While students from some other schools were loud and ill-mannered (frankly bordering on disrespectful), my group was incredibly well-behaved in just the manner I have come to expect from them. They laughed and joked and they had fun, of course.

But they also showed themselves to be the responsible young men and women of whom I am justifiably proud. I walked away from the museum really glad to teach at my school. I returned to school that afternoon to yet another revealing instance of our school culture at work.

One of the things that I value about my school is that we encourage students to take risks and challenge themselves. Sometimes that results in success as the students discover that they can master a subject they were afraid of. Sometimes, the risk reveals some limits and boundaries that must be honored and so a class or two must be switched around in order to scale back.

As a result, every once in a while, a student needs to switch out of one of my classes. That happened in one of my courses last week. While I was away, one of the classes I left behind was taking their first big test of the quarter. A student in that class was in the process of switching to a new section. But my class met early in the day, before the necessary signatures were affixed to the transfer form. As of the afternoon, S knew that he would no longer be enrolled in my class. But that morning, he took the test anyway. Then he found me after I returned on Friday afternoon to explain what he had done: took my test in the morning and then went to his new class in the afternoon. He wasn't bragging, just explaining what had happened while I was away. Talk about a work ethic.

I will file these stories in my store of prep school moments. In my 7th year here, it's a pretty large file. And when someone asks me why I love my job so much, I will tell a few of these stories, which ably explain why my school is a really special place.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

We Call This Color Alien Blue

Halloween is a BIG deal at our house. This year, JT is planning to be an alien. He had a very precise notion of alien appearance when he designed his costume (which occurred this past summer.....I meant it when I said we take the day seriously) and his Grandma was a most impressive seamstress, coping with yards of fleece in the California August heat.

In the past month we've been putting the finishing touches on the costume and this weekend, we are experimenting with hair color. Because, as I'm sure you know, aliens do not have dark brown hair.
While this may do for his daily life as a third grader, it is NOT an alien look. Changes were in order.
A little mid-design assessment....a little more color needed to be added.
This was deemed perfect. We call the color alien blue and the boy is taking it for a test drive this weekend.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Food for Thought

From an early age, it was clear that my son was a boy with an expansive imagination. When he was just four years old, he told me that he was never bored as long as he had his brain. And, in fact, his favorite playmate is most often his imagination and the endless games he creates for himself.

I read to him each night, a tradition that started the moment he was born. It's a habit that we continue today, as he approaches the ripe old age of nine. Whatever book we are reading together becomes the source of conversations between us as we speculate about the characters' motives and the narrative path of the story. I share many of the books of my childhood with him but I also enjoy new stories.

But it doesn't end there; he's become a voracious reader on his own. And in the books he selects to read, I can see the world of his imagination at work. He likes stories with history in them (especially pirates, knights and medieval castles, and, more recently, American pioneers). Those interests often become the subject of his games and the dialogue of his play. I can see that they feed his imagination.

Since I began reading in the third grade, books have provided me with comfort and solace as well a happy entertainment. My teaching is infused with storytelling, which I believe is a function of my reading mind. As a parent, nothing has brought me the satisfaction that I get from sharing a love of reading with my son. When he sits down to read, I feel like I have given him the most important gift in his life. In those books, I am nourishing his soul and feeding his brain. You know...the one that saves him from boredom.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Live Blogging Round IV: The Final Showdown

Tonight is the final presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama. There's talk that McCain will "pull off the gloves," though I have no earthly idea what that means. I'm thinking that a slugfest between a 46 year old and a 72 year old (veteran though he is) doesn't offer promising odds to the 72 year old......but perhaps it's just a figurative removal of the gloves, whereby John McCain delivers a character attack against Barack Obama and thereby persuades the remaining undecided voters in America that McCain truly would sell his soul to occupy the White House.

No drinking game tonight, though I'm contemplating dipping into the family Halloween candy stash every time McCain offers up one of his favorite lame platitudes: calling us "my friends"; indictments of the greedy Wall Street crowd; or promises to balance the budget (this last being the boldest lie of the campaign so far...which is saying something).

