KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf
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Saturday, December 30, 2006

An Eye for an Eye

Saddam Hussein is dead. Does that fix anything? No, it does not.

Yes, he tortured and killed a lot of people, but the United States helped put him in power years ago. After no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, Bush needed another excuse for having started a war there. Hussein, no longer doing our bidding, was convenient. We were in Iraq to free its citizens from a madman, Bush said.

Now we have had a hand in Hussein's hanging, showing that we are still the barbaric nation many think us to be. No matter how horrific a person's crimes, what right has any other person to take a criminal's life? Life is sacred.

Once again, I am ashamed of my country. When will sanity and morality—not religious zealotry—return?




Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Cold Cometh

I can just about hear the heavy footfalls of the dreaded family cold approaching and sense its finger reaching out to tap me on the shoulder, letting me know I'm next. Is that achiness? If it isn't, it soon will be.

We've had a lovely Christmas; the boys and my husband are off from school and work this week. Lots of snuggling and story-reading and game-playing. I've had to keep working, except for Christmas day, because I have deadlines to meet, but even I could get in on the fun.

Then Jared, 5, came down with the cold: high temperature, stuffy head, coughing, aches all over. He's much better today, but it's his brother's turn. Neil, 12, is lying on the couch, hot but wanting to be covered up. And his cough is more like a bark.

I want some magic spell to ward off this thing.




Friday, December 22, 2006

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Phlegmsy Teaching Method

My kindergartner's journey to readerhood and his current copious nasal congestion reminds me of being in first grade in 1964–1965, when I was learning to read.

Mrs. Gray, the teacher, had all of us students standing up, looking at the letters of the alphabet displayed above the blackboard. Working with one letter at a time, she asked us to say whatever words came to our minds that began with the sound made by that letter. When we got to the letter F, I, being cursed then with constant and prodigious upper respiratory infections, of course said the word phlegm, because the production of phlegm and what to do with it when one inadvertently coughed some up were topics I pondered often. The teacher stared at me and said, "Flem isn't a word, dear." I knew she was wrong, that there was such a word, however it was spelled.

I never trusted her again. She returned my mistrust when, later in the year, my classmates and I were reading aloud to one another in small groups while she checked in on each group from time to time. In my group, it was my turn to read. I read much more material than anyone else in any other group had done in the allotted time. She did not believe that I had done so and insisted that I was lying.

I had many good teachers in the years that followed, but I never did forgive that teacher. To this day, when I see or think of the word phlegm, I remember mean old Mrs. Gray, who would not believe a child.



Monday, December 18, 2006

The Politics of Germs in Schools

The 2006–2007 school year is turning out to be a very germy one in my household, with Jared being in kindergarten and apparently having signed up for two courses called Making Every Germ Welcome in Your Body and Don't Be Selfish—Share Your Germs.

If any germ has come within 30 miles of him, he's brought it home and taken it in and loved it well. He's made it his best buddy and invited it to share meals and hugs and kisses with us. He's been so generous a host that today was the eleventh day of school—not in a row but scattered here and there—that he's missed since school started in September. He's had a series of colds and viruses, accompanied by heavy-duty coughing and nose snot and earaches and sneezing. It's the ritual that every kindergartner goes through, building up the immune system by pushing it to its limits. I've been through this twice before, when his sister, now 23, and his brother, now 12, started school, so I know the drill.

Today he was home with the widely dreaded pinkeye (aka conjunctivitis). Why is it that public schools want you to send your barking, gooey-nosed kid to school to spread the germs around, but the minute you utter the word pinkeye they beg you to keep the kid home? Pinkeye and rhinoviruses are both pretty damn contagious.

Last week, the school principal mailed us a letter, probably because the school computers alert her whenever a child has a certain amount of absences within a specific time period, requesting that we call her to discuss "this problem" of Jared's absences. Yes, I'd called the school nurse every morning that he was sick. Yes, I'd sent in a note to his teacher explaining his absence each time he returned to school. No one called or sent a note home to complain. Yet the principal's letter used incendiary language:

... Since it is a New York State requirement for children to attend school, and not doing so could be considered educational neglect, it is imperative that you contact me ...

Neglect? Hello? You so have the wrong family. Why imply neglect where there may not be any, especially if you haven't bothered to check out the situation until now? Save that kind of language for when you're not getting the kind of response you should be from parents.

