The Random Yak

Put Down the Candy Bar and Step Away Slowly.

Filed under: Just Yaks,Yak Rants — Random Yak @ 1:47 pm on May 3, 2010

(On a tip of the horns to Slashfood:)

Legislators in Louisiana have rejected a pair of proposed bills that would have regulated “healthy” versus “unhealthy” foods and banned Louisiana residents participating in state food stamp-type programs (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) from using state assistance funds to purchase “unhealthy” foods.

Thank you, Louisiana, for taking an important stand on individual freedom and against the nanny-state ideology.

I understand that people don’t always make good choices about what to put in their bodies.  Or on their bodies.  Or around their bodies.  In fact, people make astonishingly poor choices every day, in such large numbers that it’s something of a miracle the human race hasn’t humiliated and eaten itself into oblivion. That said, one of the fundamental notions upon which the United States was founded was the idea that each person has the right to eat, sleep, think and work as he or she sees fit (with reasonable exceptions necessary to maintain public order and prevent literal suicidal/homicidal/maniacal tendencies).

In shorter words: if I want to stuff myself with M&Ms, french fries and root beer, in the comfort and privacy of my own home, that’s my right as a free, adult citizen of these United States.  If you don’t like it, shove off, skippy.

Now, I’m not saying these choices come without consequences.  If I do elect to maintain myself on nothing but sugar, peanut butter and booze, my health will probably suffer.  And yes, as the Louisiana legislator responsible for the bill pointed out, to the extent the state is responsible for my medical care, the state pays the penalty for my lack of foresight and/or common sense.

Wherein lies the real solution to the problem. (more…)

Yak of the Week: The Future of Academia

Filed under: Education Yaks,Yak Rants,Yaks of the Week — Random Yak @ 4:06 pm on April 1, 2010

Apparently, the Dean of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles has somehow convinced himself (and others) that the best way to help his students find jobs in a lousy economy already glutted with would-be lawyers is…

retroactively raising everyone’s GPA by .333, and prospectively implementing an easier grading curve.

Had the story not broken yesterday, I would have taken it for an April Fool.  Even so, it staggers the imagination and stuns the mind (mine at least) almost beyond the capacity for rational thought.

So, just when I thought society might have risen above it, I’m re-instituting the Yak of the Week Award.  This week’s victim recipient:  Loyola Law School.

Above the Law reports that the Dean justifies this brilliant maneuver by pointing out that (a) other law schools have already resorted to grade inflation to help their graduates get jobs, (b) employers pay very close attention to law school grades when hiring new employees for legal positions, and (c) over the last few years, Loyola Law’s students have “improved significantly” – though apparently without the increasing GPAs to prove it.

In other words:

1.  We know you’re doing better, even though the evidence doesn’t prove it.

2.  If we raise your grades, you’ll we’ll everyone will look better to the guys you’re trying to convince that your law degree is still worth more than the recycling value of the paper it’s printed on.


3.  Everyone else is doing it.

Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but where I come from #3 is the kind of excuse that holds about as much water as the average industrial sieve.  In The Random Parents’ Household, when I was growing up, it was the kind of excuse that not only didn’t accomplish your objective, it also got you two-to-five (days) hard labor in the flower garden and an extended lecture on “What You Should NOT Do If Your Friends Jump Off A Bridge.”  (See: The Riot Act, Articles 9-13).

Had I responded to questions about my own grades with something akin to (the aptly named) Reason #2, I would have been grounded and/or beaten to a pulp for lying, depending on the forum in which I chose to make my ill-conceived announcement.

And as for Reason #1…facts and words both defy me to explain the utter idiocy of that proposition.  But I’ll try anyway.  The whole reason for “grades” is to let a student, their professor(s), and the world at large know how the student’s work compares with some objective scale.  At least in theory, when work improves, grades also improve – particularly when the same faculty member(s) are applying the grading scale from year to year.  (We’re ignoring the occasional rogue and/or grumpy professor, as well as the literally undeserved low grade.) This isn’t a case of “same students, same grades” or even “same students, plus improvement, same grades” – in which case I could understand some adjustment.  This is a case of hundreds of students, spread across a continuum which does not change – and which, for the record, is pegged to licensing requirements. I’ve taught law school.  I’ve even been an Associate Dean.