But it's 9:01 and we're off and running, live from Hofstra University just north of Mama the Obama victory.

Ahhh, yes, I am one of those "innocent victims of greed" Senator McCain. And may I thank you for the dark chocolate that I've just popped in my (greedy?) mouth.

Does McCain know that Paulson has already blown $250 billion of the $700 billion bailout to re-capitalize banks? Because if we then spend $300 billion to bail out mortgages (and, that by the way, is a deeply confusing prospect....but I defer), then we don't have much left. I'm just saying.

Is this Joe of which McCain speaks Joe Sixpack, Sarah's friend?

No, it's Joe the Plumber. And he gets a tax cut if he makes less that $250,000 a year. And if Joe the Plumber is making more than $250,ooo a year, well, then, damn I should have skipped college and become a plumber.

McCain is not going to let go of the "Obama will tax the hell out of you" mantra.

McCain is always talking about things he knows how to do: find (and kill!) bin Laden at the last debate; tonight he knows how to slash spending, save zillions from defense spending. But he never explains just how he will do this. I'm reminded of Nixon's secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. And we know how well that went.

McCain is a little disjointed ---- passionate ---- but all over the place in his answers.

And McCain just said "sure, I can balance the budget in 4 years." WTF?! Call him on this Obama.

Bob the moderator just asked the boys if they could be nice to one another and McCain explains that he wanted to be nice and have a bunch of town halls but that Obama said no and well, since then, he's just had no choice but to deliver the nastygrams.

McCain looks as if his feelings are truly hurt. Whatev.

Obama should answer the questions about public funding of campaigns (he declined because his campaign is raising money by the fistful; McCain is stuck with public funding because he committed to the system early on, when his campaign was a long shot). He's about to hit the homerun: go ahead and attack me for the next three weeks, but what the public wants to hear about is the economic challenges ahead of us. Bingo.

Obama is spending more money on the campaign than McCain. Because he has the money to spend.

I think that McCain is wishful thinking to assert that 10,000 - 15,000 people attend his rallies. Obama is awfully successful at staying on message: the American people want to hear about the issue.

McCain just said that ACORN is destroying the fabric of American democracy. Dude, you need to dial back the rhetoric because you're in danger of making a complete ass of yourself. And you fell for the Ayars bait, John, John, John....Obama is about to eat your lunch.

Schiefer just asked Obama and McCain to defend their choice of a running mate. Oh my.

Obama: completely about Biden, no attack on Palin. Nicely done.

McCain: also did a pretty god job as well, though Sarah Palin isn't a role model to any woman I know.

I am of the view that free trade is a good idea, so it may very well be that I tip toward McCain on this (though we're not going to create millions of jobs selling crap to's not exactly on the list of the world's wealthiest nations). But most Democrats are not with me here and even though I'm disposed to prefer McCain's answer on this question, I thought he just seemed cranky. And suggesting that Obama should wander down to Columbia and check things out is just nutso.

Sweet Jesus: preconditions back again. Enough already. McCain is just all over the damned place and then, when he needs to conclude his comments he accuses Obama of preparing to raise our taxes.

If Joe the Plumber is making more than $250,000 a year in income, then he and his small business can damn well provide health insurance for his employees.

I'm guessing that Joe's phone is ringing off the hook now.

McCain is totally rambling. Though did I hear him say that he will be taxing all of us on our healthcare benefits? Doesn't he know that he's opposed to taxes?

Abortion. Yawn. More Americans support a right to choose and Obama knows it and isn't afraid to own being pro-choice. McCain has to kiss social conservative heinie on this. He did.....and when he did it kissed goodbye to the last undecided moderate women voters in America.

Plain's baby isn't autistic; he's got Down's Syndrome. Totally different situation....I trust McCain knows that he mis-spoke.

Michelle Rhee, the Superintendent of D.C schools supports charters, but as I understand it, she doesn't support a widespread system of vouchers.

McCain just couldn't resist getting in a last word that showed him to be a jackass. He has looked incredibly awkward tonight, aggressive but without reserve and though his closing remarks are a little more organized than his other comments, I haven't been particularly impressed.