If you'd just look in the school files or talk to the school social worker or the school psychologist, you'd know just how wrong you have it. We're the family with another son in middle school with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, the family that worked quite closely over the years with the social worker and psychologist at your school to put together the educational environment that our older son needed back in elementary school. We're the parents who recently wrote you to thank your teachers and other education professionals for all they'd done over the years for that middle-school son; you were happy to get that letter ... and the newest edition of the CHADD Educator's Manual that we donated to your staff library. Before you throw around terms such as neglect, pick up the phone and talk to me. Return my phone call. Find out who we are and what we're about and how we parent.

When I called and asked for the principal, someone took a message because the principal was attending a schoolwide concert. An assistant later returned my call. I explained Jared's series of illnesses and asked whether the school would rather have had him there, spreading his germs and not feeling well enough to learn, but all I got for my efforts was interrupted. "Oh, is that what your call was about. Okay. Thank you. Good-bye. Have a nice weekend." I never heard from the principal; no one else from the school has spoken or written to me this week about the issue.

This all leaves me wondering whether the school cares more about having enough little bodies in the classrooms each day to earn its share of federal education dollars than about having each of those little bodies be healthy. Or is it that the school must groom the children so they'll one day be adult workers who go in to the office even when they're miserably sick, just so they'll be seen as responsible employees?


Updated 11:30 a.m., 12/22/06: I snail-mailed the principal a letter that was a modified version of the above. She called me this morning. She said

  1. That she took full responsibility for her assistant cutting me off and not listening to what I had to say about my son's absences from kindergarten. She apologized.


  2. That the letter she'd mailed to me was a form letter and wasn't meant to offend.


  3. That my letter to her had made her realize that she needs to change the language of the form letter.

Satisfaction!



May Your Days Be Merry ...

My husband (Ed) and I decorate our home for Christmas inside and out each year, though because he's the physically adventurous one of us, he does all of the outdoor stuff himself:


This blue spruce is 45 feet tall.MMMMMMMMMMThe blue spruce viewed from under our eaves

Ed uses our 40-foot professional-grade ladder to climb the 45-foot blue spruce in our front yard and decorate it for Christmas late each November or early each December. People from all over the neighborhood drive by our house each night to see the tree. They've come to expect it because he's been doing it now for about 12 years. He also decorates our house's soffits with pine roping entwined with strings of lights. The house used to be covered with dark barn-red cedar shake shingles (above left), which absorbed a lot of the light from the decorations. This fall, we had some renovations done, including adding a nice wooden front landing and railings (above right), which we've decorated with more of the pine roping.



New front stairs with pine roping and lightsMMMMMMMMMM Front view of our house, ready for Christmas

The gorgeous light moss green siding now covering our house doesn't suck in all of the color from the Christmas lights, making the house look much more welcoming than it used to. We like to sit on our new landing at night and gaze at the colored lights on the house, the white lights on the spruce, and the stars in the sky. It's peaceful and gives us the sense that there is still goodness and light in the world.



Saturday, December 16, 2006

Candidate Conundrum

If Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2008, I won't vote for her, even though she's my senator. She's not a real New Yorker—never has been one. She moved to the state only to run for a high-profile office from which she could leap to a presidential race. She doesn't really get that much done, but she's always ready for photo ops. And she's a hawk.

If Barack Obama runs, I'll have a lot of researching to do, because I'll want to choose between him and John Edwards, whose camp has just leaked that he's going to run. I like a lot of Edwards's positions, but I'd prefer to vote for a black, Asian, Latino, or female (of any ethnic group) candidate just because it's way past time someone other than a white male was leading the United States.

I'll just have go with whoever my research tells me would make the best leader. It's been so damn long since we've had one.



Friday, December 15, 2006

Warning: Perimenopausal Woman Ahead

Hot flashIt's Friday, I have too much work to do, and I haven't even gotten any Christmas cards done. Plus I'm PMSing and having a hot flash. I'll sign off for now before I get really snarly.





Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Teaching Children Violence and Killing

No war toysOne long-term method for decreasing hostility, aggression, and war worldwide is child’s play. Literally.

Ever stopped to think about what’s going on when parents, aunts, uncles, and family friends give children toy guns, soldier costumes, and GI Joe action figures? They’re giving children permission to play at fighting and killing. Let that sink in.

These children may hear their parents say that life is sacred. But how sacred is it really when adults give them the tools to pretend to stab a playmate, to hit, kill? They’re too young to comprehend that some wounds last a lifetime, that death is permanent.

We say, “James, stop hitting your sister!” And then when it’s James’s birthday, we give him a toy sword to play with, in effect saying, Have fun stabbing and killing people!

We say, “Keisha, stop punching your brother!” And then as a special treat for her good behavior, we give her a pop-up clown punching bag, in effect saying, Practice your hitting skills. Hit people where it counts!

