Friday, February 25, 2011

Skip the Cookies

Once again, Jon Carroll touched on something that has long irked me.

So I was walking by a school the other day and there, set up right in front of the administration building, was a woman selling Girl Scout cookies. Her daughter was in class, she explained, and she was just helping out, and did I want a couple of boxes of Thin Mints?

The Girl Scout literature in re: cookies suggests that, in addition to raising money for the organization, cookie sales build teamwork, responsibility and basic financial skills. There's also, in theory, a sense of pride developed when a girl sells enough cookies to win a small prize of some sort.

No word yet on what emotions the girl feels if her mother wins a small prize.

Personally I think what it teaches the girls is how to use cuteness and charm to get what you want (would you buy those cookies at those prices if the local V.F.W. was selling them?) which may be useful to the girls who retain those qualities as they get older, but isn't necessarily a good overall lesson.

Here I must say that the notion of parents helping sell cookies isn't what bugs me. Parents know that if they don't raise money this way, it will come out of their pockets some other way. The Girls Scouts can talk all they want about what selling cookies teaches the girls. What ends up coming through is an old parenting maxim: parents do what they must for their kids, and sometimes the grand ideals take a back seat.

Jon provides an example of what has actually irritated me about this.

The girls launched into their speech, and I said we really didn't like to keep cookies in the house and could I give money instead? Just then, I heard a voice. "The cookies. He needs to buy the cookies."

I peered around and, yes indeed, there was Mom, hissing instructions at her little darling. (I needed to buy the cookies, I later learned, because the points and prizes do not accrue to people who just get cookie-size checks - why this should be I have no idea.)

That tells me that this isn't about supporting the local troop, it's about competition, and selling cookies to support the other people involved in the operation. The Girl Scouts of America can talk about how much of the money stays in the "area", but it doesn't compare with 100% of a direct donation to the local troop.

That Mom lost sight of the real goal, which is to raise money for those kids. Take Jon's donation and put it straight into the troop coffers. Encourage the local troop to work direct donations into the campaign (the health angle is a good one) and have awards for it. Politicians like to blather about local control. Here's a case where it's a good idea.

Optional Activity: the Ultimate Luxury

At last, a chance to enjoy a bit of my vacation, now that I'm at the half-way point, done with the current round of snow-shoveling and waiting for the next, which has been predicted to come tonight into tomorrow. At least we had a bit of melting before the big blast, which took care of all but the largest, here-until-May piles of plowed snow which are now even larger because they occupy the only good places to put it. I don't have any plans that will require getting out early to shovel, so I may be able to look out and say, "I think I'll stay in today." People talk about what they would do if they won the lottery. I think that being able to avoid doing something unpleasant because you don't need to do it is an ultimate luxury.

I also completed the task which served as an excuse to take some time off, sneaking between the snow storms for the quarterly trip to Sioux Falls for the wife's doctor's appointment. I use the singular because efforts to coordinate with other doctors had failed despite three months' effort. (It sounds like the next trip could be more successful, but I'll believe it when we're there.) We also found out that the doctor is leaving, as is her primary physician here (again), which means rebuilding relationships while hoping nothing important falls through the cracks. On a cynically positive note, the way things have gone in the past, having someone new take a fresh look might not be all bad.

Teleconferencing is becoming increasingly available, which is usually a poor substitute for an in-person visit. But since these visits often consist of talking about tests that can be done here (assuming the results are relayed to the doctor, which is far from a given; a test about which I'd written in the past failed to get sent, which is far from the first time, and like the others no one could be persuaded to answer the phone, much less provide an explanation) this is a better-than-nothing solution that reduces the need for what we just went through yesterday. We recently had one, and they tried to replicate the in-person experience by having us spend most of the time waiting while looking at a video feed of an empty chair. But it did get the job done without a day-long road trip and the arrangements necessary to take it.

I know, I did use the trip as an excuse to take some time off. But I go back to that lottery thought, which is that doing something because you like the idea feels more luxurious than doing it because you must.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pledging and Spangling

I had not heard of this objection to the Pledge of Allegiance.

She objects to the phrase "with liberty and justice for all," saying that she doesn't believe that this country provides liberty and justice for all.

The results have been predictable.

Naturally, she's taken a lot of heat for her stand, mostly from people who can't vote for her. Commentators called her unpatriotic. I personally don't believe that patriotism has much to do with reciting rote words in a public setting. The meanest traitor could do that, and it would not improve his character one bit.

I'm reminded of an episode of M*A*S*H in which Dr. Sidney Freedman is accused of being a communist because he didn't sign a loyalty oath. He replied by asking, "If I were a communist, do you think I would have hesitated for a second to sign a loyalty oath?"

Jon Carroll makes an interesting point from this.

Like most Americans, I learned the Pledge in elementary school. I don't recall anyone trying to attach meaning to the words; I just recall having the words drilled into me.

Really, pledging allegiance to a flag sounds rather silly. I know, it's part of a larger loyalty oath to the country. But that larger loyalty is directly expressed in the pledge. So a separate reference to the flag seems a bit odd.