Obama had a nice clean closer. He is one cool customer: impressively articulate and thoughtful. Very calm under pressure. Well done. I have to confess some relief that the debates are over. I am starting to get really hopeful that we've got smooth sailing to an Obama victory and I'm looking forward to being proud of my nation and its president again.

Political Realities

Yesterday, JT had a little book about the election that he had to fill out for school. He needed to identify the issues that matter to him and name the major presidential contenders; identify the two major political parties, and explain the three branches of government and how they check and balance one another in our system of federalism.

Okay, I'm lying about that last item. But the rest of this story is true.

I'll bet he was the only child in his class who knew the candidates, their political parties, and the issues. From the disgusted way he said the name "Palin" as he filled out the booklet, it would seem he won't be casting a ballot on her behalf any time soon.

As it turns out, that seems to be the view of much of the nation as well.

Let's hope it lasts.

I'll be live-blogging the final debate later tonight. Should be fun. If your name isn't John McCain.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Grammar Police

You'd think that a book with a title like G.U.M. and all those pretty gumballs on the cover would be fun.

You would be wrong. A couple times a week, JT brings home the G.U.M. book for some grammar-related homework. Predicates, prepositional phrases, subjects, nouns, and verbs. This book and these assignments like to kill me.

And now I'm reviewing this post to see that I've used the proper grammar. I face a constant personal challenge to use active language, but perhaps I commit other grammar sins as well? I'm guessing that the upcoming year of grammar homework will make that abundantly clear.

Goody, goody gumballs.

Monday, October 13, 2008


In the last week, we've had a generous spell of perfect fall days. I'm reminded that one of the things that I love about New Jersey is the gentle transition to the next season. This is always most obvious to me in the fall, as the hot days fade and are replaced by a more gentle warmth. Those days are soon punctuated by cool mornings that demand a sweater and have a hint of the winter yet to come. The leaves slowly turn from a deep lush green to a bright red, yellow, or orange and then drift to the ground, now dried but still beautiful. The humidity is low and the warm air is soft, with a promise that I can sleep with the window open at night.

The warmth of an October day here is shallow. It doesn't quite last and at sunset, the air will quickly cool. I'll place an extra blanket at the foot of our beds, to be pulled up in the deep of a chilly night.

My garden was beautiful for most of the summer and I'm still picking zinnias and tomatoes and sitting outside for at least one mug of morning coffee. I'll need to cut the grass at least a few more times this month. Each time I collect a flower from outside, I wonder if it will be the last bloom of the season. But the summer vase on my kitchen counter remains full and bright and this week promises more days with temperatures in the 70s, so perhaps there is a flower or two yet to take its place in the vase, now next to a warm fall teapot.

I hope so. I find that I'm not quite ready to welcome winter's cold by saying goodbye to fall's last warmth.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


JT and I had a day off from school on Thursday and we spent the afternoon at the park. Afterward, we dropped by one of the many Halloween superstores in the area. We love these stores and can spend a satisfying hour looking at all the costume options. If he could, the boy would wear a costume every day. We picked up some accessories for JT's '08 costume (pictures will be up on the 31st, and you must wait).

Then JT saw these political masks and decided that it was time for him to make his presidential endorsement.

JT gives John McCain a resounding thumbs down:
It seems he'll be voting for Barack Obama this year:
We're hoping for a landslide.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Real Life Conversations at School: Essay Test Edition

The backstory: It's the last period of the day and my class is taking its first test of the year.

Student X: Ms. M? Do we need like a thesis and stuff for the essay?

Me: They don't call it an essay for nothin'.

Translation: you will need a thesis and stuff.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


This week's lunchbox cookie was a celebration of Tiger and Lucy: sugar cookies in the shape of a cat.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Real Life Conversations at School: Study Hall Edition

The backstory: I have a study hall with 9th graders. Though they started the year with an anxious look, they have by now settled in and no longer feel fear when I look at them. The other day I had to remind them what the silent part of the silent study hall meant. To my right, two students played football with a folded piece of paper (that timeless game of adolescence). They were silent, but it was a bit of a distraction. And then I realized that one of the students is enrolled in my Civilization class, which has its first test today.

