Monday, July 31, 2006

Book Review: Nickel & Dimed

I originally was going to (attempt to) do a well-crafted review of Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, but if I take the time to that, I’ll never complete it and I’m bad enough at regular blogging anyway.

First the positive:
- Interesting premise: writer decides to try to live on the wages that unskilled workers (waitresses, home/hotel cleaners, department store [Walmart, for instance] clerks) earn to see if she can do it and see if she learns anything in the process.
- She exposes some very unethical (even illegal) employer practices such as withholding a worker’s first paycheck until the second pay period.
- She notes some of the problems experienced by low-wage workers that aren’t (or may not be) experienced at higher levels of employment (e.g., lack of healthcare benefits, being unable to live in an apartment because of cost-prohibitive security deposits, almost universal drug testing as prerequisite to employment, etc.)
- Funny anecdotes about her experiences on “the other side.”
- She appears to have done some outside research besides her own experiences and observations.

Then the negative:
- The reader recognizes immediately that this writer is a liberal, specifically a bleeding-heart socialist. To those of us on the right, this is a red flag: we know what in the end she’ll advocate. Besides, the dreck that comes from that ideology is just annoying.
- She makes comments about the nurturing aspects of smoking that I find vomit-worthy. Part of the whole getting-out-of-poverty thing is making some good choices – continuing an expensive nicotine habit isn’t one of them. Ms. Ehrenreich breezes past this obvious expense and instead philosophizes about it. Gaack.
- Ditto for children. I never buy the whole thing that poor people can’t (read: don’t have the brain-power or self-control to) limit their reproduction. Children are expensive and in having them (in a marriage or not) without thought to all the costs associated with merely keeping them alive, not to mention THEIR future, people are essentially dooming them to the same life and poverty that they currently experience. I mean, if you as a parent don’t have reliable healthcare it’s one thing, but your kids will definitely need it – so why are you jeopardizing their health? Oh, yeah – Medicaid.
- She has a permissive attitude toward drug use – and even admits to “an indiscretion” of that sort during her experiment. She buys and uses products that mask or flush evidence of the drug use. That whole business is not going to lend credibility to your whole argument – whatever the argument is. And drugs are an expense.
- She always has a car (“rent-a-wreck” in her words) during her experiment. Expense. Now, some of the locations she works do demand personal transportation, but she purposely steers clear of big cities with public transportation. Hmm.
- She never tries to coordinate/share living arrangements and pool resources. After all, she DOES have her limits in this experiment!
- The biggest problem with her experiment is that it is just an experiment – she can return to her comfy upper middle class life, while demanding that the government do something about the minimum wage and poverty.

Yeah, I could go on, but you get the general picture. I would give this read a C+ - readable, but there are some reservations.

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Let's make a germ, shall we?

Back in my na├»ve days (not so long ago), I would bring up the topic of bioterrorism at the work lunchroom (ok, it’s more compelling than the latest bottom-feeding “reality” show), and be greeted with the kind of silence and stares reserved for bona fide Martians and the like. I learned to keep my ponderings to myself while at work. No one seemed to think that such things really existed or at least were of any concern to Americans.

Well, the Post today ran this article about artificial virus production. I mean, yoiks. Read it and tell me if you think we all should feel safe and protected in the present world and that I’ve just grown antennae.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Oh, yeah, evidently I left Las Vegas

Yep, I've returned uncorrupted by Vegas. Good thing I don't gamble. Anyhoo, the Wynn Hotel was fabulous, the 120-degree heat was um, HOT but amazingly tolerable without any humidity, The Family (no! not the Cosa Nostra - my inlaws, silly!) was fabulous as was our mini-tour of eatin's around town.

But - now back to reality. Job's in turmoil, sort-of. Don't know about that. Next week is my final exam with the latest class. Whirl-wind class, but interesting & informative, and such a pleasant change from the drudgery and frustration of Chemistry. Never again! So...late August I start a biology class. You just know I'm going to have to buy the latest edition of Campbell's Biology (I have an older edition from an earlier Biology class - weighs a ton, costs a fortune). Really feeling like I need to get serious & save money in a hurry. Uggh.

Well, gotta get some sleep - my new resolution.

Ten Days in Israel - Part II

Hard to believe my mom just returned from Israel a few weeks ago - and then all hell breaks loose there. Well, on some brighter notes than the current events, here's part II of Mom's Ten Days in Israel. Enjoy!

