Saturday, December 20, 2014

Medical Advice

I just read an online article, "Here's What Experts Say about the Advice on Dr. Oz and The Doctors," which states what should be obvious to all of us:

A lot of this advice is pure garbage.

From the article:
"Reporting in the BMJ, Canadian researchers analyzed two medical TV talk shows—The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors—and found that only 46% of the recommendations on The Dr. Oz Show and 63% on The Doctors were supported by evidence. 15% of advice given on Oz and 14% of advice on The Doctors contradicted the available published evidence in journals."
Dr. Oz's excuse, given to a Senate subcommittee hearing in June 2014 was, according to the article:

“I do personally believe in the items that I talk about on the show. We have to simplify complicated information. We have to make the material seem interesting and focus on the ‘wow’ factor.”

And that probably sums it up really well. "...the 'wow' factor." Because it's TV, it's entertainment, it's not real medicine.

But I think another problem here, the reason people are watching these shows, is that people are reluctant to talk to their own real-life doctors about problems that are embarrassing.

Another problem might be that they don't trust their own doctors to take the time to really listen and understand their concerns. I mean, we've all been to a doctor who barely listened to what we said, haven't we? Who grabbed our chart from the plastic chart-holder outside the room and walked in reading it for the first time, glanced at us, and started probing us without even washing his hands first? Who made us wait more than half an hour and then could hardly wait to get to his next patient?

(I'm using male pronouns here because most of the doctors I've encountered who acted this way were males, not because female doctors don't do it!)

But here's another thing: Is the advice we might receive from our own doctors any better than the tidbits from the TV shows?

Haven't you been seen by a doctor who gave recommendations that were not supported by evidence? I have. (And, yes, it was a male doctor.)

What's a person to do? I'm still thinking about this. Any suggestions?


Friday, December 19, 2014

Madame L and the Third Person Pompous

Dear Readers,

Madame L is as of now swearing off her use of the persona who writes pompously in the third person (as she is doing now).

So, okay, here goes. I'm still the same person; I'm still calling myself, while writing this blog, Madame L; but I'm going to write just plain old English from now, instead of what I have decided to call the "third person pompous."

I'm going to be writing about news in science and medicine, arts and culture, environmental issues, and whatever else comes to mind; and I think these issues deserve better than the semi-humorous way I was writing before.

The first thing I want to mention is that after not writing on this blog for a few months, coming back to it today was an eye-opening experience as I had pages and pages and PAGES of "Anonymous" comments to scroll through. And I mean, really, I just scrolled through them, after quickly dividing them into a few types:

---Scams hoping to get me to click on some link that would crash my computer;

---Scams hoping to get me to click on some link that would bring me to a site with images I would never want to see and then crash my computer; and

---Scams hoping to get me to click on some link that would bring me to a site where I might think I was purchasing some drug, for instance a virility-enhancing drug, which I could not obtain legally, and then crash my computer.

But, wow, was I ever flattered by the scammers who wanted me to believe they had never seen a blog as amazingly intelligent and insightful and well designed as mine, and to believe that all they needed and desired most in life was for me to offer to help them with their site, which would ... then crash my computer.

Sarcasm? Oh you bet! And the old Madame L would surely approve!

Thanks for reading (and commenting, not anonymously),

Madame L

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Sunday Book Review: August 3, 2014: The Psychopath Whisperer

Madame L found this book in her local library---after being put on a "Hold" waiting list for several weeks---and highly recommends it to any of her Dear Readers who are interested, as Madame L is, in these people who lie, steal, assault, and kill, all without conscience or remorse.

In fact, the subtitle of the book is "The Science of Those Without Conscience," which describes those people we call psychopaths as well as those we call sociopaths very well.

Madame L has been reading up on the subject in an attempt to understand these people, but what she has found is that, as Walter Kirn wrote in "Blood Will Out," it's impossible to know what goes on in their minds. In fact, Kirn said in a post-publication interview:
As a writer it was my good fortune [to know Christian Gerhartsreiter]. As a person it was my bad fortune. As a writer, it gave me insight. But no one would voluntarily spend this time with a psychopath. No one would voluntarily let their life get enmeshed with a murderer or someone capable of chopping up a body and burying it. It was truly traumatic to realize I was somebody whose weakness for a good story and whose ability to tell a story to himself, really put himself in danger.

The author of "The Psychopath Whisperer," Kent A. Kiehl, PhD, is the first author on this subject that Madame L has read who is really qualified to write on the topic, as he has spent his entire career, beginning as a graduate student, trying to figure out why these people do what they do.

And, guess what: For those who can really be called psychopaths, it does come down to a difference in the brain structure. Psychopaths have reduction of grey matter in the paralimbic system, which leaves them with no empathy. 

Here's a YouTube video featuring Dr. Kiehl, who is now at the University of New Mexico.


But what makes this book worth reading is not only the information on the human brain and how it affects our emotions and behavior, but all the incidental facts and stories from Dr. Kiehl's career. And this works because Dr. Kiehl is a good writer. He knows how to tell a story, for sure---beginning with his first day at a maximum-security prison where he began his studies---and on through even details about brain-imagining machinery which most other authors would make boring beyond belief.

(The grammarian in Madame L hastens to add that Dr. Kiehl knows how to write a complete sentence with good grammar and correct spelling. Amazing! This is the first book Madame L has read in a very long time which did not tempt her constantly to be making editing notes in the margins.)

And here's a YouTube video with more information about differences in the brains of psychopaths:


Monday, July 28, 2014

Weird Expression of the Week: Gini Coefficient

The Gini coefficient is a standard measure of inequality among the residents of a country. According to Wikipedia, it was developed by Corrado Gini, an Italian statistician, and first published in "Variability and Mutability," in 1912.

If a country has a Gini coefficient of zero, its residents are completely equal economically. As the coefficient approaches 1, this indicates increasing inequality.

This matters because, according to a review (by Nicholas Kristof) of Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," the U.S. "now has a Gini coefficient ... approaching some traditionally poor and dysfunctional Latin countries."

Great.  In addition, Kristof notes, "equal opportunity is now a mirage. Indeed, researchers find that there is less economic mobility in America than in class-conscious Europe."

Madame L will be reading the Picketty book when it becomes available at her local library, where  she has placed a hold on it.... Even though it's 685 pages long. Or maybe Madame L will read a few more summaries and reviews like that written by Kristof. 

You're welcome.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Sunday Book Review: July 27, 2014: Blood Will Out

The subtitle of this book, by Walter Kirn, is "The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade."

Madame L stayed on her public library's waiting list for several weeks before she could check out this book, and she's glad she finally got a chance to read it --- and also glad she didn't give in and buy it. It's not a book she needs to have on her shelf, not a book she will ever refer to again.

It's better than many books she has read about psychopaths and sociopaths, but she learned all she wanted to learn from it, and tomorrow she's going to return it to the library.

It's certainly better than "Confessions of a Sociopath," in which a woman brags about being one, hurting people and casting them aside throughout her life, lying and cheating whenever she feels like it, and justifying her flaunting of the principles of the faith she was raised in while bragging about teaching Sunday school. In fact, Madame L reviewed this book as fiction, because, after all, the author admitted throughout the book that everything she says and does is a lie.

It's even better than "The Man in the Rockefeller Suit," written by a reporter who followed the case of the trickster who not only deceived everyone he ever dealt with, but killed at least one of those people.

Walter Kirn is the man who agreed to drive a sick and feeble rescue dog from Montana to New York City for the trickster. He ended up flying most of the way there and was given, for his trouble --- and it was a lot of trouble, and a lot of expense --- a check for $500.

