The part where she discovers she dowses

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Dowsing, the idea that two disparate objects can find one another based on mutual attraction, is much like the belief in love at first sight: one person holds his or her heart in hand, feels it bending toward another and discovers the person who will make one of two.

 

Practitioners of dowsing swear that by using a tree branch or rod, they can find water, minerals, or other objects buried in the earth. Love-at-first-sighters believe the heart needs only a glance to find true love.

Courtesy of Wikicommons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

I believe in dowsing as much as I believe in love at first sight, which is not at all. Dowsers have been subjected to testing and come up equal to chance. Love at first sight is the same. Chances are it will work out; chances are it won’t.

 

After I heard about dowsing when I was a child, I found a y-shaped tree branch and searched for water in the yard. Nothing happened. It turns out I didn’t need a stick to find the water that had already been discovered and conveniently came out of the outside faucet and through the garden hose into my thirsty mouth. I was as unlucky in dowsing as love at first sight. I did, however, later experience like at first sight, which led to love, but that is a different story.

 

I hadn’t thought of dowsing for decades until the other day when I realized I was a master dowser and had been for years. My dowsing is unique in that with my handy tool I find not things, but people; and not under the earth, but atop it.

 

The object used to find these people is a wheel with about a 15-inch diameter, and once it is in my hands, I achieve 100% accuracy in finding a particular kind of people: idiots.

 

The wheel I use is conveniently attached to my car, so I don’t have to carry it about. Once I pull out of the garage, the wheel instinctively leads me to idiots in other cars who don’t use their blinkers, who tailgate, who are clearly texting while driving, and who drive too much above or too far below the speed limit, or weave in and out of traffic curious to find out if everyone’s brakes still work. Unlike traditional dowsers who are looking for a desired object, I don’t seek these idiots out; my steering wheel finds them.

 

Unlike this steering wheel, mine is attached to a car. Courtesy of D-Kuru on Wikimedia Commons

Unlike this steering wheel, mine is attached to a car. Courtesy of D-Kuru on Wikimedia Commons

I don’t use the term idiot lightly. A person has to commit driving acts that jeopardize lives to fit the category. Drivers who take the parking spaces I want are not idiots, they are merely selfish.

 

Idiot dowsing is equal parts uncanny, unnerving, annoying, and disturbing (much like the extremely long sentence that follows). Idiocy here in northeastern Wisconsin is clearly on the rise based on the numbers I discover as I white-knuckle through traffic, using my blinkers; leaving space between me and the car ahead, which is immediately filled in by a speeding, lane-jumping lunatic, which causes me to create more space, leaving room for yet another lunatic, and so on until I am back to where I started even though I’ve been driving for half an hour – much like Wonderland Alice who was told by the Red Queen, “…here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place”); obeying (or practically obeying because what’s an extra 5 miles over) the speed limit; eschewing* phone use because I need both hands on the wheel to avoid the swervers; and identifying each nitwit by calling out loudly, “You idiot!”

 

I want, as is my wont, to remain positive and to avoid letting them figuratively and almost literally drive me crazy, so I have decided to keep a notebook like birders do. Yesterday I saw three red-hooded idiots, two Toyotan morons, a brown-headed blockhead, and a silver Cadillacan cretin. Imbeciles and muttonheads are almost too common to mention, but I intend to record them all. Mark my words (or at least my errors), future idiotologists will find my records valuable in tracking the increase of dunderheads in cars in Wisconsin.

 

*Each time the word eschew is used on this    blog, both the writer and reader are granted  one piece of dark chocolate. If you don’t likedark chocolate, please let me know and I will kindly eat your piece.

 

 

 

Winter is that boy your mother warned you about

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You know the one that can’t keep his hands off you. Always trying to touch your bare skin. Winter always goes too far; you can ask him to stop, but he never will.

 

He’s like that wild boy in high school that spent all his time trying to be cool. Every minute of every day, as if being cool was all that mattered.

