Friday, September 26, 2008

The inappropriate relationship between the cat and dog

Once again, I will prove to you that I spend entirely too much time with my pets.

I am sure most of you believe I am that crazy animal person who sews little outfits for her dogs and parades them all over town in a baby carriage. You may think I am the one who organizes elaborate parties for my dogs and purchases party clothes for them to wear for the occasion (actually, I do know someone who does this). I have never planned a dog wedding, and I have never once believed my dogs actually speak to me (although, I do sometimes think I understand what they are thinking).

I realize I am a little partial to my animals, and I do think of them as my own very hairy children. For years, my dogs have been a sense of comfort, and as a single gal, they offer me not only protection but companionship. In addition, my dogs offer unconditional love, and that is something rare in the world today.

That being said, I just wanted to be clear about my sanity before I shared the following story.
Several months ago, I adopted a stray cat that wandered up to my office one Tuesday night. The cat was very persistent about receiving attention from me and my staff, and the next morning, when we arrived for work, she was waiting for us.

Fearing she would be hit by a car, I took her home and created a home for her in my storage room. It is very comfortable, and she would be quite cozy and protected from the environment. However, Deadline (the name my staff christened her with) would rather live inside the house with my dogs. Being slightly allergic, I have resisted her ceaseless attempts to move in.

I do, however, allow her to occasionally visit, and she immediately stretches out on the sofa and grooms herself in her pretentious, cat-like manner. She does not attempt to roam the house -- trying to sharpen her claws on my upholstery or leaving wads of cat hair on the carpet. She is quite the low-maintenance, occasionally-indoor feline.

Recently, however, I have noticed a change in Deadline. The endless grooming, the staring, the snuggles. I have come to believe Deadline is madly in love with my Chihuahua, Don Juan. Okay, before you scold me for my ridiculous notions and run-away imagination allow me to present my evidence (and please do not think I am a raging lunatic for studying this).

First, Don Juan is an exceptional Chihuahua, and I believe he agrees with this notion. He tends to prance about displaying his fine features, and he is usually very aware of females of any species. In other words, he loves the ladies.

Deadline will follow Don Juan around the back yard, and if he stops and sits, she will sit next to him. If he lays in the grass, basking in the sunshine, she will curl around him and groom him until he growls and lets her know he is no longer interested.

Second, when Deadline comes inside the house for a visit, she will curl around Don Juan as he sleeps – very litter-like. She will groom him for hours, and he will allow it – with his eyes closed as she licks his ears, chin, and head. I have even noticed that he will adjust himself for Deadline to get a better angle behind his ears (he likes to be rubbed behind his ears).

When he is tired of her attention, Don Juan will growl, and Deadline will move just inches away and stare at him while he sleeps.

The entire situation is very peculiar, and I am slightly disturbed by the unnatural and inappropriate relationship between the two animals. Don Juan adores attention and is more than likely welcoming of a nice massage by the cat. However, when he has enough, he lets her know, and she moves along.

Deadline is a different story. She is drawn to Don Juan. She will seek him out and situate herself next to him when the opportunity arises. When he shuns her, she will move away and stare at him longingly.

Why is Don Juan like cat nip to Deadline? Do other cats act like this, and being a perpetual dog person, I am unaware? Have I completely revealed myself as someone who should probably stop studying the social habits of my animals and get a hobby? You’re right, I should.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mississippians are neurotic according to study

This article was reprinted from the Wall Street Journal. I felt it was extremely interesting -- especially about Mississppians being so neurotic. My old college professor (Ownby taught me Old South and New South) seems to think it is our search for emotional depth. He attributes it to Faulkner and his self-medicating drinking and depression.

Is that true?

I personally believe that Mississippians are constantly in a battle between the past and the present. It is difficult to move forward when you are fighting ghosts from the past, but we are unable and unwilling to let them go.

Mississippi's past is its gift and its curse.


The United States of Mind (Greatest headline ever!)
By Stephanie Simon, Wall Street Journal. Email

Certain regional stereotypes have long since become cliches: The stressed-out New Yorker. The laid-back Californian.

But the conscientious Floridian? The neurotic Kentuckian?

You bet -- at least, according to new research on the geography of personality. Based on more than 600,000 questionnaires and published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, the study maps regional clusters of personality traits, then overlays state-by-state data on crime, health and economic development in search of correlations.

Even after controlling for variables such as race, income and education levels, a state's dominant personality turns out to be strongly linked to certain outcomes. Amiable states, like Minnesota, tend to be lower in crime. Dutiful states -- an eclectic bunch that includes New Mexico, North Carolina and Utah -- produce a disproportionate share of mathematicians. States that rank high in openness to new ideas are quite creative, as measured by per-capita patent production. But they're also high-crime and a bit aloof. Apparently, Californians don't much like socializing, the research suggests.

