Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Wisdom of the Average Joe

Are you watching any debates, following the straw polls?  I am, as you might have guessed.  I think it is particularly interesting to watch what the inside-the-Beltway types think versus what my friends, piano teacher, and other average interested citizens think.

So, here.  Herman Cain is unelectable.  That is the conventional wisdom.  Could he be elected?  I don't know.  I do know that I've been listening to him off-and-on for many years, and I've always thought he was smart and plain-spoken and sincere.  He spoke at a Tea Party gathering here in my little town in 2009:

And here's his "Thank You" following that shocking straw poll victory in Florida this weekend:

I love the way he always says "we" and not "I."  This is way bigger than one man.  It is modest and generous.

But I started with the average Joe.  Remember Joe the Plumber?  Here's a refresher:

Well, meet this year's Joe the Plumber, Chris the Truck Driver.  (I've cribbed the videos from Disrupt the Narrative's post!)  Earlier this month, Ford released a new commercial. You've probably seen them:  the person thinks they are going to go answer a questionnaire and they end up walking into a press conference.  This one was aired--I remember seeing it once--and then apparently it was quickly pulled out of the rotation.  Why?  Take a look:
Now it seems that Ford has pulled the ad because of White House pressure.  Yes.  A private company was asked to quit running an advertisement by the White House.  And they complied.

Well, you might have guessed that the guy in the ad is real.  He is, and he's recorded a little more about his involvement with Ford:
A real, average person who just wants the government to stay put and out of his life, and out of the lives of all of the rest of us.

(Okay, before we go further, let me say that I am well aware that Ford had government-backed loans back in 2008 and 2009.  But GM took money and broke their contract with their bondholders, subordinating bondholder claims on assets in order to reward the UAW.  This hits close to home:  my parents were some of the thousands who owned those bonds.  I owned a Suburban for nine years, and we loved that car, but when the time came to replace it there was no way I would buy a "Government Motors" car.  Sad but true.)

It rings true when unscripted, un-handled regular citizens step forward and speak up.  I think we would do well to listen for more of this, and each one of us has an obligation to speak up.

Back to Mr. Cain.  His honesty is refreshing, and he comes across as un-"made" by the media.  I am looking forward to the next couple of months as we watch this campaign unfold.  For now, I think I'm going to go over to HermanCain.com and make a donation.  Regardless of the outcome, I like Cain's message and delivery.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Our new old evening ritual

Please allow me to invite you into my home on any given weekday evening around 9:15.  The kids are upstairs, mostly in bed.  Maybe someone is still packing up for school the next day.  I am just sitting down:

Several years ago I bought my piano because:  (1) I had always wanted one; (2) it fits in the room--according to ME and not the decorator; (3) it is beautiful to see and hear.  I started taking lessons alongside my children so that I might at least pretend that I merit such a beautiful instrument.  Getting practice time in during the day was tough, though, and so I had to figure something else out.  My sweet husband one day suggested that I just practice after the kids went to bed.  (And while he did the dishes!) I was afraid that the noise would keep the kids up.  After all, sometimes practicing the piano means practicing the same two or three phrases over and over and OVER.  But no other time presented itself, so one night I sat down.  Would you believe no one complained?

That became our ritual for a couple of years--I'd play the piano after the kids went to bed, no matter how loud the music I was working on.  I came to look forward to it, and, much to my surprise. everyone else did, too.  I kept up with my music until I'd had the shop open for about four months.  I quit playing so I could knit and knit and knit--samples of all kinds, and those extra minutes with my eyes open were important!

I don't have the shop anymore, you know.  But I haven't started taking lessons again, either.

About a week ago, sweet little P came to me and said, "Mama, can you play piano while I go to sleep?"  Oh, my heart melts just writing that.  I hadn't touched the keys in about a year, but my fingers remembered far more than my head did.  I sat down and played for twenty minutes or so.  The next morning, she told me that she liked it but that I hadn't played long enough.  Okay, so thirty minutes seems to be enough.  No one else complained, and on night three, I actually heard a "Yay!" from my oldest as I completed a long Beethoven sonata.  (Yes, I asked, and he liked it--he was cheering for a good piece, not that it was over.)

