Monday, June 24, 2013

In Government We Trust?

            Last week, the anchor on a cable news program announced that fully 63% of Americans don’t trust the government. The alarm in her voice suggested this is a bad thing. I don’t see it that way.
            When I started teaching high school in the mid-eighties, I was required to teach Animal Farm.  For me, that seemingly simple, 125-page novel by George Orwell shed more light on the workings of government and politics than anything I’ve ever read. Because I was teaching the book, I couldn’t just give it a quick read. I had to delve into it, study it, understand its underlying messages and nuances. The more I “delved,” the more I came to recognize the genius behind the book’s simplicity. And like any good work of literature, it raises a lot of questions. Questions such as: What happens when people aren’t educated to think for themselves? When they stray from their founding principles? When they become dependent on government to provide for their every need? When they look to government to solve their every problem? When, little by little, they give up freedoms for comfort or safety? And a biggie—a question I’m sure Orwell, an atheist, never intended to raise—what happens when people trust government as the ultimate Authority and Power?  
            In the mid-nineties, after the collapse of many communist governments, there was a call from some educators to remove Animal Farm from the required reading list in high schools. They considered it no longer relevant. But people who think this book is about the rise of communism have missed the point almost as completely as one of my former students who wrote on a test: The theme of Animal Farm is to show that animals have feelings, too. Notice I said almost. (My reaction to that answer was not one of the finer moments of my teaching career.)
            The overriding theme of Animal Farm—power corrupts. When ANY government gains too much power, it wanders far afoul of its purpose, and it becomes abusive of that power. In almost step-by-step fashion, Orwell—using the rise of the Communist regime in the former Soviet Union as an example—shows how that happens.
             Through his animal characters, he cleverly, humorously, tragically shows factors which contribute to the corruption of government and the downfall of ideas. The reasons are many, and they overlap and intertwine, but basically corruption of government occurs when people no longer hold their elected leaders accountable. They trust them too much. They question them too little.
            Sixty-three percent of Americans don’t trust the government? I’d say that’s a good thing. The day I hear we trust the government one hundred or even ninety percent? That’s when I’ll start worrying.

 PS  Are you a political junkie? Here are some shows that give “interesting” insights into the workings of government. I’m not so totally jaded I think all politics work this way, but these shows definitely underscore the need to keep a watchful eye out. And if it's been a while since you've read Animal Farm, you might re-visit it.
House of Cards – both the BBC and the NetFlix mini-series; Warning: Triple R-rated!
Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister-- BBC sitcom from the 1980s; a hilarious, more lighthearted approach to exposing the shortcomings of government 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Winner of a Necklace and Winner of a Recipe

            A couple of weeks ago I celebrated a personal milestone in my blogging life with a give-away. To those who commented on that post, I loved hearing how you realized your own personal goals. One of the perks of getting older—yes, there are a few—is the awareness of all the amazing people around you. When I was young, I tended to think truly gifted or talented people were only those who had achieved fame or fortune. These days, I realize I’m constantly surrounded by or in touch with people of remarkable abilities. Thanks to all of you who shared and to those who read and follow my blog! I wish I could give a necklace to everyone.
            But since I can’t do that, I’m giving one to the lucky winner, Marie Hancock. (I happen to know that, fortunately, Marie is a bird lover.) Congratulations, Marie! I’ll be getting in touch with you.
            Here’s something I can give to every reader: a recipe. Previously, I mentioned that Carol hosted the Circle of Friends Book Club and served chicken divine divan. She was out of town at the time of the post, but when she returned, she graciously gave me the recipe. Thank you, Carol, for this winner of a recipe!


4 c. sliced cooked chicken (poached so it's tender)
1 or 2 large bags frozen cut up broccoli-- enough to fill bottom of 9 x12 in. pan
4 cans cream chicken soup
2 c. mayo--I use "real" for this recipe
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. curry powder
1/3 c. sherry
I also add : 1 tsp. dry mustard & 4 tbsps. heavy cream to sauce mixture.
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 c. soft buttered bread crumbs for topping

Par boil broccoli so it's still firm & arrange in buttered 9x12 baking dish.
Place chicken on top.
Combine all remaining ingredients except cheese & bread crumbs.
Pour sauce over all.
Top with cheese & bread crumbs.
Bake 350 about 30 min. till bubbly & breadcrumbs look golden.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Clap Dancing Shoes

             Cleaning a closet the other day—or at least thinking about cleaning it—I came across some scuffed and battered little shoes. My heart smiled. I thought I'd lost them. But I knew I hadn’t thrown them out. They were too valuable.
            I remember well the day they were purchased. My three-year-old daughter Kristin and I were strolling the aisles of J.C. Penney when she spied them. There was no way we were leaving the store without those shoes. Not without a scene, anyway.
            The threat of a tantrum wasn’t what convinced me to buy them. We had recently purchased the video Annie, and it is understatement to say she was enthralled by that movie. She knew the words to every song, the names of all the orphans, at least half the lines. She also had her own versions of the tap dances, which she labeled “clap dancing.” As she explained in the store, she desperately needed those shiny red shoes to properly execute that activity. I could see her point.
            Those inexpensive shoes well might have been one of the best investments I ever made. The bows became tattered, the soles wore thin, and the buckles and insoles disappeared completely. But it made no difference to Kristin. Even after they were too small for her, she’d cram her chubby feet into them and dance with pure joy, oblivious to the pain. By herself or with other people present, she’d shuffle her feet, flail her arms, and, of course, throw in the requisite claps. Because most of our house was carpeted, our small brick hearth became her stage.  
            Fast forward seventeen years, and she was a college sophomore home for summer break. We’d just had a ceramic tile floor installed in our den, and she and I stood in the doorway of the room, cleared of all furniture, and admired the hard new surface. “Man,” she said, her voice filled with awe, “wouldn’t this be a great place to clap dance?”
            She declined my request for a demonstration. Although I laughed, a part of me was sad. I realized that—as is the case with most of us—somewhere on her journey from childhood to adulthood, more than her feet had outgrown her clap dancing shoes. But at least I have a priceless memento of  a pint-sized free spirit who, before the phrase was ever penned, “danced like nobody was watching.”
            Today, Kristin has babies of her own, the oldest almost three. He is as taken with the movie Cars as Kristin was with Annie. I’m picturing her one day in the future, cleaning out a closet and coming across a toy model of Mater or Lightnin’ McQueen. I’m betting she doesn’t throw it out.

Have a “worthless treasure” you’re not willing to part with? (It doesn’t have to be kid related.) Share, please!