Sunday, March 31, 2013

Visitor, Hiding out on Easter Sunday, Whining As Usual

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Dole out those chocolate bunnies, those awesome peeps, the plastic grass that is impossible to pick up! It's Easter, yet another holiday brought to us by the ancient Romans!

But, like so many other holidays, Easter has been co-opted, and not even Sunday School teachers know why it is named "Easter." I never thought to ask that one when I was a kid.

This is the day when many C&E's come out of the woodwork. (C&E stands for "Christmas and Easter," as in the number of times most people attend church in a year.) Needless to say, the fleeting renewed interest in righteous behavior has sent the slacking whiner, Mr. Applegate, into my living room, where he threatens to leave sulfuric residue on the rattan. So I'm yanking him out of there by agreeing to yet another interview. This guy never gets tired of hearing his own voice.

Anne: So what's it today, Applegate?

Applegate: I'm so worried about future generations of Americans! Your children and grandchildren, Anne!

Anne: Why? Are future generations of Americans going to dump you as a worthless relic of a medieval mindset?

Applegate: Of course not! It's that government debt. This huge government debt that your children will have to pay some day. It will take them broke!

Anne: Excuse me, you fire-breathing idiot. My daughters are already broke! One already has enough college loans to pay back that she'll never own a car. The other one is still racking them up by the fistful. Four years of college, honor roll, and The Heir doesn't earn enough to rent an apartment. Tell me when, exactly, I should worry about her being broke. I think it's now.

Applegate: It's going to get worse, I tell you. Worse! Big government spending ... curb it!

Anne: Have you been dining with Dick Cheney again?

Applegate: Every Friday night. He has an excellent chef. And he is deeply worried about future generations of Americans.

Anne: I'll bet he is. *cough*

Applegate: Well, take this minimum wage thing, for instance.

Anne: Don't go there.

Applegate: It should be reduced! How can businesses flourish when they have to pay their employees such high wages?

Anne: Oh, I don't know. Cut hours? Don't offer benefits?

Applegate: Excellent stop-gap measures, but they don't go far enough. Can't you understand? Rich people have worked hard to get where they are! Why should they help the people who don't work hard? It just creates an entitlement society, where the government rubs your feet even when you haven't been standing on them.

Anne: I'll bet Dick Cheney's chef is cooking up a nice Easter feast. Why don't you biff off...

Applegate: Going to. It starts at 7:00. Until then I just want to lay low, if you know what I mean.

Anne: I'm whistling in the wind when I tell you that Dick Cheney and his big-business buddies are greedy villains...

Applegate: Tee hee! That's why I love them so much!

Anne: They want to grab the last dime out of the fossil fuel industry, even though we could be getting our power from green energy sources. You want to worry about the future generations of Americans? Try this one. They will have to deal with global climate change. And genetically engineered food with such a soup of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides in it that even sturdy honeybees keel when they eat it.

(Editorial pause while Anne awkwardly links.

Applegate: Well, now, we don't want famine, do we?

Anne: Famine! So it can only be one of two things -- carcinogenic tomatoes or starvation? How about sensible farming practices? How about an apple that tastes good, worm and all, instead of one that looks good and ships without bruising?

Applegate: Fuss all you like. Genetically engineered food is a done deal, and President Obama signed into law a measure that sees to it that you can't sue if you get cancer.

(Editor pause while Anne awkwardly links.

Anne: Oh, I see the whole thing now! You were behind this, you evil Devil! While everyone was distracted by the Supreme Court debating something that should be a given, you got a sneaky farm bill passed that protects Big Ag as they fix to kill us softly!

Applegate: *studies fingernails happily* The timing was impeccable.

Anne: Well, guess what, Mr. Bad? You've got a new enemy out there. It's called Facebook. Know how I learned of the "Monsanto Protection Act?" I got it in my feed, from a friend. Go ahead. Shut Facebook down. Double dog dare ya.

Applegate: My hackers are working on it. Any day now.

Anne: Oh, look! Easter Mass has just ended at the Catholic church down the block! Yo! Children of the One God! Come and get your damn Devil and banish him back from whence he came!

Applegate: They don't scare me. I dine with their leadership every Tuesday.