Yet he stuck with the guy, Clark Rockefeller as he knew him, who was given the name Christian Gerhartsreiter by his German parents and had also been known as Chris C. Crowe, Chris Chichester, Charles Smith, Chip Smith, and probably by other names as well.

He found out that the guy was a murderer, kidnapper, and serial liar and cheater. 

So why did he remain "friends" with him? Why did any of the people who associated with him over the years remain friends, or, really, dupes?

Kirn explained in an interview after his book was published, "I'd worked as hard at being conned by him as he had been at conning me. I wasn't a victim. I was a collaborator."He elaborated:
The one sense in which I was not seeing through him but not completely genuine when I knew him, was that I felt like he was my window into a kind of being; into a kind of society and experience that I might not get otherwise ... My big mistake, finally, with him, and I think the mistake all people make with psychopaths, is we project our own humanity onto them. We keep on in this fantasy that they have some resemblance to us. ... [The crippled dog that Kirn drove across the country with was]  ...the perfect cover for a person who has no empathy and has no feelings and who's trying to masquerade as a human being. I've come to learn that the determined and gifted and genuine sociopath has far more power to deceive than we realize.
This is how "gifted" liars, sociopaths, and psychopaths work, and that may be all we need to know about them. But here's one more tidbit from that interview with Walter Kirn:

As a writer it was my good fortune [to know Christian Gerhartsreiter]. As a person it was my bad fortune. As a writer, it gave me insight. But no one would voluntarily spend this time with a psychopath. No one would voluntarily let their life get enmeshed with a murderer or someone capable of chopping up a body and burying it. It was truly traumatic to realize I was somebody whose weakness for a good story and whose ability to tell a story to himself, really put himself in danger. 

How can the ordinary non-socio- or psycho-pathic person keep him/herself out of this danger?  You may want to read "The Sociopath Next Door," but it's still not the perfect book on the subject. (When Madame L reviewed it earlier, she noted that, as with this book, she didn't think it was worth buying to keep on her reference shelf.

Madame L would love to hear from some of her Dear Readers who know more about this whole topic: Any suggestions for further reading? And can you please clarify the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath? And can you please correct the errors Madame L is sure she has made as she has been writing about this?

Meanwhile, you may be interested in Walter Kirn's concluding statement in the interview:
Not many people who've been lied to and played for the fool get to see the person convicted for murder and put in jail. But what I learned about myself, and what I learned about other people, and the presence of the sociopath in our society, was so unsettling I kind of wish I could have gone through life without knowing it. I got to see a story through to its end. For a journalist, a writer, that's satisfying. But as a human being, I got to find out just how evil operates in our world, and I got to find out that there are people among us that we might try forever to understand through the prism of our own experience, but who will always remain alien, predatory and dangerous. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Weird Word of the Week: Hoecake

Madame L has eaten hoecakes before, but never knew the origin of their name.

Now, in a story from Slate.com, Madame L finds that they weren't originally cooked by slaves, on a hoe, over a fire, but cooked in a griddle, which was sometimes called a hoe.

Emily Horton writes, "A hoecake is cornbread made minimalist—a thin, unleavened round made from the simplest batter (cornmeal, water, and salt), crisp at the edges, glistening on both sides from the fat it was fried in, golden in patches. Inside, it’s dense but creamy, a foil for its best partners—creamed corn, silky braised greens, honey. A hoecake should be sturdy enough to work as a shovel for whatever is on the plate, but delicate enough to be appealing on its own."

Ms. Horton includes a recipe for real Southern hoecakes and a photo that makes Madame L really want to make some. But instead of using Ms. Horton's photo, Madame L is going to use her recipe to make some hoecakes, take a photo of them, and post the photo here later.

Here's the article where Ms. Horton got her information on the origin of the word "hoecake." The article shows a picture of a cooking implement called a "hoe," which does indeed look like a griddle; and traces the etymology of the word "hoecake" back before slaves in North America may have been using garden tools to cook with.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Personal Productivity

Dear Madame L,

Every day I sit at my desk and try to get things done, but after reading my email and checking the online news and favorite blogs and improving my Scrabble score with my friends, I find it's time for lunch, and then after lunch I need to check for new news, and so on.

I'm finding it hard to get anything done. Can you help?

Sincerely,

Slug at Desk


Dear Slug,

Madame L certainly sympathizes with you. She has found it useful to refrain from checking her email until later in the day and set time limits on her news reading. She certainly avoids blogs and online games.

Here's an article outlining "6 things the most productive people do every day".

The six main points are to manage your mood, don't check email in the morning, compare your planned work with your goals, eliminate distractions, come up with your own personal routine for managing time and work, and plan out your day the night before.

But read the entire article for more details and helpful suggestions.

Sincerely,

Madame L

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Weird Words of the Week: Shufti, Scry, and Gander

Madame L heard this expression on the PBS show "Endeavour" recently, when Detective Inspector Fred Thursday tells to Endeavour Morse to "have a look-shouf" at some evidence.

Earlier in the show, Thursday said something about "taking a scry" at another matter.

And an American couple in that episode ("Nocturne"), mention that they're "taking a gander" at something.

Of course these three expressions all mean "taking a look at" something.

Madame L recognized the first one, "look-shouf," as having an Arabic origin ("shufti," meaning "Look," though she had never heard the "shouf" put together with the "look."

Madame L was surprised to find that "scry" means not only to look but to try to look into the future, as in a crystal ball.

And Madame L enjoyed the writers' attempt to make the American couple sound really American with that colloquialism "take a gander." Where did that come from, she wondered. And here's a possible answer: It refers to the long neck of the gander, stretched out to see something better.

Your assignment, Dear Readers: Use the expressions to take "a look-shouf," "a scry," and "a gander" in the coming week.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Weird Word of the Week: Jerkface

Madame L just loves this word. She was reminded of its existence when she read an article about Google +, so she Googled a little more.

She was amused to find it defined on Urban Dictionary as a term of endearment between siblings. Madame L never would have dared use this word, as a child, to describe or address any of her siblings! She would have had her mouth washed out with Castile soap at the very least.

However, she can think of a few non-siblings she'd be happy to describe, or address, as "Jerkface." And maybe she'll start doing that, soon.

Meanwhile, for her Dear Readers' further enlightenment and amusement, Madame L presents the following, which says it all, now, doesn't it:





Sunday, July 6, 2014

Privacy Vs. Google +

Dear Madame L,

A friend of mine has invited me to join Google + and be a pal of hers on it, but when I tried to sign up using my usual Web name --- i.e., not my real name and identifying information, which I keep private --- I couldn't do it. What's up with that?

Sincerely,

A Very Private Person


Dear Private Person,

Madame L sympathizes with you and thinks you're actually kind of lucky that you weren't able to do that. Madame L, even though she uses a Google platform for this Q-and-A blog, trusts the people at Google as far as she can throw their Bay Area campus into the Bay.

Because you asked, though, Madame L did a little online research, AKA GOOGLING, to see what she could find out about Google +.

What she found astounded her and will astound you, too. Please read this article, "Thanks for nothing, jerkface!" 

You may, if you are as disillusioned as Madame L has been about Google in general and Google + in particular, be interested especially in this excerpt:
Google Search is no longer the clean, high-performance tool we once relied on and admired — now it's a fetid stew of Google+-littered, screwed up mystery-mechanics, running under the misguided assumption that anyone and everyone only wants more of their own location, their connections, Google's clumsily guessed interests, and Google+ favoritism in the results served back to them.

