Tag Archives: education

Social Problems, The Middle, and Popeye’s Chicken

While you’re in school, certain classes, certain lessons, stick with you.  You remember a particular person in history, or a particular formula or math equation, a certain poem you can still recite.  I don’t know why one thing sticks while so many others are forgotten – something about it sparks a flame inside your mind, and it stays lit for years.

One such lesson for me came in a community college course I took called “Social Problems.”  In that class, we studied sociological, economic, political, and environmental issues that we face, some of us daily.  I had a great professor, and I think that’s key in lessons sticking with you.  He was intelligent, personable – he was very much “one of us.”  He was young, and cute, come to think of it…maybe that’s why I remember him.  😉

Anyway, the one thing that stuck with me in this class was a film we watched.  In it, this couple, very poor, could not afford to feed their three kids and themselves.  They would periodically give up one or two kids to the foster system, so that they would be taken better care of, so that they could eat.  I thought that was very noble of them…until I found out that both parents were two-pack-a-day smokers.


People struggle.  I can bitch and moan all day that I’m struggling, being unemployed, but I know that others struggle much, much more than I do.  I know that I don’t know what poor is.  I don’t know what struggle is.  I think most people who “struggle” also have no real concept of the word.

The Middle


ABC’s The Middle is about a middle class family in the Midwest.  It’s a cute little show, with the working parents, the academically challenged child, the socially awkward child, and the bright but quirky child.  They are the typical middle-class family, struggling to raise good kids, keep their marriage together, pay bills, work their jobs, and get dinner on the table.

In this week’s episode, the mother accidentally buys a $200 jar of eye cream, thinking it cost $20, which she already thought of as exorbitant.  She knows her husband will be upset, and he is, but, we find out, not because she made the mistake she made.  He’s upset because a $200 mistake means they both have to take a second job.  He’s upset because he doesn’t want to be in a position where that small of an amount, $200, makes that big of a difference to their finances.  He thinks they should be old enough, have learned enough and saved enough and be making enough, that $200 isn’t a big deal.

It was a great episode, and I think a lot of people, especially these days, are in the same boat, where a $200 mistake is a big deal.

But here’s where I tie all this together:  Being the “typical middle class family,” their dinner regularly consists of fast food.  The mother very rarely cooks, because, like the typical middle class mother, she doesn’t have the time or energy after a long day of work.  And I just flash back to that video of the smoking parents, and I think, Maybe if you didn’t buy fast food all the time, a $200 mistake wouldn’t be as big of a deal.

Of course, the fact that they were eating Popeye’s Chicken at the end of this episode, making me incredibly jealous because I can’t get Popeye’s Chicken where I live, has nothing to do with my angst.  🙂

Learn something about…KDGE

KDGE, The Edge, is, hands down, the best radio station, ever. 

No, really.

When I was in high school, you could find KDGE on 94.1 in Dallas.  I remember, driving up from college on I-35, you couldn’t get KDGE until you were about ten miles south of town.  That was one of my “You know you’re home when” signs, when I could get KDGE on the radio, even with lots of static. 

KDGE is where I first heard of Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Bowling for Soup, Deep Blue Something, The Toadies (I’ve actually been to Possum Kingdom Lake), and other somewhat-local bands far before they were ever popular nation-wide.  It’s also where I first heard, courtesy of fabulous DJ Jessie in the afternoon, the remix version of Poe’s “Hey, Pretty” with Mark Danieleski reading from his book House of Leaves.

So, yeah, KDGE has had a huge impact on my life.

KDGE moved to 102.1 in 2000, and you can still find it there today, or, ONLINE!  Oh, that makes me so happy.  I still listen live, and I still think it’s the best radio station in the world.  Check out Jessie in the afternoon – I still think she’s the best!

I believe the children are our future

The company I work for has a non-profit dedicated to music education. Each year, they put on a 2 week camp for high school kids, giving them real life experience in the music industry. It’s free to the students selected, they just have to pay for transportation to and from the city it’s held in. Only 32 students are selected each year, and last year I helped in that selection process, going over a handful of applications and helping to decide which kids are passionate enough about music and the music industry to be selected for the camp.