In other words: I know how it works.  A low C (71-72%) represents “minimum passing” on the Bar exam.  Therefore, a law school grading curve should be set so that students whose work would barely pass the Bar exam (“as if by fire”) get….a C.  From there, we scale upward.  And, regrettably but necessarily, downward.   It’s not rocket science…and it’s also not subject to artificial inflation “because we think you’re a really really cool bunch of neat-o guys who should really really be awesome lawyers and we like your socks.”


If your curve is right, you have no reason to change it.  Even if your curve is wrong, you have no reason to change it retroactively. Worst of all, I suspect Loyola’s curve isn’t wrong.  I suspect, if you compared the 70-72%+ students, most of them pass the Bar exam, and the ones below that number, don’t.  If that wasn’t the case, the students would have self-selected for other law schools.  That’s the way it works – if your graduates don’t pass the licensing exam, people don’t go there.

Another clue: the need for Thing 2 and Thing 3…which point quite strongly to the Cat in the Hat in the corner.  It seems to me that if this was really a grading curve problem Loyola would have issued a very different statement.  Something on the order of “oh noes, the LOLcats got into the grading system and brainwashed all the professors!!!!!11!!!”  Well, that or “we’ve discovered our grading system doesn’t appropriately track the Bar examiners’ standards and are making necessary adjustments to ensure that our students have an accurate picture of how they will perform on the Bar.”  Not “oh noes, our grads are out of work.”

And so, we proudly bestow the Yak of the Week Award for A+* Education to Loyola Law School.


  • Instituting not one but two grades above a 4.0 (Yes, Virginia, there is something above an A+.  We call it A+*);
  • Teaching a whole generation of lawyer-candidates that it’s not what you do, it’s what everyone thinks you did that counts;
  • Raising the Bar (candidates) by any means necessary; and
  • Proving, once and for all, that Anything Really Is Okay If Everyone Else Is Doing It.

Congratulations, Yak of the Week.

As a parting thought: someone might want to point out to the Dean that when they said the “grads” were a problem, the solution wasn’t “I’d like to buy another vowel.”

An Open Letter to a Stinky Solicitor (in more ways than one)

Filed under: Yak Rants — Random Yak @ 2:02 pm on March 26, 2010

An open letter to the solicitor I just shooed somewhat unceremoniously from my office:

Miss Unnamed Solicitor: (please note, you’re not a dear.)

In future, when invading my place of work and/or personal office (“Inner Sanctum”) unrequested and unannounced, please observe the following:

1.  Copious quantities of perfume and/or body spray are prohibited within the Inner Sanctum.  If I can smell you at 50 feet, and still smell you ten minutes after you’ve gone….GO HOME AND SHOWER.  Or if that’s not clear enough: Living flowers are attractive.  Rotten, stanky essence of something-pretending-to-be-floral is not.  YOU STINK.  GO AWAY NOW.

2.  When I politely ask if this is a solicitation call, you don’t actually fool me by responding “No, I’m just the new rep in the neighborhood and I came in to introduce myself.”  If I’ve never heard of your company before and my firm doesn’t use, purchase or subscribe to its services…this isn’t a social call.  It’s a solicitation.  GO AWAY.  Or if that’s not clear: GO AWAY NOW.

3.  If I tell you I’m busy and don’t have interest in a solicitation visit, please do NOT attempt to sit down in my client chairs and start a conversation.  I didn’t invite you to sit down.  In fact, I asked you to…(say it with me) GO AWAY.  The fact that I said it politely, and used the words “Thank you for stopping by, but I don’t have time for conversations and I’m not interested in solicitations today” does not constitute an invitation to plant your bottom in my dragon-headed chairs.  If that’s not clear, permit me to rephrase:  DO NOT WANT.  YOU GO ‘WAY.

4.  Complimenting my antique, hand-carved, dragon-headed Chinese client chairs will not win either my time or my approval of your continuing presence.  I know the chairs are nice.  That would be why I bought them.  In a related story, I haven’t yet taught them to bite solicitors on the buttocks but my shoe is perfectly competent for that task if you still fail to get the message.  You’re not here to become my friend, and I have enough friends who aren’t trying to sell me something anyway.  (PS: they like the chairs too, only their appreciation is sincere.  Yours was a sad, pathetic attempt at sincerity…FAIL.) Oh, that and: …GO AWAY.

The fact that you insisted on injecting yourself, and your apprentice hanger-on, into my Friday afternoon was not – of itself – enough to get you turned into my personal pinata of fisk.  The fact that you attempted to ignore no less than four clear statements of polite dismissal and earned yourself a direct invitation to leave…well, that does.  I decided not to try and bill you for the valuable lesson in “request to depart 101″ your little apprentice learned, nor for the six minutes of my time it took me to (a) convince you to remove your insistent and loathsome-smelling self from my presence and (b) flog you in effigy on the Internet, but be warned: next time you might not be so lucky.

