Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Welcoming the new year

During my life, each year has entered in new fashion. As a young child, I remember my parents going out for the evening with friends. As a teen, I babysat for neighborhood kids while their parents went out (often with my own parents!). I have been to a few New Year's Eve parties but most of my years were spent safe and sound by the television.
I've been wide awake and snoozing, sick, well, and tipsy. I've spent it alone more times than I care to mention and spent it with someone special.
As I reflect on years past, I recall the various celebrities that have rung in the year.
Not being a television historian, I can't be certain who the first was, but I do know for many years, Guy Lombardo was the leader of the band (pun intended).




Dick Clark soon took to the streets of New York counting down with the rest of the nation. I have to wonder if youth of today realize what an icon Clark is and how much he influenced music and television from radio to "American Bandstand" to game shows. He created the American Music Awards and was a murderer on the last "Perry Mason."




Since then, the tube has exploded with everyone counting down one way or another, yet none of the faces have held out as long as the two icons above, together covering nearly a century of new years. As we look to the future, don't forget the past!
Cheers and good wishes for a prosperous 2009!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sharing good deeds



Often my commentary here makes a point about how people follow blindly and fail to think or do things for themselves. I also get aggrevated with people who, in my opinion, behave inappropriately. I wanted to share a couple of anecdotes from this week as testimony that I am not always snipping at people and to lead by example. In no way am I trying to break my arm by patting myself on the back nor am I seeking kudos of any sort. I honestly hope that by sharing, I can create a "Pay it Forward" kind of atmosphere.
Two young girls left an interesting message on my voicemail the other night. I would estimate their ages to be around 10 or 12 and they were trying to create a three-way conference call with a friend. One of them did most of the talking and explained, "We are sorry but we got the wrong number. We were trying to reach our friend and must have dialed wrong." She was very clear, to the point and asked me to excuse the call. Impressed by her politeness and demeanor, I checked caller ID and returned the call. The little girl answered, but I asked for the woman's name that showed on the ID. When the girl hesitated, seemingly confused, I explained that I had the name on my caller ID. The girl immediately apologized again and started explaining. I stopped her. "No sweetheart, I am not at all upset. I wanted to call your mom or whoever and her know she should be proud of you - you were so polite and did such a wonderful job with your message. I thought she should know and YOU should know that you did a good job."
The young lady seemed genuinely touched and thanked me profusely. I wished her well and hung up. It took two minutes of my time and hopefully gave her some positive reinforcement.
On Christmas Eve, I was in a store parking lot talking to my mother. A woman approached with her young daughter, I'd estimate to be six years old. They had walked from the opposite side of the parking lot and as they neared the woman said, "Excuse me, but my daughter wanted to know if she could see your reindeer." Knowing she was referring to the bobble heads on my headband, I laughed and said "Of course!" I began conversing directly with the young girl. "Do you want me to take them off?"
"Yes, please!" she said. Her eyes were dancing and I was enamored with her. I let her hold the headband and she carefully wiggled the heads back and forth. She asked where I got them and chatted a bit before handing them back. The four of us continued to talk a few more minutes and the mother prompted the girl to tell us her name is "Sierra." As they said their goodbyes and thanked me for my time, I felt compelled to do more.
"Sierra, I have had such great fun with these the past couple of days - watching people smile and compliment my reindeer. Would you like to take them and have fun with them now?"
Sierra's eyes widened and she immediately said, "YES!"
I placed them on her head and she thanked me. I told her she was welcome to them - just spread the cheer. As Sierra and her mom walked back across the lot, they talked. I could detect an extra lilt in the girl's step and saw her gently touch the top of the band, securing it in place.
Interactions like this hold a much deeper meaning than the ones where we have to confront someone about a wrong-doing. Telling someone hello, thank you or extending a helping hand takes only a moment but the warmth lasts much longer. I can be having a bad day, but recognizing the good in someone else immediately helps me feel better.
So please remember lamb chops, I share these stories in hopes of sparking a flame for you to continue passing along the warmth of humanity.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas and Christianity

I need to get busy with a couple of last minute holiday preparations but find myself thinking about several people at the moment that have guided my behaviors and beliefs. What better time to share such contemplations than on Christmas Eve?
Many years ago, I worked in a large office building, analyzing health insurance claims. A young co-worker maintained an altar at her desk with various items such as a Christian calendar, her Bible, reference books and scripture dust-catchers. She read during her lunch break and I had to give credit to someone that was a wild-child-turned-holy-saint. One day she perched on my desk top as I worked.
"Iris, can I ask you a personal question?"
"Sure." I stopped and leaned back in my chair.
"Iris, have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?" Her face showed lines of deep concern.
"Well ... yeah Melanie, I have."
"When?"
"Gee, ummm, well ..." I thought about my affirmation in the Methodist church, then switching back to Presbyterian when I married. Was it then? Or when I started devouring Shirley MacLaine books? "Honestly, Melanie, there's no exact time or day that I came to that revelation - it's been a process of learning for me. Jesus has always been a part of my life."
Melanie leaned closer. "I love you Iris and I worry about you. I want to know that you will join me in Heaven."
She pointed to the cubicle across from me and shook her head, saying "Just look at Paula over there"
"WHOA!" I responded. Melanie straightened up. "Just because Paula is Jewish, doesn't mean she is not going to heaven" I protested. "Paula is a dear friend, someone I can depend on and exhibits more 'Christian' behavior than most self-proclaimed prophets I know!"
Melanie looked like she was staring into the face of Satan as I continued. "Paula will do anything for anyone, is kind, considerate, volunteers her time and her heart to many causes and respects Christians expecting nothing but respect in return. God has a special place in heaven for her and if he doesn't, he's not a God I want to follow."
Melanie blinked a few times, took a deep breath and said, "Oh. Well, okay, I just wanted to be sure you are headed for salvation." She hopped down and scooted around to her corner.
My heart was pounding and I sat back for a minute, taking in the warmth of the sun streaming into the window, thanking God for a beautiful view of the city. When Paula returned from lunch, I gave her an extra smile.
I was reminded of this episode when I happened to meet a woman from the West Indies last week. An odd set of circumstances drew us together for only five minutes and to describe the series of events that brought us to the train depot at the same moment would take two more posts, but the discussion we had naturally and comfortably led to religious beliefs.
She said that many people assume her national origin and spiritual beliefs are those of witchcraft and voodoo but she said it is as natural to her as the rituals of other beliefs and countries. I nodded in understanding. She went on to say that she does not consider herself "Christian" but instead prefers the term "Christ-like." To be a "Christian" is to be everything Christ was and is, she explained.
"No one is that perfect," she said. Instead, she feels she is constantly learning and striving to become a Christian which will happen only in death. In the meantime, she is in training.
Interrupted by her boarding call, I shared my appreciation for the conversation and the new perspective on my own belief system.
"I believe God brings people together for a reason whether it is for a lifetime or a fleeting moment," I said. "Today I am thankful our paths were crossed." She smiled and said, "I agree."
I can't remember her name but I will always remember her face, her smile and her impact.
As we come together with family and friends in the upcoming hours, remember that regardless of religion, or belief-system, this holiday is about giving. You don't have to be "Christian" to be Christ-like and you don't have to be religious to appreciate the gift of humanity.
Blessed be.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Get off my ass

Yes - I said it and not politely. What IS it with people that tailgate? I am not a bad driver. I try to keep reasonably close to the speed limit and hope I don't get a ticket. I stay off the tail of the person in front of me, too. Yet there is always the driver that HAS to go faster than everyone else. They have the obsession of being first and can think of no one else but themselves.
Sure, it's old news but today was an exception. I had my car worked on over the last week which was unnerving enough as I was without transportation for about 5 days. When I hit the gas, it would go but had started jolting or acting like it wasn't getting gas. The mechanic, who I have dealt with for 10 years, said it was probably the air intake thingy (he said it better than I can) and would be about $500 bucks for the part. Once he got into the engine, he said he felt it was just the hoses leading to the filter - much cheaper and easier to repair. There was a delay with the parts but I picked up the car yesterday afternoon and my wallet was thankful that it only cost $200 and some change. Most of the fee was for parts.

Today I headed out to do errands and had to pick up my teenage son at a friend's house. I live in the boonies and the friend lives in another area of the county's boonies. I got on the two-lane highway and was driving 45 in a 50 mph zone because it was pitch black, drizzling rain and I was looking for my turn.

The car started to protest. It was not happy with the two C-notes I just paid. Noooooo! It wanted MORE. It screamed "FEED ME SEYMOUR!" and jerked me around. I hit the pedal to the floor and there was no response. Suddenly, the gas would kick in and my head would fly back like I was hitting G-force. I couldn't find my turn. Dammit. I tried calling the friend's cell phone since my son broke his. (That's another rant for another time). No answer.

