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Rantings of a Crazed Soccer Mom
Tuesday, 16 August 2005
What are the odds?
This past weekend my brother-in-law Steve won $100,000 in the Powerball Lottery. Not big money–my sister says it’s not enough to change their lives at all–but it’s better than a kick in the pants.

Now it just so happens that on that same weekend, I also bought tickets in the Powerball Lottery. I happened to be in South Carolina, which sponsors lottery games. North Carolina does not, although I understand the State Legislature is working on changing that.

I’m not a big fan of lotteries, but occasionally I will indulge in what I like to call my three dollar daydream. For the afternoon before the drawing, I know I have just as much chance of winning as anyone else does, and I can happily imagine all the things I’ll do with the money.

I always plan on giving a hefty chunk of it to charity, and to his credit, my brother-in-law says he'll do that too.

Steve bought ten tickets, so his odds of winning the $100,000 prize were ten out of 2,939,677. That’s .0000034%. Or to put it the other way round, it’s a 99.9999966% probability that he paid ten dollars for a worthless piece of paper.

Steve’s odds of winning the Powerball Grand Prize Jackpot were astronomical–ten out of 120,526,770. That was .000000008%.

So a person buying ten lottery tickets in the Powerball has a 99.999999992% chance of getting nothing (or sweet FA as my husband Nigel would put it).

It’s been said the lottery is a tax on stupid people. Or people who can’t do math. You don’t need a PhD in math to know that 99.999999992% is damn near 100% and that your chances of winning are about as good if you don’t buy a ticket.

But knowing that the odds are against them doesn’t stop people from buying tickets. I know my brother-in-law’s habit of spending five or ten dollars on the Powerball every other week is harmless and for him, it paid off. However, I’ve always believed lotteries are a sneaky way for the state to bring in money by promising people that they can win a hundred million dollars or more. Low income people are more inclined to spend money on lottery tickets and these are the people who can least afford it.

Anyway, now that I’ve gone over the odds of lotteries, I looked up the odds on other events.

The National Safety Council says that for a person born in 2002, the odds of dying from contact with poisonous snakes and lizards are 1 in 1,241,661. The odds of dying in a car accident or 1 in 228.

According to Gregory Baer, who wrote the book Life: The Odds And How To Improve Them, the odds of becoming president are 10 million to 1. The odds of writing a New York Times best seller are 220 to 1. (I find it hard to believe that I’m more likely to write a best seller than to die in a car accident) The odds of being hit by lightning are 567,000 to 1. The odds of getting away with murder are 2 to 1 against. The odds that you will be murdered are 18,000 to 1.

He also says that your odds of marrying a super model are 1 in 88,000. I’d say the odds improve significantly in your favor if you happen to be Rod Stewart.

I will leave you with the worst set of odds I found. If you are in your mid to late sixties and have smoked two packs a day since you were a teen-ager, your odds of developing lung cancer are one in seven. That’s 15%. But if you do get the disease, your chances of dying within five years are 85%.

Best bet--if you want to play the odds, skip the lottery, drive carefully and quit smoking. And forget about marrying a super model.

Posted by judy5cents at 8:03 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 16 August 2005 4:00 PM EDT
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Friday, 12 August 2005
Buddy, Can You Spare Some Time?

The Cape Fear Soccer Association is desperate to find a coach for my daughter’s soccer team. They need a volunteer and there aren’t any.

Yes I know. Why not me? Well, I just don’t want to do it. I don’t know anything about soccer and I’m not that patient with nine and ten year old girls. And I’m even less patient dealing with the complaints of the parents of nine and ten year old girls. It would be a disaster. I’m willing to help out at practice, but I am not qualified to coach. I believe I will do more harm than good.

So here we all are, wanting our children to participate in soccer and get all the benefits of competitive sports, but no one wants to do the work. We’re all waiting for Somebody Else to come forward.

