Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday's Term-Turnaround

Did you ever see Tuesday on the calendar and think, "what a useless day!" Tuesday gets the short shrift in the heirarchy of days. It's not manic, it's not a hump, no one ever thanks God it's Tuesday. If Tuesday was one of Snow White's dwarfs, it would be Sneezy. (ADD moment - why are they not dwarves?)

I decided to rectify this neglectful attitude with an exciting new weekly entry called Tuesday's Term Turnaround. With such a cumbersome name, it's bound to be a very short-lived tradition, but I'm going to try it out and see what happens.

The idea is that there so are many words and terms in common usage that have practically lost their impact, often because of overuse, that perhaps a vocabulary tune-up is in order.

This week's entries are: hate (v.), job (n.),  literally (adv.), hot (adj.) and bitch (v.).

Let's leave the naughtiest ones for last, if you don't mind.  And if you have to ask which one I mean, you are way too young to be reading this column in the first place.

In the course of a normal day, I have heard people remarking that they "hate" the following:
pollen, high heels, Daylight Saving Time, driving, T-ball, the season premiere of "Mad Men," chlorine, Rick Santorum, spreading mulch, buying gasoline, Duke's basketball team and getting the lawnmower out of storage.

While it is possible to understand a feeling of dislike associated with any one of these entries, no one item on the list seems to rise to the level of engendering hatred.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines hate thusly: 

a. v. trans. To hold in very strong dislike; to detest; to bear malice to. The opposite of to love.
As an transitive verb, hate needs a direct object. All those items in the list theoretically receive hate from the hater. Doesn't it seem that most of those people, things, events and tasks could benefit from a more precise description of the emotion being experienced? Shouldn't intelligent people save the term "hate" for the direst circumstances, the most awful objects?

I'd like to propose some synonyms, a few of which I only just learned while researching for this blog. Here are a few you might like to try, with substitution examples:

No: I hate high heels.
Acceptable: I dislike wearing high heels.
Very specific: I love how high heels make my legs look, but I dislike how they treat my feet.

No: I hate pollen.
Acceptable: Pollen irritates my allergies.
Verbal gymnastics: I experience intense loathing for the microscopic particles which produce the profusion of spring flowers, because they trigger an allergic reaction which causes me to call in sick for April.

No: I hate buying gasoline.
Acceptable: The price of gasoline makes me upset.
Best in show: I bear extreme malice toward the rich speculators and/or greedy corporations responsible for the exorbitant cost of gasoline.

See how easy it is to re-route your thinking and find appropriate, precise words to help you make your point? And if you want to throw in a little Austenesque phraseology, try this:

"I am ill-disposed to accept my doctor's recommendation that I refrain from consuming Blizzards."

On a side note, I found some nice synonyms for "hateful," a word I probably rely on too much and use too loosely. I think it's a southern thing. Next time I want to describe someone who criticizes my dogs or makes fun of my sewing, instead of calling them hateful, I'll use "mordacious," which means biting or severe. I can hardly wait to be insulted so I can fling out my new harsh word. Mordacious. I like the sound of that.

In this era of high unemployment, everyone within spitting distance of a microphone talks about jobs. But the word "job" is so vague. People who are unemployed lack a paying job, but there are many other definitions of "job" that refer to unpaid employment. Synonyms for job include activity, assignment, career, chore, engagement, livelihood, occupation, position, profession, vocation and work.  This incomplete list demonstrates that there should be no problem finding other word choices. Let's try a little replacement exercise. A friend recently made this remark:

"The first job on my to-do list today is to get a haircut and a manicure."

In this sentence, the word job implies work, but the events listed hardly qualify.  (There is also the issue of singular job and multiple treatments, but I digress.) Perhaps a more accurate sentence would read:

"My first activity of the day is to go to the salon and have a mani/pedi. I only mention it because your ragged cuticles and split ends reminded me that I am overdue for some pampering."

See how much more precise and descriptive that sounds? A well-to-do person who does not need to earn a living by holding down a job should use the word sparingly. Now I'll pull a quote from the news:

"If elected, I'll single-handedly create more jobs than all the presidents going back to Millard Fillmore - combined!"

A better alternative to this typically empty campaign promise would read:

"If elected, I'll provide many new career choices in my cabinet for entrenched lawmakers and lobbyists, make huge changes to the Labor Department resulting in re-categorizing the entire national professional index to disguise the fact that the same number of workers have new titles for their vocations, and by repealing every unpopular law enacted in the past 100 years, I'll create millions of entry-level paper shredder positions!"

Here's a short list of available synonyms :   task, work, business, undertaking, vocation, chore, duty, assignment.

Teachers give assignments; parent assign chores; daily life includes tasks; you can have a position as a volunteer, you can earn a living by having a career or a profession. Not all jobs are work, and not all work is a job. I write almost every day because I task myself to do so. I don't earn any money, I don't have an employer and I don't write to put food on the table. I write as an "occupation," because it occupies my time and I do it for reasons of self-satisfaction. I also keep house and am a wife and mother. In that sense, I work all the time, but I still don't have a "job." Do you agree?

Note to self: Write a blog about the most useless parenting phrase of all: "Good job!"


This term is literally the most misused  word in the English language. Okay, not really. And very few occasions in everyday life warrant the usage of "literally." In fact, you could add another overused word to describe the overuse of "literally:" the word "literally" is "abused" in common speech. 