I called my daughter. "Where in the hell is the turn?"

"What's YOUR problem? Don't get pissy with me!" She was right. I apologized and took a deep breath. I explained that I had been approximately 5 miles up the road and back and knew his street was around the area, but couldn't find it. Between the dark, the rain, and the car I was at my limit. She gave me a couple of landmarks and I turned around on a side street to search again.

Of course, every time I stopped and changed gears to do a three-point-turn, the car would choke.

Put in neutral, turn the key, put in gear. The car died. Neutral. Ignition. Gas. Gear. Death. AGAIN. I prayed I could hit the gas hard enough to back up without ending up in the ditch or getting hit in the side by an oncoming car. Finally on the main road, I started rolling along at a good clip and thought I'd be alright. BIG mistake. The car is telepathic. EVERY car is telepathic. Without a sound from the engine, I lost speed. I laid the pedal down again but the speedometer continued dropping. I couldn't find the hazard lights. I never use them so why would I know where they are? Did I say it was dark? It was DARK.

Of course, the obnoxious driver behind me in a truck that should be banned for abusing natural resources was riding my ass. If someone is going to get that close to me it should either be 1) an enjoyable and erotic experience or 2) an effort to help me maneuver out of the way. Perhaps he flashed his lights in an effort to light up the inside of my car so I could find the hazard light switch? It didn't work. Instead I was blind. The street I needed was just ahead so I signaled and started turning. Of course, the gas was useless and I didn't move fast enough to suit this guy. He laid on the horn letting me know that someone else on the road was actually more frustrated than I!

There is no consideration and it's not like these problems are new.

My Great-Aunt Violet was quite eccentric, set in her ways but she got around. My mom once met an oncoming car on the road that was being driven by a hat. As she strained to see if a person was under the hat, she realized it was Aunt Violet, her eyes focused in the space between the dashboard and the steering wheel. Around the same time, in the early '70s my sister and I rode with Aunt Violet on a Sunday afternoon in the summer. The main highway hosting beach traffic was a two-lane road near our home. On Sunday afternoons, the northbound lane stayed bumper to bumper. Aunt Violet joined the traffic and assumed the position, letting her hat sit even with the top of the steering wheel. Her car puttered along at what would have been cruising speed in the 1930s. I looked out the back window and said, "Gee Aunt Violet, there sure are a lot of cars behind us."

"Good!" she said. "At least they aren't speeding." She had a commanding presence and there was no arguing with her.

This attitude seems to permiate this side of the family. Her brother was around 6' 3" and a solid, well-built man. He had been a boxer in his day and part of his rugged looks came from having his nose broken several times. He looked intimidating but was a sweet, sweet man. What else would one expect from a man that owned a chihuahua? He had his own well-drilling company and drove a huge truck. One day, at a stop sign, the truck stalled. He was trying to restart it and someone in a compact car behind him started blowing the horn. Uncle Dale slowly got out of the truck and strolled back to the car. The person's window was open, so my uncle put his hands on the roof and stooped down to eye-level with the other driver.

"I tell you what," Uncle Dale said in his slow southern drawl. "You go up and start my truck and I'll sit back here and toot your little horn."

The person sputtered and stammered. Uncle Dale nodded and went back to his truck.

I guess it is days like today that I need to remember the resolute nature of my family, draw on that strength and ignore stupid drivers. After all, assholes tend to adhere to someone's butt.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Scrooged by library rules

We've all had experiences where a simple transaction is blocked because of a rule. Thanks to some idiot that abused a privledge, the rule was established and we now have to jump through hoops. I understand why rules are set and generally try to conform rather than ask for an exception. Once in a blue moon, exceptions can be justified and should be made. Karen "DeafMom" Putz had just such a circumstance in her local Illinois public library.
Her daughter, also deaf, was to attend a production of "The Christmas Carol" with her class. A series of events left her without an interpreter and a suitable option was to obtain the captioned video. The Putz ladies headed for the nearest library, though not the one that receives the family's tax dollars. A reciprocal agreement allows for the loan of non-fiction videos. Fictional videos require a $100 annual fee plus $1 per loan.

Karen explained the entire situation and the librarian confirmed the captioned video was not available at their hometown library. The only option given to Karen was to pay the annual fee.

As a child I had a physical disability and used crutches for several years. I did not want preferential treatment, have never sought pity nor coddled anyone because of their differences or challenges. As an adult, I have worked with people facing physical challenges and my opinion has not changed.

I do believe in reasonable accomodation, but this instance was even beyond accomodating someone with a disability. The child had a school project. The mom had reciprocal rights to check out most materials from that library. Her contact information is on record. Her home library, as a reciprocal lender, confirmed they did not have the video. An exception in this case would not have caused a proverbial flood of patrons to request exceptions since this was a circumstance where the material was not otherwise available.

She wasn't asking to take out reference material - just a classic fiction DVD. Surely it would be better to extend goodwill and customer service than to have the Naperville, IL Library publicly humiliated.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Keep up with your kids!

A mother leaves her two-year-old daughter alone in a car that is double-parked with the engine running. Mom is inside a home chit-chatting while a tow truck leaves with the car. Why are the two men, doing their job, being charged with felony child endangerment? What is more dangerous than leaving a child in an unattended car? Not only did mom leave the child alone, she wasn't watching the car at all, or else she would have seen the men around it.

Until my children were old enough to unfasten their own seatbelts and handle a door lock, I never left them alone in the car. Too many stories circulated about moms leaving the engine running to run in and pay for gas, returning to find their car stolen with the child still inside. Granted, anyone taking my kids would probably have done a u-turn, brought them back and offered apologies and sympathy.

Children are a responsibility. They have to be nurtured, cared for and taught how to behave. Which brings me to another point - once your kids are walking on their own, teach them to keep their hands to themselves and to respect other people's property. Riding and playing on toys they won't purchase is annoying and tantamount to stealing. Would you buy a toy for your child if another kid abused the package or wore out the batteries?

Running around, jumping on store furniture, hiding in clothing racks, and leaving Spiderman in the dairy section is annoying. I wouldn't come to your house and put your toilet paper in the refrigerator.

So please, control your children, teach them some manners and above all - keep up with them!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Human interaction


My mother is always consoling herself by saying things like, "Well, it could be worse ..." or "Other people have problems, too." In response, I share a lesson I learned a long time ago: "Don't minimize your problems - we each have our own reality to deal with." Kudos to a very wise therapist as this has stuck with me and, combined with the bits and pieces I've assembled to form my own conclusions about religious issues, I've managed to survive in spite of great odds.

I try not to wallow in personal quagmires and avoid being over-confident because karma has a way of kicking my ass hard when I stray too far from center ground. Perhaps my spirituality is so well-grounded because there is no possible explanation for the cosmic messages I receive on a regular and direct basis.

Some folks ask "why" things happen or assume they are a magnet for bad luck. When someone rich and famous gives sincere thanks, I smile and believe they are blessed for a reason. (I should add here, the ever popular Oscar reward response of "I'd like to thank God and my parents" is worn out and has lost meaning from over-use.) Yet, one person's blessings doesn't mean another is chosen for strife. Of course, being thankful doesn't mean you'll be showered continually with abundance. Everything happens for a reason and while we may not always understand those reasons, recognizing that living is better as a verb than a noun, better as a means than a goal, we give ourselves permission to learn along the way.

When we are buried up to our eyeballs in our own thoughts, work, emotions (insert "personal crap" here) we are blind to how we connect with others. By taking a deep breath, owning our issues and looking to those around us, we find more commonality.

People come and go in our lives for a reason. If we recognize their value, we grow. Sometimes they are around a long time and sometimes they are in a fleeting moment. I've found much relief in losing some of the ones that cause me the most distress and if I don't learn from them, they come back to haunt me in another body. I'm sure many can identify with having the same type-cast boss in different jobs! As much as I know they are there to help me learn some sort of lesson, I find some consolation in the fact that perhaps I can teach them something along the way, too. The entire process is not just how others can help me, but how can I help them, too.

By now, you may be thinking, "Iris, what's your point?"

If you don't relate to what I'm saying, you may not be ready for the point.