Anne: All right, then. Yo! Thor! Mars! Bel! Valkyries! Escort this Devil to the perimeter, and don't be gentle about it!

Applegate: Oh, no no no! Not necessary! There's your neighbor, the lawyer who works for Exxon. I'll go chill with him for awhile!

Anne: "Chill." Oh, brother. Anyway, good riddance of bad rubbish! Someone should lock the door so that Mr. Applegate has to rot in Hell. As for my neighbor -- he's wearing his church clothes. A guy who won't even buy a box of Girl Scout cookies probably spent the morning pretending to pray for the poor. What. A. World.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The New Slavery

I read a newspaper article in the New York Times this week about internships.

Don't ask me to link to it. This is a blog! Let's just say I read something and leave it at that.

Well, I've not only read it, but I'm watching it being played out in the lives of the young people I know. Many businesses, nonprofits, museums, galleries, and especially media outlets, are taking advantage of a free pool of motivated labor: college graduates who can't find jobs.

Oh, the internship! What a great way to get experience you can put on your resume! How can it have a downside to work at the Smithsonian Institute as an intern?

Here's the downside. It's uncompensated labor. The job prospects are so dim for educated people that they have become slaves. They are working long hours, stressful jobs ... for free. Not even living expenses. Many, many kinds of businesses are taking advantage of "internships." Why buy the cow?

What's worse is that most of these internships do not lead to compensated employment ... at least not in the intern's chosen field of endeavor. Basically kids are coming out of college, working for free, and then racking up more educational debt in graduate school. Or they're working as interns and then finding a job somewhere else. Like Home Depot.

I had an internship at a newspaper in Baltimore when I was an undergraduate. I was paid minimum wage. On Friday nights I had to take down the scores and highlight notes for about 30 high school football games. Over the telephone. And all the gods forbid I misspell a name! The next day, Saturday afternoon, would be the racetrack results. These also had to be keyed in by hand.

I published one single story in the newspaper during the eight months I worked there. Then I was told that, as a female, I lacked the qualifications to be a sportswriter. So I quit.

If not for that small paycheck I got for my hours, I would have felt royally played.

The saddest part of this is the fact that interns, once their slavery ends, may never be as happy again in a paying gig. Our economy is so sour that they might never find real work in their professions. I never worked a single day as a journalist after my internship ended, and quite honestly I think I would have been a good sportswriter.

It's easy to say that there ought to be a law. But truthfully, the reality is that colleges are graduating too many people, especially in the creative fields. I don't have an answer for what to do here. I just think it's a shame that my friend's daughter is working at the Smithsonian for free ... for a year ... and then she'll be ... out of a slavery. To make room for another slave.

How long can this last?

Monday, March 25, 2013


When I was about 18, my grandmother started giving her things away. When I would come to visit, she would open her chiffarobe and fish something out -- a vase, a little ceramic dog, a faux Japanese tea set -- and just hand them over. This was very distressing to me. I felt like Grandma's things belonged with her. But she was insistent.

This divesting of stuff didn't make sense to me at 18. It sure makes sense now.

Over the weekend I earned a few extra ducats by helping my friend Celeste run an estate sale. The estate in question was a posh place -- near Princeton, big two-acre lot, heated swimming pool, barn with a two-car garage. The residents of the house had lived there for 48 years and were getting ready to move to South Carolina to be near family.

Both residents, the husband and the wife, were in the house during the sale.

Promptly at 8:30, people started arriving to peruse the kitchen stuff, and the China plate stuff, and the collectible dolls and stamps, and the stuff that sits out on display, and the framed pictures, and the pictures without frames, and the frames without pictures. And the linens, aprons, teddy bears, garden tools, DVDs, VHS, Christmas stuff, Easter stuff, and on and on. Every inch of every table was covered with stuff.

While the "customers" circulated in the house, the elderly couple sat in their den, answering questions as needed. More than one customer wandered into the den, looking for more stuff.

I'm used to thrift store prices, so I thought the stuff was overpriced for bargain-hunters. Sure enough, not much stuff moved out while I was there. And some of the high-ticket items that did go out the door were negotiated to a lower price.

A treadmill that the homeowner bought for $2800 did not sell at $300. The homeowner was baffled.