Our evening ritual is back.  My children again are being played to sleep.

Stop by any weekday night.  I don't take too many requests, and you probably will unnerve me if you sit and watch.  But if you'd like to lay on the couch in the family room and listen, well, that would be just fine.  And I'll be here for thirty minutes or so, longer if I like what I'm playing.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A little of everything

Lots going on, but quite a few things have caught my eye just enough for a few lines:

Does our President have a Messiah complex?  I hadn't thought about it in reading the transcript of his remarks in North Carolina, but today I heard it:          
My first thought was from John:  "If you love me, keep my commandments."  But, yikes!  Jesus said that.  And I also thought of the exchange at the end of our Lord's earthly ministry:  "Do you love me? Feed my sheep."  (It was longer than that.)  It just seems wrong, very wrong, to be talking about politics alongside the words that Jesus said, but I'm just pointing out how very odd Obama's words were. I don't think I know anyone who has ever framed a request like that.   (I think this is reportable.  You know, in case you feel like it or something.)

Meant to post this back before 9/11:  Read the Gettysburg Address and think about United Flight 93 as you do it, especially the second and then the third paragraphs.  It works.  It is amazing.  Lincoln's words are American Scripture.

Solyndra keeps getting bigger and bigger.  I blogged about the beginning of the unraveling here.  This remains something to keep an eye on.  It is interesting that in the Congressional hearings this week the officials attempted to blame the Bush administration.  Yes, the loan guarantees were one of the many things that Bush did that I was not in favor of.  But this particular company had red flags all over it, and was only pushed through when Rahm Emmanuel started jumping up and down.  It happens that an employee called the Mark Levin radio show, just as a caller.  She said everyone knew the plant would fail.  Here is a link to the call.  Hmmm....

Since the name wasn't taken yet, Rep. Gohmert introduced the "American Jobs Act."  Wait--isn't that the President's bill?  Why, no, that one still hasn't been introduced.  This one is from a Texas Republican who saw the name hadn't been taken yet, so he jumped in.  His bill is two pages and basically repeals the corporate income tax.  Juvenile?  Yes, I suppose.  But I love this kind of thing!  And, um, Mr. President?  Congress can't pass a bill until someone introduces it.  You might want to check on that.

What is with some of the college football teams and their uniforms this year?  I mean, really, Maryland?  Really?

Speaking of that, my wonderful husband shared with me that Texas may try to join the ACC.  Seriously?  That's the Atlantic Coast Conference.  I think that to legitimately be in the ACC that you should be within spring break distance of Florida or South Carolina.  Just because.

Beautiful, well-written, interesting article on President Bush (43).  This is fascinating because the author doesn't agree with Bush, didn't vote for him, but still manages to see him as a human being.  It's a long article but well worth the time it takes to read it.  (found via Instapundit, because he has all the good links)

Khan Academy!  We love it.  D did math on it the last two days.  Sal Khan's blog is here, and make sure to read this post.  I have an undergraduate engineering degree, and I know I would have approached my education differently had it been more project-based, as he advocates.  I can only hope this is the direction that lots of education is going.

Why am I so late to the Firefly party?  Thank you, Netflix!  If you haven't found this little gem of a program, check it out.  We finished all fourteen episodes but still need to watch the movie. 

That's it for now.  Now you have a glimpse into exactly how random my mind is!

EDITED:  Apparently I'm not the only one who heard a reference to Scripture in Obama's statement.  I just saw this at the Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Me! Me! Me!

Would someone report me?  Pleeeease??  Pretty please with sugar on top?

(ht: no one of any import...thanks!)

I think I know what I'm looking for.

Of course, as a certified political junkie I've been watching the Republican debates and reading about the various speeches and "jockeying" going on.  I've also been watching in disbelief as our President touts his "jobs" bill which he announced about a month before he really announced it.  (In a joint session of Congress, uh.)  Oh, did you know the bill STILL isn't before the Congress yet?

