Posts Tagged ‘family’

The phrase used by optimistic economists for the last year is starting to come to life. But I’m not going to talk about the economy, or politics, or even Team Blue (which, by the way, needs a mascot, I think … but Blue Devils is taken and I don’t think Blue Balls would go over well for either side, so I could use some input on that). With the Ides of March just around the corner and spring soon to follow, I’m talking about real green shoots, the kind full of chlorophyll that push up from the soil into the sun when the frost leaves and the ground starts to warm.

The resurgence of the “Victory Garden” over the last couple years has been nothing short of amazing. Some seed suppliers are finding themselves overrun with orders and the busy season is just getting started. Widely popularized during World War II, the Victory Garden is essentially a small vegetable patch for a family or similarly sized group of people, providing a source of wholesome food for very little monetary investment. With a less-than-stellar economic situation for millions in the U.S. over the last few years, these gardens have again become popular. For a few dollars worth of seed, a family can enjoy a supply of fresh vegetables for months to come. I’m joining the bandwagon this spring with big plans and elbow grease on stand-by … because one way or another there will be a garden outside my door.

I realized last summer how disgusted I was with the produce offered at local supermarkets. What hasn’t been dropped, crushed, bruised, poked, or otherwise beaten half-unidentifiable costs an arm and a leg. And if it happens to say “organic” on the label, just go ahead and triple the price, no matter how puny, shriveled, or misshapen the items might be. But price aside, that produce has also been doused with god knows what all kind of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and – I’m quite certain – people-icides. A few years ago I researched just what went into the classification systems of food products and was astounded at the lack of regulation in what we eat.

To begin with, the vast majority of fresh food in this country is imported, and not just exotics like bananas and mangoes but boring old staples like lettuce and tomatoes. Remember the spinach scare a few years back? Tons of produce tainted with E. Coli were shipped all over America and had to be recalled after people fell ill and some died. It had been imported. The government assured its people that it was an isolated incident. But food marketing in the U.S. is essentially an honor system. If Company A claims its goods are organic, they can market it as such with almost no oversight. Although there are reams of laws and stipulations that should be followed, the chances of enforcement are miniscule. No one is out there testing produce to see what chemicals it has come into contact with. No one is randomly sampling imports (or even U.S. produce) to see if it carries pathogens on its merry way to your plate. Caveat emptor indeed.

And what does all the spraying and genetic engineering and hybridization supply us? Judging from the local supermarkets, rubbish. Most of the produce is picked so green it could sit on display for a month (for those of you who may not know better, “fresh” produce should go off much quicker than that) and has all the subtle flavor of a cardboard box. In an age when I can fly halfway around the world in less than a day, including plane changes and layovers, why is my produce almost old enough to legally drink?

So this year I’m growing my own. Not a lot, but a good variety. And though I’ve a poor history with plants, I sincerely bet the result will be exponentially better than what I find at the store. Surely it can be no worse.

And in an effort to both encourage local business and “stick it to the man,” I’ll be using all heirloom seeds from a small supplier. (Gurney’s and Burpees be damned; I could never get a decent tomato out of them anyway.) When I’ve finalized my plans I’ll post them here just in case anyone should care to join the Victors with a garden of their own.

Oh, and you know what, if you’re tight on funds and worried about getting enough fertilizer for your garden … just use some of that bullshit Washington keeps shoveling at us. Lord knows there’s plenty of it. 😉

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The American Cancer Society estimates there were a total of 254,650 new diagnoses of breast cancer in 2009 (actual records are only available until 2005; newer information has not been compiled). As a member of the female population, I am very aware of these numbers. Television commercials, full-page magazine ads, and a virtual who’s who of celebrity sponsors make it hard not to be. Everywhere I look is the ACS “pink warning,” in ribbons, scarves, posters, bumper stickers, etc., trying to “raise awareness” about breast cancer. (Personally, I’m wondering what rock a person could be living under to not be aware.) And, as usual, I felt the need to question the authorities that be and look into these numbers more closely.

First off, let’s take that number of expected new diagnoses – 254,650 – for the 2009 calendar year and compare it to the female population of 2009: 154,000,000 (roughly, estimated from Census Bureau population charts). So with no more than a pocket calculator, I can conclude that, in 2009, any given female’s chance of being found to have breast cancer was essentially 0.00165%. There are other factors, of course, especially age and family history, but this wasn’t exactly the death sentence I was expecting. From all the media hype and social awareness I had expected much higher numbers. But 0.00165%? That means you’d have to get 1,000,000 women together to find 17 with new breast cancers (and that’s rounding up). That means if the entire metropolitan area of Memphis, Tennessee, were female, less than twenty would have been diagnosed with breast cancer during the year. I’m as likely to be killed in a freak accident involving jalapeno poppers and a road grader. Okay, maybe not, but it’s still pretty remote.