Now we're filled with a sense of dread with every Google change, every Google product release reminding us that we're being tracked and recorded, and we're held captive by "one account, all of Google" — all with Google+ at its infected core.
Madame L continues to push back against Google's attempts to get her to be part of "one account, all of Google," and hopes you will, too.

Sincerely,

Madame L


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Preventing Drowning: Wear a Life Jacket

Dear Madame L,

With the Fourth of July coming up, my cousins are taking us all out on their boat. They say we all need to wear lifejackets, but I know how to swim, so I don't think I need one.

What do you think?

Sincerely,

Strong Swimmer


Dear Swimmer,

YES, YOU DO need to wear a lifejacket. Most drownings are preventable, and the best way to prevent a drowning is by wearing a lifejacket. Please read more about lifejackets, including the answers to all your questions, at wearalifejacket.com. 

Have a happy a safe Fourth of July!

Sincerely, Madame L


Weird Words of the Week: Furphy and Scuttlebutt

What's an Australian slang synonym for a wild rumor or improbable story? Furphy!

Madame L just loves this word, so much that she's going to look for every opportunity to say and write it. She hopes her Dear Readers will do so, too.

Wikipedia explains that the word "furphy"may have come into use because water carts made by J. Furphy & Sons of Victoria were used to take water to Australian Army personnel in World War I; they became gathering places for the soldiers to exchange gossip and news.


Wikipedia notes that "scuttlebutt" came about similarly, as a scuttlebutt was a water cask on a ship, where the sailors gathered around to exchange stories.

Now we just have office coolers, which haven't made their way into such metonymous use. Yet.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Magazine Subscription Scams

Dear Madame L,

I keep getting notices in the mail that look like bills. They have my exact name and address and a bunch of numbers like on the mailing labels for various magazines I subscribe to. But they're not from the actual magazines, but from some other company.

I've been throwing them away, because after all I keep track of what magazines I subscribe to and when I have renewed them or not. But why isn't some government agency doing something about this?

Sincerely,

I May Be Dumb, But I'm Not Stupid


Dear Scam Spotter,

Madame L is glad you have not paid these "bills." This is indeed a scam, mostly aimed at seniors, and it seems to be working on some people.

If you pay these, and your subscription is not renewed, and you contact the magazine, they will most likely inform you that they have no relationship with the company that sends out the fake bills, and you will be out the money.

There are many other scams out there, some of which are listed on this page. Please continue to be vigilant! And thanks for sharing your experience, for the benefit of Madame L's other Dear and Faithful Readers.

Sincerely,

Madame L

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Weird Word of the Week: Reticule

Madame L chanced upon this word in "Aunt Dimity and the Duke," by Nancy Atherton.*

In this book, a reticule is a small handbag, with netting and a drawstring, decorated with embroidery or beading (which is Google's definition of the word). Ruth and Louise Pym, 90-something-year-old twins whom the heroine of the story meets early on, carry reticules.

Google also provided Madame L with a plethora of images of reticules, such as this one.

Madame L loves the very idea of such a reticule and hopes you, her Dear Readers, will do a Google image search to see some of the many lovely variations of reticules.

Madame L had heard the word in another context, though, so she looked it up to be sure, and, sure enough, a reticule is also the "network of tiny lines that make up a sighting device's eyepiece" (which is the Vocabulary.com definition of the word). These could be in a gun scope or sight, a telescope, or a microscope.

Madame L was fascinated to learn that the word reticule, which is also sometimes spelled "reticle," comes from the Latin "reticulatus," because of the net-like pattern, which comes from the Latin "reticulum," or "little net."

Madame L would love to have read a spell like "Reticulatus!" in the Harry Potter books resulting in a spider-web-like net being thrown over a bad guy. Even better, she would love to read a book in which little old ladies like Ruth and Louise Pym are carrying their dainty little reticules while looking through a telescope's reticule.

*Madame L will write a review of this book, anon ("soon, shortly"). Madame L is inspired to use words like "anon" when she reads words like "reticule" in books like "Aunt Dimity and the Duke."

Why Soda Is Even Worse For You Than You Thought

Dear Readers,

Someone has just sent Madame L a message with a link to a fascinating article explaining that many sugar-sweetened soda drinks are even worse for the body than many of us have thought.

This is because have more fructose in them than they claim or admit to having, an amount of fructose that is correlated with diabetes and liver damage. This graphic makes it clear.

Do read the original article, which explains in more detail about fructose versus sucrose, diabetes, and the liver. And do note that the information, and the graphic, come from a real journal, "Obesity," not some fashion or feel-good or fake-fitness magazine.



Saturday, May 31, 2014

Predicting Earthquakes

Dear Madame L,

I just read an article about some guy who says you CAN predict when earthquakes will take place, despite what some scientists say. Specifically, this man who used to be a teacher in California says he noticed that earthquakes always happened around dusk or dawn, and he says this is because of “conjoined lunar and solar gravitational tides."

What do YOU say?

Sincerely,

Living in California and Wanting to Stay Alive There


Dear Californian,

Since Madame L is not a scientist herself, she must decline to comment except to say that in general she tends to trust the scientific judgment of actual scientists who are specialists in the field being discussed. For example, Madame L refers you to the blog of Dr. Jeff Wynn, a USGS scientist who says earthquakes cannot be predicted with accuracy.

Thus Madame L tends NOT to trust the observations of a "guy" or even a "man" who used to be a teacher in California. Madame L also used to live in California, and also experienced some earthquakes, none of which occurred around dusk or dawn. While Madame L must assume the teacher was a good teacher, she does not feel compelled to assume that he's a good scientific observer or gatherer or analyst of data.

In addition to the general blog address of Dr. Wynn, which Madame L recommends highly as a place to browse about earth sciences and science in general, Madame L suggests you read the following:

"What states are safe from earthquakes?"

"Are tsunamis and volcanic eruptions a result of other catastrophic natural disasters?"

"With every fault is there an earthquake?"  

"Earthquakes and climate change --- related?"

"Earthquakes --- how often?"

"The largest possible Bay Area earthquake"

Dr. Wynn will be writing again about this topic soon because lately two seismologists have published a paper in "Science" (which has stirred up an ants nest among seismologists) claiming that certain very large earthquakes might be predicted.

Meanwhile, Madame L will be watching with bated breath (ha ha ha) for the guy's prediction of earthquakes on "July 12 and Sept. 9, between 4:45 to 7:55 a.m. and/or p.m."

"If I had a dollar for every one of those predictions that has proven to be false, I could finally buy a new car!" comments Dr. Wynn.

Good luck in California,

Madame L

Thursday, May 22, 2014

National Parks on Memorial Day

Dear Madame L,

I think you wrote once about free entrance fees for national parks on certain holidays. Do those days include Memorial Day or maybe even the whole Memorial Day weekend?

Sincerely,

Fan of the National Parks


Dear Fan,

Unfortunately, those "free fee days" do not include Memorial Day. Here's where you can find which days the participating parks are free. The remaining free days in 2014 are Aug. 25 (National Park Service Birthday), Sept. 27 (National Public Lands Day), and Nov. 11 (Veterans Day).

The list of participating parks is here.

And, by the way, you may be interested in an annual national park pass, which is only $80, and will get you and your car full of family (details at that link) into every and any national park. 

If you're 62 or older, you can get a lifetime pass for $10. Madame L once got into a national park with a small tour group courtesy of one member of the group who had that kind of pass.

And, if you're in the military, you can get in for free.