Celeste has to bring a whole staff with her for these sales. This is because no room can go unsupervised. Otherwise, folks will just palm what they want and saunter out.

I was in charge of the living room, with half an eye on the dining room. The couple were both of Russian ancestry, and they had been to Russia many times. They had beautiful framed prints -- some whimsical, some realistic, some fantastic -- of Russia. Not one of these art works left with a buyer, even though I pointed them out to many browsers.

At the end of the day, after Celeste had totaled up the take and paid those of us who helped, the homeowners got a wad of cash very, very shy of $2,000. The husband in particular looked like a house had fallen on him. Not only was most of his stuff still sitting on tables, he had hardly earned any money for the stuff he did sell.

Free advice: Do not buy collectible dolls. The only person who will ever want them is you. Goes without saying that a used teddy bear is only so much fake fur.

We cleaned up for the homeowners and put away some of the pots and pans that didn't sell. We boxed the fancier stuff for an auctioneer. We left two shell-shocked people, looking at their lives arrayed in cardboard boxes around the floor.

I don't have any grandchildren. Maybe I will some day. Hopefully Heir and Spare will own their own homes in the future. (With college loan debt, it will be awhile before they get to a mortgage.) All I can say is, I sure hope no one in my family needs money worse than they need Grandma's vase. We attach sentimental value to our belongings, and a person without that sentiment isn't interested in having them at eight dollars a pop. Then we feel like our lives have been repudiated by strangers. Who wouldn't want a cute little boy porcelain doll with a conductor's hat and overalls? No one but the person who sat riveted to QVC when the dolly went up on the screen.

My husband is the great accumulator in our home. He likes books. Me, I've always tried to travel lightly. I've got just enough stuff to satisfy grandchildren and Goodwill. May the Gods and Goddesses guard me so that I need never hold an estate sale for any reason, ever and ever, so mote it be.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Delhi 2 Dublin

Have you ever judged something or someone just by a name, and then been pleasantly surprised when your happy prediction proves true? That's how I feel about Delhi 2 Dublin.

When I saw that this band would be performing at FaerieCon two years ago, I thought, "Well. Interesting name. Let's look 'em up." So I checked them out online, and wowsa. Went to FaerieCon to see them, and never had so much fun.

It's hard to describe Delhi 2 Dublin if your principal knowledge of music is in a whole different realm. I can tell you chapter and verse on bluegrass, from Bill Monroe to Trampled by Turtles. But when it comes to Delhi 2 Dublin, I can only say that they will quicken your pulse, and pretty much leave it at that. I do suggest you check them out.

There's one problem with this band. They live in Vancouver, BC. That's a long way from Philadelphia. I despaired of ever seeing D2D live again, because FaerieCon is pricey and not in my neighborhood.

Can't tell you how overjoyed I was to discover that D2D was coming to Philly, and to a dance club convenient to myself and my good pal Nettle. We went, we danced, we had a great time.

Now here is some free advice from an old bluegrass fan. If you like musical groups that don't have boatloads of fans in a particular region, you can actually walk right up and chat up the musicians, and they will be very nice to you. I once had a chummy chat with the legendary John Duffey (may he have found the Summerlands), just because no one else was around to yack with him. Same exact thing happened when Nettle and I went to see Delhi 2 Dublin. Their front man, Sanjay Seran, was just chilling by the stage after the set, and I'm not shy. Lovely chummy chat, delightful guy, and he helpfully translated some of his lyrics for me. (D2D don't always sing in English.)

I have a feeling that this is an up-and-coming group that some day will be fighting their way through throngs of insane fans (never a problem faced by bluegrass musicians until Mumford & Sons). So it was great to see D2D
*in Philadelphia
*in a club
*on the Equinox.

Having recently endured my fourth Residents concert, I cannot tell you how refreshing it was to hear real music, sung by people who don't wear masks and revel in the weirdest shit on the planet.

So hop on over to their site, and turn up the stereo!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pity Poor Us?

I've just finished reading a very interesting book that has made me take a fresh look at my personal philosophy as an individual Pagan, and one general trend in the Pagan community that isn't good for any of us.

Funny thing is, the book isn't about Pagans. It's about Christian martyrs.