As for high-anxiety states, that group includes not just Type A New York and New Jersey, but also states stressed by poverty, such as West Virginia and Mississippi. As a group, these neurotic states tend to have higher rates of heart disease and lower life expectancy.

Lead researcher Peter Jason Rentfrow, lecturer at the University of Cambridge in England, said he was startled to find such correlations. "That just blew me away," he said.

Psychologists unaffiliated with the study say it's intriguing but limited. There's no way to unravel the chicken-and-egg question: Do states tend to nurture specific personalities because of their histories, cultures, even climates? Or do Americans, seeking kindred spirits, migrate to the states where they feel at home? Maybe both forces are at work -- but in what balance?

Another issue: The personality maps may reinforce stereotypes and tempt us to draw overly simplistic conclusions, said Toni Schmader, a psychologist at the University of Arizona. Knowing Arizona ranks low in neuroticism, Ms. Schmader said, she might conclude that sunny weather makes for sunny dispositions. But if the data had turned out the other way, the sun could just as easily be blamed for high neuroticism -- for driving Arizonans stir crazy by keeping them cooped up in air conditioning.

"We tend to reject information that doesn't agree with our stereotypes," Ms. Schmader said.
Cross-cultural psychology was all the rage in the 1930s and 1940s, driven by a craze among anthropologists for comparing child-rearing practices in modern and pre-industrial societies. But the discipline fell out of favor, partly because of concerns that the comparisons were driven more by value judgments than standardized assessments.

In the past decade, the field has been reinvigorated by the development of a 44-question personality test that evaluates five traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness. Some psychologists disagree with this matrix; others would add traits such as honesty. But the assessment, called the Big Five Inventory, has been widely used in scientific research.

Mr. Rentfrow came to the field full of questions gleaned from a life spent hop-scotching across America. Why were his neighbors in Texas so relaxed, so courteous, so obsessed with sports?

Why did New Yorkers seem so tense and inward-focused, often brusque to the point of rudeness?

Eager to dig deeper, Mr. Rentfrow turned to a huge collection of psychological tests administered online from 1999 to 2005.

The assessments were linked to each respondent's current residence, so there was no way to tell if a New Yorker was a New Yorker born and bred, or had just moved from Kansas. But that suited Mr. Rentfrow's purposes. He wasn't trying to gauge how life in New York had shaped any one individual. His goal was a psychological snapshot of the state, and for that he needed to include even recent migrants -- who may, after all, have been drawn to New York because the big-city bustle suited their personality.

Mr. Rentfrow said his sample was proportionate to the U.S. population by state and race. Though it underrepresented the extremes of poor and rich, that shouldn't skew the results, he said.

While the findings broadly uphold regional stereotypes, there are more than a few surprises. The flinty pragmatists of New England? They're not as dutiful as they may seem, ranking at the bottom of the "conscientious" scale. High scores for openness to new ideas strongly correlates to liberal social values and Democratic voting habits. But three of the top ten "open" states -- Nevada, Colorado and Virginia -- traditionally vote Republican in presidential politics. (All three are prime battlegrounds this election.)

And what of the unexpected finding that North Dakota is the most outgoing state in the union? Yes, North Dakota, the same state memorialized years ago in the movie "Fargo" as a frozen wasteland of taciturn souls. Turns out you can be a laconic extrovert, at least in the world of psychology. The trait is defined in part by strong social networks and tight community bonds, which are characteristic of small towns across the Great Plains. (Though not, apparently, small towns in New England, which ranks quite low on the extraversion scale.)

The findings pleased Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, who said it was nice to have scientific proof that his state is super-friendly. "That's the Nebraska I know," he said.

But Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B. Goodman can't understand how Nevada got ranked so low in agreeableness. "We're probably the most agreeable folks in the world, because we have to treat visitors with a great deal of kindness ... to get a big tip," he said.

In Florida, meanwhile, tourism official Dia Kuykendall groped to explain her state's high "conscientious" ranking. She was having trouble reconciling that with, say, the party scene on Miami Beach. "Conscientious of how they look?" she wondered.

The research did give Ms. Kuykendall an idea for a new Florida tourism pitch: "Come visit us, we're not neurotic!"

Social scientists suggest other applications for the research as well. In the Northeast "stress belt," health officials might consider programs to help folks relax. In the Midwest, a dutiful state like Kansas might look to woo more innovative personalities, perhaps by nurturing an artists' enclave or encouraging young chefs to start restaurants, said Richard Florida, an economic development analyst who has written extensively on geography and psychology.