Madame L hopes you'll still visit  a National Park this Memorial Day weekend, and, if you do, you'll let Madame L and her other Dear Readers know how much fun it was.

Sincerely,

Madame L

P.S. You might have a better chance of seeing the meteor shower at a National Park Friday night, than at your own home, too!


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Meteor Shower Friday Night!

Dear Star-Gazing Readers,

Madame L has just read about an amazing meteor shower that may be visible to many people in North America this Friday night (May 23).

Not that Madame L is expecting to be able to watch, since it's always overcast where she lives. But she hopes that those of you who live above the clouds, or wherever you can look up and see stars, will watch and let Madame L know how glorious it was.

The astronomy writer on Slate.com, where Madame L read about this, writes:
Predicted rates for this new shower are quite high, about 100–400 meteors per hour, far higher than normal showers. And they’ll appear to be coming from an area of the sky near the north pole, so they should be visible raining down all over the sky!

As the Earth orbits the Sun, it sometimes crosses these trails. When that happens we plow into this interplanetary junk, and it burns up in our atmosphere, creating meteors. They appear to come from a single point in the sky called the radiant, because the meteors appear to radiate outward from it (see the photo at the top of this post). This is due to perspective, and is similar to how lights on the walls and ceiling of a tunnel all seem to come from a point directly ahead of you as you drive through the tunnel, and they fan out as you pass them. The radiant for this shower is in the relatively obscure constellation Camelopardalis, the giraffe, very near the north pole of the sky.
Please read that whole article to learn more about the meteor shower, the "parent" comet, how to watch, and more.

(And especially to look at the magnificent photos!)

Sincerely, and wistfully,

Madame L
 

Monday, May 12, 2014

What's Wrong With These People? (Chair Stealer at B&N)

Dear Madame L,

I was in my local bookstore the other day. I wandered around for awhile looking at books and magazines and then I put my notebooks down on a table in the coffee shop and went to the counter to order a hot chocolate.

As I waited for my hot cocoa, I happened to turn around and see a man at my table, pawing through my notebooks. I walked over and said, "This is my stuff. What are you doing?"

He said, "I want to sit here, and nobody is sitting here." He put down my notebooks and stood there staring at me.

I noticed he was wearing an NRA cap. I didn't see a gun anywhere, but apparently now you can carry them anywhere, even into a bookstore, just in case there's some lawless book-lover there whose notebooks you might have to forcefully remove from a table where you want to sit, even though there are more than 10 other tables, empty, in the place.

I said, "I'm sitting here, or I will be, in a minute or two. That's why I put my things here." After staring at me for another second or two, he finally moved to another table.

But if he'd shown a gun and started waving it around, I'll bet I would have let him have the table.

What's wrong with these people?

Sincerely,

Should Have Been Scared Witless


Dear Scared,

Madame L does not know what's wrong with these people, but she would have been scared, too. Gun-toting demonstrators have lately felt they could, and should, celebrate their Second Amendment rights by showing up at all kinds of public establishments with their gun-loving pals, waving their weapons around and wondering why people don't like it. (Interestingly, though, they do this in groups, because even the stupidest among them grok that if they show up alone, waving a gun around, they'll be mistaken for a crook [see below for more on this aspect].)

From the article Madame L linked to above:
Just last week open carry proponents decided to have one of their “demonstrations” by going into a Jack in the Box en massescaring the employees so badly that they hid in the walk-in freezer. The so-called demonstrators seemed confused by the response of police who assumed there was an armed robbery in progress and dispatched a phalanx of cops.
“We’re not breaking the laws,” Haros said. “We’re not here to hurt anybody. We’re not trying to alarm anybody. We’re doing this because it’s our constitutional right.”
Haros, who believes openly carrying firearms helps police, said citizens should know that the demonstrations will continue.
“It’s just for safety purposes,” Haros said. “Officers can’t be there at all times. We understand that. They can only do so much.”
So this fine fellow believes he is doing this to protect the public. And while they don’t wear uniforms so you can’t identify them, have no specialized training in the law, are not bound by police protocols or answer to the authority of the democratic system of government of the people, they have taken it upon themselves to look after all of us because the police are busy. (And presumably, unless you are wearing a hoodie and they think you look suspicious, you probably won’t get shot dead by mistake.) We used to have a name for this. It was called vigilantism. One can only hope that when a “bad guy” really does show up at your Jack in the Box or Starbucks and one of these self-appointed John Waynes decides to draw his weapon you’ll be as lucky as the innocent civilian who narrowly escaped being killed in error at the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. 

All of this is allegedly being done to protect our freedoms. But it’s only the “freedom” of the person wearing a firearm that matters. Those parents who want their kids to feel safe in a public park aren’t free to tell a man waving a gun around to leave them alone, are they? Patrons and employees of Starbucks aren’t free to express their opinion of open carry laws when one of these demonstrations are taking place in the store. Those Jack in the Box employees aren’t free to refuse service to armed customers. Sure, they are all theoretically free to do those things. It’s their constitutional right just like it’s the constitutional right of these people to carry a gun. But in the real world, sane people do not confront armed men and women. They don’t argue with them over politics. They certainly do not put their kids in harm’s way in order to make a point. So when it comes right down to it, when you are in the presence of one of these armed citizens, you don’t really have any rights at all.  

You can see why they think that’s freedom. It is. For them. The rest of us just have to be very polite, keep our voices down and back away very slowly, saying, “Yes sir, whatever you say, sir,” and let them have their way.
 Madame L is personally acquainted with several people who think they should be able to carry their loaded weapons into movie theaters, parks, churches, and, yes, Jack-in-the-Boxes, to show their freedoms. Madame L tries to stay as far away from these vigilantes, and their places of film-watching, recreation, worship, and eating, as she can. Because these people are NOT police, they are NOT trained in gun safety or police tactics, they do NOT know how to tell a "good guy" from a "bad guy," they are NOT helping anyone, they are NOT keeping anyone safe, and they ARE, simply, and deliberately, scaring a lot of innocent and harmless people.

Other than that very personal and visceral reaction, Madame L has no solution to the problem. Other Dear Readers, your suggestions?

Sincerely, and with some trepidation,

Madame L

Friday, May 9, 2014

Weird Word of the Week: Damper

Damper, which will be made over campfires by Scouts all over Australia (or at least Sydney) this Mother's Day, to serve to their mums along with hot chocolate, is bread, made of flour and water, and sometimes milk and baking soda, and cooked in a campfire. From Wikipedia:
The damper was normally cooked in the ashes of the camp fire. The ashes were flattened and the damper was placed in there for ten minutes to cook. Following this, the damper was covered with ashes and cooked for another 20 to 30 minutes until the damper sounded hollow when tapped. Alternatively, the damper was cooked in a greased camp oven. Damper was eaten with dried or cooked meat or golden syrup, also known as "cocky's joy".
Nowadays, the Scouts who will be making damper for their mums may be wrapping the damper dough in foil before placing it in the ashes of the campfire, or wrapping it around a stick which they'll poke into the coals. This sounds to me like Girls' Camp biscuits on a stick, without the clever name. Does this ring a bell with any of Madame L's Dear Readers?

Wikipedia says damper "has become available in bakeries. Many variations and recipes exist, some authentic, others using the name to sell a more palatable bread product to the urban public."

Because, damper, yum! But "...a more palatable bread product..."? They have to add ashes, right? So it will seem authentic?

