Archive for the ‘ Paper Pills ’ Category

On Pandora, ‘The Giver of Gifts”

Nothing shifts my mood like music–my favorite music.  This morning  I settled in to my seat to finish off some grading in a less-than enthusiastic state. Sigh… another day, another round of student writers to coach.

I sign on to Pandora, an automated Internet music site, then toggle back to the student-essay file. Named after the Greek goddess who “sends up gifts,” it lifts my mood by launching into Led Zeppelin’s Traveling Riverside Blues, followed by the live version of Whole Lotta Love.

With this soundtrack lifting my spirit, not only do I breeze through the day’s workload, but I also start some writing that I hadn’t quite been able to push myself to do.

I discovered Pandora Radio about a year ago, while shackled in the silence of grading student essays.  Unlike those students, my entire music catalogue is not housed in mp3 files, but on CDs and vinyl shelved in alphabetical order in my home office/family room.

Just as I need music to step up the pace and keep me moving toward my goals when working out, I need rhythm to move me from paper to paper, some harmony to inspire my feedback. But pushing that desk chair away from the screen, and poring over the possibilities in my music canon,  can and does distract me enough to throw me off from the grading task.  So, Pandora is a great alternative—she pulls the tracks that keep me moving.

The goddess Pandora has a bad rep in our mythology–she is, after all, credited with opening a box from which escapes all the evils and misery that plague us. In fact, there is much controversy over the interpretation of the Pandora myth that is wrapped up in semantics. Some say releasing evil was a bad thing, yet others claim the story has been  misunderstood and that she really released blessings onto the world, rather than ills.

  I take the more optimistic reading of the myth and see her as Hesiod does in Works and Days, as an innocent and curious woman who holds one last thing in her box—hope for humanity. I guess it all depends on how you look at it. Is your Pandora’s  box half full, or half empty? 

I feel blessed today. I’ve got another round of student writers to coach while listening to my favorite music.

Excuses, excuses…

Over the holiday weekend, I was asked “Where has Helen Wheales been? I thought you promised to write everyday once you were off for the summer?”

At least someone noticed.

Honestly, I’ve no excuse for not sharing my thoughts, only an explanation. First, turns out that I am not “off” this summer–I took on some work that screws up my writing schedule.

Second, Helen Wheales is no match for Bat Outta Hell, Cyclone, and Bull in a China Shop, who have kept me on the go this past month. I worked almost every day in June, and when I returned home, there were other things to be done…and baseball in the evenings. I played hostess for a graduation party and our annual Independence Day fete. Now things can slow down a bit…and I can spend some time at the keyboard.

The Sad Tale of Ginny Mae

I know this gal, Ginny Mae.

In her early years, Ginny Mae had everything going for her–good looks, popularity, and she was pretty flush with cash. She was the It girl–everyone in the neighborhood saw her as a success. In fact, you could say Ginny Mae and all she’d accomplished and all she stood for exemplified the very spirit of our great nation. Her ingenuity put a lot of bacon in a lot of frying pans, and the grease from that bacon trickled down to a lot of other industries, oiling a manufacturing and service machine that served as the backbone of national commerce.

As the years passed and times changed, Ginny Mae over-extended herself for one reason or another. Ginny Mae made $1.3 billion in the first quarter of 2004 and bragged widely that she had a $25 billion tucked in her mattress, but by the first half of 2005, declared that she had lost $1.1 billion. You see, Ginny Mae had diversified her business, lent money for mortgages, haggled with her unions and apparently came out on the short end of the stick, and faced some stiff competition from the likes of T. Oyota and Hon Da, to whom she lost a formidable chunk of market share while she wasn’t paying attention. Some say that she was hitting the sauce, others say she was addicted to libations of another sort.

The people who used to be in awe of Ginny Mae’s stature were now gossiping on the streets about her sorry condition. “Look what’s become of Ginny Mae,” they’d whisper. “Lordy, she sure did get herself in a mess of trouble! Had my daddy lived to see the finest woman in town reduced to this!”

It was all downhill from there…a few years passed and with them came some changes and more bad choices. And then there was that banking crisis, wrought by people not unlike Ginny Mae who seemed infallible, but tripped over their own big feet and fell flat on their faces. Those folks were Ginny Mae’s last lifeline, and while in the prone position, cut off her cash. She struggled…and then Ginny Mae declared that she was about to give up. Doing so would stop the bacon and the flow of bacon grease…so many relied on Ginny Mae. That’s why the knight in white armor came to call, tapping on Ginny Mae’s door, “I’m from the government, and I am here to help.”* This knight handed her a rucksack filled with $50 billion that had been collected from others to be used for other things.

Some in our neighborhood celebrated the knight’s brave rescue, but others admonished the knight and Ginny Mae for making this strange transaction. They were angry that Ginny Mae, who did not responsibly manage the money she did have, was now taking money they’d freely given for other things. Some knew that if she were spending her money on liquor or drugs that she’d just buy more–padding her pocketbook was just enabling her, they said.

