Here’s to being a decent human being

Aside from some serious electoral euphoria today, I’m gobsmacked at how rude some people on this planet can be.

So I’m spending my morning sending sincere emails thanking people who have been decent to me lately.

I recently made a few purchases from ebay, which I never do. But we’re going to see some snow this year and the kids needed suitable clothes. We live in a snow-free wonderland and I had no success at local used clothing stores.

So I turned to ebay.

Several great experiences. And one person who sent a horribly damaged item.

So I emailed and explained that I did not get an item in “perfect condition” as described. I wanted a refund or return. I sent photos of what the item looked like out of the package.

I got a scathing, hateful email back about how I was wrong.

Not sure what I was wrong about, I politely asked customer service to mediate.

I got another hateful email about how I’m a liar and how I ruined the item on purpose to get my money back.

I held my tongue. I used a larger monitor and saw that the original photo unsuccessfully disguised the damage. Within a few hours, ebay sided with me and refunded my money.

Stomach sour with being called a liar and a cheat, I emailed all the other sellers with whom I’ve had an easy and successful transaction. I thanked them for being decent human beings. I told them I appreciated them. I gave them good feedback.

And I am rather lost now, wondering what makes people hateful and mean. I wonder why, when told that something went wrong, the person in question didn’t say, “Weird. I could have sworn it was fine, but I’ll look into it.” This person didn’t do that. She leapt at me, clawing at my throat. For ten dollars.

Why all the hate? Where is the civility? The critical thinking?

I don’t understand some of the disgusting things said by people about the election. Whomever you voted for, there are ways to say you disagree or find someone dishonest without namecalling. Whatever you believe, there are ways to teach your kids your beliefs without demeaning other ideas. In fact, having strong opinions seems to be an ideal time to teach children. Someone cuts me off in traffic I talk to my kids about road rage and how dangerous it is. About choosing your battles. About being safe instead of being right.

I tell my children what other people believe about politics, religion, and childrearing. I explain why their opinions have merit. And I say that I disagree. Sure, I explain my side a lot more thoroughly. But I don’t call names or judge or teach hatred.

What’s up with the namecalling, America? Why can’t we believe different things without attacking?

If you are a decent person, thank you. Please endeavor to be decent to someone today. And teach your kids to do the same.

Because seriously? I’m increasingly shocked when someone is nice.

And that’s a gross way to live.

You owe them

Stolen wholesale from an email sent to me by a brilliant woman:

“Recall Abigail Adams who gently reminded her husband, John, to ‘remember the ladies,’ as the founders crafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Women in Wyoming, the first state or territory to enfranchise women, won the vote in 1869. One hundred years ago today, women in Oregon secured the vote, and nationwide, suffrage did not occur until 1920.

For almost 240 years, women before you labored to give you this sacred franchise.

Stating that I don’t care how you vote is false; I do. But more importantly I care that you participate in this democracy as your foremothers did. These noble patriots’ sacrifices are innumerable.
Honor their steadfast commitment to the future, equality, and faith in you and your judgement. Vote.”

May your vote not be suppressed. May the lines be short and the volunteers knowledgeable. May your employer or children be patient.

Vote.

Vote.

I’ve been hearing truly depressing things about people not voting because they’re not sure they’ll make the right choice, or that the election does not matter to them, or that their vote doesn’t count.

This is going to be a very close presidential election. There are countless ballot initiatives and local offices on your ballot.

Any choice you make if you have read the ballot and understand the basic arguments, is right.

We all make mistakes, we all choose based on incomplete information. But the only mistake is not voting.

The results of the election will matter to every single American. This election determines how your local taxes are spent, who runs your water board and transit board and town. And this election will determine what the federal government will try to do for the next 2 years. And who will appoint Supreme Court justices.

Every vote counts. The 2000 election was won (maybe) by just over 500 votes. Five hundred votes. Changed the course of history forever.

Don’t say you can’t decide. Don’t declare politics are not your cup of tea. Don’t think it doesn’t matter.

This is your country. People have died for your right to vote. It matters oodles and buckets and tons.