That's because the word literally refers to precision, accuracy and exactness. It should never be used to describe things that didn't happen, but it usually is used that way. The word is intended to precede a true statement; the translated meaning is "with truth to the letter." But most people, myself included, use "literally" as a term of emphasis or exaggeration. Let's look at some real-life examples and some alternatives:

"I literally died when he offered me a piece of gum at the bus stop."
"I nearly lost control of my bladder and my saliva when he offered me a piece of gum at the bus stop."

"That book was literally the most boring book in the history of the world."
"I fell asleep on page two and didn't wake up until I saw the words 'The End.'"

"I literally only had yogurt and water for a week but I gained literally about 20 pounds."
"No one saw me eat anything but yogurt or water all week, but the scale knows the ugly truth."

"That was the hardest exercise class I've ever been to; I literally can't move an inch. Want to go to Target?"
"Before the soreness sets in, let's engage in retail therapy while I tell you about all the amazing and difficult calorie-burning activities I did while you sat home blogging."

"Peyton Manning literally broke a billion hearts when he signed with the Broncos."
"I hate the Colts."

I hope these examples demonstrate my point. We should all reserve "literally" for statements which involve facts, truth and exactness, and avoid using it to convey an extreme emotion or exaggerate the impact of an event. If everyone would literally just completely stop saying literally, I think the world would be a better place in, like, literally, five minutes.


The overuse and misuse of "hot" is nothing new; "hot" has been used to describe a good-looking person, a high-performance car and popular new TV shows for many years. Although the primary dictionary definition pertains to temperature, it seems to rarely be used for that measure; instead, it is usually invoked to describe the attractiveness or desirability of a person or thing. When I was growing up, however, mere mortals weren't referred to as "hot." The term was reserved for the likes of Sophia Loren and Elvis Presley, people who oozed sex appeal without any effort. Now it is commonplace to hear a 5th grade girl refer to a 5th grade boy as hot (especially if he has a Justin Bieber haircut). I found this trend disturbing when I heard my own child call a boy hot, but like so many words, the meaning has been diluted to the point where calling a person "hot" is just another way of saying they aren't ugly.

I think that we must experience some kind of psychological safety when using short, amorphous words to describe things we actually like. It's easier to call a guy "hot" than to say you like the way he wears his hair or the thoughtful comments he makes in English class. Sometimes the finer points of why we like something are difficult to articulate, like the integrated bumper or mosaic-like taillights of a "hot" Jaguar convertible. But then there's the sexiness component of "hot," where a person can obliquely refer to experiencing strong physical attraction to someone. It make the word take on entirely too many mature connotations for such common, flippant use. 

Let's deconstruct "hot:"

hot - a temperature measurement. Correct uses: An outdoor temperature of 98F can be called "a hot day." If you stick your finger in a flame, your finger will experience the sensation of uncomfortable heat, therefore, "the fire is hot." Incorrect use: "I'm wearing this sweater skiiing, because that ugly coat you bought is too hot." 

hot - a measure of attractiveness. Common use: "The fact remains, Edward sparkles and emotes with deep intensity, but he's nowhere near as hot as a shirtless Jacob." Correct use: "Sean Connery looks hot at every age."  Excepting 007, substitute the following words for "hot" to describe a pleasant appearance: 
attractive, handsome, pretty, alluring, pleasing, good-looking, magnetic, fetching, agreeable, winning, beefcake and hunky.

hot - as in "new and popular:: Common use: "The hot-selling IPhone 12 is pre-loaded with a rocket launcher and can microwave a Hot Pocket with the screen.." Plenty of synonyms are available at thesaurus.com, such as: 
approvedcool*, dandyfavoredfreshgloriousgroovy*, in demand, just out, keenlatestmarvelousneat*, nifty*, peachy*, popularrecentsought-after, supertrendyup-to-the-minute.

hot - denoting a strong feeling of physical attraction for another: Correct use: "Mr. Darcy was clearly hot for Elizabeth, but managed to hide that fact until their wedding night." Incorrect use: Almost anything else.  No one under 25 should use "hot" in this way. Furthermore, this feeling should not be discussed in polite conversation. If you cannot restrain yourself from sharing this sensation with others, substitute the word "concupiscent." It is awkward, doesn't roll off the tongue easily like "hot," and it may take you a minute to think of it. Once you do, perhaps you will also reconsider openly discussing such private feelings in the first place. Example: "The vision of Isolde bathing in the pond rendered Tristan concupiscent." If everyone would just adopt this minor change, perhaps some of us would be spared the unpleasant mental pictures resulting from standing next to chatty teenage boys in line at the video store.

Acceptable alternatives, in an emergency: 
lascivious, libidinous, prurient and concupiscent (if you dare).


It is hard to believe the stir that was caused by Elton John's song "The Bitch is Back," released in the distant, innocent year of 1974. The radio station I listened to banned it, because the word "bitch" simply wasn't considered an acceptable term for public airwaves. Nowadays, the word has no shame value - anyone can say it to anyone else for any reason. Recently, I heard a mother at the grocery storewith a whiny child of about 3 yell, "Quit your bitchin'" in full hearing of anyone in the produce section. I think it is regrettable that a word which should truly be reserved for dog breeders has achieved such popularity and acceptance in everyday speech.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that "bitch" has developed many meanings, and functions as both a noun and a verb; people find it a very useful crutch in their vocabulary. But in researching the term, I discovered that there are many satisfying alternatives, if people would just take a minute to memorize a new word or two.  For example:

"Bitch" as a measure of difficulty:
"That test was a bitch."
"That test was arduous and challenging. I wish I'd studied more."