Me (looking incredulous at student X as he's about to launch the football): Dude, this is study hall. Don't you have something to study?

Student X: No.

Me: Really? Because you have a test in my class on Wednesday. And it will make you sob with misery and bleed from the ears. Unless you study. Now.

Deafening quiet as the whole room stared.

Student X: Can I go to my locker? I need to get my Civ book.

We spent the rest of the class period in silent splendor.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Live Blogging, Round III

Tonight's presidential debate is a town hall format and it comes to us from Nashville, Tennessee. I lived in the Music City for five years back when I was young and idealistic and it remains my favorite city in America. The debate is at Belmont University, a Baptist college well-respected for its connections to the country music business.

And we all know of my fondness for country music.

Allegedly, the debate questions will come from regular Joe and Josephine Citizen, people who claim to be undecided voters. I have a hard time believing that there are any undecided voters left. While the rest of the nation has drunk the Obama Koolaid in the last week (check out this electoral map or this one), I assume that these undecideds have been holed up in a cave.....perhaps with bin Laden? That would certainly add a twist to tonight's discussion.

For tonight's debate, I've decided to add a personal challenge. Every time McCain utters one of his "trademark" phrases, I'll have a healthy sip of wine.
I'm a notorious lightweight and it's totally on John McCain if 3rd period doesn't get to take their test tomorrow because Ms. Sassafras is hung over.

The phrase list:
- untried, untested, or variations therein when used in reference to my man Barack
- Miss Congeniality.....because I hear word that McCain wasn't voted that award in the U.S. Senate
- maverick (though McCain usually lets Sarah Palin drop the m-bomb)
- earmarks or any other reference to wasteful federal spending
- General David Petraeus (in the unlikely event that McCain invokes Civil War General George McClellan, I'll drink then as well, perhaps two gulps for Little Mac)

It took Obama a minute to get to his plan for helping out the middle class out. But it's a good plan.

McCain earns me my first drink by talking about the need to slow federal spending. Thanks John.

Who should be the next Sec Treas? McCain wanders the stage and the wanders with his answer. Obama nails it.....he's on a first-name basis with the Sage of Omaha. And might Warren Buffet deliver Omaha to Obama?

As soon as McCain said it you could see that Obama was going to deliver the Fannie and Freddie jab right back at him. But first he answers the audience question from Oliver. Nicely done on that front. I know that the mainstream media is under the impression that Obama seems aloof in small groups. Not tonight, it would seem.

Also, I think that I should get to to drink anytime ANYONE says Fannie or Freddie. And I make the rules around here.

Is anyone going to explain just what the hell they mean by energy independence and how they will get us there?

McCain just told us he will cut spending by working on energy independence, healthcare, and entitlement spending all at once. Really? Dude, you're nuts.

Obama is all over the folksy charm tonight. He even knows the price of gas....but does he know that when the economy head south, the price of gas usually goes down? Because that's the tiny silver lining of the current debacle.

Did I hear earmarks? Show mama the wine.

When it comes to the sacrifice for your country question, Obama just hit a full-on home run, pointing out that George W. Bush told us post-9/11 to go shopping, and that doesn't constitute sacrifice. And then he discusses creating service opportunities for Americans. Yes.

Obama just did a terrific job of making clear his tax plan. But seriously, with the current federal spend-o-rama, does anyone really think we can cut their taxes?

Tip O'Neil is rolling in his grave to hear that he and John McCain are bosom buddies. McCain totally dodging the question of entitlement reform.

New rule: I drink when McCain says "my friends." Feeling no pain.

McCain's jobs program? Nuclear power. Ummmmmm, no thanks.

Brokaw all worked up because the time limits aren't being followed. McCain and Obama could care less.

I think that McCain is doing very badly, by the way. He's got soundbites but no details. He's jumpy and enthusiastic, but I don't want this dude in charge of the kids playing in the backyard, let alone the nucs.