In The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom, author Candida Moss takes aim at the treasured stories of pitiful Christians being fed to the lions for Roman entertainment and (not surprisingly) finds more fiction than fact in the earliest martyrdom tales. Roman historical records show a few periods of persecution of Christians (none more than three decades back-to-back), but nothing like the portrait painted in Sunday School classes ... namely, that in those early times, anyone who dared worship Jesus was putting his or her neck in the noose.

The one thing that early Christians did do was coin the term "martyr." It has Latin roots as a legal term. But in terms of dying for their beliefs ... Christians sure weren't the first ones to do that.

I was always skeptical of the whole "Christians in the arena" thing, even back in my Sunday School days. The Romans were highly successful at wiping out perceived political opponents. If Rome had felt threatened by Peter and Paul and their followers, there would indeed have been a systematic round-up and extermination of the sect. Dr. Moss's book notes two cases where Roman authorities wiped out religious leaders wholesale. One was the cult of Bacchus in 186 C.E. The other, lasting longer but almost as completely ... the Druids.

There wouldn't be much point in writing a book that sets a historical record straight and stops there. The bigger point is how a myth of persecution warps a praise and worship team, making it view the world in the most stark black-and-white terms. Either you're one of us, or you want to destroy us. No wiggle room. And it is this feeling that the world wants to destroy them (and by the world, they mean the world as run by the Devil) that has inclined Christians to admire martyrs and, in some cases, to become martyrs themselves.

There are important lessons to take from The Myth of Persecution. One is that it is important to understand the difference between a perceived threat and a really dangerous situation. I stand accused that I have sometimes pictured a world where radical Christians try to wipe out Wiccans. This is not consistent with the world we live in today. The vast majority of modern Christians are tolerant of Pagan faiths, as the majority of polytheist Romans were generally tolerant of early Christians. It is our responsibility as sensible people to keep Pagan thought from veering into hyperbolic "they're out to burn us" thinking.

And the ball is in our court, folks. I don't think it is necessary for us to forget and bury those who were persecuted and killed for witchcraft. But it is important for us not to define ourselves by that history. The "New" part of "New Age" gives us the opportunity to look for wrong turns made by the major faith paths, in order to avoid the kind of thinking and behavior that leads to dogmatic dysfunction.

The story of the first 400 years of the Christian religion, as examined in books like The Myth of Persecution stand as a good cautionary tale for how not to construct a world religion. Sectarian infighting, undisciplined discourse, paranoia, and an establishment of orthodoxy -- all of these are pitfalls that Pagans can identify and avoid before the ball of victimhood gets rolling.

Dr. Moss wrote The Myth of Persecution to take the Religious Right to task for their claim that they are being persecuted in today's society the way their martyred Christian forebears were in Rome. The deeper message comes through to practitioners of Pagan faiths: Don't buy into the martyrdom complex. It's dramatic, exciting, even romantic -- but it doesn't mature into a healthy praise and worship practice.

Books like The Myth of Persecution show us how perfectly good furniture gets ruinously stained for all the wrong, infuriatingly human reasons.  So my Equinox/Eostre/Alban Eiler challenge to you is this. Light a candle and pray a blessing upon all the good and true people who worship the busy god. They mean us no harm. To believe otherwise is to set our religions on a path to the same kind of orthodoxy we're so determined to escape.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Big Plus for New Age Religions

I've been doing some reading in the past few weeks about the beginnings and spread of Christianity, and it sure makes me glad to be alive in modern times. First of all, many of us are more comfortable with other faiths and philosophies these days ... but more importantly, our dissemination of information is so much better.

If the only way you learn something is to have it told to you orally, and then you travel around and tell it to other people who filter it through their own existing belief system, the whole praise and worship thing becomes muddy as Hell in no time flat. Now we have idiotic blabbermouths like me highly enlightened and educated writers who help keep the good ideas flowing, and allowing the free-flow of existing belief systems to be part of the process.

They say that New Age religion is wishy-washy because our deities are whatever we want them to be. Honestly, you could sure say the same thing about Jesus in the first 300-400 years of Christianity.

