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etc. - a little of this, a little of that - by Oliver Del Signore

Archive for September, 2011


Is unstructured, free play important for our children’s growth and development?

Friday, September 30th, 2011

A quarter of a century ago, when my children were small, I’d never heard of a play date. As it turned out, we occasionally arranged such “dates,” usually visiting with the other parent(s) while the kids ran wild in the house or in the backyard, but all that ended when they were old enough to go outside and play by themselves.

Martha and I believed as our parents did — unless a hurricane or snowstorm was raging, we were not allowed to sit around inside the house. But it was a rare occurrence that any of us or any of our friends would need any encouragement to get out of the house because there was far too much fun to be had outdoors.

The idea of foregoing ball or tag or  hide and seek or exploring strange backyards or any of the myriad things we thought to do back then just never occurred to us. Give up Cops and Robbers, Cowboys and Indians, or sword-fights with sticks to sit around staring at a TV or play a board game? None of us knew the word “ludicrous” of course, but if we had, that’s what we would have thought such a suggestion was. And I’m positive the nanny bureaucrats and the over-protective, program-every-minute-of-their-kid’s-lives soccer moms will think I’m lying, but, while we all suffered our share of scrapes and bruises, none of us ever had an eye put out with a stick. And neither did either of my kids or any of their friends. Unbelievable, eh?

What brought on the foregoing trip down memory lane was a column I read this morning about kids needing free play. It’s not long, but it says everything I’ve been saying for decades.

After you read the piece, please let me know your thoughts on it.

Growing up, were you one of the “structured” kids or the “free play” kids?

And what about your own kids and those of your siblings, friends, and neighbors?

A serious need for free play

WHEN WRITING about the decline of children’s free play, it’s difficult to avoid sounding as if you’re pining for an idealized past. I sympathize with readers who glaze over when they see a sentence that begins, “When I was a kid. . . .’’ They know what’s coming: “. . .we just played outside with no adult supervision, we didn’t need electronic gadgets to amuse us or coaches to tell us how to have fun, we didn’t worry about predators or bullies or other bogeymen that fearful parents obsess about these days,’’ and so on. But it’s worth finding a way around the clichés to engage the significant truths behind them, because the subject of kids’ play is important.

Free play isn’t an “extra’’ to be squeezed in between lessons, practices, and screen time. Free play, meaning an activity chosen and directed by the participants and undertaken for its own sake (and not, say, because an adult will give them some kind of credential for doing it), is what kids are designed to do.

Children, like many other young animals, learn by playing. As Peter Gray, a psychologist at Boston College who recently published an essay entitled “The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and Adolescents,’’ says, “Children come into the world ready to play. It’s part of human nature, which means that natural selection favors it. It has an important role in human survival.’’

Free play teaches children how to make decisions, solve problems, exercise self-control, follow rules, regulate their emotions, get along with others, make friends, develop interests and competencies, and, as Gray puts it, “experience joy.’’ The “free’’ part matters. There’s a deceptively big difference between being told by an adult to get in line to take your turn on the slide and learning from interaction with other kids, through trial and error and conflict and cooperation, that it’s not OK to hog the slide.

Click Here to read the rest of the column.


The road ahead for America’s energy consumers

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

I start each day with the comics in my local newspaper so I can get myself in a good mood before I turn to the front page.

I don’t know if Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, the guys behind the ZITS strip, meant today’s offering as commentary on the current administration’s energy policy, but that’s how I read it.

Just imagine Our Dear Leader or Uncle Sam in place of the dad and let me know what you think.


A Thank You and a Sign of the Times

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

First, I wanted to say think you to all the new folks who’ve been stopping by the blog, especially those who’ve been leaving comments. And of course, I also want to thank those who have been reading and commenting for some time.

I do read every comment and I very much appreciate the time you folks take to share your thoughts, whether you agree with me or not.


Sometimes, nothing I could possibly say would add a thing to a story or graphic. Today is such a day.

I’ll be most interested to read what you folks might have to say about the following.

(If you are not familiar with Solyndra, Click Here and you’ll understand.)


