Monthly Archives: August 2012

It’s all in context

Sometimes I wonder why politicians ever open their month. The last couple of weeks have been crazy.

First, you have Congressman Todd Akin choking on his own foot over the issue of rape and pregnancy. Now the guy actually thinks he still has a chance to win. That alone shows a degree of political dementia that should disqualify him from the race. And the sad thing, or good thing — depending on your political orientation, is the idiot may cost his own party the White House and control of the Senate.

If you don’t say something stupid yourself, there are plenty of people out there who are more than willing to tell the world that you did. The latest involves Paul Ryan, who, a slew of liberal political bloggers would tell you, described rape as “just another method of conception.”

Shock! Horror! Won’t these Republicans ever learn?

However, when you look at the context of his entire sentence and his entire answer, you can see that his statement was not shocking, and actually wasn’t addressing rape anyway. His statement addressed the question of the “life-status” of an embryo.

 “I’m very proud of my pro-life record. I’ve always adopted the idea that the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life…”

He could have just as easily have said something like “…regardless of how the insemination occurred…”

If you are “pro-choice”, there is plenty in that statement for you to contest. You may disagree with his view on the start of human life, but, in context, it’s difficult to classify that as an unbelievably offensive statement.

Being an equal opportunity critic, let me jump in on the President’s side. He has been famously taken to task for saying that “…if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”

How many people who have expressed shock and dismay have actually read the entire statement and understood what he was trying to say? In context, he was saying that no one works in a vacuum, and that we need to work together to accomplish great things. Not very controversial, is it?

I don’t want to take anything away from someone who has built a successful business. They deserve acclaim. But the President has a point. How many of them benefited from the support offered by society, in general terms like infrastructure and education, but also in specific terms, like tax-breaks, low interest loans, employment services, even the generous commercial lending climate encouraged by the Federal Reserve in the pre-2007 years, and so on.

You can agree or disagree with the President, but again, in context, that is not really a totally outrageous statement.

And we still have two and a half months until the November election. Oh my!

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A two-year old birthday party, a great burger and a pretty good movie

Mrs. Poolman and I had a very nice weekend, at least so far. It’s only Sunday afternoon.

Five Guys stock photo

After a busy week, I slept late on Saturday and then took care of the weekend yard and pool chores. Mrs. P had to run some errands. We went to “Five Guys” for lunch. If you are not familiar, you should know this is a great hamburger place. Giant burgers and tons of fantastic fries. I could eat there every day, but if I did I wouldn’t live long.

Later in the afternoon, we went over to our friends, Lynn and Sam for their twin daughters’  (Helen and Brittany) second birthday party. Fortunately, both Mrs. P and I like little kids, because there were a bunch of them. I don’t think we have been around that many small children since our children were that age. It was fun, and Liz had laid out a great spread of food. Unfortunately, Mrs. P and I had just stuffed ourselves at Five Guys a couple of hours earlier, so we weren’t hungry at all.

The girls enjoyed their cake.

Yum!

We didn’t stay too long. We came home and watched a movie we had rented earlier.

We weren’t quite sure what to expect out of “Mirror, Mirror” starring Julia Roberts, Lily Collins and Nathan Lane. It simply is the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs done a little tongue-in-cheek. It wasn’t Academy Award-winning great, but it was definitely cute. Julia Roberts did a nice job as the evil stepmother and Lily Collins shined as “Snow” (although someone really needed to trim that girl’s eye brows.) Even the dwarfs were pretty cool. The movie didn’t take itself too seriously. On the other hand, it wasn’t so over-the-top farcical that it became stupid. See my account of the latest Three Musketeers movie as an example of a farce that got out of hand.

In summary, it was a light, fun movie that was fun and enjoyable to watch.

Right now it’s Sunday afternoon, and the plan for the rest of the day is to simply “chill out.” We’re doing beer-butt chicken on the grill with various veggies. Mrs. P is planning to make a dessert we saw in the newspaper – grilled peaches with vanilla ice cream and topped with a sweet bourbon glaze. Sounds yummy!

On again, off again

I’m sitting here on my patio on a very nice Sunday afternoon, looking back on a hectic week, but a pleasant weekend.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, we had been planning to host a visit by the state senate higher education committee this week. Since the institute where I work is a unit of the state university system, this was a pretty big deal. Things started to unravel Monday morning, when the committee chair’s legislative assistant started calling around to make sure everyone who said they were going to come was still planning to do so. One senator backed out for medical reasons, and another, local senator started to get wishy-washy about how much of the activities he would be able to attend. This left us with just two confirmed senators, and one of those was local. We consulted with the committee chair, who wouldn’t come right out and say that we should cancel (or at least postpone) the visit, but strongly inferred it. So we spent two days calling and emailing around to make sure everyone got the word.

