Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Different Kind of Writing

Work and school kept me so busy last week that I didn’t have time to “percolate” or craft a new blog post—either for this blog or for the Union for Reform Judaism’s blog. Of course, just because I wasn’t writing for this venue doesn’t mean I wasn’t writing at all.

In fact, I spent quite a bit of time crafting, among other things, a one-page memo for my MPA graduate school class. This once-a-week course, Communications in Public Settings, focuses on the diffusion of innovation and the role of communications in social change. The professor, a young, energetic and enthusiastic rhetorician, jam packs a lecture, group work, public speaking and discussion and dialogue into each 150-minute session, expecting that we’ll complement it with a significant investment of time in reading, writing and thinking in preparation for the next week’s class. And, for the last few weeks I have been doing just that.

The assignment for this memo, the first written work of the semester, was to select an African country (any one would do) and, using Toulmin-style arguments (a specific, dry, just-the-facts format that includes claims, grounds and warrants), make a case for why this particular country is an ideal site for a pilot project to help it achieve United Nations Millennium Development Goal #2, universal primary education.

So, here’s my memo:

DATE: September 11, 2008
TO: Young, Energetic and Enthusiastic Rhetorician/Professor
FROM: JanetheWriter
SUBJECT: United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) #2 pilot site
Since the end of its 11-year civil war in 2002, Sierra Leone (no, I didn't use Wikipedia as a reference for this memo) has been rebuilding its political, economic and educational infrastructure, and positive activity in each of these sectors plays a critical role in making the country an ideal location in which to pilot universal primary education initiatives.

Political stability is returning to Sierra Leone. Parliamentary elections in 2007—the first since the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers in 2005—brought Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People's Congress (APC) into the presidency and returned the country to a 1991 constitutionally-mandated constituency-based system (US Department of State). Local government elections held outside the Western Area in July 2008 were conducted largely without incident, furthering cooperation between local councils and chiefdom authorities that was begun after the first such elections in 2004 (United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone). Stability within a country’s government and support of its political system by citizens contribute significantly to its overall ability to provide services—including primary education—to its populace.

Sierra Leone is recovering from a severe economic collapse in the 1990s. In the mining sector, the economic foundation of the country, diamond exports have increased from $1.2 million in 1999 to $142 million in 2005 and that same year, exports of rutile and bauxite resumed after a 10-year suspension (US Department of State). On the agricultural front, where subsistence farming accounts for more than half of Sierra Leone’s national income, the government is working to provide skills training to farmers and to increase food and cash crops (US Department of State). Development initiatives with neighboring countries and passage of the Investment Promotion Act to attract foreign investors are among other economic-strengthening activities underway (US Department of State). Like political stability, a solid economic base is a key component in a country’s ability to provide adequate resources and education for its citizens.

Restoration of Sierra Leone’s educational system is ongoing, but much work remains. Although the government abolished school fees in 2001 and made primary education compulsory in 2004, 25 to 30% of children remain out of school and only 35% of the population is literate (, CIA World Factbook). The student-teacher ratio is 66:1 but, because 40% of the country’s teachers have inadequate qualifications and training, the student to qualified teacher ratio is 112:1 (, In addition, during the war, 70% of the country’s schools were destroyed or closed; those that have reopened are badly damaged and lack such basic equipment as chairs or benches ( By further rebuilding its educational infrastructure, Sierra Leone will advance its recovery from civil war and reclaim its stature as a nation whose people are known for their educational attainments.
What do you think? Did I make a strong enough case? Would you select Sierra Leone as the pilot site for MDG #2? Why or why not?

Oy…that sounds like another assignment!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Graduates

Yesterday, yet again, I posted a personal ad on Craigslist. Entitled “Ode to a Mensch,” it reads as follows:

So here you are,
You’re browsing the ads,
You want something lasting,
Not just a fad.

