Sunday, June 30, 2013

Domesticity and Stevie Ray Vaughan

"I'm eighteen years behind in my ironing." Phyllis Diller

PAUL HAS AN armoir in the AP (all-purpose) room where I hang his clean and ironed short-sleeve shirts. There's also a closet with two hanging bars; the top bar holds his ready-to-be-worn long-sleeve shirts, and the bottom bar is for clothes that need ironing. 

That bottom rung had gotten jammed full of clean shirts as well as ones Paul had worn and hung there under the definite misconception that he'd be saving me work if he didn't throw them in the dirty clothes basket! 

I finally took every living thing out of it, threw a few shirts away, gave a few to Goodwill, sent a couple to be dry-cleaned and rewashed and ironed the rest.

So that's my accomplishment . . . for another 20 minutes or so . . . until the next load of laundry is done . . . when I'll have eight more shirts on the rack that need ironing.

Forty clean and ironed short-sleeve shirts (I counted).

Nothing on the to-be ironed rack!

Not that Paul wasn't also busy. While I was washing and ironing shirts and sheets and pillow cases, he roasted a chicken, made gluten-free brownies and cleaned out the refrigerator. 

Paul used his birthday Barnes and Noble gift card a few days ago to buy a bunch of CDs. He's been having a ball listening to them. Today he put on the first disc of the two-disc set of The Continents, a concerto for jazz quintet and chamber orchestra by Chick Corea with Chick Corea on piano, Tim Garland on soprano saxophone and bass clarinet, Hans Glawischnig on bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums and Steve Davis on trombone. It's the first time that I've heard the phenomenal Mr. Davis. Wow.

I learned something else that will make more than a few of you roll your eyes and exclaim in disbelief, "Say what?!" — most especially Don Myers and every Texan I know, so sit down for this. 

In the CD line-up Paul included Texas Flood by Stevie Ray Vaughan with Double Trouble. The first tune, Love Struck Baby, came on and I yelled out, "Paul — Who's this??!!!!" 

He told me Stevie Ray Vaughan, whereupon I said, "Whoa! No wonder everybody thinks he such a big deal." 

Yes, yes, pathetic I know . . . that for all these years I had never knowingly listened to Stevie Ray

Obviously Paul has been neglecting my musical education. I'd heard of SRV, but until that moment all I could have told you about him was that a) he was a musician of some kind b) he was from Texas c) people seem to have liked him, and d) he's dead. 

Deep breaths, Don, deep breaths.
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Saturday, June 29, 2013

A national mosaic

"We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams." Jimmy Carter 

AS PROMISED, here's the op ed from David Brooks that was published in the New York Times June 28 and ran online June 27. 

A Nation of Mutts

Over the past few decades, American society has been transformed in a fit of absence of mind. First, we’ve gone from a low immigrant nation to a high immigrant nation. If you grew up between 1950 and 1985, you grew up at a time when only about 5 percent or 6 percent of American residents were foreign born. Today, roughly 13 percent of American residents are foreign born, and we’re possibly heading to 15 percent.

Moreover, up until now, America was primarily an outpost of European civilization. Between 1830 and 1880, 80 percent of the immigrants came from Northern and Western Europe. Over the following decades, the bulk came from Southern and Central Europe. In 1960, 75 percent of the foreign-born population came from Europe, with European ideas and European heritage.

Soon, we will no longer be an outpost of Europe, but a nation of mutts, a nation with hundreds of fluid ethnicities from around the world, intermarrying and intermingling. Americans of European descent are already a minority among 5-year-olds. European-Americans will be a minority over all in 30 years at the latest, and probably sooner.

If enacted, the immigration reform bill would accelerate these trends. It would further increase immigration levels. According to the Census Bureau, roughly 20 million immigrants will come to this country under current law. The Congressional Budget Office expects another 16 million under the new provisions.

It would boost the rise of non-Europeans. Immigration would be more global. Hispanics are now projected to make up 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2050. We would hit that mark sooner with reform.

In other words, immigration reform won’t transform America. It will just speed up the arrival of a New America that is already guaranteed.

As we stand on the cusp of this New America, it’s understandable to feel some anxiety. If you take sociology and culture seriously, it’s sensible to wonder whether this is the sort of country we want to be. Can we absorb this many immigrants without changing something fundamental?