 

 

Sure, he brings you lovely presents, like that a line of snow-covered trees glittering in the sun, pretty as a rhinestone bracelet. But he’s cold-hearted and time after time leaves you out in the cold.

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He likes to keep you guessing. One day he’ll warm up to you a bit, and the next day he’s standing in the street, shouting sleet at you, wearing that white muscle T-shirt and pushing you around.

 

He’ll chase you in and out of buildings; stalking you and moaning like a lovesick calf.

 

The relationship seemed so charming in the beginning when he would throw down that sparkly white carpet every time you walked out the door. For the holidays, he filled the sky with confetti, and you loved it. These last few months, though, you’ve been living in denial, telling yourself you can get used to it. But you can’t.

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Winter has a cold and bitter heart. He thinks that pinching your cheeks and fingertips so hard you almost cry is acceptable. If you’re not careful, you’ll start believing that his behavior is normal. That, my friend, is a slippery slope to slide down.

 

When you finally tell him to get lost, he will wait on your porch every morning and blast you when you walk out the door. And as if that weren’t enough harassment, at night he’ll come by and rattle your windows, huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf that he is.

 

Fool that you are, you think you can reason with him. You decide on a date that he will move on and out of your life. You get out your calendar and circle the day, embellishing it with flowers, hearts, and butterflies. (I really don’t know what your mother would say about that.)

 

Then on the very day marked for his departure, he shows up at your door, stomping his boots and flashing his icy blue eyes, as if to say, you are mine forever. Then he points to the trees he has decorated, and you have to slam the door shut because as mean as he is, he really is a great decorator.

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Me? I’m done with him. One of us has got to get out of town. If he’s not gone by the end of April, I’m going to have to leave or get some counseling.

 

Click the links to find the photographers: 
Snow pond   Firs   Rime

 

 

 

 

 

Is it 1984 yet?

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Spring has arrived, but winter has barricaded the door. I’m in a dark mood.

 

At times like this, I admit that I don’t always keep my paranoia on a leash. In fact, I often let it run wild, allowing it to chase hare-brained rabbits down various trails or follow the scent of little chickens warning that the sky is falling.

 

Naturally it’s not my fault I’m so paranoid. I blame it on the book 1984 by George Orwell. I don’t know about your mind, but in my mind, for pure fear, no other book comes close. * On the dystopian spectrum, it’s on the far end of terror.

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On the other end, in what could be called the “happy” dystopia, lies Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World. Published in 1932, it envisions a world of people manacled by drug-induced happiness, materialism, and sex, a world that sounds surprisingly like our own. Seventeen years later, post-World War II, Orwell published his book, depicting a world enslaved by fear, with a seemingly benevolent Big Brother in control of past, present, and future.

 

In the actual year 1984 at a panel convened to discuss Orwell’s dystopia and the modern world, the educator Neil Postman proposed that contemporary Western society reflected Huxley’s view of the future rather than Orwell’s. Postman equated the entertainment industry with the drug soma that people in Brave New World used to escape into happiness. The following year Postman published his insights in a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I encourage you to do so.

 

I tend to agree with Postman, yet North Korea stands as a reminder that Orwellian governments can and do exist. My own fear is that the two will blend, and we’ll end up with a Brave New 1984: a populace condemned to artificial happiness found in drugs, sex, acquisition, and entertainment, who relinquishes all control to a Big Brother who will not allow anyone off Paradise Island.

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While brooding through winter’s siege, I have been reading about school libraries closing due to budget cuts and others removing their books because of the availability of so much online information. Why bother funding libraries and librarians when you have Google? Why house all those dust-loving books when they can be downloaded and read on e-readers?

 

My paranoia and I find this disturbing. Online information is stored at physical locations. Whoever owns these data centers effectively owns the information, as does whoever controls the electricity and power grid that allows people to access the servers or charge their electronic devices. As long as there are everyone checks and balances, and everyone involved believes in net neutrality and open access, we are fine. But what happens if unchecked power controls access?