Next time, I’m using your company name as well.

Sincerely, (because if you’re going to blow someone off, you might as well do it this way)

R. Yak

Proprietor and Fisker in Chief.

Observed While Picking Up (Prescription) Drugs

Filed under: Frivol,Holyday Yaks,Just Yaks,Yak Rants — Random Yak @ 12:09 pm on December 4, 2009

Last night I ran out to pick up some dinner and stopped off at the local pharmacy to pick up a prescription for The Random Spouse.  (Note: Yak the Younger went with me, so I have a witness on this.)

I made my way through aisles strewn with the detritus of Christmas-to-come, aka the Miracle That Is the Pharmacy Christmas Section: obligatory piles of colored paper, ribbons and bows, a thousand light-up snowmen and half a dozen models of bell-wearing reindeer that dance and play [Insert "The Most Irritating Carol Known to Man"] at the push of a single button.

Despite my usually cynical nature (exacerbated, as always, by low blood sugar and the presence of plush Santas and smiling angels wearing banners that proclaim “Happy Holidays”…with the irony apparently lost on everyone but me) I found myself strangely infected by the Christmas Spirit.  I started to smile.  I even decided to get my Christmas tree this weekend – a week ahead of schedule.

Somehow, the store had made me merry, and instead of fighting it, I decided to enjoy it.

And then I saw it.  Sitting on an end-cap halfway between the front of the store and the pharmacy counter.  An object so strange, so hideous and so inappropriate that my Christmas spirit shattered and a single, overwhelming thought filled my mind.

I am so blogging this.

Particularly since the store had posted a large, multicolored sign next to the offending item which read: “THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS GIFT.”


In whose mutated, illogical world does a “Dog blanket with sleeves” even rate as an acceptable Christmas gift? (Hint: not the dog’s.) The dog doesn’t want one.  The owner shouldn’t want one.  And – in case you needed more evidence – nobody else wants to see the poor dog wearing one.

If you want to dress yourself in an absurd-looking fuzzy drop cloth with arm holes, in the comfort and privacy of your own home, go for it.  Knock yourself out.  Your family will probably snicker behind their hands (assuming they wouldn’t guffaw openly, as mine would) and your siblings will doubtless post incriminating photos on YouTube for all the world to see.  Still, it’s a (mostly) free country, and – to paraphrase my law school Contracts Professor – every person can make as good a choice, or as stupid a choice, as (s)he is able.

But for the love of all that’s good and merciful, and in the spirit of the holiday:

please, please, PLEASE don’t do it to the dog.

Enhance Your Calm, Citizen

Filed under: Just Yaks,Yak Rants — Random Yak @ 10:09 am on December 2, 2009

Those of you in the United States know that the first, foremost and primary concern of all American homeowners during the month of December is…property taxes.

Some of you might think that clashes with the Christmas Spirit, but they’re actually closer than you realize.  After all, property taxes are just the state’s way of letting you demonstrate that you really believe “it’s better to give than to receive.”

Give, and give, and give until it hurts.

And for some of us, it really hurts.

(For the record, whoever thought up the concept of making homeowners – aka “people more likely to have children” – pay massive sums of money to the government two weeks before Christmas ought to be tarred, feathered and dragged through the streets behind a team of incontinent elephants.)

But every once in a while, even this painful experience offers a brief moment of entertainment.

As you may have guessed, I paid my property taxes this morning.  Online. (To the extent possible, I pay everything online.  It’s easier and it saves me the stamps.) The privilege costs me an extra $1.50  (Remember what I said about the stamps?  Yeah, cancel that…) but it guarantees timely payment and frankly the convenience is worth a little fee.  Pull up the website, plug in the APN, give them an electronic check, and watch the counter on my bank account start to spin.  (Downward.  Again.  Stupid bank account slot machine…I can never figure out how to win.)

If you’re not laughing yet.  I don’t blame you.  I didn’t find that part too amusing myself.

Then I logged into my email to ensure that I received the promised “payment confirmation.”  Sure enough, I had an email from someone called “Official Payments” with a subject line reading, “Confirmation of Electronic Check Payment.”  Clicking it open to ensure it really had come from the tax assessor and not some random phishers of men (not to be confused with the Biblical sort, who we also see in force at this time of year) I read:

“Dear Citizen”


Dear Citizen?

