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Entries from blogs tagged with “International affairs”

Computer Use for the Very Young

The first thing my 3 year old said when he woke up this morning was, "can I get on the computer?" He wasn't interested in pancakes or trains or puppy dog tails but an electronic contraption with a plug to the outside world. Granted, I just recently signed him up for a trial period an educational website designed for preschoolers, but this level of enthusiasm was a bit disturbing. Having two little boys in the house, I have mentally prepared myself for the day when I'll have a couple of teenagers upstairs glued to a gaming system. But I never thought it would start so soon. Perhaps it is a result of my gender, but I've never quite understood how guys can spend so many hours of their lives on computer games. Okay, so maybe it was kind of fun watching my brother do Mike Tyson's Punch Out on the old Nintendo, but other than that, this phenomenon has escaped me. It just seems like a lot of wasted time.My son is remarkably computer savvy. He can drag and drop better than my mother can and navigates his bookmarks with surprising ease. And sure, I have been strict about setting time limits and only allowing him to do educational programs, but I still wonder if this is a good thing. Yes, he's gaining some technical skills and practicing his letters and numbers, but I can easily see how this could become a crutch. There aren't too many activities my son is content to do on his own, but his computer is one of them. And as a mom trying to juggle creative ambitions, it sure would be easy to let him be on there for a little more time as I finish up some projects, right? But today was a beautiful day. So, I turned off the computer and took the kids to the park. So, yeah, the Play Station days will catch up to us someday, but for now I have two little kids to cherish and play with: unplugged.

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Paraguayan Art?

Paraguay is a little known (in the USA) South American country snuggled between Argentina, Brazil, and Bolivia with a rich artistic tradition that is celebrated in an exhibition of over 150 works currently at the Mulvane Art Museum of Washburn University in Topeka. The exhibit is open through April 13, 2008.This exhibit includes cultural artifacts of several indigenous peoples. Tools, water pots, sandals and spears are just a few examples. But Paraguay is not just a romantic tropical or sub-tropical country. A 2007 human rights calendar published by Museo de las Memorias is a graphic reminder of abuses of past dictators. This museum is part of an old police station that was used to torture political dissentients and is dedicated to keeping the memory of these events alive.There are several works by artists who struggled for artistic and political freedom during the repressive dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989). Carlos Colombino is one of these artists whose work of that era is highly symbolic. His El Supremo not only refers to Paraguay's first dictator but to a long line of repressive governments. This work shows a head emerging from or submerged in a landscape form constricted with rope.Other, less troubling aspects of Paraguayan culture are represented. Nanduti is delicate lace work that seeks to emulate and go beyond the intricate spider webs that inspired this craft. Nanduti is the word for spider web in Guarani which is the other official language of Paraguay with Spanish. Nanduti is represented in the exhibit with several handmade examples and by other works that pay homage to this tradition such as the contemporary works of Alfredo Miltos. In this exhibit, as in the artistic expression of most cultures, the traditional and modern are intertwined. A very interesting modern artist is Maria Gloria Echauri who takes pictures of peoples lower legs and feet and superimposes them on maps representing the movement of people to find work.The exhibit is titled, "Visual Encounters with Paraguay: Forty Years of Kansas Paraguay Partnership." Kansas and Paraguay have been partners since the 1960s as part of the Partners of the Americas program. Through the years there have been and continue to be a variety of exchanges including education, agriculture, medical, and arts. Much of the work in the exhibit is from the private collection of Kansans who have traveled to Paraguay as well as from the Spencer and Mulvane Museums of Art.Reinhild Kauenhoven Janzen, Interim Director of the Mulvane Art Museum is the curator of this show has done a masterful job of presenting the breadth and depth of Paraguayan art. She states, in the exhibition catalog: "Visual arts, like music, are powerful communicators of a people's history, cultural identity and values across boundaries of language and political borders." Her presentation of the works is a testament to her ability to enable the art to communicate. The catalog is trilingual, English, Spanish and Guarani. That may be a first for Kansas and Paraguay.

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I made a fool of myself for international understanding.

