Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Sunday Book Review, July 31, 2011: The Sociopath Next Door

Speaking of how to make human psychology come alive in a way that your standard freshman psychology class can never do:
"The Sociopath Next Door," by Martha Stout, Ph.D., tells us that "1 in 25 ordinary Americans secretly has no conscience and can do anything at all without feeling guilty."

And that's just the blurb on the front cover! So, "Who is the devil YOU know?" the cover asks.

The answer: It's probably not every 25th person you and I actually know. Whew! Unless, that is, most of the people we know are CEO's of big corporations, many of whom got to those positions by having no conscience, by stepping on the backs of everyone they could (after kicking them over).

(Does anyone's name come to mind here? What about Rupert Murdoch? And everyone who attained any power in his organizations? What about every CEO of most every major corporation in America? What about half the politicians who have ever leeched off their constituents?)

One problem with reading a book like this is that it brings out our tendency to psychoanalyze everyone we know, maybe even ourselves. Some good things about this book, though, are the discussion of the origins of human conscience, how conscience leads to love, why sociopathy is rare in some countries, and how sociopaths fool us.

"The Sociopath Next Door" is available in paperback at Amazon.com for less than $9.00. While Madame L enjoyed this book, she's on the lookout for a more complete and scholarly look at the subject. This book was more like an outline with some fascinating examples. If you, Dear Reader, are aware of another book that treats this subject more completely, please share it with us!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What to do, what to do!

Dear Madame L,

What do you do if your congressperson responds to emails with a Grover Norquist Tea Party policy statement? The same one no matter what you send, or what category you classify it as on his/her web-form page?

What can you do if his/her voice-mail inbox will not accept any messages?

I've taken to commenting on the Washington Post - listing her name and state, and saying s/he doesn't respond to constituents.

I'm so frustrated right now that I could spit. It's transparently obvious that each side is trying to get the advantage in the next election... and some of the members of Congress are quite prepared to see damage to our whole country if they don't get what they want: the presidency in 2012.

Sincerely,

Frustrated


Dear Frustrated,

Madame L has just the solution for you, which she got from Aunt Louise, who has written the following message to her Member of Congress, who appears to be playing the same games with his/her constituents that yours is playing with you:

Dear Rep. Insert Name Here:

I have just received your standard response to my email message regarding taxes and the U.S. budget and the issue of raising the debt ceiling.

And I am very disappointed that you thought so little of my intelligence, and the intelligence of all your constituents here in My State, that you assume we will believe the lies the Republican Party is disseminating from Capitol Hill.

I am very disappointed that you didn't really address the issues I wrote to you in a personal way but instead had a staffer send your standard e-mail response which is full of boilerplate language and Republican talking points, without any truths, without any acknowledgment of the issues you are supposed to be addressing in Washington.

The election is over, you have been there for 6 months now, and you should be GOVERNING, acting like a grown-up, not still playing these little political games.

With regard to your talking points: You are WRONG on EVERY count! We HAVE TO raise taxes to take care of our people, our neighbors and friends, the citizens of This State. Taxes pay for YOUR JOB IN CONGRESS. If you own a home in This State, you probably got your mortgage through some U.S. government program which is supported by tax dollars. If you own a car that was made in America, it was probably produced with help from U.S. taxes. If you ever had a job before becoming a politician, taxes were deducted from your salary to pay for social welfare programs to help the poor, the elderly, the sick, children, school children, teachers, nurses and doctors, and so on. Taxes provide a social safety net which makes us a functional society.

BUT OBVIOUSLY NO ONE IS PROPOSING TO RAISE TAXES ON THE POOR PEOPLE AND THE MIDDLE CLASS! --- DUH! --- TAXES on the WEALTHY INDIVIDUALS AND CORPORATIONS who are not contributing.

OR are you in favor of giving these people a free ride?

Maybe you're planning on having your own corporate jet someday that you'll get a tax break on, while ordinary middle class people like me and my husband are paying higher taxes than you are, to support your wealthy habits?

A constitutional amendment to force a balanced budget is a mistake. The American economy and budget are not like some household budget.

Where did you go to school? Why do you not know the first thing about economics?

Or are you misled by these rich people, these liars and hypocrites? Do you really believe anyone is asking for taxes on REAL people? No! The real people are being taxed to the limit, while the rich people get all the benefits.

Also, have you not read any recent history? Do you not recall that Pres. George H.W. Bush rightly accused Ronald Reagan of practicing "voodoo economics" when he suggested that wealth would "trickle down" from the wealthy to the ordinary folk, that by giving the wealthy more tax breaks they would magically decide to create jobs and help the rest of us? And do you not recall that our problems with balancing the budget began when Reagan gave those tax breaks to the wealthy? Jobs were not created. On the other hand, do you not recall that when Pres. Bill Clinton raised the taxes even very slightly on the wealthy, the budget was balanced, jobs were created, and the middle class and working poor actually had money to spend, which created more jobs, which brought in more money for federal and state social programs? Do you not recall that during the 8 years before Pres. Obama took office, the Bush II years, when the wealthy got all the breaks again, the economy went straight downhill?

Come on, Representative. You are not facing the issues squarely. You are either misled yourself, or you are in a very cynical and hypocritical fashion hoping to mislead the people you're supposed to be representing.

