Thursday, December 20, 2007

Words to the Wise

Home from her first semester at college, my daughter mentioned the other day that she was going to declare her major next semester. It will be English.

Is there any better way to say "I don't know what I want to be when I grow up" than to declare your major as English? I suppose she could have chosen philosophy.

Don't misunderstand now, I love literature and words. I am a writer after all. It is just that if we were to take all the English majors in the world, the unemployment line would reach the moon.

English majors are just not valued in today's society, despite how helpful they undoubtedly could be in myriad places. Take, for example, the current Supreme Court appeal of the District of Columbia gun ban, the question apparently hangs on the Second Amendment's use (or overuse, one might argue) of the comma.

The text reads: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Depending on how you interpret the commas, this cornerstone of American democracy either says that all people have the right keep and bear arms or that being part of the militia gives a person the right to carry a weapon. Or only the militia can keep guns.

And who will be advising the Supreme Court on this weighty matter? A bunch of lawyers who probably never stepped foot in a college grammar class, let alone read the classical literature that inspired the framers of the Constitution.

Let's face it, proper grammar, spelling and punctuation has gone the way of the typewriter.

Brevity is everything in this text-messaging world. Why, even the learned Merriam-Webster Dictionary capitulated to computer jargon in selecting its 2007 word of the year as "w00t" (complete with double zeros in the middle).

All I can say is I won't count on my daughter's support in my old age. :(

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Putting the Pro in Procrastination

Procrastination is an evil, evil thing.
I've been meaning to post something new on this blog for at least a week now. There's always something else to do. Especially this time of year. Cards, gifts, decorations, parties... the list goes on and on.
In fact, that's my usual technique for avoiding the avoiding of tasks--I make a list of what needs to be done. I should have a second column next to the task that provides the anti-delaying strategy.
But then making the list is in itself procrastination -- make the list to avoid doing the job.
As I sit here, I can think of at least three other things I should be doing. All day I've been waffling between doing the holiday shopping or the decorating. It is supposed to snow tonight, so I figure I won't want to be driving around tomorrow, but I definitely won't want to be out stringing lights on the roof either.
And the computer is the absolute worst enabler of this malady of mine. There are so many fun sites to check out--other blogs, email, shopping, games, etc. Without even realizing it, a whole day can go by and I've barely left the keyboard.
So, I've decided something has to be done. I'm going to put the pedal to the metal and stop procrastinating.
I'll start tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ho, ho, hold on to your wallet

Tis the season to be jolly, or so the song says.

Of course, what most of us find is that it is more of a season to say "oh, golly."

As in "Oh golly, I have too much to do" or "Oh golly I'm supposed to buy something for the janitor at my kids' school, too?" (You might use another, more powerful phrase than "Oh golly" but I have no control over who reads this, so I want to stay family-oriented. )

Don't get me wrong, I am no Grinch. I love the holidays, whether it is Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, the Winter Solstice or some ancient Himalayan ritual you celebrate. I am all in favor of anything that involves chocolate.

What bothers me, though, is not just the commercialization. It's been that way as long as I've been alive so that is all I know. What particularly struck me this morning on the radio was an advertisement by a bank, encouraging people to come in and buy a gift card for that special someone.

A bank?! Why not just stuff an envelope full of cash and be done with it? Too crass? Well, what's the difference? The recipient doesn't immediately know the amount, so the first response can't be "what a cheapskate." With the equivalent of a credit card with a specific limit, the bank credit card does not even say to the givee "I know you like to shop at Potholders Paradise,
so go wild. "

All a gift card says is "I didn't want to think about what you might like, so go buy it yourself."

Sure, at roughly 2x3 inches, a card is a lot easier to mail than the cello little Tommy has always wanted. Saves postage, saves time, saves thought... what more could you want?

Personally, I feel that if a person does not know enough about me to choose an appropriate gift, they shouldn't be buying me one.

"What if they already have everything?" you may posit. No one has everything. If he/she does have everything, a gift card is probably not going to rock his/her world. At least not one you can afford.

Why not just buy something you think the person would like -- yes, actually put some thought into it -- and attach the receipt (many stores now offer gift receipts without the exact price right there for everyone to see). If it is a duplicate or the wrong color/size/brand/whatever, it can be exchanged.

"Oh but that's so much trouble," you may say. What's the difference? The recipient would have to go to the store, just as he/she would with a gift card, and find the right size/color/brand/whatever, just as he/she would with a gift card. The biggest difference would be that there is a limited time for exchanges, so it gets done! No anonymous cards floating around in a wallet for months.

