Thursday, April 25, 2013

World Malaria Day

World Malaria Day is easy for me to remember. It's also my husband's birthday. It was my dad's birthday, and today is the one year birthday of a friend's son. I don't know what it means that they were all born on World Malaria Day, but stay safe, guys. Oh, and click below if you want to donate to the cause.

  Roll Back Malaria
World Malaria Day 2009

That button says you can click on it, but it doesn't seem to work, so go here: 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How I Became a Vampire

There is an Internet message board of which I am a member, but I hadn’t posted on it for at least a year and probably hadn’t read it for at least 6 months. For some reason, I wandered on in a month or so ago, read several threads, and made one or two posts. Like Persephone with the pomegranate or Snow White with the apple, I sealed my fate. Only in my case, I became a vampire.

I should go back and explain. This message board was started by a group of former members of another message board, when the first one banned a large portion of their membership for protesting the banning of one of the administrators. Any discussion of the situation became grounds for a ban. In reaction, the group that started the second board wanted a freer format, in which administrators would be chosen by vote and could be recalled by vote; and in which discussions regarding banning or disciplining members would be made openly and subject to appeal. Appeals are heard by a committee of five members, chosen from among any members who had posted in the previous month.

So shortly after I posted, I got a private message from an administrator asking if I would be willing to serve on an appeals committee for a member who had just been given an indefinite suspension. Since I have time on my hands since I retired, I saw no reason not to.

In following links and reading some threads in preparation for the appeal, I saw references to such committees as a COU and sometimes a COV. Before I had to break down and ask, I finally saw COU spelled out as Council of Umpires. Okay, that made sense, but what was a COV? 

Well, due to the board’s transparency requirements, appeals threads were available for all members to read, but only administrators, the member making the appeal, and COU members can post in them. So there are parallel “peanut gallery” threads in which members who are following along can post. Some of these members had renamed the Councils of Umpires “the Coven of Vampires.” That, dear reader, is how I became a vampire.

You will notice I have not named the board in question. While we haven’t been told specifically not to share details of the appeal on blog posts, I feel bound not to share too many of the particulars, especially as violation of privacy is one of the issues in the appeal. Let’s just say that the last time I dealt with this much finger pointing, it was before I retired and I was dealing with eight year olds.

It’s not such a stretch getting from “Umpire” to “Vampire”. The “f” in the word “of” is really pronounced like a “v”. Elide the words “of” and “umpire” and you get “of Vumpires”. Then all you have to do is shift the vowel represented by “u” two steps on the vowel circle, and there you are. Analyzing the pattern of such changes in children’s speech is what I used to do in my former life.

We often speak of rules in speech and language. For instance, there is a rule that the morpheme “ed” which indicates past tense is pronounced like “t” when it follows a voiceless consonant; i.e., “washed” is pronounced “washt”. This isn’t a rule in the sense of the rules that people make up, like curfews and dress codes. This is a rule in the sense of an observed regularity, like mathematical rules. It can change as speech patterns change. I’ve written before about the distinction between two types of laws, legal and scientific. The word rule has parallel meanings.

And this gets us back to my stint as a vampire. What our committee needs to decide is whether the member in question, did in fact break the board rules regarding harassing another member. It has been fairly pointed out that the rules as written are vague. I think the problem does not lie with the people who wrote the rules. I think the problem is that while there are rules we follow in distinguishing harassment from mutually acceptable teasing and the occasional angry statement, these are rules in the scientific sense, not in the legal sense. We don’t make those rules, anymore than we pass the law of gravity. We try to tease them out from a mass of behavior and make them explicit, and that is a task that is not easy to do.

You can go into any high school in the country and hear students insulting each other. Listen long enough and you can tell which are the acceptable insults that create bonding between friends and which are bullying, meant to demean the target and not indicate, “I love ya, man.” There will be gray areas, sure, but the ends of the continuum are easy to distinguish. 

What is not easy is to write a set of guidelines that outlaws bullying without including the kind of joshing, teasing and horseplay that nobody objects to. It’s not that the difference isn’t there. It’s that we process the information that lets us tell which is which in the non-verbal areas of our brain. My brother-in-law calls this the Grandmother Principal. “How do you know that’s your grandmother?” “What do you mean? I’ve known her since I was a child. I see her everyday. She looks like my grandmother.” You don’t go through a verbal checklist to determine that’s Grandma; you know her when you see her.

I need to make clear at this point that I am not against making rules, in the sense of person-made rules, against bullying and harassment. Not everyone intuits the unspoken social rules against such things, or is willing to obey them, or comes from the same sub-culture that obeys the same rules. Some things need to be spelled out for everyone, even if spelling things out is difficult. 