Foreign policy, blah, blah, blah. McCain is much more comfortable here, but Obama is on fine-footing. And also: pocketbook economic issues trumps foreign policy with the voters.

The 'what is your weak spot' question is such a cheesy job interview question that it makes me laugh. I understand that being president is a big damned job and demands thoughtfulness and some sort of humility, but it's a strange way to ask this question.

The sum-up: McCain gets much stronger on foreign policy. He makes a good pitch with that steady-hand on the tiller claim....but I don't think that McCain has demonstrated his steadiness in the past week's economic mess, so he has a harder sell to make. McCain's dislike of Obama showed tonight and I don't think that helps his campaign.

Obama is just amazingly articulate, thoughtful, and very well-informed. He did an impressive job tonight; if anything, he was stronger than in the first format. He is steady handed and he has demonstrated it over and over in this past week.

Real Life Conversations with JT: Personal Grooming Edition

The backstory: JT is sitting on my lap when I catch sight of his hands. Despite the fact that I trimmed them last week, his fingernails are long and, as per the usual, a tad more dirty then I would like.

Mama: Dude, how fast do your fingernails grow? And when did you last wash your hands?

JT (holding out his hand and in an incredulous tone): Where is the dirt?

Perhaps a vision check is also in order?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Rescue Rangers

Two years ago this weekend, JT and I adopted Tiger and Lucy. We rescued them from a local animal shelter but if the truth is revealed, it's been clear in these last two years that Tiger and Lucy did a lot more to rescue us than we did to save them.

When my ex and I went our separate ways, she took our family dog with her. JT and I missed Sam but caring for his many health issues and ensuring that he had a regular walk was just too much for a single parent to manage. With Sam's departure, our newly shrunk family felt even smaller and more vulnerable. Our house was terribly quiet when we came home after school.

Both JT and I had expressed desire for a cat. And so it was that one morning in early October I announced that today we would find ourselves a kitten. And that quickly turned into the desire for two kittens, so that they would have a buddy while we were away. Our friend E went along for the ride and tried to talk us into adopting ALL the cats in the shelter (as well as the pig outside), but we settled on two kittens. JT chose Tiger and I picked Lucy. They are brother and sister to one another and far more than that to JT and me.

Instantly, they made our home happier. Kittens are silly, of course, and laughter was in short supply that fall, so their wrestling and running through the house was most welcome. When they flew across the living room on a midnight ottoman sail and chased one another up and down the stairs it made us both laugh.

They welcome us home from school each day, spying our car from the windows and waiting for us at the front door as we come in the house. Every night, they join us in JT's bed while we read the evening's book chapter. They take every opportunity to curl up in our laps and enjoy a pet. With a soft reassuring warmth and loud purr, they cuddle against us at night.

But most of all, Tiger and Lucy have reminded us that loving another creature can help to heal a broken heart. They've made our house a home and we are so grateful for the rescue.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Vices Revealed: Live Blogging the VP Debate

Suit up folks....I'm live-blogging the Vice Presidential debate. Should be fun and maybe, if we are very, very lucky, funny.

9:02 The audience has promised no untoward outbursts. I have made no such promise.

9:05 Memo to Sarah: most of the folks at the kids' soccer fields on Saturday actually have no Stock Market investments.

Both of them dodged this question, which was about how well Congress did with the bail-out (hint: not well at all, since, um, we don't actually have a bailout). Biden explaining how Bush policies have failed . But Palin argues that McCain was instrumental to the bailout. Really? That hasn't been obvious to me.

9:10 Palin just demanded federal regulation of banking. And then suggested people live within their means. My goodness, next she'll renounce the Republican party.

Biden needs to look at the camera as Palin is doing.

9:14 Biden pretty well ate her lunch on who voted for tax increases in the Senate. But she's feisty and fighting back.

9:20 Taxes just won't go away, will they? Ifill needs to get us off this nonsense, or we'll be pointing fingers all night long. And so she heads off to questions about which of the campaign proposals will have to be scaled back in light of the bailout. Both Obama and McCain dodged this last week.