First off, I’m a Yak, not a deer.  Shaggy hair, little curvy horns without branches.  Get it right.

Second, anyone who knows me can tell you there’s not all that much endearing about me when I’ve just paid my property taxes.  The expenditure of four-digit sums has a noticeably negative impact on my mood, even when I want the item in question. When there’s not a big-screen TV or a pony attached to the purchase, it can make me downright nasty.  So, for the record, if you’ve just commandeered over a thousand of my hard-earned dollars…please have the common sense not to call me “dear.”

And yet, when I saw it, I laughed.  Not because the payment of taxes suddenly became any more amusing, but because the introduction triggered a number of psychic echoes, culminating in a mental image of Sandra Bullock sitting in the assessor’s office trying to convince a confused and cynical Sylvester Stallone that everyone considers giving inexplicably large sums of money to the government a good idea.

Talk about a concept designed to trigger a breach of the verbal morality code.

“Enhance your calm, Citizen.  Money is the root of all evil, and therefore illegal.  Everyone just gives it to the government now.”

Yeah.  Right.

Just give me advance notice before all restaurants become Taco Bell.  I’m moving to Canada.

That, and I want no part of the seashells.

(Editor’s Note: The preceding post makes absolutely no sense if you haven’t seen Demolition Man. And if you haven’t seen it…this post wasn’t funny enough to justify it anyway.  Nothing to see here.  Move along.)

Unfriend Me, You Rogue!

Filed under: Wordyak,Yak Rants — Random Yak @ 11:20 am on November 18, 2009

Apparently the brilliant lexicographers (“word guys”) over at The New Oxford American Dictionary (it’s a book, yo!) have decided that the 2009 “Word of the Year” is …


This newest mastication (“unchewing?”) of the English language apparently functions as a verb, and means “to remove someone as a friend on a social networking site such as Facebook.”

Word, indeed.

Now, I hate to sound stodgy and ungrateful, to say nothing of outdated, outmoded and … unfriendly.  (Assuming I can still figure out what that adjective means, in light of its new…verbosity.) But I remain strangely dedicated to the proposition that the phoenix of a modern lexicon does not automatically rise from the smoldering ruins of grammatical error.

You can’t make a good omelet without breaking eggs, but that logic doesn’t function the same way in the etymological world.  Or, in words less likely to bug the uninformed: you don’t make a new vocabulary by breaking the old one.  (Statistically, anyone who uses the word “unfriend” as a verb didn’t get that last pun.)

I have no problem with liguistic change.  Languages, like laws and sand bars, must and will change over time to reflect the shifting currents within which they function.  But surely I’m not the only one who sees the difference between the acceptance of words like “microchip” and “entrepreneur” and the mighty yawp which heralds the dubious entry of grammatical miscreants into the standard lexicon.

Or maybe I really am just that unfriendly.

Story Via LiveWire, with a Horn Tip to Althouse.

Put Down the Irish Coffee and Step Away Slowly

Filed under: News Yaks,Yak Rants — Random Yak @ 6:43 pm on November 16, 2009

The FDA has apparently decided to investigate the benefits of banning “caffeinated alcoholic beverages.

Reminds me of the old myth about coffee helping people sober up.  (All you really get is a wide-awake drunk.)

Energy drink manufacturers have recently begun adding alcohol to their popular energy-drink formulas to create “adult energy-enhancing beverages” which, aside from sounding like something you’d buy in a red-light district, apparently enable college students and others to enjoy all the benefits of intoxication without that nasty drowsy side effect.  In other words: a whole new generation of wide awake drunks, hold the coffee.  (Incidentally: all this is news to me, but then, considering that I get my caffeine from coffee and my alcohol from…well, pretty much nothing…it’s hardly surprising that this one took me by surprise.)

The FDA claims the ability to show that drinking these energy-enhancing alcoholic beverages results in ” increased risk of serious injury, drunken driving, sexual assault and other dangerous behavior” – all of which, it seems to me, could be said of overconsumption of pretty much any alcoholic beverage, whether or not it also contains caffeine.  In fact, the FDA’s statement seems to make no claim that these beverages cause more negative conduct than alcoholic beverages alone.  As far as I can tell, the only “added negative” from the caffeine is “underestimation” of the consumer’s degree of intoxication.  According to the FDA, this misinformed view may mislead drinkers, giving them “a false sense of confidence that they can perform tasks they are too impaired to undertake.”

Wow.  I’m glad they spotted that hazard.