I don’t know what happens if that Somebody Else never shows up. I expect our team will be disbanded. Hopefully the girls will go to other teams who have coaches and space for them. If not, I guess I’ll have to change my name of my blog to Rantings of a Crazed Former Soccer Mom.

I believe this situation is indicative of the attitudes of most Americans. We’re quite happy to reap the benefits of a volunteer’s efforts (in this case, coaching our daughters’ soccer team) but we’re not all that keen on volunteering ourselves.

Which brings me to the subject of our country’s all volunteer army. As citizens of this country, we are quite willing to accept the benefits provided by young men and women putting their lives on the line for our safety. We talk about how much we appreciate their sacrifice and put yellow ribbon magnets on our cars, but very few us are willing to go into the service ourselves, so recruiters are having a very difficult time meeting quotas.

I grew up during the Viet Nam era and always believed that the draft was evil and wrong. And I still do. But it also seems a bit selfish and arrogant on our part to assume that Somebody Else will make the sacrifices to protect our country.

We have it pretty easy in the U.S. Although I can’t see the draft ever being re-instated, it seems like more should be required of us, that we all sacrifice something for our country. I doubt if it will ever happen, but I’d like to see some kind of required community service when a person comes of age. Serve in the army, serve in the hospitals, serve in the schools, serve in the soup kitchens. Do something. Give back. Be that Somebody Else and do it.

As long as it’s not coaching nine and ten year old girls.

Posted by judy5cents at 10:07 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 10 August 2005
The Pottery Barn Rule
"You break it, you buy it."

I believe it was Colin Powell who cited the "Pottery Barn Rule" to the Bush administration as it was preparing to invade Iraq. No one listened of course.

Team Bush is listening now. Recent polls have shown that a majority of Americans do not support the war in Iraq and believe the troops should be brought home. We've broken Iraq and now we're just going to leave it in pieces on the ground.

Iraq was declared a sovereign nation more than a year ago, but the provisional government has yet to approve a constitution. The police force is woefully inadequate. Insurgents have infiltrated its ranks along with killing recruits as they wait in line to join up. The Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds can't agree among themselves and there's growing support for an repressive Islamic theocracy similar to Iran. Many of Iraq's precious antiquities dating back to the dawn of civilization were stolen and destroyed. There's still not enough clean water or power to supply the population.

Right now, American troops are about the only force keeping Iraq together. Once they leave, it will surely dissolve into civil war.

It wasn't like that when we got there.

I don't see any way out of this. If we stay, more American soldiers will die. If we leave, even more Iraqis will die, and the freedoms that we're so proud of ourselves for giving them will disappear in a repressive extremist regime.

Anyone got any ideas?

Posted by judy5cents at 2:41 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 11 August 2005 1:00 PM EDT
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Monday, 8 August 2005
Good-bye Peter Jennings

When Peter Jennings announced he had lung cancer back in April, I had a feeling he wouldn’t be back. But like everyone else, I didn’t expect him to go so quickly.

Of the three network news anchors, it was Jennings’ low key delivery I preferred. And as I look back on the last 20 years, whenever I remember any sort of major news events, it always has a Peter Jennings voiceover.

Who’d have thought back in 1985 that all three news anchors (Jennings, along with Tom Brokaw for NBC and Dan Rather of CBS) would be delivering the news well into the next century? And that they’d all leave the desk within a year of each other?

I don’t know who will replace Peter Jennings, and I don’t really care. As I’ve said before, I don’t like watching the American news networks, the coverage is too biased. Not liberal or conservative. Just catering to American tastes and interests.

I’m inclined to believe that whoever officially replaces Jennings will not be in the chair for twenty or thirty years. The era of the iconic news anchor is over. With so many news outlets, and so many choices, we can pick and choose who and what we watch. There’s no need for a father figure news anchor whom we’ve gradually grown to trust over the course of three generations. We’re not that patient and loyal any more.

I will adjust to this change, as I always have. But I sure will miss Peter Jennings.