Go. Vote. Now. Or Tuesday. I don’t care when. But vote.

Midnight Irish

I drafted an email to friends announcing a big cream-soda-and-whiskey-float event for my birthday; then thought I’d try evite instead of a boring old sans-serif email.

So I searched. The only evites available for a Whorety birthday party are pathetic “40 and Fabulous” cries for help and “40 is the new 20” disgusting repudiations of age and wisdom.

Twenty sucks. Nothing should be the new twenty because once we’re done with that nonsense we should never have to go back.

Forty and fabulous? Shut up. Only those who fear they’re not fabulous, and who add twenty minutes to their already staggering ablutive rituals use phrasing like that. Forty and fabulous echoes in my cynical ears like something Ivana Trump would say. *shudder* I am fabulous at any age, you Hallmarkian manipulators of people’s insecurities. Geez. Evite is becoming the deodorant ad of the new millennium. “You stink and nobody likes you, but buy this and you might be approachable.”

So I searched evite for “midlife crisis” cards. Nothing. But their searchbot did offer to fix my typos. “Did you mean midnight Irish?”

Um, no.

At least…I don’t think so.

Wait. Is that a thing? Is that a party thing? Are the kids these days celebrating the midnight Irish? I could try to be midnight Irish if that makes me more cool than being 40. I mean, I’m Irish in the morning, Irish at noon, and Irish at night. Am I somehow party worthy if I’m Irish at midnight? Oh, dear, I need to become midnight Irish soon, because evite doesn’t think my midlife crisis is worthy of a party.

Maybe Irish at midnight the new twenty? Let’s all hurry up, then, and schedule a midnight Irish event.

(Related note: time to start using someecards for invitations.)

Stop supporting slave labor

There have been numerous articles on the use of slave labor, particularly forced child labor, in the production of chocolate. And I’m glad there are alternatives so we don’t have to choose between abstaining (NO!) or feeding our families the product of slave labor (HELL NO!)

When I buy food, I try to balance the important issues: maximizing nutrition while minimizing toxins, cost, and labor abuses.

Didn’t think you had to worry about slavery anymore? I wish that were true.

We buy locally grown organic tomatoes to avoid the pesticides and chemical fertilizers of conventional farms, and also to stay as far away from supporting the obscene work practices of some tomato farmers. I refuse to buy or eat products that are the product of slavery or of child labor. In the case of tomatoes, though, I had no idea I was supporting both until I read Tomatoland, the tomato’s version of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

We also buy fair trade coffee to vote for a world where local cooperatives grow and harvest coffee in conditions safe for the workers and the planet, where workers are paid a fair price for their products, and where crops are not grown in harmony with, rather than at the expense of rain forest.

As we prepare for Halloween, I was thrilled to find Kristen Howerton’s guide to an ethical Halloween because I think Americans spend a lot of time and money ensuring their own kids’ safety, and should learn how the holiday is harmful to other people’s children. Major chocolate companies often get their chocolate from farms that use child labor, child slavery, unsafe working conditions, and grotesque chemicals.

Go read more about the truth behind fun sized chocolate. Then check out one of the alternatives: fair trade chocolate (yum) or treats without any chocolate (also yum). Heck, give out toothbrushes or pencils like I always threaten to do.

Just make sure all children have a chance to be as safe as yours will be on Halloween.

Hey, lookit!

This article on the data that online companies have on us, and how they use it, is super creepy.

I assumed at some level that if I searched ideas for fiction or client work that Google would collect those searches and assume I was deranged. Turns out, they’ll also sell that information to Deranged Stores R Us to try to sell me some stuff that deranged novelists and branding types like. And that my credit card company may take the search information and say “that’s it. You’re cut off. You haven’t sold the last novel; why would we give you credit while you write the next one?” I knew it was probably happening, but now I’m really creeped out.

Read more about how your online “likes” and purchases are shaping what Corporate America sells you, who employs you, and how companies treat you. Then take your anti-SOPA energy and go advocate for data mining and sales laws.