After all “regular” drunk people never have a false impression of their sobriety.  Or the tasks they’re too impaired to undertake.

And while we’re on the subject… no human being would ever stack books like this, either.

Newsflash:  people have been combining alcohol and caffeine for as long as there’s been alcohol and caffeine.  Doing so in a single beverage merely cuts out the middleman.  And although Starbucks might have reason to complain, I doubt a ban on combining the two before they enter the stomach really solves the problem.

As my old driver’s ed teacher told us many moons ago:  Combining alcohol and caffeine doesn’t get you more or less drunk.  It just gets you a wide awake drunk.

In Which I Say Something Accurate but Inappropriate

Filed under: News Yaks,Yak Rants — Random Yak @ 11:03 am on October 28, 2009

You’ve been warned.

The hot air out of Britain this morning (aka Lord Stern of Brentford) warns us that unless all human beings become vegetarians, we will never conquer climate change.  The proposed solution?  Raise the price of meat until people’s attitudes change and they realize that vegetarianism offers the best-and-only solution to the current climate crisis.

First off…I’m inclined to think the climate will change regardless of what I eat.  In the winter, it gets cold whether I had burgers or beans, and I hadn’t noticed a reduction in the summer heat on the days when I grill squash.

More importantly, however: I’m not sure vegetarianism will ever offer the “best solution” on a practical level.

Case in point:  the article claims that “direct emissions of methane from cows and pigs is a significant source of greenhouse gases.”  Why, you ask, do cows and pigs produce so much methane?  Because they eat vegetables.  That’s right – methane emissions come from happy cows, and happy cows are vegetarians.  Now, what do you think will happen when people stop eating cows and start eating what cows  eat?  (Warning…”accurate but inappropriate”commences below the fold.)


Update on Zachary: Sometimes, the Good Guys Win. Sorta.

Filed under: News Yaks,Yak Rants — Random Yak @ 11:52 am on October 14, 2009

It appears the Delaware school district which threatened to commit six year-old Zachary Christie to 45 days of reform school for the mortal sin of bringing a Cub Scout utensil knife to school (with the heinous, premeditated intent to eat his lunch with it) has recanted, establishing a retroactive policy permitting teachers to exercise discretion in determining whether or not student conduct violates the district’s “zero tolerance for weapons” policy.

The modified policy also provides for reduced sentences for kindergarten and first-grade “offenders” – presumably due to a recognition that few kindergarteners end up incarcerated for shivving fellow finger-painters in the sandbox.

Countless jokes about the advisability of turning said school district loose with a dangerous weapon like discretion aside (along with other points I could-and-probably-will-make-later), this represents a victory for logic as well as Zachary’s family.  The much-maligned but innocent Zachary “can go back to school [today], if he chooses.”

Here’s hoping Mom and Dad will make a better choice.  I’d sooner turn send son into a pen of rabid wolverines carrying an open shoebox filled with bacon than return him to a district that displays such poor judgment in policymaking.  Particularly in light of the fact that the revised “policy” does not also contain a public statement along the lines of “we sincerely apologize for our poor judgment in drafting the original policy,” or a direct apology to the children already expelled, suspended and forced to attend reform school because the district couldn’t tell the difference between the kind of knife that causes a tort(e) and the type that cuts one.  (Yeah, statistically only 2 of you smiled, and I was one of them.)

Forgive the district’s error, absolutely.  But forgiveness neither means nor requires placing yourself in a situation where you can be harmed again.  My advice to Zach’s parents: find a school whose administration exercises better judgment, or keep him home and educate him yourselves.  Maybe when enough parents pull the plug, and enough tax money disappears, the schools will have to sit up and take notice that alledgeducation just doesn’t cut it anymore.  With or without the knives.

Something I Wish I Could Force Everyone to Read

Filed under: News Yaks,Yak Rants — Random Yak @ 1:06 pm on October 8, 2009

As a general rule, I disfavor panic.  More accurately, I think the best way to handle panicky people is to gag them with duct tape and lock them in a closet until they calm down and stop spooking the horses.  (Or I did, until The Random Spouse suggested there might be negative legal consequences to such behavior…now I just imagine myself doing it.)

One unfortunate consequence of the Internet age is the rapid spread of misinformation, which studies have shown may lead to hyperventilation and panic in certain sorts of people.  Studies have also shown a large overlap between the sort of people who ought to receive a “Group-8 timeout” in the closet (statistically, only gamers got that) and those who spend large amounts of time reading (and forwarding) every panicked email known to man.  Most of which could be eliminated by (a) a quick fact-check at Snopes or (b) five minutes’ silence, followed by a little deep breathing and some rational thought (brought to you by…duct tape!).