The people who would not take the time to exchange something probably would not take the time to use a gift card either, at least not at the time and in the spirit in which the gift was intended. As research has shown, more than one-fourth of gift cards purchased are never used. And many cards contain that teeny-tiny print with (to use the words of Robin Williams' Genie ) terms, conditions, limitations, exceptions and provisos that may make your gift not as valuable as you intended. An excellent report from Montgomery County (MD) rates cards and points out common problems:

Gift cards do have their place, though. For example, group gifts, say, for the teacher or boss. How many apple magnets can one person use, after all. And pooling a bunch of $5 contributions does make a nicer statement than a load of coffee mugs.

As in many situations, food is an answer. Large restaurant chains and even smaller spots offer the cards or just the old-fashioned gift certificate. Let's face it, everyone eats.

Another acceptable use is for kids, who think it is so fun to go to the store and pick out what they want. It is a trap for the parents though. Say Great-Aunt Judy sends little Emma a gift card for $10 because, well, Judy hasn't shopped for toys lately. What Emma just has to have at the toy store is $14.99 (because you've bought everything else already), so guess who has to fork over the other $4.99+tax. Just try explaining tax to a five-year-old.

Though a good idea at the heart, the gift card seems to have become one more way for the retail sector to take our money, as the old election joke goes, early and often.

After all, it is supposed to be the thought that counts, so how 'bout we put a little thought into it.

Friday, November 30, 2007

B is for Broccoli

Cookie Monster is no longer a cookie freak. How can this be? What is the world coming to?

This is apparently not new news (how's that for a repetitive redundancy?) but it is to me. Not sure which cave I was living in when the Sesame Street people announced this, but somehow the info slipped past my radar screen. In 2005, the Children's Workshop announced that the beloved blue character would adopt more healthful habits.

Instead of the classic "C is for Cookie" song, of which I must admit I know all the words, the lovable furry friend now growls out "Cookie is a Sometimes Food" to encourage moderation and better food choices among the viewers. Aside from the questionable grammar of the title (sometimes is an adverb not an adjective), the whole idea is so, well, wrong.

Yes, it's true that American children are getting fatter -- 1 in 3 is now considered overweight -- but changing the essential nature of a cartoon-like character is not the answer. For starters, I'd guess that most kids who watch Sesame Street are not the problem. Parents who choose public television are generally more enlightened and thus, more than likely, aware of the risks of childhood obesity.

Add to that the "forbidden fruit" notion -- make something bad and it instantly becomes desirable -- and the reality that children rarely do EXACTLY what they see a character on TV doing and you see that the trend toward political correctness has gone way out of control.

We all know that speeding is dangerous so should Road Runner slow down to 30 mph on those steep winding turns? Should Porky Pig clean up his closing line so as not to offend people with speech impediments? Where does it stop?

Lighten up, folks! It is a children's show. Leave Cookie alone and add balance in more subtle ways -- I've got a great recipe for zucchini chocolate chip cookies.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

An Intro

So this is blogging. For something so 21st century, it seems so easy. But maybe that's what Goggle is creating for our future--a fill-in-the-blanks world. A Google ID and you're up, up and away.

A meeting of the Boulder Writers Alliance on Tuesday gave me a preview of Microsoft's vision for the next few years, via Vista and Office 2007. It is a bright and colorful world with lots of cool graphics and "ribbons" instead of tool bars. Pick a color, any color. No design skill or knowledge needed, just click the one you like.

First of all, the name. What is the Cunning Hand? A play on my maiden name, Cunningham, for starters. And an acknowledgment of my new-found creativity. You see, I was co-editor of my high school newspaper and thus a columnist. The adviser kept trying to get me to come up with a creative name for the column. A previous editor named Pat called his Pat on the Back, because it appeared on the back page. Maybe he was thinking of Cunning Hand all along but hoped I'd come to it on my own. I didn't: I used something like Kathy's Corner or nothing at all. All I could think of was the derisive mangling of the name that (I later discovered) had to do with sex.

I suppose I've always been creative, but am just now acknowledging it and its uses. Like, maybe the last sentence of the last paragraph is going to bring me even more email solicitations for increasing the size of a body part I do not have.

The Cunning Hand is my way of putting into "print" my unique talent for
observing, writing about it and, basically, being a smart-aleck. I hope to make you think and make you laugh.

I am in a very lucky place in life now. My proverbial "dues" have been paid through years of marginally interesting and challenging jobs while raising three children and a clever, successful husband. If I'd been paid for just the meals I've made in the past 20-some years, I'd be rich enough to retire. So, I get to sit at my computer, looking out on the beauty of Boulder's open space, and indulge in something that gives me joy--writing. I hope it gives you joy as well.