Is the whole nation insane or is it just people here in Massachusetts?

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s Comment Contest winner – Kathy.


I found the post, below, which I’ve shamelessly copied in it’s entirety, on The Natural Truth blog of my favorite talk-show host, Michael Graham.

It’s been clear for a long time that most of Europe is no longer able to think outside the padded room. Just follow the second link for more evidence of that. But I was under the impression that when dopes tried to make stupid rules here, they at least did so with some semblance of rational justification. But Halloween…a religious holiday?

Note — If you follow the first link, you need to scroll to the bottom of the page to see  the search results that show listings for  a school Halloween party and parade last year. Which reminds me of another point.

Have you ever noticed how so many “educated” folks seem to think the rabble are all dumb rubes who’ll not bother to do even some basic fact-checking and just accept whatever they’re told? Then again, based on the results of the most recent presidential election, maybe they have some justification for their belief.

Note also — If you visit the school site, the “Happenings” section on the right that lists “No School” and “offices closed” on Thursday, the 29th, for “Rosh Hashanah.” Isn’t that, like, a religious holiday…as they claim Halloween is?

So…is it just here in The People’s Republic that this kind of insanity becomes more prevalent with each passing month or has the infection spread to wherever you live, too?

And will your kids be celebrating Halloween in school this year or are your school board and administrators a bunch of Halloweenies, too?


The Scariest Halloween Story You’ll Hear This Year?

Halloween is still more than a month away, but already the terror is beginning. It’s the government-run school system’s bone-shaking fear of…fun.

This morning I received this email from a listener out in Sudbury, MA:

We were just informed by my son’s second grade teacher that our children will not be permitted to acknowledge the existence of Halloween. Basically “We cannot have Halloween themed crafts/snacks because not all families in the class celebrate Halloween.” The activities need to be Autumn/Fall Harvest themed (last year kids made little scarecrows).” First of all…what American kid doesn’t like Halloween? What? Should all the kids not be allowed to celebrate Halloween because one kid in the class will be forever traumatized by seeing them all in costumes eating jelly apples? C’mon! Am I missing something here?

No, this concerned parent isn’t missing anything. My producer called the Peter Noyes Elementary School in Sudbury and the parent’s account was confirmed by the principal, Annette Doyle. She told us:

PNES does not celebrate Halloween and they do not decorate the school in any way for Halloween.

Sometimes parents are upset that their kids can’t come in costume – something they did do “years ago”

It is not a policy to not acknowledge Halloween They do acknowledge it and even sometimes have a safety officer come in.

She said it was a district policy- When asked if the decision was then made above her she said she “believed so.”

Why no Halloween for the kids at her school? “There is no celebration because it has a religious basis and we keep a separation of church and state.”

Principal Doyle’s claim that observing Halloween ended “years ago” seems to run contrary to the facts on the school’s website. But setting that aside, the question remains “Why?”

So one parent doesn’t like Halloween, or claims that it’s a religious holiday (really—what religion?) and the school has to shut down one of the kids’ favorite experiences?

If the issue were safety or disrupting class or something, I’d get it. But no jack-o-lanterns or witches or Halloween-related art? Really?

Well, I suppose it could be worse…

From the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz to Meg, the good witch from the Meg and Mog children’s books, witches have always dressed in black.

But their traditional attire has now come in for criticism from [school consultant] equality experts who claim it could send a negative message to toddlers in nursery and lead to racism.

Instead, teachers should censor the toy box and replace the pointy black hat with a pink one, while dressing fairies, generally resplendent in pale pastels, in darker shades.


Can kids learn self-reliance by moving away from home?

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Students learn self-reliance at school

Typically before adulthood, we live under the reign of our parents. We are supported, for the most part, financially by them. We do what they tell us to do. We even ask for their permission to do the things we want to do.

Bioloy major Devin Daniels illustrates the frustration that can come from moving out and being independent. Students learn how to cook their own meals and do laundry after the transition into college life. Photo by Mickelle Yeates - Dixie Sun

 But college can be an interesting transition to adulthood. It is here we are not only trying to get the degree that will help us to become independent, but it is also where we get the opportunity to venture out from the nest of our parents and learn from new experiences.