Jon also raises a different-than-usual objection to the words "under God".

Surely everything in the universe is under God, and therefore our nation being under him should merit no specific mention. I learned later that the "under God" line was just a late-arriving tin-eared attempt to hurl monotheistic religiosity into the Pledge, something that its original author, Francis Bellamy, had not thought necessary. Bellamy was a Baptist minister.

Jon also discusses other flag references.

The other obvious symbol of patriotism is the national anthem, which is also very heavily invested in the flag. (Not all national anthems are so flag-heavy.) The national anthem is another thing I learned by rote, and I really was clueless about what it meant for a long time. Turned out, it meant: "Rejoice! Fort McHenry has stood stalwart against the vile British jackboot!" Darned odd when you think about it.

My biggest problem with The Star-Spangled Banner (Spangled? When and how else have you ever heard that word used?) has always been musical. It's hard to sing, and it's truly awful when not done well. Still....

I like the national anthem better than the dreary "God Bless America" - and there's God again, looking down from his heavenly throne, from which he is supposed to both stand beside us and guide us. Well, he's God; he can do that.

I think "America the Beautiful" has better lyrics overall, with references to the country itself rather than to one specific event, although God makes an early appearance in that song as well. You need to get to the fourth verse (yes, there are four) of The Star-Spangled Banner before God shows up.

Perhaps it would be fun to have a contest to write a new national anthem, just to see what people could create. Handle it like American Idol, with regional applications and audience voting. I know the odds are pretty good that it would turn to garbage, and that actually getting a new song approved would likely never happen. (What exactly would the process be? Congressional approval? Something similar to that for Constitutional amendments? The mind boggles.) But it could be entertaining.

Dale, Doug and Jon

At last, a little time to check in on some friends.

I'm sorry to see that Dale at Faith In Honest Doubt is facing the ax. I've been there, and it's tough to put a good spin on the anxiety, the way life gets put on hold. It's easy to say that he'll come through eventually one way or another, but it's best for eventually to be as soon as possible.

Doug Wiken, meanwhile, had a more trivial but quite annoying run-in with Tele-Check. I find his suggestion that this sort of thing might be part of an intentional ruse to ward off checks somewhat plausible. I always find it interesting that many businesses either refuse to take checks or require ID just short of DNA to take one, while they unquestioningly honor a debit card that gets its money from the same account, often without so much as a signature much less any ID. Doug can bring this up during his Presidential campaign, should he decide to run.

Jon Carroll, as usual, makes a statement to which I can relate.

I hate to be right. Well, that's not true; I love to be right. But I hate when the thing I'm right about amounts to a net loss to the public good.

As a fairly consistent pessimist, I can sympathize with that sentiment. One hates to see bad things happen, even if you saw them coming. On the other hand, if things end up turning out better than expected, it takes the edge off being wrong.

Jon also dreams.

I wish I could drive a car the way a highway patrolman does. He's clearly had training. He clearly has a lot of muscle under the hood. Best of all, there's no highway patrol to worry about. Dive for an exit from three lanes over? Go right ahead; no one is going to report you. Drive in the breakdown lane? Go right ahead. Those cars can jump and swivel, striking fear into the hearts of malefactors.

I don't know about California, but here in South Dakota Jon isn't entirely correct about no one to report him, especially in the age of cell phones. If a Highway Patrolman is driving aggressively he'd better have a reason, because someone will call and complain, and contrary to the prevailing cynicism about sweeping such things under the rug, I can say that they take complaints seriously.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Colonial Rift

It seems sectarian tension can develop anywhere.

A judge's ruling to dissolve a Brown County Hutterite colony and sell its assets is being appealed to the state Supreme Court. In November, Judge Jack Von Wald ordered the colony's corporation dissolved with the assets to be sold and distributed to members. During the process, a receiver - Aberdeen attorney Harvey Jewett - has been named to manage Hutterville Colony's financial matters.


In recent years, Hutterville members have lived together on colony property but have split into two groups that have been bickering. Supporters of Johnny Wipf and followers of George Waldner Sr. differ on which branch of the Hutterite religion the colony should follow. Both groups claimed to be the colony's proper leaders.....Wipf and his supporters asked for the colony to be dissolved. Now, Waldner and his backers are appealing the decision.

I was unaware that there is more than one branch. Googling.... the internet is a wonderful thing.

It's allegedly gotten ugly.

Von Wald ruled that the colony's directors were deadlocked and that there was a nearly even split among colony members as to whom they support. Von Wald also ruled that there have been oppressive acts that include Waldner's followers locking gas tanks and buildings that house firefighting equipment to restrict access by Wipf and his backers....Rochelle Sweetman, an attorney representing Wipf's supporters, said during a brief court hearing conducted by telephone Wednesday that the appeal is an attempt by Waldner's group to remain in power and control the colony's $55 million in assets. She said Wipf and his backers are still being denied financial support, including payment of medical bills.

The article notes that they could still patch things up, but....

During the trial, Waldner's attorney had argued that Wipf's group could not be in control of the colony because they had been excommunicated.

That's not a good sign.