Soap and croutons

I’m ending my SOPA/PIPA protest because those bills are dead, yo. Banner was cool, thanks to wordpress for making it so easy.

Watching the SOPA funeral feels like the first time I’ve helped create success since my teaching days. As a writing professor I worked hard on critical thinking lessons, and enjoyed watching students have breakthroughs learning to identify logical fallacies. That was nice. Dead SOPA is nice, too. Better, really, since teaching has limited results until they let me teach everyone on the planet.

Now can we get everyone who blacked out for SOPA to protest the U.S. ag/food policy, toxic chemicals, child abuse, overfishing, and croutons, please?

Okay, break over.

Aside from the fact that I can’t be quiet (like, ever), I found some interesting articles for your consideration while doing my hour of Sunday Internet time. Guess that thought about maybe abandoning the blog was foolish talk. My Internet limit, though, means you’re in for a wild ride this post…

Fascinating article on Trader Joe’s, the highly secretive and mum company that supplies 75% of my family’s food. The LA Magazine piece is quite interesting and revelatory, though the last two paragraphs are almost the lamest conclusion I’ve ever read. And given that I taught freshman level English at a community college, “lamest” is saying a lot.

The controversy swirling about LEGO’s horrific decision to create pink and purple LEGOs for girls in which the characters lounge poolside and drink frothy beverages has me so angry I can barely speak. I’ve already ranted about Melissa and Doug‘s disgusting choice to have career dress up dolls for boys and fashion dress up dolls for girls, the hatefulness and ignorance of which made me stop buying their toys (a decision on which I doubled down when I realized how much of their stuff has PVC in it.)

And, in the interest of public service, a good read on how to affect public policy</a. I found Information Diet searching for a list of which companies support PIPA and SOPA, the terrifying congressional attempts to regulate the Internet that will make American access to information a lot more like so-called access in countries with overt government-sponsored censorship like China and Iran.

So. Learn about Trader Joe’s, debate toy pinkification, and wrangle with your legislative representative about the Internet. These are my contributions to your first day of 2012. What do you think?

Plan B

Hold the phone.

After promising that science would “inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health,” President Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services has overriden an FDA recommendation to allow over the counter sales of Plan-B, an emergency contraceptive quick access to which is necessary for efficacy.

Since when did we decide that setting a precedent of overruling the FDA was a good idea? Is that a power you want future Presidents to have, Secretary Sebelius and President Obama? Because believe me, the next Republican President will gladly take your idea and apply it to every FDA recommendation he doesn’t agree with. (Yes, I assume the next Republican President will be male, even if they don’t take the White House for 12 years. That was not a casual lack of gender awareness; that was an intentional choice of gendered pronoun.) Science and math are not something one can disagree with. To paraphrase Ira Flatow today on Talk of the Nation, “Pythagorean Theorum? I don’t believe it. It’s only a theory.”

Since when does politics get to trump science? Didn’t you state as a goal, President Obama, that you wanted:

“To ensure that in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisers based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions. That is how we will harness the power of science to achieve our goals — to preserve our environment and protect our national security; to create the jobs of the future, and live longer, healthier lives.”

And didn’t you say this:

Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health…. The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions.

Sir, you are going to pay for this politically. Severely. You just ruined your relationship with liberal voters and women voters. Really, really dumb move.

Since when does the government get to tell women that they have to wait for the right pharmacist at the right pharmacy at the right time, else be forced to have an abortion? 72 hours is a tight window if you live in a small town and have to find a willing pharmacist during pharmacy hours when the people you can’t trust aren’t watching (for instance the husband who will beat you if he finds out, or the parents who will throw you out if they hear about your need for emergency contraception).

Hillary Clinton said that she believes “in the freedom of women to make their own decisions about the most personal and significant matters affecting their lives.” Once the FDA said Plan B should be sold over the counter, Secretary Clinton fought for three years to implement that recommendation.

Well, I hope she’s reading Obama the riot act tonight. I hope Hillary Clinton and Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi and Michelle Obama are right this minute telling that man how reprehensible it is to let politics dictate science.