"Most cities are still trapped in the idea that they can recruit a call center or build a big stadium" to spur revitalization, Mr. Florida said. "This is a big wake-up call for policy makers."
It's also a wake-up call for proud residents of the great state of wherever -- some of whom aren't fond of the findings. Mr. Rentfrow said he's had to help some of them feel better. Yes, North Dakota and Wyoming rank quite low in openness to new ideas. But why label them narrow-minded and insular? Say, instead, he suggests, that they value tradition. New York may be neurotic, but he offers another way to put it: "It's a state in touch with its feelings."

Or take a cue from Ted Ownby, who studies Southern culture at the University of Mississippi. His state came up highly neurotic -- and he suspects his neighbors would be proud.

"Here in the home of William Faulkner," Mr. Ownby said, "we take intense, almost perverse neuroticism as a sign of emotional depth."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Weekend in redneck paradise

Here are the pictures I promised from our trip to Hot Springs. Still have many more to share -- including Sweetie trying to tube, being thrown off and skipping over the water like a stone.

My nephew, Hunter, and his friend, Asa, enjoyed tubing on the lake. They were trying to be so cool.

The result of too much tubing. Hunter almost looks sweet in this picture, but don't let the little devil fool you!

Such a kiss up (with his mother and my sister, Stephanie)

Stephanie and I

Sweetie before the tubing incident.

Well, Sweetie did not sink the boat. That hand holding a beer in the corner is me -- relaxing with a good book.

More pictures to come when I get a chance....

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Blue skies the backdrop to tragedy

Seven years ago today, I woke around 7 a.m., popped open my traditional Diet Coke, and flipped on the television. An old episode of “The Nanny” was playing on Lifetime television, and I sat in a sleepy stupor for a long time staring at the screen. I kept telling myself that the clock was ticking – get up and get going.

It was Tuesday and press day for my weekly newspaper. I dreaded the long hours of layout ahead of me. Most Tuesdays, I did not make it home from the office until well into the wee hours. In fact, the nice lady at the drive through window at Krystal’s knew my assistant editor and me quite well from our 2 a.m. dinner stops.

Finally at around a quarter to eight, I dragged myself to the bathroom for a shower and the miracle of make-up in an effort to become somewhat presentable.

Around 8:30 a.m., the telephone rang. Cindy, my assistant editor, asked me what I was doing.

“I’m almost ready,” I said. “I will be at the office at 9.”

“Are you not watching TV?” she asked.

“’The Golden Girls’ is on, but I haven’t been watching.”

“Turn on the ‘Today Show’,” she said. “Somebody just bombed the Pentagon and a plane just hit the World Trade Center. I don’t know what is going on, but it is crazy.”

With my hair still wrapped in a towel, I sank to the couch as I saw the first images of the attacks on the television. Helicopters were hovering above the Pentagon; an enormous black hole released smoke into the sky above.

“This is bad, Cindy,” I finally said.

“Yeah, I know,” she replied.

“What have they said,” I asked.

“Nothing really, they just interrupted the show with breaking news. They said a plane hit the World Trade Center accidentally like before, but then the Pentagon got bombed.”

We watched together on the phone for a few minutes -- listening for updates on what was going on. Just then, on national television, another plane circled around and exploded into the other tower.

We were silent in complete disbelief.

“I am going to call my parents,” I finally said. “I will be later coming in than I thought.”

“Yeah, me too,” Cindy absently said.

“I’ll see you in a few.”

I never understood why someone would remark about remembering exactly what he was doing when President Kennedy was shot. He was killed 10 years before I was born, so I guess the significance has always been lost on me.

However, just as Kennedy’s assassination follows some around forever, September 11 will haunt me . History happened right before my very eyes, and it changed the very fabric of my being. I was no longer protected in the bubble of rural America – the ugliness of the real world was just something seen on television. I finally realized the effect world events can have on every one of us.

At that time, I was the 26-year-old editor of a small-town weekly newspaper. I was well versed in local events – annexation law, Mississippi code, my city’s beautification ordinances, and high school football. I could discuss millage rates, infrastructure improvements and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).

However, I was poorly educated in world affairs and national politics. I remember writing a feature story of a local soldier who served in Kosovo, and I was forced to research the conflict on Wikipedia. I knew little of the Rwandan genocide, the Hillary Clinton healthcare plan, or the political evolution of Rudy Giuliani. Worse, I did not know Osama Bin Laden – the mastermind behind the attack.

I realized quickly it was time to pop the bubble and realize there was so much happening outside my state, or for that matter, my zip code. The world obviously wasn’t as pretty as I had come to believe, and I needed to be prepared for what other catastrophic event was in the future (I hate surprises – it’s genetic).

It was my responsibility to become acquainted with the rest of the world. I began reading – political biographies, essays, and magazines – and watching news broadcasts and documentaries. I also began reading dozens newspapers every day.