(Madame L checked Google Images for a picture of damper, and found only the "more palatable bread product," i.e., photos of nice round Irish soda bread, along with a lot of photos of some round cooking utensils, apparently devised so the damper-maker can make his/her damper nice and round and perfect with little scorings in the top to help cut it with a fancy knife. Madame L wanted some disgustingly authentic ash-covered shaped-by-the-fingers-of-a-young-scout damper. Too bad Madame L didn't take any pictures of her own U.S. Girls' Camp damper all those years ago. Maybe she will have to make some damper herself, possibly this weekend, possibly this Mother's Day, so she can post a photo of the real thing. Or maybe Lisa will send her a photo of the damper her young scouts make for her on Sunday.)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Obama's Best Lines from Dinner

From the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, here are Pres. Obama's best lines:

- “I usually start off these dinners with a few self-deprecating jokes. After my stellar 2013, what could I possibly talk about?”

- “At one point things got so bad, the 47 percent called Mitt Romney to apologize.”

- “In 2008 my slogan was ‘Yes We Can.’ In 2013 it was ‘Control-Alt-Delete.’”

- On the host, Joel McHale: “On ‘Community’, Joel plays a preening, self-obsessed narcissist. So this dinner must be a real change of pace for you.”
- On CNN: “I am a little jet-lagged from my trip to Malaysia... the lengths we have to go to get CNN coverage these days.”

- On the Boston Marathon: For an American to win the Boston Marathon was “only fair, because a Kenyan has been president for the last six.”

- On Fox News and Hillary Clinton: “Let’s face it Fox, you’ll miss me when I’m gone. It’ll be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya.”
- On Cliven Bundy: “As a general rule, things don’t end well when a sentence starts, ‘Let me tell you something about the negro.’”

- On Obamacare: “What if your yearly checkup came with tickets to a Clippers game? Not the old Don Sterling Clippers, the new Oprah Clippers. Would that be good enough?”

- “These days the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me... which means that orange really is the new black.”

Monday, April 28, 2014

Weird Word of the Week: Termagant

Madame L has known a few termagants in her time. She had a neighbor once, for example, who could be counted on to come roaring out of her house to yell at neighborhood kids when they did something she didn't like.

So Madame L was not surprised to find, when she Googled this word, that "termagant" has come to mean a harsh-tempered or overbearing woman.

But Madame L was surprised to find on Wikipedia that the original meaning of the word "termagant" was a made-up god in Christian morality plays, supposedly worshiped by Muslims, who were also believed to worship Muhammad the prophet as a god.

Do read the Wikipedia article for more fascinating information about this. Here's how it came to refer to women, according to Wikipedia:
As a result of the theatrical tradition, by Shakespeare's day the term had come to refer to a bullying person. Henry IV contains a reference to "that hot termagant Scot". In Hamlet, the hero says of ham actors that "I would have such a fellow whipped for o'er-doing Termagant, it out-Herods Herod". Herod, like Termagant, was also a character from medieval drama who was famous for ranting. In similar vein Beaumont and Fletcher's play A King and No King contains the line "This would make a saint swear like a soldier, and a soldier like Termagant."


Mainly because of Termagant's depiction in long gowns, and given that female roles were routinely played by male actors in Shakespearean times, English audiences got the mistaken notion that the character was female, or at least that he resembled a mannish woman. As a result, the name "termagant" came increasingly to be applied to a woman with a quarrelsome, scolding quality, a sense that it retains today.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

More on Unions

Dear Readers,

Madame L has received an intriguing message from Aldo Baker (whom Madame L thanks for sending the message instead of commenting anonymously on this blog), directing Madame L to a Web site with information about the state of unions in the U.S.

Madame L grew up in a union family. Her father worked in a union shop and thus was a union member, and even though he wasn't always happy with union politics and actions, he was grateful that he belonged to a union, which protected his wages, ensured that he got off work at a reasonable time weekdays, and gave him weekends off. None of these benefits was available to people like him before unions made them possible.

Now, as we all know, big companies are influencing the politicians whose pockets they fill to vote against unions and against every possible help to ordinary workers like Madame L's dad. In turn, not only by voting against unions but by speaking untruths about them in stump speeches, politicians are influencing people who, if they knew the truth, would join unions.

Here's the whole series of graphics from that page.  Madame L can't see it very well, either, so she has posted it here as a tease so you'll follow the link to go to that page to see the whole thing.

As unions become less a part of the working family's world, wages will continue to lag behind the cost of living, families will have fewer resources, and our economy will suffer. Just look at those graphics to understand what it's all about.

Best,

Madame L

Friday, April 25, 2014

Bundy V. U.S. Government

Dear Madame L,

Don't you feel sorry for the Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy, who has been grazing his cattle on federal land for years, only to be unjustly attacked by the Bureau of Land Management?

Sincerely,

Why Should I Recognize the Federal Government?


Dear Bundy Supporter,

Your ridiculous, ignorant and jejune question leaves Madame L floundering. Are you kidding? Where should Madame L start?

Here, for her Dear Readers who don't like to follow links from this page, is Stephen Colbert's answer to the question, with apologies for the weird speed of the recording. (You can find a better version of it here.)


And here is Jon Stewart's answer to the question:

Please, even before we all knew Cliven Bundy was a racist, we knew he was a hypocrite and a criminal, grazing on land owned by the U.S. government (that is, you and me) while claiming not to recognize the government. He owes US, you and me, a million dollars in fees. And even though the BLM mis-handled the confrontation, they were right to go after him. Shame on Cliven Bundy, and shame on anyone who finds anything admirable about him.

Sincerely,

Madame L

Weird Word of the Week: Jejune

Madame L enjoyed reading this word in an online article about some immature complaints regarding President Obama's use of the language.

Apparently columnist George Will was offended by President Obama's use of the word "stinkburger":
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had recently released his budget, so Obama expressed his disapproval by calling it, for the benefit of his academic audience, a “meanwich” and a “stinkburger.”
Try to imagine Franklin Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower or John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan talking like that. It is unimaginable that those grown-ups would resort to japes that fourth-graders would not consider sufficiently clever for use on a playground.

The writer of this article points out that previous presidents have used even more "jejune" language. Read the whole article, and laugh out loud, as did Madame L unless you'll be offended to hear that any of those aforementioned presidents (Reagan, Bush, Nixon, and JFK) were capable of language offensive to the tender and delicate ears of George Will, one of Washington's longstanding nitwits (in Madame L's not-so-humble opinion).

What does "jejune" mean, you ask? According to dictionary.com, it could mean naive, simplistic, superficial, uninteresting, immature, or childish.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Yes, Virginia, You Need to Change Your Password(s)

Dear Madame L,

All these people are saying stuff about something called Heartbleed and how I need to change all my passwords. Really? Why?

Sincerely,

Virginia


Dear Virginia,

Yes, really. You need to change your passwords on every single Web site, service app, and device you use which may have been affected by the Heartbleed "bug" (not a "virus"---and Madame L can tell you more about that, if you're interested; just ask through a Comment).  If you want to know which sites have been affected, you can find out here.

If you don't want to check but still want to be sure, just go to every Web site where you have logged in, over the past two years, and change your password.

Why? Because this bug affects the so-called "OpenSSL cryptographic software library," which is used in most supposedly secure Web sites. Heartbleed allows stealing the information protected by passwords, including your address and other contact information, credit card numbers, and Social Security number.

According to the Washington Post, "Estimates of the severity of the bug’s damage have mounted almost daily since researchers announced the discovery of Heartbleed last week. What initially seemed like an inconvenient matter of changing passwords for protection now appears much more serious. New revelations suggest that skilled hackers can use the bug to create fake Web sites that mimic legitimate ones to trick consumers into handing over valuable personal information."