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Feb/01/RPCV.jpgThat is me in the homemade sandwich board. On Wednesday I walked Jayhawk Boulevard for 1.5 hours between the Kansas Union and Hock Auditoria trying to catch the noon hour rush from class to lunch. I was looking for a few good volunteers. Being many years older than most people on the street I got lots of strange looks.That RPCV on the button stands for Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. I was one and like so many others it was a fantastic and life changing experience. I served in Paraguay which is also part of another U.S foreign policy program called Partners of the Americas. Like Peace Corps, Partners was another President Kennedy initiative. Paraguay is partnered with Kansas and that partnership is still going strong after 40 years but more on that at another time.The event I was trying to get students interested in was Thursday evening and included recruiting for Americorps and Teach for America as well as the Peace Corps. There may have been as many RPCVs there as recruits. That is because it is such a powerful experience that most RPCVs want to share their experiences and encourage others to do the same. One recently returned volunteer served in Turkmenistan and as a result came back to seek an advanced degree related to Central Asia. One volunteer in my group is now working in a not for profit housing organization on the south side of Chicago using his Spanish learned during his service in Paraguay. These are just two of thousands of stories.I talked with several young people who were interested and showed with their questions that they were apprehensive. Twenty seven months away from friends and family in some country with another language is quite a commitment. Yet every RCPV related wonderful stories of learning a language, adapting to another culture and making friends that became family away from home. One person who served in the 1970s told of continuing to visit 'family' in Central America more than 30 years later.Programs like the Peace Corps and Partners of the Americas may be the most effective United States foreign policy programs. Not that volunteers have a large impact on another country but because people in one country come to understand those in another. I was once told that Senator Fulbright said that he favored any foreign policy program that reduced nations to people. I agree.

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The little things

God bless the little things that keep us going when everything seems to be going down the drain. God bless the children giggling at "London Bridges Falling Down"God bless the children who make us smile everyday. God bless the little things like my son reading me a storyTelling me about his day and learning about KansasGod bless him for giving me encouragement on my test tomorrowGod bless the little things like a note from a friendGod bless those that take the time to stop and enjoy the beautiful dayBecause without those little things there might not be anything to look forward to in between the big things

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The little things

God bless the little things that keep us going when everything seems to be going down the drain. God bless the children giggling at "London Bridges Falling Down"God bless the children who make us smile everyday. God bless the little things like my son reading me a storyTelling me about his day and learning about KansasGod bless him for giving me encouragement on my test tomorrowGod bless the little things like a note from a friendGod bless those that take the time to stop and enjoy the beautiful dayBecause without those little things there might not be anything to look forward to in between the big things

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My Experience at the Obama Rally