Let’s make some educated guesses about what the New America will look like. It will almost certainly be economically dynamic. Immigration boosts economic dynamism, and more immigration would boost it more. There would also be a lot of upward striving. Immigrant groups tend to work harder than native groups. They save more. They start business at higher rates than natives.

My colleague Anne Snyder delineates several possible changes to the social fabric. Basically we are witnessing the end of the old ethnic-racial order. Traditionally, mainstream America has been defined by the big block of whites, while other big blocks — blacks, Hispanics, Asians — occupied different places on the hierarchy.

Soon there will be no dominant block, just complex networks of fluid streams — Vietnamese, Bengalis, Kazakhs. It’s a bit like the end of the cold war when bipolar thinking had to give way to a radically multipolar mind-set.

Because high immigration is taking place at a time of unprecedentedly low ethnic hostility, we’re seeing high rates of intermarriage. This creates large numbers of hybrid individuals, biracial or triracial people with names like Enrique Cohen-Chan. These people transcend existing categories and soften the social boundaries between groups.

This won’t lead to a bland mélange America but probably a move to ethnic re-orthodoxy. As Alvaro Vargas Llosa points out in his book, “Global Crossings,” the typical pattern is that the more third-generation people assimilate, the more they also value their ethnic roots. We could soon see people with completely unaccented English joining Chinese-American Federations and Honduran-American Support Networks.

The big divides could be along educational lines, not ethnic ones. Because educated people intermarry at higher rates, we could have an educated cosmopolitan class with low ethnic boundaries and a fair bit of integration in white-collar workplaces. Then, underneath, there could be a less-educated, more-balkanized layer, with high residential and professional segregation and more ethnic hostility.

We could also see more ethnic jostling between groups. The most interesting and problematic flashpoint may be between immigrants and African-Americans. We now have this bogus category, “minority,” in which we lump the supposed rainbow coalition of immigrants and blacks. But, in fact, tensions between “minority” groups could soon be more plainly obvious than any solidarity.

Finally, it would make sense that the religion of diversity, which dominates the ethos of our schools, would give way to an ethos of civic cohesion. We won’t have to celebrate diversity because it will be a fact. The problem will be finding the 21st-century thing that binds the fluid network of ethnic cells.

On the whole, this future is exciting. The challenge will be to create a global civilization that is, at the same time, distinctly American. Immigration reform or not, the nation of mutts is coming.

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Wendy and Gail

"There’s a complete disregard for women’s rights by those without uteruses.” Wendy Davis

IF THE New York Times were a person, I'd marry it. Oh wait, I'm already married. Well move over, Paul, true love will not be denied. It's my window to the world, yoga for the mind.

I'm enamored of the Times' fleet of opinion writers. Clearly, I have pen envy. If I wrote like the least of the least of them, I'd die happy. 

Gail Collins put together a snappy column two days ago, and David Brooks wrote a made-ya'-think one for today's paper. We'll just go in chronological order. Today, Gail and tomorrow, David

And PS, while I'm thinking of it, I appreciate whenever anyone anywhere (and that would be you right now) sacrifices a few minutes of life to read any of my poor offerings. If you have a choice between me and the Times, for heaven's sake go with the Times!!! But thanks anyway for giving me even a second. XOXO

Now here's Gail.

Wendy and the Boys
Published: June 26, 2013 

There is an old saying that Texas is “heaven for men and dogs, but hell for women and oxen.” But the state’s history is chock-full of stories of female role models. Barbara Jordan. Ann Richards. In downtown Austin, there’s a statue of Angelina Eberly, heroine of the Texas Archives War of 1842, firing a cannon and looking about 7 feet tall.

I do not have nearly enough time to explain to you about the Archives War, although it’s an extremely interesting story. Right now we need to move on to State Senator Wendy Davis, whose 11-hour filibuster this week turned her into a national name brand.

“It was like a made-for-TV movie. I’ve been around the block, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood and the daughter of the former governor.

Texas is a state with one of the nation’s highest teenage motherhood rates, where a majority of women who give birth are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. So, naturally, its political leaders have declared war against the right of women to choose whether or not they want to be pregnant. Funding for family planning has been slashed. This month, Gov. Rick Perry tried to pass a new law that would have shut down almost all the abortion clinics in the state, under the guise of expanded health and safety requirements.

The feisty, admirable Texas state legislator, Wendy Davis.

