Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Sunday Book Review, September 25, 2011: An Exaltation of Larks

A slouch of models
A bask of crocodiles
A tower of giraffes
An erudition of editors
A maze of bureaucrats
An unemployment of graduates
A scold of seamstresses
A number of statisticians
A walk of snipe

These are less than one hundredth of the old and new collective terms collected in James Lipton's "An Exaltation of Larks." 

Madame L has had great fun skimming through this book's "Ultimate Edition" of 1991. (It was first published in 1968 and revised in 1977.) She hasn't even tried to read through the whole thing. The first chapter, titled "The Beginning," is downright intimidating in its erudition. (An erudition of editors would have swooned at the reams of papers and bibliographies of books the author has read, and the realms of knowledge he has explored, to compile these expressions.)

Madame L, neither being erudite nor having the patience nor the scholarly nature to read through the history of each expression, has flipped through randomly just for the fun of finding the occasional wonderful "noun of multitude."

One of the oldest is "a pride of lions" (from The Book of St. Albans (1486). One of the newer ones, from a list including "a membership of Presbyterians" and "a mass of priests," is "a book of Mormons." Ha ha.

The index helpfully lists the ending of every collective expression so Madame L, or any other lazy reader, can find the appropriate word for the start of the expression. 

So, for example, Madame L wanted to find what a crowd of Egyptologists might be called, so she looked up "Egyptologist" and found that they've been called "a pyramid of Egyptologists." On that same page, she found the terms "a shower of meteorologists," "a stratum of geologists," "a web of arachnologists," "a nucleus of physicists," and so on. 

But although Madame L knew that a group of bees was a swarm, and confirmed that by looking up "bees," when she tried to find what crowd of people or objects "a swoon" would be associated with, there was no helpful index for that. 

Madame L invites her Dear Readers to join her in inventing new collective expressions. What group, for instance, do you think "a swoon" would refer to? Or "a desert"? Or "a blanket"? Or "an anything"?

Madame L thinks you'll enjoy this book as much as she is enjoying it, especially if you read it this way. It's available new at for $11.44 and used from $2.97. ("An enjoyment"?) 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Social Security

Dear Madame L,

I hear so many contrary arguments about Social Security lately, from Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and others calling it a Ponzi scheme to people saying it's necessary for the continued welfare of our older citizens, that I'm really confused.

Can you please tell me the truth about Social Security?


Getting Older Myself

Dear Getting Older,

Madame L truly sympathizes with you, as she is also getting older, and personally knows no one who is not getting older (except those who have taken the other, not-getting-older alternative, not an option most of us choose on purpose).

Yet Madame L also has difficulty understanding all the arguments. Madame L gets reports from the Social Security Administration (SSA) every year telling her how many years she still must work in order to receive whatever future dollars in benefits, so she trusts that the system will continue through the next 40 or 50 years or so (which is how long Madame L plans to continue taking the "Yes, I'll keep living, thank you very much" option).

Here are a few recent arguments Madame L has read on the subject:

First, Social Security is not really a Ponzi scheme, as Perry claims, because, unlike in a Ponzi scheme, people who have paid into Social Security will eventually collect their money; and because (if the federal government hadn't started cutting into Social Security funds years ago) it should keep paying for itself.

Social Security is really more like an insurance program: You pay into it and if you live long enough to collect, you collect. Madame L is not aware of anyone claiming to be angry because they've paid so much into their house fire insurance for so many years but their house hasn't burned down, so they haven't gotten their money back.

Madame L has read still another way of looking at it: If you pay $5,000 per year into Social Security, with your employer matching that, you're putting $10,000 per year into the program. If you work for 30 years, with this $10,000 per year compounded at 8%, all this money tax sheltered, and you retire at age 65, you have $1.3 million in your fund. The government gives this back to you at a rate of $3,000 per month, so it takes 37 years to run out, and at that time, if you're still alive, you're 102 years old. (This scenario doesn't even account for the continuing 8% interest on the capital left.)

(This $10,000 is more than most people can or would put into their own retirement program, and it's not taxable.)