Posted by judy5cents at 2:26 PM EDT
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Friday, 5 August 2005
Changes
Earlier this week, there was a special election held in the Second Congressional District of Ohio, where I once resided and voted. This district encompasses the East Side of Greater Cincinnati, including upscale suburbs like India Hill as well as the backwaters of Clermont County. The attitudes are conservative. The politics are Republican.

Former Republican Representative Rob Portman always garnered 70 percent of the vote in this district. The Republican Party never had to worry about the Second District. It was as solidly Republican as you could get. They could get this win blind-folded with two hands tied behind their backs.

Not so fast.

The Democratic candidate in this election was not your usual bleeding heart liberal. Paul Hackett, a lawyer from Indian Hill, was a gun-owning Marine who served in the Iraq War and he proved to be a formidable opponent for the Republican, Jean Schmidt, a conservative Republican from Loveland. Instead of Portman’s 70 percent, Schmidt had to squeak by with just 52 percent of the vote.

Okay, winning is winning, and coming close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. And it was an off year election. The turnout was light. The Republican party was divided over a bitterly fought primary in June. And darn those Democrats, they went and found themselves a candidate that would appeal to Republicans. The nerve of those people.

Even without the victory it proves that a heavily Republican district can be swayed by the right candidate. Maybe it’s just a fluke, but I think not. Political attitudes shift slowly. It took a long time for the Republicans to take over both houses of Congress, it will take just as long for the Democrats to regain that lost ground.

Anyway, now the Republicans know the Second District is not necessarily in the bag.


Posted by judy5cents at 7:20 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 5 August 2005 8:40 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 3 August 2005
Where Have All The Low Carbs Gone?

Atkins Nutrionals has gone belly up, filing for bankruptcy this week. The high protein/low carbohydrate craze is now officially over and we can all eat bread and pasta again.

Of course, we always could eat bread and pasta. For a while, we just chose not to.

Like nine percent of the country’s adult population, I followed the Atkins diet. In February of 2003, my husband told me about a co-worker who lost a whole lot of weight following Atkins. And it got rid of his gas too. Since I’d been suffering through noxious emissions for some time, I said “let’s go for it.”

So we resolved to follow the Atkins principals to the letter, which was like being told everything we knew about food was wrong. Meat is good. Bacon is good. Even pork rinds are good. Eat as much as you want. Instead you must limit the fruits and the vegetables.

And we did it. I started every morning with a large helping of sliced ham and melted cheese. I lived off Monterey Jack cheese as it had 0 carbs. For dinner, I painstakingly measured out the vegetables, heavy on the collard greens and cabbage. Carrots, onions, and green peppers were high in carbs, so we substituted squash and brocoli and green onions. Pasta, rice and potatoes were so carb laden that we avoided them like the plague.

The pounds disappeared. I lost five pounds the first week and kept right on losing. Eventually, I got down to 128, a weight I had not seen since I was under 30. During that time we feasted on meat. We’d go to Golden Coral and have two and three helpings of steak, with vegetables and nothing else. It was great. Feel full all the time and lose weight.

Looking back on it all, the Aktins Diet was a lot like making a deal with the devil (which is not to imply that Atkins Nutrionals is in any way Satanic, of course). You get what you want, but in the end you’re worse off than when you started. Because there’s a catch. That catch is you can never eat carbs again. You have to eat meat and cheese for the rest of your life.

No one can do that. It’s like eating in black and white. You miss the cake and the bread and the pasta. The problem is, once you start eating it again, you’re still in the habit of eating all that meat and fat as well. Carbs and fats together make you gain weight fast. Before you know it, you’ve gained back all the weight you lost and then some.

And that’s what happened to me.

I’m back with the tried and true Weight Watchers, of which I’m a lifetime member. They always take me back and they always have a sensible diet which works if you follow it. Unfortunately, it does require such pesky annoyances as portion control and exercise. But I’m back to having cereal with half a banana for breakfast again, which is a lot easier to take than the meat and cheese.

I know I can’t go back. But I sure wish I could.