I am asking, and thousands of your constituents in This State are asking, that you represent US, the people who live here, not the Republican Party or the Tea Party or Grover Norquist.

Don't tell us about all those ridiculous bills you've co-sponsored. Tell us what you're going to do to create jobs, tax the wealthy, and make sure the hard-working people of your district get the benefits they have been paying for during their entire working lives.

I would appreciate your answering my specific questions and addressing these specific issues instead of sending me another can of Republican talking points.

Sincerely,

Your Name Here

P.S. I have sent a copy of this message to the Chair of My State Democratic Party, and/or the Washington Post, so he/they will be aware of the kinds of issues I'm imploring you to address honestly and forthrightly.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Breaking News

Dear Readers,

As of Thursday evening, July 28, 2011, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) of the House of Representatives has been forced to re-schedule the vote on raising the debt ceiling.

A significant number of Rep. Boehner's own Republican Party members, freshmen who got into office with the help of the Tea Party, have refused to support his bill on raising the debt ceiling, thereby compromising his leadership.

Yet Madame L's representative voted to support Boehner's bill, and so Madame L wrote the following message to this member of Congress:

Rep. Name Here:

I can't believe that you have voted in favor of Rep. Boehner's bill on the debt ceiling, which does nothing whatsoever to help the people of this country.

This bill is a complete waste of our time. It would barely raise the debt ceiling to get us through a few months, so we would have to go through this hassle, this debacle, all over again in an election year.

It does not raise revenues on the wealthy individuals and corporations who have not been paying their fair share.

It does nothing to create jobs or improve our economy.

It is a disaster.

VOTE NO ON THIS BILL WHEN YOU HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO VOTE AGAIN!

REPRESENT US, YOUR CONSTITUENTS, FOR A CHANGE!

Madame L mentions this in case any of you, Dear Readers, would like to write similar messages to your own members of Congress.

They were elected, after all, to represent US, not some wealthy donors who are pressuring them by threatening to get them un-elected in 2012. And they can't represent us if they don't know what we want them to do. So Madame L encourages you, again, to call or e-mail your member of Congress to tell them what you, Dear Readers, expect of them.

Best,

Madame L

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rupert Murdoch and You

Dear Madame L,

I don't see why everyone is making such a big fuss about Rupert Murdoch's problems with News of the World, his tabloid newspaper in the U.K. which is now out of business, anyway. 

Why do you care?

Sincerely,

I Don't Think It Matters!


Dear Careless,

There are a number of reasons why Rupert Murdoch's "news" empire should matter to you, to me, and to everyone in the world.

First, he has many holdings in the U.S., including Fox News and other Fox companies, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post. 

He has raised doubts about, and ridiculed scientists who are doing good science in the fields of, global climate change and other global scientific issues.
He has contributed to the rabble-rousing Birther ideas that raise doubts about whether Pres. Obama was born in the U.S. (He was. And, by the way, John McCain wasn't, even though he's a natural-born citizen.)

He has subverted rules of ethics and propriety for the press, and thereby has reduced the public's trust of the press, an institution which we should be able to count on for truth and accuracy instead of lies and scandal.
He has used his wealth to protect himself from lawsuits and truth-telling by innocent individuals whom his stories have victimized.

There are many more, and the details may astound you.

Please read through them, and if you have any more questions about what a great guy Rupert Murdoch is and what he has done, please keep asking Madame L, who will be happy to answer.

As always,

Madame L

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Brer Rabbit in Congress

Dear Readers,

Madame L just read a hilarious column, "How to turn the GOP into a party of liberals," which suggests that this current version of the Republican Party, the Party of No, would say "No" to anything Pres. Obama proposes.

Therefore, if Obama wanted Congress to pass a bill allowing the debt ceiling to be raised, all he would have to do is say he doesn't want it.

In this scenario, Obama could make sure that Rep. Michele Bachmann would become the Republican presidential nominee simply by putting a giant "Anyone But Bachmann" sign on the White House. He could get the Republicans in the House to pass legislation restoring social services to the poor, elderly, and children simply by opposing such programs. And so on. You get the picture.

It's funny, and Madame L highly recommends it. It also gives Madame L a chance to remind you, Dear Readers, to contact your members of Congress. 

Madame L doesn't even care if you tell them you want the opposite of what Madame L wants.  Madame L just wants you to let them know what YOU want, so they will be able to represent you, Madame L, and all of their constituents.


Best,

Madame L

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Thanks for the Questions!

Dear Readers,

Aunt Louise has kicked the following question over to Madame L, who thanks her, Jeff, and Josie and Wayne. The questions are:

Isn't it true that 78% of statistics are made up on the spot? I've read elsewhere that Utah (particularly the women) have the highest rate of depression. Do you have a reliable source on that? I do see where you are coming from though and I can definitely see how Utah should have the lowest rates of all those things you mentioned.

 
Dear Jeff, Aunt Louise, Josie and Wayne, and All Dear Readers,
 
Madame L, who is also rolling on the floor laughing, guesses that 100% of that statistical question was made up on the spot!
 
Thanks for asking, because it points out the difficulty many of us have when faced with statistics: Should we believe them? Where did they come from? And, come on, you just made that up, didn't you? Didn't you?
 
