Seasons

March 27, 2009 at 7:33 am (Little Things) (, , , , , )

So this is my second spring in Oregon.  It’s kind of amusing the things I’m noticing this year that I don’t think I ever saw last year.  Perhaps, because I know what I’m looking for now, I can see a more nuanced view of things.

One thing that I found a little depressing last year is that the deciduous trees here have bare branches for more of the year than they have leaves.  It took until May or June before most of the trees had their leaves back, and then they lose them all by the end of October.  This is still true – most of the trees still have no leaves, and it’s nearly April.

What I didn’t notice, though, is that so many of the trees that I thought were completely bare actually are not.  There’s a flowering tree all over the city that has branches just covered with pink flowers.  I noticed that one last year, because it’s kind of hard to miss.  But what I’ve seen this year is a lot of trees with little buds, or little clusters of flowers.  There is something going on there, but I was too focused on how there were no leaves to see it.

Spring and summer in Oregon are really something.  Spring sort of creeps up slowly, sometimes so slowly that it’s practically summer before you realize that winter’s really over.  Even now, with daffodils and crocuses and hyacinths blooming, the low temperature is still in the high 30s at night.

But give it about a month or a month and a half, and the rose bushes will get their leaves back.  The rhododendrons will start to bloom all over the city.  The trees will have at least some leaves.  And finally, really in the summer time, the roses will bloom.  The rose is Oregon’s state flower, and it’s definitely well chosen.  The city is absolutely covered with them in the early summer, and most of them hang on all the way through fall.

Plus, on the non-floral front, the Canadian geese have started to come back for the summer.  That’s the real mark of winter here – when the geese fly south, fall is over, and when they come back, it’s spring.

There’s a park near where I live that borders the Willamette River, and if it’s not covered in geese now, it soon will be.  They like to hang out there because there’s a lot of grass to eat, and a lot of people who feed them.  They’ll hang out with the ducks who live here year round, and sometime around the end of April or May, you’ll see ducklings and goslings hanging out together in the water.  It’s kind of hilarious, because goslings are about the size of the adult ducks.  So you get tiny little yellow fuzzballs, and great big gray fuzzballs.  It’s adorable.

The one downside of spring and summer, though, is that you have to watch out for the goose scat.  It is literally everywhere.

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Seriously?

March 25, 2009 at 9:01 am (This Makes No Sense) (, , , , )

So as I was going to work this morning, I saw an advertisement on the back of one of the city buses.  On one side, there were a couple of teenage kids holding what I assume were supposed to be beer cans.  On the other side was some rolled up money, some mysterious white powder, and some pills spilling out of a prescription bottle.

I think the text of this advertisement, if I remember it correctly, was something along the lines of, “Think drinking is harmless?  This leads to this.”  Obviously, according to this add, having a beer with friends before you turn 21 will make you a crazy, prescription-drug-abusing crackwhore.  Or something along those lines.

Apparently, it’s not bad enough to tell teenagers that drinking too much does have the potential to be fatal and/or cause brain damage (not to mention all the stupid things people often do when they’ve been drinking).  Now they have to outright lie and say that drinking leads to abusing hardcore drugs.  I bet that’s a delightful message to send to kids whose parents drink on occassion.  There’s nothing better than convincing children that Mommy and Daddy shoot up after bedtime.

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Urban Sprawl and the Stimulus

March 24, 2009 at 7:40 am (Economy, Politics) (, , , , )

There’s an article in the New York Times about Urban Sprawl in Houston that caught my eye yesterday.  Basically, Texas intends to use some of its spending money for a toll road that would connect I-10 with HW-290.  It would end up being out in west Houston where there’s at least one developer who wants to build a new planned community, and it would cut right through some of the Katy Prairie that is currently not developed.

What’s interesting about it is that Obama has said, explicitly, that he doesn’t support urban sprawl, and doesn’t want states to use their stimulus money that way.  Texas is not alone in doing this – I think the article mentioned that New Hampshire, Washington, and North Carolina are also trying to expand freeway networks which would tend to encourage the growth of cities.

It’s an interesting topic, I think.  On the one hand, urban sprawl certainly has a lot of downsides.  Huge cities can be rather unwieldy for those who live in them.  They undoubtedly contribute to pollution because people tend to rely so heavily on cars.  They do eat up the land around them.

But on the other hand, not every large city is the same.  Not every region has the same kinds of issues.  And, dare I say it – I don’t think urban sprawl is always as bad as its made out to be.  Uncontrolled sprawl isn’t a good thing at all, but I don’t think that every city in the country needs to be as dense as those in the Northeast.  And, of course, some of those cities have the worst of both worlds – sprawl and density.

When I think about the way that I tended to live when I was in Houston, it’s not at all the way that people who have never lived there might expect.  There were huge chunks of the city that I never visited in the 22 years I lived there.  Nearly everything I did was within a much narrower radius around my house.  If I had to spend more than 30 minutes driving to get somewhere, I often decided it wasn’t worth it.