 

You can’t turn off a book. And you don’t need electricity to read one. We need books, and we need libraries full of books. Children especially need a place to go to explore the world of ideas, a quiet place to read books of their own choosing.

 

I’m not against e-books and online copies. I enjoy my electronics. They have their place, and that place is next to books, not in place of books.

 

Stitched Panorama

 

*Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road would equal 1984 on the terror scale if it were a sustainable world. It is a dying world that will end; the horror of 1984 is that there is no end in sight.

 

Photos: 
Big Brother: Paternm
Surveillance Cameras: Hustvedt
Books: © Hans Hillewaert / CC-BY-SA-3.0

 

Is it 2013 or, well, 1984?

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I’m not paranoid. Really. I’m just very wary, chary, leery, and highly caffeinated. I take after my Big Brother that way. He feels compelled to spy on me all of the time because you just never know about those older teachers who live in the Midwest and teach English to foreigners. Foreigners who come from foreign countries and are foreign. And since you never know about those Midwesterners or other Americans or other people in the world, based on super-secret, too-critical-for-anyone-to-be-told-so-don’t-ask national security reasons, highly trained cryptologists need to monitor e-mails, phone calls, and Internet usage of all users, including LOL cats. (There’s a special clause that covers cats.)

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R1 US_Navy_050718-N-7647G-011_Seaman_Ryan_Henderson_looks_through_the_Big_Eyes_binoculars_while_searching_for_surface_and_air_contacts_during_an_aft_look_out_watch_aboard_the_nuclear-powered_aircraft_carrier_USS_Nimitz_(CVN_68)

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, text messages also can and must be intercepted. So specially trained agents spend hours reading texts from potentially dangerous teenagers who write indecipherable messages like: wuzup…your L8!!!! NGL im bord…this moveez a wot! WUWH1

 

By now the NSA (National Snooping Agency) knows more about you and me than our own mothers or even than we do about ourselves. Remember that story you told about your boss? Oh, you forgot already, well, not to worry, it’s all been recorded and soon to be stored away in Bluffdale, Utah. I am not bluffing. Real name, real story.

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Meanwhile cryptological experts sift through all our data looking for snarky references to Big Brother’s clubs like the NSA and the TSA (Touch, Scan, Annoy). Then they flag you. And the you I’m referring to is me. The me that reported a theft by TSA agents in New Orleans who kindly recycled my iPad because they knew it was time for me to get a new one. Now when I fly, I get body-scanned. Often.

 

Earlier this month on my trip to Texas, I was scanned three times: once in Wisconsin and twice in Texas. According to the TSA agent in Houston, I moved. Actually I think it was because I asked why I was selected to be scanned again. The whole procedure is something out of Star Trek: Stand still and don’t say a word or we will radiate you! And yes, I realize I could opt for groping instead, but that too is something out of Star Trek: To boldly go where no man has gone before….except my husband and not in public.

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Afterward I complained to the agent, fully expecting to be taken away, have all my body cavities searched, and be put on a no-fly list. It didn’t happen, but you’ll have to excuse me for a moment while I speak to a NSA representative.

 

Hi! How are you? I didn’t mean a thing by my comments to the TSA officer. Really. And I love my new iPad. Please pass my thanks to the officers in New Orleans. By the way, could you do me a favor? Last month, around the 4th or 5th I deleted an email with Aunt Edith’s secret fowl sauce. My goose is now cooked, and I need something to cover it ASAP. It was the only existing copy of the recipe. Sadly Aunt Edith died last week, but of course you already knew that from the email that Uncle Willard sent me. Thanks a bunch, and remember I’m nothing if not patriotic.

 

Now, where were we? Oh, yeah, once upon a long time ago, reasonable people drafted a reasonable document called the U.S. Constitution. Just to make things perfectly clear and reasonable, they included amendments. The Fourth Amendment mentions that U.S. citizens have certain rights:

 

…the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be searched.