Now before anyone gets their bra in a bunch, I understand that it should not be dismissed. Like any disease, I think it should be kept in the back of your mind and those more likely to be affected (women over 45, smokers, of African heritage, or with family history of breast cancer) should take whatever steps they feel are necessary to protect or treat themselves. Breast cancer contributes to some 40,000 deaths each year; that cannot be ignored. Period. But I don’t believe it’s the plague it is played up to be. For instance, according to the National Safety Council, women under age 45 are more likely to die of accidental poisoning than to develop breast cancer.

So – to continue poking around these ACS estimates – women under 45 were expected to comprise only 25,100 of the new diagnoses. Which drops the chances to a whopping 0.00027%. Did you catch that extra zero in there? Now scrounging up 27 new diagnoses would require 10,000,000 women. That’s only slighty less than the entire Paris metropolitan complex … or the populations of Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Phoenix combined. And this is supposed to be a major concern? I’m more likely to be shot; to drown in a swimming pool; to die in a plane crash or from heatstroke; or even to suffocate in bed (according to the National Safety Council). I don’t see a lot of warnings about the dangers of bed-clothes. But maybe Martha Stewart has more up her sleeve than white sales and stock tips, eh?

The American Cancer Society’s own documents state, “95% of new cases and 97% of breast cancer deaths occurred in women aged 40 and older.” In fact, most breast cancers occur in women 70 and older, when chances of being diagnosed “skyrocket” to 0.016%. And one last percentage to throw at you … taken as a whole, over an entire lifetime, the average woman has a 0.125% chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

So why the media frenzy? Why the pink and celebrity sponsors and full-page ads? Why are they worrying college students and the MTV generation about something that really begins to pose a threat only at retirement age?

I don’t know, but it has provoked me to look into other concerns and do some digging. Consider this post the first of a series exploring medical concerns. And remember to take media “warnings” with a grain of salt.

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There is a quote from H. L. Mencken that reads, “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.” Since first reading it, I’ve been struck by those words and have remembered them. Every normal man must sometimes want to throw caution to the wind and be a pirate, it says, to slit throats with abandon and claim the spoils regardless of consequence. It is tempting. But I also read a deeper meaning in it. A rallying cry, a warning, a call-to-arms. There comes a time, these words say, when every man will have to take action, make a stand, and risk everything to fight for what they value or else lose it to another’s plundering.

I’ve never read that line in its original context. Those sentiments may not be remotely near what the author intended when writing it. But a learned man once told me that what we see on our own is more important than what we are told to see. You can be taught to see more, to see better, he said, but never fully trust what you are told. So Mr. Mencken will have to pardon my conclusions; they are mine alone.

Hoist the black flag, he said. Slit throats. To war, then, and to the victor goes the spoils. It strikes me that much of American society is already busy at pirating, or was until the Big Bust of 2008. Wanting a large payoff from a smaller, somewhat riskier investment seemed to be the prevailing modus operandi. Flip houses. Flip cars. Flip companies. Trust Bernie with your money. Cheat (but slyly) on your taxes. In fact, cheat at anything if you think you won’t get caught. Score as much credit as possible. Buy things you can’t afford with someone else’s money. Lie and steal from your government, your employer, your family, your fellow man. Anything for the almighty dollar.

If you were in construction, you threw together as many buildings as possible and waited for fat profits to roll in, and who cares about the structural integrity of those houses and business spaces. So what if the floor joists won’t last five years, and the basement leaks if so much as a dog takes a whizz two doors down, and the wallboard emits poisonous gas? Sorry, buddy, you were dumb enough to sail into my harbor and your throat just got slit. Thanks for the booty. Besides, that’s what homeowner’s insurance is for.

If you were in insurance you issued thousands of policies that were useless and refused to pay claims, slitting more throats and raking in treasure chests of booty. Your house burnt? Oh, so sorry, we won’t pay for anything damaged by smoke or water or heat or any wall left standing. Tell you what, we’ll give you this month’s mortgage payment plus an extra $50. We’re feeling very generous today. A hurricane you say? Your house flooded? Oh how awful. But no, sorry, we don’t pay off on damages from storm surge. Nope, it’s not a flood, it’s a wave, and we don’t cover that. Sorry. Don’t forget, your next payment is due in two weeks. Bye bye now.

And of course there were still the usual rackets of car sales, internet companies, Wall Street, and, well, anything run by the government. Anything to make another dollar, and the less honest the better. Hey, that’s the new American Dream: getting something for nothing. From the world’s largest corporation to grade schoolers, everyone’s playing pirate.