And that's okay - ask questions or just come baaaaack another day!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday Fatality

I literally grew up in the land of retail. My father was a drug store manager and my mom usually worked on and off with him. Waaaay back in those days, child labor was a given. Rather than hire a sitter, my parents set me up on a box pricing items when I was 5 years old. By 11, I knew how to run a register, count change and “Paper Moon” was a quick study against flim-flam artists. I didn’t whine and generally enjoyed the feeling of being helpful. Customer service was priority and when on duty, I called dad “Mr. Carter.”
At the same time, I learned how frustrating and aggressive the shopping public can be.
Today’s events at a Long Island Wal-Mart proved to me that shoppers have gotten to a point of literally killing someone over a bargain. Retail work is grueling, underpaid, and thankless. No one appreciates a well-stocked shelf or an uncluttered toy aisle, but the minute an item is off the shelf, John Q. Public is annoyed and griping. Today, some poor clerk got in the way of an obnoxious stampede and people literally trampled him to death. Several others were injured and police were telling folks to back off from the scene.
Is a $15 blender or a $5 Hannah Montana doll worth a person’s life? People have evacuated disaster zones with less chaos. Even the 9/11 Commission reports, “Despite these obstacles, the evacuation was relatively calm and orderly.42
My father used to complain about opening the store doors on sale days, noting the skill it took to unlock the door and literally jump out of harm’s way. Making the challenge more difficult was the store safe that sat by the entrance. When fully opened at a 90-degree angle, the door and its handle touched the safe.
One young clerk wanted to be the one in charge of opening the door for the after-Christmas sale. With persistent begging, dad handed over the keys. The young man strutted up to the door with a self-important gait, unlocked the door and woosh, he was captured between the door and the safe like a specimen under glass. Thankfully he was thin and it gave my dad and other employees a good laugh.
Today, no one laughed when the crowd ripped the doors off the frame and sent a young stock clerk to his holiday grave.
Photo credit: Augustine for News
Published: 11/28/2008 12:03:07

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Holiday Giving

During the holidays, we see more hands out and more hand-outs during the giving season. We are giving thanks, giving gifts and, of course, giving what we can to others.
While all this serves great purpose, there are underlying currents that keep my soul stirred. Too often I see people who use donations as a way to make themselves feel better without any real thought to what their giving means to the recipient. In essence, the donor is giving blindly, patting himself on the back and no further thought is given to the charity.
Others give as though it were a burden and they are leveling the karma playing field. Squeezing out donations is a painful process for them and, like giving birth to a child, they see their effort as one that will pay off in the future when the roll is called up yonder.
Some people give because they don't want to be bothered. They give to the first in line and then announce to the rest, "Leave me alone, I've already given."
On the other side of the exchange is the recipient. Asking for donations during the winter holiday season is like shooting into a barrel of fish. Preying on the gullibility and guilt of the average American reaps big bucks. "Please sir, may I have more?"
My point here, lamb chops, is that we need to paaay attention to what we are doing. Give wisely, give intently and give a little of yourself. Give at other times, too. Don't throw out dollars and forget about the needs during the rest of the year. If you are willing to give hard-earned dollars to an agency, know what they do with YOUR money. Pay attention to their needs and respond in kind. Add a little elbow grease to the mix and show a vested interest.
This year, I am supporting a local agency that has some creative fund-raising skills for a great cause. Triad Health Project hosts a "Winter Walk for AIDS" the first weekend of December. Teams are formed and approximately 2,000 people will put forth a united front to help build awareness and funds for an agency that benefits the entire community. Victims of AIDS can seek assistance through the agency; testing is provided to anyone, anonymously and for free; along with other great services.
I also plan to jump in next spring when THP holds their annual "Dining with Friends" event. Each host invites friends for dinner and asks the guests to make a donation equivalent to the value of the meal. For dessert, everyone heads downtown for a huge gala with music, dancing and celebration. Often, dinners are themed with friends dressed accordingly. People arrive dressed for luaus, pajama parties, mardi gras and anything else an imaginative host can coordinate.
All of this is great fun, but AIDS is also a very serious cause and one that has declined in interest in spite of the incline in the infected population. Look around you, see what's out there and give with your heart.
Of course, if you can't find anything that suits you, visit my team's webpage where online donations are accepted!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hell hath no fury like a MotrinMom

Until now, my experiences in watching the power of Twitter in action from day to day has been like going from skates with keys to a Lambourgini. Today's TwitteReaction to Motrin's newest ads took me to Mach 1.
Coinciding with International Baby Wearing Week, the Motrin ad attempts to connect with aches and pains of motherhood focusing on the strain of carrying a tot in a sling. Moms (and dads) go through a lot of pain out of love for their kids. However, the ad has become a royal pain in the ass for folks that see it as a slam.
TwitteReaction has tracked comments ranging from disdain over Motrin's implication that baby slings are a fashion statement to seeking sincere retractions from the company.
While parents are sending signals over slandered slings and issuing kudos over effective social media efforts, Tweeters in another corner are recommending Motrin for dads dealing with the manic moms and suggest the squealers put forth similar efforts into more justifiable causes like homelessness, world peace, and other altruistic causes.
In less than 24 hours, the social media stir has literally shut down Motrin's webpage and emails from Motrin's VP of Marketing Kathy Widmer have been issued. Still, many baby toters are boycotting and banking on more action from the company before putting down arms.
As a side, Motrin is produced by Johnson & Johnson, a company that has put consumers, medical providers and employees first in their credo. The company's mission statement is held in high regards as an example for others to follow.
I strongly believe in everyone's right to an opinion and in sharing those opinions with folks that can instigate change. At the same time, I oppose the crowd mentality, the confused sheep that bleat before they think, running from the safety of the pen to the open highway without looking both ways.
Johnson & Johnson is pulling the video ads but print ads will be out there. Beating a dead horse will only cause more headaches and sore butts. The folks at Johnson & Johnson do not appear to be wolves in sheeps' clothing, but instead are probably just like your neighbors, trying to make a living in spite of baaaaaad aaaaadvertising.

SC priest bans Obama lambs

While some folks are trying to keep church out of politics, a South Carolina priest is putting politics on the front pew, telling his flock to flee communion if they voted for Obama. Instead of keeping them in church and teaching his parishioners why he thinks they should repent and why Obama is supposedly so baaaad for allowing freedom of choice, the patron saint of polls is dipping into the holy water and washing his hands of them.
I do want to at least thank the Father for giving us a steadfast example of “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” Obama’s stance on abortion rights was pretty low on the list of important issues facing Americans so if this priest had to go through the higher points before reaching one that went against his church standards, I’d say there’s a lot of reasons to be FOR our president-elect!
I always thought Christians taught forgiveness, tolerance and understanding. Yet some people seem to think that they have risen to such high esteem in God’s eyes that they are more than just the right hand of the Lord.
“Forgive me father, for I have sinned. I voted for Obama and I’m proud of it.”
“You are not forgiven, but just in case, say 10 Hail Mary’s and 5 Our Father’s before grabbing your hand basket and heading out the front door towards Hell.”

Photo by Julie A. Wenskoski from www.freedigitalphotos.com

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Anti-Gay Cash Cows

No bull about it, a source has herded together a list of donors that funded the California Proposition 8 campaign. As I perused the list, a number of thoughts came to mind. Rather than keep my quandries quiet, my points will be pondered here.

Donating to a poltical cause is public information which translated means "putting your money where your mouth is." Where you spend money speaks volumes if the right people are observant. Sarah Palin shifted responsibility to the Republican National Committee for spending big bucks at Saks Fifth Ave. and denies ownership of the purchases. PETA is known for stalking furriers and TMZ points out the stars of Starbucks. Companies vie for celebrity endorsements in marketing efforts.
As consumers, we should be savvy and determine whether a product meets our needs and if the producer compromises our beliefs in any way. Most little lambs are inclined to travel down the chute, grabbing from the trough while being sheared without considering their consumer power. Looking at the list of Prop 8 donors, I wonder if they considered the potential implications of their contributions and if patrons have linked their own dollars with the purchases they made.
For example, a woman is going through a divorce and pays hundreds of dollars to an attorney. She goes home and cries on her brother's shoulder while his partner fixes the family's dinner. That evening, the attorney goes home and receives a call from the Prop 8 campaign asking for money, relating to his intense homophobia. The barrister has discretionary income and is happy to oblige. If our divorcee knew that she indirectly funded Prop 8 would she have selected a different attorney?
Would a lesbian want to see a gynecologist that was opposed to same-sex marriages? A funeral home that funds the Prop 8 campaign should not be offering comfort to the life partner of an AIDS victim. The CPA that is against gay marriage is certainly not looking out for their homosexual client's best interest when doing taxes.
Yet, in all these instances, how many of us would actually ask pertinent questions. What if every provider we used had to pass an interview? They shouldn't take our patronage for granted!
Money talks baaaack. Listen to your dollars and let them speak to your heart.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Prop8 or Prop-hate?