 

Since the U.S. government can access all of my personal and professional information and everything I say or write electronically, what probable cause do its representatives have that warrant searching my person? Like the great majority of people, I present zero threat. I know it and the government knows it. In order to appear fair, TSA must consider all of us as potential terrorists: guilty until scanned.

 

Are you bugged by all of this? I am, and I bet you are, too. In fact, I know you are. All us of are bugged now, continually, and by our very own government.

 

This is a rant.

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1Translation: What’s up? You’re late. Not gonna lie, I’m bored. This movie is a waste of time. Wish you were here.

Want more wary, chary, scary, leery stuff? Read this New York Times opinion piece or  this story on AOL.

 

 

Beware of acronyms

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Someday I plan to tell a story of loss, accusation, denial, and the TSA, but not yet. I have been warned by my paranoia to be careful here. I hesitate to spell out TSA as Transportation Security Administration because, for all I know, they flag every mention of their name on the Internet. (Hi, Mr. TSA! You are doing a great job. No need to read further.)

 

Unfortunately, the acronym mentioned above already has my name and address because I made a formal complaint about an incident in New Orleans. I’m sure that had no connection to being singled out on my last trip through Chicago and made to stand in one of those see-through booths waiting for an agent who never came. I was not far from the conveyor belt where my purse and valuables waited for me, but half of the time my view was blocked by other passengers grabbing things from trays and walking away. I got a good ten-minute workout, bending right and left, standing on tiptoes, straining my neck to peer around people and moving from one corner of my glass booth to the other to make sure the passengers weren’t walking away with my things. Finally an agent walked over to me and said I could go. Maybe being forced to stay in a glass cage is their equivalent of time-out for whiners.

 

(Note to reader: Sometimes I am stupider than I look. I plan to travel this summer, but now I wonder if I will make it back home. If not, I have really enjoyed getting to know you.)

 

But that is not what I want to write about today.

 

Apparently the DHHS, the Department of Health and Human Services, resents the power of the TSA to open your luggage and remove items deemed unsafe or possibly too valuable for you. (You don’t really need that iPad.) The department’s Division of Childhood Development and Early Education, DCDEE, mandates all pre-kindergarten programs serve food that meets guidelines determined by the United States Department of Agriculture, USDA. And now, they have the power to open your child’s lunchbox or breakfast box and decide what is safe for the child to eat.

This concerns me for two reasons. First, if you put all those acronyms together, you come up with DHHSDCDEEUSDA. That hardly trips off the tongue the way TSA (Takes Stuff Away) does. It is ugly, gross, and hideous, or what I like to call UGH. Second, the USDA considers chicken nuggets and batter-coated French fries with ketchup healthy food. These are the foods our children receive at day-care centers and schools because we must take into consideration their taste preferences. Never mind offering good food to children and allowing them to develop a taste for fresh food. Give them what they want: processed food with lots of fat and sugar. And if you must serve vegetables, drown them in cheese sauce, mix them in a casserole using canned soup full of excess sodium and additives, or serve huge dollops of dressing to dip those carrot sticks in.

 

Can you tell this is a rant?

 

Last week, my daughter received a note from my grandchild’s day-care warning parents not to send any breakfast food such as donuts or pop-tarts. Only healthy breakfast foods are allowed. The following day, my daughter joined her child for lunch. You can imagine her delight at what was served: hotdogs in white buns, oven-baked French fries, canned tangerines, and lots and lots of ketchup. Nutritious, no?  Everything a growing child needs, assuming you consider any of that healthy food and you consider ketchup a vegetable.

 

 

Now, excuse me while I bite down very hard on a carrot.

 

 

 

Too busy to blog

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Yearstricken is a whiner. I love her and all that (I’m her beloved iPhone), but seriously, she is a whiner.