But someone somewhere is losing. Someone is watching their house or car or savings or future circle the drain when that newest chest is drug on board the winning ship and its golden contents are revealed. With a pirate on every side wondering how they can get their hands on it next.

So what does this have to do with Mencken’s quote? I think the deeper meaning behind it says you have to be your own pirate, be prepared to fight for anything you want, and if you really want it you can’t let others stand in your way. If keeping your job means someone else goes unemployed, so be it. If keeping your house means another family goes homeless, that’s something you’ll just have to face. It is, in a way, Darwin’s evolution in action. No one ever wrote a treatise on the survival of the nicest.

The sad fact of life on this planet is that not everyone will have what they want, and many will not have what they need. And to have anything at all, you will have to fight for it. We do not live in a global utopian society, and if you do not take it you will likely die waiting for it to be given to you.

That goes for liberty as much as for anything else. If you do not fight for your freedoms, you can hardly expect anyone to grace you with them out of the goodness of their heart. Governments, for instance, were not constructed out of goodness but out of fear and desire … even our own illustrious “city on a hill.” It’s nice to stand safely on the sidelines and speak of pacifism and conscientious objections, but in reality they don’t work. At some point, the theory breaks down. Even one man sitting alone in the middle of a garden will have to fight if he wants to eat, fight weeds and animals and drought and frost. Idealism has yet to feed a hungry belly.

I think Mencken’s words reveal that life is simply one fight after another, and if you want to do more than simply survive, you’ll have to do so at someone else’s expense. Is your life more important than someone else’s? Is someone else’s life more important than yours? How can anyone possibly know? So hoist your flag, brandish your sword and pistol, and let the blood run.

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I titled this post Nikola’s Newest Incarnation to tip my hat toward old Nikola Tesla, who changed all our lives, and to pull out a terrible pun. See, this is about the upstart automobile manufacturer Tesla Motors (hence the Nikola). And since they build cars… Incarnation = in”car”nation. Get it? (I told you it was terrible.)

Anyway, I got in a discussion about cars and MPGs with a few family members and, amid talk of dismal hybrids and costly conversions, I suddenly remembered a bright spot in the world of automotive technology: Tesla Motors. Or rather, I remembered rumors of their exciting (but expensive) Roadster that had raised eyebrows a few months ago. To refresh our memories, the Roadster is a two-seater sports car with acceleration to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds with a top speed of 125 mph (electronically limited) and maximum 248 horsepower at 6,000 to 8,000 rpm (it redlines at 14,000 rpm). It has a range of over 200 miles on a single charge and can re-charge in three and a half hours with the high power connector (also from Tesla). It’s just over nine and a half feet long and six feet wide, has independent front and rear suspension, a clean and uncluttered interior, all the amenities one expects in a car (air-conditioning, power windows and doors, spiffy stereo system, cruise control, etc.), and – most importantly for a sports car – is a convertible. For an electric car, it’s pretty impressive.

But when I visited Tesla’s homepage to check the specs I discovered a more interesting feature: three new models. Okay, one’s not exactly “new” since deliveries are already being made but it was new to me. So, first up, the Roadster Sport, a beefier (288 horsepower), faster (0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds) and more performance-minded car with, unfortunately, a price tag to match ($121,000). The other two are sedans, the Model S and Model S Signature (which is presumably a slightly beefier version of the former, as with the Roadster and Roadster Sport), scheduled for delivery next year.

So let’s run the new specs. The Model S can go 160 miles on a charge or, if you want to upgrade, 230 miles … or if you want to upgrade more, 300 miles. It can charge to 80% capacity in 45 minutes, accomodate 5 adults and two children, and goes from 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds with a maximum speed of 120 mph (also electronically limited). It has a small rear hatchback for storage, as well as a full trunk under the hood (Volkswagen, eat your heart out). The rear seats fold flat to increase storage area if needed and it can purportedly haul a 50″ flatscreen TV or a full set of drums. The base model comes with all the usual amenities (like the Roadster) as well as a 17″ touchscreen with in-car 3G connectivity. I’m no techie but that sounds pretty cool. It costs about $4 to fully charge the battery pack, which has an estimated life span of five to seven years (although it noted ten years was not uncommon with proper maintanence). Best of all, it starts under $50,000.

Although all of Tesla’s products are out of reach for many Americans at this point, I think the progress they’ve made is huge. And if these are any indication, the electric car may not be just an idealistic dream for much longer.

To find out more, visit the Tesla Motors homepage.

All photos courtesy of Tesla Motors.

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After visiting a friend’s blog, I discovered that I had completely forgotten Mother’s Day. I’m not a mother myself, and have no mother or maternal relations, so I often forget. But I think fathers are getting a raw deal.

