Saturday, February 25, 2017

remembering history

In honor of Black History Month, and at a time when the current government seems hell-bent on deleting every single thing our first African-American president has done, it's appropriate to remember some of the contributions the first African-American legislators in the 1870s made while they were in office.

Sen. Hiram Rhodes Revels fought against school segregation and other discrimination issues and supported amnesty for former Confederates as part of a general program of reconciliation, as did Rep. Benjamin S. Turner, who also worked against a cotton tax that caused hardship for poor farm workers. Josiah T. Walls introduced bills for education funding and veterans' benefits. Joseph H. Rainey and Robert Brown Elliot were instrumental in the passage of the Enforcement Acts against the Ku Klux Klan and in protection of voting rights and the 1875 Civil Rights Act.

By the way, they were all Republicans, which obviously meant something different at the time.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

resolutions, part 2: conquering habit

They say that forming or breaking a habit takes about a month of constantly sticking to it.

This may be true for new, pleasant or neutral habits, where the main challenge is finding the time to do it. It may even be true for breaking a bad habit that has no intrinsic reward.

But realistically, building a new, good habit that goes against character or against immediate gratification requires constant attention for the rest of your life and can be broken by neglecting it even one time. The same goes for breaking a bad habit -- one slip and it's back.

It can be done. Just don't expect it to be easy.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

the obligatory new year's musings on resolutions

Perhaps a useful way to understand the nature of resolutions might be to divide them into categories:

Resolutions of being
Attempts to change character (or attitude, if you prefer to think of it more flexibly)
Popular examples:  I will stop being lazy.  I will be more compassionate.

Resolutions of action (or restraint from action)
Attempts to change behavior.
Popular examples:  I will exercise every day.  I will stop smoking.

Resolutions of result 
Promise to reach a specific goal by the end of the year.
Popular examples:  I will lose 100 pounds. I will make $1,000,000 dollars.
-- Fuggidaboudit. Life has to co-operate, and life is a non-co-operative beast.

Clearly, resolutions of action hold the higher possibility for success, as they by definition include the element of deliberate control. But wait -- many of these are attempts to change habits, and many, if not most, habits stem from character to some extent (e.g.,  the inherent trait of laziness is sometimes a reason for not  exercising every day).

So maybe the trick is to define the task as a specific action you can force yourself to do, despite your lazy, selfish, cowardly, bad-attitude self, and which is physically under your control despite whatever time-and-energy-sucking gotchas life throws at you.

Good luck finding a worthwhile resolution that fits that definition.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


This is a great year for mistletoe. It's all over the place (well all over the trees, anyway.) It's also a pretty good year for holly berries. Merry Christmas from the plants! 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

post-election special

As commenting on the recent election and forecasting its effect for the next four years seems to be obligatory these days, here are a few thoughts:

Whether you voted for him or not, his administration is going to do something you don't like -- lots and lots of somethings as far as progressives are concerned, but even for most conservatives, there will undoubtedly be things that go too far or cause unexpected difficulties in your everyday life.

The coming administration is shaping up to have a level of cronyism far beyond the norm. It's going to be even harder than usual for the grassroots to influence change at the national level. The bright spot is all those ballot initiatives. The votes on these didn't necessarily follow the "conservative" or "liberal" inclinations of the state. People pay closer attention to, and vote on more carefully and with more independent thought, issues that clearly and directly affect their everyday life, and which they feel they can directly affect.

So get involved locally. Run for office if you can stomach it. Know who your local politicians are, know the local issues, follow the news, and when things veer off in unhealthy directions put pressure on the powers that be -- from the state legislature down to community members with no elected office but with wealth or other local influence.

Form a social safety net and be a useful part of that net. Again, get to know the issues -- the practical, day-to-day issues. Learn useful skills: gardening, carpentry, computer technology, mechanical repair, first aid, the intricacies of filling out forms and negotiating the system for financial aid for college and for daily survival, for immigration, for employment. Above all, learn the second language most common in your area, and/or learn to sign. Take meals to the hungry, fix up a house, mentor a child, mentor an adult, clean a vacant lot, volunteer at a firehouse or a hospital or the local social services, at a public library or a public park. Use your skills to teach others and to help, physically and materially, wherever you can.

We're all gonna need all the help we can get.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

summer reading program 2016

This year's Summer Reading Program is turning out to be a big, popular success. Last year's experiment in online-only registration kinda fizzled, but this summer, from the beginning, the enthusiasm of previous years is back in full force -- and then some. 
Some possible reasons for the upsurge: 
  • Paper sign-up sheets and reading logs. This option hit people's happy buttons in several ways. The forms are simple -- just put pen to paper and write, no signing in,  no passwords, no clicking around. They work even for people who are generally uncomfortable with computers, and with their colorful format they seem less like a form-filling chore (at one time doing it online might have seemed like play, but now there are too many online business forms for that view). And then there is the ever-important aspect of human contact. A human librarian takes your filled-in list of books -- an acknowledgement of your achievement -- maybe even notices the titles you've read, and hands you your prize. For a moment, the reader is center stage. 

  • Pre-registration. Especially useful in a large city with more than one school district, and therefore more than one ending date for the school year. There was a bit of confusion because this just applied to the online registration option, with the program "officially" beginning later, but it did ease the hectic crowding of the opening day. 

  • Having the adult program concurrent with the children's and teens'. This proved to be a real boost for the Adult Reading Program, usually held in midwinter. It benefited from the high publicity of the kids' programs, and in many families summer reading became a multi-generational activity. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

of challenges and limits

So. The main thing I learned from this is that I don't have the sort of personality for keeping up with an extra, regular, obligatory (even if freely chosen at the beginning) activity over a long period of time.

(Also that I react to the guilt of not doing something in time by avoiding the whatever or whoever completely.)