Shalom everyone!

Thursday, June 22 ~ Tel Aviv/Jaffa

Early this morning, we were briefed/lectured while departing for old Jaffa on the places of interest that we were about to visit. More lectures on places of interest in Tel Aviv. We stopped at Rabin Square, the Mann Auditorium, and drove by the Tel Aviv Art Museum, arriving at Rothchild Blvd.

During the afternoon, we visited Independence Hall and relived Ben Gurion's very moving declaration of the State. We also examined the early leader's vision for the Israeli society. Later, we attended an impressive and informative overview of the amazing achievements of the Palmach (an elite Jewish underground striking force, founded in 1941), at the new exposition at the Palmach Museum. Afterwards, we visited the Diaspora Museum. Along the way, the beautiful Mediterranean Sea was breathtaking, to say the least!

Friday, June 23 ~ On the road to Jerusalem...

Firstly this morning, we departed for the Neot Kedumim (Biblical Landscape). We learned about the ecological and ancient agriculture of Biblical Israel, as well as experience workshops. In addition, we also spent the early afternoon in briefings by officials at the JNF (Jewish National Fund) to learn about Israel's reforestation and ecology programs. We even took time out to plant a pine tree in honor or in memory of a loved one and received a certificate for our efforts!

For over a hundred years, the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael/Jewish National Fund (KKL~JNF), has been involved in land reclamation, conservation and development of the Holy Land of Israel.

Their main activities are:

-Afforestation - more than 230 million trees have been planted

-Sustainable and environmental development

-Land preparation for agriculture

-Development of new water resources; 175 reservoires

-Rehabilitation of polluted rivers

-Building bypass roads

-Preparing recreation areas in the forests

-Savannization programs

-Ongoing research & development programs

-Wide range educational activities in Israel and abroad

These activities are made possible by sponsorship from their KKL~JNF friends worldwide for the improvement of the quality of life and the environment for the benefit of the population of Israel.

Now, onward to the Latrun IDF (Israel Defense Forces) Armored Corps center to view/examine the many tanks (Tank Museum at Latrun), and to learn how Israel works to remain on the military cutting edge. Here, the women in the corps do not participate in the actual maneuvers, BUT, must know all parts and information regarding the mechanisms. They do, however, perform such tasks as instruction for new recruits and also serve as tour guides. The regular military does permit women to fully participate in their endeavors.

We continued on to Mini Israel, a small-scaled, very intriguing, life-like replica of the country. We experienced a unique birds-eye view of more than 300 models of different buildings and sites in Israel. To our delight and surprise, we got to meet the architect and engineers of this pain-taking project, and even took photos! We then started back to our hotel, ascending, via Shar Hagai...on the road to Jerusalem.

Last, but definitely not least, we get back to the hotel to prepare for and attend a Shabbat (Sabbath) Dinner. This means "getting on your finest" for a very special occasion!

Shabbat is a religious festive day of rest, and entails ceasing from labor. It starts on Friday afternoon, lasting until Saturday afternoon. At that time at the hotels, all elevators are designated to stop at every floor. However, for the tourists' convenience, a couple of elevators were exempt from this ritual. The kosher meal begins on Friday, after sundown. Before the meal, the ceremony includes blessings, sharing/saying something special aloud with family and friends, breaking bread (challah bread: a sweet, eggy bread, shaped into a braid and covered with a cloth), drinking wine, and toasting each other. A very fine way to end a long day.

To be continued...

Friday, July 14, 2006

Viva Las Vegas

Ok, don't be too sad, but I'm taking off for Vegas in a couple of hours for a week's vaycay. See ya!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ten Days in Israel (part 1)

Some months ago, my mom announced that she was going on a tour through Israel. My first thought was, “couldn’t you choose a somewhat less volatile and dangerous place to vacation?” Actually, I said something like that, but she was undeterred. Good for her. She’s back safe and sound with stories to tell of her very interesting journey. The good blogger in me jumped at the chance to publish some of her tales. And she graciously obliged. Here’s what hope will be the first of several segments on her Ten Days in Israel.
Renee's mom’s Christian bird's eye overview of "The Holy Land experience."

