Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sooner than you think...a post office near you

Last week, we got our notice in the mail for the proposal to cut hours at the Taylor Post Office as part of the USPS plans currently going on across the country to "save money."  Because changes by law must include community input for those who are affected, it came with a survey.  I will get to that in a minute, but first, a smidgeon of background, and the link in case you want to see more examples, from Bronx, NY to Berkeley, CA, and all points in between, like Climax, GA.
Before you can understand why they are doing this, you need to understand the problems facing the Post Office.  Prior to 2006, the US Postal Service workers have a retiree health care benefit in addition to their pension. Before Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (or PAEA), the USPS operated under a pay-as-you-go model for retiree health care funding.   In 2006, the Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, and was eventually signed by then President Bush.  The bill stated that the Post Office had to pre-fund its future health care benefit payments to retirees for the next 75 years in just a ten-year time span.  In other words, they have to pay for health benefits for employees that A. have not even been hired yet and B. theoretically, have not been born yet.  No other government or private corporation is required to do this. (Salvatore Aversa, July 27, 2013, The GOP's Relentless Quest to Destroy the US Postal Service is Almost Over, OccupyDemocrats.com).
The USPS has overpaid (due to pre-payment) pension funds by an estimated $7 billion.  If not for the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA), the post office estimates budgets in the black and with a $1.5 billion surplus.  We are talking postal funds here, not taxpayer funds.  The recently proposed Postal Reform Act of 2013, introduced this past week, will further disable the post office and create more of the downward spiral by closing more post offices, selling historic buildings with art from the New Deal Administration projects under President Roosevelt, and open the door wider yet for private contractors to "fill the gap."  The post office will lease facilities that they once owned, or consolidate services resulting in hardships to communities--all because of ill-advised policy enacted with the thought toward eliminating the USPS (and its jobs that were a move to solid middle-class for many US citizens).

From the survey seeking input to reduce postal service hours in Taylor:
Please select the alternative below which you would most prefer (choose only one):
 1. Keep the office open, but with realigned weekday window service hours, based on actual office workload;
2. Conduct a discontinuance study for the office and provide roadside mailbox delivery;
3. Conduct a discontinuance study for the office and find a suitable alternative location operated by a contractor;  
4. Conduct a discontinuance study for the office and relocate P. O. Box service to a nearby Post Office.
 So, here's your choices: what we want, or lose the post office entirely.  And on its surface, it is a logical appeal, because the news has made sure that we all know about the financial crisis and how austerity and cutting services is the only way to fix it.  The problem of course, is that they have not informed us how this crisis was manufactured in the first place due to poor legislation and a policy that is untenable.  A budget was created that no amount of the post office breaking even could address, and there is only one reason Congress would do that: intention to see this institution fail.

The letter that accompanies the survey adds:
The Postal Service is also seeking locally established businesses or organizations to serve as contractor-operated postal retail units in communities like yours.  If you are interested in operating a postal retail unit, please visit the website...
There will be a meeting as well, after all the surveys are received and tallied, because community input is required by law.  It has not made any difference in the decisions made in all those other post office closings, where decisions were made prior to the community input.  Challenges to many post offices plans to sell historic buildings and either relocate to leased space or close services has not met with much success.  In recent news, Bronx Representative Jose Serrano at least stepped up efforts to slow or halt the sale of the historic landmark Bronx post office, which houses 13 murals by Depression-era artist Ben Shahn under the New Deal Administration:
On the political front, Congressman Serrano who represents the district, recently attached a provision to a House spending bill that keeps the sale in limbo until the USPS Inspector General reviews the legality of the selling process. The bill is still churning through the House.
“We cannot have the gems of our communities, often landmarked and protected, sold by the USPS to the top bidder in a wanton and careless manner,” Serrano stated. (David Cruz, Bronx Times, Hurdles in Sale of Bronx GPO, July 26, 2013)
I cannot argue that the Taylor Post Office is a historic gem, nor does it contain important art as it was not built under the New Deal Administration.  In fact, I cannot find out anything about the building itself, other than the address.  I rarely even use the post office building itself, as I am closer to Oxford than Taylor.  But, I try to live a life where things are not just about me, but about the well-being of all of us, and what is good for our communities and the 300+ folks who do live in the town of Taylor.

When did so many of us get so mean-spirited that we don't care about that anymore?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Didn't It Rain?

 Libby and I were listening to previews of Hugh Laurie's new CD about to be released.  It's already out in UK and Europe, but we have to wait across the pond.  Personally, I think I was doing more listening than Libby was...
If you aren't familiar with him, Hugh Laurie is the British actor who played Gregory House, albeit with an American accent as in the show, he was a US doctor.  He is a gifted pianist, and he released his first CD last year or so--New Orleans jazz.  The latest one is blues, paying tribute to many of the early blues musicians from this area.  The title of the album is taken from the song Didn't It Rain?