"Bitch" as a derogatory description of a person:
"My Body Pump teacher is a bitch."
"My Body Pump teacher is an imposing lady with a formidable teaching style."

"Bitch" as a verb, as in nag:
"Why do you bitch every Sunday when I'm trying to keep up with 12 games at one time?"
"Why do you complain as if football was not the single most important thing about the weekend?"

For the more liguistically ambitious, I have a few more synonyms you should try:

virago: an aggressive woman.
calumniator: a person who accuses, smears, defames or slanders.
termagant: troublemaker.

Every campaign needs a logo

I hope today's installment will help you, in some small way, avoid banausic  (common, ordinary, undistinguished) words and will enable you to replace lazy, hackneyed (cliched, timeworn, quotidian) terms with ones that are precise, descriptive and suited to your intention. (Do you think I should enter the previous sentence in the Parenthetical, Comma-Spliced, Run-On Sentence Hall of Fame?)

Perhaps the next time you see Kim Kardashian, instead of saying:
"I hate that stupid show, but that bitch is like, literally, hot,"

you will be inspired to politely remark:
"I intensely dislike her insipid program, but that harridan, Kim Kardashian, is admittedly a fetching young lady."

At long last, this concludes my first installment of Tuesday's Term-Turnaround. I had fun with this piece, but want to apologize if any of my more polite readers were offended by the indelicate language. If there is a next time, I'll try to be more delicate. Which isn't going to be easy, because the nest term-turnaround I want to tackle is "freaking." 

In the meantime, feel free to comment or email with your suggestions for words or phrases that need to be clarified, redefined or retired. I welcome your awesome feedback on this hot topic!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Words You Need to Test-Drive

Some months ago, I created an international stir with a little piece I wrote called "Please Put These Words in Mothballs" (click HERE or here or even hear to read it). It was an innocent little blog about  words and phrases that had been over-used by the lazy, unimaginative general public. It was written in response to an untrackable email that I received from a self-described all-powerful yet anonymous group (I'm guessing Opus Dei), requesting that I use my influence with the unwashed masses to try to eradicate several terms from daily speech.

So I wrote the above-linked blog, because I didn't want any trouble with those fun fraternal groups - our Elks Club has a nice pool, you know? Anyway, my heartfelt plea to accomplish this serious mission fell on deaf ears. The unwashed masses weren't listening.  The unwashed masses stubbornly refused to consign the worn out terms "awesome" and "dude" to the linguistic junk heap. My nine devoted readers did what they could, but clearly our little grassroots effort to change the world didn't make it past the next click of the mouse. The world wasn't ready for our message.

It occurred to me that the world may not ever be ready for any message that tells them to "STOP" doing something. Whether you tell the world to stop saying "awesome" or stop smoking crack or stop buying a new IPhone every 5 minutes, the world generally tells you to mind your own business. So I did. For awhile.

But this idea of bossing around the world was kind of fun. Even if the world looks over its shoulder and says (in a snarky tone): "You're not the boss of me!" it's still a power trip to come up with new ways to be the boss of the world. I prepared a list of demands, starting with the immediate end to all wars and an international statute outlawing the consumption of Happy Meals by adults. Then, while my demands were being reviewed at The Hague, I realized that enforcement may be a problem. I don't really want to have to monitor 7 billion people to make sure only young children are eating those formed chicken things in a box. And I hate wars, but they seem to be a constant in the human condition, and even using Google Earth and CNN, it would be hard for me to ever be sure that a worldwide ceasefire was being maintained.

 All I really want the world to do is learn to describe good or positive or enormous events or items or people with some word besides "awesome." But since I found myself using that word for no good reason today (Eric: "Did you hear that Dick Cheney had a heart transplant?" Me: "Awesome!"), I must conclude that this is not the battle I was born to fight. It is simply not my destiny to drive "awesome" from the vernacular.

No, telling people to stop doing something is a dead end. So perhaps it works the other way around. Maybe if I offer a list of words that should be added to everyone's list, and politely suggest that I demand that the world start using these words, that would work better. Today, I intend to give that method a try.


I want to start with a great word used by my friend "Mindy"* the other day. We were playing Bananagrams in the morning sun, and she popped this one out:  NINNY. A ninny is a fool or a dim-witted person. Wouldn't it be lovely if we could convince our kids to quit using "stupid" or "butthead?" (when I say our kids I am obviously referring to your sass-mouth kids). Anyway, ninny has connotations of applying to girls, but its original meaning derived from "innocence," so I think it makes a great all-purpose term describing a person who does not meet your particular standards of intelligence.  Try it out - it's fun to say!

Sample sentence: "Penelope felt like a complete ninny for screaming at the sight of a plastic roach in her underwear drawer."

Another word I think should get more linguistic traffic is GIRD. When you gird something, you fortify or buttress a thing by encircling it, like a wall around a castle. Next time you are tempted to say "reinforce" or "build up: or "support," try using gird instead. And if you want to encircle your body with something supportive, look for a "girdle."

Sample sentence: "Mrs. Greenslipper always girds the area around her prize tulip shoots with high-voltage electrical fencing and rat poison, to keep out the rabbits."