Madame L hopes you'll be reassured to learn that, in her experience, most statistics that we see in scientific research are accurate and truthful. Problems arise when the questions we want answered are not the ones the statistics purport to answer; when researchers are being paid by drug companies or political pollsters, for instance, to throw out the negatives and give undue importance to any positive results, no matter how paltry or unconvincing; and when statistics are portrayed graphically in a misleading fashion.
 
Here are some examples of graphically misleading statistics:
 
First, an example of a statistical answer to a question that was worded misleadingly: 
 
This clipping from US News and World Report on 1/29/01 suggests that Alaskans are terrible parents.  Is this true? 


Answer: No. The difference in the abuse rates probably stems from different definitions for abuse in the various states.  For example, Alaska (the "worst" state) says that a child is abused if his or her health or welfare is harmed or threatened.  Pennsylvania (the "best" state) defines it as a recent act or failure to act.

Here's an example of a graph that seems to show something which is not at all true: 

The following statistics suggest that 16-year-olds are safer drivers than people in their twenties, and that octogenarians are very safe.  Is this true?

Is this true?
Answer:  No.  As the following graph shows, the reason 16-year-old and octogenarians appear to be safe drivers is that they don't drive nearly as much as people in other age groups. 

Now, to get to your second question, about depression rates in Utah compared to other states. Madame L has also seen statistics about this issue, and Madame L is very sorry to say that she believes these "statistics" are inaccurate and misleading, and that some of them are being propounded by hateful anti-LDS groups.
 
The reasoning goes: Mormons should be perfectly happy since they claim they have some kind of inside track to God. But they're not uniformly and perfectly happy, so there must be something wrong with their religion. And then the finger-pointing and name-calling begin. In fact, when Madame L Googled "statistics Utah depression," her first hits included several websites which specialize in doing that kind of thing.
 
Even USA Today, another quick hit from this search, reports a 2007 result of a study claiming Utah has the highest depression and among the highest suicide rates. The Deseret News reported these results, too, but with a thoughtful and interesting commentary on possible reasons for the results.
 
Some BYU professors responded in 2010 to these statistics, pointing out that LDS people are not self-medicating with alcohol and illegal drugs, but seeking professional medical and counseling help, which may raise the statistical average. Also, these professors pointed out that because LDS people are better educated than the average people in the average non-LDS-majority state, they may recognize symptoms of depression earlier and be more willing to seek help than others.
 
Madame L likes these points, but she would go further: Madame L would like to see how "depression" is reported and recorded in all the states. As in the above examples, it is not only possible but is quite likely that the way that depression results are reported in Delaware, say, as opposed to Utah, may make a difference in the results.
 
Also, Madame L checked to see how this study was funded, and guess what! The research was funded by a grant from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, one of the biggest drug companies in the world. This disinclines Madame L to trust the results. Madame L wouldn't trust these results, in fact, unless she could personally look at the results for each state, what questions were asked and of whom, how they were asked, what each state defines as clinically depressed, how results were reported, and so on.
 
Madame L teaches her own students that, when reading any scientific or medical research, one should disregard the Abstract, Introduction, and Discussion sections. One should instead scrutinize very closely the Methods and Results sections. There one will find how the study was conducted, what statistical parameters were applied, and what biases were noted by researchers. One will thereby be able to judge for oneself the truth of the reported results.
 
Madame L emphasizes to her students that science and medical news reporters operate under deadlines and under depressing (pun intended!) requirements to explain complicated concepts in simple words, both of which factors often lead to inaccurate and misleading reporting.
 
Madame L also advises her students, and you, Dear Reader, to be careful when talking to doctors or counselors about feelings of sadness or depression --- and to be careful when listening to their responses. They are often under time and financial constraints, as well as direct and indirect pressure to diagnose depression and to prescribe drugs to treat said depression, drugs which more recent, non-pharmaceutical-funded research, has shown to be largely ineffective except as placebos.
 
Madame L wouldn't go so far as to say Tom Cruise was right about anti-depressants, but she would like to point out to all her readers that anti-depressant studies are notorious for suggesting that drugs are needed which later turn out to be ineffectual and sometimes dangerous, sometimes even leading the patient to suicidal thoughts and alarming weight gains.
 
Finally, Dear Jeff, Aunt Louise, Josie and Wayne, and All Dear Readers, Madame L hopes that if any of her answers have been unclear in any way, you will ask more questions.
 
Take care,

Madame L

Monday, July 25, 2011

Contact Your Representative!

Dear Readers,

Pres. Obama himself reminded us tonight to contact our Members of Congress to tell them how we want them to vote on the issues Congress is considering right now:

---Raising the debt ceiling 

---Balancing the budget 

---Cutting expenditures to balance the budget

---Raising revenues to balance the budget



Please call and/or email your Representative to let him/her know your opinion. If they don't know our opinions, they can't represent us.

Best,

Madame L


Whose Deficit Problem?

Dear Madame L,

Sorry to shake your little dream world, but Obama has been president now for 2-1/2 years, and we have a horrible deficit. So why do you keep blaming our current financial problems on George W?

Sincerely,

Skeptical


Dear Skeptic,

Madame L applauds you: You're right to be skeptical! And, if you watch much Fox News or CNN, it's very understandable, because you're missing out on the whole story from both those networks.

Madame L, however, watches several news channels and reads several newspapers every day, and also has a memory for political and economic issues of the past 10 to 15 years or so.