The song originated at least as early as 1927 or 1928 in sheet music, and varied a bit from the current version as it was a "Negro spiritual" or "work song" (wikipedia, citing scholarly works from Clark University's G. Stanley Hall and Neuman I. White).

He visits the blues in the latest CD.  Check out his Unchain My Heart.

He will be on tour in the US for the first time next year.  I might just have to go to my first concert since Willie Nelson in 1994.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


 Quiet.  Solitude.  Peacefulness.  Dogs sleeping at my feet.  Leaves swaying in the tree outside my window.
 Grading papers, finding little moments of pleasure in the delight of a student's learning.  The humor in a student's paper making me smile--no, it is not professional, but it is true, and it is funny.  We need a little more of that in our line of work.  It's all about the right place and the right time.
 Towels washing.  Housecleaning awaiting.  Little lists of chores to check off one by one.
 Refilling the bird bath.  Noticing little raccoon foot prints in the cat water dish.  Calling truce with the raccoon.
Seeking a quiet corner to chill out.  Solitude.  Peacefulness.  Tranquility.  I need more of it.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Can you spot the intruder?

I love having an eco-friendly yard, and do my best to support the cats, birds, butterflies and bees who like to eat around here.  I am not at all fond of the ants, raccoons, or deer, however.  Deer bring ticks and poop in the yard, and unlike a cat, are not thoughtful enough to cover it up.

One of my high school friends used to say of raccoons: what they don't eat or poop on, they tear up.  They eat the cat food, they eat the bird seed, and oftentimes, they actually take the bird feeders down, and try to carry them off or break them.  I thought I had outwitted the little fellow by getting a new bird feeder that had a metal mesh seed tube instead of the plastic ones, and a lid that locked on instead of just sitting on the feeder or twisting on.

I have been trying to get the birds back since my 2 week trip to Texas--it always takes several days for word to get around that food is to be found again.  I went out this morning, and the new feeder was still in place, with the lid locked...and empty.  Not a seed to be found, except for the ones on the ground.  I went through a period where I brought them in on the porch at night and took them back out the next morning, but frankly, birds like to eat breakfast earlier than I want to get up and put it on the table.

I guess we will compromise:  Rocky gets all the seed he can get to fall out of the new "critter-proof" feeder and the birds still have to wait for breakfast.  Annoyance and inconvenience--it's what's for breakfast.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

On Race and Ethnicity and Naming

In my last class, I used the term "Caucasian" as did an African American student.  In tomorrow's class, we are discussing engagement, assessment, and intervention with families, and I use the photograph below to initiate a discussion about assumptions about families. (The discussion has nothing to do with race/ethnicity, by the way.)  While I generally use the term "White" because it is more common, there are times I say Caucasian; I am more likely to say Euro-American when referring to white people from the United States.  Just like I generally say African American (when referring to citizens of the United States who are of African descent) rather than "Black."  I use the term black when talking about populations other than the specific residents of the US.

So, what is the point?  That's probably a good question, and one that has resulted in my spending quite a bit of time this afternoon (time I do not actually have either) considering this issue.  It all started with reading an article in the New York Times this morning, entitled Has Caucasian Lost Its Meaning?  I was scanning the article, and noticed a quote.
Susan Glisson, who as the executive director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation in Oxford, Miss., regularly witnesses Southerners sorting through their racial vocabulary, said she rarely hears “Caucasian.” “Most of the folks who work in this field know that it’s a completely ridiculous term to assign to whites,” she said. “I think it’s a term of last resort for people who are really uncomfortable talking about race. They use the term that’s going to make them be as distant from it as possible.”
I am fairly certain that my reaction on reading that would have been the same, regardless of whether or not I had recently used the term Caucasian.  Last resort?  Uncomfortable talking about race?  Seeking to be as distant from it as possible?  None of those things describe me (and if you are a regular reader, you know that from the times I post on the topic of race and ethnicity, not to mention my ongoing work in this area for many years) and I suspect they do not describe a lot of folks who might use the term.  I won't argue that after some research, the term is obviously no more accurate than the term Negroid, or Mongoloid, (neither of which has been used in some while) but it seems to be somewhat of an overgeneralization to ascribe it as "a term of last resort for people who are really uncomfortable talking about race."