On January 1, 1994 I had been married 11 years and had two small children. My husband and I sat down to talk about the problems we were having. It was a new year and I was creating an opportunity to start fresh. Our arguments and his general mood had progressively worsened. He wasn’t happy and neither was I.
The discussion was sane and amicable but the lines were drawn. We both needed to commit 100 percent to mending the relationship or there was no need in going further. He agreed but wanted time to think. As we both took in a deep breath, I felt like I had literally been hit with a lightening bolt. I don’t know where the question came from or why I asked at that moment. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the answer.
“You’re gay, aren’t you?”
He paused and responded, “Yes.” Tears welled up in his eyes.
I crossed the room to where he was sitting and knelt down, hugging him, reassuring him.
“It’s okay,” I said. “At least now I know what is wrong and why you’ve been so miserable.”
He hadn’t acted on his homosexuality. He certainly didn’t choose to be gay. He wanted desperately to meet society’s definition of normal. “I wanted the house with the white picket fence and the 2.3 children and a station wagon in the driveway,” he said. He knew he found men attractive but assumed it was natural curiosity and suppressed his feelings. The harder he tried to suppress his natural feelings, the more unsettled he became.
I wasn’t angry with him for being gay because I knew it wasn’t his fault. And I certainly knew it wasn’t my fault! I was always aware of people that were homosexual but their sexuality didn’t affect me. News stories and documentaries of people scorned or abused based solely on what happens behind closed doors appalled me. I offered my then-husband support as he ventured ahead in life with his true self while mourning the loss of the life we had planned together.
I could (and may) write a book about the intricacies that followed. We divorced but still raised our children as a united force. We hung out with mutual friends, fought, laughed and loved others. Expounding upon those issues at this time however, would not suit the purpose of this blog.
My purpose for “coming out” with a personally sacred topic is to speak to the issues surrounding Proposition 8 in California. I’m straight, and live on the east coast in a notch on the Bible belt so why should I care? My heart tells me others are hurting. My head tells me California is full of progressively-minded people yet the majority voted for this atrocious proposition.
According to proponents, the proposition merely defines marriage: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California." Still, they had a basketful of scare tactics creating smoke and mirrors for the general populace.
Anyone that will use a child as a shield is repugnant yet people succumb to ridiculous fears. The California school system, like most, provides comprehensive sexual health education in grades K-12 including “the legal and financial aspects and responsibilities of marriage and parenthood…Instruction and materials shall teach respect for marriage and committed relationships.” Pro-prop8ers insist that kindergarteners will become indoctrinated to man-man and woman-woman marriages.
Let’s stretch the imagination to believe a teacher would sit in a circle with 30 5-year-olds for just such instruction. She holds up a felt board with three female figures and three male figures. “Now boys and girls, I bet you are familiar with families that have a Mommy and Daddy who are married.” She places a female and male on the board together. “But in some families there are two daddies (male and male figures are side by side) and some have two mommies (two felt fems side up together).” If the teacher does as the school code says, she would continue, “In all of these cases, these people love each other, respect each other and are married or committed to each other.”
The children now know that relationships are important and that they should respect those relationships. Pausing to think a moment.
Since I don’t see a problem there, let me delve a bit further. Perhaps the issue that pro-prop8ers have is kids learning about sexual intercourse between same-sex partners. I’d have to take issue there as well, since school systems focus on reproduction in health classes. Telling kindergarteners about any form of bedroom romp is generally not in the lesson plans.
Children live in a world surrounded by adults who are single, divorced, unmarried couples, in May-December relationships, interracial marriages, and homosexual parents.
To support children and families, society stresses the importance of committed parents. Yet people who want to take the step of signing paperwork and want to be recognized as a married couple are being denied these rights based on sexual origin.
My children were told the truth about our divorce. We told them it was not a secret but that they should be very, very careful who they shared their story with because most people wouldn’t understand.
That was 15 years ago and it looks like most people still don’t understand.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Addendum to "Fall" blog

When I finished the video I asked my 19-year-old son if he wanted to see it. "Sure," he said. After watching it he said, "Good song." Such a dry sense of humor, that kid.
"What about the pictures?"
"I see them all the time."
"What? My photos?"
"No - trees - they're everywhere."
I gave him a look. He chuckled in amusement and said, "Well, maybe after I spend eight months in the desert I'll be more excited about seeing pictures like that."
He is going in the Army in a couple of weeks.
He'll need that humor, just like I needed mine to raise him."

Fall in North Carolina

This was a stellar day with temperatures in the upper 70s and still riding the victory train from election day, I decided to take full advantage. Grabbing my camera, I headed out on errands and stopped at a couple of parks that are literally just a few miles from me. Even the horses next door were grazing next to the fence and looked when I called.
I enjoyed walking in the park because it had purpose. I wasn't just walking because I "should." I was taking pictures and taking in my surroundings. Fresh air and sunshine did my spirit good. I was able to revisit some places I haven’t seen in a while and along the way met a couple of interesting people.
Memories of raising my own children were dusted off when I encountered a couple with two young children. I smiled hearing exasperation in the father’s voice as he responded to the incessant “whys.” Several cyclists and joggers shared my path as I wound around to a small pond.
I asked the man fishing if he minded being in my photos.
“When I am out here, nothing bothers me,” he said. He shared a few fish tales including one about a resident heron. The bird waits patiently. If the man catches a small brim, he throws it out and the bird grabs it.
“I’ve fed that bird as many as five or six fish.” Smart bird.
As I headed down the path again, a woman was walking her dachshund. The little dog had a lilt in her step and a huge grin with her tongue hanging slightly out. Her feet barely touched the ground as she scooted along. I couldn’t help but smile back.
“She seems very happy,” I told the woman. “She IS happy,” the woman responded. “I wish I had her optimism!”
I found the optimism contagious and am sharing my beautiful day here. Graze around your baaaaack yaaaard and I guarantee you will find a treasure.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A New Beginning

When the news broke of Obama's victory, it felt like a veil was lifted. Fresh air and new hope have infiltrated the nation. As I listened to the news, watched Twitter comments and scoped news websites, I also scrambled through photos on Flickr and used them to compile my first video effort. The photos are low resolution so the quality isn't the greatest, but I still wanted to share my excitement. I hope your enjoyment is half of what I had in creating it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Trick or treat?

The Halloween stash can be hard to manage but with parental guidance and the mantra "all things in moderation" it is possible to succumb to temptation. Yet one North Carolina dentist is noted for offering monetary incentive, much like the tooth fairy, for kids to turn in their spoils. Paying $1 per pound, this cavity fighter is buying back Halloween treats and forwarding the confections to troops. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, this dentist is not alone.
I suppose it's better than the reaction from Willy Wonka's father. After trick-or-treating, Wonka had to watch his dad sort through the candy explaining why all of it was bad for the teeth. The entire booty was then thrown into the fire.
This particular N.C. dentist served in the military, yet he doesn't seem to remember that chocolate can not be sent to the troops. Items that melt are among restricted items and if shipped to soldiers, will be confiscated So what happens to those wonderful snack-size chocolate bars? Perhaps a candy burning can be organized and after that, the zealots can go after other things perceived unmoderated by lambkins in the populace. Books, rock music and movies have provided fuel for incineration at the hands of zealots who believe they have the monopoly on righteous beliefs.
Burn baaaaaaby, burn!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Positive choices

When I took a class on interpersonal relationships (more years ago than I care to admit) the instructor stated that we always have a choice. Regardless of the situation or circumstance, there is absolutely, positively, undeniably a choice. I was among those in the class that said, "Not always - sometimes your back is against the wall, there are times ...." The teacher shook his head in opposition. "You may not like your choices, but they are always there."

After digesting his statement I realized he was right and even better, his statement is liberating. We are never stuck with one option. Even if someone has a gun to your head, you have a choice - do as you are told or don't. Ultimately you have the power of making the decision and accepting the consequences of your choice.

Taking choices a step further, you can opt to turn negatives into positives based on the choices you create for yourself, as proven by one woman's political statement. Shannon Bennett of Texas was tired of having the Obama political signs stolen from her yard. She had choices - she could have stopped putting out signs, she could have staked out the thieves, she could have whined to her local authorities. Instead, she made a better wheel - she bought 12 cans of spray paint and turned her front yard into one huge Obama sign! Innovative, positive and she's a great role model for thinking outside the box.

In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Shawn Turschak was fed up with his McCain/Palin signs disappearing. Being an electrical engineer, he decided to send a shocking message to would-be criminals. Unfortunately, his first victim was a 9-year-old boy. Of course dad says the kid was just examining the sign. The child was also trespassing and should have been taught, like I was, if it's not yours, don't touch it! The police got involved, no one got in trouble.