Under Bush II's administration, our country amassed more than FIVE TRILLION DOLLARS in debt. Under Obama's administration, we amassed less than 1.5 trillion dollars. The graphic below is from The New York Times/Congressional Budget Office/Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Bush chart

Given that Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell announced in 2009 and has repeated since that his MAJOR OBJECTIVE is to see that Pres. Obama serves only one term --- NO, he did NOT mention jobs, taxes, or entitlements, or anything else --- how can you believe anything McConnell or any other Republican politician says about the budget, the deficit, taxes, entitlement programs, or anything else?

Come on, think about it! And take care,

Madame L

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Sunday Book Review, July 24, 2011: The Poisoner's Handbook

Madame L admits (and assumes that you, Dear Reader, will be happy to know) that she has never been interested in poisoning anyone. Yet when she saw "The Poisoner's Handbook," by Deborah Blum, on the sale table at her local bookstore, she couldn't resist buying it.

And now, though still uninterested in poisoning anyone, Madame L is glad she got this book because it's so full of fascinating history and humanity.

Madame L would probably have enjoyed those high school American History classes about the Prohibition, for example, if they'd pointed out how many more people died from poisoned liquor during the Prohibition than had died from alcoholism before it went into effect. 

She would have been appalled to learn that the U.S. government deliberately poisoned alcohol that poor people bought during that time. 

She would NOT have been surprised to find that people who had drunk alcohol before the Prohibition continued to drink it during the Prohibition. 

But she WAS surprised on reading this book to learn that Herbert Hoover, who ran for president as a Republican, endorsing Prohibition as "an experiment noble in purpose," was not so noble himself as to pass by the Belgian Embassy on his way home from work at the Commerce Department to get some high-quality European liquor, legal on the foreign soil of the embassy. 

But alcohol isn't the only poison Blum writes about. There's arsenic, mercury, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide (really!), cyanide, chloroform, radium, thallium, and so on and on.

Blum says she wanted to be a chemist but it didn't work out, due to her day-dreaming while performing risky experiments, which resulted in the release of toxic fumes on one occasion and the setting of her own hair on fire on another. (A person after my own heart!) But imagine a high school or college chemistry class where you could actually perform some of the experiments performed by the researchers Blum writes about, instead of those deadly dull recipe-book experments.

You don't have to have wanted to be a chemist to be fascinated with the subject, and Blum makes it even more fascinating, bringing even the details of chemistry and toxicology and forensic science into focus in a way that makes it all clear. 

Also, Blum points out the evil (yes, Madame L uses the term evil, though Blum shies away from it) of those who murder using poison. Her portrayal of the cold and calculating nature of those people would have made even college freshman psychology classes more interesting.

The Poisoner's Handbook is on sale at Amazon.com, too, for less than $7.00. 

Dear Reader, can you think of some other books that could be used to make high school and college classes more interesting, which could fire up the imagination and entice students to want to learn more instead of fretting about how boring it all is? Please share!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Write the President, Too!

Dear Readers,

Madame L has just written an email message to President Barack Obama, and encourages you to do the same.

Go to www.whitehouse.gov/contact and follow the directions. Below is what Madame L wrote. You can be more eloquent, as long as you keep within the 2,500-character limit. You can also write something completely different from what Madame L wrote. The point Madame L wants to make is that, whatever your opinion is,
it won't be heard unless you voice or write it.

Dear Mr. President,

I'm hoping you have some great trick up your sleeve, because if you don't:

It looks like you're negotiating away the future of a lot of vulnerable people!

Do you realize that Social Security is NOT an "entitlement" program and does NOT affect the national debt? Do you know that the GAO says it will remain solvent, as is, until 2034?

Of course you do! So why were you willing to negotiate it away in talks with Rep. Boehner?

I feel betrayed!

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't let the Republicans use the issue of the debt ceiling to get concessions from you that will hurt our future!

Raising the debt ceiling should be a one-sentence bill, as it has been many times in past years.

The issues of the budget, taxes, and spending can wait.

PLEASE don't be a traitor to the very people who elected you!

Sincerely,

Your Name

Madame L Does It Again

Dear Readers,

Madame L encourages you, again, to write to your members of Congress to request that they vote to raise the debt ceiling and to make the wealthy individuals and corporations help the rest of us, the working class, the middle class, the poor, the elderly, the sick who can't even afford prescription medications, children, college students.

Here's what Madame L just wrote to her representative in Congress:

Rep. Herrera:

Did you in fact take the Grover Norquist no-tax pledge?

And will you in fact support the Republicans and Tea-Party fanatics in refusing to raise the debt ceiling?

You were elected to represent the people of Washington State --- NOT to go along with politically conservative "principles" which will end up destroying our economy!

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE REPRESENT THE PEOPLE OF WASHINGTON AND VOTE TO:

---RAISE THE DEBT CEILING,

---ELIMINATE LOOPHOLES FOR RICH PEOPLE AND CORPORATIONS, CORPORATE JETS, ETC., ETC., ETC.

---GIVE SOME RELIEF TO THE POOR AND MIDDLE CLASS, THE WORKING PEOPLE OF YOUR STATE!

Sincerely,

Madame L

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Write to Your Member of Congress!

Madame L is only too aware of how like a broken record she is sounding lately.

Yet she persists and asks you, Dear Reader, to write to your member of Congress.