I’m volunteering again this year, and have been through about half of my applicants. The range is striking, from the average kid who likes music and wants to be on American Idol, to the truly amazing 16 year old who taught himself the drums, bass, piano, and accordion, who has been composing music since he was 8, all while making straight A’s, operating the sound board for the church choir, taking piano lessons, working part time, volunteering at the local soup kitchen, and tutoring under-privileged kids.

Just when I think the youth of the country are lazy, incompetent, coddled children incapable of writing in anything other than text shorthand (texthand?), these kids show up to surprise me. And they give me hope for the future.

I wish I could tell you more about the non-profit and the camp, but then you would know where I work, and I’m still trying to keep a little bit of anonymity here. Of course, anyone with half a brain could probably do a keyword search and figure it out, but still…

Charlotte Mecklenburg closing 12 branch locations

On Wednesday, they announced that they would be closing 12 of the county libraries.  I was somewhat shocked – 12 seemed like an awful lot.  In fact, it’s a full half of the local libraries. 

I thought about the ones near me.  I have four locations within about 5 miles of me, so I figured three of those might close, and the biggest one, the Regional one, would remain open.

On Thursday, they announced which library locations would be closing.

All 4 of the locations near me are closing. 

From charlotteobserver.com

Here’s a map of the closings.

I live near 14, the Morrison Regional Branch that I thought they would keep open.  You’ll see that there is now a HUGE hole in the South Charlotte and East Charlotte areas.  They recently remodeled the Myers Park location (16), and it’s closing.  And the Hickory Branch location (8) is a new $5 million building that opened 6 weeks ago.  What a waste.

Meanwhile, they are keeping 7 (Freedom Regional) & 24 (West Blvd) open (see how close together they are?), as well as 11 (Downtown) and 18 (Plaza-Midwood), also close together.  (ImaginOn, 9, doesn’t really count, as it’s specifically a children’s library.)

And they’re closing 5 (Cornelius), but leaving 6 (Davidson) & 17 (North Co Regional)?  Why not close Davidson & North Co Regional and leave Cornelius open, since it’s in the  middle of the two?  (Granted, I think it’s a smaller branch, but you see my point.)

The board says they looked at “overall cost of library operations, usage levels, proximity to other branches and library size.”  I don’t think they took the proximity issue into account, based on the huge holes on the map.

Future budget cuts may reduce the library system even further, to just the downtown branch, or maybe the downtown, a North Regional, and a South Regional. 

I was absolutely sick about this when I read about it on Thursday.  And based on the comments on all the news articles online, so is everyone else.  There’s a grassroots effort to raise the $2 million needed to keep these branches open, but the deadline is Wednesday.  So far, $35,000 has been raised.  You can donate here.  The problem with this, of course, is that it only saves them this year.  More budget cuts in future years will only put them back on the chopping block.

This isn’t simply about losing libraries.  148 employees are being laid off.  People who depend on the branches for internet access, meeting locations, children’s story time, and any of the other programs the library runs, will need to find an alternative.  It’s exacerbating a problem – the unemployed who can’t afford a computer or internet access go to the library to search for jobs, but now they won’t be able to do that, or will have to drive further (or find another bus route).  Kids who can’t afford books will now have a harder time checking them out of the library, possible leading to a decline in education and/or reading levels.

Why not cut hours, or days, like the postal service?  Sure, close a few locations.  There are other ways, I think, that this could have been handled.  Charge a nominal fee for internet usage ($1/half hour?), or charge higher fines for past due books.  There will still be operating costs on the closed locations – leases that need to be fulfilled, security and maintenance for the now empty buildings. 

I’ve always joked that the way I support the local library is by paying overdue fines, because I’m almost always late with books.  Now I’m looking for another way to support the library.  Where’s a damn petition I can sign??