Was the Chapel Hill Shocker wrong? No, just predictable. He took the easy choice and was vindictive in his quest to assault burglars. The kid probably deserved a pop on the hand but got a zap instead and there's always the danger of shocking the wrong person, sending them into deathly arrhythmia. I shudder to think about the potential for barbecued squirrels on this guy's lawn. Depending on the neighborhood, he could have ended up with a crowd for dinner. Heaven forbid the UNC Ram graze in his yard - Muttonchops anyone? He might end up with a bunch of Dookie(s) in his yard - GO BLUE DEVILS! But I digress ... The point is, Mr. Turschak was on a negative path that led to a positive charge. (Did you honestly expect me to avoid that electrifying pun?)

Realizing we have choices can make the world more enjoyable for us; creating positive choices can make us better for the world. A word of warning kids: There's still a lot of positively negative people out there - baaaaack awaaaay from the signs!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Seeing eye to eye

Through the beauty of technology, the magic of networking and 30Threads.com I am sitting front and center, watching Senator Obama speak to a crowd in Raleigh. He remains consistent with his message, clarifies the slams issued by the opposition and keeps the energy high. All of these are expected and he delivers well. But there is something different today.

He stopped his speech, pointed to an area calling for medical personnel and stepped over to hand off water. He isn't just scanning the crowd when he speaks. He is actually looking at people, seeing them eye to eye. A short while later, he pointed to another person needing assistance. At the end of his speech, he looked into the crowd and asked about one of the victims. A thumbs up indicated all was well.

Seeing eye-to-eye on issues is visionary, seeing eye-to-eye with people is invigorating.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Kah-CHING!

I believe in the underdog going for justice but in many lawsuits I wonder if the ends offer any benefit other than padding the litigator's pockets.
A court just ruled against Target, awarding $3.1 million to a woman who was falsely accused of using counterfeit $100 bills. The legal tender was issued before the clerk was even born, so his gut reaction was to issue an email warning to a half-dozen other businesses in the area. One of the other businesses receiving the warning happened to be the Belk Department Store where the Target customer works in loss prevention.
There are so many things wrong with this whole scenario that it's hard to know where to begin dissecting it - but I'm going to forge ahead.
First, I despise $100 bills. I don't carry huge chunks of cash around so I don't need large bills to keep my wallet from stretching. On the extremely rare occasion that I may opt to pay cash for something costing a few C-notes, I will ask the bank teller for them and go straight to the vendor - do not pass go, get out of jail free, run like yo' mama's screaming.
For those that choose to spend the big bills, be aware that a watchful thief will see how much change you receive and may assume there are more Ben Franklin photos hiding in your wallet.
Second, I have had my own argument with a very young sales clerk when I tried to spend an old $20. "This is counterfeit, I can't take it," the kid looked bored. "No it isn't, I just got it from the bank." I ended up giving her a newer bill and spent my old one elsewhere. So what? The kid was ignorant and working for minimum wage. We're lucky she can count change, much less recognize old bills. Oh wait, they don't actually have to figure the change any more do they?
Moving on, The woman filing suit works in security. I can't believe she doesn't have empathy for a merchant trying to be a good citizen and sending out warnings to others. Petty theft costs everyone, especially consumers. Has she never heard "err on the side of caution"?
Finally, a very public apology should have sufficed in this case. Target could have sent another email retracting their initial alert and simply saying, "Our clerk is an idiot, the bills are real." Give the woman a shopping spree to restore her dignity, make personal visits to the stores receiving alerts, say "I'm sorry."
Instead, this falsely accused woman has now potentially burdened Target shoppers with making up the losses in higher prices. Target gives millions to education, calculating a percentage of their sales profits. I wonder how much this Belk-security-guard-turned-millionaire will donate to charity.
Where's Judge Judy when we need her to knock some sense into these folks?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Eat your veggies

Graphic artists do have a reputation for taking liberties with their designs practically creating a picture hunt game within any artwork. My OCD tendencies have my eyes picking out patterns in the most mundane places like wallpaper or mosaics however I have never been one to study a pack of brocolli like this woman did. Either the photographed brocolli was picked from a fairy garden or the artist got bored and photoshopped his (ahem) buds into the design. Either way, these folks are a bit green around the gills.
Speaking of buds, at least these were talking heads as opposed to the naughty bits people have found in advertising like Ikea, Camel cigarettes and Coca-Cola.
Are people finding this stuff because they are sexually repressed (when the design is phallic) or do they really have nothing better to do? I would say that I need to pay less attention to the nutritional charts and study the graphics more, but since I'm neither sexually repressed or bored, I'll leave the hunt to those with eagle eyes.






Virtual Jailbird

Virtual reality players need to heed mama's warning to "play nice" or else they could end up in jail. Two Japanese co-workers hooked up their avatars for some pretend time in the digital matrix but when the man divorced without warning, the woman murdered her estranged VR spouse. Jailed on suspicion of computer hacking, the femme fatale faces up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
As kids, we pretended to shoot each other with our lethal index fingers and I had teenage friends that sank deep into their imaginations with Dungeons and Dragons. Even adults reenact battles in historic parks. This woman took fantasy to a new level when she pretended to kill her cartoon husband. Her fault is encroaching reality by manipulating her opponent's software.
Sabotaging another person's gear is no way to win a game and her efforts should have stayed within the confines of the computer screen. Why not dream up a hot new male avatar to make the ex-hubby jealous? Or go for the virtual plastic surgery to make herself desirable and unattainable?
I don't know how the Japanese correctional system functions, but one wonders if the jailed vixen can take Mario through a Bonus Round to earn coins for bail.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Palin Pumps It Up

"The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize." - Olympia Dukakas as Clairee Belcher in "Steel Magnolias"


Looks like Palin has as much pump action on her feet as with her shotgun. Her Naughty Monkey "Double Dare" shoes are being snapped up on the web by her fashion followers. Eyeglass designer Kawasaki is thanking Palin for a surge in sales. A $750 Louis Vuitton bag hangs by Piper's side, looking more like a carry-on than a purse. Even little Trig's duds are linked at Pacifier's. Shameful spending using $150,000.00 from the Republican National Committee's budget is topped off with the irony of Palin's ability to accessorize with a Democratic scarf. One could compare her wasteful spending, total disregard to the plight of the working (and out-of-work) class, self-absorbed and self-righteous nature to the last eight years of Bush-onomics but McCain vehemently denies the likeness in his quest for the Oval Office. Aside from pointing out the vulgar abuses of power and spending in the Palin pack, my real reason for noting the expenditures is to cull the herd of flighty followers that actually pander to the trends established by a fashion fascist. Far from being a fashionista myself, I notice if someone appears sharply dressed or is disheveled but labels elude me. The fact that people have zoomed in on accessories only to mimic the style is appalling. Those that would choose their wardrobe off the backs of others exhibit the same wasteful spending and lack of independent thinking the RNC’s veep candidate exudes.
Before emulating the ewe, the flock needs to check for the wool-wearing wolf.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Johnny, Get your wrench!

"Arab and Good Person are not antithetical to one another."
- Ben Affleck on Real Time with Bill Maher 10/17/08

Growing up, I learned the term "back-handed compliment" and John McCain exhibited the epitome of this idiom when he corrected a supporter's accusation of Obama being an Arab.
"No he's not," said McCain. "He's a good guy ... he's not an Arab." Ok, I'll give McCain the benefit of realizing he was correcting the woman with "No he's not" and at the same time trying to reinforce that Obama is a good person instead of being a potential terrorist. I suppose it would be easy for any of us fumble our words and hope that people understand our intent.
Such fallibility has passed my own lips however, I am not running for President of the United States. The person that sits in the hot seat of this universe needs to choose his or her words carefully. Not only did McCain give a back-handed insult to Obama, he insulted every Arab. Way to go Johnny Maverick. Ya might wanna see if Joe the Plumber will take you on as an apprentice because your blunders are landing harder than a caribou hit between the eyes with a 30-ought-six round nose.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Breaking the Stepford Mold

As promised in my Oct. 14 blog, solutions to the educational crises in America are available. One of the struggles is bureaucracy in the national educational system. The rest of the world is changing yet schools are stagnant in their efforts to challenge, stimulate and prepare kids for the future.
I came across “The Ron Clark Story,” a movie about one educator who dared to make a difference. By watching the special features on the DVD, I learned that the story was pretty close to real life and it prompted me to do more research online.
Ron Clark is originally from Aurora, NC and after teaching there several years, he heard that teachers were needed in Harlem. He packed up, moved to New York and managed to find a position at an elementary school. The principal was hesitant, but Ron took the worst class in school and by the end of the year, their test scores were the best in the school, exceeding the gifted and talented class.
After winning Disney’s Best Grade 3-6 Teacher Award and National Best Teacher award in 2000, he was invited to the Oprah Winfrey Show. Producers in Los Angeles saw the show and contacted Ron to make a movie about his story. Ron also wrote “The Essential 55” based on rules in the classroom that hit the best seller list. The rules address issues for getting along in the classroom, teach respect and lead kids to perform better in school.
With the proceeds from the book, he opened The Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta which will be a model for charter schools across the nation. He will have visitors from around the world to see innovative ideas for teaching. Looking at the list of board members is like reading a “Who’s Who” directory.
I highly recommend the movie to anyone interested in better education. For a glimpse into the academy visit http://www.ronclarkacademy.com/

ConvergeSouth '08

Far from being a part of the flock, the participants at ConvergeSouth 2008 are definately herders. A newbie to blogging, this was my first experience at a related conference and my head is still spinning. I'll be spending a great deal of time catching up to the technology and people that I met. Perhaps this has put me in the category of "ewe" but I'm glad to be following these folks! Definately NOT a baaaaad experience.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Stepford Schools

I can be picky to a fault. If something doesn’t look right, I’ll point it out or ask about it. Remember the “Emperor’s New Clothes” and how everyone was ooohing and ahhhing over the guy’s fine threads until the kid yelled out, “He’s not wearing anything!” I prefer a more subtle approach and try not to be rude but if something is bared before me, it’s got my attention.

