Monthly Archives: November 2009

Black Friday

Someone at church was telling me this morning about to the mall on Black Friday, the big shopping day after Thanksgiving. “We got to the mall at 6 a.m.,” Ms. X said enthusiastically, “and already there were no parking places left!” To me, this sounds horrible, but to Ms. X it was all a big adventure. I’m a cheap New England Yankee, I think of shopping as a pragmatic, thrifty venture:– you shop only when it is efficient to do so, and you shop as little as possible in order to spend as little money as possible. I never go shopping on Black Friday because I don’t want to waste time in traffic, and I don’t want to be tempted into buying things I neither want nor need.

But I forget that for many Americans, shopping is an adventure, a hobby, and a sport combined;– and Black Friday is the Olympics, the Everest, the ultimate moment for the serious shopper — the moment you’ve been training for all year long. Judge not someone else’s hobby unless you want your own hobbies judged by them.

Walking in a winter delusion

Mr. Crankypants went to the grocery store yesterday. The piped-in music had a woman’s voice whining about dreaming of a white Christmas. On the drive home, Mr. Crankypants turned on a vapid classical music radio station. They were playing an overly cheerful recording of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” as performed by the Pops Orchestra of the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople. Later in the day, Mr. Crankypants walked down the street. Some store window displays featured bizarre-looking fake snow.

Apparently, Christmas consumerism in the San Francisco Bay area must include bizarre fantasies of cold weather, deep snow, sleighing, and other things that are extremely unlikely to happen in this climate. Mr. Crankypants believes that this is the strongest evidence yet that the Christmas consumer season has morphed from a marketing ploy into a full-blown psycho-pathological delusion.

As Ebeneezer Scrooge put it so eloquently: “Bah. Humbug. Christmas humbug psychosis.”

Happy Thanksgiving

Earlier today, we walked down to San Francisco Bay and saw Black-necked Stilts in the mudflats and the San Mateo Bridge in the distance. We sat around eating Spanish cheese and rice crackers, and Sue and Carol drank some chianti. Sue and Carol went to take a nap, and I walked over to Central Park in San Mateo to walk through the Japanese Garden.

Now I’m back home, about to do the final preparations for the Thanksgiving feast. The turkey is sitting on top of the oven to cool. The butternut squash has almost finished roasting in the oven. The mashed potatoes are cooked, the broccoli is about ready to be cooked. I’m about to set the table, and pretty soon we’ll be eating.

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving!

Day before a holiday

For me, one of the best things about a major holiday is going to work the day before that holiday. Take today, for example, which is the day before Thanksgiving. Everyone is a little more relaxed, so you tend to make a little more time to chat with people. “Hey, you all ready for the big day?” you say. “You starving yourself so you can eat more tomorrow?” Then you tell each other what you’re going to do for the holidays — staying home with just a couple of family members, driving to a big family gathering in another state, having relatives over to your house, whatever. Depending on who you’re talking with, one of you might mention that it’s going to be hard this year because someone died in the past year, and you can say that because you know the other person is thinking about the same thing because someone in their family died in the past year. And maybe you talk about your favorite Thanksgiving food, or whether or not you watch the football game, or the Macy’s parade on television. Then, if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get to go home an hour or so early — or if you’re like me and can’t leave work early, there is at least less pressure and you can take time off in the middle of the work day and write a short blog post about how much you like going to work the day before a major holiday.

How best to reach visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners

I promised Joe that I would post a link to this…. In an article on the American Federation of Teachers Web site, Daniel Willingham, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Virginia, answers the question: “What does cognitive science tell us about the existence of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners and the best way to teach them?”

The short answer to this question: “What cognitive science has taught us is that children do differ in their abilities with different modalities, but teaching the child in his [or her] best modality doesn’t affect his [or her] educational achievement. What does matter is whether the child is taught in the content’s best modality.” [Italics in original.]

For years, I’ve been teaching Sunday school teachers to be aware of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners, but on the basis of this article, I will be rethinking my training strategy. You can read the whole article online, and draw your own conclusions.


According to a review of Stewart Brand’s new book Whole Earth Discipline, Brand says the following in the introduction:

My opinions are strongly stated and loosely held.

I’m probably not going to read Brand’s new book, but I like that one sentence; it nicely sums up an approach that has worked well for me.

My older sister does not get paid enough

For years, Internet users have been dealing with “trolls,” people who deliberately derail online conversations by writing cruel, crude, off-topic, and/or mean-spirited posts. Different trolls have different motivations, but generally the best way to deal with trolls is to ignore them — thus the Internet saying, “Please do not feed the trolls.”

But what happens when someone engages in “live-trolling”? For example, a male student showed up in one of my older sister’s college classes wearing a t-shirt that read “I [heart] vaginas.” This is a great example of live trolling — derailing a live conversation (in this case, a college class) with a t-shirt slogan that is obviously intended to piss people off, and distract them from the work of the class. You can read how Jean handled this situation on her blog.

Trolls are not very intelligent life forms, and need to be hit upside the head with a big stick in order to get their attention. When trolls appear on this blog (as has happened once or twice), I usually call them out, give them one chance to apologize, and then when they don’t apologize (trolls are notorious for acting hurt and misunderstood when someone calls them out), I delete their comments — there is no better way to stop the feeding of trolls than to remove their posts. I’m sorry that Jean is not able to treat live-trolls in her classroom the way I treat online trolls in this blog. She does not get paid enough.

“Endowment for a Rainy Day”

Stanford Social Innovation Review is offering “Endowment for a Rainy Day,” an excellent article from their latest issue, online in its entirety for non-subscribers. This article, by Burton A. Weisbrod and Evelyn D. Asch, both of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, makes several excellent points:

  • The main goal for an endowment should be to sustain the central programs of a nonprofit. However, “it should not be the goal of the programs to protect the endowment, cutting them back to sustain or rebuild the endowment.”
  • Nonprofits have a great deal of control over their endowments, and “contrary to common belief, there is no legal minimum or maximum amount that nonprofits must withdraw (payout rate) from their endowment each year.”
  • Nonprofits that hold money in reserve for “a rainy day” — circumstances beyond their control that adversely affect programs — should be better able to weather a rainy day than nonprofits without money in reserve.
  • While there is “no simple definition of what constitutes a rainy day, an overall drop of 10 percent of annual revenues” should count as a rainy day. The current recession has caused a rainy day for many nonprofits, making this an appropriate time for spending down endowments to protect programs.
  • “Squeezing today’s students, patients, and museumgoers [and congregants] to save money for future generations of users is misguided. But building endowment is not misguided if it is used as rainy day insurance, to preserve stability and long term development of programs central to a nonprofit’s mission.”

This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time on the principles that should guide endowments. I urge you to read the whole article yourself.