Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Amaryllis

The Amaryllis is a South American bloom with big, showy flowers, like a hooker on high heels during Carneval. So, of course, it has become associated in this country with Christmas. Flower companies attribute its popularity to the fact the bulb is easy to force, and if purchased around October, can bloom big and impressive by late December.

Here's what I think: before it blooms it looks like a penis. A big, long, engorged penis. I assume that is really what the South American grower first said: "Mio Dio, a penis -- the Godhead, the start! I'm thinking, Christmas, Diego." "Si, those dumb Yankees, we will kill their pointsettias!"

And so, they made headway (so to speak.) Except in my house. Oh, we've had the things from forever, but rarely manage to get them to bloom at Christmas. Usually, mid-January, early February, they come up.

But for the past few years, we have a Spring Fling Amaryllis. Two flowers we bought as kits years ago for our non-blooming Christmas pleasure. They didn't die, but they didn't bloom either. Until recently. In a few days, they grew 6 inches (no lie) and now they look like this:

Spring is here baby!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Walk Around The Flowers

My husband likes to grow things. When we were seeking a house 15 years ago, he passed on many a lovely little place I was willing to buy because the yard was too small to allow for a "proper" amount of flower and vegetable growth. His gardening habits I viewed, originally, as odd but charming. Having grown up in a place where we only grew what we could eat, in a hardscrabble and not very interesting way, I was stunned by the variety of things that passed through my eyes and kitchen.

Salsify. A relative of the artichoke family, it grows in plants up to 6 feet tall. We had six plants, 36 running feet of vegetable. It's good with some butter or olive oil and garlic, but not that good. Tuscan kale. Long before it became a "glamour food," it was growing with abandon in our veggie garden. Brussel sprouts, various types of beans, pear and peach trees (fruit mostly consumed by the various species of rodents who live around here), salad mixes, broccoli rabe, and somewhere between 6 and 20 tomato plants at any given time. (All heirloom or other interesting varieties, because why grow anything you can buy in the grocery store for next to nothing when it's in season?)

So assiduous was he in tending the soil that one year, after a particularly harsh winter, he picked up some branches that had lain on the ice for months to use as tomato stakes. Organic farmer and all. By July, the branches had rooted, and bloomed, unable to resist that beautiful black soil. One was a magnolia, the other a cherry. They were a bitch to cut down, but the tomatoes did look good growing up against them.

I grew to love it all (or, at least tolerate it), but the flowers -- the flowers leave me breathless. I knew he was serious when we once received a personal phone call from Jackson & Perkiss, the superb rose house, in February some years back, asking if the Mister had done his spring rose-buying yet. "Damn it, how much are you spending on roses?" I cried. He shimmied away with his gin into the night. In June, I didn't care anymore. They were glorious.

5 or so years ago, we underwent a major renovation (a move out of the house for 6 months kind of renovation) so that our tumbledown ramshackle cottage could at last look as credible as the houses we passed up. The rose beds, the pride of the neighborhood, were plowed under in the service of construction. He went into a deep and longlasting gloom that only broke when we moved back in, and he started reseeding the lawn.

We've made some headway on the flowers. This time of year it's so fragrant and lovely here, I have a hard time going to work. I want to sit on the bench and watch them grow and see the petals fall and gather them up and watch some more. Coming soon:

The Christmas Penis and
A Walk Round My Neighborhood.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Conversation I Wish I Had At Work

Him: Did you ever find the necessary documents?

Me: No, you little jerk. I just sit in my office and write posts, I don't actually do work.

Him: I think I can hire a lawyer to get you what you need.

Me: I am a lawyer. What I need is an employee who's not an idiot, and who doesn't enter into transactions before he is aware of all the facts.

Him: No, I don't know him, but someone else involved in the deal once used him.

Me: Listen, I once screwed that guy on CNBC. Doesn't make either of us a frickin' expert on the topic, does it?

Him: I'm certain that the other side will sign whatever we want them to.