(Author's note: Since I began writing this installment, a Republican operative used "gird" in a talking points memo, describing how the GOP is "girding for a brokered convention." Now if you search "republican gird convention" there are almost 2 million hits, 1.95 million of which appeared in print beginning the day after Super Tuesday. I respectfully retract my request that it get more "liguistic traffic.")


Here's one I've always loved to say: CANTILEVERED. There really aren't that many opportunities to use this word - you have to go looking for them. I usually toss it out when discussing floor registers and fireplace grates.  Bust to be sure, I checked dictionary.com to make sure I understood the term, and discovered I was using it wrong. So look it up, and if you are ever on a construction site or involved with aircraft engineering, say "cantilevered" as often as you can, since the rest of us won't get the chance.

Sample sentence: Cantilevers are important structures in the design of bridges and cranes.

Wait! Hold the presses! I googled an image of "cantilever" and found something we can all recognize:

The way the vertical support extends quite far from the horizontal member it's attached to makes that piece "cantilevered. So the next time you go to someone's house with one of these nifty umbrellas, you can try out this sample sentence: "I'm amazed how the weighted bottom allows the cantilevered arm to support the suspended umbrella." How's that for some lively cocktail party chatter?


I'm nearly out of ideas and I'm definitely out of time, so I'll just offer one more word you may want to test-drive in the future: DAUNTING. Simply put, something daunting is frightening - not like a horror movie, but like a difficult or confusing task or challenge. I like daunting because it allows one to sound involved in something worthwhile, when that may not be the case. "I have some rather daunting work to do today," sounds like you are training for a marathon or looking for the Higgs bosun; I use it as a rather grand way to describe pulling weeds or scrubbing porcelain bowls. 


I've decided that my next foray into language appreciation will be a spin-off of the popular diet book that tells you what healthy foods to eat in place of all the good-tasting junk. It's called Eat This, Not That, or something close to those words. I'd know if I had read it. (Okay, here's a link.) But I'm more interested in substituting good words for bad, overused or misused words, than I am in finding dietary alternatives to a DQ Blizzard (scientists have already proven there is no comparable substance in the universe).  My rip-off of the highly popular book will be a blog entry entitled "Say This, Not That." It won't be as vague as it sounds, and it will contain profanity, copyright-infringed photos, bombastic phraseology and, possibly, a chart. If that doesn't make you want to subscribe by RSS or email, I can't imagine what will.

*Not her real name. Her real name is Melinda.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Seventeen Years Ago Today...

(Author's note: Publication of this installment was delayed because of software issues, writer infirmities, multiple birthday celebrations and solar flares. We regret any inconvenience this delay may have caused. MMA)

Seventeen years ago today, I was in labor with my first child. The process of giving birth was spread out over several days, but Mary Kathleen did eventually get born. She spent her alleged "due date"  swimming around, eventually turning wrong-side up, and beginning her lifelong commitment to jumping in feet first and approaching life bass-ackwards.

If that comment sounds a little cruel, I promise that my darling daughter knows how lovingly it is intended. Because Mary Kathleen has never been normal. She has certainly never been boring. She has never been predictable. She has always been a girl in possession of her own plan, her own vision, her own way of doing things. As a child, her teacher conferences always seemed to include a reference to "marching to her own drummer," to explain her unique tendencies. I always want to say, "Yeah, but you should have seen her before she was born!"

Having decided she wasn't interested in being born on her due date, she changed directions, presumably to take over the fractional remainder of my torso that wasn't already full of baby and baby-nurturing parts. My doctor attempted to invert her by a pushing, twisting process that was fearfully unpleasant, but the kid wouldn't budge, hinting at her future loveable stubbornness.

Since the doctor was a man, and he'd never had a full-term baby stuffed from his ribcage to his bladder, he assumed more force was needed. He enlisted the help of another doctor, and they performed a 4-handed "external version," which was less painful than actual childbirth, but only just.

So I was ready for this kid to get on with it.  I had the name, the crib, the diapers, all I needed now was the baby.  When I went home that Thursday, (March 16, 1995), with a correctly positioned baby in my belly, I was more than ready to have labor commence. And commence it did.  On Friday she used her magic baby powers and broke my water, and we were on our way to the mythical moment of "labor." And what a moment it was! It was the moment that actually lasted 4 full days.
Naturally friendly, Mary was born waving!

I could share many more details of baby-birthing, but I'll save the rest of the sordid tale for later. Suffice to say that Mary Kathleen came into the world Tuesday, March 21 at 10:53pm, after a protracted struggle, and she was VERY UPSET when she got here. Like most exhausted young children, she laid in my arms and screamed bloody murder for the first few minutes of her terrestrial existence. At long last, she slept. This was the first of many nights spent thusly. But in spite of her unpleasant behavior, we decided to keep her.

In the ensuing 17 years, she has rarely given me any reason to complain about her behavior. Once she got over her unpleasant birth experience, she became the most amazing little person and quite a lovely companion. She was, however, a challenge to any hope of a peaceful existence. Walking at 8 months, her learning curve was so steep that she was battered and bruised at 9 months. There was no sitting still, no quiet contemplation in the playpen, no peacefully observing Mommy fold laundry while safely strapped into a seat. No, life with toddler Mary Kathleen had one dynamic - she led, others followed.