One concern was a low-country-boil dinner we had planned for Wednesday evening. We had invited a fairly good number of local people. We called and emailed all of those who responded to the RSVP on the invitation. I had a little concern (but not too much) for the roughly half of the invitees who couldn’t be bothered to mark a check on the pre-printed RSVP card and place it in the pre-addressed and pre-stamped return envelope to let us know if they were going to attend or not. (Sorry. That’s still a sore point with me.) We got in touch with many of them, but not all. I half-hoped someone who had not responded showed up for the dinner anyway.

“Oh, gee. Sorry, but we cancelled the dinner. We didn’t know you were coming or we would have called you. Have a nice evening.”

Snark!

Two interesting reads — owls and Indians

I finished two fairly interesting books recently.

The first, I actually listened to as an audiobook. I spend a little over an hour a day commuting to and from work. Local radio is so bad, so usually have an audiobook going. The local library here near my work has a pretty good collection and rents them for 40 cents per day. It’s money well spent.

The audiobook was “Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl” by Stacey O’ Brien.

The title pretty much tells you the story. This is a first-person account of the author’s experience raising and caring for an injured barn owl from infancy to his eventual death at 19 years of age.

I think maybe I was expecting an avian version of “Dewey” the library cat, a fairly light, amusing story of an unusual pet.

Stacey and Wesley

However, O’Brien’s experience raising a wild owl was much more intense. O’Brien and Wesley developed an intimate bond, far beyond what you would expect in a typical human-pet relationship.  O’Brien didn’t just adopt a pet. She entered into a very close relationship in which Wesley viewed her as his life-long mate.

Their story is extremely interesting. Although some of the details of their interaction might make you squirm a little.  I’m glad I read/listened to it and would recommend it highly.

More information on Stacey and Wesley can be found here.

The second book is also non-fiction  – “The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance In Early America” by Scott Weidensaul. The book focuses on the various interactions between Native Americans and the early British settlers from the founding of Jamestown to the French and Indian War. This is not a subject that has received a lot of attention in popular historical literature. I was only partially familiar with much of the material.

The book is well-written and interesting. It was especially fascinating to read the accounts of the colonists and Native Americans in areas where I have lived.

Weidensaul provides a particularly good insight into the lives and thought processes of the Native Americans and the way they attempted to deal with the Europeans. It is vastly different from the popular image of blood-thirsty savages raiding, killing and scalping  that seemed so prevalent on TV and in the movies when I was a child..

My only criticism, if I have one, would be that Weidensaul focuses almost exclusively on the developments in the early English colonies. He glosses over the Spanish. However, the Spanish had been active in Florida and the rest of the Southeast US for a century before John Smith showed up at Jamestown.

That shortcoming aside, I found it to be a very interesting account of a usually-neglected part of American History. It is definitely worth the time and effort.

“Hope Springs” fails to spring

Mrs. Poolman and I went to the movies last Saturday afternoon.  We don’t go to many movies at the theater, mostly because it seems most producers tend to target their films for an audience of middle-school age children.

Mrs. P really wanted to see “Hope Springs” with Tommie Lee Jones and Meryl Streep. This film was definitely not targeted at the adolescent set.  As a matter of fact, we were sitting in the front row, and when I got up to look at the audience when the movie ended, I think we were the youngest people there.

“Hope Springs” is the story of a 60-ish Omaha couple whose marriage has fallen into a stale, repetitive routine. They sleep in separate bedrooms and, as it comes out later, have not made love in four years. Streep drags her husband, Jones, kicking and screaming to Maine for a week of intensive marriage therapy.

The plot from there is predictable. I don’t need to lay it out. Much of the dialogue consisted of clichés you see in the marriage advice columns in women’s magazines.

Some of the scenes were fairly stupid when you think about it. In several scenes, the couple tries to reignite the sexual flame in their relationship, but they can’t seem to figure out how to take their clothes off. I appreciate the director saving us from the sight of pot-bellied Tommie Lee in the buff. But seriously! If you are trying to heat things up in front of the fire, don’t you think you would do it without all the clothes in the way? Oh, well. Maybe that’s just me.

Streep and Jones save the movie from being a total bust. They do a good job with their characters.  It was enjoyable watching them play back and forth with each other. But aside from their interplay, there is not a compelling reason to spend the time and money to see the movie in a theater. If I had the chance to do it again, I’d wait until it comes out on DVD. It’s less expensive, and I can read a book during the slow parts.