Learn Something About…House of Leaves

 Years (and years) ago when I was living in Dallas, I listened to The Best Radio Station Ever – KDGE The Edge.  One of my favorite DJ’s ever, Jessie, was on in the afternoon, and she played Poe’s Latest song, “Hey, Pretty.”  (More on Poe later, when I get to P.)  In the song, a man was reading off what I thought was a poem.  I wanted to find out what it was and who had written it, because it provoked one of those “mouth dry” reactions in me.  I was captivated, listening to this man read this poem.  At the end of the song, Jessie came back on and said that the man was actually Poe’s brother, Mark Danielewski, and he was reading from his book, House of Leaves.

I went looking for the book, but the bookstores weren’t really stocking it, so I ended up ordering off of Amazon.  (Later, the bookstores couldn’t keep the book in stock – a shipment would come in and be gone in a day.)

House of Leaves is…different.  It’s essentially a thesis paper, found by a tattoo artist, about a documentary film made by a video journalist about the strange happenings in his house.  It starts out very dry, neatly written as a research paper, interspersed with extensive footnotes (including footnotes the tattoo artist interjects), and then it devolves into a strange gathering of scraps of paper as the author, Zampano, writes on anything handy – a cocktail napkin, a torn ticket stub, the back of a postage stamp…

House of Leaves uses a movie trick to create tenseness in the reader at opportune times.  In a movie, the scenes will often switch at a faster rate as the director tries to build tension.  This can be difficult to do in a book, when you can’t force the reader to read any quicker.  The author instead puts single words or sentences on a page, forcing the reader to turn the page quickly in order to take it all in.  The author (and the tattoo artist, later, as he reads it) slowly descends into a mentally unstable state, full of fear and paranoia.  You can feel the insanity gripping you, too, as you read it, sections of which must be read in a mirror.

When I read the book, I had no prior knowledge of it, other than it was written by one of my favorite singer’s brother and he read a part of it in a remix of one of her songs.  In other words, I went in blind, with no knowledge of what it was about, or how it was put together, or really even what genre it was in.  Horror?  Paranormal?  Literary?  I went back later and investigated it, and found a wealth of information on the internet.  Seems the book had cultivated quite a cult following, and I devoured pages upon pages of forum discussion.

A quick rundown from Wikipedia:  It’s classified as ergodic literature (you have to do more than simply read left to right, top to bottom).  It was released in March 2000, but had already acquired a cult following from gradual release over the internet.  It has multiple narrators, “who interact with each other throughout the story in disorienting and elaborate ways.”  Some editions have the word “House” in blue throughout the book.  There are many spelling and grammar mistakes in the book, put there on purpose.

The editorial review from Amazon says, “Had The Blair Witch Project been a book instead of a film, and had it been written by, say, Nabokov at his most playful, revised by Stephen King at his most cerebral, and typeset by the futurist editors of Blastat their most avant-garde, the result might have been something like House of Leaves. Mark Z. Danielewski’s first novel has a lot going on: notably the discovery of a pseudoacademic monograph called The Navidson Record, written by a blind man named Zampanò, about a nonexistent documentary film–which itself is about a photojournalist who finds a house that has supernatural, surreal qualities. (The inner dimensions, for example, are measurably larger than the outer ones.) In addition to this Russian-doll layering of narrators, Danielewski packs in poems, scientific lists, collages, Polaroids, appendices of fake correspondence and “various quotes,” single lines of prose placed any which way on the page, crossed-out passages, and so on.

Reviewers on Amazon who gave it 5 stars say, “Fun and disturbing ride through several psyches”;  “Creepy and thought-provoking”;  “A unique reading experience”;  “Great fun – it’ll make you go mad”;  and, my favorite, “Double Dog Dare is alive and well and literary in the 00’s.”

Reviewers who gave it 1 star say, “Incredibly Dull Pseudoeintellectual Gimmickery”;  “One seriously lame novel”;  “House of Pretentious”;  “House of Self-Congratulation”; and “House of [expletive deleted].”