Click Here to read the rest of the article.

I was twenty-four years old when I moved out of my parent’s home into my first apartment. It was on the second floor of an owner-occupied home and consisted of three large rooms — a kitchen, living room, and bedroom — a 6×6 foot walk-in closet, a front porch overlooking the street, and a bathroom you needed to go out into the hallway to enter. The rent was $130 a month.

My first order of business was, with the landlord’s blessing, cutting a door into the bathroom from the living room and sealing the old door to the hallway. Next came painting the whole thing. Then came finding furniture.

My parents were kind enough to let me take my beat-up bedroom set. Other furniture, a sofa, a kitchen table and chairs, etc., was donated by folks who left them outside their homes on the sidewalk on trash day. Mom and some aunts off-loaded lots of mismatched glasses, cups, plates, silverware, etc., that had, for decades, been cluttering their cabinets and closets. A pleasant, though temporary side effect of their largess was that I had so many, I only had to wash dishes every two weeks or so. Of course, that changed when I started inviting home persons of the female persuasion who, inexplicably, were unable to follow the labor-saving logic of allowing dirty dishes to accumulate so all could be washed at once.

I learned another valuable life lesson once cold weather set in. It turned out that heating oil tanks do not fill themselves unless one makes prior arrangements for that that to happen. Worse, in leaky old houses, a hundred bucks (most of what I took home each week from my job back then) worth of oil did not last all that long unless one was willing to wear sweaters and, on some days, a jacket, and to sleep under several layers of blankets at night.

Other life lessons, large and small, were learned in that first apartment, not the least of which was that despite what some would see as hardship or foolishness, independence and freedom were important and empowering things. I was not at all above stopping by the family home now and then for a mom-cooked meal, but from the first time I crawled into bed, turned out the light, and listened to the sounds of a new neighborhood at night, I knew I never wanted to live with my parents again. Ever.

What was your first place like? Did you live alone or share with others?

What lessons, if any, did you learn by having to fend for yourself?

And looking back, would have liked to do anything differently?

Personally, I wouldn’t have changed a thing…except, perhaps, to learn how to weatherstrip old windows.




Sunday Videos: How to Win Money Betting on Fruit and other silliness

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

How to Win Money Betting on Fruit

Unlock car with cell phone

How To Talk Your Way Out Of a Speeding Ticket

How to Make A Wallet From a Computer Keyboard

The world’s most dangerous comic

Do you know of three to five YouTube, embeddable videos that would make a great Sunday Video collection?

If so, please post the links as comments to this post.

They can be how-to, funny, silly, or anything else that’s family-friendly.



Are you or your kids part of the recession’s lost generation?

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Great Recession yields a lost generation of workers
New 2010 census data show wrenching impact of economic downturn on young adults

Call it the recession’s lost generation.

In record-setting numbers, young adults struggling to find work are shunning long-distance moves to live with Mom and Dad, delaying marriage and buying fewer homes, often raising kids out of wedlock. They suffer from the highest unemployment since World War II and risk living in poverty more than others — nearly 1 in 5.

New 2010 census data released Thursday show the wrenching impact of a recession that officially ended in mid-2009. It highlights the missed opportunities and dim prospects for a generation of mostly 20-somethings and 30-somethings coming of age in a prolonged slump with high unemployment.

“We have a monster jobs problem, and young people are the biggest losers,” said Andrew Sum, an economist and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. He noted that for recent college grads now getting by with waitressing, bartending and odd jobs, they will have to compete with new graduates for entry-level career positions when the job market eventually does improve.

“Their really high levels of underemployment and unemployment will haunt young people for at least another decade,” Sum said.

Richard Freeman, an economist at Harvard University, added, “These people will be scarred, and they will be called the ‘lost generation’ — in that their careers would not be the same way if we had avoided this economic disaster.”