I submitted my resume for the local school system’s consideration – I know, I’m crazy but that’s another subject. Part of the pre-employment brouhaha includes going to a website to take the Haberman Star Teacher questionnaire. By answering 50 questions, this analyzes a person’s durability as a teacher, ability to handle situations and other enlightening skills and abilities. This site describes the 10 dimensions assessed and I found a couple of them worthy of discussion.

The first one is “persistence.” To paraphrase, the test can determine if a potential teacher can work with kids who have behavioral and learning problems on a daily basis for 180 days. The description alone is enough to make a person turn and run!

Another dimension is the ability to “Survive in a Bureaucracy.” The whooshing sound is the red flag whizzing by your ear as it runs up the pole. This interesting point “predicts the likelihood that the respondent will be able to function as a teacher in large, depersonalized organization.” (sic)

No matter how you break this one down, the stench is the same – Schools have become robotic and bureaucratic, embracing the educators that can put up with it. What happened to seeking teachers who are creative, innovative and independent? I suppose if a teacher can tolerate restrictive and unbending administration, the problem kids are a piece of cake.

I must offer kudos to the one that developed this assessment. They managed to design a tool that seeks perpetuators of the biggest problem in schools and recognized that school systems actually want these people! Even better, they charge money for administering the online test. I thought drug dealers were the only ones that knew how to sell you something that is bad for you and make you believe it’s what you want.

Don’t despair – there are innovative and exciting people making huge changes in our educational system. Check baaaaack for solutions in my next entry.

And how did I do on this test you ask? I haven’t taken it yet because the sign-in information the school system gave me is incorrect!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Palin's Packing Heat

Telling you how to vote would go against the very principle of my blog. You should think about your own values and needs and make your own decision. What I can do is throw a few morsels out that you can chew on while you ponder the choices.

Often, the most obvious imperfections can be masked by simple illusions. Sarah Palin flew out of John McCain’s pocket quicker than a dove from David Copperfield’s handkerchief. Dainty, delicate and dandy to look at, Palin balances McCain’s heavy hand. He seems to be banking on her ability to lure flies with honey but voters need to watch out for the SNAP of the Venus Flytrap!

My best friend raised four children and rebuked some of the commentary on Palin’s speech during the republican convention. “They kept saying how she had presence and commanded attention,” my friend said. “The woman’s got five kids – she damn well better have the ability to command attention! If she can’t then there’s something wrong!”

As we further considered this little barracuda that could potentially be the country’s first female executive, we thought of Palin’s human side. She is a woman that has birthed five children and still has the figure of a beauty queen. She manages to put herself together with make-up, hair, and clothes all impeccable. She has incredibly long days and a magnificent smile at the end of the evening. Someone needs to tell this bitch the women’s movement is OVER! We tried to have it all and realized that we can’t. Palin has help. She has someone to clean the governor’s mansion, she has assistants, and her older kids watch over the younger ones. She’s not car-pooling little league, cruising Wal-Mart, cutting her kids’ hair, or on her hands and knees icing down gum in the carpet.

This VP Hopeful is also teetering on the edge of (eeeeekkkkk) the change. “Do we really want a menopausal woman with her finger on the trigger of nuclear weapons?” said my friend. Hormones can rock the most solid foundations. A woman approaching middle age with the weight of the world on her shoulders and five children on her back is worse than the scariest of Stephen King’s novels.

As you are herded into the voting booth, don’t be sheepish about your choices – one wrong move and we’re in for a baaaaaad dream.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Shotgun Wedding

"It is not easy to construct by mere scientific synthesis a foolproof system which will lead our children in a desired direction and avoid an undesirable one. Obviously, good can come only from a continuing interplay between that which we, as students, are gradually learning and that which we believe in, as people."

— Erik Homburger Erikson (1902-1994)


Erik Erikson developed the theory that there are eight stages of psychosocial development in a person's life. We may go through them systematically, and develop as well-rounded, functional beings. Sustain a jolt during one of the stages and a person can get stuck or develop in an unhealthy way. He believed that a person having psychological problems could revisit the related area of development, pinpoint the issue that caused the derailment and, voila' a healthy mental state is returned. (Yes, I'm severely paraphrasing here but it's hard to squeeze a semester of psychology into one paragraph!)

Now, take this theory and apply it to an entire family. Mom and Dad may be teetering between nurturing and over-extending themselves, while a younger child is at the stage of developing confidence and a teenager is trying to gain identity and direction. A nuclear bomb has nothing on a volatile mix of life stages under one roof.

Imagine that mom and dad are still married, both working hard, involved in their kids' lives, and (SURPRISE) mom is pregnant. Not only does the teenager have confirmation that her parents actually have sex (yuck) but now all her friends know and so does everyone else! In the search for autonomy, independence and setting her own direction, she becomes intimate with her boyfriend. Mom gives birth and immediately learns she's going to be a grandmother.

The situation is difficult for anyone but most families will find a way to quietly work out their problems. But wait! This family is now in a glass house and running for a spot at the white house - make that THE White House. Now everyone in the entire United States, and most of the free world, know what this teenager has been doing and she still has to put on a show at center stage.

As for the hockey player that was high-sticking without protection - he's not escaping and Maury Povich won't rescue him with a paternity test. Mom the Republican is a card-carrying member of the NRA and she's calling the shots. To salvage family values, demonstrate good will, and save mom's campaign, these kids are planning a wedding. Regardless of how they may feel, whether it's puppy love, true love or an experiment in love, these youngsters have an Elephant's gun pointed at their backs.

Good luck kids - you'll need it!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Brain Strain

Letting others draw conclusions and define opinion is so much easier than thinking through issues alone. At least, that must be the reason that people are quick to jump on a bandwagon before checking the wheels.

I have a friend that is a strong republican. He forwards emails to me that bash Obama but I don't complain since I know how to use my "delete" button. On Friday, CNN reported that some delegates were heading to the democratic convention with the intention of voting for Hilary Clinton. These representatives feel that if their state voted for her then they should reflect their voters' preference. The reporter went on to say that it was a type of homage to Clinton's efforts. She has publicly backed Obama and both candidates reflect a united party.

Today, my friend sent an email that quotes obscure news reports of Clinton's plans to fight for the nomination at the convention. My next email is from the Clinton campaign saying the senator is looking forward to the convention and supports Obama.

I see my friend falling into the same category as many others: If the information falls somewhere within your range of beliefs, who cares if it is accurate - forward it! Personally, I prefer to dig for the truth before I send an email to others that publicly demonstrates my gullibility and lack of independent thinking.

The same process is true in many other instances. I have witnessed people fabricate information even though they had no understanding of a situation. They tell their friends and suddenly everyone believes complete nonsense!

The negativity and falsehoods people spread can be overwhelming. Chicken Little had the whole barnyard in a panic and as a child, I couldn't figure out who was worse - the chicken sounding the alarm or the animals that listened. Frankly, they all got on my nerves.

For you sheep that didn't get the moral of the story, just know that it is baaaad to believe everything you hear and look up at the sky next time someone tries to make you believe it is crumbling.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cold War Heats Up

Mrs. Newton taught our 7th grade Social Studies class. She was a petite woman with short gray hair that was kept styled with slight curls and a bit of teasing. She always had her make-up just right though she did have more than her share of wrinkles and deep furrows along her brow - probably from teaching hormonal tweens. Her lips were accentuated with lipstick and she usually had them drawn tight. I honestly don't ever remember her smiling.