But I like principles, not procedures, and I've been thinking about what I want out of my candidate.  To me, taxes are the central issue.  Tax philosophy reveals a lot about a candidate.  So here is what I've decided is important to me:

  1. The rate of participation in the income tax should go up.  I think that every wage earner should pay something.  Currently, only 51 percent of wage earners pay an income tax.  (I am not considering Social Security-related withholding.)  We live in a beautiful country, and it is indeed a privilege to support our Republic.  The amount could be minimal, even $25, but the message it sends is that our country has value to every single person.
  2. The tax code is not the place to pick winners and losers.  No loopholes, no magical deductions or tax credits.  Do those things away from the tax code if you need to offer incentives or loan guarantees.  I would even be willing to give up the mortgage tax deduction here--no need to favor homeowners over renters.

That's it.  Everyone pays a little, and we are taxed cleanly. 

Amazingly, the tax code has remarkably little effect on the amount collected, which hovers around 18% of GDP.  The only way to raise more money is to raise the GDP, otherwise known as "growing the economy."

Sometimes I think we get so caught up in the "who is rich" and "I want mine" questions that we lose sight of the first question we should ask:  what is the purpose of the tax code?  Presently the tax code is a tool to separate winners and losers and to provide incentives for certain behaviors.  I am looking for someone who recognizes that streamlining the tax code would be a first and enormous step in easing the regulatory burden on small and mid-size businesses.

I don't have a candidate yet--not sure if I ever will!--but I wanted to share my primary criteria for evaluating all of the candidates.

P.S. On a related note, Darryl Issa (who is rapidly becoming my favorite Congressman) released a report today on the regulatory "tsunami" that businesses and all of America have been subjected to.  Haven't had time to read it yet.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Really, I made this one early...

Tuesday, as a matter of fact.  Then the week got away from me, and here I am a day late.  Anyway, on to my weekly French Fridays with Dorie post.  Again, though...a food stylist's nightmare!

"Creamy, cheesy, garlicky rice with spinach" is our recipe this week.  Now, is there any part of that title that doesn't sound appealing?  I know.  We were practically licking the plates.  Next time I'll make a double recipe.

The idea is a French risotto, with no wine but cream and a generous amount of Swiss cheese added before serving.  Made with arborio rice, this can't help but be sticky, but the cheese just adds to it.  I added some sauteed chicken breasts and we had kind of a one-plate meal.  Our weather here had given us an unexpected taste of fall earlier this week, and so this rich dish was perfect for a (slightly) cool evening.

My one complaint, a quibble really, is that there isn't a counterbalance in flavors to the richness of the cream and rice and cheese.  I think next time I will substitute about 10% of the broth for white wine next time.  There WILL be a next time.  Thanks, Dorie!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reading Out Loud

The lovely ladies over at Three Thinking Mothers are posting about read-aloud books this week, which gets this post off of the back burner for me.  It's one I've had in mind for a while.

We used to read chapter books with the kids all the time.  Charlotte's Web, Harry Potter, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, others I've long forgotten.  And then, one day, we didn't.  I don't know why we stopped, but I realized that we hadn't read together in a very, very long time.  It made me sad and a little wistful.

As I was doing some reading in preparation to homeschool D, I came across this book:  The Read-Aloud Handbook.  (Honestly, I think Mary told me about it, since she is my trusted source for a million different wonderful things.)  Jim Trelease advocates for reading aloud at all ages, even teenagers.  And especially, especially my elementary-aged kids.  He also gives some fabulous recommendations for books for all ages.  I knew D and I would be reading aloud a lot, but I loved the idea of all six of us gathering around a book and sharing it again.

I showed the book to my husband, and he agreed.  I quickly took over the reading duties in spite of wanting to sit and knit--call it the frustrated actress in me.  We started out with a Rudyard Kipling classic, Rikki Tikki Tavi, this summer.  We were hooked.  I would have returned to more Kipling (it is a short story) but we were headed to Boston and I adore E.B. White, so it was Trumpet of the Swan for us next.  Oh, how I will treasure the memory of reading about crazy Louis the Swan as we were gathered in the little living room on our houseboat in Boston Harbor! 