Because it's such a huge problem and fixes have been slow in coming, you will want to change all your passwords again in a week or two. And then again, just to be safe. And then, you should be changing all your passwords every two months. In fact, federal employees and many in the private sector are required to change their work-computer access passwords that often.

For more information on Heartbleed and how you can respond to its threat, Norton has provided lots of details in a very readable and understandable format. Here are some of them:
Due of the complex nature of this vulnerability, changing your passwords before sites update their version of OpenSSL won’t fully protect you. Here are some simple steps you can take as a precaution:



Change your passwords on any website that contains sensitive information about you. You should first confirm that the site does not contain the Heartbleed vulnerability by using this tool.




If you’ve reused passwords on multiple sites, it’s especially important to change them. To change your Norton Account password, visit manage.norton.com and click Account Information.




Beware of phishing emails and type website addresses directly in your browser instead of clicking on a link through an email.




Monitor your bank and credit card accounts for unusual activity.

It may take an extended period of time for all the sites affected by Heartbleed to fix this vulnerability. To determine if a website is vulnerable to Heartbleed using this tool. We recommend you only exchange personal or sensitive information such as your credit card number if the site is not affected by Heartbleed.
Sincerely,

Madame L

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

It's not Fiction Friday yet, but Madame L has to mention here that one of her all-time favorite authors, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, has died. He turned 87 last month.

He wrote in the so-called "magical realism" style that we often associate with fiction from South America, but he did it very much his own way. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982, the first Colombian and fourth Latin American to win it.

His most famous and most-read book is "One Hundred Years of Solitude," which Madame L read years ago, when she was living in Venezuela. Madame L thought she would next read the book in Spanish. However, when she went to buy a copy of it in Spanish from her local bookstore. the proprietor, who was originally from Colombia (like Garcia Marquez), chuckled and said, "Good luck! I have trouble reading him. His vocabulary is so unique, so original, so large."

From USA Today's report of his death:
In 1988, Garcia Marquez told The New York Times that his style varied: "In every book I try to make a different path…One doesn't choose the style. You can investigate and try to discover what the best style would be for a theme. But the style is determined by the subject, by the mood of the times."

But he also said, "In Mexico surrealism runs through the streets."


Another great one who will be missed!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Weird Word of the Week: Vogueing

Here's another great word Madame L found by accident. She had heard this word before, of course. Hasn't everyone? And doesn't everyone in every family across America take turns vogueing every Sunday morning as they check out the Lord & Taylor ads in the Sunday New York Times?

No?

Pity.

According to Wikipedia, "vogueing" is a dance style "...characterized by model-like poses integrated with angular, linear, and rigid arm, leg, and body movements." But of course it is much more than that.

Slate writer Katy Waldman uses the word "vogueing" as she writes about "power poses" a woman might use as she asks for a raise. She refers to "The End of Men" (which, BTW, Madame L is not going to buy and probably won't even check out of the library). Ms. Waldman writes about how she prepared for her interview in which she asked her boss for a raise:
I sent the Big Kahuna an email asking to meet with him about my salary for the new year. I figured he would reply to the message suggesting a time and I would prepare with my Wonder Woman stance beforehand. But instead he stopped at my desk on his way back to his office. “How about now?” he said, perhaps because he’s a casual boss or perhaps because he knows it’s best not to give us employees any time to prepare via vogueing in the bathroom.
“Sure!” I enthused, panicking. I followed him down the long hall with my hands resting on my hips and my shoulders not-so-subtly open, praying he wouldn’t turn around and see me locomoting like a fool. The leisurely walk took about half a minute. Were neural terminals emptying their packets of testosterone into my synapses, enzymes vacuuming up most of the cortisol? Hard to tell: This was my first salary negotiation, so I’m not sure how I would have felt without the pose. But when I sat down in his office, I squared my chest slightly. For an extra boost, I was assuming one of the less obvious high power positions—legs slightly apart, chin up, torso forward. The key was projecting poise without arrogance; if I could do that, I would be, as they say, in business.
Did it work? All that vogueing? Dear Readers, you'll have to read the (hilarious) article by Ms. Waldman. Enjoy, keep coruscating, use those power poses, and,

You're welcome,

Madame L



Monday, April 14, 2014

Tonight's Eclipse (Early Morning April 15)

Dear Readers,

Thanks to Ellen for asking about tonight's so-called "blood moon." This eclipse should be visible from anywhere in North America and South America, as well as Australia. It will be seen as a partial eclipse in arts of Asia, Africa and Europe.

Just find a comfy place (and a warm blanket, maybe some hot cocoa, and certainly some friends) to enjoy watching it!

You can read more about it in this article.

Even better, though, is the NASA explanation for the moon's "blood red" color in the eclipse: "What you're seeing is every sunrise and sunset on Earth--all at once. This ring of light shines into Earth's shadow, breaking the utter darkness you might expect to find there."

Madame L knows that Ellen and all her other Dear Readers are interested in the science and not in the creepy-crazy pseudo-religious nuts who are saying this eclipse has anything to do with anything outside of the normal life of our solar system.  Here's a NASA scientist explaining this lunar eclipse:



Villanelle and Paradelle

Dear Readers,

Madame L has found this poem, which she mentioned yesterday, Billy Collins' "Villanelle," online:

Villanelle

This first line will not go away,
and though the middle ones will disappear,
the third, like the first, is bound to get more play.

Examples of the type are written every day,
and whether uplifting or drear,
that first line just won’t go away.

It seems some lines have the right of way.
It’s their job to reappear,
for example, the third, always getting extra play.

Whether you squawk like an African gray
or sing sweetly to the inner ear,
the line you wrote first just won’t go away.

You may compose all night and day
under a bare lightbulb or a crystal chandelier,
but line number three must get more play.

How can a poet hope to go wildly astray
or sing out like a romantic gondolier
when the first line just won’t go away,
and the third one always has the final say?

Madame L also found this "paradelle," "Paradelle for Susan," by Billy Collins, online:

I remember the quick, nervous bird of your love.
I remember the quick, nervous bird of your love.
Always perched on the thinnest, highest branch.
Always perched on the thinnest, highest branch.
Thinnest love, remember the quick branch.
Always nervous, I perched on your highest bird the.

It is time for me to cross the mountain.
It is time for me to cross the mountain.
And find another shore to darken with my pain.
And find another shore to darken with my pain.
Another pain for me to darken the mountain.
And find the time, cross my shore, to with it is to.

The weather warm, the handwriting familiar.
The weather warm, the handwriting familiar.
Your letter flies from my hand into the waters below.
Your letter flies from my hand into the waters below.
The familiar waters below my warm hand.
Into handwriting your weather flies you letter the from the.

I always cross the highest letter, the thinnest bird.
Below the waters of my warm familiar pain,
Another hand to remember your handwriting.
The weather perched for me on the shore.
Quick, your nervous branch flew from love.
Darken the mountain, time and find was my into it was with to to.
You can also go online to find another invented form, inspired by Billy Collins' paradelle, the upside down paradelle: "Extractions," invented by poet Grace Curtis.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Book Review: Sunday, April 13, 2014: National Poetry Month

The public library in Madame L's town has a bookcase near the checkout desk with books recommended by the librarians. This month, the books of those shelves have mostly been poetry books, which (of course) has delighted Madame L.

Do you, Dear Readers, enjoy poetry? Madame L used to hate poetry, undoubtedly because of the many boring and formal poems she had to read and write essays about in high school and college English classes.