I'd never been to a political rally before, but something about this election year made me think it just might be time for me to take an interest. So, when I heard Senator Obama was going to be in Kansas City, I rounded up the necessary babysitting and registered online for a ticket. Easy, huh? Well, not exactly. The rally was supposed to start at 5:45 and doors opened at 3:45. I got there at 4 o'clock and entered a packed foyer for the Municipal Auditorium. It was a sizeable crowd, but I figured once we could spread out in the auditorium it wouldn't be too bad. I should have known better. About 20 minutes later, a distant voice informed the crowd that we would be filing in from one side of the room, so now was the time to form a line. Now was the time? How can you form a line in a room that was packed with people?By some stroke of luck, I just happened to be on the side of the room that was entering. And this Obama crowd was a pretty tame and civil bunch. No one pushed or shoved their way toward the opening we were filtering out of. Hey, I was almost crushed at a Bauhaus concert once, so this was a piece of cake, right?Again, not exactly. Unbeknownst to anyone in the crowded room above, the small opening we were filtering out of did not signify the end. It was the only the beginning. What awaited us was a labyrinth of horrors designed to torture Obama supporters and undecideds alike for the next hour and a half of our lives. We were ushered through a long line in a parking lot only to discover that this line did not lead to a destination but was a loop that would come full circle. The looks of horror on people's faces and the "oh my god's" were only amusing when you were on the returning side of this circle.After 45 minutes of this rat experiment maze, we were thrilled to be back inside the building. Then we discovered there was yet another loop to go through! At this point, I began to wonder what had happened to me in the last eight years of my life. Waiting for Peter Murphy was one thing, but doing all this to see a senator of Illinois- what was wrong with me?http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Jan/30/marloobama.jpgEventually, we I made it to the auditorium just before Governor Sebelius and Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri took the stage, looking like the Obamettes. Sebelius was much more animated than she was the night before. Jon Stewart would have been proud. And Obama? He was a great speaker, and I soon forgot about the waiting. (I wonder if you could say the same thing after waiting for Mitt Romney). But I may have been paying too much attention to election coverage because a lot of Obama's talking points were familiar to me. I was not swept away in quite the same way I was when listening to his Jefferson Jackson speech on the radio. http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Jan/30/obama2.jpgPeople really responded to his idea of getting rid of income tax on seniors making under $50,000 a year. And his comments about including pre-existing conditions in health care coverage got the crowd riled up after his personal story about his mother.The part that I found most memorable was when he spoke about the Kennedy endorsement. He said it was not so much a passing the torch from the Kennedys to him, but from their generation to the next generation. This sentiment really resonated with me as I was amazed to see how much of the crowd here tonight was made up of young people. My generation has grown up in the shadow of the 60's. We contrast that time of conviction and passion with the malaise that we feel about our current state of affairs. We are rather cynical about our government, but have yet to have our spirit awakened to do anything about it. Tonight, Obama called for us to end this cynicism and look for a new hope (he's talking Star Wars here: he must speak to us, right?)I have a new respect for the people you see on CNN at these political gatherings. So, sure my feet hurt and yes, I witnessed an an asthma attack and a near fainting in which Obama himself had to intervene to get the woman a chair. But, ultimately, I think it was worth it to make the headlines personal and take an active part in something rather than just watching it on television. A Bauhaus concert it wasn't. But a piece of history? Maybe. http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Jan/30/obama_pic.jpg

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Douglas County’s Ninth Wonder of Kansas

The 8 Wonders of Kansas sponsored by the Kansas Sampler Foundation were unveiled by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius today. I believe they are a good representation of Kansas. However, my suggestion, located right here in Douglas County, did not make the list.I suggested rocks, more specifically pink boulders found along the Wakarusa river valley.According to Glacial Geology, the pink boulders were recognized in northeastern Kansas by the French explorer, De Bourgmont in the early 1700s. Their origin was a mystery until 1868 when Louis Agassiz visited the area. He was a controversial scientist who popularized the concept of a recent Ice Age in earth history. He correctly identified the pink boulders as erratics transported from as far north as the now Minnesota region by an ice sheet.The following is a quote from Glacial Geology of the Kansas City Vicinity:"Along the edge of the ice lobes, glacial lakes were dammed in pre-existing valleys, and meltwater floods eroded spillway channels around the ice margin. All these features serve to identify the effects of glaciation in the region. During the late Independence glaciation, ice lobes advanced farther south and locally blocked the Kansas and Missouri River valleys east and west of Kansas City. Numerous meltwater spillways were eroded and glacial lakes filled and overflowed along the maximum limit of glaciation. These spillways are preserved as valleys parallel to and south of the Kansas and Missouri river valleys. Some of these spillways were later filled with sediment and others remain open valleys today. A good example is the Wakarusa River valley in Shawnee and Douglas counties, Kansas."From the quote, one would conclude the large number of red granite rocks in the area were brought here by the glacier and then dropped as it melted. They are beautiful, all sizes and very heavy.The Wildlife and Parks hunting area in the upper region of Clinton Lake is available for hiking. On the northern hills of the river valley, Minnesota granite rocks, protrude from the grasslands. They may appear flat in the grass but may be massive in size underneath. The rocks located near the bridge on the north end of Massachusetts Street were harvested in this area.Skye, the boxer, indicates the size of the rock. Granite rocks would not make Kansas a tourist hot spot. On the other hand, how they were transported and left here is amazing. I would consider it a wonder of Kansas.

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No one knows.

There is something about the weather today that makes her remember a time that was happy. Reminds her of days when there was something to look forward to. Now she sits and waits for the day to end and a new to begin....knowing full well that it will lead no where. She doesn't understand how she got here or where she came from along the way. What she vaguely recalls is feeling content. Now she ponders what there is to live for and why life is the way it is.