We say, “Aaron, don't be a bully.” And then as a gift, we give him a toy rifle, in effect saying, You can make people do anything you want them to by threatening to shoot them.


Children learn what they are taught, whether through overt lessons or through tacit example. They use the tools they are given. This holiday season—and all year through—please give them the lifelong gift of respect for human life. Speak to them of peace with your words and with your actions, with what you give them and what you don’t give them.




Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Car Totaled, Husband Not ... Yet

Dead Toyota, driver's side, frontMy husband, Ed, killed our ancient (1992) Toyota Tercel—and our budget—tonight. (Well, technically, it's already tomorrow, as it's after midnight.)

Ed's fine, as are the other people involved in the three-car pileup he caused. I'm glad he's okay. But I sure am angry, because we don't have funds to replace the Toyota, which means there will likely be days that I'm stuck here at home without a car. And it's likely that our vehicle insurance rates will go up.

Destroyed front end and grillHe was driving home early this evening from a quick check of a molar by the periodontist (long story) and would've been home in time for us to head up to the elementary school for our kindergartner's parent–teacher conference, when we'd have gotten Jared's first-ever report card. While driving 45 to 55 mph down the local four-lane highway, he took his eyes off to road to look at the dashboard while he changed radio stations. The cars ahead of him had been moving along quickly enough when he was driving, but they slowed down while he wasn't looking. He rear-ended a taxicab, which rear-ended a Beemer ($$$). The cab looked barely touched; that's not surprising, because those old Fords are tanks. The Beemer had minor damage to its rear bumper.

Passenger side, frontWe now have no car, because our minivan's in the shop. It's already been there a couple of days; the mechanics can't yet figure out what's up with the brakes—some stupid sensor thing that Dodge Caravans have. Ed will have to drive one of his parents' cars the long schlep from our home to work in Southampton. I will have to hope my in-laws aren't away from home long in their second car, because if either of our sons needs to be picked up from school because of illness, I, as the self-employed spouse, get pickup duty.

Ed scraped up one finger. His chest also hit the steering wheel, which was bent all the way up to the dashboard. There weren't any airbags in the car because it's too old to have had them. He said the seat belts (one lap belt and one across-the-shoulder belt) didn't seem to stop him. I wanted him to go to the hospital to get his chest and back checked out; he didn't.

That might be because surviving the ride home from the accident site was exhausting enough without having to wait all night in a hospital emergency department. I sent his dad, A, to pick him up, knowing that the Toyota was no longer drivable and that Ed really didn't need me yelling at him. A, now 71, has lost a good part of his hearing but won't admit it. He drives slower than a inchworm climbs a tree. As A drove his car excruciatingly slowly out of the parking lot where everyone had been interviewed by a police officer, he nearly cut off a large box truck that he probably didn't see. Ed saw the truck driver have to swerve around A's car and into the road shoulder to avoid hitting the car. Wanting to get home in one piece, Ed asked A to pull the car over, without telling A why, and Ed drove them home. A's driving judgment and hearing have been getting worse and worse in the last few years. I don't relish the thought of starting a family feud by saying that I no longer want A driving my sons anywhere, but I'd rather have a feud than dead sons.

(Apologies for the poor quality of the photos. Ed took them with his cell phone, which is no substitute for a digital camera with accommodation for nighttime shots.)

Ed's damn lucky he's cute. It's hard to yell at somebody when they look all sweet and huggable. But if he wakes up ugly tomorrow morning, he'd better watch out!

Updated 11:10 a.m., 12/12/06: Ed did wake up still cute, so he managed to get out the door to work this morning without my yelling at him. I'm so glad he's okay. ... And I'm not perfect either, but that's just between you and me, okay?



Monday, December 11, 2006

Abusive World Power? Yup, That's Us

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is retiring and now has the courage to say what he should have said before the start of the war in Iraq:
In a farewell speech on U.S. soil today, ... Annan plans to deliver a tough critique of President Bush's policies. He will accuse the administration of trying to secure the United States from terrorism in part by dominating other nations through force, committing what he termed human rights abuses and taking military action without broad international support.
Funny ... we little people have been saying this for years, and only now is everyone else waking up and tentatively speaking up. It's frightening how ignorant the American people can let themselves be.



Friday, December 08, 2006

Friday Happiness Blogging

I have absolutely no complaints today. ... Oh, all right, Iraq's burning while Bush fiddles, and the fiddler has shredded much of what was good about America. But other than that, I'm happy:

  • It's acting like December outside, the temperature hovering at 21 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun's streaming quite brightly through the windows. I'm indoors and bundled up, warmed further by a good cup of Chinese tea.