But the problem we vampires are having in our little committee, council, or coven has to do with the two different meanings of rules. The person who has been suspended may not have broken the formal board rules, which are vague; but that person, as practically everyone can see, breaks the unlegislated, intuited social rules all the time, and either can’t or doesn’t want to see when we try to explain the difference between hir behavior and the everyday shit-talking that goes on in a lot of the threads. Some people have prosopagnosia and just can’t recognize Grandma.

So it’s difficult for me to know what to do. A strict interpretation of the rules as written would lead to overturning the suspension, until the next time this person crosses the line. A different understanding of rules, in the sense of the rules we intuit from the way people actually behave, prompts me to uphold the suspension, but doing that isn’t allowed under the rules as written.

It isn’t easy being a vampire. Or the vampire’s Grandma.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Good-bye, Old Friend

After advertising my old Mustang for a week with no inquiries, my husband decided to follow up on some ads for CarMax he had seen that promised they buy old cars. When I say, “follow up on”, I mean he told me to call them. The promise that he would sell the old car seemed forgotten. I looked up information on the web and discovered we could bring Car in with no appointment and get a price quote that was good for 7 days. So last Friday that is what we did. 

I thought John had set the asking price for Car too high, and that that was why we didn't receive any calls. I wasn’t expecting much of an offer from CarMax, but I was willing to accept anything in order to restore some semblance of order to the carport and driveway. After all, any money we got for the car was going into the fund for John’s new car. If John was happy, I was happy.

The offer we got was about half of what I would have listed the car for and 2/3 of what I thought we’d have to settle for. It was also about 1/3 of what John had been asking. (Have fun, algebra fans.) We drove back home to give it some thought. John finally decided that it was not worth his time to keep trying to sell the car on his own and that we should take the offer.

So today I drove Car for the last time, with John following me to give me a ride back home. It was actually perfect convertible weather, and I thought about putting the top down, but I was afraid I wouldn’t get it back up again when I got there. I was also afraid I would forget that I needed to use the clutch, but old habits die hard. It only took about 20 minutes to complete the paperwork, and Car wasn’t mine anymore.

Since it is over ten years old, the Mustang is going to an auction in Houston instead of being put on the lot. I hope someone who wants the pleasure of fixing up an older vehicle buys it. It’s really not in bad shape for a car its age: low mileage, the exterior and interior are in good condition, it runs well, and the last place I took it to for repairs found less than $1,000 worth of recommended work to be done on it. It could be put back in tip-top condition for less than the price of a new car. I would have tried to talk John into that solution, too, if it weren’t that the clutch is hard on my problematic left foot.

Meantime, I really am enjoying my new car far more than I expected.  I don’t talk to it, but I have been trying to find it a name. I thought it had come from a dealership in Alexandria, and I thought about Alex, but while filing the paperwork I saw that it actually came from Slidell. Della was the name that came to mind, but I don’t actually like the name Della. So now the car is April. Not only did I buy it in April, but I bought its predecessor in April all those years ago.

So goodbye, old friend. You were fun, and reliable, and pretty and strong. Not a bad combination for a friend when you think about it.

With the top down, on our way to Santa Fe one summer. I drove along the old Route 66 as much as I could.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


My husband thinks I am a goddess. At the very least, he thinks that I have magical powers, and who but a goddess would have those?

I guess the first magical power is not so much a magical power as it is a magical device. What looks to you and me like an ordinary purse is really, in his eyes, an anti-gravity device. Any object of his that he finds it inconvenient to carry magically ceases to weigh anything once it is tucked into my purse. Of course, to me it feels like it weighs something, but once his glasses, bug spray, recent purchase or other item is in my purse, it doesn’t weigh anything to him any more. We goddesses are magical that way.

My second magical power is the ability to stretch time to infinite limits. That is why even when I have notes on the whiteboard in the kitchen saying “doctor appointment, 10:30 AM”, “haircut and color at one”, or “walking with D at the mall”, hubby finds it perfectly reasonable to add two or three chores to my schedule. Actually, I’m not sure he thinks of it in terms of adding chores to my schedule. I don’t think he realizes I have a schedule. He doesn’t think I have a schedule despite my telling him what is on my schedule.

And that brings us to my next magical power: mind erasure. I can erase any information from his mind by the simple act of sitting him down, looking him in the eye, and telling him about it. For instance, I can say to him, “I’m going to the grocery tomorrow. Be sure to write down anything you need on the whiteboard.” Then when he comes home to find food in the refrigerator, he will say, “I didn’t know you were going to the grocery.” If I ever have an affair, it will be a piece of cake to hide it from hubby. I’ll just sit him down and say, “John, I have a boyfriend. His name is Harry. I’m meeting him at a motel tonight and won’t be home until after midnight.” John will never suspect a thing.