At about 16 months of age, she seemed to jump the gun on the "terrible twos." I was afraid she was heading for one of those unpleasant phases that cause mothers to call their children brats and try to leave them with grandparents for long weekends. But what appeared at first to be meaningless tantrums, soon turned out to be fury at our lack of understanding. She was trying to communicate, but no one could keep up. Once we figured out that she was demanding answers, and lots of them, about her surroundings, we discovered how to head off nasty behavior.

When she acquired a little sister, Mary greatly expanded her skill-set and helped in many ways. Having a baby to boss around was a never-ending novelty for a sister 2.5 years older. Somehow, through all the years and phases of childhood, my two girls have almost always gotten along. Camille has always been willing to offer her sister the admiration and worship older siblings are wont to command (I have personal experience with this role.) And Mary spent hours of effort molding Camille into the playmate and friend she wanted her to be.

Childhood is never easy, and hers was no exception. Mary has weathered all the same growing pains as many other children, and  enters these waning days of childhood with her head on straight. She never presented any lasting behavior problems. She's always been kind to a fault and sensitive to the feelings of others.

Thankfully, her twin loves of art and animals carried her through many a trying situation. She loves animals and has had so many pets I've lost count. She's volunteered at the pet shelter for nearly 5 years. And she's probably one of the most successful pet-sitters in our neighborhood.

At the age of 3 she began drawing pictures of anything and everything, sometimes 40 or 50 pictures per day. At age 5 she announced she she was going to be an artist, and those who know her today know she held fast to that goal. She doesn't know if she wants to make a career out of her talent, but she is driven to create on a basic level, and couldn't stop telling stories with her pictures if she tried. She has a single-mindedness that adults (read: parents and teachers) mistake for inattentive tunnel-vision; what she ever liked, she still likes, be it a stuffed animal or a cartoon, a color or a friend. Her love knows no timetable, and maturity, instead of making her cast off childish things, has perhaps made her value her childhood loves even more. What she loves, she loves unconditionally. And that's forever.

My eldest daughter has just one more year of high school, then she will move on to another stage of growth. Like every other transition and challenge she's faced, she'll be scared and indecisive, she'll want to chart her own course, but she'll be constantly seeking reassurance. Like the fleeting regret caused by a bad haircut or a course choice that is just too difficult, she'll make a few mistakes along the way. I devoutly hope her mistakes are not as stupid and avoidable as mine were, but I don't get to choose her problems and tell her how to solve them in advance. The best I can wish for is that she graduates from the school of hard knock with fewer bumps than I sustained.

My hope for her is that her life with our family has been one of building strength and character, and developing inner resources for the challenging years ahead. I hope her future disappointments are tempered by the assurance that things have always gotten better with time and a good night's sleep. I hope that her confusing choices are resolved by engaging her brain and listening to her conscience, for that strategy has not steered her wrong so far. I hope that she will still ask us to weigh in when major decisions loom in her path - because I know that I'll always want to be involved, but it won't always be my place to do so. And I hope that she remembers to value herself, and try to shake off the criticism she's sure to experience, without letting it bring her down.

Mary, you have a heart of incomparable tenderness and you are a devoted friend to many. I'm awestruck by your talent, humbled by your devotion and honored that I get to claim you as my daughter. I'm happy to see you growing up, your horizons expanding, but I hope you'll always keep your home and your family in your heart.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Welcome Spring - Who Cares if it's The Real Thing?

It seems most of the country is experiencing an early spring, or a false summer, or some kind of weather aberration that would be quite enjoyable if everyone wasn't so worried about what's causing it. The pleasant weather has been so overanalyzed, concerned citizens feel obligated to request a moratorium on the word "unseasonable."    The news and weather experts can't stop speculating about the cause of this alarming development and predicting some kind of associated doom.

Can't we just enjoy the warmth and sunshine without having to imagine or make up or demand answers for its existence? Do we need to analyze this pleasant turn of events and try to discover dangerous trends in the offing? Or can we analyze this pleasant turn of events and discover normal fluctuations in the offing? (Click on the purple words to see what other non-experts think.)

For heaven's sake - I got a sunburn this weekend! A brief reprieve from my terminal winter pastiness! Instead of shoveling the driveway, I was pulling weeds. Around here, gardening normally kicks off Mother's Day weekend - here's last year's blog from that day, showing my hunky yard boy planting a new garden for me. The concept of cleaning out the flower beds and putting down mulch in March is thrilling for me. Some year in the not-so-distant future, when it's too cold to consider going to a St. Patrick's Day parade, I'll be thinking nostalgically of that one surprising winter when we had blue skies and green grass in mid-March.

So I'm not going to waste time worrying about the reason why we had a mild winter and questioning if spring is here to stay.  If it snows next week, so be it. Will my worrying stop snow? 

Birds start singing by 5:30am and we've had ground fog hovering over the growing grass these last few mornings.  Thanks to Daylight Saving Time, kids can still play outside after dinner. Instead of the typical overcast nights of late winter, we've been able to enjoy the planetary conjunction of Jupiter and Venus under crystal-clear skies. The sights and sounds of spring have come early, and that just means more time to enjoy them.

Being a "man-made global warming" skeptic, I'd normally love to get involved in a lively debate about the Greenland glacial expansion, the jet stream, new ice core analysis, the El Nino effect, the record cold European winter, longer growing seasons, the need for summer blend gasoline and the alarmist, speculative "journalism" on Weather.com.