So, what would happen if Social Security were abolished (a la Rick Perry, Ron Paul, et al.)? Poverty among retirees would surge; short-term economic effects would be disastrous as those retirees would no longer be paying for such frivolities as rent, food, clothing, and medicine; and many retirees would have to move in with their children, many of whom are already suffering in our wretched economy and would have difficulty supporting their aged parents.

The United States would become a third-world country, and under Rick Perry, Ron Paul, and all the other current Republican presidential candidates, this would get even worse, as government employees would continue to be fired in the name of getting government out of our lives. These would include firefighters, police officers, teachers, public health doctors and nurses, social workers, and researchers. People who couldn't pay their local fire tax would have to stand by watching as their homes burned down. Parents couldn't afford vaccines for their children. And so on.

After all the arguments are done and over with, Madame L suggests you do as she has done and (1) read that notice the SSA sends to you every year, and (2) go to the SSA's web page where you can estimate your own retirement income. 

In addition, you can go to your local SSA office to talk to someone there. In the past, Madame L wouldn't have suggested that, but she recently had occasion to replace her lost Social Security card, and found that all the people she dealt with at that office were friendly and helpful.

Best of luck,

Madame L

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Confession Time!

Dear Madame L,

How can you justify your mean response to the person who wrote to ask you about Tiger Woods? I mean, you say you're going to answer all questions, and then you get all huffy and snobby when someone asks a question about a famous person. Are you too good for those kinds of questions?


I Can Get All Huffy, Too

Dear Huffy,

Madame L confesses that she is indeed a snob about the so-called gossip news. 

But Madame L would never, never, never write that kind of response to a sincere questioner. Madame L knew who wrote that question, knew the questioner doesn't care any more about Tiger Woods or any other celebrity than Madame L does, and knew it was a joke, so she felt comfortable answering it that way.

Madame L suspects you're not seriously offended and thanks you for your question, because it gives her a chance to let all her Dear Readers know that she would never answer so huffishly or snarkily to a sincere question.

Keep those questions coming! (But if you want a gossip column, this isn't your best bet.)


Madame L

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

If At First You Don't Succeed

Dear Madame L,

I'm a little discouraged. I've been working on a goal for so long, without any noticeable success, that I'm really about ready to give up.

Do you have any words to cheer me up or help me motivate myself to keep going?


Want to Keep Going But Don't Know How

Dear Hopeful,

Madame L was fortunate to hear an inspirational speaker recently who put it this way: "I figure there are three things that can happen if I don't give up: I can succeed, I can fail but keep trying, or I can die trying. Nothing else is an option." 

This person decided from the beginning not to give up. She told us some of her secrets: She decided early on to treat her goal as she would a goal in a workplace, turning herself into a professional at achieving the goal; she works on that goal at a certain time every day; she practices positive thinking and imagines herself succeeding; she has developed a network of friends who help her in various ways; and  she keeps track of every effort and every sub-goal and sub-step and every bit of progress.

Madame L has also found a great website that may help inspire you: 
50 Famously Successful People Who Failed At First --- including Elvis Presley, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Sidney Poitier, Emily Dickinson, J.K. Rowling, Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, and Igor Stravinsky ... and, let's see, that means 40 more.

Madame L hopes some of her other Dear Readers will chime in with suggestions to help this Hopeful Reader. We all need this kind of help sometime, and YOU may be the one who can lift the spirits of this person, and the rest of us.

Thanks in advance,

Madame L

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Sunday Book Review, September 18, 2011: Moonlight Mile

If you've already read "Moonlight Mile," by Dennis Lehane, you may think Madame L should be writing this review around Christmas time because the story has many deliberate similarities to the original story of the perfect child born in a stable.

But, no. If you haven't read it, don't wait until Christmas, because it's not about the Christ child, nor about perfect parents, nor about the Son of God, although the love of the innocent child does save some of the characters from immediate effects of their sins.

Only the two children in this story, a newborn baby girl and a feisty four-year-old girl, are perfect. The book does have a virgin mother, some wise guys (Russian mobsters) if not wise men, a monstrous Herod and his equally monstrous wife, and a Joseph figure, the hero, who wants to protect the virgin mother and the infant. And to protect his perfect, feisty four-year-old daughter from the life our TV "popular" culture seems to be preparing all little girls for.

But the child's birth mother is an addict, the virgin mother figure is a runaway and the child of an addict, and, wow, too many of the characters are addicts and thugs to make this a traditional Christmas story.

