mercredi, mai 31, 2006

Mom Moves to Minnesota

On Friday of the Memorial Day weekend, TinyE and I flew to Kansas City and then rode to Lawrence, Kansas, to pick up my mom. We spent the afternoon at my brother's family's house and TinyE played with her cousins. They had a blast. They played to exhaustion. We went swimming on Saturday morning and then had lunch on the Country Club Plaza. From there, we went back to my brother's family's house and played board games and chilled. Around 5:30, TinyE, my mother and I jumped into my mom's Toyota Corolla (don't hate on her for getting > 30 miles per gallon, just get your own) and pointed the car north.

As we left the city, my mom cried a bit, which made perfect sense to me. In part it was because her grandson was sad to see her go - and expressed his sadness. But in part because my mom was born in Geary, Oklahoma, and, at a very young age, moved to Wichita, Kansas. Since then, she has always lived in the State of Kansas, but as we entered Missouri, she started a new chapter in her life, the chapter where she lives in Minnesota.

The decision to move to Minnesota was not an easy one. My mother has two twins sons, one in Kansas City, one in St. Paul, and the only thing she knew for sure is that she wanted to retire near one of them. My brother and his family hope to leave Kansas City soon to take up residence in Los Angeles, and L.A. is no place to retire if you spent your professional years in the Midwest. L.A. is prohibitively expensive for retirees.

Minnesota is not a great retirement state either. So, it was the choice between two absurd locations - one tundra, and one place that simply is not affordable. One of my mom's biggest reservations is the weather. Our winter's are long and not always mild. A lot of people who spend their entire lives here retire elsewhere or take on a winter home.

She also faces the usual moving challenges: she has to navigate the logistics of moving her house, she has to get familiar with a new area, she has to develop community and friends, she has to process a lot of paperwork related to her home, her car, her finances, etc.

And I have concerns too. My mother, who was widowed in 1975 and never remarried, devoted herself completely to parenting. For a long time her boys and their activities where the center of her attention - the center of her world. At the time, of course, I resented it. Now, with the benefit of age and the perspective of a parent, I understand.

But my mom embraced her parent role so fully, that she tends to parent still. And her sons, now 38, with their share of failures and successes, find themselves quite able to fulfill their responsiblities without the guidance their mother gives so lovingly and so frequently (and this is difficult to overstate, my mom dispenses advice at a rate that defies the laws of comunication). She also tends to parent her grandchildren, sometimes applying concepts that have been tweaked a bit since the 1970's.

I am intensely private and extraordinarily sensitive to anything that might possibly be construed as condescending, so I tend to receive advice in the most negative light. Advice is given to people who need it. People who need advice are people who are struggling. Therefore, if I am being given advice, the advisor thinks I'm struggling.

Yep, I'm deeply flawed.

Still, I truly believe that we will all adjust. Gentle candor and warm glasnost will help - and that is my goal.

And yesterday after a marathon closing, as my mom turned the keys to her new home, just 1.7 miles away from my family's humble cottage, I found myself quite happy, and fully aware that whatever the future holds, we are family and we will drive each other nuts, but when we net it all out, the positives of our closeness (geographic, emotional) will far outweigh the negatives.

jeudi, mai 25, 2006

Suffice It to Say I Don't Like Double Albums or Network Administrators

So I had this totally boss post written about why double albums are no good. I talked about double albums by Outkast, Smashing Pumpkins, Wilco (who has two), Red Hot Chili Peppers, LCD Soundsystem and Ben Harper.

I talked about how there are some good ones (Outkast, Wilco (both) and RHCP), but most double albums fail because they are self-important, and few fun things are enjoyable for two hours or more.

I listed out some things that are fun for more than two hours:

Golf (fun for up to four hours and 15 minutes)
Reading (fun for days and days)
Writing (fun for 3 to 4 hours)
Movies (fun for up to 3 hours, but only rarely)
Arts & Crafts (except knitting which should only be enjoyed in small doses)

I specificially did not list out other things that, though fun, are not fun for two hours:

(which shall remain nameless)

But the main thing is, I was clever and funny and witty and grammatically sound. I was tight. It was, quite possibly, my best post ever (at least my best post without photos or lengthy, lengthy quotations).

Anyway, whilst I was at lunch, our Network Administrator entered my office (don't hate) without my permission, and gave me an updated docking station for my laptop - it's more ergonomically sound than my last docking station, and I should be happy, but dude totally deleted my art, man. And I can't recreate art; I was in a zone when I created that art.

Suffice it to say that I don't like double albums, and we're now looking for a new network administrator.

lundi, mai 22, 2006

Brother Can You Spare Approximately $58,000?

We got a funny letter in the mail this weekend. It came to us from the manager of our daughter’s 529 Plan, and the basic gist of it was:

When TinyE is ready for college, private universities will cost approximately $250,000 for four years of tuition, books, room and board.