I would, but I'm going to be busy soaking up some rays.

And here's my view from the lawn chair:

Happy first day of spring!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Four Republicans: Bitter Opponents or a Useful Team?

I'm feeling a little schizo, now that I've committed myself to starting a new blog for my political, theological and philosophical opinions.  I've been working on so many ideas, I can't seem to stop and create the vehicle for these ideas. So I am once again inflicting my serious opinions on my humor-seeking Polite Ravings audience (hi to you two up in the balcony!)

But after watching the returns from the Republican primary in my home state of Alabama, I can hardly keep my thoughts on cute squirrels at the birdfeeder or the growing dog hair piles. I realize most people outside of the deep south weren't that tuned in to the voting in Alabama and Mississippi yesterday, but in this confusing race for the Republican nomination, I was pretty intrigued.

Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, came in as the unexpected winner in both states.  He beat Newt Gingrich, who formerly represented Georgia and was thought to have a homefield advantage, and Mitt Romney, who is as un-southern as they come, and was thought to have no clear advantage other than his war chest. Ron Paul spent no meaningful time or money in either state, and finished with about 5% of the vote in both states.

Lacking anything intelligent or helpful to say after Santorum's gleeful speech, the pundits immediately began discussing the various strategies for and against whittling this down to a one-candidate race. If you want to know the different plans suggested by these talking heads trying to fill airtime, you were probably tuned in, so I won't repeat them. Better analysis can be found at Real Clear Politics or Politico, if you need a dose of expertise.

While reading a few of the articles, one of my daughters (who are both home sick today) came downstairs to get medicine and a hot drink.  We began discussing the results and I got off on a tangent, which is the same thing as a lecture by my kids' standards, and I stumbled on a brilliant idea for the Republican strategy.

No one should drop out.

The very fact that no one candidate represents a majority of the Republican electorate could be construed as an strategic advantage for the GOP, for the remainder of the primary calendar. 

If a single, preordained candidate is shoved down the collective throats of the divided party, you could easily end up with a bunch of disaffected voters who decide to sit out this time around. No retired general making an impassioned speech at the convention will make it palatable to a dovish Ron Paul supporter to cast his vote for hawkish Rick Santorum. No GOP official can construct a party platform that will help Newt Gingrich's visionaries embrace Mitt Romney's plodding march to the center. None of the candidates have it within their power, influence or personality to unite the party.

Only one candidate can do that:  President Obama.

With only one rival to focus on, the president has a rather simple job. Spend his considerable financial and political assets attacking that one rival on their most vulnerable weaknesses. Depending on the opponent, that could be described as difficult and expensive, or cheap and easy.

Take Newt Gingrich, for example.  He has multiple marriages to exploit, and would give the USA it's first known First Lady with mistress credentials. Obama can counter Newt's claims of $2.50/gallon gasoline as pandering without proof.  Though he rose to power after the Republican revolution of the 1990s, he was later sanctioned by his collegues for ethical misconduct. These stories and others will make for excellent targets for President Obama's supporters and Super-PACs.

Mitt Romney doesn't have the dirty laundry of the former Speaker, but as the grandfather of Obamacare, we can expect lots of ads depicting the former governor of Massachusetts as a big-government Republican who actually approves of the president's signature legislation. His public gaffes that bring attention to his wealth and status (firing and laying off employees, owning multiple Cadillacs, having friends who own NASCAR teams) invite contrast with Obama's in-the-trenches days as a community organizer. And Mr. Romney has committed some very public flip-flops on hot-button issues, which the Democrats will have a field day capitalizing on. He is seen as an accommodating Republican governor in a very liberal state, and many of his accommodations lend themselves to scrutiny, if not lampooning.

Rick Santorum, with his penchant for going off-script, is a veritable candidate covered in targets. Because he talks like I do, without a final thought in mind that helps him stay on topic and out of trouble, he is truly a candidate wearing the matador's cape.  Name an issue and he's said something that can be edited and spun to make him sound insane. Birth control, educational choice, war with Iran, border fences and college snobs - he can make his own common sense sound like drivel if he is allowed to keep talking.  President Obama and his supporters can complete their opposition research in about 5 minutes - Santorum has left a trail of tittilating tidbits that will make for excellent fast-paced, cutaway-and-caption ads and crazy-sounding sound bytes.

Ron Paul probably can't get to the level of a one-on-one campaign against Obama, so imagining that battle and how the ad wizards and spin doctors would handle it is probably a true exercise in futility. Sen. Paul is so different from any candidate we've had in recent history, the options for opposing him are limitless. For sheer tenacity and consistency, he should be admired and given a hearing. Disagreeing with him is one thing - but mock him at your peril.

So there is not a Teflon candidate among these four. They all have flaws, weaknesses and tendencies to say more than necessary and talk when they should listen. Several columnists have attempted to assemble the perfect nominee from the best of each man's parts, but that only yields a non-existent Frankenstein.

Assuming the supreme Republican goal is to make Obama a one-term president, then I suggest that all the candidates stay in the race, if possible, until the convention.  As long as the Obama campaign and the PACs supporting it have multiple opponents on diverse fronts, their battle will be expensive, indirect and tiring.  With the convention 5 months away, the President and his supporters must expend capital and effort trying to cover all bases. They have to refute charges of candidates they will never face in the general election. (Sidebar:  They are already doing this, quite expensively, with an ad targeting Sarah Palin, who is not on the ticket or likely to be. Why go to the expense when the HBO movie reportedly discredits her sufficiently for his supporters' purposes? Truthfully, I don't have a clue.)