If you like hard-boiled crime novels and you can get past the gritty characters and their frequent swear words and other vulgarities, you'll enjoy this book. The author is an old pro, as are his two main characters, Kenzie and Gennaro, now married and known by their other names of Patrick and Angie MacKenzie.

You may guess the ending, because Patrick and Angie really ARE the good guys, but some of the other guys we all wish and hope would be good guys turn out to be not so good, some of the bad guys are not so bad, and Madame L promises that you won't be able to figure out which is which or unravel all the details until almost the very end. 

Dennis Lehane's books have been made into films (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island), which Madame L can't comment on because she hasn't seen any of them. Madame L is actually afraid to see the movies because in her experience these kinds of movies are more horrific and vulgar than she can stand, and besides that they don't live up to the promise of the books. 

Is this --- a hard-boiled crime novel --- the best we can hope for any more in contemporary Christmas stories? 

Not at all! And in the months leading up to Christmas, Madame L will review some of her favorite contemporary Christmas stories.

But the book does do this, which we want Christmas stories to do: It reaffirms the potential for Godly love and human goodness, for love and trust, and for righteous people to help save lost souls.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thanks for the Suggestion

Dear Pricklypear and All Dear Readers,

Thanks for the suggestion you wrote in the comment box, responding to the idea of changing your lifestyle in order to lose weight.

You wrote:
"I just heard about this website that's good if you (1) like the idea of doing something for 21 days to get in the habit of it and (2) check your email every day for checkpoints.
"I haven't tried it myself, I can't decide what my goal should be :)"
Madame L has also read that it takes 21 days (3 weeks) to change a habit, and that it works best if you start one habit at a time, rather than trying to change every habit at once.
Madame L has just signed up with www.habitforge com, so thank you again, Pricklypear. 
Madame L chose the goal of "eating no processed sugar." Madame L chose this goal because she has succeeded at it before, and during the years she was eating no processed sugar she felt healthier in body and spirit than she has felt during the times she was eating sugar.
Madame L wonders if goals should be stated differently, i.e., instead of saying "eating no [whatever]," saying "eating such-and-such things," but Madame L doesn't know how to state this goal in any other way. (Suggestions, Dear Readers?)
If any of you Dear Readers decide to try this, Madame L thinks you'll be impressed at how easy it is. Also, the site promises privacy, whether you decide to keep your goal and progress private or public: "This private information will never be shared with others, even if you 'Share' your goal with other users."
The site sends you messages reminding you of your goals and helping you track them.
Ready, set, go! Wish me luck, Madame L

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Incentive Program

Dear Madame L,

I heard on the news that Pres. Obama's proposals for creating jobs to help the American people has very little chance of succeeding because ... get this:

"The Republicans in Congress have no incentive to help the plan succeed."

No incentive? Not even the welfare of the American people and the economy?

So I'm wondering how we can get our country's economy going again --- or do these people really only care about politics, not about the people who voted them into office?


Unemployed and Anti-Politician

Dear Anti-Politician,

Madame L can't blame you for becoming cynical and even bitter about the lack of responsibility being displayed lately in Congress. Of course you've read about Sen. McConnell (R-KY) proclaiming over and over again that his primary goal, and the primary goal of all Republicans in Congress, is to get Obama out of the White House in 2012. He admits it, proclaims it, is proud of it, while the people of his state endure a 9.5% unemployment rate. And so do all the Republican leaders in the both houses of Congress.

Moving right along, since you already know all about that:

Madame L would like to propose an incentive program for Republicans in both the House and the Senate:

You and I, we, the voters, vote them out of office since they won't take us seriously otherwise. This will take some effort, some time, and some writing of letters.

Madame L has already, for instance, promised her member of Congress that she will do everything she can to vote that person out in 2012. She only did it after repeated calls, letters, and e-mail messages to that person's office brought no meaningful response.

Madame L suggests that you do the same. Here's the information you need, from an earlier post, to get started:

Other things you can do include writing letters to the editor of your local paper, calling in to talk shows to express your views, visiting your representative's and senators' offices in person, and attending meetings of your local Democratic and/or Republican parties (they have monthly meetings and welcome new members).