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Mont Blue to the Rockies-managing affordable ski vacations

Growing up as Kansas flatlanders, skiing was on water in the summer.It was the early 70s when a friend suggested we try snow skiing at Mont Blue, a busy little ski slope southeast of Lawrence. Always ready for fun, we jumped at the chance.Mont Blue had a base house with fireplace, refreshments and ski rental. Equipment fitted, we headed out to the "mountain." To get to the top, we grabbed the towrope and hung on. Once there, we proceeded to fall and slide to the bottom. Laughing all afternoon, we got better and were hooked on skiing.Mont Blue was the beginning but the Rocky Mountains had better snow. Quickly discovering a ski vacation is expensive, we managed to find ways to make it affordable for our family. These are my suggestions.First, it is helpful to find at least one other family with a similar interest to share lodging as well as food. Our children have many happy memories from these trips with friends. Take a lunch to the slope in a backpack. Sandwiches, cheese, fruit. candy bars and sodas taste wonderful after a morning of exhilarating runs. We "hide" the backpack in a snow bank and retrieve it at a designated time. Most all warming houses on the slopes have seating for picnickers. Do this or pay $6 to $8 for a hamburger.Ski rental is cheaper as a package away from the slopes. Equipment malfunctions will quickly ruin a day of skiing especially if the rental store is two hours away. Make sure there is a satellite shop or the store has an agreement with a rental shop near the slope. No need to purchase fancy clothing. Ski pants are affordable and any warm coat will do. Always layer. Toasti Toes help with cold feet. Mittens are warmer than gloves. If you are a first time skier, plan on at least a half day of lessons. It is money well spent and may include a lift ticket. Lift tickets are a major expense. Breckenridge is now charging $80 a day. Check some of the lesser-known slopes. They might offer a family discount. Right now a $10 purchase of gasoline at a Phillips 66 in Colorado will get you a voucher for a buy one, get one free lift ticket on Sundays at Copper Mountain. Grocery stores in Denver offer discounts also. An article recently on Arama.com entitled Discount Lift Tickets - Learn what Colorado Ski Resorts Do Not Want You to Know! has additional suggestions. Finally, be adventurous. Keep a good attitude and have fun. Don't give up after the first try. It gets easier. There is no feeling like swishing down a slope with breathtaking mountains as a backdrop. Suddenly all the planning is worthwhile. Since our first try at Mont Blue, we have visited slopes in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. Three of our five grandchildren, all under eight years old, skied for the first time last week. We still laugh coming down the slopes-all three generations.

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The Moment of Truth - Fox’s new show

The Fox channel had its debut showing of "The Moment of Truth" Weds. evening following American Idol.

The show works something like this: pick a contestant and ask them fifty personal questions behind the scenes to get to know them and their vices and flaws.

Next, hook them up to a lie detector test in front of an audience, their spouse, their friends, and even their employer. Then comes the fun part as the contestant is asked the first six questions, which answered truthfully puts 10,000 dollars in their pocket.

It isn't as easy as it sounds, however, because some of the questions are down right demented! Some random questions from last night's show were

:"Are you addicted to gambling?"

"Are you currently a member of the hair club for men?"

"As a personal trainer, have you touched a female client more than was required of you?"

"Have you used the internet to flirt with other women?"

"Have you stolen a peek at another man's privates during a shower?"

"Have you had a sexual fantasy during mass?"

"Have you gone through a co-workers belongings without their knowledge?"

"Have you delayed having children because you don't think your spouse is your lifelong partner?"

The friends/spouse/employers have one out - they can push a large button that is centered between them (one time only) if they do not want to hear the person answer the question that was asked. The problem with that is it will be replaced with another question and the other question just might be worse then the first.

After the initial six questions, that can earn the contestant 10,000 if answered correctly, the next five questions, if answered truthfully, can get the contestant up to the 25,000 dollar mark. The higher you go, the harder and more revealing the question. Answer all 21 questions truthfully and you have $500,000 in your pocket. You may not have a job to go back to, your wife, husband, and friends have probably abandoned you, but you decide how important money really is in your life.