Next up was Lassie, the real book which is nothing at all like the sappy television show.  I had to hand that book off to my husband just a couple of times because I was crying so hard, but it was absolutely marvelous.  In fact, I think that one was easier to take as a read-aloud because the dialogue is written in dialect!  I got to try out my Yorkshire, London, Edinburgh, and North Scot accents because that is exactly how the book is written.  Great fun for dog lovers and anyone who loves a good adventure.  But...it is incredibly sad or moving at times.  The poverty, injury, and death are not whitewashed, but that seems to respect the kids more.  In not cutting that part out, somehow the author has communicated that life is tough but the child can handle it.  We were all so sad at certain parts of that book.  Truly, I have tears in my eyes thinking about one particular chapter right now.  The ending is beautiful, too--just keep the Kleenex handy.

And so we have moved on to Black Ships Before Troy, Rosemary Sutcliff's fabulous retelling of the Illiad, complete with beautiful illustrations.  My middle-school boys actually spied this one as soon as I brought it home from the library and devoured it on their own.  They are thoroughly enjoying hearing it out loud, too.  The girls like the story best when there is less killing and more about the ladies, but too bad for them that we are in some pretty heavy battle scenes right now.

What is it like reading with "older" kids, meaning ages 13, 11, 10 and 7?  Much better than you might think, and so worth the effort.  Everyone can sit and listen with minimal fidgeting.  And our books can be a little more interesting for the grown-ups.  It truly is a peaceful way to end the day--all six of us pile onto a sectional sofa and listen.  The biggest disruptions are at the beginning of each evening while every jostles to get "their" spot.

We have adapted very quickly to our new routine.  Sharing a book is sharing an experience.  While I don't homeschool all the kids, this is a way for us to have at least one shared experience every single day.  I really love that.  It also gives me some control over what is going into their heads.  (This week, murder and mayhem.  Next week, hopefully something lighter.)  I also have some issues with the assigned novels at my kids' school, so this is a great way to round out what they are exposed to.  As a matter of fact, I chose Black Ships specifically because D and my 6th-grader J are both learning ancient history.

The Read-Aloud Handbook was such an encouragement to me to jump back in and reclaim some of the warm times we had as a family reading books together.  I have made it a part of any baby gift I give, too.  It was good to hear that older kids want to be read to.  It is even better experiencing it first hand with my own!

Next up...I'm thinking about something funny like the "Great Brain" series.  No cryin', no killin'.  Just some smarty-pants boys.  Or there's always Roald Dahl...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Summery Corn Soup

Yum!  This week's French Fridays With Dorie is Corn Soup.  The verdict:  LOVE.  The bright, fresh taste of this soup makes it a great way to highlight fresh-from-the-field corn.

I didn't have field-fresh corn, but the corn at Publix was on sale and really good this week.  Hooray!

My children kept walking by the bowl of fresh corn kernels and snatching some.  They were amazed at how sweet and tasty raw corn is.

The soup cooks with the cobs in it!  I've never done this before, but it must make the soup even corn-ier.  It looked absolutely beautiful simmering in the pot.  After cooking, the cobs are removed and the soup pureed.  Hooray for immersion blenders!

Finished and plated with just a little bacon and some extra corn kernels.  (I had to hide my little stash from the kids while the soup was cooking.)

The verdict:  Bill and I loved it.  D, the youngest, ate two bowls.  The other three kids ate it but weren't crazy about it.  I do think they prefer chunkier soups to pureed ones.  Next time I might leave it chunky and add ham or shrimp to make it more of a full meal soup for the kids, and then they would eat it.

I usually make corn chowder in the winter, using potatoes and cheese.  This version, missing those two ingredients, is very light and clean-tasting.  We will be making it again!