I can’t remember the last time a day passed without me receiving at least one notice that The Sky Is Falling, Breathing Causes Cancer, and/or [Name a Political Group] Is The Beast From Revelation And The World Will End Tonight at 3:14 Because PI Is Actually Evil.  (For the record, Pi is not evil.  Pi is good.  Especially the lemon ones.)

None of which, to date, has come to pass.

Now, I don’t mind people warning me of legitimate dangers.  I appreciate that friends and family members care enough about me to yell “Duck” when I’m about to get brained by a 747 or to suggest that I might not want to ingest weapons-grade Plutonium 240.  After all, nothing says “I care,” like helping a loved one avoid a horrific and painful death.  (Except, maybe, chocolate. Or Bacon.)

But something really should be done about Chicken Little Syndrome, and the tendency to cry “Wolf” over molehills.  (Little known fact: wolves don’t live in molehills.) Which explains my delight when BoingBoing tipped me off to Dr. Alicia White’s fantastic article, “How to Read a News Story About Health and Healthcare.”  (The link is a .pdf, yes, so give it time to load.) Highly recommended for anyone and everyone who can read.  (Which probably includes a significant percentage of the people who frequent this blog.) Please read it, please pay attention.

Hopefully it will help a few people know when to panic and when not to.

Otherwise, I’m coming to pay you a visit.  And I’m bringing duct tape.

If You Blog it, They Will Come

Filed under: News Yaks,Yak Rants — Random Yak @ 10:03 am on September 29, 2009

I knew the Yak of the Week Award was the most prestigious recognition of accomplishment awarded on My Side of the Mountain.  I didn’t know its prestige had spread so far, however, or that so many people would show their appreciation of its return by jockeying for position in the race for the next awardee.

Case in point:

An Indiana prosecutor has decided  to prosecute Sally Harpold, a grandmother with no apparent criminal record or intent, for violating a state law that prohibits any person from purchasing products which contain more than three grams of pseudoephedrine (a common medicine used in the treatment of colds, and contained in a majority of over-the-counter cold remedies) within any single seven-day period.

The unfortunate victim cold sufferer defendant, Harpold, purchased two boxes of over-the-counter cold remedy – independently of one another – in less than one week, unintentionally violating the law.

But, as Vermillion County prosecutor Nina Alexander will tell you, ignorance of the law is no excuse.  And apparently, lack of intent to manufacture methamphetamine (a process which uses pseudoephedrine, and which the law was actually enacted to help prevent) isn’t either.

Police arrested Harpold, permitted local newspapers to publish her photograph on the front page of the paper  (in a story about local drug arrests), and apparently intend to proceed with the prosecution despite knowledge that the grandmother neither intended to use the cold medicine in an illegal manner nor was working with anyone intending to do so.

Let’s repeat that last part, because it might be important.   Indiana intends to prosecute a grandmother for purchasing 0.6 grams too much cold medicine...despite a lack of intent to use it for anything other than its intended purpose.

The reasoning behind this decision?  If the law doesn’t distinguish between purchases for lawful purposes and purchases for illegal ones, we shouldn’t  either.  That’s right.  Gramma broke the law, and by golly, she’s going to be punished.  Serves her right for getting a cold. In March.  And buying medication for it.  One box at a time.  And using it until it ran out – and then having the audacity to try and buy more.

Bring out….the COMFY CHAIR!  (Statistically, 37% of you get the reference.  But the rest of you shouldn’t feel bad.  Nobody expects it.)

This story might not qualify for Yak of the Week, but it’s setting the bar awfully high.  So all the rest of you contenders out there, better get a move on.

In the interim…I’d like to publicly apologize to Granny Harpold for bringing her name into this.  I don’t know whether she’s the kind of cookies-and-milk grandma who reads her grandkids stories on rainy afternoons, the skydiving grandma the kids brag about to their friends, or the working grandma just trying to make ends meet, but it doesn’t really matter.  The one thing she’s not is the meth-addicted drug freak High Inquisitor Prosecutor Alexander now won’t have time to catch, because she’s too busy prosecuting grandmas with the sniffles.

Nice going, Indiana.

[Story comes on a tip of the horns from I.T. Yak, via Boing Boing and with a secondary horn tip to The Agitator.]