Politics, by the way, that the OTHER SIDE hold dear.

Your supporters, President Obama, DO NOT SUPPORT YOU IN THIS.

Failure

I don’t usually remember dreams, but I always remember nightmares.

My recurring nightmare since college finds me waking in my dorm room in a panic, realizing that I haven’t attended one of my classes all semester and that today is the final. My angst, though, is not that I haven’t studied for the test. In my version of sheer terror, I’m worried that I won’t find the classroom (haven’t been all semester, after all) and that I won’t do well enough on the final to offset a whole semester of homework and tests. The explaining as I walk in, really, dwarfs my realization that I don’t even have a passing familiarity with the name of the class, let alone the subject matter.

For the first time, that dream has changed.

Last night I dreamt I was a spy. Kickass, counter-terrorist, highly trained Superspy. And I was assigned a mission to go save a bunch of innocents by stopping evildoers. I probably even had the skin-tight yet highly flexible costume of all highly skilled and intelligent women, as mandated by mainstream (read: feminist) television and movies.

But I realize as the appointed hour arrives and I leave the weird government building (which seems a lot more ASPCA than Langley, VA) that I don’t know where to go to stop the bad guys. And that I have no bullets. None. Big ol’ gun that I’m sure I know how to dissemble and reassemble blindfolded in under 20 seconds, but no ammunition. And somehow I’m supposed to get in my rental hatchback (wtf? how am I supposed to spy with this tin can?) and drive to…somewhere…and stop a major plot with an empty gun.

I awoke as I was trying to figure out if, somehow on my way I could stop and break into a sporting good store (my assassination/rescue mission began in the wee hours, naturally) for bullets.

Stress I get. Fear of academic failure…sure. Concern that I’ll be at the wrong place at the wrong time…clearly a theme for me. But worried that I can’t save the world because I’m ill equipped? Come on subconscious. Now you’re just scaring me.

In which I go all Yosemite Sam

Frickafracka galldarned fanglewrangle pifflepoffle…

[UPDATED 8/21]
Searching for a child-sized non-toxic backpack for Peanut is some serious bullsh*t. Almost all the backpacks out there have PVC and lead, and I’m furious that I have to work so hard to find that most companies are a bunch of corner-cutting liars, thieves, and jackweeds. Not shocked, mind you. Mad.

Phthalates were banned from children’s toys in 2008 (but not other children’s products). PVC (vinyl) and small amounts of lead are allowed in the manufacture of children’s toys and in other products. Despite the hazards of PVC, shocking number of school supplies are still made of this toxic plastic, including binders, backpacks, sheet protectors, paper clips, and rain gear. And offensive as that is, since none of the parents I know are willing to buy products that invite their kids into the worlds of asthma, reproductive problems, cancer, obesity, ADHD, and learning disabilities; lunchboxes and backpacks with PVC have lead, too. That’s because PVC is made with heavy metals. Bonus, special for you today: (at least) two toxins for the price of one! (and don’t get me started on cadmium)

Sorry, what? They’re making stuff for kids to carry around and touch and eat from that are not free of lead or PVC? What the frickafracka glippidygloppedy…

Here’s what I’ve found (in my copious free time for such nonsense):

DwellSmart’s backpack is bigger than a toddler pack and smaller than a big kid pack. PVC-free and non-toxic. Cotton and whatnot. Thank heavens. Also? No chance my kid will want it. I would. But he likes bold and designs. And glitter and sequins and stickers and neon lights on everything. [sigh]

Dwell Studio offers some nice retro-esque prints and an ideal size.

Cute packs for big kids and for little kids by Beatrix are just the right size and fit our non-toxic requirements.

Ah, hemp. Can’t go wrong with natural fabrics, right? Rawganique has a whole selection, including a mini backpack just the right size. As with DwellSmart, small problem with the lack of kid-friendly prints or design. Perhaps they could add just a sweet cotton applique or stitched design? My kid would choose either if they had a stitched robot on the pocket.

Fluf Organics has my personal favorite kindergarten nontoxic PVC-free, lead-free, phthalate-free, BPA-free backpack.