As far as Druidism goes, I for one am glad that there is a gulf between what we know about the Celts and what we practice as Druids today. A religion goes south for me when it demands a dogmatic "them or us" mentality, an "ours is the only way" philosophy, or a "we HAVE to do it like this" practice. What works and makes sense to certain generations of people, at certain historical moments, will not work as well at other times and historical moments.

The whole point of "The Gods Are Bored" is to be a member of the chorus of voices calling for religious tolerance, cultural understanding, and the ability to evolve beyond the practices of yester-era. We think Christians have always done things the way they do them now because there's been little change in a long time. But at first there was a wide variety of beliefs and practices, all with their charms.

New Agers (silly term!), let's establish one novelty. Let's allow people to say, "I don't do it that way ... I don't see it that way ... I don't agree ... That's not what I was taught ..." without judgment or approbation. You know when something should be written in stone? When it's interred in a grave.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Holidays that Are Not Celebrated by the Bored Gods

Hello and welcome from "The Gods Are Bored!" Sitting here sober on March 15, because this day is one of several holidays that are not sanctioned by the bored gods.

You cannot find a single bored deity in any pantheon who has a good word to say about St. Patrick. From what I can tell, Patrick was as successful as Moses. He started out as a slave in Ireland, wound up bringing in the busy god and spreading Him far and wide in the Emerald Isle. The element of revenge in his Christianization of Ireland is lost on both Christians and Pagans. And let's not sugar-coat the Pagans. If the Celtic Irish had treated St. Patty better, maybe he would have taken Brighid to the monks on the mainland.

Long story short, the bored gods have asked me to pass along this list of holidays that They do not observe:

1. St. Patrick's Day. Wear green because it's becoming spring outside, not because of some saint who routed a whole pantheon of deities.

2. Sweetest Day. Okay, if you're not from the Midwest, you don't celebrate this one anyway. If you are from Cleveland, rock on with Sweetest -- just don't invite the bored gods.

3. Buzzard Day (observed this weekend in Hinckley, Ohio): vulture worship only

4. Fourth of July. Unless we can muster more respect for the Goddess Columbia, this one's a bust.

5. President's Day. Bored deities who work in retail hate this one. Extra hours and busy aisles ... not very holy.

6. Columbus Day. Soundly and widely detested by numerous Western Hemisphere deities of multiple pantheons.

7. VJ and VE Days. Oh, wait. We don't celebrate those anymore. How soon we forget!

8. Boxing Day, even if it is a very good idea.

9. Spring Break. You can't fool the bored gods. They know this one was created for the Florida tourism industry. Spring is planting season!

10. Super Bowl Sunday. Minimal appeal to a few warrior gods, otherwise a bust.

If you feel like celebrating on any of these days, feel free. Just don't expect any celestial participation.

And, as usual, I will pay you to take this free advice, because that's how the economy works. Send me an invoice.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Newcomer to The Gods Are Bored

Well, it's official. We at The Gods Are Bored will soon take in another young lady under our roof. She is a student from a northern province in China, attending the local parochial school.

So picture this my lieblings:

A Druid, helping an atheist Chinese student with her Religion homework.

And that is my laugh for today.

PS - as I already have an Heir and a Spare, I will call her The Extra Chair.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

X Treme Navel Gaze: Heir and Spare

I have become forgetful. I lose things. I'm not even blaming the faeries anymore. They no longer plague me, because they see they will no longer stand accused.

Therefore I am recording the text of my birthday cards from the Heir and the Spare here on TGAB, where they will never become lost ... unless the whole Internet explodes into a cyber black hole.

Birthday Card Text #!: The Heir

"You are a very special part of my universe." -- True!

I love you with all my heart. Continue to stay strong. Embrace peace and take care of yourself. Love yourself as much as I love you. Remember how much you are loved and take pleasure in knowing this. I wish you the best. Much love and peace on your birthday. 
Love forever,

Birthday Card Text #2: The Spare
(Front of hand-drawn card, a vulture sitting on a birthday cake: "This cake is to sweet, just like you!"