It was the early 70s and my generation was aware of the Vietnam War and heard about the horrors of POW camps. Metal bracelets were worn that bore the name of a soldier missing in action or known to be captured, probably a precursor to today's colored bands for various causes.

Early in the semester, Mrs. Newton was showing a film strip in class. As the record played the narration, there was a "ding" to tell the student media assistant when to advance the frame. As the voice droned on about government issues, eyelids got heavier. "COMMUNISIM!" Mrs. Newton screeched and heads popped up, some slower than others. Mrs. Newton was walking to the front of the class pointing to the image on the screen. "Ding" The man continued narrating and the kid at the projector didn't know what to do but like Pavlov's dog, turned the knob for the next image. "No, no, no! Turn it back," the teacher flapped her arms, furrowed her brow more and had her lips pierced together. Even at the time, I thought she looked like an angry parrot. "Communism is everywhere (ding!) and turn that record off!" Most of us stared blankly wondering if she'd flipped and a few snickered. "It's not funny! You think you are safe here in America? They could come anytime, they live among us! Communists want to take over the world!"

By now, her eyes were shooting daggers and she moved them across the room. Thirty 12-year-olds sat in silence. It's hard to know what to do when you think your teacher is having a nervous breakdown. The bell rang. As we gathered our books and started to leave the room, she raised one arm with her finger pointed in the air. "We must fight communism! They will take over if we let them!"

Word spread quickly about the incident and someone learned from an upper class member that Mrs. Newton was well-known for her speeches on communism. We relaxed a bit, glad that she was at least consistent. As the semester went on, she would jolt us with a reminder of the red scare that was knocking on our shores and we would smile or nod to appease her. At home, I admit, her words would resonate and I would keep a watchful eye on the news wondering if there was an imminent threat.

As the Cold War ended and agreements of nuclear disarmament were created, Americans did become complacent. The actions on 9/11 jolted us into the reality that we did not live in a plastic bubble. Our soldiers have gone to battle, fought the bad guys, then moved and fought the other bad guys. We stand in lines at the airport hoping we are safer, wondering if confiscated shampoo is just a facade for the ineptitude of the entire Homeland Security system. Even the name sounds like something out of a television ad for home alarm systems.

As we go on day to day, a bit more cautious but again relaxed, we now have Russia bombing Georgia. I admit, I did a double take the first time I heard the news on television, envisioning the scene in "Red Dawn" when Russian soldiers parachute onto the mid-western school yard. I realized that we were not being attacked on our own southern coast and then wondered why Russia was being aggressive.

Americans are still battling Al Qaeda, now the Russians are causing a senseless stir, the Chinese are none to happy with us, and Korea keeps playing hide and seek with their nukes.

Mrs. Newton is probably long gone, but her words are clearer now than ever before - Communists want to take over the world. So, little lambs, we must be aware of what the baaaaaaad men are doing or we will be skewered and hanging over the fire pit. Knowledge is the real power.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Authority Priority

A wolf with a shepherd's hook does not make the best herder; yet the public continually gets led by false authority figures. For many years, Jesse Jackson has been in media interviews representing various causes. He managed to ride the coattails of Martin Luther King, Jr. and has hopped into the limelight whenever possible. Throughout his career he has made gaffes fueling satire over his lack of verbal coherency, an affair resulting in a child, and showing up in any location where there is perceived racial injustice.
In spite of his cartoonish reputation, there are people who actually believe he is worthy of respect and an expert in race relations and civil unrest.
With elections looming in the near future, media outlets are pulling in people who are supposed analysts, experts, and party representatives. I listen to them state their cases, argue against opposing views, and give opinions about how campaigns will progress. I've even heard a couple of people say, in a disguise of verbosity, that they didn't have a clue what is happening or would happen.
I listen to interviews and news bites with a dissecting ear. Unraveling the conversations, I toss the waste and hold some tidbits of information to compare to later news stories or to investigate further on my own.
My frustration comes from knowing that other people don't care. They take the news stories for face value, listen to faux-experts and plug the information into their belief system. Unfortunately, these baaaaaad sheep are then herded into the polls and vote for politicians. Later, the herd bleats about how the politician changed after getting into office. NO! The politician doesn't change. Instead, the wool is pulled away from the public's eyes and they finally are faced with facts that were there all along.
Grab the shears before it's too late and really look at the wolves that are feeding you!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Prisoners of War

The debate over staying in Iraq continues in the middle of a tumultuous election year. Even though there seems to be at least two sides to the debate over the war - stay or go - there is a lot of commonality. No one wants to see American soldiers die; no one wants to give terrorism any advantage; everyone is concerned about the economy with loss of jobs and homes and increased pricing on everything. Beyond those points, we can agree to disagree.

Facts and figures are floating around as American soldiers continue to face numerous hardships. Among their strifes are multiple tours of duty. Not only are troops spending long periods of time in Iraq, they come back to the United States for a short time only to return again - not just once, but two and three times! As one seasoned veteran noted, "We don't even have a draft - these soldiers are enlisting voluntarily and are being treated like this!" Enlisted personnel are returning stateside with post-traumatic stress syndrome and bodily injuries. With advancements in medical treatments, wounds that used to cause death can now be healed but with greater ongoing needs for the patient.

U.S. Government leaders are pouring lives and money into a seemingly bottomless pit while Americans watch with disbelief and inaction. Perhaps alternatives need to be considered - alternatives that could save funds and valuable lives. Instead of recruiters telling blatant lies to entice new recruits, prison sentences should incorporate clear statements warning offenders that instead of jail time, they will have war time.

Audible wails can be heard from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, anti-violence groups, death row opponents, and other prisoner advocates. Still there are a number of logical arguments for the move to use prisoners as troops:

No more idol threats and long appeals. A guilty verdict that commands a sentence of more than six weeks is an automatic sentence to boot camp. Military camps are guarded, supervised, provide food and shelter, exercise, organization and routine. All of these elements would provide discipline and continuity to a population that is recognized as unruly.

Budget savings for Department of Defense and Department of Corrections. Less prisoners incarcerated in jails will lessen the budget for food, shelter, medical needs, as well as address over-crowding. The DOD will gain recruits but will not have to pay salaries. As long as prisoners' basic needs are being met with food, shelter and clothing, they should not receive a salary like their volunteer counterparts.

Reduction of crime. Knowing that crimes are punishable by active military duty will cause many to think twice before committing violence. "Boyz 'n da hood" may fight war on the streets but the potential of facing war in Iraq may lead them to find peace in the middle east-side.

Built-in Rehabilitation. On-the-job training is more economical and would give prisoners actual experience rather than skills learned behind bars. Society's outcasts would also gain fitness training and better potential for drug and alcohol recovery. Prisoner advocates declare that many criminals are misguided, feel useless, powerless, and are acting out their anger. Putting them in the military will give them the tools needed to create purpose in their lives.

Currently, felons can not enter the military. Law states they can not carry or own guns. If these laws were changed, prisoners could be armed and sent to attack the enemy instead of released to the streets to harm innocent citizens. Redirect their anger and their skills through rehabilitation and let them protect America instead of violate her.

Many would argue against such a preposterous proposal:
What would keep these prisoners from harming innocent recruits? Prisoners would be delegated to specific units. Based on good behavior, they could be integrated into standard units and even apply for specific areas of service. Imagine these prisoners actually learning and gaining self-esteem to the point they want to serve!

What if they were wrongly accused of their crime? Appeals would be possible but the months and years between court dates and hearing could be filled with serving their country.

How can we justify risking the lives of prisoners? If America can justify over-crowded prisons, violence behind bars, lethargy, lack of exercise and perpetrating negative energy for the incarcerated, justification of turning them into productive soldiers will be a breeze.

What about veteran's benefits? Serving sentencing in active duty would only gain the prisoner life skills learned on the job and perhaps a stipend to start anew upon release. If they choose to re-enlist, then prior time served could be added to future years of duty for accumulation of regular VA benefits.

Using prisoners can save American tax dollars on the home front and abroad while providing rehabilitation to society's outcasts. As the war continues and volunteers become scarcer, the potential for drafting young men and women increases. The process of herding troops baaaaack into action is abominable. Americans can no longer stand sheepishly aside while assuming the government will solve the criminal and military problems that abound. Alleviate the burden of the few and proud and distribute the dirty work to the under-utilized.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

News Views

Producers and editors decide what to show in the news and without question the public dutifully absorbs whatever tidbits they are thrown. The stories may be about hostages and wildfires but viewers and readers rarely complain about being held hostage by their televisions while being fried at the flanks.

We have 24-hour news services but they only run the same stories repeatedly. And anyone in a hurry has the option of a 24-hour headline channel! Instead of digging for news and offering stories in ways that might present a broader scope of issues, the media has gotten tunnel vision focusing on the almighty dollar.