There is much speculation that this four-way race and the associated unpleasantries are bad for the GOP, and hurt the party in the eyes of independent voters. There are those who say that this is the nastiest primary season ever. But since they always seem to say that, and one never knows how different people measure nastiness at different times with different contributors, it's hard to credit that assertion.  

Others claim that it is preferable for the Republicans to vet each other, so that all of the potentially toxic stuff will be old news by the time the President begins campaigning in earnest. I don't know whether that point outweighs the idea that the party is tearing itself apart, which is just one of the inflammatory terms used to describe this long primary season. I'm inclined to believe that it will take more to hurt the GOP than this nasty nominating process, but for dissenting opinions, look no further than your nightly news. Or check out what our friendly neighbors in Canada think of the matter in this piece from CBC.ca:
Some speculate a continued battle among Republicans could weaken the party overall, as Democrats sit back, gird themselves for victory and watch the attack before a candidate is named - finally - at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., in August.

Or, in the words of David Axelrod, chief strategist for the President,  
“While they’re destroying each other, we’re building a campaign nationally.” (link to The Hill article here.)

I think about the words used to describe political contests: battleground, victory, campaign, fight, challenge. It would be difficult to write about the election without war analogies. (I have to say I haven't seen "gird" used in a while and I thank the Canadians for bringing it back.) I think these four candidates should have a look at one of those old movies where one lone guy has to fight against a coordinated team. The outnumbered guy has to be very careful, conserve his energy and only strike when he can be assured of landing a punch. The team can hang back, driving their opponent to make tactical mistakes due to confusion or exhaustion. Doesn't this sound like a good strategy?

Likewise, each GOP candidate can choose just one or two areas of the President's record to focus on for the remainder of the primary season.  Romney can pick apart the  ridiculous budget's wasteful spending and marginal job growth; Santorum can concentrate on policies that have disenchanted the Christian right and traditional values voters; let Newt work on energy independence and problems associated with implementing new energy technologies before they or the markets are ready; and let Ron Paul be in charge of showing how Obama's cabinet and regulatory authorities are crippling economic growth.

If they can all afford to stay in until August, imagine the wear-and-tear they can wreak on the President's campaign. Like the man who dies from a thousand paper cuts, four candidates needling away at the administration's many failures may do more damage than one fallible nominee stuck duking it out, mano-a-mano, in the permanent media spotlight.  

Even if the party and the candidates decide to shuffle, redeal and name a nominee before the convention, they can at least take heart in the other recent comment about the GOP primary by David Axelrod:  “I do think it’s easier to raise money when you have one opponent." So I ask:  why make it "easier?"

This is a very strange primary, where different candidates have bounced in and out of favor, attracting scrutiny and criticism as they rise, and as they sink, they are disdained or ignored. It's kind of like watching the arcade game called Whack-A-Mole, though not quite as fun.  But if these guys can just take a few more whacks over the next five months, they may wear their opposition down.

And this voter's advice to the Republicans candidates - if they are listening.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sensational Writing!

I just saw a sidebar ad for an article entitled, "The Secret World of Nail Color."

Now I don't know why that struck me as funny, but it did. I mean, is there really something subversive in the world of Sally Hansen and OPI? As an attention-grabber, I suppose it works, because I'm writing about it.  But it got me to thinking about all the sidebar ads for "related articles" and "people who bought this also bought..." and similar come-ons. I rarely click on those ads or articles, since I know they are just designed to capitalize on the fact that I've just revealed an interest that may lead to spending money, and the Interweb wants my money.

But I started to think...someone has to write those articles.  Someone has to find 300-500 words to describe the big secret about nail polish - why not me? I've been accused of being overly, redundantly wordy and verbose in a garrulous, bombastic way. I could probably write a massive treatise on the secret world of any inanimate object, if I was getting paid. 

So here are some articles I'd like to write, if someone would pay me:

How to Lose 10 lbs. per week eating only Blizzards and Thin Mints!

What your dog is thinking - RIGHT NOW

Hairstyle secrets of SAHMs

How You Can Make 10 Christmas Gifts from old VHS Tapes! 

Why are there moths in your pantry?

How to tell if YOU need mantyhose

How to Write a FanGirl Letter that will get you Noticed!

Go to College or start an Etsy business? 5 Points to help you decide.

     or                 ?

Yeah, I know...I'll stick with blogging for now.

Keeping a Roof Over My Head

I try to make a point of not dwelling on the weather here.  Given that I live near Lake Michigan in northern Indiana, it's kind of pointless to whine about the cold.  I actually love the climate here - four distinct seasons, not too hot or humid in the summer.  But I'd like to mention one feature of the weather that is a mixed blessing - it's windy around here!

I'm feeling a bit too lazy to do any real research, but I do remember reading that the average prevailing wind here is 10.5 mph out of the southwest, and that we average 4 days per year of 50+ mph winds. Otherwise, it's pretty breezy here on a normal day, even during the heat of summer, and I enjoy that aspect of our weather.

After some recent windstorms, however, I've begun to think of our pleasant cheek-caressing breezes as more a slap in this homeowners's face, when our roof began to decorate the yard.