Me: Can't we just get them to sign for something that's true? I'd settle for that.

Him: I'm not going to debate this.

Me: Neither am I, you get me what you want, you pink, pampered, gone to paunch too young, floppy eared, rat-eyed, careless little moron or you can be fired.
N.B. I actually did say this, without the adjectives.

Him: That's not how we did it at my old firm.

Me: That would explain their persistent lack of assets and continuous regulatory difficulty, wouldn't it?

Him: Hmmm. Maybe you are right. I see the point.

Me: Darling. There is hope.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Whereupon I Express Outrage

No, not about internet people with NPD. This morning's New York Times and tons of other news outlets, reported on the Congressional testimony of Jim Comey, a well-known and respected Republican who served under John Ashcroft in the Attorney General's Office. While Ashcroft lay in his hospital bed, Gonzalez attempted to get him to sign a legal opinion reauthorizing the NSA's spying program, despite the announced decision of the AG's office that they would not in light of serious concerns about its use and administration. Comey's vivid testimony:

“And so I raced to the hospital room, entered. And Mrs. Ashcroft was standing by the hospital bed, Mr. Ashcroft was lying down in the bed, the room was darkened. And I immediately began speaking to him, trying to orient him as to time and place, and try to see if he could focus on what was happening, and it wasn’t clear to me that he could. He seemed pretty bad off . . . I tried to see if I could help him get oriented. As I said, it wasn’t clear that I had succeeded.

They greeted the attorney general very briefly. And then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there — to seek his approval . . . . And Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me. He lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me — drawn from the hour-long meeting we’d had a week earlier — and in very strong terms expressed himself, and then laid his head back down on the pillow, seemed spent, and said to them, But that doesn’t matter, because I’m not the attorney general . . . . There is the attorney general, and he pointed to me, and I was just to his left.”

The "They" are Andy Card and Gonzo.

Still today, this reprehensible Bush loyalist idiot remains the nation's Attorney General. This isn't about conservative points of view versus liberal ones. Comey and Ashcroft were and are true conservatives, but to their credit, they put their office, and constitutional concerns over skullduggery and Presidential ass-kissing. If he won't go, he must be impeached. Define "he" however you want.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Attack of the Helicopter Parents

Today on Best of the Fray, someone posted a link to this article describing a tool called Edline which permits parents to see a child's test scores and papers. The article is primarily about high schoolers and how their overinvolved parents have invaded the ability of those children to develop into adults by, in part, using this tool. I made the mistake of opining negatively on Best of the Fray. The helicopter parents have come out in force against me, though, using their need to be superior parents as their primary weapon: we CARE enough to monitor!

So, am I wrong? Crazy? Or do others see a problem here too? Hmmm. Let's see.

The term "helicopter parents" came into usage in the 1990s to describe late baby boomer parents who have become so involved in their children's lives, particularly in the educational context, that they have been unwilling to allow their children to learn from their own mistakes. I recall first reading about this some years ago, and thinking that this could not be a legitimate problem, since a genuine interest in one's child strikes me as preferable to none at all. But things have developed somewhat from there.

This kind of "hovering" parenting is common enough to warrant warning statements from the College Board, the entity responsible for administering the SATs. Individual colleges, like the University of New Hampshire have had to actually persuade parents to act normal: ie, to allow their children to grow up. Even elite schools have had to deal with parents showing up to sign up their children for classes, arguing about grades, and complaining about roomates. It doesn't stop there. Companies from Goldman Sachs to Ernst & Young have actually had to develop programs to deal with young people whose parents are now involved in their career choices.

Now, you may say this insane activity is all a far cry from merely wanting to know how the kids have done at school while they are still young. In theory, yes. Every parent of course wants to know how their young children are doing and how they can help them do better. But fewer and fewer, it seems, understand that their job is to raise adults, not children. So they increasingly try to insulate older children from having to deal with the consequences of their own actions by monitoring the activity intra-day. This is partly because getting a child successfully into and through college and then a job is viewed as a goal of the parent's . It starts early enough that some high schools have had to toss parents out of meetings, and some private schools have had to point out that they will expel the children if the parents become difficult.