Please, put your outrage into action by providing your local, state, and national political representatives with strong incentives to do what they are supposed to be doing, instead of wasting their time and our money on political brinkmanship.

God help us all,

Madame L

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Consistently Misinformed

Dear Madame L,

I have a friend who watches Fox News all the time, and repeats to me so-called "news items" that simply can't be true. I don't want to argue with my friend, but I'm getting sick of hearing this stuff. It's not that I believe my local newspaper is completely unbiased, but it reports the news in a completely different way.

How can I get through to my friend while maintaining our friendship?



Dear Flummoxed,

Madame L also has friends, work associates, and relatives who disagree with her political views. These friends and family members include self-described Tea Party members, libertarians, Ron Paul supporters,  federal employees, retirees, recipients of state and federal aid, and so on.

Madame L has observed that many of these people also, like your friend, get most if not all of their views about the current state of the U.S. and the world from Fox News. 

Note that Madame L did not say these friends get their "news," but their "views," from Fox News. This clip from The Daily Show skewers the whole idea of "news" from Fox News:

By the admission of Fox News President Roger Ailes and other executives in the organization, Fox News does not exist to convey news but to purvey propaganda. Its purpose is not to inform but to reinforce stereotypes and to stoke the fears of people who are uninformed.

Madame L simply does not argue these issues with these people. It appears to Madame L that arguing politics with them will simply antagonize them and reduce the life of the friendship. She thinks they're good people even when they disagree with her, and she doesn't think it's her place to try to change their opinions, any more than she appreciates it when they try to get her to change her own opinions.

Would this work for you --- simply avoiding political and other controversial topics? 

If not, maybe you can get your own gospel choir to back you up, as in this Jon Stewart clip:

(Note: The gospel singer and backup choir come in around the 3rd minute. Warning: This hilarious clip includes some vulgarities which, however, have been bleeped out.)

If this doesn't work for you, which Madame L supposes may be the case, can you ask this friend not to bring up issues about which the two of you disagree? If not, Madame L is sorry to say she doesn't have any other suggestions.

Good luck,

Madame L

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Sunday Book Review, September 11, 2011: Thank you, Flight 93 heroes

Dear Readers,

Instead of her usual book review today, Madame L would like to pay tribute to the brave passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, who fought with the terrorist attackers on that flight, resulting in the plane's crashing in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Madame L was at work that day in Washington, D.C., in a building located not too far from the White House. It is thought that the target of that fourth plane was the White House. If not for those passengers, Madame L may have been one of many more thousands of victims of the terror attacks that day.

Thank you.

Also, Madame L thanks the members of the U.S. military who have put themselves in harm's way over and over through our history to protect us.

Madame L hopes all her Dear Readers will read this article, about a female F-16 pilot, Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney, who was ready to give her own life on 9/11 to protect our capital.

From the Washington Post interview:

"Because the surprise attacks were unfolding, in that innocent age, faster than they could arm war planes, Penney and her commanding officer went up to fly their jets straight into a Boeing 757.

“'We wouldn’t be shooting it down. We’d be ramming the aircraft,' Penney recalls of her charge that day. 'I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot.' ,,,

"'The real heroes are the passengers on Flight 93 who were willing to sacrifice themselves,' she said. 'I was just an accidental witness to history.'

"Still, Penney said she would have a hard time forgetting the adrenaline rush she felt that terrible morning. 'I genuinely believed that was going to be the last time I took off,' she said. 'If we did it right, this would be it.'"

Thanks again. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The 2-H Program

Dear Madame L,

I've just read that some Republicans will be boycotting Pres. Obama's speech tonight, the speech where he will unveil some proposals to create jobs and generally get the U.S. economy moving again.

This is after he graciously postponed this speech to let the Republican presidential candidates hold their debate last night. (Not that anyone learned anything new about any of those candidates, not that anyone expected to, and not that there is anything new about any of them anyway.)


What's up with that?

Dear 'Sup,

Madame L ascribes this and other recent behavior of Republican leaders and members of Congress to hypocrisy and hostage-taking.

First H: Hypocrisy: Congressional Republican leaders, office-seeking Republicans, and re-election Republican hopefuls are quick to:

---Point their fingers at the 51% of Americans who "pay  no income tax" while neglecting to mention that they don't earn enough money to pay income tax on, while at the same time...