Huge crowds showed up to protest! This was pretty remarkable because Texas is not currently known as a place where people pay intense attention to what goes on in its State Capitol. (A recent study at the University of Texas at Austin found that it has “one of the nation’s lowest political and civic participation rates.”) Also, the conventional wisdom is that when things get politically rowdy, it’s because of a visitation from the right.

Yet there the protesters were, filling the Senate gallery and overflow rooms, squishing into the halls and the rotunda, flowing down the Capitol front steps and into the mall.

The bill arrived at the State Senate, its final stop, on the last day of the legislative session. Late in the morning, Davis got up to filibuster until midnight when the clock ran out.

Like Ann Richards, Davis is good on her feet, with a spectacular head of hair and a gift for funny speeches. But, on Tuesday, she was angry and ready for a fight. In the Texas Capitol, she said later in a phone interview, “there’s a complete disregard for women’s rights by those without uteruses.”

The Texas filibuster rules are suitable for a place that regards steer wrestling and bronco busting as the official state sport. We made a big fuss when Rand Paul stayed on his feet for 13 hours in the U.S. Senate to filibuster over drones. But that was a walk in the park compared with what Davis went through. Paul got help from his friends, who orated while he rested his voice. And U.S. senators can speak about anything when they filibuster. (Paul read from Alice in Wonderland.) Davis was supposed to stick to her subject.

The crowd was reasonably quiet until Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst ruled that Davis had to sit down because she had gone off topic by referencing a state law requiring that women who want abortions must show up a day earlier for an ultrasound.

“That wouldn’t have happened to any other senator,” said Davis, who believes she was treated dismissively because she is a woman — or at least a woman filibustering on women’s issues.

The people in the gallery began to yell. Dewhurst, who complained about “an unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics,” could not get control of the room before time ran out. Texas is now engaged in a debate over whether it is worse to yell in the State Senate or declare a senator out of order for discussing the state abortion laws during a debate on abortion.

Meanwhile, pictures of the pink sneakers worn by Wendy Davis during her filibuster have resurfaced as posters.

The anti-abortion bill will be back. Vowing not to give way to “the breakdown of decorum and decency,” Governor Perry called a special emergency session for July 1 to take it up again.

The protesters will undoubtedly be back, too. “They’ve tasted victory — what it means to organize and win,” predicted Cecile Richards.

And Texans are wondering if this could be a new era for a state that really hasn’t been in the national eye for ages — unless you count the Rick Perry “oops” moment.

“Politics has been so dormant in Texas,” said Evan Smith, the editor of The Texas Tribune, whose livecast of Davis’s filibuster was viewed by 182,000 people. “The point is, the world is watching now.”

A few years back, Davis told me about an incident during a debate when she had asked a veteran Republican a question about a pending bill. Dodging her query, he said: “I have trouble hearing women’s voices.”

I guess they can hear her now.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Happy and mad

"Gutting the law that has helped end voter discrimination is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet." — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissenting opinion on overturning the Voting Rights Act

IT'S A LOVELY early evening — 86 degrees with a light breeze — here in Ankeny, IAAfter taking the fur babies for a walk around the yard, I'm sitting outside, drinking fresh-sqeezed lemonade and eating . . . (sigh) chocolate. To top it off, I got a massage right after work. Ahhhh.

Although I'm celebrating (big time) the two Supreme Court rulings in support of marriage equality, I'm mad that SCOTUS gutted the Voting Rights ActIt's time to start lobbying for uniform federal laws that govern and protect access to voting. Blah blah blah, states rights, blah blah blah. I don't care.

The states have proven beyond a doubt that they can't handle it, so take it out of state legislatures' hands and make it fair! That people in some parts of the country have more access to participating in our so-called democracy because they fall into a preferred demographic (white, non-poor) is as unAmerican as it gets. 

America, you're starting to piss me off.

Thanks to good pal, Don Myers, below there's an article from ThinkProgress detailing how the Republican-led Texas legislature is immediately swinging into action to disenfranchise certain classes of voters.

Below that, find a great graphic from The Blue Street Journal and The Uncensored Progressive that Sherry Toelle sent, and below that there's a PBS article from the wonderful Galen Brooks about the disgraceful history of Jim Crow laws. It's a lot to read, but worth it I think.