On Christmas Lists…Again

Filed under: Yak Rants — Random Yak @ 12:08 pm on November 24, 2008

If you’ve read this blog faithfully for more than a year (hi, Mom) you’ll recognize the post that follows.  It appeared, in substantially similar form, in November 2006, under essentially the same title.  When I went to link it to a new post this morning, however, I discovered that the entire entry had fallen prey to the spammer attack we suffered a few months back.  In other words…R.I.P. Christmas Lists.  Fortunately, I’d saved a copy in text format, so I was able to bring it back (with edits).  Enjoy.

I have an issue this morning.  One important enough for me to (momentarily) leave off the criticism of holiday advertising and the obnoxious ”buy me buy me buy me” mentality it encourages, primarily because I don’t want to distract from the larger issue at hand.

The issue is the Christmas List.

I’ll be up front about this: I hate Christmas lists.  I hate making them, I hate receiving them, I hate buying things off them and I hate the fact that “hate” is, in fact, the right word for the way I feel about them.  (We’ll deal with the proposition that my feelings are largely irrelevant at a later time.  For now, I’m letting this fly.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like knowing what my kid – or anyone else I’m buying presents for – likes to do and would like to receive.  I have no problem with Yak the Younger – or any other child I’m buying for – telling me what they would like to see under the Christmas tree (provided, of course, that they understand their wishes get filed under ‘advisory proposition’ and not ‘global mandate’).  It’s the whole “make a list” idea that torques me.  As if parents and gift-buyers have some obligation to tick off a list of items, making sure that the child’s every wish is met come Christmas morning in what then becomes a frenzy of “figure out where the X is wrapped” rather than a bunch of surprises under the tree.

Because, for me, Christmas morning and Christmas presents are all about surprises.

Growing up, Christmas was my favorite day of the year.  Not because I got a lot of presents (though I admit I often did) or because the presents were big or expensive (though I admit they occasionally were) – but because I had no idea what they had inside.

Yes, there was something I wanted almost every Christmas.  One year I wanted a ten-speed bike (blue, please).  I wanted it worse than anything.  I just knew I would die if that bike wasn’t under the tree – and since I didn’t know of anyone using a bike to put an eye out, I thought it just might happen.  Then, three days before Christmas, The Random Father took me aside and explained that my parents couldn’t afford a bike that year, but that I might get one for my birthday (more than half a year away) if everything worked out.  I acted brave, and said I understood, but that night I cried myself to sleep.  After the disappointment wore off, however, I still looked forward to Christmas, because I knew my parents would make the day special, no matter what happened to be under the tree.

On Christmas morning I raced downstairs, beat the Random Sibling to the living room (for once) and completely failed to notice the ten-speed bike (yes, blue) standing directly beside the tree.  

The Random Father pulled one on me – and did so in a way that wouldn’t work with kids who participate in the “list-making” phenomenon.  If you’ve got ninety things on the list, you either don’t care if one doesn’t show up or you think you’re entitled to all ninety, which would make you impossible to live with for days before Christmas if someone mentioned some might not be under the tree.  Too bad, because the year I got the bike I wasn’t getting stands out in my memory as one of the best.  The childhood joy of wanting one thing – just one - but not really knowing whether or not you will actually get it, and then finding it there Christmas morning, just isn’t comparable to wanting ninety things – or even five, or ten – and knowing you’re bound to find at least most of them, if not all of them, under the tree.

The “list mentality” changes a surprise into an expectation – a form of entitlement: “These are the ones I want.  This many.  This color. This size.  This shape.  Buy them for me or I won’t have a good Christmas.”

The list mentality leaves no room for inspiration, no room for creativity – no room for surprise.  I’ve tried to discourage Yak the Younger from making “lists” – and shunned them wherever possible.  Not because I don’t want him to have a happy Christmas, but because I prefer finding gifts that I know he would want if he knew they existed, but which he’s never even seen (or saw some time ago and forgot in the interim).  It makes Christmas happier – and much more special – than a Christmas morning when every gift represents an expectation rather than a surprise.

Lists probably serve a function for long-distance giving or relatives you don’t see often enough to really know, though even there I prefer to learn about the person and try to anticipate some desire or need.  It’s not all that hard to ask enough questions to figure out what someone might enjoy – and frankly, I don’t actually think a gift card is a rude or obnoxious choice for a gift exchange or for someone I don’t know well.  (I know, this goes against Traditional Rules of Giving, but ask yourself: if Great-aunt Emmy wants to give you a present, even though she hasn’t seen you in ten years, wouldn’t you really rather have a gift card than a book she tried to pick out without knowing what you read?  Be honest.  You would.) 