Most Senators and Representatives have Web pages where you can leave comments or send an email message. This is easy to do, and they generally respond within a few days.

Here's an example, from a message Madame L recently wrote to her Representative:

Dear Ms. Herrera,

Did you vote for the ridiculous Cut-Cap-Balance Act?

Please tell me you did NOT vote for that ridiculous piece of legislation!

It is a travesty of an act. It would destroy our economy, which is already in trouble because of Bush and the Republicans.

Remember RONALD REAGAN HIMSELF implored Congress to stop playing around with the budget and raising the spending limit!

Our economy is already suffering because of this ridiculous game-playing!

PLEASE HELP THE PEOPLE OF YOUR DISTRICT by not voting for this garbage!

And please TELL ME IF YOU SIGNED THE RIDICULOUS NO-TAX PLEDGE OF THAT CLOWN GROVER NORQUIST!

If you did, I hereby pledge not to vote for you and to do everything within my power to have you removed from your congressional seat.

PLEASE DON'T PLAY GAMES WITH THE ECONOMY AND WITH THE WELFARE OF THE PEOPLE OF WASHINGTON!

Sincerely,

(Madame L used her real name and address. Please, Dear Reader, do the same! Madame L doesn't care if you write to your elected representatives asking them for the exact opposite of what Madame L asked for. It doesn't matter. What matters is that if you don't write, they won't know what your opinions are, so they won't be able to represent you if such is their inclination. If they are not inclined to represent you, then you will know that from their response.)

Write! And take care,

Madame L

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Belated Happy Birthday

Madame L apologizes for being so late to write this:

Happy 93rd Birthday, President Nelson Mandela!

Thank you for your life, the suffering that strengthened you and thousands of others.

1993 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Nelson Mandela
From his Nobel Peace Prize biography:

"Mandela was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to five years' imprisonment with hard labour. In 1963, when many fellow leaders of the ANC and the Umkhonto we Sizwe were arrested, Mandela was brought to stand trial with them for plotting to overthrow the government by violence. His statement from the dock received considerable international publicity. On June 12, 1964, eight of the accused, including Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment. From 1964 to 1982, he was incarcerated at Robben Island Prison, off Cape Town; thereafter, he was at Pollsmoor Prison, nearby on the mainland.

"During his years in prison, Nelson Mandela's reputation grew steadily. He was widely accepted as the most significant black leader in South Africa and became a potent symbol of resistance as the anti-apartheid movement gathered strength. He consistently refused to compromise his political position to obtain his freedom.

"Nelson Mandela was released on February 11, 1990. After his release, he plunged himself wholeheartedly into his life's work, striving to attain the goals he and others had set out almost four decades earlier. In 1991, at the first national conference of the ANC held inside South Africa after the organization had been banned in 1960, Mandela was elected President of the ANC while his lifelong friend and colleague, Oliver Tambo, became the organisation's National Chairperson."

Here's one of Madame L's favorite quotes from Nelson Mandela:
"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."

And here's another:

"As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself... Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility."

You may have heard, as Madame L has, that Nelson Mandela is the author of that great quote about our deepest fears. He isn't. Marianne Williamson is. Here's the quote, because it's good, whoever wrote it:
 
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Sunday Book Review, July 17, 2011: How to Scratch a Wombat

How do you scratch a wombat?

Where would you find a wombat?

What would you feed it?

Why does it sleep all day?

Are YOU a wombat? (Probably not, unless you're covered in fur, live in a hole in the ground, come out mostly at night, have a large egg-shaped brown nose, AND have tiny eyes and ears AND long claws and whiskers.

Madame L hopes this doesn't convince you, Dear Reader, that you now know everything there is to know about wombats. Quite the contrary.

Read this little gem of a book, "How to Scratch a Wombat," by Jackie French (and illustrated by Bruce Whatley), to find out more. And know that you will STILL not know everything there is to know about wombats.

This charming book is designed for young readers and for parents to read to children. You don't have to be Australian to love it. (Being Australian might help to understand some of the language, but that's okay, because it's easy to figure out what the new words mean, words like stroppy and pong.)

Madame L got the book at Amazon.com for about $11.00, thanks to a birthday gift certificate from her sister (THANK YOU!), and plans to pass it around to everyone she knows who will enjoy it, which is to say, everyone she knows.

You can also find out more about wombats here.


And here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

As If It Matters

Dear Madame L,

I voted in 2010 for a fiscally and socially conservative Republican to represent me in Congress. This person said she would restore the U.S. economy, protect the middle class, and work for job creation.

None of that has happened, and now the whole Congress seems to be fighting with the President over raising the debt limit.

Why don't they get it: We want jobs, we need jobs. I need a job. Go ahead and raise the debt limit. You've done it 10 times in the last 10 years. Why can't you just do it and get it done, and get to work on jobs?

Please, 

I need help


Dear Help,

You're not alone in this. Thursday's Quinnipiac poll found that 66% of all Americans want tax hikes on wealthy individuals and corporations to be included in whatever final deal is made on the debt ceiling. 

Also, 54% of those polled said they blame former President George W. Bush for the economic problems we're having now, while 27% blame President Obama.

But Madame L digresses. Even more than all that, Americans want Congress to focus on job creation. Enough bills trying to deprive women of the right to control their own bodies, enough bills telling the armed services how to treat gay troops, enough bills trying to bring back the incandescent light bulb (Really? Really!), enough arguing over things that simply don't matter.

