Friday, August 29, 2008

It's Perfectly Normal

JoAn Karkos is going about things the wrong way. This grandmother from Lewiston Maine is facing jail time over her refusal to return a library book. The book in question, It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing up, Sex and Sexual Help, is geared toward 9 to twelve year olds and covers such topics as masturbation and sexually transmitted diseases, complete with illustrations of naked cartoon people. Ms. Karkos has kept the book for more than a year. She believes that, by refusing to return the library's property, she will be able to stop the children of Lewiston from reading what she calls a "sex initiation book." But, thanks to her efforts, the book is more available than ever. Since the brouhaha hit, multiple copies have been donated to the library and now five children at a time can check it out. 
Karkos, 64, was ordered, by a judge in civil court, to return the book by 4:00 today or face possible incarceration. 
By the way, there is precedent for this. In February of this year, Keely Givhan, of Beloit Wisconsin, spent six days in jail when she was unable to pay the late charges on her overdue books. 

The city of Lewiston has decided not to lock up Karkos. Instead, they are charging her $100 and barring her from the library until she pays the debt. Karkos has not yet decided if she will comply.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Still Paddling in Public Schools

In a couple of weeks, my school will have its first faculty meeting of the new academic year. At this meeting, we will set school-wide goals for the year, meet new staff members and iron out mundane scheduling issues such as recess coverage and bus duty. And, as always, at some point during the meeting, our formidable principal will lean forward and announce, "I say this every year and I'll say it again for the new teachers. If you ever hit a child, I will fire you." I've been at the school several years now and the proclamation is just another harbinger of autumn. But the first time I heard it, the words startled me. Hit a student? What kind of teacher would do such a thing? Why would such absurd words even be uttered? After all, isn't all that knuckle wrapping and bottom paddling long gone with the one-room school house?
No, apparently it's alive and well in 21st century America.
According to an Associated Press article by Libby Quaid, 223,190 public school students were paddled at least once in the 2006-2007 school year. Forty percent of these children live in Texas or Mississippi. Other pro-paddling states include Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida and Missouri. 
Far from being a fireable offense, in places where corporal punishment is allowed, teachers and principals generally have legal immunity from assault laws. 
Where do the paddles come from? Some of them are actually made by students in shop class.
Here is the disturbing report by Human Rights Watch on Corporal Punishment in US Public Schools.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Biodegradable Burials

This is a great idea, biodegradable burial. No embalming fluid, no hardwood and metal caskets, no concrete grave liners. Nothing to inhibit your body's natural return to nature. 
What kind of environmentally friendly burial container best suits you?
  • A burial shroud - a large piece of natural fabric such as cotton or silk, that is wrapped around the body
  • A cardboard casket (self-explanatory)
  • An ecopod - a pod-shaped container made from naturally-hardened recycled paper (pictured above in gold)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ethical Love Potion

A company called Behappy is giving away free samples of an all natural and environmentally friendly love potion, created using only alternative energy. Unlike other, run-of-the-mill love potions out there that commonly use pig pheromones to attract that special someone, Behappy's "Love Potion No. 9 Parfum" does not exploit our porcine friends for our own lustful pleasures. Instead, according to the web site, the potion contains 21 mysterious essential oils gathered from all over the earth and "slowly simmered and steeped in special antique containers using centuries old techniques." That explains it. The "free sample" of love potion is available in Spicy Sandalwood or Exotic Floral and will run you $5 for shipping and handling. 

Monday, August 11, 2008

Thomas G. Plant Shoe Company

During our trip to New Hampshire this summer, we visited Castle in the Clouds, a mountaintop estate overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee. We thought maybe we would just grab a quick lunch at the Carriage House, a stable turned restaurant. But we ended up touring the 16 room, Arts and Crafts style home and discovering a connection to our own neighborhood.
Before beginning the self-guided tour, guests all gather in the sun room where a docent gives a brief introduction to the estate and its original owners, Thomas and Olive Plant. The Plants were something of an odd couple with Thomas 26 years Olive's senior and Olive, at 6'1", towering a foot above her husband. 
Thomas Plant was a shoe manufacturer. And that's where the local angle comes in. His factory, the largest manufacturer of women's shoes in the world at the time, was right down the street from our home in the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. In fact, the Thomas G. Plant Company stood on the spot where we now buy our groceries at Super Stop and Shop, on the corner of Centre and Bickford Streets. 
The factory employed over four thousand workers from the surrounding neighborhood of predominantly German and Irish immigrants. Plant, a former factory worker himself, took pains to keep his workers happy, healthy and productive. His pay scale was above average. He provided workers with a free lending library, a gymnasium and swimming pool. He employed mothers of young children and started an on-site daycare center for them. Throughout the "bright, clean factory interior," a heating and ventilating system "change[d] the air completely every three minutes." 

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Castle in the Clouds

This 16 room, arts and crafts style "castle in the clouds" was the home of shoe manufacturer, Thomas Gustave Plant, and his second wife Olive. The name they gave their mountaintop estate, "Lucknow," turned out to be something of a misnomer. Almost as soon as they moved into their new home in 1914, their considerable fortune began to dwindle, due to misguided investments, some made at the suggestion of Plant's pal and hunting buddy, Theodore Roosevelt. Plant died penniless in 1941. Lucknow was sold to settle debts. Olive moved back to her family in Illinois

Plant, who stood only 5 feet 1 inch tall, was a great admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte. In the library are the emperor's portrait, bust and copies of his battle plans. Also in the library, cut inconspicuously into the wood paneling, is the chair-rail-high doorway to Plant's secret room. During his lifetime, Plant possessed the only key and was the only one allowed in the tiny space. 

Other intriguing features of the home:

  • The kitchen floor is made from interlocking rubber puzzle pieces fitted together so snugly that no adhesive was needed.

  • Several of the bathrooms are equipped with "needle showers." These innovations of the late 19th century provided a flow of water not only from above but also via jet sprays from a series of ribcage-shaped pipes that nearly encircled the showerer.

  • In Plant's office, you can view a short-statured suit of armor which the diminutive millionaire enjoyed wearing to costume parties.

  • The game room features a large, built-in organ designed by the Aeolian Organ Company which could be played manually or mechanically. It's music was piped throughout the house via a series of ducts.

  • On Plant's orders, granite stones used to build the home were cut into pentagons., a task so labor-intensive that masons were able to complete only a few stones a day.

After touring Lucknow, visitors can enjoy lunch or a light snack in a renovated stall at the Carriage House Restaurant, the estate's former stable.

The tour is self-guided. Go at your own pace. Stay as long as you like.