---Refusing to reinstate pre-Bush tax rates on the wealthy which would add billions of dollars to the budget and hugely reduce our deficit;

---Complain about social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, even calling Social Security "a Ponzi scheme," while at the same time...

---Clamoring for and receiving federal aid for their own districts;

---Accusing Democrats of causing all the economic ills we're suffering right now while at the same time...
---Failing to acknowledge that the budget was balanced until Bush II came into office and gave gigantic tax breaks to wealthy individuals and businesses; and

---Too many more examples to enumerate here.

Second H:  Hostage taking: Using Americans who are suffering through no fault of their own as hostages for  so-called principles of economic reform with no thought for decent principles of humanity.

Please read the article by Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, "Eric and Irene," in which he calls out Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) in particular for suggesting that people whose homes have been flooded will have to wait for relief until someone miraculously finds another place in the federal budget to cut, to make up for disaster relief. 

(This also falls under the label of Hypocrisy, as Cantor was happy to accept federal relief, no economic-budgetary "pay-as-you-go" strings attached, for the people of his district in 2004, after Tropical Storm Gaston struck.)

Threatening to hurt people if your demands aren't meant is the very definition of hostage taking. Cantor, Boehner et al. did this with the budget ceiling crisis (in fact making an ordinary political fact of life into a crisis); they're doing it again with federal disaster relief;

And they're doing it this evening by boycotting Pres. Obama's speech. After boycotting it, they're planning to oppose every single point Obama suggests for turning our economy around and getting people back on their feet. Why? Because they don't care about us, and they're willing to hurt us if they don't get their way. 

Hypocrisy and hostage-taking, the new 2-point program of the Republican Party. 

Makes Madame L want to ask, paraphrasing Joseph Welch's question to Joseph McCarthy, "Have you left no sense of humanity?"

This may sound like the same old broken record, Dear Readers, but YOU and ONLY YOU can change the way the politicians treat us all. Make your voices heard. Write, call, and email them. And then vote.

God bless us all,

Madame L

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Change My Lifestyle? Are you Kidding Me?

Dear Madame Elle,

Do you realize that if you break up the words in your name in between different letters, you get a really funny sounding name? Like this: Mad Am Eel Le.

Wait, that wasn't what I was writing about. I just noticed it when I was typing your name.

Here's what I want to ask: I've been dieting for years now, have read about every diet book that has ever been published, and have lost hundreds of pounds, most of which I've gained back again. So the new trend in diet advice is to tell you to "Change your lifestyle!" 

Which I just can't do any more. I've changed my lifestyle many times in my life, which is how I got to this point. What do I have to do? Move to some other country? Stop socializing with people who eat? What?!?


Frustrated and Still Zaftig

Dear Frustrated,

Madame L feels your pain. She too has read far more diet books than have ever helped her. It's like an addiction in itself, isn't it! 

Of course you gain back weight that you lost by starving yourself, because you can't kep doing that to yourself. You have to lose weight in a way that will let you keep it off. So that's why the nutritionists and diet-book writers tell you to change your lifestyle.

Madame L agrees that this idea, or command, "Change Your Lifestyle!" is intimidating. She suggests that you may be able to change one element for now which will help. 

For example, what if you do stop socializing with people --- wait for it --- who at the moment are eating fast-and-carb-laden meals or big desserts. So you might avoid the All You Can Eat buffets, the desserts at the Death By Chocolate ice cream parlors, and so on. You can still be friends, but get together to do other things. But you've already done that, haven't you?

Another example might be changing your exercise routine. (Because Madame L is pretty sure you're doing plenty of exercise, right?) So try exercising at a different time of the day, breaking your exercise sessions into smaller periods of time throughout the day, doing different exercises on different days so you don't get bored or exercise the same muscles all the time while missing others. And you've already done that, haven't you!
Another example, which has helped Madame L, would be changing your mealtime routines at home. If you've been accustomed to sitting around a table laden with lots of yummy and attractive food while chatting, and if you notice that when you do that you eat more than you would otherwise, you might try clearing the table after everyone has had first helpings, and moving to the living room to chat. If you've already done that, think of some other ways of minimizing the time you spend being tempted by foods.