Solyndra, a "green" company which produced solar panels, declared bankruptcy and closed its doors this week.  Just like that, $535 million of federal government money, in the form of loan guarantees, is gone.  That is $535 million taken from taxpayers who were engaged in pursuits that generated wealth and then transferred to a company that used it up.

The doors of this company are shut, and there is no more money left. 

Have you ever tried to generate wealth?  Not earn a wage, but start a company and make something of it?  It takes an enormous amount of work to create $100,000, $1 million, $10 million.  Enormous energy, creativity, and guts.

And yet...the government fritters away millions and billions of dollars in poorly-run programs and favors to connected fundraisers.  Money that is husbanded carefully in private companies is funneled into programs where $1 million is a rounding error.  Here is what bothers me:  There is no respect for the amount of work that the tax dollars represent.

We hear "$10 million for this program" and "a billion for that one" bandied about by people who have never tried to make that money themselves.  They have made high incomes, even in government, but they are very isolated from the actual work and guts of making something that creates wealth. 

In Solyndra's case, one prime investor was also a key bundler for the the Obama campaign.  The Department of Energy hasn't been entirely forthcoming but it looks as though corners were cut in the approval process for the guarantee.  And this is not an isolated case.  When you have more than $700 billion to give away, you find yourself with a lot of friends.

You know, Warren Buffett has been awfully outspoken lately about wanting to pay higher taxes.  In the end, I can't believe this (former) capitalist really believes that giving our government more money to spend on companies like Solyndra is truly the best use of his money.  If it were, why would he not have invested directly in it? 

I wonder if the administration had a wider variety of backgrounds in top administration positions, would we see such a cavalier attitude toward business, particularly the small businessman.  This is an aspect of the upcoming Presidential campaign that I will be paying a lot of attention to.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Seeing homeschooling everywhere

Do you ever learn a new word, and then suddenly you hear it everywhere?  That is how I feel about homeschooling.

I found this over at Walter Russell Meade's blog (via Instapundit):
Life in school is life in bureaucracy.  You follow the rules, do what you are told, and rewards follow.
The real world was never very much like that, but the parts of the real world that look most like school (like for example law firms, universities and government and private sector bureaucracies) have their heads on the chopping block.  By the time today’s students are in their forties (and that is MUCH closer than you think, kids), most of those organizations are going to morph into something very different.  Or they will die.
Inmates who spend a long time in prison become institutionalized; they adapt so well to the conditions of prison that they can no longer function in the free world.  Something similar can happen to students.  From age six or even younger, students are immersed in a predictable world that runs by the rules.  Then you get out of school — and expect that this pattern will continue.  If you go to a good law school and do well, you will become an associate at a successful firm.  Do your job well, work hard, obey the rules and wash behind your ears and in due time you will make partner.
Professor Meade was talking about heading to college, but it sounds like a pretty good argument for homeschooling.  I want to raise my children to be thinking, purpose-filled adults who make things happen rather than waiting their turn.

I also happened to read a very controversial book this summer, Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto.  Oh, Lord, I was agitated about this book for weeks.  Gatto, a retired NYC school teacher, makes the argument that the system is designed to create followers, not leaders and certainly not independent thinkers.  He argues that the only truly beneficial education for a child is one-on-one child focused.

I don't go that far, but I think the system is screwed up, to put it mildly.  There are too many administrators, too much paperwork, and too much money in too few hands.  Truly local control is fiction in public schools.  And unfortunately, the public school influence is all but impossible to avoid in the textbook industry and the general mindset even in the best private schools.  (Three of my kids are in a school I really do love.  This book was very hard for me to read.)  I'm not faulting individual teachers here--I know plenty--but they would agree that the system is really messed up and getting worse.

I have a disagreement with one part of that quote up there.  Meade says that government jobs which the schools are preparing their students for are disappearing.  I totally disagree there--government is one of the few growth sectors in employment. 

Just one more way I'm seeing homeschooling portrayed in the positive light.  A great big echo chamber on the internet, I guess.

Edited:  Just this morning, I was over at Pajamas Media--NOT a homeschooling site, by the way--and found this.