Lately, though, she has enjoyed checking out random books of poems from her public library. And this month, the library has made it even easier for her by putting all those books there.

There are still some poetry collections that Madame L does not stoop or even pretend to enjoy, however, including the poems of Robert Service, AKA "The Bard of the Yukon." So Madame L passed on all those books in that bookcase. Sorry, all those people who can quote entire poems such as "The Cremation of Sam McGee" and "The Shooting of Dan McGraw."

Madame L did pick up a collection by Garrison Keillor, called "77 Love Sonnets." Madame L didn't think Garrison Keillor had 77 sonnets, or poems of any kind, in him; but he did, at some time, anyway; and someone has published them all together in this book. Madame L is glad she picked up this book because it helped her realize that some of the sonnets she had disliked so much in years past were not that bad, after all.

Madame L also picked up "A Companion for Owls, Being the Commonplace Book of D. Boone, Long Hunter, Back Woodsman, &tc.," by Maurice Manning. She scanned  through it quickly but not so quickly that she was not able to ascertain that which she had indeed suspected: Daniel Boone did not actually write any of these poems. And the guy who did write them did not impress Madame L favorably, either.

Who else? Ah, Alice Walker, in "Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth," impressed Madame L very favorably indeed, as did Billy Collins, with "Aimless Love." Madame L knows that not everyone likes Billy Collins' poems as much as Madame L does, and, as usual when Madame L becomes aware of someone's disagreeableness, she doesn't care. She likes those poems, and she had a great time scanning through and reading some of them. She is going to keep the Walker and Collins books out of the library as long as she can so she enjoy more of these poems and re-enjoy the ones she has already enjoyed.

Here's an example from Billy Collins, a villanelle that uses that form perfectly while making a witty commentary on the form. What Madame L means to say is that this "Villanelle" is the most meta poem Madame L has ever read, so meta that even a dunce like Madame L can figure out the form of a villanelle just from reading this one (though Madame L will not paste the entire poem here):

The first line will not go away
though the middle ones will disappear,
and the third, like the first, is bound to get more play.

Examples of this type are written every day,
and whether uplifting or drear,
that first line will just not go away.

(...and so on...)

Fun fact: While trying to find this poem online so she COULD paste the entire poem here, Madame L read that Billy Collins has also written a parody of the villanelle form, called the paradelle. He claimed it was invented in eleventh-century France, but he invented it himself; and other poets have since enjoyed writing in this form, too.


One final poetry book that Madame L selected from the bookcase was "Don't Bump the Glump! and Other Fantasies," Shel Silverstein's first poetry collection, which Madame L loved. Here's "One-Legged Zantz":

Please be kind to the One-Legged Zantz.
Consider his feelings---
Don't ask him to dance.

Madame L hopes her Dear Readers will enjoy a few poems this month and share them with the rest of the world. And, while you're at it, maybe you'll want to write a poem or two, too.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What's Wrong With These People? (Powell's)

Dear Madame L,

I recently went to Powell's, the famous bookstore in downtown Portland, to sell some books and buy some new ones. As usual, my experience there was not so good.

First, there were three bookselling guys at that counter. The first one had a sign in front of his place that said "Next buyer." I smiled at him and started to walk past, since, you know, I can read, and I could tell that he wasn't there to help me in any way, shape, or form. Still, he decided I was illiterate and ignorant, I guess, because he frowned at me and said, "Next buyer."

At least the buyer who looked through my books wasn't as rude and dismissive as they usually are: He actually chatted with me a little while he went through them, instead of talking with the other guy the whole time. He only bought back half the books I had and didn't give me a good price for those ones, but he didn't make me feel like I was scum for being there.

I found some "new" used books to buy, and went to the checkout line. There was a lady in front of me with a little girl, and when it was their turn to go up to the front, they got distracted by something and just stood there. I waited politely for them to finish what they were doing, but politeness is obviously not part of the normal everyday procedures of most of the Powell's employees: The man at the check-out counter frowned at me and said, "Next!" and waved for me to go on up there.

So I did. He scanned my four books and told me the price without ever once looking at me. I said, "I have a paper here from selling back some other books." He sighed with boredom and/or exasperation and said, "Lemme see it." I gave it to him and he said, "I need a photo ID." I showed him my driver's license and he said, "You still owe four dollars."

I said, "I also have a coupon for ten per-cent off," and I gave him that. He practically snatched it out of my hand and said, "Lemme see it." He stapled it to his copy of the receipt and said, "You still owe four dollars." I said, "What about the ten per-cent?" He said, "I did that."

I paid him his four dollars and he gave me my receipt. I looked it over carefully and said, "It doesn't look like you gave me the ten per-cent off." He frowned even more and said, "That's right, I didn't, because it doesn't apply with the books you bought today." I said, "Then it's good for another time?" He frowned and unstapled it from the receipt and gave it to me, very reluctantly.

And then he looked past at me and frowned at the next person in line and said, "Next."

What's wrong with these people?

Sincerely,

I only go to Powell's because it's the only place around here that buys books, but let me tell you, if there was another store that did, I'd never go to Powell's again!

Dear Unhappy Customer,

Madame L sees your misery and raises you a hundred. Madame L never sells books at Powell's any more. She would rather give her books away to a charity than deal with the rude and disrespectful people there. She also buys used books through Amazon.com rather than have to deal with Powell's.

Madame L believes they must have mandatory employee meetings where, instead of getting their workers all hyped up on customer service, they yell at them, "The customer is always wrong! Wipe that grin off your face!" And so on.

And then they complain about how people aren't going to bricks-and-mortar stores any more. 

Sincerely,

Madame L

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why Does Airline Food Taste So Bad?

Dear Readers,

Madame L knows you have all wondered the same thing. And here's the answer, in Conde Nast Traveler, online: 

It's partly because after the food is cooked and refrigerated and re-heated, it loses some of its flavor, which is like, Duh!---what we all knew, all along.

But it's also because the cabin air and atmosphere decrease our perception of saltiness and sweetness.

So we can't blame it all on the airlines. Though there's still plenty to blame them for.

Happy Flying,

Madame L


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Weird Word of the Week: Coruscatingly

Madame L loves this word! She found it when she was researching the answer to a Dear Reader's question about the book "Leaning In."

Madame L found an article about the woman "W" who had been offered a teaching job at a college, which job offer was then withdrawn when the the woman tried to negotiate terms which would probably have been considered normal for a man being offered the same job.  The college responded to the request not by negotiating or accepting even one of the suggestions made by the woman; but rather by writing, "...Thus, the institution has decided to withdraw its offer of employment to you."

Madame L followed a link in that article to another article by the same author in which she discussed the value of "power poses," the idea that if standing like Wonder Woman for a few minutes before a job interview, date, raise request, and so on, will empower you and make whatever you're trying to achieve become more possible. 

What about the word, you're asking? Yes, Madame L was getting to that. In that article, Katy Waldman wrote that she used the power pose before meeting a friend at a bar for drinks. Here's how it went:
A friend and I made plans to meet at 9:00 p.m. at a popular bar in Adams Morgan. I arrived a bit early, which gave me some time to stand outside the entrance with my fists planted on my hips and my legs spread. I did not, in fact, feel powerful. I felt silly. So I walked around to the side of the bar, where I had a slimmer chance of being observed, and tried again. No discernible testosterone cascades, but after a few minutes a sediment of calm did begin to settle in my chest. I also noticed that I was getting tired from holding the power pose.
When I went inside, a greeter was stationed in the doorway, and perhaps I was more gregarious with him then I might otherwise have been. We bantered, coruscatingly, about whether he planned to ask for my ID (“No, I’m just the greeter”) and whether the upper floor experience merited the steep climb upstairs. When I traipsed up to explore, a second man blocked my ingress.