Another example which has worked for Madame L is ridding the house of tempting  foods. Madame L used to keep chocolate candy on hand just in case she might need it for visitors, only to find that she was eating it herself. Her rule for herself now is to keep chocolate out of the house. 

And this brings up another pitfall for frequent dieters: Madame L read some diet book that suggested that depriving yourself was bad and developing self-control in the face of temptation was good, so that's why she started keeping chocolate around. She eventually realized that even if that tactic worked for that diet-book writer, it was a disaster for herself.

Another tactic that has worked for many people is recording everything you eat. And this really is a big change in lifestyle. You have to discipline yourself to do it. It helps to just write down the foods and amounts, without worrying about counting the calories, so you don't end up feeling guilty and then eating sweets to make yourself feel better, bringing on more guilt, leading to stopping your efforts, and so on.

So, Madame L's advice is to change one element of your lifestyle for now. Try it for 3 weeks. Is it something you can maintain? Is it helping or is it counterproductive? If it seems to help and you think you can add on another new lifestyle change, go for it. 

In this way you may experience a gradual change leading to healthier habits and permanent weight loss. No drastic change required, and lots of love and taking care of yourself.

If any of you Dear Readers have additional suggestions, please comment here or by writing an email message to Madame L at ellemadame [at] gmail [dot] com.

Good luck,

Madame L

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Labor Day!

Dear Madame L,

I don't get it about Labor Day. What are we celebrating, anyway? And who cares? Right now I'm one of the many who make up our huge national unemployment statistic, so Labor Day is just another long boring day in which I can't even go job-hunting and can't afford a steak to barbecue tonight.



Dear Deprived,

Madame L happens to come from a family that benefited from the labor movement.

In fact, her father had --- and kept --- a job for many years only because of the influence of labor unions. (He was somewhat ambivalent about the union he belonged to, but he knew it was the reason he had a decent job.)

Many other workers' lives and livelihoods, as well as the respect afforded them and their standing in their communities, have been saved through the efforts of labor unionists who pushed for reasonable working hours and life-saving working conditions. 

Through the labor movement, for example, teachers have gone from being considered old maids with no life outside their schoolroom to including women and men of all ages, married and unmarried, who take those teaching jobs because they're committed to teaching, not because there's nothing else available for them. 

Through the labor movement, for another example, many more disasters like the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire have been averted, as laws were established to keep workplace doors and entries unlocked and to enforce safety regulations. 

So Madame L celebrates Labor Day by taking a day off from her usual work chores, even though her distinguished husband most often works through most of that day.

Yet Madame L feels your pain! It's hard to celebrate a holiday that doesn't seem to have any bearing on one's personal life, isn't it. 

Madame L suspects that if you knew more about the holiday and the work of the labor movement throughout U.S. history you might begin to appreciate the day. 

According to Wikipedia, Labor Day was first observed by the Central Labor Union of New York, 129 years ago today, on  September 5, 1882. Oregon was the first state to make it an official state holiday, and it was made a federal holiday in 1894. 

This didn't come about easily: It was only after the U.S. military and U.S. Marshalls killed striking workers during the Pullman Strike of 1894 that Pres. Grover Cleveland and the U.S. Congress realized the seriousness of the issue of workers' rights. That wildcat strike was a response to wage reductions imposed when wages were already low and working conditions were deplorable.

If you watch this short movie and listen to the quotes from both sides of the strike, you may be appalled, as Madame L was, to hear the arrogance of the statements by George Pullman, the greed and intolerance that informed his every decision, and the degrading conditions in which the workers labored. 

This is why we still need a strong labor movement! Madame L's reading of the recent news suggests that wealthy business owners would treat workers in exactly the same way the Pullman company treated its workers, minus federal regulations.

And that's what the labor movement is all about: Making a country in which workers are valued for their labor, paid a living wage, and treated humanely.

While Madame L agrees that abuses have occurred in recent years, she deplores the idea that the correct response to those abuses would be to do away with labor unions or to restrict their collective bargaining rights.