My final magical power has been recently acquired. I can now see what is going on behind my back, at least if what is going on involves my cat. Noise will be coming from the kitchen while I watch TV, which is in the opposite direction from the kitchen door. “What’s that?” I ask. “It’s your cat. Can’t you see him?” I forgot to mention that in addition to being in the opposite direction from where I am looking, the view of the kitchen is blocked by a wall. No matter. Goddesses can see behind our backs and through walls.

Yes, of course, I have told him that my purse gets heavy when there is too much in it, that I make plans for my week days in advance and can’t always add last minute chores, though I will if I can, that he can learn a lot from listening to me, particularly the answers to questions he just asked me, and that no matter what his mama told him, mothers don’t have eyes in back of our heads. The logical side of him agrees with all of this, and he does try to mend his ways.

The illogical side of him still thinks I’m a goddess. 

Friday, April 5, 2013


“It must feel like you are losing a good friend,” my husband said with unexpected commiseration. 

I was surprised and touched. It isn’t fair to say that my husband doesn’t understand feelings, but he expects them to be straightforward. Being angry when someone does you wrong, being sad when someone dies, being happy when you win the lottery - those feelings he can comprehend. Mixed emotions in the case of a happy event are a different kettle of fish.

After all, the conversation had started with him asking, “Are you excited about getting a new car?” I had finally got up the nerve to test drive a Honda Civic at a local dealership. Several prior experiences with sales people had not been happy ones. Most recently, I had tried to make an appoinment online with the service department of the Ford dealership I had dealt with for years. I got a call back, not from the service department, but from a sales person who demanded to know if I was selling my old car, what kind of new car I wanted to buy, why I wanted to buy a Honda instead of another Ford, and when she finally gave me a time to show up at the service department, insisted she would meet me there with someone who would give me a trade-in price for my car. I took the Mustang to another dealership for the repair instead. As I told John, “I know I was filling in a request for a service appointment. The form had a list of items like oil change, front end alignment, and tire rotation.”

My experience with the Honda people was completely different. Allen, the sales person who helped me, was happy to let me test drive several models and go home to discuss the purchase with my husband. My husband would no doubt be surprised to hear the list of things that various sales people around town have been told I am not allowed to do without his consent, especially since he has left for work in the morning and come home to find a new car in place of my old one on more than one occasion. Blaming my husband is the closest I usually come to sales resistance. 

When I returned to the dealership on Saturday (Allen’s day off, but he came in to see us) with husband in tow, I thought we would be buying the car, but after looking at the engine, asking a bunch of questions that never would have occurred to me, and getting price quote that was well within the range of what Consumer Reports considered a good deal, my darling, who had been nagging me for at least a month about getting moving toward buying myself a new car, decided he needed more time to think.

So it was the day after Easter when I finally called Allen back, asked if we could shave another $300 off the price (we could) and if the blue 4 door with the navigation system was still available (on the lot of another dealership somewhere near Alexandria, if I remember correctly.) Late that afternoon I got a call that I could pick up my car Wednesday morning.

That brings us to Tuesday night, the night of the conversation that began with “Are you excited about getting a new car?” I was, but at the same time I was sad about giving up the old car. Being the lady with the Honda Civic is not quite the same as being the lady with the Mustang convertible. Allen, ever the salesman, pointed out that at least I would be the lady with the bright blue Honda Civic with the navigation system. I’m not sure it’s the same.

So, yes, it is like losing an old friend, particularly since I used to talk to Car, and she used to talk back. Yes, I know, I was on both ends of that conversation, and that Car is a soulless machine who doesn’t know it is going to be sold and doesn’t care. But the interesting thing to me is that the Car persona I created was a wide eyed child in her early years who feuded with Pearl, John’s car, and who then grew wiser and more reflective over the years, and got along well with Fern, John’s current car. Car also gave some damn good advice. I don’t remember having an imaginary friend as a child, so apparently I entered that stage of development late, very late. I don’t know if childhood imaginary friends are in the advice giving business, but I do wonder why my imaginary friend gave better advice than I give myself when talking as myself.

I didn’t tell all this to John, just talked about my happy memories of taking the Mustang on my solitary jaunt out west to New Mexico one summer when he was busy with a project and I had two weeks off. 

I’m enjoying my new car, but so far it hasn’t become a person, and probably never will. John suggested Honey as a name for it (Honey for Honda) and I haven’t been able to think of anything better. Allen told me that it is quite common for people to name their cars. He hears them saying goodbye to their cars by name as they trade them in. I don’t know how many of those people give their cars personalities and hold conversations with them. I didn't ask. I didn’t want him to suggest “the wildly eccentric lady with the bright blue Civic” as my next identity.