And I think that’s part of what can make a city like Houston work.  There isn’t one city center – the Galleria or the Medical Center are just as much population centers as Downtown.  They have their own radii of jobs, housing, and businesses that are really rather separate from each other.  With a more extensive and creative use of reliable public transportation, it could be possible to do most things within one of those centers without a car.  Instead of a network of just freeways connecting these various centers, the city could add high-speed trains to get from one to another.

That said, I don’t think that Houston should just keep expanding outward indefinitely.  As much as I personally love the single family home with a big yard, I think people who live in cities have to come to terms with the fact that they can’t all live in a place like that.  At the very least, everyone ought to scale down their expectations of what a single family detached home can reasonably look like in a big city…and McMansions aren’t really it.

But, I also think that this proposed toll road in Houston is not the best use of the city’s stimulus money.  It seems like a much better use of it would be to figure out how to increase public transportation options for commuters.  Instead of pouring money into more freeways, which only encourages more driving, it would be much smarter to try and find a means of public transportation that people out in the suburbs are actually willing to use.  It might not ever be quite as convenient as driving, but surely there are other incentives for leaving the car on the outskirts of the city.  If people would just open their minds a little bit, they might even see that those incentives are pretty darn good.

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I am woman, hear me…rant

March 17, 2009 at 8:34 am (Feminism, Politics) (, , , )

I saw the other day that President Obama has apparently created a White House Concil for Women and Girls.  This particular event doesn’t seem to have generated all that much media attention, although I did see it in a couple of different blogs.  And, because I’m sometimes a glutton for punishment, I ended up reading some of those blogs’ comments.

How sad is it that I was so unsurprised by the comments who basically said, “Women and girls, huh?  What about men and boys?”  I wasn’t just not surprised – I was expecting that sort of comment.  What does it say about the state of gender equality in this country, I wonder?

I am, unabashedly, a feminist.  It would be difficult to be anything else, growing up in the type of family that I did.  I’m pretty sure I was the only person in my elementary school who was picked up by her dad on a regular basis.  It was normal to have both parents work (many kids went home with friends or babysitters), but it was decidedly unusual to have just my mom working full time.  Anyone can imagine the types of values held by people who decided that was the best arrangement, and never appeared to feel any resentment about it.

So it never ceases to annoy me how quickly some of my concerns, as a feminist, are dismissed.  Sometimes even by women who, by their behavior and circumstances, ought to agree with me.  The fact of the matter is, women are underrepresented in high ranking and high paying jobs, they are paid less on average than men, and they still bear the primary burden of childcare.  Sure, more women go to college than men right now – but doesn’t that make all of those other things all the more shocking?  If colleges are 60% female, and the workforce has a slight majority of women, why are women earning less than men?  Shouldn’t they be earning more?

And if you argue that it’s because women leave the workforce to have children – why is that something that is deemed their lot in life?  Why is the only answer to a biological reality to either choose career, choose children, or kill yourself trying (and often failing) to have both?

I really just don’t understand why this has to be an either/or situation.  The fact is, men have been doing pretty well in western society for, oh, the past few millenia.  A few decades of trying to bring women up to the same level is seriously not going to kill them.  The only people who will have their situation permanently worsened are those people who are overly privileged anyway – I have a hard time feeling sorry for them.

This also ties into a very interesting article that I read in the Atlantic the other day.  It was about the fact that scientific studies have actually not shown that breastfeeding children is overwhelmingly better than bottle feeding them.  There are, perhaps, some slight benefits to nursing in terms of the baby’s health.  But there are also many negatives for women who have trouble nursing, who work, or who just plain don’t want to.  While it’s true that breastfeeding also costs nothing more than time – how much is your time worth to you?

The most interesting point is that when the mother is responsible for all of the feeding of the baby, she naturally falls into the role of primary caregiver.  I think it’s a rather intriguing argument that feeding a baby formula makes it easier for fathers to participate more fully in childcare.

I guess the only conclusion I can really draw from all of this is that I hope the White House Council manages to make a difference.  No matter what your stance on feminism, it’s kind of whiny to respond to that news with, “but what about meeeee?”  Certainly there are social ills that affect men more than women, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to ignore the societal norms that are weighted so heavily against women.

But, most importantly, women are people, and they are part of families.  Helping women is helping families, and everyone belongs to one of those.

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Responsibility

March 10, 2009 at 8:03 am (Uncategorized) (, )

I’ve been thinking a lot about responsibility just lately.  Out of sheer curiosity, I thought I’d look it up.  This is the definition from the American Heritage Dictionary (via dictionary.com):

re·spon·si·ble (rĭ-spŏn’sə-bəl)

  1. Liable to be required to give account, as of one’s actions or of the discharge of a duty or trust.
  2. Involving personal accountability or ability to act without guidance or superior authority: a responsible position within the firm.
  3. Being a source or cause.
  4. Able to make moral or rational decisions on one’s own and therefore answerable for one’s behavior.
  5. Able to be trusted or depended upon; reliable.
  6. Based on or characterized by good judgment or sound thinking: responsible journalism.
  7. Having the means to pay debts or fulfill obligations.
  8. Required to render account; answerable: The cabinet is responsible to the parliament.