Beyond the economy’s impact, the new figures also show a rebound in the foreign-born population to 40 million, or 12.9 percent, the highest share since 1920. The 1.4 million increase from 2009 was the biggest since the mid-decade housing boom and could fuel debate in this election season about U.S. immigration strategy.

Most immigrants continue to be low-skilled workers from Latin America, with growing numbers from Asia also arriving on the bet that U.S. jobs await. An estimated 11.2 million immigrants are here illegally.

Click Here to read the rest of the story.

Every day, I am thankful for the clients who continue to value my services. And I’m thankful my children and their spouses all have good jobs for I know of many whose children are part of the millions who cannot even get jobs at fast food restaurants because the competition for even entry-level jobs is so high where they live.

I have to wonder how many jobs that could have been filled by unemployed citizens are being held by the 11.2 million illegals in America.

I have to wonder how many self-employed contractors and plumbers, and carpet cleaners and others have, like my neighbor who had a contracting business for almost fifteen years, have all but given up because every contract on which they bid is underbid by one or more of the many unlicensed, uninsured fly-by-night outfits usually run by, yes, illegals.

And I always wonder how you, kind reader, are doing.

Is your job secure? Are you unemployed? If so, what, if anything, have you done or tried to do and what were the results?

Do you have any tips to share with folks who are coming to the end of their rope?

And what about your children?


Should a civilized society execute criminals?

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

In response to my Tuesday post about a homeowner being threatened with fines and jail for growing a garden, Amy Hillecke posted a comment on BHM’s Facebook page asking for my opinion about the recent execution of convicted murderer Troy Davis in Georgia.

San Quentin Prison execution chamber.

Keeping in mind that I know about the case only what I’ve read in a few news reports, I believe Davis was wrongly executed. That is not to say he did not deserve execution. Despite his continued protestations of innocence, he may well have been guilty of the crime. But in the face of serious doubt, I don’t believe any civilized society has the right to end a life, and — again, based only on what little I’ve read — there did appear to be enough doubt to continue to stay the execution.

Obviously, jurists at several levels, up to and including the Supreme Court, disagreed. If further investigation does prove Davis’ innocence, then each of those jurists will have to live with the knowledge they helped execute an innocent man and will face dying one day to, perhaps, face the ultimate judge of their decisions.

I believe we must always err on the side of life.

That said, in such cases where there is no doubt, I believe the proper course of action is a bullet to the back of the head. It’s fast and it’s cheap and the rest of us can get on with living.

I hope I’ve answered Amy’s question. If not, perhaps she will post a comment here.

For the rest of you kind readers, I have my own questions:

Do you believe death is ever a justifiable punishment? If so, under what circumstances, for what crimes?

And do you agree that if there is any reasonable doubt, despite what rules and laws are in place, they must be overridden and execution stayed until such time, if ever, guilt is proven beyond any shadow of a doubt?


Another reason to get government out of the welfare business

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

You might think I was shocked when I came across the following story. You’d be wrong. Living here in The People’s Republic of Massachusetts has made me immune to shock or surprise at anything  government does.

Mass. Welfare Money Spent On Resorts, Nail Salons
Mass. Welfare Recipients Spend $2.3 Million Out of State

BOSTON — A Team 5 Investigation found more than $2.3 million in Massachusetts welfare money, meant to help the needy buy food, pay their rent and clothe their children, has been spent in locations outside the state in a three-month period, including pricey vacation destinations like Hawaii, Las Vegas, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Bay State residents can use their welfare money in Las Vegas and other resorts.

In July, lawmakers signed off on a plan to stop welfare recipients from buying alcohol, tobacco and lottery tickets with cash assistance. But critics told Team 5 the state’s so-called crackdown doesn’t go far enough.

“People want to help people who are in need; that’s the way we’re built in Massachusetts. But by the same token you don’t want to be taken to the cleaners,” said Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute.

Team 5 obtained three months of electronic benefit card transactions by welfare recipients, and sorted the data by state and address. The money was accessed from October 2010 through December 2010. It’s a straightforward analysis that officials at the Massachusetts Dept. of Transitional Assistance said they’ve never done.