And some people, like me, think that the Edline function is an ennabler of this behavior:

Even more potentially corrosive is Edline -- a hovering tool extraordinaire now used by Montgomery County schools. We are, on the one hand, mocked for being overly involved parents, and then given a code to log onto a Web site to view every test, quiz and piece of graded homework. We can watch every recalibration of our child's grade-point average, then e-mail the teachers to complain. Gone are the days when a kid could lose a physics test, then make up for the bad grade on the next go-around with no harm done -- and no parent the wiser. Edline feels a bit like spying (although compared with the proposal to tag truants with ankle bracelets in Prince George's County, it's probably relatively benign).

Susan Coll in the Washington Post.

Even a self-described "overly involved parent" Matt Johnon from Maryland has this to say about the program on his blog:

What strikes me as odd is that the reliance on technology has replaced a basic parenting skill, that of being personally involved in your child's lives. Programs like Edline display a couple of troubling traits. First, as Coll pointed out, Edline is like spying and displays a lack of trust in your child. As a youngster, did I decieve my parents a little about grades? Yes, as did we all. However, my parents were involved enough (and knew my teachers well enough to call them by their first names) that such deceptions didn't last long. I grew to trust that my parents would generally take me at my word and they in turn trusted me to tell the truth, all of us knowing that eventually the real truth would come out and my version had better be pretty close to reality, otherwise, no soccer. Edline says to kids, it doesn't matter what you say, we are going to check now, rather than hold you accountable later. Proponents may claim real time corrections are possible with the technology, but real time corrections don't serve the child well because the correction doesn't carry enough consequences to be real. As a child, if my version and reality didn't jibe come report card time, I could say sayonara to anything I liked; soccer, hanging out with my friends, swimming, the beach, everything would be gone. Those were real consequences, not a week's grounding for a bad test.

Second, Edline and other technology tools give the adults in a child's life the veneer of being involved, without actually getting their hands dirty. In a age when teachers and other education officials are begging parents to be invovled, providing a tool like Edline will not help. On the face of it, the tool seems a little hypocritical. Edline says to parents, here is a way for you to be "involved" in your kids' education without acutally bothering the teachers. The technology also gives the teacher an out, permitting them to post the hard numbers on a childs' education performance without posting anything qualitative about that child. Since most parents whose kids are going well are unlikely to question the teacher, the teacher also gets a pass from being involved in that child's life and for those students stuggling academically, it is a statistically good bet that the parents may not care enought to pester the teacher. Everyone but the child gets a free pass.

Third, and finally, technology is a tool, it should not be a substitute. I have often argued that people often look at technology as an end rather than a means to an end. Edline and these other techno-parenting tools prove my point. They are the bells and whistles to parenting, not a substitute for solid, personal parenting.

Gee, I guess I'm not the only one. Let me add one more nuance: the school environment is the place where the kid has the most control over his or her own destiny. It's a world designed by and for kids and in the very best of schools, the environment empowers them. In short, kids get to try out self-determination there in a way they can't at home because of the very nature of family life. When parents insert themselves into that world unnecessarily, they ruin it for their children. They've robbed those kids of the world they design daily in favor of the more familiar parental model. That strikes me as an incredible loss.

What amazes me most is that all these comments seem not to be self-evident. That people honestly think that they need to examine their own behavior if their child doesn't do well on a particular test. Really, are you kidding? At what point is it your kid's responsibility? Maybe not at 10, but certainly by 15, a kid ought to be capable of learning basic life skills.

I know we are all fumbling our way, essentially, through this very important task. If I had a child with behavioral or academic issues, I'd be grateful for this kind of tool. More generally, I think the desire to be aware of our children's life and impulses is on the whole a good one. Nevertheless, I believe that our children are better served by learning from their own conduct than from parental fiat.