This show is destined to be a hit - audiences love to see people squirm in the hot seat, see their lives (and their friends and families lives) destroyed right in front of them - and the contestant most probably will end up leaving with nothing.

This reminded me of the games we played as teenagers: truth or dare and twenty questions.

Would you risk it all and tell the truth for $500,000?

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Juno and the ‘A’ word

Juno is one of the latest movies to portray a young girl who gets pregnant and in a matter of minutes goes from considering abortion to deciding on adoption. Ellen Goodman in a recent column about these films considers the message they send to 13 year old girls.Actually Juno's decision is rare. According to the Children's Bureau (a division of the United States Department of Health and Human Services) less than 1% of children born to never married women are relinquished for adoption. According to Planned Parenthood more than half of teen pregnancies result in birth so most young women keep the child. Many of these mothers become school dropouts and live in poverty. That is another story.Juno's decision to find an adoption family while not rare is unusual. There are between 118,000 and 127,000 adoptions per year in this country. Nobody keeps good statistics on Juno's type of adoptions but it is considerably less than the 500,000 that are through state child welfare agencies. In Kansas the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services reports that there were 715 adoptions during the last fiscal year. I am not sure that is our share of the national total.When Juno meets the potential adoptive parents she flippantly asks why they don't go to China where it is easy to adopt. I wouldn't give away her line which is very funny. Adoptions from other countries represent about 15% of the total. Many of these are from China. As an adoptive father I wish that they were more frequent. The Urban League in a report on foster care and adoptions states that there are 100,000 children in foster care awaiting adoption. In Kansas, SRS reports that there were 853 children awaiting adoption at the end of the last fiscal year.Juno's search for adoptive parents is at least haphazard and amounts to looking through the classified section of a local free paper. The prospective parents look wonderful. Both parents are good looking and their home suggests that they have plenty of income. As the story develops flaws are hinted at that become real but again I wouldn't spoil that for those who have yet to see the movie. Did she pick the right parents? That is a question that looms large over the field of adoption. There have been two recent articles in the Journal World that represent two contrasting adoptive families. A January 14 article reported on a Haysville couple who adopted a girl and the father sexually assaulted her. A January 20 article reported that a Lawrence native was appointed an appellate judge who has a passion for children, has been a foster parent and has adopted 3 children.In the Haysville tragedy SRS apparently did all that they could to find a safe home for the child. They conducted a more complete investigation than Juno but failed. The truth is that there is little anyone can do to predict the outcome of an adoptive placement. Background checks for abuse or criminal behavior are helpful but far from foolproof. It is simply not possible to predict the outcome of a decision to approve a family for adoption. Fortunately the Haysville adoptive outcome is rare. Adoptive families work out as well as other types of families. If you haven't seen Juno, go before it leaves town. Talk to your 13 year old daughters. Support adoption.

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Heath Ledger… Another Loss For My Generation

Let's face it, there aren't that many young actors in film these days that are genuinely good at their craft. So, it hurts to lose one of them.The 70's had DeNiro, Pacino, Nicholson... but what about our generation's leading men? Sure, there are some interesting guys out there like Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire, but they're a little soft. Can you really imagine either of them carrying a film like "Five Easy Pieces?"Heath Ledger was more than just a pretty face. The depth and subtlety he displayed in "Brokeback Mountain" was powerful stuff. His emotion was not felt just in dialogue but in his strong silence as well. I think he could have had one of those careers like Johnny Depp; balancing roles between thoughtful dramas and blockbusters while leaving a trail of memorable characters in his wake. Was it the Joker role that did it to him? The drugs? Depression? Who's to say? It's just another senseless death in an industry that could use more true talent like his. Guess we'll just have to give that "Five Easy Pieces" remake to Ryan Gosling.