Two Hours After The Supreme Court Gutted The Voting Rights Act, Texas AG Suppresses Minority Voters
By Aviva Shen on Jun 25, 2013 

Just two hours after the Supreme Court reasoned that discrimination is not rampant enough in Southern states to warrant restrictions under the Voting Rights Act, Texas is already advancing a voter ID law and a redistricting map blocked last year for discriminating against black and Latino residents. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued a statement declaring that both measures may go into effect immediately, now that there is no law stopping them from discriminating against minorities.

In 2012, the Justice Department blocked these measures under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Federal courts agreed that both the strict voter ID law and the redistricting map would disproportionately target the state’s fast-growing minority communities. Still, Texas filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court over the Voting Rights Act case complaining that the DOJ had used “abusive and heavy-handed tactics” to thwart the state’s attempts at voter suppression.

In the case of the new electoral map, a panel of federal judges found that “substantial surgery” was done to predominantly black districts, cutting off representatives’ offices from their strongest fundraising bases. Meanwhile, white Congress members’ districts were either preserved or “redrawn to include particular country clubs and, in one case, the school belonging to the incumbent’s grandchildren.” The new map was also drawn in secret by white Republican representatives, without notifying their black and Latino peers. After the court blocked the map, the legislature approved small changes to appease Democratic lawmakers last week. Now that they are free to use the old maps, however, Gov. Rick Perry (R) could simply veto the new plan and use the more discriminatory maps.

The strict photo ID requirement blocked by the DOJ and a federal court would require Texans to show one of a very narrow list of acceptable photo IDs. Expired gun licenses from other states are considered valid, but Social Security cards and student IDs are not. If voters do not have an ID — as many minorities, seniors, and poor people do not — they must travel at their own expense, produce their birth certificate, and in many cases pay a fee to get an ID.

Thanks to the Supreme Court, the DOJ no longer has any power to block these laws, even with the backing of federal judges who found blatant discrimination. Under the remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act, individuals may sue to kill these measures, but only after they have gone into effect and disenfranchised countless Texans of color.

According to the 2010 Census, non-Hispanic whites have become a minority in Texas, down from 52.4 percent to 45.3 percent of the population. Latinos have accounted for 65 percent of the state’s population growth over the past decade. Projections show that the eligible voter pool will shift to roughly 44 percent white voters and 37 percent Hispanic voters by 2025. Faced with this demographic reality, conservatives have alternated between changing their messaging to appeal to Latino voters, who overwhelmingly supported Democrats in 2012, and making it harder for them to vote.

It is only a matter of time before other states with voter ID laws and other election law changes blocked by the DOJ last year follow Texas’ example. Besides Texas, the attorney generals of Alabama, Arizona, South Dakota, and South Carolina argued that the Voting Rights Act was getting in the way of their ability to enact discriminatory laws.

By the great David Horsey for the Los Angeles Times.

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow
By Tsahai Tafari 

learn more at:

Jim Crow was a system of segregation and discrimination practiced in Southern and some border states soon after the Civil War. The exact origin of the name is not known, though it is likely to come from a minstrel of the early 1800s. Of the three branches of the federal government, the legislative was most effective in enacting and maintaining discriminatory laws that kept Jim Crow alive well into the 1960s. 

The Compromise of 1877 decided the outcome of the controversial presidential election of 1876 through a series of back-room discussions between Congressmen and private interest groups, and resulted in the retreat of the federal government from enforcing the 14th and 15th amendments for blacks. The Congress had passed the Civil Rights Act in 1875, making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, but there was a national backlash against civil rights that led to the Supreme Court's nullification of the Civil Rights Act in 1883. North and south began a period of reconciliation, characterized by acquiescence on the part of Northern liberals and government officials to the desires of the white south to institutionalize its discriminatory and racist beliefs. 

Many Southern blacks had become politically active after the Civil War, but after 1877, most lost the right to vote or to hold government positions. In 1878, the Congress forbade the use of the Army to protect black voters from the intimidation and physical violence with which they were regularly threatened at the polls. By 1894, Congress ceased appropriations for federal marshals to protect black voters; meaning blacks were vulnerable to intimidation and threats of ex-confederates. In 1901, the last black representative lost his seat in Congress. It would be 30 years before a black person could gain a seat in the House or Senate. 