Curious that people are always saying “it’s the thought that counts” when lists require no thought at all.  Anyone can check a box and send the thing you asked for.  But the gift you will remember is the one you didn’t realize you wanted.  The one someone took the time to look for.  The one that proves someone cared enough about you, and knew you well enough, to know what you’d enjoy receiving even better than you did – because you didn’t have it on your “list.”

Which brings us to the 800-pound gorilla in the corner.

Christmas isn’t about receiving, and it isn’t about lists.  It’s about loving one another as Jesus loves us and celebrating the unspeakably generous gift – and surprise – of His birth.

A gift, I’ll point out, which none of us requested in advance.  “While we were yet enemies,” it wasn’t on any of our lists.  Yet God knew us well enough to anticipate our needs, and sent us a gift which met them perfectly, filling us with joy even though it wasn’t what Wii asked for.

Think.  Consider.  Imitate.

Instead of telling your kids to go “make a Christmas list” or tell you “all the things” they want a month before the big day, try listening to them all year.  Really hear what they say.   Consider what they’re into.  Figure out what they would want. 

Don’t miss my message here: there’s nothing wrong with asking if there’s a special thing they’re hoping for – or with making sure that special item makes its way under the tree.  But if you get to know them (and yes, everyone else on your list) well enough to figure out something they would enjoy or use, and if you buy that thing without having to ask for a list, I think you’ll find the recipients much happier – and much more grateful – than they would be if you bought them exactly what they asked for.  Because you’re not just giving them a book, a bauble or a toy.  You’re telling them you cared enough to pay attention. 

Just like Jesus told you to.

Fun With Solicitors…Take Two.

Filed under: Yak Rants — Random Yak @ 3:08 pm on June 16, 2008

To modify an old parenting saw: “First time is funny, second time is silly, third time it gets a blog post.”

Guess which one we’re dealing with.

The fact that I don’t like solicitors hardly qualifies as news.  In fact, it probably rates among the most-vehemently blogged topics here on My Side of the Mountain, and certainly qualifies among the topics that make my blood pressure – and temper – rise the fastest. 

All that taken as true, I have a long-standing (if unspoken) arrangement with solicitors: I’ll refuse your offer as politely as possible, and you’ll go away, and that’s the end of that. 

Until now.

Because the most recent round of solicitors to hit my home and office apparently didn’t get the memo.  Not only have they refused to go away gracefully, they’ve gone away muttering comments about my refusal – and doing it loudly enough that I know I’m intended to hear. (more…)

I Think, Therefore…

Filed under: Just Yaks,Yak Rants — Random Yak @ 11:12 am on

… I am not qualified to spend time in Vegas.

Or at least, that’s what the new ads tell me.

Following on the unmitigated success of the “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” campaign* (*Note: ‘success’ is measured entirely on the basis of whether or not the campaign turned itself into a cultural joke.  Based on the new prevalence of “what happens in X, stays in X” jokes – most of them admittedly having nothing to do with Las Vegas -  I’d say the Vegas business council found a runaway hit, even if it is founded on the ‘Underpants Gnome’ model of business planning.) The Powers That Want You to Spend All Your Money in Vegas have come up with a new marketing campaign.

Last night, while happily watching Iron Chef America (Battle Olive…) I found myself the unwitting victim of the latest from the people who brought you the ultimate in diet advice (“What Happens in the Kitchen, Stays in the Kitchen”), gaming (“What happens in Serpentshrine, Stays in Serpentshrine) and parenting (“Don’t bring that dirt in here.  What happens in the garden, STAYS in the garden!”)(more…)

Did Anyone Get the License Number of that Train?

Filed under: Education Yaks,Yak Rants — Random Yak @ 5:01 pm on April 24, 2008

I’ve always been fond of saying there are three kinds of people: those who can do math, and those who can’t.

A new study published by Ohio State University suggests that statement may not be completely true.  According to researchers, the method may bear significant responsibility for the mathematical madness so prevalent among students – and adults – as well as the attitude that attends it.

The Ohio State study shows that students taught math using methods designed to teach abstract concepts and mathematical formulas - ”old school” methods that teach concepts rather than attempting to entertain – performed better and learned more thoroughly than those taught using more “modern” methods designed to make math “more relevant.”

In other words: teachers who substitute trains, cups and balls for “real” math may be short-circuiting the learning process and shortchanging their students. (more…)

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