Not Quite:
Wildkin pack-n-snacks are PVC-free, phthalate-free, and BPA-free but don’t specify lead-free. They say they comply with legal standards. That pretty much screams “probably has lead but don’t sue us because we didn’t promise it didn’t” to me. There’s a big difference between lead-free and lead-compliant. Lead compliant means within the legal limit for lead. Federal standards for lead is less than 100 ppm (if they actually found that level feasible, having proposed lowering it from 300 ppm. So complying with federal law means less than 0.03% to 0.01% lead. Lead free, however, means no lead. Given how much energy I’m investing in these kids, I prefer lead free.

Crocodile Creek has some backpacks that are PVC-free, phthalate-free, and BPA-free. Again, they say they comply with legal standards. Less than 100 ppm lead.

Hanna Andersson has a line of PVC-free backpacks, too. They will only say they comply with lead and phthalate regulations, which does not set my mind at ease. Plus, they don’t have any without pink and purple right now, though, and my long-haired, nail-painting, pink-loving son has enough hurdles entering kindergarten that I’m not showing him these.

High Sierra has PVC-free backpacks (and tents, which we found as we searched for a four-person tent [shout out to Butter, y’all!] But I can’t find one for kids and their pack-finding tool at the High Sierra website is broken, so I’m mad at them.

SafeMama, the guru of hunting down companies until they weep and admit their eco-toxic ways has a cheat sheet for us. Naturally.

But everything else out there is too big for my kid or too toxic for anyone.

[aside: if you have someone larger than a kindergartener, you might be interested in this link from Be Safe Net. That, plus SafeMama’s cheat sheet, might lead you to High Sierra and Jansport and Patagonia and Timbuk2 and Ecogear. Maybe not. If you have a smaller dude on their way somewhere important, like school or day care or from one room to another, you’ll check out Mimi the Sardine and Skip Hop zoo backpacks. And CBHstudio, which has the most adorable backpacks I’ve seen, PVC-free, BPA-free, phthalate-free, lead free. Maybe you’ll make your own backpack. Maybe you can send me one and I will be grateful.]

Frickafracka…we’ll see which of the five options I found that work for us, DwellSmart, DwellStudio, Rawganique, Fluf Organics, or Beatrix.

Why can’t we just go to local stores and buy things that are safe?

In defense of the MA in Lit

So, all over the Internet are hysterical darts being thrown at S&P who, according to many experts, got the downgrade right.

And at the crux of the vitriol is the “liberal arts guy with a masters in English literature, who never studied economics.”

So? I have a Master’s in English lit. It requires a decent amount of logic and reasoning. And when a country brings in too little money to pay for what it spends, but can’t get its leadership to close that gap by, for instance, raising what it brings in and lowering what it spends, I would downgrade its rating, too.

Which, for the record, the lit MA guy didn’t do. He’s the spokesperson, y’all. He’s in charge of the words. You know, the part English majors know a lot about. The econ people watched the numbers and cried foul. The Lit guy told the world.

Shoot the messenger? That’s English literature, too. (Or Greek. Don’t believe everything you read on the Interwebs. I don’t see anything about harming messengers in Henry IV part 2, oh unfettered misinformation depot known as wikipedia.)

Lemming Alert

This is driving me crazy. I’ve gotten three emails this week, forwarded from people who ought to know better. The content of these emails (which rail against Congress for giving itself special privileges) has been widely debunked, yet intelligent people seem exceedingly gullible about what friends forward to them. America, laws were passed in the ’80s and ’90s to curtail what these people are sending hoax emails about. Since those laws were enacted, Congress does not get special health care, does pay into Social Security, and does adhere to the laws it passes.

So why are people still circulating ridiculous and hysterical emails about passing Constitutional Amendments so Congress can’t have special privileges? Because we’re all mad at Congress. Easy one. But significantly, nobody ever tells people that the emails they forward are wrong. Recipients politely file the email in the Trash folder, or blindly forward it on.