Madame L joins you in your feeling of almost-despair that the people in Washington even have a clue about how to govern.

And Madame L joins Aunt Louise in encouraging you to call the office of your Senators and Representatives in D.C. 

Call 1-202-225-3121 and leave a message. Let them know how you feel and what you need. 

We can complain to each other all we want, but we must tell our elected representatives how we feel. Encourage them to do the job they were elected to do.

Good luck,

Madame L

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Would You Sign This Pledge?

Dear Readers,

Madame L is happy to see that presidential candidate Mitt Romney has decided NOT to sign the Family Leader pledge.

This is the pledge with the preamble saying that it's a historical fact that black children in slavery had a better life, including a mother and father who raised them, than black children have now. It's purpose is obviously not to determine what any candidates really think about the family, but to draw attention away from the important issues facing our nation, jobs, the economy, and the debt ceiling. 

Good for you, Mitt Romney. Some who fell into the trap of signing the worse-than-worthless pledge, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, are backing away now. Did they (or even any of their staffers) actually READ the pledge? If so, they shouldn't have signed it. If not, they shouldn't have signed it.

Why would anyone sign such a pledge anyway? (Dear Readers, while this is mostly a rhetorical question, Madame L invites your insight.)


And so life goes on,

Madame L

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's the GOP's Turn Now?

Dear Madame L,

All I hear from you Democrats lately is whining. I hear you think Bush had 8 years, and now why doesn't the GOP let the Democratic Party have its turn in Washington?

Well, I want to say this about that: You all pushed Obamacare through, so it's really our turn now. All we're doing is following tried and true Republican principles, including economic policies designed to increase incentives for businesses and CEOs, thereby increasing hiring and bringing more prosperity to everyone through them.

It's not OUR problem if the president you elected can't stand firm in negotiations, giving away everything before he even begins! So what do you have to say about that, Madame L?

Sincerely,

Laughing all the way to the 2012 elections


Dear Laughing,

Madame L is appalled at the way the Republican "leaders" in Congress are behaving. While Democrats sit in the White House and dominate in the Congress, Republicans beg for "unity" and "cooperation." When they have the upper hand, though, as they do currently in the House of Representatives, they set ultimatums, walk out on budget talks, and so on.

Among the House Republicans Rep. John Boehner used to make Madame L angry, but now she just feels sorry for him, especially when she sees him standing before a microphone, with Rep. Eric Cantor standing behind him, smiling that crocodile smile, looking as if he has his knife ready to stab Boehner in the back as soon as Boehner veers from the Tea Party line. 

But among the Senate Republicans, Sen. Mitch McConnell is still making Madame L angry. This is the man who --- do you remember? --- said, the day after Pres. Barack Obama was elected, that his primary goal for the next four years was, and the goal of the entire Republican Party should be, to get Obama out of office.
And he repeated that boast this week. Madame L repeates it for good measure:


His goal is not to help the people of our nation? Not to solve economic problems? Not to create jobs and ensure a safety net for the poor, unemployed, elderly, and children? No! Not one of those things! His goal is to unseat Obama, no matter what that may take. If it takes the U.S. defaulting on its loans, resulting in national and international economic chaos, so be it.
Madame L wonders what the world would be like if McConnell's wish came true. 

What if Obama were out of office beginning in 2013? Who would replace him? 

Someone who is a religious and social bigot? (Madame L is thinking of Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum and every politician who panders to the Tea Party.) 

Someone who will say anything he thinks necessary to be elected? (Madame L is thinking of Mitt Romney here.) 

Someone who will sign a pledge saying that black children under slavery were better off than black children now? (Madame L is thinking of Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum here.) 

Someone who will campaign for re-election on job creation and helping the common folk, then turn around and legislate moral issues, lower taxes on the rich, attack unions and the middle class, and destroy the economy of our country? (Madame L is thinking of just about every Republican member of Congress here.)

Oh, please God, spare us from these hypocrites and liars. One of Madame L's neighbors has this bumper sticker on his car: 

"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross." 

While this saying has been variously attributed to politician Huey Long and writer Sinclair Lewis, it was actually first written by Professor Halford E. Luccock of Yale Divinity School, in a New York Times article, Sept. 12, 1938.  

Oh, please Dear Readers, write to your Members of Congress and DEMAND that they act like responsible adults and leaders, that they help the American people instead of ruining us!
Good luck, and may God bless America,

Madame L

World Without Murdoch

Dear Readers,

Did you see Jon Stewart and John Oliver's skewering Rupert Murdoch and his "news" empire?



And here's something even better, for your viewing pleasure: Fry and Laurie show what the world would have been like if Rupert Murdoch had never been born.


Enjoy, Dear Readers!

Best,

Madame L

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Sunday Book Review, July 10, 2011: A Continual Feast

"A Continual Feast," by Jan Karon, is a compilation of some of the favorite quotes of Karon's fictional Father Tim, the rector for the small North Carolina town of Mitford. 

Madame L found this book at the last-chance discount table at her local college bookstore and snapped it up. 

She has given it permanent place in her bedside reading collection, or, as she must call it if she were to be entirely honest, her bedside reading pile.