And some others warned Ginny Mae that she would be forever indebted to that knight whose face and motives were hidden securly behind that shiny suit of armour.

Ginny Mae didn’t listen. She took the money and it was gone a lot faster than we all thought it would be. We still whisper and wonder about where it did go…especially now that Ginny Mae can’t pay it back. There is also lots of talk in town about what’s since become of Ginny Mae–if you don’t already know, she filed for bancruptcy today, and will be forced to restructure under guidelines imposed by a court and by the knight, who has a $50 billion interest in Ginny Mae’s affairs. That crafty knight will emerge with a 75% share of Ginny Mae, after pumping another $25 billion into her floundering business.

So now that knight is in control, bossing the boss lady around, telling her what she can make, and under what standards. None of us knows for certain what will become of Ginny Mae now that she’s nothing more than a slave to that knight, but one thing’s for certain, the world will never be the same.

* “The most terrifying words in the English language are, I’m from the government and I am here to help.” Ronald Reagan

California makes history as the first state in the nation to beg the Federal government to come to its financial rescue during the 2008-2009 US recession. Its treasurer, Bill Lockyer, wrote a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner yesterday asking for help in the form of cold, hard cash through TARP (the Troubled Asset Relief Program).

Lockyer’s plea included the increasingly common tear-wrenching and fear-conjuring threat that police and fire protection/services, education, and social-service programs would be slashed unless someone saves California from a certain death.

It’s a narrative we’ve all seen played out dozens of times since Hollywood’s silent film era…Picture the villan tying the ingenue damsel in white to the railroad tracks…pan to train chugging down the track at a high rate of speed…Our hero comes to the rescue just in time!

The difference? Nel was a victim of Snidley Whiplash, and Dudley Do-Right was the only one who could save her. California is a victim of its own mismanagement. Should Uncle Sam play Dudley Do-Right come to its financial rescue?

I’ll turn to Hollywood again for the answer. How many times have you seen a film or TV show with this line:”You saved my life! I am forever indebted to you!”? If California takes a bailout, it will forever be indebted to Washington DC… threatening the strength of the Tenth Amendment, which limits the power of the federal government. California will surrender its Constitutionally assigned state rights in exchange for what stands to be a temporary solvency.

One more Hollywood analogy–This is just the beginning of a horror movie, or the set-up for a Twilight Zone episode about the selfish actions of hapless humans which create a monster.
Everytime we allow the federal government to overstep the boundaries of the Constitution, we feed the beast, its appetite grows and it seeps into every nook and cranny of our lives. The Blob comes to mind. As the 1958 movie trailer warns, “It crawls, it creeps, it eats you alive!”

We need to stop this monster from growing, and fire extinguisher foam is not going to do the trick.

Gender Bend

Former First Lady Laura Bush has been involved with a couple of causes, the better known of which was her dedication to improving the nation’s literacy rate. Another is her husband’s initiative to tackle what is known as “Boy Advocacy,” or “Breaking the Boy Code,” the drive to eliminate those outdated notions about masculine behavior that keep boys from achieving their potential, and make them more likely to be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, to fail in school, and often beget violence and depression.

According to Laura Bush’s now-inaccessible White House website, “Statistics show that boys are at greater risk than girls for learning disabilities, illiteracy, dropping out of school, substance-abuse problems, violence, juvenile arrest, and early death caused by violent behavior.” Her mission was to combat the problem through intervention and culture change, which she discusses in a National Public Radio interview.

Surprised to hear that Laura Bush worked for this cause? If so, it is probably because it got little press coverage.

On the other hand, since February, I have heard broadcast journalists mention at least ten times that First Lady du jour, Michelle Obama, lists among her important causes, advocacy for women and girls. And that is as far as the story goes…I’ve been digging and digging can’t turn up a lick of mention of just what this advocacy entails, or why it is necessary, whereas I can find plenty on the “boy problem,” including this Business Week article , and a San Francisco Chronicle piece that put the issue in perspective.

What’s my problem with this? Well, for starters, I haven’t heard one bit about just what Mrs. O plans to do to advocate for women and girls. Just soundbites. I cannot help but think that she’s wearing the Girl Power badge because it seems to be the liberal thing to do.

Next, I hate to see good work get started by one administration, only to be abandoned by the next. Third, research shows that overall, girls have an edge in school, are less likely to be medicated for behavioral problems, and are less likely to be depressed. Girls have made great advances in school since the AAUW report How Schools Shortchange Girls raised much needed awareness. This is not to say that I do not believe girls are influenced and harmed by the same sort of erroneous gender prescriptions as harm boys. Many of us recognize the media influence on female behavior, dress, and self image. And that is just my point…many of us realize what is happening to girls.

BUT, boys are overlooked and their behavior and troubles are rarely blamed on institutionalized gender roles. Instead, boys are characterized as “being” rough, rambunctious and wild by nature, rather than nurture. But this must change. George and Laura Bush recognize this. The Obamas need to do the same.

Additional Reading:

Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys

Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men