Whenever I get an email that has been proven false by snopes.com or urbanlegend.com or factcheck.org I reply to the sender with links that show their friendly advice or entreaty is wrong. Gentle, polite, simple information that there are places where you can actually research horsesh*t that the Internet sends you.

But several days later I heard people call into an NPR discussion about a potential third political party. Callers were asked to name a simple plank on which the party would run. And at least two listeners suggested that Congress be forced to adhere to the same policies, laws, and taxes as other Americans. I guess they got the same email. And they then believed it, internalized it, and wasted their chance at a real political reform position by spouting ridiculous nonsense.

People, people, people. Please do your research before you get your panties in a bunch about something. And, Media Outlets? Maybe your producers, who screen the calls, could also do a quick Google check of the bullsh&t coming in via callers.

I know nobody’s happy with Congress right now. I’m really angry, too. But that shouldn’t be fuel for falsehood and unsubstantiated rumor.

Do your homework. Then go email all your friends about how things need to change.

No offense

I’m sure the families of Kate and Wills are very happy.

I have no doubt the monarchy deems the Royal Wedding the most important story of the day.

And I hope they’ll be very happy together, ad infinitum.

But I have to be honest: I can’t relate.

I can’t imagine being, upon my marriage, deemed an Objet d’Empire. I can’t fathom being deemed important only as a potential babymaker. I can’t empathize with the fascination with the press of every thing I wear, every pound I gain, and every inch I bulge in any direction. Poor creature. I’m sure she can handle herself, as evidenced by her removal of the “obey” clause of her vows. But the cynic in me sees an electric fence around the fairy tale in today’s setup.

Also? We (almost) all know that a wedding is not the point. The marriage is the 70-ish-year reality that begins the next morning. The day to day, logistical, work balance, irritating habits stuff that makes the rest of your lives is a marriage. Not the dress or the aisle or the attendants.

And you know what I thought today as I went about the mundane, exhausting, neverending b.s. of my day? Kate and Wills don’t have to clean a cat box. They don’t empty the trash or clean the shower or mop the floors. And when they don’t do those lame bits of adulthood…the boring and nasty and irritating stuff still gets done. It doesn’t fester. It simply *happens*. Without, maybe, their noticing. Certainly without their bickering about it.

So their future….not on the same planet as mine.
Their daily reality….not on the same planet as mine.

I’m not saying wealth and power will make them happier. Or less happy. Or anything but different.

I’m just saying I don’t get them. Delightful young people who deserve every happiness. And I don’t get ’em.

That, and I am with Dan Rather. He writes eloquently about how there are many more important things to focus on.

No offense.

[P.S. I think I’ll go mad if one more media dolt calls her a Princess. She’s now Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge. Offspring are princes and princesses. In-laws, delightful or not, are not.]

Making people into Santas

I wrote two years ago about how Christmas is different in our house. We celebrate every December holiday we can think of: Hanukkah, Solstice, Nana’s birthday, Christmas…

And we try to temper the gift receiving with a lot of giving. When Peanut was almost two he focused on giving to animals at the shelter. When he was almost three he chose to give to the hungry and to animals at the shelter. At almost four we brought toiletries to the homeless, toys to shelter animals, and human toys for toy drives.

And this year he spent almost an hour with me at the Heifer International site, making people we love into Santas.

See, we’ve taught him that the myth of Santa is a story about a man who, a long time ago, gave a lot to people who need. (Yup, we’re the jerks whose kid told your kid that Santa is dead. Cuz he is, yo. His story of selflessness and charity is what’s important and if you’re still pretending that’s your business but I ain’t playing along.) We talk about how the pretend Santas around this time of year are roaming the scenes of capitalist excess to remind people to give to others. Our Solstice-tradition pine cone bird feeders give to animals who need food when it’s cold; and this year our gifts of animals and education to families all over the world make each of our loved ones feel that they can be part of the Santa myth of love, peace, and charity.

Because the more Peanut thinks Christmas is about giving, and the more he thinks about people who need, the better our holidays feel.

Happy Almost Nana’s Birthday, everyone!