Thursday, November 18, 2010

T, as in Tango...

In the spirit of giving thanks, you should count your blessings if you have an ordinary name. Based on 41 years experience, I can say that having a name that, according to the Social Security Administration, is not in the top 1000 male names for any year of recorded births is more a burden than an asset. Clearly there are times when a unique name has its benefits, like when people google you they don't get millions of hits (mine yields 774) and Facebook searches usually don't result in over 400 possible friends. My name, then, makes me easy to find. Those benefits, however, are out numbered by the hassle that comes with not being a Steve, Mark, David, John or Bill.

For instance, I have never known the pleasure of finding my name on any merchandise. I challenge you to find (and document) a "Thad" key chain or license plate. If I want my name on something, it has to be custom made. People also seem to have difficulty pronouncing my name. My 10th grade biology teacher called me "Tad" the entire school year. I tried to correct her in the beginning, but eventually gave up. I mean, it's not that difficult a name to pronounce: TH + AD = Thad. Phonics, people, phonics. Non-native English speakers are exempt from my annoyance since "TH" is not always pronounced "TH" in their native tongue. I also have to deal with the apparent difficulty of spelling my name correctly. The following are real-life variations I've experienced:


It's as though no one wants to believe that you spell my name, T-H-A-D, so somehow P-H-A-T makes more sense to them. As a result, it has long since become habit for me to immediately spell my name upon uttering it, even when meeting people in person: "Hi, I'm Thad, T-H-A-D." To save restaurant hosts and hostesses the trouble, I often give them a different name and hope that I remember that I am now "George." I also always wonder about those who ask about my name, "Is it short for Thaddeus?" Sigh. I wonder if those same people ask, "Oh, is 'John' short for 'Johnathon'?" I once started a new job at a restaurant where a cook was disappointed that I was white. THAD, he explained, is "a brother's name" and I think he was tired of working with a bunch of white guys.

It's not like THAD is that unusual of a name. A few more notable THAD's than myself include:

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen (think BP oil spill)
Sen. Thad Cochran
Thad Jones (jazz musician)
Thaddeus Stevens
THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense)
Thads (a missionary group)

I don't begrudge my parents for naming me as they did; in truth, I've come to like my name quite a bit, despite the hassles. Once it sinks in to their brains, most people remember my name even if they don't remember me, and I'll be eternally thankful they didn't name me, SUE.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Back on the Chain Gang

Sometimes when I take Boo to the park there's a prison work crew picking up trash, blowing leaves, emptying trash cans and doing various other jobs to keep the place clean. It's a sight I like to see, and I think it's too bad prison work crews aren't used more often. In fact, I don't understand why I don't see one every day.

Prisoners are a dime a dozen. According to the Dept. of Justice, there were over 1,613,656 prisoners at the end of 2009. That's more than the populations of some our mid-major cities. Clearly there's no lack of orange jumpsuits behind bars, so why don't we put them to work doing those jobs us non-felons won't do?

Liberals argue that prison work crews are dehumanizing, a form of cruel and unusual punishment. I, on the other hand, contend that they represent one of the better rehabilitation methods. Work builds character and the harder the work, the stronger the character. If you're in prison you're probably lacking in character and could use a little boost, so a little hard work might do some good. More work crews would also give more prisoners something better to do with their time than sit around and stew and fight and kill each other. Military leaders of old knew the value of keeping a standing army busy by building walls, digging trenches, cutting downs trees and so forth because the work helped to maintain discipline. Working out in the open in full view of the public and cleaning up after said public also brings with it a certain amount of humility that any good felon could use. People who have committed crimes for which they are imprisoned should feel a sense of shame, and they don't get that hanging with the peeps in Cell Block C. Besides, work crews could be a good deterrent of juvenile crime - no adolescent I know wants to be seen picking up trash on the side of the road. The law is not for breaking and if you break it, you pay for it.

Always eager to show how tough they are on crime, conservatives argue against work crews because they think letting criminals out for any reason is being soft and somehow jeopardizes pubic safety ("Will someone please think of the children?!"). I argue that given the amount of money tax payers invest in corrections, you would think conservatives would be more willing to get something out of it, like clean roadsides and parks and new hiking trails and roads. Many of those services conservatives like to cut funding for can easily be taken care of by prisoners that tax payers are paying for anyway. Have drug offenders and other non-violent criminals do city jobs while those more inclined to violence can work the swamps, mountains and deserts. And if an offender escapes while fixing a trail in the Catskills? Most criminals are not survivalists and would succumb to Mother Nature.

I'm not advocating that we abuse or exploit our prison population by forcing them to work in unsafe conditions. Even the most loathsome of criminals has inherent rights and they must be respected. Still, that doesn't mean that they can't help the society they wronged by doing it some good.

Monday, November 8, 2010

To Read or Not to Read

Here's another stereotypical librarian characteristic that doesn't suit me: I don't love to read. I'm not the person you want to ask to recommend a good book or a favorite author, and if you ask me, "Have you ever read...," the answer will most likely be in the negative. It's not that I don't read or that I haven't read. I mean, I do have a degree in English Literature and you can't really get one of those without reading a lot of books and poems and plays. I'm not big into articles either. I used to read The Economist from cover to cover, but I partially did that out of obligation: I didn't want the paper the articles are printed on to go to waste. So now I subscribe to the online version and occasionally read it when I remember how much I'm paying for it.

Reading takes time and I don't have a lot of free time. There's always something that needs to be done, whether it's scooping litter boxes, battling the lawn, walking the dog, spying on neighbors, cleaning up hairballs or vacuuming. Reading is a luxury, and it's just not in my nature to sit idly by and read when stuff needs to be done. Reading is not for the industrious at heart. Yes, the implication here is that reading is for the lazy. There's an old saying in food service: "Got time to lean, you got time to clean." If you've got time to read, you've got time to be more productive. Chop, chop!

Also, I read non-fiction almost exclusively and that takes time and mental effort. With fiction, you don't have to think very much and can just breeze through a book. I recently broke and read "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," finishing it in about two weeks time, which is good for me. Non-fiction, however, demands your attention, requires you to don a thinking cap. I've been making my way through a biography on Elizabeth I since January or so. Fascinating stuff, really, but the chapters are long, the text dense, and the pictures are too few in number. I love the challenge of non-fiction, but I generally only finish two or three a year. Next on my list: The First World War. Thrilling, eh?

My reading also requires a monastery-like quiet. Since the books I read require me to think, I need to concentrate and music or conversations impede on my ability to do just that. I can't go to Borders or even a library because my mind will hone in on that one voice or song on the other side of the building and it will eat at my brain, like that worm in the Wrath of Khan. Ironically, screaming children don't bother me when I'm reading. I tune them out quite well, perhaps because 1) they aren't mine, and thus not my responsibility, and 2) I don't understand what they are screaming. To me, it's all one long but loud stream of gibberish. Apparently, I can deal with gibberish. But not fiction.

So ends this entry, because, like reading, if you have time to write about yourself, you have time to take the dog for a walk. Oh, and here's my Amazon wish list if you want to get me something this holiday season. Granted, I won't finish it until 2015, but don't let that stop you.