During the early part of the 20th century, the Presidents and the Congress worked together to decrease the number of federal appointments to blacks and to ensure that federal officials in the south were sympathetic to the cause of white supremacy. During the early years of the Wilson administration (1913-1917), the Democratic Representatives submitted more racist legislation than had been introduced to any previous Congress. Disfranchised and demoralized, few blacks voted during these years, leading to an even greater indifference of both parties to the black vote. The Republicans did not need black votes to control Congress, and Democrats did not care about a black constituency. 

When legislation was introduced to protect blacks, Democrats convinced Republicans to join them in their disregard for civil rights and suffrage for blacks. Congressman L.C. Dyer of St. Louis submitted an anti-lynching bill in 1922 that was shelved when Southern Democrats threatened a filibuster in the Senate. Southern Democrats regularly blocked the efforts of a few liberal Congressmen to pass protective legislation for blacks. Republicans continually gave in to the demands of the Southern Democrats, and President Harding (1921-1924) did nothing to interfere, nor did his successors, until the late 1930s. 

Through the 1930s, legislative dominance by Southern Democrats was buoyed by strong party allegiance in the south and a weak Northern Democratic party. Legislators were more concerned with passing relief bills for an economically depressed constituency than with helping blacks regain suffrage in the South. Black leaders referred to the New Deal as the "Raw Deal," as blacks' concerns were largely ignored. Roosevelt needed the votes of Southern Democrats to pass relief legislation, and he feared losing Congressional support by introducing any provisions for civil rights. 

By Roosevelt's second term (1937-1940), however, the Democratic party had become more liberal, less deferential to Southerners, and more interested in urban issues. Angered by what they viewed as a betrayal, Southern Democrats began to aggressively block legislation introduced by Northern, liberal Democrats, leading filibusters against anti-lynching and anti-poll tax bills. In 1935, an anti-lynching bill was met with a six-day, gentlemanly discussion before it died, with neither party wanting to offend the other. An anti-lynching bill introduced in 1938, however, led to a seven-week discussion. 

Southerners continued to use racism as a tool for re-election, scaring their constituents by claiming that "white womanhood" was endangered by the loss of states' rights to control the blacks of the South. Former Mississippi governor and virulent white supremacist Senator Theodore Bilbo first joined the Senate in 1935, and went so far as to introduce an amendment to a relief bill that would provide funds for the deportation of all blacks to Liberia. After Bilbo's third re-election in 1946, black organizations pressured the Senate to investigate his dealings with white supremacist groups. Only Bilbo's death in the late summer of 1947 spared the Congress from dealing with the matter, but marked the beginning of the postwar struggle for the passage of civil rights legislation. It was virtually impossible for civil rights legislation to get past the Senate in the 1940s and much of the 1950s, as the Southern Senators frequently launched filibusters that killed any legislation challenging the Southern status quo. 

Not all Southern Congressmen were silent on the issue of civil rights and federal relief programs. Senator Claude Pepper (D - FL) was notable for challenging his Southern colleagues, and voted with Northern New Dealers more than any other Southern Senator. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was introduced and strongly supported by Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX), in spite of a filibuster led by Senator Strom Thurmond (D-SC, who switched to R-SC in 1964), during which Thurmond spoke for a Senate record of 24 hours 18 minutes. Senator Johnson (and President Eisenhower) was more concerned with garnering the support of his colleagues than with affecting true change in the lives of black Americans in the south, so the Civil Rights Act was intentionally watered down so as not to alienate and anger Southern Democrats. In its final form, the bill simply created a Commission on Civil Rights, but did not affect Jim Crow. It was, however, the first civil rights legislation to become law since the Civil Rights Act of 1875. 

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, was much more powerful in scope. It barred discrimination on the basis of race in areas of public accommodation, schools, libraries, museums, and hospitals. It prohibited businesses and unions from discriminatory actions, but did not protect the right to vote. As President, Lyndon B. Johnson was more committed to getting the Act through Congress, and wanted it passed in its original form, unlike the Civil Rights Act of 1957. It took approximately 6 months to get the bill through Congress and signed into law, thanks to the persistence of President Johnson, Senator Hubert Humphrey (D - MN), and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a powerful lobbying organization representing diverse member groups. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the first to deal a decisive blow against Jim Crow. The Act demonstrated that the executive and legislative branches of the federal government were committed to working together to support constitutional rights for black Americans, for the first time since the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. 