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The Ever Elusive Honest Answer

Dear Honest Answer,Where have you been lately? Don't you know it's election year and I'd like to see more of you? Okay, I understand why you've been a bit reclusive. When you come out of hiding, you tend to get criticized. But really, aren't you being a bit thin skinned?Sure, I saw the presidential debate in Las Vegas when the democratic candidates were asked what their greatest weaknesses were. And, yes, it was because of you that Senator Obama was criticized when he said he wasn't good with paperwork, as if that somehow made him an ineffective leader. But that doesn't mean you're not wanted. I would have liked you to stick around for the other two candidates' replies, no matter how amusing the responses were without you. I have to wonder what the point of asking questions is if we don't want you to be there. In college, I went on a job interview at a bookstore and was asked if I saw myself having a career as a bookseller. Of course I knew it was in my best interest to say yes, but then you came around, Honest Answer. Needless to say, I didn't get the job. (Okay, so the moment didn't have the same poignancy as when Martin Donovan turned down the television repair job in the Hal Hartley film "Truth," but at least I walked out of there with some self respect). Certainly, there are ways to spin answers to questions without having to lie. Obama could have said that he cared too much or I could have waxed poetic about my love of literature being an integral part of my longterm ambitions. But ultimately, what's the point?If we are going to send you an invitation, Honest Answer, we should welcome you to the party. Sure, you can be a little hard to deal with at times, but without you we wouldn't know what to believe.

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“Charlie Wilson’s War” - To Intervene or Not Intervene: That is the Question

The film "Charlie Wilson's War" has all the wit of the West Wing but instead of some vague international crisis, the subject here is America's involvement in Afghanistan during the Cold War. And the answers are much more complex than an hour of prime time would allow. Granted, it was the first movie I'd seen in an actual theatre in months (when you have a 3 and a 1 year old, babysitting can be hard to come by), but I loved this movie. You get to see Tom Hanks actually having fun with his performance rather than just vying for an Oscar, Phillip Seymour Hoffman is at his smarmy cynical best and Julia Roberts uses a safety pin to brush her eyelashes. What can be better than that?Well, actually, it's the questions that the film raises that really stayed with me. Namely, what exactly is the responsibility of the United States in world affairs? Should we get involved in the conflicts between other countries for either humanitarian reasons or to stop a perceived threat? Or should we keep to our own turf and use our money to assist in domestic issues like homelessness and poverty?When I hear Ron Paul debate about foreign policy, it makes a lot of sense. He talks about the ridiculousness of borrowing from Peter to give weapons to Paul. And oftentimes, as happened in Afghanistan, people rise up against the superpower that trained them and this leads to terrorism on our soil. I compare this to my own life and wonder if it's realistic to live in a bubble. Like the country, I too am facing a deficit (sure in my case, it's due to student loans and film production, but you get the idea). And yes, it's hard sometimes to justify giving money to others when my own family is in need. But still, I do it. Even if I don't have money to spare, it is hard to not think of those who are worse off than myself. But, to keep things in perspective, I donate just a modest amount, while we gave Afghanistan one billion dollars: and now there's Al-Qaida to deal with.Like I said, difficult questions. See the movie. Think about it. Maybe you will have some answers.

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Race In The Race

In the last few days, past copies of The Ron Paul Newsletter revealed ethnically biased political rants and the Clintons made comments that many find disrespectful toward African Americans. But do these incidents represent real evidence of racial bigotry, or are they trumped up allegations intended to sway voters as the focus turns on the South Carolina primary?Personally, I think it's pretty hard to let Ron Paul off the hook for the racial biases in his newsletter. He denies writing the inflammatory passages in question, but is it believable that he had no knowledge of their contents? Some of the statements about whites fearing blacks were so extreme I have a hard time believing he did not get a reaction from the readers. The only way a readership would not react to comments like these would be if they were in agreement with these sentiments. Then, you have to wonder, who are his readers?The Clintons have been under fire for Bill's use of the term "fairy tale" in regards to Barack Obama, and Hillary's statement that "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done." In Bill's defense, when you look at the context of the "fairy tale" analogy, it seems clear he meant it to refer to Obama's stance on the war, not his rise up to becoming presidential candidate.Now, Hillary's statement, on the other hand, can't be dismissed so easily. Overshadowing MLK's heroic actions by giving the credit to Johnson seems pretty condescending. Isn't she basically saying the black man had the dream, but it took the white man to get it done? And perhaps even more disturbing than Hillary's remarks are the comments made by Clinton supporter, NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, that you just can't "shuck and jive" your way through a press conference. So, they made some insensitive comments, does that mean they're racists? Who knows. I just think it is only fair to expect the future president of our country to have an intrinsic respect for the cultures and ethnicities he or she is representing. Maybe someday the word "race" in an election will only refer to the competitive nature of democracy and ethnic biases won't be an inevitable part of presidential discourse.