So, here's what Madame L celebrates on Labor Day: 

~~~The right to collective bargaining, because no lone worker has the power to stand up to an employer whose greed overcomes humanity

~~~The right to decent wages and working hours, because without the labor movement, we wouldn't have those

~~~The right to one or two days off every week (a weekend!), including a day to worship God

~~~The resulting government laws and agencies which also protect workers' safety and rights, from OSHA to the EEOC, and everything in between

~~~The legacy to our children of a country in which work and workers are valued as much as businesses and wealthy employers

Happy Labor Day!

Madame L

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Sunday Book Review, September 4, 2011: The Naked Mole-Rat Letters

As promised, Madame L has had a chance to read that other book about naked mole rats.

Actually, like the first one, this book isn't as much about naked mole rats as it is about human beings and how they get along with each other...

...which is, perhaps not too surprisingly, something like the way naked mole rats get along with each other.
Oh, yes, the book --- "The Naked Mole-Rat Letters," by Mary Amato --- is for middle-grade readers, which includes, apparently, Madame L and a lot of other adults, too. 

Naked mole rats are not writing letters here, but a young girl whose mother has died is writing email messages to a woman she suspects her dad has fallen in love with. Like many people of any age, she finds it hard to think of her dad falling in love with someone new, so she takes steps to disrupt the relationship, and shenanigans ensue.

Madame L loves the idea of an epistolary novel from the point of view of a 7th-grader. And the author makes it work, makes it believable, makes it funny and tragic from moment to moment, and ensnares the reader in the emotional turmoil so typical of that age.

The book costs $7.95 new from Amazon, and Madame L found listings for several other books by the author. As much as she enjoyed this one, though, and as interesting as the others look, Madame L isn't planning to buy another one. It was all about that serendipitous connection with the naked mole rat in the read-aloud book.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Pulled Over At Night

Dear Madame L,

I just heard about a woman in Malibu, California, who was pulled over late at night on a dark highway. She wasn't sure the person who pulled her over was really a cop (he drove up next to her car and peered in the window before pulling her over, among other things), so she put on her hazard lights and drove slowly about a mile further until she could pull into the parking lot of a store.

Because it was so late at night, the store was closed and the area was dark, so when the officer approached her car she asked if she could drive on to a better-lit area. He informed her that if she attempted to do so he would throw her to the ground and restrain her.

He also fined her $500 in addition to the fine for his original excuse for pulling her over, which was a missing taillight (which she wasn't aware of because she was driving a rental car).

Her experience in court was likewise unfriendly, as the judge ridiculed her and told her that her fears were "irrational" and she was just trying to bring attention to herself.

Have you heard of things like this happening?


Now I'm Worried

Dear Worried,

Madame L has indeed heard of such situations and has found a video about this specific incident that explains the situation very clearly. 

Madame L does not think this woman's fears are irrational, and (possibly predictably, but, oh well!) Madame L believes this woman and all women are right to be fearful of a night-time assault by someone pretending to be a police officer or even by a police officer.

(If you watch all the way to the end of the video, you'll hear some shocking statistics about this. And it doesn't just happen in Malibu, California!)

So: What should you do about it?

Madame L is not an attorney and her advice does not constitute a legal opinion. But self-defense experts say the correct thing to do, if you're in doubt about who is pulling you over, is to drive to a well-populated and/or well-lit area. Still, though, the officer is within his/her rights to issue an additional citation and fine for "failure to yield," and the judge is not incorrect in finding a driver guilty in those circumstances.

Catch-22? Yes, and that's why groups are working throughout the country to get laws changed to make it legal for someone driving late at night to drive on, slowly and with hazard lights flashing, to a safe area before pulling over.

Another suggestion from self-defense experts is to call 9-1-1 on your cell phone, tell the dispatcher your name and where you are, and that a police car is flashing its lights for you to pull over, and request that the dispatcher tell the officer you're driving farther to find a safe place to stop or that the dispatcher send the officer's supervisor to be present when you're pulled over. Madame L thinks these are all great ideas, except for another Catch-22: Pulling out a cell phone to call may be mis-perceived by the officer behind you, too.

One final note from self-defense experts: The attitude of the driver being pulled over is really important. If you're rude and argumentative, the officer may respond in kind. Sad but true. On the other hand, if you try hard to be courteous and respectful to the officer, you will generally be treated respectfully in return.

Stay safe,

Madame L