Dearest Momma J,
You are incredibly weird, quirky, strange and silly and I wouldn't want you to be any other way. Of all the mothers I have ever had you are by far my favorite. So much of me is a direct result of you. People always ask me how I got the imagination I have and I always answer, it's because my mothers a nut, but a lovable nut ... like an almond or a pistachio. You are beautiful, kind & nutrituring (I know I spelled that wrong. blame my editor). I am so proud of all the wonderful things you do with your life (though you may think otherwise, you dummy). You are the strongest person I know, which is why your my role model (screw Tina Fey, my mom is cooler anyway).
HAPPY Birthday!
Your daughter The Spare & Beta

Any tiger mom who would fling these sentiments back at the writers because of misspellings or brevity should not be allowed to nutriture a child.

Post-Birthday Navel Gaze: Heir and Spare

I've lost a follower! I've lost a follower! Oh, what am I doing wrong? *wringing hands*

Quick, friends, shoot me some more followers so I don't melt down!

Over the weekend I didn't celebrate because the number is distressing celebrated a birthday. At my age these things are really no big deal. But I have two daughters who are young enough to be consumed by the whole notion of birthdays and their importance.

Both the Heir and the Spare wrote me personal notes that spoke of their love for me and what I have done to make them better people. Spare likes my goofiness. She thinks it has sparked her interest in comedy and has filled her imagination with ideas. Heir hopes I'm at peace and relaxed, I deserve the very best of everything because I'm such a great mom.

Folks, my own mother suffered from a dreadful case of bipolar disorder. She was not what anyone would call a mother at all. So it's 100 percent more rewarding to me that my daughters like my parenting. I was flying by the seat of my pants through their whole growing up. The only thing I knew to do was not to raise them the way I was raised.

1. No forced eating of food they didn't want to try. Can't tell you how often I vomited up cottage cheese as a kid.
2. No set bedtimes if there was something special going on.
3. No music lessons! Music lessons, in my childhood, were simply captivity under the brutal heavy hand of a taskmistress who couldn't even play an instrument herself.
4. No all-consuming self-centeredness (which, admittedly, is a symptom of bipolar disorder and therefore hard to control).
5. No choosing their clothing, friends, or boyfriends ... attire guidelines only as needed.

I could go on and on.

Instead... navel gaze ...

On Monday afternoon, Spare and I took a walk in the park. Spare had her IPhone and her camera. She used the first item to geo-cache, which I loved (put that seaglass to use)! She used the other to photograph a stunning wood duck and his mate. And a cluster of little yellow flowers. And a cluster of crocuses. And a cluster of snow drops. I have given birth to my own grandfather ... all he did was photograph flowers!

We had such a nice time together on our short walk.

Not neglecting the Heir, but she's working so hard these days. But I will say that Monday afternoon, when I got home from work and she came out the back door, my heart just leaped with joy to see her.

I was a very reluctant mother. I thought I would botch the job completely. I guess I did something right. It started with love.

PS - Spare's cooking dinner every night this week. Call ahead for reservations, because her cuisine is very popular!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

International Goddess Day

Oh, what a beautiful morning, with just a hint of spring in the air! The sun is shining, and the birds are beginning to peep out their love songs. And I, dear readers, am another 365 days older. I feel good, though. The secret to long life is to never act your age.

I'm hearing some rumblings about International Women's Day. Why stop at mortals? Let's call it International Goddess Day!
Recognizing that human beings perceive Higher Powers to have human forms and traits, it really amazes me that so many world religions hinge on male-only deities. The Divine Male is great, don't get me wrong, but at the very least He ought to share His seat with a Divine Female who is His equal.

Having been present at some really contentious D.A.R. meetings, where shrill blue-haired ladies hotly debated the disposition of valuable China plates, I can't say for sure that matriarchal rule in the apparent world would be any better than patriarchy. We don't really have a modern model (at least that I know of), because even where great women are elected to high office, the prevailing government is male-dominated.

The bored Goddesses we know anything specific about don't give us much clue, either. Some are gentle and nurturing, some are powerful and war-like, some are cunning, and some are sexy. Oh, there go those human traits again!

Speaking only for myself, I had no religious role model growing up. Protestants don't give the time of day to the Blessed Mother. It was only after I married a lapsed Catholic and heard his mother and grandmother praying that the idea of Divine Female even occurred to me. But that's how I began my search for the bored gods -- by looking for the Divine Female. What a joy to find so many, both named and nameless, stretching into the very dawn of our species!