You are kind and gentle, Jewish and more,
At least 40-something and not a big bore.
You're seeking a woman, a smart one to boot,
To find her on Craigslist, wouldn't that be a hoot?

You’re honest and smart,
A really nice catch,
You love dogs and kids,
Perhaps you’re my match?

I live on the east side, my world is alive,
I’m sweet and I’m funny, my age: 45.
I read lots of books, just a little TV,
Love hanging with others,
Perhaps you and me?

If this little ditty has caught your eye,
Drop me a line and tell me why.
Tell me, too, what makes you tick,
We can chat by phone or meet for a drink,
If all goes well, maybe a flick?

I hope that you'll write,
And answer this post.
For it is from you,
That I wish to hear most!
Although 13 guys responded to the post, sadly, with one possible exception, none meets my personal criteria of “mensch.” Two, in fact, by virtue of their rapid “reverse aging,” fall squarely into the category of "schmuck.”

Guy #1 and I corresponded a bit back in July. At that time, he was 50. Today, a mere two months later, he’s in his 40s. Amazing…

Guy #2 and I also corresponded previously during the summer. In June, he was 54; today he’s 50. Incredible...

At the rate they're going, they'll "catch up" to me by the end of the year, but soon enough they'll be Benjamin Braddock.

Me...Mrs. Robinson? No thanks, I’ll just keep looking for my mensch.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Garnets 101

One of my recent posts on, the blog of the Union for Reform Judaism, highlights the spiritual sustenance a pomegranate can provide, particularly as the High Holidays approach. My attraction to this exotic fruit, however, is more than spiritual. As a wordsmith, I am intrigued by the linkages among words, and pomegranate is a great one for connecting the dots.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve known that the word pomegranate is derived from the Old French pome grenate, meaning apple having many seeds. Grenate, in turn, derives from the Latin granatum, which means grain or seed, and gives us such English words as garner, granary, grange and garnet. An interesting connection here: the ancient Greeks named garnets--those dark red gemstones that seem to have fire within--as such precisely because they reminded them of the tiny seeds nestled deep in the ivory lining of a pomegranate.

A few more tidbits about garnets: they are the birthstone for the month of January (maybe that’s why I’m so partial to them?) and they occur naturally in all colors of the rainbow—except blue. According to legend, Noah used the light of a garnet to steer the ark through the night. Early explorers and travelers, too, often carried garnets to illuminate the night and as protection against disaster and evil. As for me, I generally don’t board a plane, ride a train or even set off on a road trip without garnet studs in my ears or a garnet pendant around my neck.

Superstitious? Not a chance!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Five Senses

In my first post on this blog, I spelled out some “do’s and don’ts” for guys who answer the ads I post on craigslist. Clearly, those guys are not reading this blog.

Ever the optimist, though, this morning I posted yet another ad in the W4M dating/romance/ltr section of that crazy cyber-marketplace:

The Five Senses

I’ve got five good senses: sense of humor, sense of intelligence, sense of kindness, sense of adventure and yes, despite this post, common sense…lol!

This happily (but not bitter) DJF also has 40-some years of life experience and lots to offer the right guy. If you’re 40-something, divorced or equally seasoned, Jewish and not into games, let’s share coffee or a drink to see if it makes sense to share more.

Sensible replies include a bit about you and, of course, your recent photo.
Within 23 minutes I had five (how ironic!) responses:

Guy #1 wrote solely to tell me that I forgot “nonsense.”

Guy #2 sent a one word response: “Pic?”

Guy #3 sent a photo (he’s shirtless on the beach) and these tidbits about himself: 42, 180 lbs, 5'9.

Guy #4 also sent his vital stats, including the fact that he’s Italian.

Guy #5 sent me the canned response he’s sent me on 16 (yes, 16!) previous occasions.

I’m starting to wonder who’s really senseless here: is it the guys or…is it me?!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Step in the Right Direction

Baruch College's main classroom building, the "Vertical Campus,” on 25th Street between Third and Lexington is a sleek and modern facility. Its interior showcases bold chrome, sweeping heights and vast open spaces.