Ironically, after all of my preparations and mental lists of our nation’s enemies and frenemies, I don’t believe I will ever be prepared for another attack, and that scares me to death. So after seven years, I continue to wake each morning in Winona, Mississippi, pop open an ice cold Diet Coke, and flip on the news. And every morning, I pray for our country and those who are willing to fight and die for our freedom. My peace of mind relies heavily on them and their sacrifice.

On the seventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks, join me as I pray for those nearly 3,000 Americans that were so tragically lost and the families who grieve for them.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Palin: A refreshing change for Washington

Because I spend so much time dealing with local politics, I usually leave national politics to the pundits; however, I will make an exception in the case of Sarah Palin.

Last Friday, Republican presidential nominee John McCain announced Alaska’s first-term governor, Sarah Palin, as his Vice Presidential running mate. The conservative governor and mother of five is currently serving her second year as Alaska’s governor.

Since the announcement, Palin has been criticized in the media as “McCain’s token,” a gun toting, animal killing, religious fanatic, anti-nepotistic, beauty pageant loser and a bad mother. And all of this has been within the last four days. That is correct, four days.

As a member of the media, most would expect the same type of criticism from me, but no, I will not criticize Palin. I actually applaud her success in a male-dominated field, and unlike many other women in such a high-profile, powerful position, Palin has held on to that endearing quality that gives her an 80 percent approval rating as governor. She is crusader for honest government and has gone to battle with the most powerful political figures in her state – and won. Palin will be a refreshing change in Washington.

McCain only picked Palin because she is a woman to help sway the Hilary voters.”
I am getting sick of the opposition repeating this over and over and over. If this is true, why did McCain not select Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas. She is well-respected in political circles, has stronger name recognition, and has 32 years of political experience.

There is no comparing Palin to Hilary Clinton – two different animals. Palin is pro-life, politically conservative, and a detour away from the Washington institution. Clinton is pro-choice, liberal, and in her own right, a Washington institution.

Maybe, just a thought, McCain liked her politics and the way she has conducted herself in her political career.

Palin is an NRA member, is a hunter, and eats caribou.
The Second Amendment of the United States guarantees all Americans the right to own and bear arms. If Palin enjoys the sport of hunting, like most Southerners, more power to her. In fact, she is not a trophy hunter and eats what she kills. As an animal rights proponent, that is the way it should be.

Palin is a religious fanatic.
Sadly, those of us church-going Americans in the Bible belt are probably considered religious fanatics to some. It is called the first amendment, people. Be relieved that she believes in a higher power than herself. Some Washington politicians only believe in giving more power to themselves.

Palin had her ex-brother-in-law fired.
Currently, Palin is under investigation for dismissing the Public Safety Commissioner for not following her order to terminate a highway patrol officer who is her former brother-in-law. According to reports, this brother-in-law also threatened the life of Palin’s father and other members of her family.

The Public Safety Commissioner defied a direct order from the governor. He should have been terminated for insubordination.

In addition, the highway patrolman should have been fired. As an officer of the law, he is charged with protecting and serving the citizens of Alaska. He threatened the lives of members of the governor’s family. For the safety of the first family, it would not be wise to issue this man a fire arm and give him the responsibility of enforcing the law.

Palin came in second in the Miss Alaska pageant.
Believe it or not, the media has been all over this fact -- calling Palin the “Miss Alaska loser.” Well, unless they want to start pointing fingers at their colleagues, the media needs to back off. From one Google search, I discovered Gretchen Carlson, Diane Sawyer, Kathie Lee Gifford, Paula Zahn, and Deborah Norville were all pageant girls – some more successful than others.

The most shocking pageant girl I found: Oprah Winfrey. Beauty and a brain are sometimes available in a set – who knew?

Who is raising Palin’s five children?
Okay, talk about hitting below the belt! If Palin was a Southern momma, she would not have been so forgiving.

Monday, Palin announced that her 17-year-old, unmarried daughter is expecting a child. Some insane internet bloggers immediately began circulating rumors that Palin’s youngest child, an infant with Down’s syndrome, was not her child but her grandchild. They reported that her 17-year-old daughter, supposedly the baby’s real mother, is currently expecting her second child.

What is wrong with these people? This is a 17-year-old child they are attacking. I am immediately taken back to the cruelty dealt to Chelsea Clinton who had the unfortunate luck of going through puberty at the mercy of the American media.

I am sure Palin and her husband were heartbroken over their daughter’s situation. I am sure they wanted their daughter to experience life before becoming a mother and a wife.

The fact of the matter is society should not crucify the parents when a teenager acts like a teenager. I was reared by strict God-fearing parents, and despite their discipline, I still pushed the envelope. It is a part of growing up. Some survive the process without permanent repercussions, and some do not.

Sarah Palin is an average American woman, and as an average American woman, I relate to her personally. I am still discovering if her politics are what I wish for America, but right now, I do not doubt her character.