"In the beginning... "

Yes, right from the start, my trip was no ordinary one! In spite of my many flight delays (going and coming [Renee: Mom flew from San Antonio, TX thru NYC to Israel]), luggage "misplacement," having to wear the same clothes for four days (some of the lovely women on the tour came to my rescue, however), I truly had a most enjoyable and memorable ten-day tour experience. This trip was definitely the highlight of my 2006 summer! I don't think anything could possibly top it!

Hopefully, I will share with you and your readers, a day-by-day account, and as much as I can recall of the many fun/wacky/silly-, and some not so silly occurrences.

Ours was an interfaith group, although our very gracious host, Michael Medved, is of the Jewish faith. The Medved tour took us to many wonderful and important Jewish sites, as well as optional Christian tours.

Although, Michael Medved lives and broadcasts his radio talk show from Seattle, Washingon, his father, as well as his brother and family live in Israel. They are all very actively involved in civics and public affairs, as well as enterprising business organizations, etc.

The tour took us to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem New City, Jerusalem Old City, the Dead Sea, Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee, Upper Galilee, Lower Galilee and the Coast Line, Nazareth, and even stayed overnight at a Kibbutz (a communal-type hotel). A very fully-packed trip to say the least!

We visited many historical and holy sites, museums, important buildings, churches and synagogues, excavations, Nasada National Park, The Shaare Zedek Medical Center, a hospital, Jerusalem College of Technology, the Israel Air Force Center Foundation, and we even planted a tree! We also experienced sabbath (Shabbat) dinners, which included their prayers, songs and thanksgivings. All this I will go into more depth about later on in the "series."

I was totally impressed by the bravery of the Israeli people, and their ability to carry on their daily lives. How much they enjoy life, are happy, outgoing, hard-working people, very devotedly religious and God-fearing, often "breaking into song." They're always beautifying and improving their country and I found them to be very friendly, welcoming, and wanting to share their traditions, customs, and way of life with all who will listen. All this, in spite of having to be forever vigilant of their many enemies surrounding them who are trying to obliterate them from the face of the earth.

Another impressive aspect of their society is that because their country is small, most citizens not only have one profession, but two, three or more, taking these responsibilities very seriously and non-complaining, not to mention serving in the military, and doing so with pride! They are for the most part, very well educated and are forever striving for greater achievements.

One of their very absolute resolutions which clearly stands out is: They will always BE! In other words, they will NEVER cease to exist. They are making sure of that! They are working diligently on that every day. Their average birthrate per family is six, and the hospitals that we visited make sure that the moms-to-be are very well cared for and pampered (their words).

To be continued…

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Friday, July 07, 2006

On another positive note... a story a few days ago in the Post about diesel car owners who use used vegetable oil from local restaurants and bars in their cars for fuel. Yeah, they have to buy a converter & yeah that can cost a bundle (depending), but the oil burns cleaner and the best part is - it's free. Businesses have to pay to have it hauled away, so they're happy to supply individuals with it free to take it away. I just love situations like this that 1) are eco-sound, 2) creative alternatives to the usual business (esp. the fuel business), 3) community-centered, 4) show that individuals can do the right thing and 5) strengthen my philosophy of/argument for "mutuality" AKA "symbiosis" (not just for lower animals any more!).

Is self-regulating commerce a dream?

No, actually, it's not. I've had the very best experience ordering from used books. In fact, I just rec'd a large hard-bound book I ordered 3 days ago, and in perfect condition. Not only was the shipping time and condition great, but the book was a steal at just over $4 (that's including shipping). The "magic" of it, if you will, is the buyer feedback. I was lazy about that the first time, but now, I leave feedback every time. Why? Because I depend on the cumulative ratings from others to decide from which bookseller to buy (one usually has a variety to choose from) and buy only from those both with a high rating and who give a description of the product. I'm amazed at how well this system works. I shouldn't be, though, because those folks who really want to sell their books make sure that they make good on the deal. And that's what really counts. Some sellers even email you directly to let you know when they're shipping the item - now that's service!

For those of you who haven't used this service, look for the term "used & new" below the Amazon price (in this ad for the book I bought, it's above the Amazon price and called "best price"). You can browse thru the offerings & decide which one suits you. You can pay by credit card and/or Amazon gift certificates - not just with money orders. Now, I've only bought used books thru this service, but I'd imagine DVDs & CDs operate the same way. I've always appreciated for their excellent service and prices, & this is yet another reason to patronize their site.