If you haven't read any of the Mitford books, you simply must. Begin with "At Home in Mitford," and continue through the end of the whole series. Enjoying these books does not require you to be of the same religious denomination as Father Tim, who loves everyone of every denomination, just as his mentor and Savior Jesus Christ taught us all to do.

Here are five of Madame L's favorite quotes from "A Continual Feast":

---Day by day we are given not what we want but what we need. Sometimes it is a feast and sometimes ... swept crumbs, but by faith we believe it is enough. --- Barbara Brown Taylor

---One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon --- instead of enjoying the roses that (bloom) outside our windows today. --- Dale Carnegie

---Our real blessings often appear to us in the shape of pains, losses and disappointments; but let us have patience and we shall soon see them in their proper figures. --- Joseph Addison

---A ship in harbor is safe --- but that is not what ships are made for. --- John A. Shedd

---God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. --- II Corinthians 9:8 (NIV)

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Worst That Could Happen?

Dear Madame L,

Hi, I'm the person who wrote about my bad/weird boss, and I want to let you know how that worked out. 

First of all, I didn't quit, which was one of the suggestions you made. What good would that do, anyway? All the time and effort I'd put into that project would have been wasted.

Secondly, I simply realized that while all life events change us, and working in an unpleasant environment for any period of time can change one, and did change me. Dealing with this difficult manager had turned me (temporarily, of course) into an extremely hesitant and anxious person. 

Here's an example: I sent this bad/weird/difficult manager/boss an email message a few months ago asking, in the least confrontational terms possible, for a reply to a message which I had sent him a week earlier. It took me hours to pick up my courage to write that email message, and then it took me another half an hour to get around to checking my email to see if he'd replied.

Talk about a lose-lose situation: If I write the email message, he'll be angry and defensive. If I don't write the email message, he'll tell me later, when everything goes south, that it was my fault for not reminding him.

So I asked myself, what's the worst that could happen? Either way, I set myself up for a nasty-gram. Thinking through it that way was what helped me get around finally to sending that message --- and then realizing that putting it off wouldn't soften the blow helped me get around to checking for a reply.

And guess what: No reply. Was I relieved? Not really. I was on tenterhooks again, as I had been all week since I sent the original message.

So, Madame L, here's the good news: I've learned to deal with this by going back to the more wholesome and fully rounded human I was before starting to deal with this person. I do the things I would be doing if all my interactions with him were finished, the things I had unwisely set aside for way too long.

For example, I called my Relief Society president a few months ago and asked if I could be a visiting teacher again. (I'd asked to be released from that calling when I was working long hours and most weekends on this job, and had let myself continue to be overwhelmed with feelings of being too rushed and busy to spend time with my sisters, and suddenly realized I needed their influence in my life.) And what a blessing it has been to spend time with my LDS sisters. I even carpooled with a group of sisters to the Portland Temple, got to know some I hadn't interacted with before, and renewed friendships with others.

And here's another wonderful example: I've hosted two little parties (so far) for my Primary class. At the first one, we ate pizza and decorated sugar cookies, and made Mother's Day cards and gifts for their moms. At the second one, we ate quesadillas and made Father's Day gifts for their dads.

Yeah, so, the worst that could happen? Hah! That already happened, and I'm over it now, and moving right along...But my point is that doing all that helped me gain some perspective about my situation and that bad/weird/difficult boss/manager. And getting that perspective helped me stick it out and....FINISH! Yes, I'm done. I'm out of there.

So, thanks for your advice, and most of all for reading and responding. Because that's mostly what anyone needs, isn't it, an understanding ear, a shoulder to cry on --- not necessarily some definitive answer.

Best (as you always write),

Over It Now


 Dear Over It,

Thanks for writing! Congratulations on sticking it out and finishing it. Please note that Madame L did not actually advise you to quit, but to finish as soon as possible, and that's what you did.

Good luck,

Madame L

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Terrorists in Congress?

Dear Madame L,

I just read an article calling House Leader Boehner and other Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives "terrorists" over the debt ceiling crisis.

Isn't that a little harsh?

Sincerely,

Worried


Dear Sincerely Worried,

Madame L does not think that word is too harsh, as it represents actions by those members of Congress that hold the U.S. Middle Class, poor, elderly, students, and children essentially as hostages to the greed of rich people and corporations.

If the U.S. Congress does not raise the debt ceiling by early August, the U.S. government will default on its loans. Other nations, looking to us for leadership, will stop trusting our financial institutions. Our national economy and the international economy will both falter. The American prosperity which was thrown into disarray by thte politically and economically disastrous actions of the Bush administration, and which Pres. Barack Obama had hopes of correcting, will be thrown into further chaos. The recession we might have started to come out of will get worse.

Madame L thinks the solution is simple, but does not think the Republican members of Congress will agree to it: Raise taxes on people earning over $250,000 a year, and close loopholes for large corporations (the 35% corporate tax rate is a joke, as major corporations generally pay less than half of that because of loopholes).

Cutting taxes has NEVER worked in our modern economy. It has not inspired corporations to create jobs, it has not helped money "trickle down" from the wealthy to the ordinary average citizens, it has not brought any jobs back from overseas, and it has never come close to balancing a budget.

What do corporations do with the tax benefits granted them through loopholes? They have never created jobs with that money. They have increased dividends for stockholders, increased pay for CEOs and board chairmen, and plowed money back into the company's coffers. 