Further, the description of the term as "completely ridiculous" stuck out.  Ridiculous, according to the dictionary, means among a number of other things, the following:
And yet, I located 2, 418 scholarly journal articles from reputable journals from 2010 to 2013 with the term Caucasian in the title and the contents.  There were 923 of them from 2012 to the present.  Again, I don't disagree that just because some educated researcher uses the term means it is "correct" but nor do I assume that it means someone uncomfortable talking about race, or someone who is racist.  I am more likely to assume that it is a convention to which they have grown accustomed, and one that has apparently only in recent years been questioned and now challenged.  While I am widely read and my work encompasses many issues about race, ethnicity, and naming or labeling, I have no recollection of hearing anything about the term Caucasian that indicated it represented racism and a belief in whiteness as the top of the hierarchy.  Granted, my work is not solely about race, but race and ethnicity certainly is a rather large portion of it.

The term stemmed back to the work of someone named Blumenbach and his efforts (apparently, considered quite scholarly for his time in the 1700-1800s) to classify people according to some terminology that would account for differing physical characteristics.  He used geography, and primarily skull shape.  Geography was the primary reason for the descriptive terms he chose, though Caucasian was not his first choice, but rather, arrived after several iterations of his work.  (It came from his description of a skull from the Caucasus area of Georgia--the country, not the state.)  His original five types were summarized into three types later: Caucasoid, Negroid, Mongoloid.  Although his later work exemplified a clear preference for whiteness in his admiration of physical characteristics (and one might assume that as a white European, that would not be all that unusual for ethnocentrism to color his work), Nell Irvin Painter explained:
The magnitude of Blumenbach’s contribution to scientific racism sometimes lumps him in with the white-supremacist mass of racist scientists and pseudoscientists. Although he survived into their times, Blumenbach was not such a figure. Through his wide correspondence and influential publications, Blumenbach consistently opposed nonsensical propositions advanced by colleagues like Meiners. A conscientious collector of artifacts crucial to his study, like skulls, Blumenbach also assembled the first collection of books by Africana authors in order to support his contention that people of African descent were not essentially inferior to other races. In the history of black bibliophilia, Blumenbach stands at the head of the line. (Why White People are Called Caucasian, November 7-8, 2003, Yale University) 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Peach Fried Pies and Oscar the Dog

 I bought fresh peaches the other day, and decided to make peach fried pies.  My mother used to make fried pies when we were growing up and we all loved them, especially my dad.  I have not made them in years--don't even remember the last time I tried.  However, I whipped up the filling going on my memory of how Mother used to make filling for apple pies.  They were not especially pretty, but they were very tasty.  I intended to prepare the pies, and then fix supper, but they were hot, so we sat down and ate pie.  Then, no one wanted supper, so we just had a snack later.  I have cooked more here in the last 2 weeks than in the last 2 months.  Of course, there is not much else to do here right now, so it has worked out pretty well.

I sent a picture of the fried pies to my brother, and he texted back, "that was mean." :)
A few weeks ago, my brother was driving home from work and heard a puppy crying in the bushes by the road.  He stopped and found a skinny, hungry, flea and tick-covered puppy a few weeks old.  He took a pictures and texted it to his wife and said, "What do I do?"  She answered, "Well, you can't just leave him there."  Russ said, "That's what I was thinking."  Meet Oscar taking a nap, now a healthy and happy little dog added to the household.  Three baths to get him clean and fleas and ticks off, and then my sister-in-law wrapped him in a blanket and headed to the vet with him.  He got checked out, got his shots, and has bonded with them and the other two dogs.  My brother is building a larger fenced yard so he has room to run and play like a puppy needs.

After tonight, I have one more day here, and then depart for home early Saturday morning.  While I am always usually ready to get home after a trip, no matter where I am, it has been in many ways and pleasant and enjoyable visit here the last two weeks.  Dad and I have our routine of feeding the horse and mule, taking care of the dog, and me taking care of them while taking care of my knee.

It is the first time in quite some while that I probably have nothing that had to be done other than getting my online class materials loaded last week.  It took 3 trips to town and 3 efforts to get it done as there were problems with the university network system one day, and I couldn't get it to load from out here one day.  Being here is a reminder of how important access is in rural areas--for many reasons, not just the ability to blog or email.  I am woefully ignorant of the news in the world at the moment, without my access to instant news and headlines on the Internet, or my ability to get a variety of news sources to help give a better perspective.  Let's just say the area newspaper (my folks still get a paper newspaper) is rather biased in its view, like most of them in West Texas from my experience.  The local paper at least just deals with local news, and though I rarely know anyone mentioned in it these days, it is a pass-time.

Last week, there was an article about a local student who is going to Africa with one of her college professors on a research team, and I commented on it.  My mother said, "she's not very smart is she?"  I said I thought she was very smart to be doing that at her age, and I was very pleased to see a young woman from Graham heading off to study in Africa.  I might just have to write her a letter; maybe she will want to go to South Africa some time.