The final and decisive law that effectively ended the legal practice of Jim Crow was the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Act declared it illegal to use literacy or character tests as a requirement for voter registration and in counties and states where less than half the population had voted in 1964. Jim Crow had lost the support of the federal government in its all aspects of segregation and discrimination. The passage of laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were influenced by civil rights activists' persistent challenge of Jim Crow by non-violent methods such as sit-ins, marches, and boycotts. Civil rights supporters were empowered by the passage of these laws, and continued to challenge the violent resistance of some white Southerners. Though Jim Crow had been defeated, blacks faced its legacy and continued to seek new ways to address the inequality and discrimination they faced in its wake. 

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Nonpareil Institute

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid” Albert Einstein.

NBC NIGHTLY NEWS ran a piece on a brilliant organization called the Nonpareil Institute that teaches software skills to autistic students and subsequently hires many of them. It was founded in 2008 in Plano, TX as a nonprofit by Dan Selec, whose son was diagnosed with autism. The idea has really taken off in a big way, and these skilled workers are increasingly in demand. Here's a link to their site.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

The best and worst laundry detergents

"We are coming down from our pedestal and up from the laundry room." Bella Abzug 

I ADMIT IT. I have a weakness for cleaning products. Paul has to keep an eye on me if we go to the Iowa State Fair because there's one particular exhibit hall beneath the grandstand that always has a plethora of wacky household gadgets and "revolutionary" cleaning products. I want to buy them all. Okay, maybe not all of them, but several of them. I like making things very clean.

Paul would settle for picked up. 

I've been trying to get over my natural inclination to feel like there's no point in picking up if I can't clean all the surfaces underneath. That's what comes from having an all or nothing personality. Something or someone is either going to get all of my attention or none of it. 

For those of you who, like me, get high on the smell of Pinesol, Febreeze and bleach, here's a review ABC News online ran last Thursday of the best and worst laundry detergents. 

Consumer Reports' Best, Worst Laundry Detergents

By SUSANNA KIM (@skimm)
June 20, 2013

Tide detergent is so sought after that retailers in Colorado are locking up the product and hiring undercover security guards to patrol their aisles. While Tide is the most popular laundry detergent, other brands are nearly as good or better and cost less, says a top consumer testing group.

Tide is perennially a top performer in Consumer Reports' annual laundry detergent study, but this year some other products, including a store brand, broke into the top-ranked products.

Wisk Deep Clean rated highest among conventional detergents while Costco's Kirkland Signature is becoming a brand to be reckoned with among the name brand players, the magazine reported.

Consumer Reports senior editor Daniel DiClerico said laundry detergent is a "fun category" because manufacturers tweak their formula more frequently than, say, toilet paper.

Products can be changed and new products introduced for several reasons, like cost-cutting, environmental green features or performance.

Consumer Reports tests each detergent for things like general cleaning and the ability to remove grass, blood and collar rings.

"Tide is really a perennial winner," DiClerico said. "You always know they're going to be in the running. It was exciting to see competition from Wisk and more surprisingly from Kirkland, a bargain brand. To see a value brand like that outperforming the big dogs like Tide in a couple of categories -- I would say that's the big surprise this go around."
By virtue of being a Costco brand, Kirkland is cheaper, but not the least expensive detergent Consumer Reports tests. Among the recommended brands, it offers the best value, he said.

While Tide Pods were the only single-use detergent to be recommended by Consumer Reports last year, it ranked behind Costco's Kirkland Signature Ultra Clean Pacs this year. They performed slightly better while costing 8 cents less per load.

DiClerico cautioned parents to keep the pacs and pods, which can look like candy, out of the hands of young children.

Consumer Reports' list of "losers" became longer this year. Martha Stewart Clean 2X was its lowest-rated detergent and All 2X Ultra Stainlifter and Basics 2X Concentrated were dinged for "unimpressive cleaning on grass, blood, and body oils" among conventional detergents.

Here are the top 7 picks for Consumer Reports' two categories for laundry detergents.

Top Conventional Brands, for standard top-loading washers:

1. Wisk Deep Clean, liquid
2. Tide Plus Bleach Alternative Vivid White + Bright, liquid
3. Tide for Cold Water, liquid
4. Cheer Stay Colorful for Darks, liquid
5. Tide Ultra Free & Gentle, powder
6. Tide TotalCare, liquid
7. Gain Icy Fresh Fizz Oxi Boost 2-in-1 FreshLock, liquid

Top High-Efficiency Brands, for front-loading or high-efficiency top-loading washers.