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If Christmas lights are out, what’s in?

In our home, the fake greenery interwoven with little twinkly lights around windows often stay in place until Valentines Day. The bright, cherry lights of the Holidays leave a void when finally packed away. I like the ambiance of the low lighting.Feeling our home looks like a tacky restaurant, I sought a another solution for brightening the long winter evenings. I found it in timers-those little gadgets that automatically turn lights off and on at certain times. Like the ones used on my twinkly lights.Because of our home's layout, the kitchen area is not cozy. It is large, open and has seating at one end where we read. I plugged the three lamps in that area into my Christmas light timers. Now they come on around 5:30 pm and go off at ll:00 pm. What a wonderful welcome. Stumbling in with all my gear after work, I found the three lamps casting their glow. The chairs and soft lights beckoned a cup of hot tea and a minute to relax. Just what the doctor ordered after a cold, dreary day.Tonight, I finally removed the rest of the Christmas decorations.The timers will remain until the longer days of spring.

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Kansas financial supports for grandparents and other relative caregivers

In response to my last post on grandparents raising their grandchildren a comment was made that SRS pays the grandparents as they would anyone else.We, the citizens of Kansas through SRS, do not assist all grandparents equally. This gets very technical and there are many different types of assistance but I will briefly identify the major types of available financial help. The information below is the latest that I have and may not be current.There are at least 4 different ways that grandparents can obtain financial assistance for raising grandchildren. Each has different rules and reimbursement rates. Then there are those grandparents who may be struggling financially and are asked to assume care of a grandchild but not told of available financial assistance. But that is another story.Grandparents raising grandchildren can obtain financial assistance through:1.Temporary Assistance for Families (TAF) typically provides assistance of about $175 month and medical insurance through Medicaid. The last data I had was that about 500 grandparents in Kansas are receiving this assistance.2.Grandparent caregivers have access to adoption assistance as any other family who adopts through the state child welfare system. Yes, when asked, many grandparents are ready and willing to adopt their grandchildren. SRS reports that nearly 200 children per year are adopted by relatives. We can assume that most of these are grandparents. Not all of these receive financial help.There is a maximum of $400 per month allowed for subsidized adoption. There are also provisions for up to $1000 per child for one time purchases for such items as bedroom furniture, special equipment for handicaps, home modifications, lifts for vans, or respite care. There is an additional $2000 for non-recurring adoption expenses. SSI eligible children may receive up to $500 per month. If the child is eligible for Home and Community Based Services the adoption subsidize maximum is $500 per month plus a $200 special needs payment. 3.Subsidized permanent guardianship - In 1999 the Kansas Legislature allocated $1,000,000 of TAF funds to subsidize permanent guardianship. The maximum subsidy is $225 per month, which supplements child only TAF benefits including a medical card, if the child qualifies for child only TAF. The allocated amount was never used. In recent years about $170,000 of these funds were expended. SRS reports nearly 200 children per year receiving this type of assistance.4.Grandparents are eligible to be licensed foster parents and receive the same reimbursement as any other licensed foster parent. That is about $550 per month. All of this is very complicated and it is unreasonable to expect grandparents who simply want to step up and help the family understand all of this. Certainly we can design a less complex system that provides needed help and honors those grandparents willing to help raise the next generation.