When TinyE is ready for college, public universities will cost approximately $160,000 for four years of tuition, books, room and board.

At our current pace, we will fall short of both. They were kind enough to project how much we would have if we continue to invest at the present level. But I’m not discouraged by our progress. Especially since she will probably win a full ride academic and/or athletic scholarship.

Our manger advised that we have the following options:

1. Make a one-time investment today of $58,000 to get the necessary money for the four years of expense at a private university.

2. Make a one-time investment today of $46,000 to get the necessary money for the four years of expense at a public university.

3. Increase our annual investment by $4,800 and $3,600 for private and public university (respectively).

4. Increase our monthly investment by $400 and $300 for private and public university (respectively).*

Included within the mailer were three deposit slips – one for us (I presume) and one for each set of grandparent(s).

And all I could think was: if I had $58,000 just burning a hole in my pocket I probably wouldn’t have a 529 plan at all. If I could come up with $58k right now, I’m sure that 15 years from now $250,000 would be chump change.

And before you even take me seriously, yes I realize that it would probably be better to set aside the $58k now, but…if what I read about the finances of the average American family is true, well then, it’s very hard to send a letter asking for $58,000 without it being a little tongue in cheek.** And, for the record, Mrs. Duf and I don’t have $58k to devote to the fund at this time (if we did, we would). I read recently that if a family must choose, it should save for retirement and not for college because one can borrow money for college, but one cannot borrow money for retirement.

*I’m working from memory on all these, but I’m in the ball park, and you get the general idea.

**We had a wonderful weekend, and one of the things we did was attend a local preparatory school’s production of “The Secret Garden” – our nephew*** had a prominent role. The school is, if not the best, one of the best in the state, if not the Upper Midwest. It’s a feeder in all the admirable ways a school can be a feeder. Each year it matriculates the children of industry captains, executives, local celebrities, professionals and heirs to outrageous fortunes (as well as kids from middle class homes who are wise enough to apply and benefit from tuition assistance). It was fascinating to me to enjoy the wonderful play while thinking about the future of all these amazing kids. They are off to a tremendous start. They are getting a world-class education, and, for many of them, college tuition is not a concern. For us, however, it is. Anyway, God bless them all; everyone has blessings and burdens.

***One of my favorite things about my nephew, besides his hair****, is that whenever he introduces me to his friends, he always introduces me as his uncle without even the smallest hint, or even a detectable trace of irony or self-consciousness. And that means the world to me. You know his parents are doing something right.

****He’s beginning an Oedipal disregard for his father.*****

*****And his father reads my blog and…well, that makes me a little self-conscious while writing this whole thing.

lundi, mai 15, 2006

Insider Scoop on the Duke Rape Case

Okay, the title is a lie. I need to stop writing titles that drive traffic to my blog. I have no insider scoop, but that's my point.

One thing about the blogosphere that troubles bloggers like myself is that I always feel like a hearsay commentator. I try to always reference my sources, but giving an opinion on an issue of the day without being ill-informed is more difficult than it sounds.

Bloggers love to criticize the MSM (Main Street Media) for its bias, its over-coverage, its under-coverage, its priorities, etc. But, like it or not, the MSM is the primary source of information for casual bloggers like myself. So, if the MSM is biased or flawed, ILIM, and sites like it, run the risk of magnifying those flaws.

An example of an issue that is difficult to discuss or add to, is the Duke rape case.

I must confess that I read just about everything I can about the Duke rape case. There are several reasons for this:

1. Duke sucks.

2. I hate Duke for several reasons – perhaps this could be a separate post.

3. I’m fascinated by the issues of gender that it raises..

4. I’m fascinated by the issues of class that it raises.

5. I’m fascinated by the issues of race that it raises.

6. I’m fascinated by the issues of athletics and athletes that it raises.

7. I’m fascinated that it allegedly occurred within an insular community that functions like a
fraternity and holds a lot of potential for the all too familiar secrecy pacts, etc.

8. I’m fascinated by the prospect of young lives in the balance – for the dancer/stripper there is the awe I feel that she is challenging the very house of power in her world; for the young men,

9. I’m fascinated that the outcome here really is the difference between the opulent life of a Wall Street shark, and the “Scarlet Letter” life of a sex offender.

10. I’m fascinated by how it exposes our inability to discard irrelevant items when seeking answers to delicate questions, to wit:

-We struggle around the use of the words “dancer/stripper”

-We struggle to trust women who dance/strip for a living

-We consider the complainant less trustworthy because she was allegedly assaulted in the past.

-We consider the complainant less trustworthy because the other dancer/stripper that night was discovered to have ulterior motives.