Bookslut had an interview with Mark Danielewski in 2006.

And here’s the video – when the man talks, that’s Mark Danielewski, and he’s reading from House of Leaves.  (And, yes, you’ll probably recognize the song from a car commercial – it made me SO happy to hear Poe on TV.  Not enough people know her, and she’s amazing.  But as I said earlier – you’ll have to wait until I get to P.)


Learn Something About…Green Grass and High Tides

“Green Grass and High Tides” is a song by the band The Outlaws, and was released in 1975.  It’s my mom’s favorite song, and the timing is right enough that I may have been conceived to its tune, which is why I think she likes it so much. 🙂   It has two loooonnnngggg guitar solos, so that the song is nearly 10 minutes in length.  That may be why it’s a more advanced song on Rock Band, because it was actually fairly easy to play (says the one who sang it and forced others who had never heard it before to play the guitar and drums).

The lyrics, for your enjoyment:

In a place you only dream of
Where your soul is always free
Silver stages, golden curtains
Filled my head, plain as can be
As a rainbow grew round the sun
All the stars I’ve love who died
Came from somewhere beyond the scene you see
These lovely people played just for me

Now if I let you see this place
Where stories all ring true
Will you let me past your face
To see what’s really you
It’s not for me I ask these questions
As though I were a king
For you have to love, believe and feel
Before the burst of tambourines take you there
Green grass and high tides forever
Castles of stone souls and glory
Lost faces say we adore you
As kings and queens bow and play for you
Those who don’t believe me
Find your souls and set them free
Those who do, believe and love
As time will be your key
Time and time again I’ve thanked them
For a piece of mind
They helped me find myself
Amongst the music and the rhyme
That enchants you there
(repeat chorus)



Learn Something About…Franz Ferdinand

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria became heir to the Austrian throne after his cousin committed suicide in 1889.  In 1895 he met Sophie Chotek, a lady in waiting (and, incidentally, a descendant of one of those defenestrated in Prague).  They kept their relationship a secret for two years, as Sophie was not eligible to marry into the royal family.  However, in 1900 they were allowed to marry, but none of their descendants could succeed to the throne.  Sophie could not appear with him in public, taking other means of transportation and sitting in a different area during events.

There was a loophole:  When Franz was acting in military duty, his wife could share his rank and they could appear together in public.  In June 1914, they were in Sarajevo en route to a town hall reception when their motorcade was bombed in an assassination attempt.  Franz and Sophie were uninjured, but 20 others were not so lucky.  After the reception, they decided to visit the wounded in the hospital, but their motorcade took a wrong turn.  In the confusion, one of the assassins, who happened to be grabbing a sandwich nearby after the earlier failed assassination attempt, saw the motorcade and approached the car, shooting and killing both Franz and Sophie.

And thus began World War I.  Austria-Hungary (of the Central Powers) declared war on Serbia (of the Triple Entente Powers), the allied countries on each side declared war on each other, and the rest of that story is better known than the catalyst.

An interesting note:  the man who threw the first bomb took a cyanide pill and jumped into the nearby river.  However, the cyanide was old, so all it did was make him throw up, and the river he jumped into was only four inches deep.  Bad planning on his part – he was severely beaten by the crowd before being taken into custody.

Learn Something About…Estes Park

Estes Park is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  The town is beautiful, well worth a day’s visit if you’re in the area.  There’s a lovely downtown shopping area, right on the Big Thompson River.  You can grab a sandwich or an ice cream and sit by the river, enjoying a gorgeous Colorado Mountain Summer Day.  Estes Park is also the home of The Stanley Hotel, a place that inspired Stephen King in The Shining, and was featured in the TV movie.  In this photo, you can see The Stanley Hotel in the background.  Stanley Hotel

It’s a very small town, with only about 6000 residents.  At the height of tourist season, they probably have more tourists than residents!  One of the largest Scottish Festivals is held in Estes Park, Longs Peak Scottish Irish Highland Festival.  This year it’s being held Sept 4-7.

