Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Let the Buyer Beware the Schwinn Jogging Stroller

I don't usually link to someone else's blog, but this needs to get around. Susan Campbell, writer and grandmother, posted this level-headed piece about injuries her son and grandchildren suffered while using the Schwinn Jogging Stroller.Seems the front wheel broke off in use.Now, as her son recuperates, she and her family are waiting to see if Schwiinn takes the product off the market before someone else gets hurt

Click here to read Susan's blog.

This is the defective stroller.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Belief Systems

I can’t believe it’s April 21, and it’s still cold enough to wear a winter coat.

This is not the same kind of I can’t believe as in I can’t believe the city of Boston virtually shut down commerce and community yesterday in search of a Boston Marathon Bombing suspect. The former is spoken in my head with casual indifference; the latter resounds echoes of assurance.

I wish I had been able to say I can’t believe someone or two would so violently desecrate the marathon’s finish line, six days earlier; but, these homegrown tragedies are occurring more frequently : Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Fort Hood, Tucson, Sandy Hook, and now Boston – on  busy and celebrated Copley Square, after the city’s namesake race.  I am once again stunned – but sadly, not surprised.

On the other hand, to have witnessed a city and its citizens’ everyday agenda frozen, like a DVD story frame, while city and federal officials intensified their active search for perpetrators.- that  was unprecedented. The kind of unprecedented that has given rise to the already mythic, “ if-a-city-could-talk affirmation” being bandied about today, in the drawl of a Boston accent:  We’re not terrorized – but we are wicked pissed . It speaks the difference between a  city   stunted by terrorism as opposed to one that refuses  to be victimized, instead deliberately putting life (as the city knows it) on hold, until the bombers were, at least, stopped in their bloody tracks..

More incredulities:  

 I can’t believe, fifty miles from the city I watched WBZ’s Boston coverage of the Watertown
stake-out –  being  aired from the street corner of my son’s Cambridge apartment – the designated media zone, a short walk from the war-zone tactics (house-to-house searches, sniper-like surveillance) being initiated a few blocks away.

 I can’t believe that once again, my daughter’s birthday – April 19 – commemorates another dark anniversary , along with the Oklahoma bombings, and the date's eerie proximity to the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings.

Still, among these disbeliefs  there is one huge assurance that I can believe in -  that a single, vigilant, hometown citizen provided the final link in the chain of organized efforts to make the streets of Watertown, Cambridge, and Boston safe again. He saw something - a bloodied tarp covering his motorboat - and said something, via a 911 call.

There, however, remains a cruel irony. Through the nation's focus on the bombing, the U.S. Senate lost sight of its bipartisan effort  to enact common sense gun reform that 90% of the American public agrees with  - expanding background checks (that would continue to honor the spirit of  the Second Amendment).That defeat  seems to have added insult to the deaths and injuries suffered from  tragedies past (Sandy Hook, et al), present (Boston), and future (who knows?)! 

We can help the victims of the Boston Bombing  by donating to One Fund Boston. We must also continue to work to make America safer from gun violence by repeating in word and action our Sandy Hook Promise to continue to work towards common sense reform.

Finally, I thank God that my son, daughter and I could be reunited today after this sad week. I pray for the peace and comfort of families grievously touched by the Boston Marathon bombing and aftermath who are not so fortunate.

Monday, April 15, 2013

What if Good and Evil Had a Race?

The Boston Marathon is one of more than 500 marathons run in the world every year. Most of the participants are recreational runners. The marathoners train for sixteen to eighteen weeks . The first month they alternate short runs of three or four miles with carefully calculated days off. They add a weekly double-digit run the next month or two, adding a mile or so every week.