Mother’s Day gets splashed all over the television, newspapers, and internet advertising like a second Christmas. You’re encouraged to buy jewelry, flowers, flashy cards, expensive dinner reservations, vacations, etc. But come Father’s Day, what do advertisements push? A lawnmower. A leafblower. A new golf club. What’s Dad likely to get? Some god-awful tie and a pair of socks or, if he’s lucky, a wrench set. And since Father’s Day comes about six weeks later, all the money seems to get sucked up by Mother’s Day and the Memorial Day binge that marks the beginning of summer.

What’s left for dear old Dad?

I don’t enjoy the commercialization of holidays but I do think it can be a useful indicator of our society, namely in that the level of commercialization is dependent on how important that holiday is rated. And Mother’s Day would blow Father’s Day right out of the water any day of the week. I’m not against mothers (please, how could anyone be?) but I think fathers are becoming more and more marginalized in our society. Their roles are considered expendable.

Movies, television, and commercials paint men as lust-hungry fools. And while, true, some men are lust-hungry fools, many are not. Nor are fathers’ roles quaint but expendable.

With relatively few restrictions, single mothers can draw thousands of dollars in local, state, and federal aid each year to supplement their household, in addition to receiving various other subsidies. Single fathers often can’t. Two people, of identical race, income, background, number of children, medical issues, etc., are judged unequally based on gender alone.

The man is expected to work and bring home a paycheck whether he is trying to raise children alone or not. With that check he is expected to pay the rent, or mortgage, and utility bills; keep food on the table; pay medical, dental, and optometry bills; provide suitable clothing, shoes, school supplies, etc.; pay for child care and or hire babysitters; make vehicle payments and provide for repairs, maintenance, and fuel costs; and, of course, pay his taxes.

The woman is expected to be a stay-at-home mother. In many cases, the state will help with or fully cover her mortgage or rent payments; pay part or all of her utility bills; provide hundreds of dollars in food stamps per child; provide full coverage for medical, dental, and optometry; pay for child care; provide transportation; and often supply her hundreds of dollars, per child, for other expenses. All tax-free, of course.

Though legislation surrounding it is slowly changing for the better, fathers are still often forgotten.

And on television sitcoms, it’s Dad who makes all the idiotic blunders, who is usually cast on a couch or behind a grill or clumsily fooling in a garage. Mom is Heroine Extraordinare while Dad is, at best, Bumbling Sidekick.

I’m all for Mother’s Day. I think parents are terribly overlooked and under-appreciated by their increasingly rude and selfish offspring in today’s world…

But don’t forget Dad.

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Though it often feels like it, I realize I do not experience most things in this life alone. What I mean is, I’m not the only person to ever have experienced a given thing. Reknown author C. S. Lewis once noted, “Nothing, I suspect, is more astonishing in any man’s life than the discovery that there do exist people very, very like himself.” I’ve spent the majority of my life thinking I was alone in so many ways…only to discover I was only one of many, but a quiet many. The internet helped a great deal in those discoveries, as nothing is left unsaid somewhere in the vast unmonitored reaches of cyberspace.

But before the internet (yes, Virginia, there was life before internet) I found great companions in printed typeface and good books. And yes, Virginia, there used to be several good books published every year. I know they get more and more scarce all the time but there was a time you could walk right into a bookstore and find tomes worthy of reading on every shelf.

But I digress. In my innocent and ignorant youth, I stumbled upon a few authors who seemed to know exactly how and what to write. Like doctors setting bones, and if needed they knew just how to re-break things to help them heal. For better or worse, I don’t think any books, stories, articles, essays, etc. that I’ve read as an adult affected me as deeply as those of my younger days. Even today I often read my favorite authors of yore and find them as sharp and relevant as ever…proof, I believe, of a good and true author.

One, in particular, I really loved. That author honestly changed the course of my life on more than one occasion (and for the better). In an attempt to thank the writer, I labored over page after page of a letter expressing my most heartfelt appreciation … but never had the guts to mail it. Years later I wrote another, very similar letter, which met a very similar fate. And so it was every few years: wash, rinse, repeat. That person is still my favorite author … and I still have not sent a thank-you letter. Being a well-known figure, I’m sure other letters with likewise sentiment pour in on a regular basis… But I suppose I wanted it to be more than just fanmail, something with more meaning, even if I were the only person to ever read it.

And why go to so much trouble for someone I will never meet and who would never in a million years know I exist? For the gift of knowing I was not alone. At a time when I may as well have been the last person on Earth, a few pages full of words changed my world and showed me, unequivocably, that others had been to the same place and survived. That some were still there, as lost as I was, and that somehow we would find our way out. Those are pretty big stepping stones for a tween, a teenager, a young adult, and letter or no, I am eternally grateful.

To all those authors, and my friends along the way, and the family who had never left me, even when I feared they had … thank you.

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