“Currently, with the systems that are in place today, one could look at this kind of information on a regular basis,” said Mike Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

Currently, there are 73,000 households receiving cash assistance, and benefit amounts are determined based on a variety of factors, including household size, monthly income and household expenses.

Team 5’s analysis found $2,335,188.50 was spent in 45 different states as well as the Caribbean, raising serious questions about how the Commonwealth’s neediest people can afford to travel on the taxpayer’s dime.

Click Here to read the rest of the story.

This kind of abuse can only happen when government is involved in transferring wealth from those who earn it to those who do not.

Back in the days when the truly poor and disadvantaged looked to local religious and fraternal organizations for help, using a welfare credit card to get your nails done 1500 miles from home simply could not happen. For one, such cards had not yet been envisioned by those who “earn” their living by stealing your money and giving it to others.  For another, were it discovered a recipient for their neighbor’s charity was wealthy enough to travel such a distance, those providing the assistance would likely cut it off.

I believe civilized folks should help those who truly cannot help themselves. But that help should come at the local level because it’s easy to scam a faceless “system” but it’s not so easy to fool your priest or rabbi or neighbor who’s dropping off the bag of groceries and clothes for the kids.

What do you folks think?

How is welfare handled where you live?

Should welfare recipients be entitled to use your money to take vacations?

Do you think government generally does a good job handling welfare?

Or do you agree with me that all welfare bureaucracies should be dismantled, their employees sent out to the dreaded private sector to find work, and leave the caring for the disadvantaged to their family and neighbors?






Fines or jail for growing a garden?

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s Comment Contest winner – Leonard Barnes, a repeat winner!


Idiots come in all sizes, shapes and job descriptions. We run into them frequently in everyday life, especially when dealing with power-mad bureaucrats, but we kind of expect that if when find ourselves in court, we’ll be standing in front of someone to whom the label will not apply. Apparently, such is not the case in at least one Tennessee courtroom.

Seeds of Discontent
Code enforcement targets urban garden.

Adam Guerrero and three kids from his neighborhood, Jovantae, Jarvis, and Shaquielle, hardly seem like lawbreakers as they turn over soil at Guerrero’s Nutbush home.

Adam Guerrero with (l-r),Jarvis, Jovantae, and Shaquielle

But the city’s code enforcement department has deemed their urban garden a nuisance, and a judge has ordered them to remove the small ecosystem they’ve been working on for the last two years.

According to the court summons, Guerrero, a math teacher at Raleigh-Egypt High School, was cited for violating city ordinances 48-38 and 48-87: He failed to “remove personal property” that is “unsightly” or a “nuisance,” and he failed to maintain “a clean and sanitary condition free from any accumulation of rubbish or garbage.”

Shelby County Environmental Court judge Larry Potter upheld the citation, ordering Guerrero to get rid of the “debris and personal property” stored outside his home and trim overgrown vegetation — including cutting down his 7-foot-tall sunflower plants.

“He said it’s considered a neighborhood nuisance,” says Guerrero, who is a member of the GrowMemphis board. “I asked him to define nuisance for me, and he said basically if it generates a complaint, it’s a neighborhood nuisance.”

Click Here to read the rest of the story.

Click here to see a slideshow of Guerrero’s yard.

If it generates a complaint, it’s a neighborhood nuisance? Had Judge Potter been toking on a certain psychoactive weed when he made that pronouncement?

If we are to use that standard, I could force my neighbor to cut down his trees because, each autumn, those falling leaves that land in my yard are sure a nuisance. Then there’s the neighbor with the dog, the one that likes to bark every time someone walks by. Talk about a nuisance. And don’t even get me started on the eye-assaulting paint jobs I see when I drive around town.

The fact is that anyone can claim anything they don’t like is a nuisance and the city’s code-enforcement department and especially Judge Potter should be bright enough to know that.

Personally, I hope Guerrero fights this idiocy by appealing to a higher court and, perhaps, filing suit against Judge Potter for abuse of power and gross stupidity.

What do you think?



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