Posted by judy5cents at 12:58 PM EDT
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Monday, 1 August 2005
I Want My ITV!
It's a sad day at our house. NewsWorld International (NWI), the sattelite channel which brought us the ITV news from London every night at 6:30 pm, is no more.

Early this morning NWI was replaced by the zippy Current Channel. This is a network that "shows young adults what's going on in their world in their own voice with a substantial portion of content created by viewers like you."

Viewers like me? I'm 49. I like getting a different country's perspective on the news. I don't especially want programs hosted by pretty young twenty-somethings telling me all about hip industrial style housing, or the best way to ask for a raise, or updates on the latest technical gadetry.

The worst part is that this new network is the brainchild of Al Gore, who's got about as much street cred with the 18 to 34 year old demographic as I do. I've always figured young people are out there enjoying their lives, working exciting jobs, going to clubs and hanging out with their pretty young friends. They don't have time to watch this lame excuse for programming, even if they do have a chance to create "a substantial portion of content."

To me this sounds like a glorified cable access show. It's an excellent chance for all those techno-nerds out there to show off their shakey home-made documentaries, but who in their right mind would want to watch it?

Only "America's Funniest Home Videos" has had any success with the format of viewers providing a substantial portion of the content.

NWI ran for eleven years. Millions of people throughout the world depended on it for the non-American viewpoint on various world events. In fact, there were a number of world news stories we'd never have known about had it not been for NWI.

Current will crash and burn. But I expect we'll never know, as we'll be deleting this channel from our favorite channel setup. But when it does goes belly up, I hope I hear about it.

Posted by judy5cents at 9:18 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 1 August 2005 1:02 PM EDT
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Friday, 29 July 2005
Come Here Often?

Hello web surfer. What brings you to my neck of cyberspace?

Don’t tell me–you want to know if CNN American Morning’s Soledad O’Brien is married to her co-anchor Miles O’Brien. (He isn’t. Her husband’s name is Brad Raymond.)

Or you might be looking for something about Natalie Holloway. I’m sure there’s some website that’s following the case of the missing eighteen year old in Aruba, but it’s not this one.

Yesterday, 18 people came here through some variation of the search criteria “soledad+o’brien+married+to+miles+o’brien.” Earlier this week someone did that search from NASA Headquarters in Houston, Texas. All I could think of was that there’s a shuttle mission going on right now and someone’s tying up the computers wanting to know about the pretty anchor on CNN. Shouldn't they all be monitoring sattelite photos for damage or something?

I’m often amazed at the search criteria that gets people from the Google search site to my blog. Someone in Poland did the search “barbara+jenna+bush+corporal+punishment.” I don’t know much about that, although I can tell you George Bush told Dr. Phil that his daughters were never spanked, just sent to their room. Sorry, but you're welcome to your fantasies.

There’s always been a problem of accidentally finding porn when you’re looking for something completely innocent. I’ve had many visitors with the opposite problem–looking for porn and finding me instead. Like some guy in Silver Spring, Maryland who was looking for “nude+photos+of+your+mom.” I find that search a bit confusing. Nude photos of whose mom? His? Mine? Yours? Perhaps he was looking for a website where you could submit nude pictures of your mom. A pretty sick sounding dot.com enterprise, but it just might take off.

I take offense at the “beloit+college+sucks" searcher from Minnesota. I haven’t been back in nearly 30 years but it didn’t suck, at least not very much. I have some very fond memories of my time there. I’m assuming some Beloit co-ed must have dumped him. Or perhaps he's a student there and just doesn't like the curriculum.

Anyway, I’m grateful for whatever brings you here. And I sure hope you come back soon.


Posted by judy5cents at 9:27 AM EDT
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Thursday, 28 July 2005
Welcome to Walmart

Yesterday, while shopping at WalMart, I noticed a gaggle of blue smocked women following WalMart manager around the place. Trainees. Oh boy, first day on the job at WalMart. Because it was 8:00 AM, the Official Voice of WalMart Show was playing over the sound system. Somebody in Bentonville, Arkansas plays DJ, spinning CDs and congratulating all the WalMart associates celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. Not wedding anniversaries, mind you, these are celebrations of the time spent at WalMart.