Marathoners eat healthfully; they hydrate as they run. Marathoners learn how to fuel up on protein bars and sports beans. They may have to nurse a pull or sprain along the way, but eventually they get back on their feet and make up for setbacks– all to be able to cross the finish line that ends a 26.2 mile run in four to seven hours. Recreational marathoners do not need to win. They just want to finish.
Boston Globe photo

It’s very disturbing to think that as today’s Boston marathoners were putting themselves through the stress and strain of training, someone else was putting the finishing touches on a scheme to take some of them and a portion of the city down.  The  unknown perpetrator must have obsessed over the power and the placement of two bombs destined to be detonated at the finish line at about the same time marathoners were getting caught up with the rhythm of their breathing, the swing of their arms, the pace of the run.

I wonder why one individual decides to direct one’s passion  toward the light – and the other to the darkness. Is it something one says or doesn’t say, over a period of time? An environment? A chromosome? A price? Once again, that shift in perspective made a tragic difference in innocent lives today

My own son and nephew, both of whom work in Boston, were too close to the danger for my comfort, that’s for sure. Their beloved Boston will not be quite the same ever again – especially on Patriot’s Day,the  traditional day of the marathon. But, like a runner's injury, this incident was a sprain of sorts.  Boston will rehab and will come out stronger, the way NYC has; the way Newtown will.

If Good and Evil had a race, Good would be the Tortoise and Evil would be the Hare

I pray tonight for the comfort of the families most impacted by today’s tragedy, the lives injured and lost, and for the first responders who, once again, choose to run toward the danger rather than away., 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Getting Through College and The Canterbury Tales

The fourteen line prologue to  Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, posted yesterday, brought a couple readers back to their college days - their late 60s college days - when just about every student was required to take British Lit! No matter what their major. 

Now, English majors at Dartmouth aren't  required to take even Shakespeare. How culture changes culture.

Kathy,who graduated from high school with me, commented that she could actually read Chaucer's introduction ("with effort" ) thanks to a college professor who drove her crazy  - both years she attended her class! (I'm guessing that was in British Lit I and British Lit II, recalling the canon of the day). 

Jack, a fellow writer, recalled how beautifully his "Brit lit prof" recited those lines, back in the day. Recently, Jack read the entire poem, as bawdy as it is beautiful. (About the length of ten-chapter novel, it's available online free for Kindle users, along with other ebook readers, and audiobook formats).

Kathy and Jacks' Chaucer tales of their own bring me to mine. 

During the late 1960s, at my small, all women, Catholic college, every student had to take British Lit - I and II. In order to get through British Lit I, every one of those students had to memorize and recite the first fourteen lines of Chaucer's prologue.Even as an English major, I felt challenged! 

Practicing for days in my dorm, amidst  a backdrop of Beatles posters and the sounds of folk music, rock music, and a blending of both (thank you Bob Dylan), I discovered I could best learn and remember the archaic yet mellifluous Middle English when I sang the words to the tune of "Leaving on a Jet Plane," a John Denver song (most popularly covered by Peter Paul and Mary).

When I arrived for my "recitation appointment" I brought my guitar. Left it outside the good professor's office  until, after stumbling through a few, "Whan that aprill -s," I asked her if I could go get it. Use it. The poetry/music connection further intrigued her.

Strumming away I breezed through the fourteen lines. Still can - if I sing them!

Try it for yourself!

And, oh yes, here's the modern English translation of the prologue I posted yesterday.
How did you do?

When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Wherefore Art Thou - Springtime?

I've been busy trying to wrap up winter. Trouble is, my first  attempt - March 21 -  the temperature froze any thought of clearing a garden bed or two. Then, a week after a sunny but chilly Palm Sunday (on which my 8-month-old grandson was baptized) Easter morning rolled in  with more of a Jack Frost than Easter Bunny overtone.

Good thing rabbits have fur.

April fooled me further with more extended low temperatures. And now, after too brief a reprieve, I've got the heat on again as I watch a  cold heavy rain fall outside.

My daffodils and tulips are clearly confused.