Day one of the windstorm occurred, like most other hilarious domestic emergencies, when Eric was safely out of town.  Shingles blew hither and yon, cracking and crumbling on impact, with yours truly valiantly cleaning up the mess that was my yard. Of course, when I reported on the problem, his helpful response was, "I can't do anything about it right now."

Not my real roof
Never having had this particular type of damage, I was unsure what to do next.  What I did was wait, through what turned out to be another 5 days of high winds and lots of debris cleaning in the yard.  Helpful neighbors looked at the bare spots and pronounced that it would "probably not leak much unless we get snow or torrential rain."  Wow, what are the chances?  One fellow said I should tarp it as soon as possible, but I may want to figure out some way to anchor it besides nails, since that leads to leaks. As I said, helpful advice, and my thanks to my concerned neighbors.

There is just one problem.  I have all the grace and coordination of a week-old puppy, and fifty years of accidents and injuries have taught me that I don't belong on high structures or uneven footing, at least if I want to keep my basic skeletal integrity. This easy fix of "tarping" was not in my job description and I didn't need a fortune-teller to predict what would happen it I tried to learn this particular skill.  Eric said to wait until he got home, then we'd figure out what needed to be done. Fine by me!

Turns out Eric had some grandiose scheme to star in his own home improvement movie.  From the ground, it appeared that only a few shingles needed replacing, so he thought he'd do that himself. But with more nasty wind and rain in store, I was insistent that we call our insurance company and get the claim process going. Even though we knew we'd be pretty far back in line, since southern Indiana and several other states had suffered true devastation from tornadoes, we still needed to file a claim and get it inspected.

Someone else's roof
The Claims Adjuster got a bird's-eye view of things, and it turns out that the whole southern side (front) of the roof has got to be replaced. We quickly got a man out who put a tarp on, and started reviewing the damage estimate.  Eric seemed unnaturally gleeful about the prospect of a new roof. Turns out, he and a friend were discussing doing the job themselves to save some bucks. This discussion, not surprisingly, was conducted while drinking beer, away from the wives, which explains why it got beyond the fantasy stage.

Eric told me of his plans to tear-off and replace the roof with his buddy.

Him: "So I'll buy the materials with the insurance money, the me and Bubba will re-roof the front and pocket the extra cash. Bubba just needs a steady beer supply for hydration on the job, and a bottle of single-malt as a completion bonus. Genius, huh?"

Me: "Genius - yes! Before you start, will you go shopping with me for my funeral dress? I need to look extra nice as a widow, since we are woefully under-insured. Something veiled for the graveside, that can transition to a clingy sheath with a plunging neckline for the distraught scene back at the house."

Him: "What funeral? You didn't mention anyone dying..."

Me: "I'm planning your funeral, and I didn't mention it before because I didn't know you were planning to die."

Him: "I'm not following you. I was talking about the roof, you are talking about funerals."

Me: "If you and Bubba think you can roof our house, you are insane. It would be the death of one or both of you."

Him: "Why do you say that?  You are always bragging on my ability to fix things around the house. That's all I'm talking about."

Me: "No, what you are talking about is two middle-aged, flabby guys with desk jobs doing the work of young, experienced professionals. It's not happening."

Him: "I've replaced shingles before and there are plenty of middle-aged, flabby roofers, so I don't see your point."

Me: "My point is, you are the sole support for this family and you cannot be spared for some toughness contest on a high, uneven surface. If you are so confident in your roofing talent, and don't think it's too dangerous to risk the future financial security of this family, I have a little wager for you. Sign an agreement that says you want me to use the death benefit to buy an Jaguar XJR convertible and have a face lift and liposuction. I want to be an eye-catching man magnet to help me transition to my lonely future. If you are sure you won't die, then you have nothing to lose by signing."

Him: "Ha! As if. You know, Bubba's wife wouldn't forbid him from helping me. She has more faith in him than you have in me."

Me: "Are you kidding me?  Mrs. Bubba already bought the handcuffs and sedatives, the minute she got a whiff of Bubba's exciting plan for a virility contest at high elevation. She won't even let him do the bungee bounce at the mall! Why would she let him go to a 3-day keg party on our roof? Do you think she's any more capable of replacing her husband's income than I am? You doofuses are all that stands between we women and children and the homeless shelter. So stay off the roof, or start dreaming of me in my Jag."

Him:  "This is harsh. I was looking forward to the exercise, working outside in the nice weather, fraternizing with Bubba and some of the gang who wanted to help. You ruined my male-bonding fantasy. What else am I supposed to do until football season?"

Me: "Keep your shirt on, literally and figuratively. I've got plenty of projects you can do that don't involve heights or steep slopes. You can build some shelves in the sewing area, dig up the tree stump, replace the wood where we ripped out a cabinet or paint the kitchen.  Take your pick.  These jobs are so manly, I feel the Jag fantasy receding, being replaced by a painting fantasy.  And you are the star."

Needless to say, Eric and Bubba are disappointed that they were robbed of an opportunity to display their macho handyman talents for the neighborhood, all because of the silly worries of their nearest dependents. I, for one, am relieved to have resolved this matter, because I wouldn't have a roof over my head if it wasn't for Eric, and I'd like to keep him around awhile. And if we are forced to hire a crew of young, good-looking roofers who work shirtless and need lots of Gatorade and water delivered, well, that's just the price I'm willing to pay to keep Eric safe...and out of trouble.