Mr Happy Voice was ticking off all the people who’d been there 21 years. I’m always amazed that anyone could stay there that long. I worked at WalMart and lasted all of one month. As I listened, it occurred to me that I started that job at the beginning of August 1996. If I’d stuck it out for eight years and eleven months more, the nice guy on the radio would be congratulating me.

Of course, the idea of giving WalMart nine years of my life is abhorrent. I still am a bit resentful of the one month they got from me.

Fortunately, I will never have to work at WalMart again. I only gave one week’s notice instead of the two weeks WalMart insists upon, so officially I was fired and would not be approved for re-hire. I decided an extra week with my baby daughter was worth that black mark on my permanent record, at least as far as WalMart goes.

In her book Nickle and Dimed Barbara Ehrenreich describes her experience of working at Walmart in Minneapolis. She decided to explore the world of low wage work and see if she would be able to come up with enough money to cover the rent earning the prevailing wage of $7 an hour. In addition to WalMart, she worked as a waitress in Key West, and a house cleaner/nursing home attendant in Portland, Maine. The only time she managed to make ends meet was when she had two jobs.

Ms. Ehrenreich deftly points out the disconnect between the corporate philosophy of WalMart (“Our people make the difference”) and the abysmal way employees are treated. Drug tests, endless repetitive tasks, work schedules made up with no consideration for the outside lives of the employees, (the author describes one employee who pleads for a Sunday morning off so she can go to church, but she never gets it), and managers who act like tyrants, because they can.

What I recall about WalMart was how management did not trust the workers to make any decisions on their own. For very small matters, such as price checks, a manager had to be brought in. I always hated that moment, because everything came to a standstill while the customers and I waited for the manager to notice my little white light flashing. Stuck in the customer's contemptuous glare, I felt lower than dirt, and not at all like I was a person making a difference. The fact that I was only making $5 an hour didn't help much either.

There has been increasing pressure on WalMart to pay its workers a living wage and allow them to unionize. So far, the only store to be unionized was in Canada and WalMart decided it didn’t really need a store in that city and closed it down. What a coincidence!

And yet I still shop there. Call me a hypocrite. My rationalization is that my husband is the one earning the money through the sweat of his brow and he wants it spent at WalMart because the prices are so good. I never shopped at WalMart when I was single. I always went to Kroger’s, which had a union, and department stores, like JC Penney which paid their sales associates commissions along with their salary. At that time, I didn’t believe I needed one-stop shopping, although I could have used the low, low prices.

But I can’t go in to WalMart without thinking what a difficult job the associates have and how little they are appreciated. And I remember how lucky I am that I’ll never work there again.

Posted by judy5cents at 8:11 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 27 July 2005
You're Ugly And Your Mother Dresses You Funny

What are the standards for judging a prospective supreme court justice? Writings and past opinions? His record with the Reagan White House? The fact that he worked with Kenneth Starr?

How about how he dresses his children?

Okay, how his wife dresses their children. But as a good conservative father, he should have veto power. Real men don’t let their wives dress their sons like nerds.

Little Jack Roberts showed up for the presidential announcement of Daddy's court appointment dressed in gray shorts and a matching jacket and saddle shoes. Could somebody please call Mrs. Roberts and tell her it’s 2005 not 1955? I suspect her goal was to make him look exactly like the angelic kids painted on the church fans–you remember those, don’t you? Devout blond children praying on the front, the 23rd Psalm on the back along with an advertisement for the local funeral home?

It’s my guess that the Roberts family may truly be stuck in the 1950s, although they aren't old enough to remember much about the decade. That’s not good for a supreme court justice. He may be showing us just how out of touch he is with main stream America.

Oh well, at least they weren’t wearing flip-flops.

Posted by judy5cents at 1:04 PM EDT
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