Feeling powerless

Oh, my! I don’t think we want to do that again. Mrs. Poolman and I planned a “stock the bar” couples bridal shower for last Saturday evening and it came within a hair of being a disaster. As it was, it was just a nerve wracking fiasco.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we made the mistake of indicating “regrets only” on the printed invitation, and only four people out of 67 invitees called to “regret.” We knew deep in our heart that a fair number of those remaining invitees were not planning to attend, but they either didn’t care enough to call and “regret” or were not properly trained by their mothers in proper social behavior. (A little to snarky? Well, I’m feeling it.)  However, we had no idea how many that would be. When you are planning and buying for a crowd, the difference between, let’s say 30 guests, and 63 guests is significant.

Nonetheless, on Saturday morning, Mrs. P and I got up and started preparing for the 7:30 pm party. I worked mostly outside, while Mrs. P concentrated on the food and inside cleaning. Around 3:30 pm, Mrs. P headed to the grocery store for one last run of supplies, while I finished up a few final details around the house. Then the heavens opened up and dumped around two inches of rain on our house and yard. “No problem” I said to myself. “Better to have it rain now than later in the evening.”

Down comes the rain!

And then the lights went out. Ugh.

A branch had fallen and knocked down a power line down the road. “No problem,” we think. There is plenty of time for them to repair it before the party.  By a 6 pm, prospects were looking dark, in more ways than one. Our daughter, Writer Princes (WP) offered to allow us to move the party to her house, which is about a five-minute drive away. Several members of the groom’s family (for whom we were doing the party) came down to help move coolers of beer, wine, plates of food, etc.

Just as the cars started to pull away, the lights came back on again. We unloaded everything back into the house and five minutes later, the power failed again.  At that point, we decided to just stay where we were and take our chances.

Candlelight isn’t very romantic when it is the only alternative.

The guests began arriving around 7 pm (A half hour early? What is that all about?) and continued straggling in until 8:30 pm. Most of the guests just hung around the back yard and patio. The weather was warm and humid, but at least it didn’t rain again.  The lights finally came back on around 8:45 and we were able to get the couple to open their presents and actually see what they were opening.

Finally the lights (and AC) came back on.

Despite all the angst, I think everyone seemed to have a good time. There was lots of food and lots of beer and wine. We definitely had enough to eat and drink because here is the final tally.

  • Invited – 67
  • Regrets – 4
  • Planned for – 63
  • Actually came – 29
  • No shows/no “regrets” – 34

No. We’re not doing that again.

“Répondez s’il vous plait”…What?

I am involved in planning two social events in the next two weeks and our “invitees” are making me crazy. Why won’t people let us know whether they are going to come to our party or not? This is a basic element of etiquette that seems to have gotten lost over the last decade or two. It is very annoying. RSVP. “Répondez s’il vous plait” What is so difficult about this?

I am planning a work related, casual dinner for a week and a half from now. The invitation list includes university administrators, state legislators, county commissioners and business leaders – in other words, people who should know how to behave in public. The invitations went out two weeks ago with a reply card and a stamped return envelope. All they have to do is print their name, check the appropriate box, and drop it in the mail.  We sent 124 invitations and asked for responses by today. Only about a third of the invitees have troubled themselves to respond.

Mrs. Poolman and I are hosting a couple’s bridal shower for the son of one of our good friends and his fiancé. We told the family we could handle 40 people at our house. They gave us a list of 67 invitees with the assurance that many would not be able to come. My daughter ordered the invitations and had “regrets only” rather than a full RSVP. (When I saw that, I knew we were looking at trouble.) Nonetheless, of the 67 people invited, we have had only six regrets. The party is tomorrow evening. We strongly suspect we will have around 40 people, but we need to be prepared (food and drink) for 61. Maybe that isn’t a break-down in the social system. Maybe all 61 who have not “regretted” will be there. That may overwhelm the infrastructure, especially since rain is predicted which may negate our use of the outside space.

I don’t know why I get worked up over this. I should be used to it by now. I realize not everyone has ever taken the time to read an Emily Post, Amy Vanderbilt or Miss Manners etiquette book. (Of course, I think it should be required reading, but that’s just me.) Past experience has shown us that you will have people who say they are coming, but don’t show up, and those who don’t respond and still show up. Sometimes those balance out, but not always.

For my daughter’s wedding several years ago, we invited a couple. They RSVP’d in the affirmative for themselves and also wrote-in the names of their two adult children who were not invited on the response card. We didn’t make an issue out of it. Then, in the end, none of them came.

While planning a work-related event a couple of years ago, a local business leader called to say he could not make it because his wife, son and daughter-in-law would had already invited him out to dinner for his birthday that night. Then he called back and asked if he could just bring the whole family. Reluctantly, we agreed that would be OK. On the night of the event, he didn’t come…but the rest of the family did. Huh?

I really just need to get over it.