What do wealthy people do with their tax benefits? The majority of them sock it in the bank, or, actually, they buy more stocks with it.

Salon.com's Joan Walsh writes convincingly about the ways that the Republicans in Congress are now holding us all hostage.  Jared Bernstein writes about how easy --- really! --- easy! --- it would be to "get to a trillion."

Newspapers and TV news broadcasts are full of stories (such as this one about $137,000 in Medicaid funds going to Michele Bachmann's husband's clinic) about Republican members of Congress who rail against government spending while gleaning $$$ millions $$$ for themselves and their districts. 

Read them and weep. And then write to your Representative and both Senators.

In sum, Madame L thinks that "terrorism" is a good description of the current behavior of Boehner et al. And it worries her, too!

Best,

Madame L

Monday, July 4, 2011

My Boss is a Jerk

Dear Madame L,

I work for someone who has a very hands-off approach to our work, except when he himself is under pressure.

I'm not the only one who struggles to produce satisfactory results without any input, being told when we do ask for some advice that the boss is "overwhelmed" but will get back to us later. That's understandable, and anyway he's the boss so what can we do?

But then, when that "later" comes around, the boss e-mails us that he has to put off our meeting until sometime next week because he won't be in the office that day. He doesn't realize (or doesn't care) that we all know he's going skiing.

When he is ready and rested, though, after a week, say, of skiing, the boss gets very upset if we're not available when he passes by our cubicles to check on our work.

He's the boss, though, so who's going to call him on it? Nobody, that's who.

Sincerely,

Frustrated


Dear Frustrated,

You didn't really ask a question for Madame L to answer, so Madame L is going to ask you a question or two:

Are you by any chance the person who wrote to Madame L earlier about not wanting to tell a potential new employee the truth about your boss?

You are, aren't you!

So, what are you still doing there? Madame L asks only because she guesses you need another push.

Sincerely, your friend and ally,

Madame L

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Sunday Book Review, July 3, 2011: White Pine (Mary Oliver)

What should a poem do? What are you looking for when you read poetry? Are there certain poets you can count on for whatever it is you're looking for?

Madame L knows a few poems and poets she doesn't like: The Song of Hiawatha, anything by Wordsworth, likewise for Shelley, Keats, and Byron, not to mention Walt Whitman and most other poets from before, say, 1940.

Madame L suspects that her dislike of these poets stems from the fact that she was made to read them at an immature and rebellious and distinctly non-poetic stage of her life.

In spite of her early dislike for the poets introduced to her early on, Madame L often looks in bookstores for poetry books. What is Madame L looking for? She hardly knows. Yet she often finds some she likes. One poet she has enjoyed reading recently is Mary Oliver.

Here's part of the poem "In Blackwater Woods," from Oliver's book "White Pine":

On the hottest day of summer
I thought of a place
on a knoll
and under some pines
where a breeze might come
flowing out of the bog

so I went there

but a beautiful woman
who had thought of it first
was lying casually
just where I'd thought to lie down
don't move I said
but she rose up
on her pretty hooves
at the sound of my voice
and heavily
and with sorrow and with panic
she vanished into the trees.

Assignment: Write an essay about what you like or don't like about this poem. (Madame L is only kidding, although she hopes that you, Dear Reader, found something to like about it, something you might have been looking for in it, as she did.)

Mary Oliver's poetry collection "American Primitive" won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984, but she's still writing and publishing new poems, including those in "Why I Wake Early," 2005. Some of her  poems are available online. 

She also wrote "A Poetry Handbook," which Madame L has also enjoyed reading and which is available at Amazon.com for $8.15. Amazon.com has an entire page devoted to the life and works of Mary Oliver.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Driving Class: PNW

Dear Madame L,

I just moved to the Pacific Northwest, and I can't believe how atrocious the drivers are here. Do you have any helpful hints for me, so I can survive the bizarre driving habits of my co-travelers? This would be especially helpful as the Fourth of July weekend is upon us, followed by a whole summer of whacko nut-case driving.

Sincerely, 

Scared to death


Dear Scared,

Madame L has also noticed the driving habits to which you refer, and she infers that driving lessons in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) include the following:

---Drive really slowly, especially if you're in the middle or left lane. Don't move over to the far right or "slow" lane under any circumstances because you don't want anyone to think you're "slow." Even if you are.

---When you want to switch lanes, drive up really fast and cut in front of someone who is just a few feet back from the next car in front. Do this even if you're passing up 50 to 100 feet or more of space behind the car you're cutting in front of. Turn on your blinker, signaling that you're going to move into that lane, because that makes it okay. Then, swerve into the lane, even though there's not enough room for your car to fit there, cutting off the other car and causing the driver to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting you.

---If they honk their horn or flash their lights at you, shrug and move into another lane where they can't catch up with you to express their displeasure. Look straight ahead so they can't catch your eye, either. You don't want to force them to experience road rage.

---If you have any doubts about whether you should engage in this kind of driving, buy a big and/or expensive car. Mercedes and BMWs work the best. You're not really intimidating the other drivers, but you're showing how true it is that you're basically better than them, and thus deserving of their backing off and letting you in.

---There's more, much more, which Madame L will add to the list later. 

Dear Scared Reader(s), please feel free to write to Madame L with your own additions.

Also Scared,

Madame L