Responsibility is almost like the Holy Grail of adulthood, at least in the United States.  Most everyone wants to be a responsible adult, and wants those they care about to be one, too.  It makes life easier, when everyone is responsible and self-reliant.

I mean, looking at the definition, it means that you can make decisions alone, that you can be depended upon, that you can pay your bills.  It means that you can be held liable for your actions and trusted to have good judgment.  It means that you recognize yourself as the originator and cause of your own actions.

But is that really all it is?  I’ve wondered, lately.  I personally think that I am a responsible adult, and yet I don’t quite fit that definition.  I am both less and more.  Less, because I still rely on my parents for advice (and in some cases, financial assistance).  But also more, because others rely on me.

I have begun to think that true responsibility comes only when you realize that you are not alone in the world.  When you realize that you need other people, and let yourself lean on them when you need it.  And when you realize that other people need you, and give them your support when they need it.  The world is interconnected, and it is actually very irresponsible to assume that any person can do it all alone.  When you inevitably find yourself in a bind, your problems are bigger than you ever thought they would be, and it’s that much harder to find solutions.  I suppose, as they say, no man is an island.

I think this is true on a personal level and a more impersonal one.  On my own personal level, I still rely on my parents for advice, and sometimes financial support.  I rely on my siblings for emotional support (and sometimes just plain entertainment).  I rely on Amiel for nearly everything.  But I am responsible for nearly the entire economic burden of my household.  In that respect, Amiel is very much dependent upon me.  Ideally, we will eventually share that burden equally, and be dependent upon each other.  Eventually, I will also be far more responsible for my parents than they are for me right now.

Or, nationally, I am responsible for the health and well-being of this country, as is every other citizen. I  pay my taxes, I follow the laws, and I vote.  But this country (and everyone in it) is also responsible for me.  It must protect me when I am threatened, and it provides a safety net (consisting of social welfare) if I ever fall on hard times.

Even internationally, this holds true.  The world is so interconnected that something that happens in one country can have an affect on every other country in the world.  When each country is responsible, each is able to help those in trouble, and receive help when it is in trouble.

I suppose this explains a lot about my own philosophy of the world I live in.  Interconnectedness isn’t just some thing that happened while we weren’t looking.  It is, I think, the very foundation of our nature as humans.  We are all drawn towards responsibility, because of the promise of independence that comes with it.  But we are also drawn towards responsibility because of the ability it gives all of us to rely on each other.  A person who is truly responsible understands that we all need each other, and tries to make sure that a workable system of give and take is there when we need it.

And, I suppose, my definition of irresponsibility is trying to get rid of that system of give and take when you don’t need it – but expecting everyone else to build it up again when you do.

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The Little Things

March 5, 2009 at 11:48 am (Little Things) (, , , )

Today, I feel as though I’m surrounded by little things.  It’s just like a collection of bright little bits of sunshine (or at least, I’m choosing to think of it that way).  It’s a gray day, so a little sunshine is a good thing.

It’s rainy today, but it didn’t rain on me while I was walking to work.

The daffodils are blooming.  We’ve got baby daffodils, which are tiny and cute, and regular daffodils.  I keep meaning to take a picture of them, and I probably will one of these days.

The crocuses are lovely.  So far, I’ve seen yellow, purple, and white ones.

The tree outside the window nearest me at work has some kind of bud or berry on its branches.  I’m hoping that means it’ll do something interesting in a few weeks.

I have ravioli for lunch today.  Somehow, pasta leftover is just so much more exciting than when it’s fresh.  Maybe because most things, when compared to peanut butter and jelly, are pretty exciting.

My eye makeup looks especially good today.  This is more amazing when you realize that I was actually running just a tad late this morning.

I really ought to remind myself that the little things add up to something much bigger, sometimes.  I know they do when it’s a lot of little bad things, but I should remember that it works the same way for good things.  I was feeling awfully whiny this morning, and it took some doing to remind myself of what’s nice about today.  Funnily enough, it was the ravioli that did it.  I’m ready for lunch, and hope the next hour passes quickly!

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I have enough character, I swear!

March 2, 2009 at 6:15 am (Uncategorized) (, )

For anyone who has ever read the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, I’m sure you remember all of those strips where Calvin’s dad talks about things building character.  Basically, Calvin complains about having to do something, and his dad insists that doing whatever it is builds character.

I kinda feel like that right now.  I’ve got so much character built, it’s coming out of my ears.  I’d really like to take a break from character building, just for a little while.  It’s really too bad that I likely won’t be able to any time soon.

We’re starting to get actual spring here.  It’s really only just the very beginnings of it, because it’s still cold.  But the daffodils are starting to bloom, and that’s the first sign of spring here in the Willamette Valley.  What’s funny is that apparently more northern parts of the valley got snow just last week.  Oregon’s a funny place.

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