1. Tide Ultra Plus Bleach Vivid White + Bright, powder
2. Wisk Deep Clean Free & Pure, liquid
3. Kirkland Signature Ultra Clean Pacs (Costco), pods/packs
4. Tide Ultra HE, powder
5. Tide HE Plus Bleach Alternative Vivid White + Bright, liquid
6. Kirkland Signature Ultra (Costco), powder
7. Tide Pods, pods/packs
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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Welcome aboard

"Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power." P. J. O'Rourke 

IN MY May 28 blog, I wrote about the political incivility that exists in our country as revealed by a turn of phrase used on NBC Nightly News to describe Governor Chris Christie's cordial demeanor toward President Obama. Such behavior, at least as the newscast put it, was "showing kindness" to the president. According to my Thesaurus kindness is synonymous with being:

charitable     -     caring     -     affectionate     -     loving     -     warm     - considerate     -     helpful     -     thoughtful     -     obliging     -    unselfish     -     selfless     -     altruistic     -     attentive     -     benign     -    compassionate     -     sympathetic     -     understanding     -     benevolent     -     hospitable     -     big-hearted     -     well-meaning     -     lenient 
. . . instead of what the rest of us who actually have to live and work in the world would deem as merely employing basic good manners.

During the same newscast, there was a report about yet another cruise ship incident in which passengers on a Royal Caribbean ship were forced to have their seven-night cruise cut short when a fire erupted on board. The piece went on to mention that in response to the spate of cruise incidents, the Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA) had adopted a "passenger bill of rights". (Probably had nothing to do with the fact that in March Senator Charles Schumer threatened to pass governmental regulations if cruise lines didn't get their act together.)

But here's the thing that caught my brain. It was noted in the same report that many, if not most, of these US cruise line ships are registered in foreign countries so that their ships are subject only to other countries' less rigorous inspections, and they escape paying taxes in the United States.

So once again:

1) Corporations avoid paying taxes while WE, the 98%, pay their share.

2) Congress and POTUS continue to let them get away with it.

3) Greed (the 2%) and power-lust (the politicians) trump everything else.

Here's part of what Christopher Elliott, author of Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Dealshad to say about the cruise industry's so-called "passenger bill of rights" in an article he wrote for yesterday's (6/18/13) Chicago Tribune Travel Section:  

James Walker, a maritime attorney based in Miami, says that customers are correct to disbelieve the cruise industry's new customer-service rhetoric. "It's actually a step in the wrong direction," he told me. "What this bill of rights does, in fact, is limit the liability of cruise lines."

For example, if this bill had been in effect during the Triumph disaster, then Carnival would have been obligated only to refund part of the passengers' payment — not to repay the cost of the entire cruise, cover passengers' transportation expenses, zero out their onboard bills, issue a voucher for a future cruise and pay them $500 each, as Carnival did, he says.

"I would view this as a PR move that effectively limits the rights of passengers," he adds. "They are proposing rights that are beneficial to the cruise lines, but not to their customers."

The cruise industry needs the positive publicity that would probably come from an uncritical industry press. But more importantly, says Walker, it hopes to keep likely legislation by Schumer, which would have the force of law, from ever reaching the Senate floor.

Bill or no bill, the fact remains that you're still giving up a lot of rights when you sign up for a cruise. Maybe too many. The only way to avoid that — at least for the foreseeable future — is to stay on dry land.
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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Avec un chat

"I have my favorite cat, who is my paperweight, on my desk while I am writing." Ray Bradbury 

ONCE AGAIN Paul can be credited with finding this.

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Six months

“The bill that passes the Senate must have background checks, and not a watered-down version of background checks.” Senator Harry Reid, June 13, 2013

Today is the six-month anniversary of the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT. Since then, 1000 people a month have been killed by guns in our country. Yesterday Democrats in the US Senate quietly renewed their efforts to put reasonable gun regulations into place.

Mom's Demand Action put it best:

So call, fax, mail, email, tweet, rally, demonstrate, organize a candlelight vigil, write a letter to the editor, knock on your Senator's office door — or donate to an organization who will do these things for you if you can't. We may not be successful today, but we're doomed to fail if we don't try.