  • My youngest has the day off from kindergarten today because the teachers are doing all of their parent–teacher conferences, so I get to kiss his soft little cheeks as often as I like, between all of the paper construction projects he's doing.


  • I'm editing another short story written by my only local client; he sent me an e-mail this morning about my editing of another of his stories:
Thanks so much for the kind words. I could not make a [business] deal big enough today to overcome the feeling I have from your [praise of my writing].

  • It's almost the weekend, when I'll go to this rousing concert.


  • And my middle son and husband will be home all weekend. My family members really are my favorite people.

What are you happy about?



Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Conservative Jews Do Right by Gays and Lesbians

Sometimes I think I'm on the wrong team.

If Conservative Jews can decide it's okay to ordain gay and lesbian rabbis and to recognize same-sex relationships, why can't my beloved Presbyterian Church USA? If it did, I'd seriously consider going back to church.



Married by Clergy or by the State?

Yesterday, I posted about an ad campaign to convince New Jersey residents to support same-sex marriage because civil unions are a separate-but-inequal alternative to marriage. But should states even be in the business of regulating who can marry whom?

No, says my colleague Don, a gay Virginian. Another of our colleagues feels that couples of any sex should be legally joined by civil unions and that people who want to be married should look to their religious institutions for that. Don says:
This echoes my opinion. I would go even further and say any couple of whatever combination of sex or sexes should be allowed to marry civilly. The law ought to fully recognize the distinction between a civil marriage ceremony and a religious marriage ceremony. Gay people have never asked that [religious organizations] be mandated to marry them. Gay people have asked that the state be compelled to marry them.

Then there are those who say that gay people would sue [religious organizations] for discrimination if they refused to marry them. I would no more expect that gay people would demand that a [religious organization] marry them than I would expect that they would demand that a [religious organization] be compelled to offer communion or the blessing of that [organization] to anyone who asked for it. What the state does and what the church does are and ought to be totally distinct.

Not to allow gay couples the advantages of marriage—using precisely that word—is to deny them the advantages given to straight couples, and that is discrimination.

This issue was never as high on my agenda as it has been on the agenda of some other gay people. But by gum, when politicians begin to use fear and discrimination to persuade unthinking voters that it is right to diddle with state constitutions and the U.S. Constitution in order to deny instead of to guarantee rights, it gets my dander up. The issue is not now and has never been about religion or what [religious organizations] might elect to do.

It saddens me to think that a few generations from now, Virginia's voters will have to go to all the trouble of undoing the damage done to the state's citizens by its voters last month. Those voters 50 years from now, I am sure, will look back on the 2006 amendment to the constitution banning gay marriage the same way we now look back on Loving et ux. v. Virginia and wonder, "What the heck were they thinking?"
Don's argument makes perfect sense to me. If only all the homophobes would dare to truly think what damage they're doing ...



Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Terrific Marriage-Equality Ad

Think Equal adThe New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that the state's legislature now must choose between allowing civil unions or same-sex marriage, and the blog Blue Jersey has put together a wonderful ad that clearly shows why civil unions are a separate-but-inequal alternative to marriage that will create a class of second-class citizens. You can help make a difference by donating to the ad campaign; the bloggers themselves put up the funds for production costs. Read a Jersey newspaper feature about the ad and its creators here.

Updated 8:12 p.m., 12/6/06: Read this too.




Monday, December 04, 2006

My New Gig: Author's Muse

Now, this is cool.

I sent my fairly new client—an author of short stories—a KOK Edit coffee mug and T-shirt. He now tells me that he wears the T-shirt and fills up the mug when it's his writing time every day—makes him feel as if I'm standing there encouraging him to write well.

I've never been a muse before. I think I like it.




Friday, December 01, 2006

Symphonic Works from a Contemporary Composer

I'm excited to say that I know the wife of a composer of syphonic works, and that he has his first CD out! I can't wait till the CD I ordered shows up.

The composer is Ron Brown, a Canadian whose hauntingly beautiful Christmas hymn I featured in a post here about a year ago. I'll let Ron tell you about his new CD:
After two years of promises, I have finally taken the plunge and prepared a CD for sale on the Internet. It is just over an hour in length and contains four works for symphony orchestra:

"Memories of the Outaouais" is a 12 section tone poem in tribute to that area of Western Quebec where I lived off and on for about 30 years.

"The S. S. Newfoundland: 1914" is a tribute to the 78 men and boys killed when their captain left them stranded on an ice floe during a storm.

Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 were written during the last 18 months.
Please treat yourself this holiday season and pick up one of Ron's CDs. And read some of his fascinating essays on music.



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