Set aside an offering for your Goddess today. Help Her to be less bored. I'll handle all the Unknown Goddesses on this end. All hail each and every one of them, so might it be.


Thursday, March 07, 2013

Chris Christie's School Reforms Are a Disaster for Taxpayers

Well, I bet I earn a few stray views from non-regulars with that headline, huh?

If you're here because you think Chris Christie's so-called school "reforms" are a sham and a mockery, welcome! Here's a little tidbit of evidence that New Jersey's governor, hailed nationwide for trying to wrench aging teachers out of the classroom, is costing taxpayers more money than he will save.

This week, the Board of Education of Haddonfield, New Jersey passed its school budget for 2013-14. In New Jersey, municipalities (not counties) pay for the public schools. Haddonfield is a high-rent district that receives minimal support from New Jersey state government.

The school superintendent, when explaining the inflated budget number, said that the district would have to hire a new administrator at $75,000 per year to comply with the new state evaluation system for teachers.

That's $75,000 that the residents of Haddonfield have to pony up. This figure was not in last year's budget, because the administrator was not needed until Christie's evaluation models had to be implemented.

*99 percent of all Haddonfield students go to college.
*Haddonfield students earn the highest average SAT scores in Camden County. (Last June, 1,714. Source: Haddonfield Sun)

So the taxpayers of Haddonfield have to pay an evaluator to tell them ... what? That the teachers are "proficient?"

You know who evaluates the teachers in Haddonfield constantly, relentlessly, and candidly? The parents. There's absolutely no need for a $75,000 bozo in a tie (or heels). Nevertheless, the citizens of Haddonfield must pay this person, and the person must evaluate Haddonfield's teachers the way Christie wants it -- four times a year, twice formally and twice informally.

For those of you in other states, let me just add that all New Jersey administrators must be trained in the new evaluation techniques. This training brings highly-paid consultants into the state to lead lengthy seminars that will consume the time and energy of people who already know how to judge good and bad teachers.

All of this to root out a few ineffective educators.

Haddonfield, if you vote for Chris Christie, he'll fleece you for more needless bureaucracy in your schools. You know the schools I'm talking about. The ones that are falling apart at the seams and are filthy because the janitorial staff has been cut back.

Whose money is Chris Christie saving? Not mine. I live in Haddonfield, and I just hired a new nobody instead of giving the terrific teachers a raise.

Can I make a bold, reform-based suggestion? Let's find an evaluator to look at Chris Christie four times a year. Twice formally, twice informally. Is he proficient?

Monday, March 04, 2013

Troll, the Reformer

Once upon a time there was a little village of faeries. The vast majority of the faeries were good faeries, although they all felt they worked too hard and weren't very appreciated by the gnomes who ran the show. A tiny minority of the faeries were bad faeries who weren't afraid to be bad because they had been in the village so long they knew the gnomes could not chase them away. One of the main duties of all these faeries was being sure there were enough hardy ladybugs to keep the aphid population low.

One day a huge, enormous, really really enormous troll took over the village of the faeries. This troll decided that, no matter how long a faerie had lived in the village, that faerie should not be protected from being expelled by the gnomes. Even though the ladybugs were doing all right with the aphids, the troll thought the bad faeries should go, because the bad faeries were costing too much money in upkeep.

The troll devised a plan. All the gnomes would be carefully trained to watch and evaluate each and every faerie, good and bad.

The system of evaluation was difficult for the gnomes to learn, so the troll had to pay for training. Then the faeries said it wasn't fair that the gnomes knew how to get rid of the faeries, but the faeries didn't know enough about what to do to protect themselves. So the troll had to pay to have the faeries trained as well.

The faeries were to be judged for 88 criteria in a mere 40 minutes four times a year by a trained team of two gnomes. But each team of gnomes got assigned 40 faeries apiece. Now, that was more judging than a pie-taster at a state fair!

The gnomes told the troll that they couldn't spend 40 minutes, four times a year with 40 different faeries and expect to cover all 88 criteria. So the troll told the gnomes to make two of the visits short and just write down whatever they saw the faeries doing wrong.

Even the best of the good faeries looked at this and felt like they didn't have a chance of keeping their homes in the village.