Dear Readers, you'll have to follow the link to find out how this specific experiment turned out. Madame L will reveal, however, that Ms. Waldman concluded after her three experiments with power poses that they might have had a placebo effect, at least.

So, what about the word, you're asking, again? Yes, Madame L hopes you noticed that the word is used in that quoted bit: "We bantered, coruscatingly..."

Madame L had to look it up, and she found that "coruscatingly" means "in a flashing, brilliant, or keen manner."

And there you have it.

Coruscatingly,

Madame L

Monday, April 7, 2014

Doggie Treats, Part 3


Dear Laura and Other Faithful and Curious Readers,

Great question! Laura asked Madame L, about "Doggie Treats, Part 2":

"You know I have to ask - are you able to proclaim their deliciousness with such certainty because you tried them yourself? Or were they tested on actual canines? ;"

And Madame L must admit that, yes, she proclaimed the deliciousness of those doggie treats because she tried them herself. She has not yet tried them on actual dogs. Oh, the shock! The shame! And whatev. But since they didn't have liver or bacon or anything disgusting in them, and since Madame L her very own self made them, Madame L felt okay with tasting them.

Try it, you'll like it!

Sincerely,

Madame L


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Doggie Treats, Part 2

Dear Faithful Readers,

(and I don't mean to imply you're dogs, even though of course dogs are rightfully famous for their faithful and loyal nature),

Madame L tried out the recipe for doggie treats, and GUESS WHAT:

They are delicious!

Here's the recipe, for those of you who want to try this at home:

Sweet Potato Biscuits

1 sweet potato, baked and cooled, and mashed
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 large egg
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix everything together and knead a few times. Roll the dough into a thick sheet and cut out desired shape of biscuits. Arrange these on a baking sheet and cook at 350 (F) for 30 minutes, until they're crunchy and golden brown.

This version of the recipe is from The Oregonian, February 21, 2014, which adapted it from the "Dog Treat Cookbook," which is available as a free Kindle book from Amazon.com. 

Madame L will be freezing her doggie treats to save for when her grand-dogs Mugwai and Lola come to visit in a couple of months, and then she promises to let you, Dear Readers, know their verdict.

No, Madame L is not crunching down on these doggie treats, now that they're cooled off and hardened. She wants to save her teeth, which are not as crunch-proof as her grand-dogs' teeth are. But this recipe has made Madame L and Aunt Louise think about ways to make biscuits and muffins and other such treats for humans that would be naturally sweet without added sugar. (Here's another recipe Aunt Louise tried and enjoyed, but with reservations.)

Any suggestions, Dear Readers, will be gratefully accepted and posted here (with your permission).

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Leaning In?

Dear Madame L,

I've read a lot of very positive reviews of that book "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg, and I'm thinking her ideas sound good. Do you think I should buy the book for myself?

Sincerely,

Not a Fast Reader


Dear Beloved and Normal Reader, 

DO NOT BUY THE BOOK. Madame L has nothing against the book, its author, editors, or publishers, but she doesn't see why you should buy the book. 

Helloooo! Isn't that why we have public libraries? Check it out from your library, even if this means having to wait for a few days or weeks to get it. 

Yes, yes, yes, Madame L has been known to buy many books that she could have checked out of the library, but those were different because:

1) They were novels or poetry collections which weren't available at her library; or

2) They weren't full of self-promotional billet shorts that anyone with a brain could have figured out for herself; or

3) They weren't full of ideas that might have billeted Madame L's own professional life, viz., the idea that you should go ahead and ask for that raise because, darn it all, you're good enough, you're smart enough, and, doggone it, people like you!

So, again, Madame L suggests you wait to find this book at your library and consider carefully which parts of its advice are not common sense and which parts of its advice might apply really well to the white rich woman who wrote the book and which might not apply so well to you, Madame L, and the majority of women who are working in North America.

A recent case of a professional woman (not unlike the author of "Lean In," Madame L suspects) who asked for better hiring terms should be cautionary. The woman's job offer suddenly disappeared, as the hiring committee (all middle-aged white men, Madame L suspects, though that is not specified in the articles Madame L has read about the case) decided the woman probably wasn't such a good match for the job, after all. 

Yes, that's right: The woman leaned in, still not even being nearly as aggressive as a man in her position might have been, and she was slapped back for it.

So, lean in all you want, and for sure look at the "Look Inside!" feature on Amazon.com's page for the book. You might get as much as you need from the Table of Contents. Then, if you must, read the book for tips on how to lean in, but beware. And don't lean too far.

Sincerely,

Madame L


Monday, March 31, 2014

Weird Word of the Week: Acrazing

Madame L is glad you asked. You will not find this in any dictionary, but if enough of us start using it, maybe it will eventually appear in the Oxford English Dictionary. That is, after certain diabolical creatures and minions are ice-skating.

Anyway, Madame L's pal Aunt Louise thought she had invented the word "acrazing" by putting together the two words "crazy" and "amazing."

Since inventing the word, however --- that is, after coming up with the idea having never seen this word used anywhere else in the whole world --- Aunt Louise has seen it in a few other places. (Just Google "acrazing" and you'll see what Madame L means.)

"That's all right," Aunt Louise told Madame L. "It's clearly a case of serendipitous co-invention, and I will not begrudge credit for the use of my invention to anyone else who cares to use it, in any context whatsoever."

So, go ahead, Dear Readers. Use the word "acrazing" at will and as frequently as possible.

You're welcome.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Personal Sized Baked Oatmeal Snacks

Dear Readers,

Madame L is not writing a book review this week. In place of that, here is the recipe for those oatmeal snacks Aunt Louise mentioned last week, from the Sugar-Free Mom Web site:

Personal Sized Baked Oatmeal with Individual Toppings: Gluten Free & Diabetic Friendly
 
Author: 

Recipe type: Breakfast
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 

Ingredients
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups applesauce, unsweetened
  • ½ cup or 1 banana, mashed
  • 6 packets of Sweetleaf Stevia or 1½ teaspoons stevia powder or use ½ cup honey
  • 5 cups, Old Fashioned rolled oats { I used Bob’s Red Mill}
  • 2 tablespoons flaxseed meal*
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2¼ cups milk (I used 1%)
  • Optional toppings: raisins, walnuts, chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix eggs, vanilla, applesauce, banana and Stevia together in a bowl.
  3. Add in oats, flax, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and mix well with wet ingredients.
  4. Finally pour in milk and combine.
  5. Spray a 12 and 6 capacity muffin tin with cooking spray or use cupcake liners. Pour mixture evenly into muffin tin cups.
  6. If using toppings add them onto the tops of muffins now. If using fresh or frozen fruit, drop it right into the batter.
  7. Bake 30 minutes until a toothpick in center comes out clean.
  8. Cool and enjoy or freeze them in gallon freezer bags.
Notes
* Whole Flax seeds may be used but grind them yourself if not using already ground. Flax seed is safe to cook with. Here is an article to support. http://www.livestrong.com/article/533140-does-flaxseed-lose-nutrition-when-it-is-cooked/
 
Nutrition Information
  • Serves: 18
  • Serving size: 1
  • Calories: 143
  • Fat: 4g
  • Carbohydrates: 23g
  • Sugar: 4g
  • Sodium: 161mg
  • Fiber: 4g
  • Protein: 6g
  • Cholesterol: 25mg