Many people passing through Estes Park end up heading up Trail Ridge Road, which is “the highest paved continuous highway in the United States.”  It crosses through Rocky Mountain National Park and over the Continental Divide, reaching an elevation of over 12,000ft.  There’s a museum/gift shop along the road that (IMO) you can pretty much pass up, unless you need to go to the bathroom, but there’s a great short trail that starts there that makes for a nice little exercise break. 


When I lived in Colorado I got the chance to go up to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park a couple of times.  It’s a beautiful area, with lots of activities, including rafting, camping, hiking, climbing, shopping, golfing, and even wine tours and tastings.  But I would advise not getting quite this close to the wildlife – they can turn dangerous very quickly.




Learn Something About…The Defenestration of Prague

I was a history major in college.  Fat lot of good it did me.  No, I don’t ask “Do you want fries with that?” on a regular basis.  I did a little better than that.  But I’m not using my degree, and I find I’m losing most of my history knowledge.  Scratch that – I find I’ve LOST much of my history knowledge.

A couple of years ago, my first go round on Match, Soccer Guy won my heart early on by emailing me something along the lines of, “A history major, huh?  So if I wanted to know about the Defenestration of Prague, you’d be my girl.”  And I was clueless as to what the hell he was talking about.  He had to remind me, and then I remembered a lecture about it – but you would really think with a word like defenestration, I would have remembered that.  Trust me, I’m not likely to forget it again.

Defenestration is the act of throwing someone or something out of a window.  According to Wikipedia, it was used historically to refer to an act of political dissent.

The most famous defenestration, the Defenestration of Prague, occurred in 1618.  Actually, there were two Defenestrations of Prague, the first of which was in 1419, but the more famous was in 1618.  This event was central in the start of the Thirty Years’ War, which started as a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire.  Some Catholic officials tried to halt construction of Protestant chapels, stating that Catholic Clergy owned the land.  The Protestants argued that the land was royal and available for use, and interpreted the attempt to halt construction as a violation of their freedom of religious expression.  On May 23, 1618, in Prague Castle, two Imperial Governors were tried and found guilty of violating the Protestants’ rights, and they were thrown out the window – the high window (how high, I don’t know).  The two lived, and according to them it was divine intervention and thus proved the righteousness of their cause.  The Protestants argued that they survived due to the large pile of manure outside the window.

Which just goes to show, piling on the shit may just save your butt.

Learn Something About…Bees

I pretty much hate bees.  When I was a kid, to check the mail I would have to walk through this swarm of bees to the mailbox.  I was terrified of being stung.  But as many times as I walked that six foot path, I never was.  They just ebbed and flowed around me, oblivious to my hesitant and petrified gait (I always walked really slowly, rather than run, I guess because I was afraid that would tick them off more).

Today, I don’t usually walk through a swarm of bees.  Heck, I haven’t seen a swarm of bees since my grandma got rid of the plants by the mailbox that made them swarm.  But I still don’t like hearing that buzz.  Every once in a while I’ll get one in my car, and I have visions of being pulled over for swerving all over the road, and the cop laughing at me when I say there was a bee in my car.  “Yeah, right, like I never heard that one,” I imagine him saying as he prepared to give me a sobriety test.

Lately, scientists have noticed that whole colonies of honeybees are disappearing.  Not dying.  Not migrating.  Simply disappearing.  This is called Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD.  Forget about a shortage of honey – the real concern is that bees are responsible for pollination.  Without bees, many crops are threatened, including avocados, peaches, strawberries, almonds, cantaloupe…the list goes on and on.  In fact, honeybees pollinate about 1/3 of US crops.

Possible causes of CCD that are being investigated include the nutrition and stress level of the bees, or a lack of genetic diversity (can you say inbreeding?), among other things.

What can you do? Donate to one of the foundations doing research into CCD.

More information on bees here and here.

More information on CCD herehere, and here.