9:23 And Palin just goes off on how great she's been at busting on oil corporations in Alaska. WTF? She got a little wacky off-script here. But she's got all sorts of TV presence, Tina Fey-style. Though her continued invocation of the idea that McCain got people to the table for the bailout makes me laugh.

9:30 I believe our friend from out West just called for drilling ANWAR, an "untapped domestic source of energy." She's answering all questions by discussing energy. So Gwen goes to climate change.

So Palin explains the climate in a way that I find completely confusing.....she wants to "positively effect the impacts." What does that mean?

9:36 And out of the frying pan into the fire....Biden endorses same-sex equality for property, hospital visiting. Palin is opposed to same-sex marriage, but you can sleep with whomever you like. Apparently, she knows some gay folks!

9:40 Gracious me, it's okay to be gay.

But perhaps not in the military........Gwen drops the ball and now Palin is discussing foreign affairs and telling us how great the surge is. She's all over the place here, with no tether to keep her sensible.

9:46 Palin can almost say Ahmadinejad......though she just called him insane, which seems unlikely to make him feel friendly toward us.

9:52 Memo to Sarah: the successful agreements between Israel and its neighbors was the accomplishment of Carter and Clinton, Democratic presidents. Not your peeps in the GOP.

9:56 Biden just nailed McCain on the similarity of McCain and Bush policies overseas. Total homerun for Joe there.

10:16 Does Palin actually know what the constitution says about the Vice Presidency? Because it ain't much. Has she read the constitution?

10:21 I've rarely heard Biden invoke his time as a single parent with such emotion and honesty. As a single parent myself, living in a world that often fails to understand what that feels like, I have to say that I really appreciate what he said. If Palin was being honest and she and her husband really didn't have health insurance at one time, then the campaign should talk about it.

But it says a lot that I assume she's not telling the truth.

Palin's sum-up was far stronger than her answers to the questions in the 90 minutes. Though I'm not persuaded that just because she's a proud American she (and John McCain) should be elected. Biden made the case for fundamental change and his definition of progress resounds with me. He can go folksy pretty darn well.

In sum, I think that it's truly clear that Biden is a thoughtful guy whose political credentials run deep. Palin seems to start strong but very quickly it's clear that her policy knowledge is, shall we say, deeply shallow. She's goes to folksy when that happens. I don't buy it.

Amongst the Sarah Palin Voters

This week, JT and I joined our friends J and her son B for a visit to central Pennsylvania. On the way out, we stopped at Cabela's, a massive hunting and outdoor gear supply store. The boys enjoyed the spectacle, and took a turn using some cap rifles to slay the wild beasts in Cabela's.

As J noted, when we walked inside the store, "We're amongst the Sarah Palin voters now."

And let me say for the record: they are a well-armed crowd.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Congressional Elections, part II

The House is only half of the legislative game, of course, so I've also got profiles of some key Senate races. In the Senate, with 100 seats, the margin of party control is slimmer. Technically speaking, both parties control 49 seats. Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut currently caucuses with the Democrats, as does Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. That gives the Democrats the edge in terms of committee chairs, with a functional 51-49 split. There are 35 seats up for election in the Senate this fall (both seats in Mississippi are up....see below for details). Of those races, 9 look competitive. And here the odds are intriguing: 8 of those seats belong to incumbent Republicans on the hot seat; only 1 incumbent Democrat is similarly uncomfortable. So it's likely the Democrats will improve their hold on the Senate, though it's unlikely they will achieve a filibuster-proof majority.

1. Alaska: Who knew that Alaska would become the focus of national politics in this year's election? Incumbent Republican Senator Ted Stevens has been serving Alaska in the Senate since 1968, when he was appointed to serve the remaining term of his deceased predecessor. Since then, Stevens has been elected to 6 full terms on his own. This year, he is also under suspicion of a federal indictment for influence peddling. His trial is slated to start in early October. All of this has made the race attractive to Democrats, who don't often win state-wide office in Alaska. Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich is hoping to change that. Polls show that Begich currently has the slight lead in the race, but Stevens hasn't given up yet. The race is worth watching.