As a trade-off for these supposedly desirable design elements, elevators in the core of the building have landings only on floors 2, 5, 8 and 11. Escalators and staircases make up the difference. All of this means that if, as mine does, your class meets on the 6th floor, you either have to take the elevator to the 5th floor (an experience much like riding the #6 train at rush hour) and walk up one flight or continue to the 8th floor and walk down two flights.

Alternately, you can take the escalators to the 5th floor and then continue in a stairwell to the 6th floor, but in reality that means walking up all six flights because, with great regularity, no matter the season or the semester, those moving staircases do not.

Indeed, getting them moving again would be a step in the right direction. In the meantime, as I have become oh-so-very fond of saying when it comes to this and to oh-so-many things Baruch, "Welcome to the City University..."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Elul: A New Beginning, a Fresh Start, a Time to Look Forward

JanetheWriter Writes… This essay was originally written for posting on However, that blog has been experiencing technical difficulties for the last few days and thus, I am posting it here instead.

Earlier this week, we marked both the unofficial end of summer and, with the arrival of Elul, the unofficial start of the High Holy Day season. Indeed, with each Elul, each Simchat Torah "Bereshit" and each seder-concluding "L'shana ha-ba-ah b'yerushalayim," our tradition graciously offers us an opportunity to seize a new beginning, a fresh start, a reason to look forward.

Six years ago at this season, just as I was closing out a difficult chapter in my own life, I had an opportunity to begin again in every way--a new job, a new home, and what I still think of as an entirely remade life back home here on the east coast.

During those first weeks at the Union for Reform Judaism, as I became acclimated to the newness of so many facets of my life, many interesting items crossed my desk. One story in particular, perhaps because of the then still fresh unpleasantness of my “old” life, remains with me to this day:

An old and somewhat decrepit donkey falls into a dry well. Upon discovering the donkey at the bottom of the well, the farmer who owns it decides that rather than trying to rescue the animal, he’ll bury it instead. He invites a few neighbors to help him with the task. Initially distraught, the donkey seems resigned to his fate as shovelful after shovelful of dirt hits his back from above. And then an idea strikes him: with each shovelful of dirt, the donkey shakes it off and steps up. Shake it off and step up…shake it off and step up…shake it off and step up. Before long, the donkey’s out of the well and walking on the ground.
Yes, regardless of the dirt that gets thrown our way, each year the High Holy Days offer us a chance to shake it off and step up...a new beginning, a fresh start, a reason to look forward.

Just as the “donkey story” helped carry me forward into 5763, so too is it my hope that the inspirational messages contained in the “Jewels of Elul,” sent to me by email each day during the month, will help me look forward to the arrival of 5769 and its promise of a new beginning and a fresh start.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Labor Day Lessons

As a respite from the hectic pace of New York City life, two friends and I took a day trip to Hyde Park, NY over the Labor Day weekend. There we visited Springwood, the home, gardens and presidential library of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and, just a few miles down the road, Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s home after FDR’s death.

As we wandered through the detailed exhibits in the presidential library, I was struck by how similar today’s challenges are to those that Roosevelt faced during his dozen years in office. Like him, our political leaders must contend with an economy in a downward spiral, troops at war, and, as Hurricane Gustav raced toward the Gulf Coast, a natural disaster that, not unlike the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, had the potential—yet again--to further destroy America’s crumbling physical infrastructure, and wreak personal and economic havoc on countless of its citizens.

Because our visit coincided with Labor Day weekend (a holiday that, ironically, was initiated in 1882, the year of Roosevelt’s birth), I could not help but notice, too, how many of his New Deal initiatives were designed to put Americans back to work and, more importantly, to ensure that from their labors, they and their families would be assured of some measure of social and financial security.