Here's a link to 

and to Gabby Giffords' organization

Below are live links to previous blog posts of mine with contact information listed for Senators (though the Gs) who voted against the background check bill in April. I'm only adding to the list as I get them called and emailed myself. Just click on the link.




D — Gs:

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Weeds and roses, roses and thorns

"People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us." — Iris Murdoch, Irish-born British author and philosopher

WEIRD, I know, but I find weeding soothing to the soul. It requires no brain power whatsoever and affords immediate gratification. See weed; pull weed; enjoy nicer view. 

Here are a few snaps of flowers in our garden, from whence came the peonies that Boy Boy dumped (and the water in the vase) all over me in the middle of the night Saturday. Our 'real' camera was at work so I only had my iPhone to use, but it did a good job for such a little thing.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Breakfast in bed

"A simple enough pleasure, surely, to have breakfast alone with one's husband, but how seldom married people in the midst of life achieve it." Anne Spencer, American poet and active participant in the New Negro Movement and Harlem Renaissance period. She was the first African-American to have her poetry included in the Norton Anthology of American Poetry. 

Anne Spencer

I HAD NOTHING but rolling bad dreams Friday night. Toward morning I was mumbling and whimpering to Paul in a distressed, semiconscious state.

When I woke up for real, it was to Paul bringing me breakfast in bed: fried potatoes, fresh fruit salad and peonies in a vase served on a tray. He was trying to cheer me up.

Fast forward to last night when I was awakened first by Shiva retching and throwing up in the living room and reawakened by getting thoroughly soaked when Boy Boy grabbed the vase of peonies sitting on the nightstand and dumped it all over me and the bed, necessitating an immediate change of bedding.

So goes life when you live in a household with four cats, one of whom is prone to hairballs and another who weighs 23 pounds, is the size of a toddler and uses his paws like hands.


Boy Boy likes to pick up his dry crunches one by one,
put them in the water, then fish them out and eat them.

The water looks a little yucky because The Boy 
is always dunking his food in it.
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Saturday, June 8, 2013

E, F, G and the ongoing quest

A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success. Elbert Hubbard, American writer, publisher, artist and philosopher

SOMEONE SHOULD HAVE corrected me, complained or at least commented about two errors in my blog post, Not very shiny and the Cs, written exactly one month ago. In my list of the C-senators who voted against requiring background checks for gun purchases, I accidentally listed the wrong phone number for Ted Cruzand I had Dan Coats representing Illinois instead of Indiana.

I made corrections a couple of weeks ago, but it would have made me happy if someone had hoisted a red flag because that would have meant someone had been actually using the information. I'm not nagging you to do anything I don't also do myself. I compile a new list only after I've called and emailed those on the previous list.

Realistically, I think the fight for sensible gun regulation will come down to a state-by-state battle like it did for legalizing same sex marriage. However, keeping sustained pressure on Congress is a valid tactic. Our elected representatives need to get it that we as a people will not continue to stand by complacently as the river of blood flows. 

More than 32,000 of us die from gunfire each year in our country. If a foreign entity invaded the US and killed 32,000 Americans, all hell would break loose!!!

Our government has spent a few billion short of $1.5 TRILLION on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 11, 2001 when 2,996 were killed, but we lose 10 times that number to guns in our country every year. 

Another four were killed in Santa Monica yesterday by a guy who, according to ABC News, "was carrying approximately 1,300 rounds of ammunition, in addition to a revolver and a rifle similar to an AR-15 semi-automatic in a duffel bag."

Tell Congress, President Obama, your governor and your state legislature that you won't put up with it any more.

Mike Enzi from Wyoming
phone: (202) 224-3424

fax: (202) 228-0359
Twitter handle: @SenatorEnzi

Deb Fischer from Nebraska
Phone: (202) 224-6551
Fax: (202) 228-1325
Twitter handle: @SenatorFischer

Jeff Flake from Arizona
Phone: (202) 224-4521

Fax: (202) 228-0515
Twitter handle: @JeffFlake

Lindsey Graham from South Carolina
Phone: (202) 224-5972
Fax: (202) 224-5143
Twitter handle: @GrahamBlog
Chuck Grassley from Iowa (sad to say)
Phone: (202) 224-3744
Fax: (202) 224-6020
Twitter handle: @ChuckGrassley
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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sad cat diary

"When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction." — Mark Twain, An Incident

IF YOU'VE EVER shared your life with a cat, I promise you'll love this!