We talk a lot, so I know all about her schedule this semester: six different classes plus student event scheduling. In fact, I know it by heart because I’ve heard her say it a hundred times or more. Yes, two of her classes are in the evening, so she has some long days, but, people, I am on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week! You don’t hear me whining about it, do you? I have to hear her repeat the same things over and over, day after day, and do I complain? No, I do not. And do you want to know why? Because I am not a whiner.

She said this morning that she was tired and didn’t have time to write on her blog, so I thought I’d do it for her. Right now it’s 9:37 a.m., and we’re in the classroom. She’s at the board writing and I’m in her pocket. It’s a lower level English class and they’re working on pronunciation, one of her favorite subjects.

She’s had them practice saying “Good morning, y’all” and “howdy” for the last 10 minutes, so they’re pretty good at it now. On the board she just wrote three of the possessive adjectives: his, her, your. Next to those she wrote: “Bless _____ heart.” The students can say “Bless his heart” and “Bless her heart” without much problem. She’s careful to tell them not to pronounce the “h,” so in unison they repeat several times “Blesses heart” and “Blesser heart.” It’s taking a bit longer to get them to pronounce “your” correctly. She writes on the board “Bless yer heart” and underlines “yer.” Then she blabs on about how people in Wisconsin speak a dialect; it is not Standard English, which is the correct way to speak and which happens to be spoken in Texas, where she is from. It’s warm there most of the times, she says, as the students watch her mouth move. Then she whines about how people in Wisconsin say “You wanna come with?” and then leave you hanging because they don’t finish the question, so you don’t know if the person wants you to come with you or me or her or him or them, and if you don’t know who you are going with, how can you know if you want to go. This way of talking, she says, has something to do with the weather; it’s cold, too cold to even finish your sentences. Her students, of course, only hear and understand two words of what she said: Wisconsin and cold. They all nod and smile, some of them even repeat the word “cold” out loud, so she’s satisfied they understand. She loves her students for that.

She prides herself on teaching her students proper pronunciation, or as she calls it “talking purty.” When her students have classes with the other instructors, those teachers have to try to break the students of talking “purty.” Yearstricken feels like she’s doing a great job and even thinks the other instructors are complementing her by calling her “Miss Pronunciation.” I love her for that.

The road to riches

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Imagine that 100 people live in America. Ninety-nine of them are not millionaires. Just one is, and it’s not me.

 

Now, imagine that 535 members of Congress spend time in Washington failing to enact legislation to balance the budget. What percentage do you think are millionaires? Since one American in a hundred is a millionaire, you might guess that 5.3 of them have at least seven digits of net worth. (I know you’re troubled by the thought of  the .3 member: he’s been divorced twice and is paying alimony.)

 

Bipartisanship at its finest: everyone working together to create wealth for people that are themselves (See more information at: http://www.opensecrets.org/)

 

But really, you don’t have to worry about the divorced guy because if you go to opensecrets.org, you find that 40-50% of those who speak in sound bites are millionaires. Many, it’s true, are what we would call “poor” millionaires; they have assets worth less than $10 million. Not because they aren’t trying, but because so many congressional shoppers are out there looking for deals. Every day is Black Friday for Congress, and the mall is always crowded. Of course the assets listed on the website don’t necessarily reflect their spouse’s income, their congressional income, or the true value of their assets, so maybe some of them are just being modest.

 

I am upset.

 

I, too, can sit in chairs and fail to come to a consensus. I have had years of bitterness training, so I could add a lot to bitter partisanship. I get cold easily and would not mind cozying up to rich corporations with a few hot deals to share. I like to fly around in private jets and bring my family. I can talk for hours without saying anything of substance, and I love flip-flops. Why am I not in Congress getting rich off of the 99%!

 

If we want to get out of this economic slump and create wealth in this country, we need to enact mandatory Congress duty. It would be just like jury duty; all eligible Americans would serve one to two terms, enough time to double or triple their wealth. And I think that whoever she is in northeastern Wisconsin but originally from Texas that thought of this should serve first.