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Darnell Jackson’s Grandmother

Darnell is receiving a lot of press due to the start of a stellar senior year on the basketball court. Part of this press is being reminded of how important his grandmother was to him and her sad death.Being part of a much older generation I had fewer grandparents and was only somewhat close to a grandmother who took care of me for a short time when my mother was hospitalized.Grandmothers may be more important today that ever before. The US Census reports that 32,582 Kansas children were living with a grandparent in 2006. For 21,278 of these children their grandparents are responsible for them. That is Census speak for they are raising their grandchildren.There are a host of reasons that children are being raised by their grandparents and the Census Bureau does not list them. Situations that I have been aware of include poverty, parental drug abuse and incarceration. These grandparents are providing a wonderful service for their children, grandchildren and the state regardless of the reason. The Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) is the parent for many children needing an alternative home. During the last fiscal year SRS reports that there were 10,025 children in out of home placement. This is less than half as many children as the grandparents in Kansas are taking care of. SRS also places about 25% of children with relatives and it is likely that many of these relatives are grandparents. As taxpayers we pay for the care of the children in SRS custody. That is another reason to be grateful to those grandparents who have accepted the responsibility to raise their grandchildren. As anyone who has raised children knows it is not always easy juggling child care, jobs and other responsibilities and these grandparents face the same challenges. The more than 21,000 Kansas children in grandparent households were cared for by 19,000 grandparents. Most are relatively young with 17,000 between the ages of 30 and 59 and 13,000 are in the labor force. In other words these are grandparents with lots of other responsibilities and they still took on the task of taking care of the next generation of their family.If you know of a grandparent raising a child, thank her or him.

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The Age Divide: Obama For the Young, Hillary for the Old(er)?

Sure it's a generalization, but I am just looking for a reason behind Obama's loss in New Hampshire. Technically, it was not that much of a loss if you look at the number of delegates, but after the polls put Obama around 12 points in the lead, I think Hillary's victory took everyone by surprise. Looking into the demographics of who voted for which candidates shows some interesting dynamics. More than half of the registered voters in New Hampshire are over 50, so that puts Clinton's win in perspective. She does particularly well with the over 62 folks, while Obama scored 61% of the voters between 18-24. So for the Obama campaign to remain competitive, at this point they should either focus on getting the young people to "rock the vote" or try to woo the older demographic (or heck, why not do both- aren't they putting Wii's in retirement homes these days?).The good news is that enthusiasm is spreading out there for this election and more people than ever are turning out to vote. Both Obama and Republican candidate Ron Paul have strong online support to reach the youth, but the question is, will that be enough?

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Strong Women

Cal Thomas' column (last week) on Benazir Bhutto took me by surprise. It wasn't just the fact that he had sipped tea with her, an experience he said he would never forget, but that he called her a "strong woman" and pointed out that "leadership is more than biology. It takes a well-crafted ideology and goals beyond one's self." He believed Bhutto had them in abundance. He also stated that:"Women who are strong in the things that matter most - courage and character - are a threat to weak men without such traits. Some men will go to any length to oppress such women, even invoking the "will of God" as the ultimate justification, when God wants to liberate women (and men), not subjugate them to self-righteous sinners."Hmm. I agree with Thomas. One doesn't have to go outside the United States, or even Kansas, to find rantings when strong women are appointed to or seek positions of leadership in national life. It wasn't too long ago that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church were attacked in some sections of the media simply because they were women. Do you remember any previous Speakers being ridiculed for the ties they wore, or the size of their biceps for that matter? The topic of Pelosi's pearls drew nearly as much attention as her appointment and, at one point, Hilary Clinton's cleavage was inflated to grab pretty large headlines.The US touts itself as the land of freedom, equality and opportunity but one wonders why a woman has not yet been elected to its highest office? England AND Ireland, small countries who could well fit into the state of Texas with plenty of room left over, have already had females in the top posts. England had its first woman Prime Minister nearly 30 years ago until she was ousted by the "Big Boys," and Ireland has experienced two female Presidents. And then there is Benazier Bhutto, the focus of Thomas' column, who became Prime Minister in a Muslim country. She balanced family life (with a husband and children ) with her political duties, and managed to retain her femininity. I know that comparisons are odious, but, in this case, they should give food for thought, even though some may choke in the process.I'm not saying that Hilary Clinton should be elected President simply because she's a woman; I'm saying that she shouldn't be ridiculed and dismissed just because she is. If she is the only women to emerge as a potential Presidential candidate, what is this saying about the women in America? Or what is it saying about the men?

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