11. The young men on the lacrosse team seem to celebrate their privilege with impunity

12. Duke seems to celebrate its privilege with impunity

13. It has a lot of weird elements – shoes and “spiked” beers and a profiteering cohort and, most of all (and the main subject of this post)

14. Duke, its students, its administrators, and its alumni have been indignant about the whole thing – make no mistake about it…to them, the victim is not a black woman from a humble home who works her way through college, it’s the elite university founded by a tobacco magnate with the multi-billion dollar endowment and more time on ESPN than the dadgum Yankees; it’s the student who absolutely must be falsely accused (nothing else makes sense).

Look, I know full well that sitting at my desk in St. Paul, Minnesota, armed only with what I read in the MSM, that I’m horribly ill-positioned to reach any definitive conclusions on what happened, on who’s lying, or on what would be a just outcome, but I know that when I read that graduates put Seligmann’s and Finnerty’s lacrosse jersey numbers on their graduation caps, or that the Provost mentions “sad events and relentless media coverage” as having an impact on the school’s image, that I want to vomit. How can they be so sure? How are they able to hold these young men up for celebration? Are there any other victims out there that we might want to consider?

If I went to an elite University, I might cite some lesson from antiquity here, something about hubris, but I went to public college, so let me just say that:

Pride goeth before the fall.

Which means that we should have our results on all this by September at the latest.


Anyway, much is yet to be determined, but if we conclude that an assault took place, my sincere hope is that those who celebrate the wrong victims will learn the lessons available to them, and that the false invincibility of privilege will be shredded to the point that even the elite and exalted among us are humbled.

After all, O.J. and Kobe and William Kennedy Smith all got their comeuppance, so…




lundi, mai 08, 2006

Free Breasts

Please pardon the shameless attempt to direct traffic to my site - and it's probably not the traffic I want either! Scram perverts!

For all the times I give Kansas a hard time, I have to give it some praise when it does something right.

From USA Today*, comes reports of a new state law in Kansas giving women the right to breast feed in public. And there is plenty to praise and criticize in that new law. Praise is due for recognizing and supporting this important health issue; condemnation for the timetable it took in order to enact the law (and that a law is required for such a thing) - my watch shows the year to be 2006.

But that's not even the part I want to point out -

State officials and breast-feeding advocates are partnering to distribute 40,000 laminated cards to nursing mothers. The mothers can show them to people who give them a hard time for feeding their hungry children.

Now, a cynic would point out how sad it is that a state would anticipate problems (or that using moms to advertise the new law might not be the best strategy), but ILIM has never been much for cynicism.

Or sarcasm.

*I'm reading USA Today** because I'm traveling - I'm in Ohio***.

**They also had some great letters to the editor from Europeans making fun of us Americans for being in a panic over $3.00 per gallon gas prices. In many parts of Europe, they pay the equivalent of $6.00 per gallon****.

***Don't hate.

****Adjusting for currency differences and from liters to gallons.

jeudi, mai 04, 2006

Education Minnesota!

Man, there was a time when Minnesota prided itself on its commitment to education. But if my latest Newsweek* is any indication, our high schools are not doing very well. Newsweek published its list of 100 top public high schools, and here are some interesting stats:

Not one Minnesota school made the list.
Florida has three schools in the top ten.
Texas has the number one school.
Texas has two schools in the top ten.***
Both are in Dallas.
Only 21 states are represented.
18 of the schools are in Florida.
16 are in New York.
Red states cream blue states.
Only 7 blue states are represented (NY, MI, CA, IL, WA, MA and NJ)
Also, Bellevue, Washington…
Nashville, Tennessee…
Dallas, Texas…
McLean, Virginia…****
And Miami, Florida…
Should all give their Superintendents a raise.
They all have multiple schools on the list.

So, to me, either great schools are grouped really interestingly, or there’s something funny about the list.

And while I don’t want to disparage the minds at Newsweek, I think it’s okay to challenge their criteria:

Newsweek divides the number of AP and IB***** tests taken at a school by the number of graduating seniors. A fair enough standard, but if you adjust for the traction of AP and IB programs within a state or district, and if you consider other factors (like how many PASS the AP and IB tests, percentage who graduate, percentage who go to college, percentage who graduate from college by age 25, strength of debate team, quality of the cello section, etc.) – I wonder if you would get a different result.

Hard to measure all the public schools and come up with a ranking. But it seems wise to question rankings that leave out so many schools and districts that seem to be doing so well.

*We get it “free”** for being members of Minnesota Public Radio.
**One of my pet peeves is when people say you get a benefit for free as a result of an underlying financial commitment. If you buy a car from this dealership, you get free car washes for a year, should be re-written as “buried within the cost of your car is any expense associated with washing it 12 times.”
***The fact that Bushes were/are governors of Texas and Florida does tempt ILIM to think “no child left behind has merit” but ILIM is practiced at avoiding some temptations (this being one of them).
****Back when I was on Capitol Hill, most of the Senators lived in McLean, VA.
*****AP = Advanced Placement; IB = International Baccalaureate