But, pretty soon, I expect, I will be able to conduct my yearly spring ritual. That would be greeting the true signs of spring  with a quick recitation of the prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In Middle English. The Middle English that comes between Old English (incomprehensible) and Shakespearean English. The passage  looks both strange and familiar in its homage to springtime.

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes

Can you detect the hints of spring in those lines? 

We'll see how well you did tomorrow. 

In the meantime, take a look at what the best little theatre group in Boston, MA is up to:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Repeating My Sandy Hook Promise

 .  .  . to have conversations on all of the issues . . .  

According to this week's New York Times, the vast majority of the American public wants background checks for sales of guns. I don't think our Founding Fathers would have rejected that notion if guns were as accessible in their day - at conventions and on the Internet -- as they are today. Yet, I never would have guessed Stephen King, master of contemporary American horror and, some would say, gore, would so deliberately enter the American debate on gun control on the side of more regulation.  
Photo from Google images

 Not only does his creatively sinister mind wage in on the issue that has been pushed to its tipping point by the Sandy Hook tragedy last month; he does so with precise measures of common sense and just a touch of the macabre. It’s as if this writer of extreme fiction took the Sandy Hook Promise with one hand placed over his heart and the other atop a copy of Carrie.

The acclaimed author of real and psychological horror does not suggest repealing the Second Amendment’s Right to Bear Arms. King's Kindle single Guns, published this month, offers a concise rationale that  boils down the issue of gun violence and control to three “reasonable measures” that would curb gun violence 
  • ·         Comprehensive and universal background checks
  • ·         Ban the sale of clips and magazines containing more than ten rounds
  • ·         Ban the sale of assault weapons such as the Bushmaster and the AR-15

As a longtime teacher of the argumentative essay, I’d give King an A+ on his essay (an accolade he can add to his National Book Award in 2003), not just  because I agree with him, but because he presents his case so well. It’s worth $.99 just to see how carefully he did his homework (research) and structured his argument.*

Yet, it is not King’s rhetoric I am most impressed with. It is the personal narrative that opens the piece about steps he took in the late 1990s, almost fifteen years before Sandy Hook. That was when he pulled Rage, a novel he  wrote in 1977 (under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman), out of print because it had come to be loosely connected to four different teenagers who committed school shootings.

King addressed the difficulty he had making this choice in a keynote address  to the Vermont Library Conference in 1999, clarifying he did not feel that, just because these troubled teenagers had copies of Rage, they committed the shootings. “My book did not break them or turn them into killers; they found something in my book that spoke to them because they were already broken,” King said.

King’s statement reveals what rational Americans know: there is no simple cause and effect to maniacal acts of violence, acts that take a greater toll when guns are accessible. Yet, even though King believes in the First Amendment's Freedom of Speech as well as the Second Amendment, he agreed to surrender a portion of his right to free speech, because, as he states in Guns, “I did see Rage as a possible accelerant, which is why I pulled it from sale. You don’t leave a can of gasoline where a boy with firebug tendencies can lay hands on it.”

King admits regretting having to remove the book from, essentially, the reach of deranged teens, but he goes on to say he did it because it was the right thing to do.

Let’s look at this: In King’s case, the morally right thing for him to do was to voluntarily give up a bit of his First Amendment Right – Freedom of Speech – even as  essential as that right is to a writer.

With King as a model of reasonable concession, it should not be too much to ask an adherent of the Second Amendment, the Right to Bear Arms, to voluntarily give up the bit of the arsenal that has repeatedly become the mass destroyers of innocent lives. Innocent lives like the 20 first-grade children and six adults of Sandy Hook Elementary School who were gunned down because of a lethal mix of mental illness, accessible weapons, a culture’s penchant for violent entertainment, etc., all of which King addresses in Guns  -  just as he is compelled to address  the most real horror he has ever put to mind: the “gore-splattered rooms and hallways (of Sandy Hook Elementary School) when the first responders entered them."

*proceeds of King's Kindle Single Guns goes to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.