Yesterday, as many of us refrained from our own labors, I was cognizant that, in addition to celebrating the last gasp of summer with a leisurely day of picnics, swimming and, perhaps, shopping, we must be grateful for the very work of our hands, our minds and our hearts. More importantly, it is incumbent upon us to promote fair labor practices, a living wage, and workplace rights, as well as to discourage workplace discrimination in all its forms, and to guarantee health and safety standards for all who work in our factories, our offices and our homes. In so doing, may we honor Roosevelt’s memory, and serve as a model for our current and future leaders that they may follow our lead.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Are My Standards Too High?

Back in May, I started writing as a staff voice on the Union for Reform Judaism’s newly launched blog. Since then, and after hearing repeatedly about my escapades in dating, "lovingly" referred to by me as marching in "The Schmuck Parade,” a number of colleagues and friends have told me that I should write a blog. Finally, I’ve decided to take these folks up on their suggestion. At this point, I’m not sure exactly where this writing pad of the 21st century will lead me, but I’m glad you stopped by and hope that you’ll come back again soon.

OK…ready? Here goes…

Frustrated with, and other internet dating venues, I’ve been posting serious W4M (woman for man) ads on the dating/romance/ltr section of craigslist for some time now. Needless to say, the replies and some of the dates that have resulted have been quite an eye-opening experience and in recent months, I’ve picked up on some “do’s and don’ts” that I’d like to share, particularly with the guys who answer such ads.

1. Please read my ad carefully. It will tell you a fair bit about me and what I’m seeking in a relationship.

2. If you are married, otherwise engaged in a relationship, or looking for a FWB (friends with benefits) or NSA (no strings attached) encounter, please do not respond to my ad. It will be a waste of time for both of us.

3. If you do choose to respond, please take a few minutes to craft a personal response. I’m no English teacher, but complete sentences, proper grammar, punctuation (especially the correct placement of apostrophes) and capitalization, as well as proofreading and spell checking will earn you bonus points.

4. Please do not send me the canned response, one liner, photo or phone number you send to everyone – including to me on previous occasions.

5. If I share my photo and you are interested enough to want to continue the conversation, please send one in return, preferably one in which you’re not wearing sunglasses, but you are wearing a shirt. “Pic?” is not an appropriate response to my ad.

6. Please respect the age and religion parameters set out in my ad. A "40-something DJF seeking an age-appropriate Jewish guy" leaves some room for interpretation, but if you have to ask if you're too old or too young (or comment on the fact that you think you may be), you probably are. And, if you have to ask what the "J" stands for, forget it.

7. Please do not email me endlessly. If you're interested in moving the conversation forward, it would be great if you'd suggest that we speak on the phone and/or meet for coffee or a drink. If you're not interested, it's even easier: don't hit "Reply." I'll get the message.

8. Please do not ask for my phone number unless you intend to call. If you do intend to call, please don’t wait three weeks to do so, and when you do, please call at a reasonable hour, preferably before 11 p.m.

9. If you ask me to meet you for coffee or a drink, I don’t expect you to wear a suit and tie, but please don’t show up in a sweatshirt and sneakers or with five o’clock shadow (unless it is after work). And, since you invited me, it’d be nice if you’d actually spring for the coffee, too.

10. Please refrain from using excessively foul language. It’s a turn-off.

11. Likewise, please don’t try to impress me with who you know, how much money you have, your job responsibilities, your globe-trotting travels or your high-powered friends and relatives. I really just want to know about who you are as a person – not about all your worldly trappings and accomplishments.

12. If you want to be in touch again after we meet, that’s fine, but please don’t say you’ll call or email if you’re really going home to look at the newest craigslist ads or jdate profiles.

13. If you leave it up to me to be in touch after a coffee date and I don’t call or email, please don’t contact me to ask why I haven’t called or emailed.

14. Oh yes, one more thing: Thanks for reading and good luck finding whatever it is that you’re seeking in this crazy cyber-marketplace.

So...what do you think? Are my standards too high?