Morale became very low among the faeries. Where they once worked together, they now competed to get the best judging scores. Whatever it took to impress the gnomes, they did ... never mind if it was in the best interest of the ladybugs.

Before the troll assigned the gnomes to this judging thing, the gnomes had other duties. They kept the village clean and made sure all the ladybugs behaved themselves. But once the gnomes got caught up in the judging, they didn't have time to mind the ladybugs' behavior. No surprise, the ladybugs ran amok, causing havoc.

The troll, seeing that the ladybugs were running amok, blamed the faeries. The troll hired more gnomes for training and judging but didn't do anything about the ladybugs.

Then the ladybugs found out that part of the judging of the faeries had to do with how the faeries treated the ladybugs' parents. Every ladybug who had ever had a problem with a faerie went home and told their parents to speak to the gnomes right away. Parent ladybugs swamped the village with complaints, and the gnomes took note.

Pretty soon, every faerie in the village was judged to be a bad faerie, or at very least, a mediocre faerie. The gnomes were worn to a frazzle from the judging, and the ladybugs ran the show.

The troll looked at all he had done and patted himself on the back. He would go down in history as a reformer of bad faeries. And once all the judging began, wow! Almost all the faeries turned out to be bad!

When the ladybugs' parents saw how many bad faeries were out there in the village, they petitioned the troll to find a new way to get their offspring ready to deal with the aphids. So the troll hired his best friend to build a private training center where ladybugs could go outside the village. Of course the troll's friend didn't know much about ladybugs ... but gosh, look at all those bad faeries!

It took quite a few years before the ladybug parents discovered that they had paid a lot of money to a bunch of gnomes to watch the faeries, and a lot of money to the troll's friend for a private center, and none of it made the ladybugs any better at catching aphids.

But by the time the ladybug parents got wise, the faeries had all left for a better village, one that was free of trolls, gnomes, and ladybugs.

Happy ending! Only in fairy tales.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Virtual Vulture Festival 2013!

From humble origins in a small train station ...
Came the renowned and highly original
Dedicated to the most fantastic and singular bird,
The vulture!

With its kicky motto
A festival was born.

This unparalleled event not only celebrated the visitation of hundreds of vultures to a small New Jersey hamlet,
It also raised thousands of dollars for nature clubs, children's education, and otherwise sprucing up the wild spots in the town!

The festival reached its apex of popularity around 2009, with sacred vulture dances
(featuring our friend the Monkey Man, second from right...)

And a fan favorite at every festival was the peerless mascot, Buzzy!
The people attending the festival thought Buzzy was just a cute, big bird. But underneath all that paper mache and layers of old polyester was a Shaman who felt it her religious duty to don the attire of the Sacred Thunderbird.

Of course, this sense of the sacred did not detract from the fun.

Worship of the Sacred Thunderbird spans history and cultures in the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. An archeological excavation 10,000 years old revealed that the Zawi Chami people of what is now Iraq dressed in vulture feathers for their rituals. In ancient Egypt, Vulture guarded the Pharaoh's children, and the bored Goddess Maat is pictured with the wings of a vulture.
In both African and Native American traditions, Vulture has interceded on behalf of the human race during times when the Gods were angry. The Goddess Oshun was said to have taken the shape of a vulture and flown toward the sun to end a famine.

But back to being silly:

It's doubtful that this raccoon will get well. What's more likely is that, before it starts stinking up the joint, a kindly and gentle vulture (or several) will dispose of it by eating it right down to the bones. Let's celebrate this wise custodianship of our planet!
I love faeries
and the Monkey Man
and those Pillsbury hot rolls with the orange icing.

I love drumming
and Polish Mountain
and cats that look like Hitler.

I love parades
and puns
and the art work of Thalia Took
But most of all, I love vultures. This is no recent thing, readers. I've loved vultures my whole life.
Whether whimsical like Floppy
Or spooky like my good friend Clem,

Vultures are the best the world has to offer.

If you see one this weekend, give it a howdy and a hearty handshake. If anyone stares, who the hell cares?


Artwork by ancient Egyptians, unknown hillbillies, and Thalia Took; some buzzard photos by Bird Chick and Shelly Castorino.