Recent coverage focused on the rescue of hostages in Columbia. Reports revealed a simplistic plan: locate the hostages, fly a helicopter in and take the hostages out. The helicopter was an old one previously used by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). Oddly enough, when the chopper landed, and the rescuers pretended to be part of FARC saying, "We're moving the hostages" the real FARC didn't think about the fact that they no longer use helicopters!

This leaves lots of questions but the media will probably never pursue the answers. Why would rescuers risk using an old unused chopper? Why did it take the Colombian military more than five years to come up with this brilliant idea? Hollywood comes up with movies like this all the time! These wonderfully quick news stories also obscured details such as a total of 15 people were rescued. The blurbs mainly talked about the three Americans and Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian political candidate. What about other hostage situations in the world? They happen yet the media doesn't seem to dwell on these incidents unless it is a media person or someone that is a high profile victim. Even then, if there is no activity for a few days, the media moves on.

Years ago, news reports actually had a running count of days the Iranian hostages were held. Each day something was announced regarding the atrocity. How unfortunate for the Colombian hostages that this form of publicity was forgotten. Perhaps with the media continually asking for status reports the rescuing governments would have to focus more on their strategies and the hostage takers would either have opportunity to tell their side or have the world enlightened to their guerrilla tactics.

As for the almighty dollar, the media has fallen victim to the pressures of advertisers and board room antics. The bottom line must be in black with significant cushion for the executives. In the meantime, reporters, like the rest of the general public, are forced to produce more with less. No one has the time to investigate the potential stories. Budgets are tightened, resources reduced and salaries held low. The reporter is forced to grab what flashes in front of him. Much like the search for lightning bugs on a hot summer evening, the ones that fly closest and brightest are more likely to end up caught and placed in the soda bottle. If the thumb doesn't remain tight on the bottle neck, then a story might escape. Eventually, the bottle comes inside for the contents to be examined, dissected and capped. Without enough breathing room and nutrition, the stories die overnight, just like the poor firefly. No one notices the dead ones though because they will be tossed quietly and replaced with a whole new batch that will light up the next evening's sky.

As world citizens, the public must demand more from their media services. No one should be happy just watching a flickering bug on occasion. Instead, our news sky needs to be lit up, making constellations out of the connections that can be made. Create a quick map of the world showing hostage situations, who is involved and why. Show the acreage that is being lost to arson, careless campers and lightening strikes by mother nature. The country should be shown ablaze like the map of Bonanza, after all a picture is always worth 1,000 words. Quit repeating stories every 10 minutes. Set schedules with headlines at the top of the hour followed by a tour of the world with news stories. After an hour around the world, go back to the headlines.

Part of the problem with the media is a lack of employees with critical thinking skills. Perhaps this is the problem with the world in general. Reporters don't always know what to ask, as though they are already supposed to have the answers. They find it easier to nod their heads and take notes rather than stopping the speaker for clarity. Some may ask questions but skew the answers because they don't understand the intent. If a child comes running in screaming that Little Timmy had his leg cut off by a car, the average adult would go investigate before assuming the story were correct. The outcome would probably reveal Timmy got a minor gash on the knee when cycling into a car bumper. Why, then, would anyone accept at face value a news story that is full of holes?

Viewers and readers need to demonstrate the importance of getting complete and accurate news. Demand clarity and praise intensity. Whatever you do, don't just sit baaaaack and aaaaaaccept mediocrity.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Politically Correct

In 1984, James Finn Garner's book of "Politically Correct Bedtime Stories" was published. Titles, professions and ethnicities were gaining finely tuned verbiage and Garner managed to provide a plethora of options while poking fun at the absurdity of not calling the kettle black.

Yet, in real life, a speaker calling out the color of said utensil risks offending: a specific division of the human race; the manufacturer that chose the name "ebony;" and all kettle users that refer to the object's size and purpose rather than color.

Avoiding offensive phrasing is exhausting. Rather than looking at reality and the intent of the speaker, critics conclude that people are racist. People have become so conscious of being criticized they actually avoid any type of descriptive terms. A woman told me of a recent conversation she had with an acquaintance. The acquaintance mentioned a person and to clarify, my friend said, "Was she a black woman?" The acquaintance then said, "We don't refer to people like that." My question then is, how DO you refer to people?

What would happen if a crime victim couldn't use race as a way to describe their assailant?

Officer: "Can you describe the person that robbed the bank?"

Bank Teller: "I believe the person was male, or was dressed as a male. I mean, he, or maybe she, wore a loose fitting flannel shirt and jeans. I think the person had short hair, but maybe not because they were wearing a ball cap and the hair could have been tucked underneath. The person had rough hands from working hard but not all women have smooth hands."

Officer: "Did this person say anything? What kind of voice did they have?"

Bank Teller: "They just handed me a note."

Officer: "What else can you tell me about this person? Were they white? black? Indian?"

Bank Teller: "Well, officer, I'm sorry but I grew up in a home where we didn't use terms like that."

Officer: "Okay - so what terms DID you use?"

Bank Teller: "We only called people by their given names."

Officer: "So you wouldn't happen know the name of the robber would you?"

Bank Teller: "Oh, no, I guess I forgot to ask."

The debate over descriptive nouns continues with media outlets trying to find out what to call Barack Obama. They ask each other if he is black or should be considered mixed-race. One so-called expert classified as "African-American" stated Obama is "mixed."

Personally, I believe he is one of relatively few people that can accurately call themselves "African-American." I was taught that hyphenated ethnicity was used by people that were 1) from another country and settled in a new country; or 2) were born to parents of two different nationalities. So, a person coming from Italy and settling in America could be called "Italian-American" or a dad from Kenya and a mother from America (like Obama's parents) could produce an "African-American" child.

Oddly, the media reflects a public that stakes claims on celebrities. Mariah Carey's mother is a very fair-skinned white woman with blond hair and identified as Irish-American. Her father is Venezuelan and African-American. Yet her music and entourage reflects less diversity, demonstrating her identification as being black-American. Fans of color have been noted to appreciate her blackness while white fans seem to focus on her music. Why she has any fans, I don't know as I detest her random performance of scales and ear-busting high-Cs. I would save that discussion for another blog but I am not sure about wasting any more space on "Mimi."

I can not begin to fathom how people that are generations removed from another country can suddenly begin to claim allegiance to being another nationality. While I am proud that I have Dutch, German, English and American Indian heritages, I don't try to declare any nationality other than being completely "American."

Some would argue that identifying a person by their heritage or skin color is degrading. My belief is we should be able to proudly display who we are, but we should do so with accuracy. Describing ethnicity should be no different than identifying gender, hair length, clothing, height or eye color. Derogatory epithets are unnecessary, but to be "politically" correct, adjectives should have freedom within our vocabulary without fear of oppression.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Business before pleasure?

A recent excursion put me in the fortunate position of meeting a woman that shared many commonalities with me. She is close to my age, a single mother with young adult children and she grew up in the same community as I. Our conversation drifted towards her son's decision to obtain his degree in business administration, find work and his place in society before even considering marriage.

"There are more important things in life than money," she said, adding that her son plans to wait until he is 30 before considering starting a family. I agreed and noted the tendancy of many career-minded adults doing the same thing. She said one of her son's college professors stressed the importance of having financial security before marriage.

While this sounds admirable, we wondered if this generation was dangling on a pendulum that is swinging to a far extreme. I was reminded of a movie I saw recently called "Idiocracy." A bit campy, it seems mindless on the surface but the premise is quite relevant. A man of mediocre intelligence is part of a government experiment in hibernation. A timely accident leaves him in his pod for 500 years. In a montage lasting just a few minutes, the movie shows how educated and career-tracked couples put off marriage and having children. Age and fertility issues obstruct the propagation of future intelligent generations and as a result the world evolves into a populace of moronic baby-machines. When the experimental guinea pig finally awakens, he is lauded as the most intelligent person on the planet.

Business majors are abundant and focus on the bottom line rather than seeing the interconnecting system that creates the red and black ink. Industry and businesses have long abandoned loyalty to employees in favor of high dollar profits for top executives. Stocks, investments, portfolios and interest rates are replacing the family conversations previously focusing on life, love, relationships and dating.

I pointed out that this mass production of business majors is creating a robotic generation that is following popular trend rather than making independent and personal decisions. While my acquaintance had not considered this, she did agree with my observation.

Perhaps these children have witnessed the struggles of their parents and are determined to find a better way of life. Unfortunately, their ideas of betterment may be those of an idealistic society rather than reality and the benefit of finding one's personal best. I would argue that the masses following the path of the often illusive dollar should occasionally look around the trail's side for some of life's free benefits.