2. Colorado: Incumbent Republican Senator Wayne Allard is retiring. Two well-known Coloradons are facing off to replace him. The Democrat is Mark Udall, a former member of the State House, a current member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the son of Mo Udall, who served in the Colorado House delegation for 30 years. Udall is running against Republican Bob Schaffer, a former member of the Colorado State Senate, a 3-term ex-member of Congress, a current member of the Colorado State Board of Education and an '04 candidate for the Senate. This is a big match-up featuring two well-known candidates; the current edge goes to Udall but you can expect this race to be competitive.

3. Louisiana: Incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu is the only incumbent Democratic Senator expected to face a tough contest this fall. For a while it seemed that Landrieu might lose to Republican John Kennedy, the state's current Treasurer and a former Democrat. But things have evened out lately and Landrieu has the slight edge at the moment. Can she hold on to it?

4. Minnesota: Republican Senator Norm Coleman is near the end of his first term in the Senate and he's struggled to remain popular in the state. Helping to pound the nails in his coffin is Democrat Al Franken, a native Minnesotan and former SNL actor, with a long-standing interest in politics. Franken has been campaigning for the seat for nearly two years. Gumming up the works is former U.S. Senator Dean Barkley, running as an Independent. Polls show this race to be tight, with both Coleman and Franken taking a turn as the leader. Cook Political Report rates this race as a isn't over yet.

5. Mississippi: Republican Trent Lott retired from the Senate last year and the Governor of the state appointed Republican Roger Wicker to serve until an election could be held. Wicker is seeking to hold the seat, facing off against Democrat Ronnie Musgrove, a former Mississippi Governor. Wicker and Musgrove are seeking to earn the seat for two more years. In the other Mississippi seat, incumbent Senator Thad Cochrane is expected to coast to victory. But can the GOP hold both seats this fall? That may be a tough challenge. Musgrove is a formidable opponent and though Wicker has a slim lead in the most recent polls, the Cook Political Report currently rates this race as a toss-up.

6. North Carolina: Incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole is seeking a second term as a Tarheel Senator and she currently holds the lead in the race. But she's facing a tough challenger in the form of Democrat Kay Hagan, who has served in the state Senate for 10 years. Hagan is well-respected and well-liked in the state. She's the underdog right now, but there are six weeks to go and Dole hasn't yet sealed the deal. This is a race to watch.

7. New Hampshire: This year, the Granite State is being touted as a swing state for the presidential race. That prospect, a function of the state's increasing friendliness to Democrats, has placed incumbent Republican Senator John Sununu in a tough spot. Democrat Jeanne Shaheen was the first woman to be elected Governor in the Granite State; she served for two terms and was well-liked. Shaheen has been running against Sununu since last fall; she left a job at the Harvard Kennedy School to take him on. A recent ARG poll shows Shaheen leading Sununu 52% to 40%. Look for this race to take on a national profile as November approaches.

8. New Mexico: The retirement of incumbent Republican senator Pete Domenici has opened up an opportunity for another member of the Udall family, Democrat Tom Udall, son of conservationist Stewart Udall. Udall is facing off against Republican Tom Pearce. Both Udall and Pearce currently represent New Mexico in the U.S. House and both are well-liked. But Udall has a substantial lead in this race, 56% to 41% according to a recent Survey USA poll, and is planning to cruise to victory. New Mexico is a swing-state in the presidential election, so the race could very tighten up as we come down the stretch.

9. Virginia: Republican incumbent Senator John Warner is retiring from office, leaving this seat up for grabs. One reason that Virginia has made a lot of presidential swing state lists has been the success of Democrat Mark Warner (no relation) in the Old Dominion. Warner was a popular Governor; these days he's seeking the Senate running against Republican Jim Gilmore, also a former Governor. Democrat Warner has a significant lead in state-wide polls right now. Will Virginia be a pick-up for his party?

Update: Thanks to reader RB from Virginia for the correction.....Warner was a one-term Governor in the state. Apparently, the Old Dominion term limits the governor at one term. That's federalism for you.