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Rantings of a Crazed Soccer Mom
Wednesday, 29 June 2005
May I Call You By Your First Name?
I used to be a news reporter. It was a very long time ago, but I still remember everything I learned in journalism school. I think I had “The Elements of Style” memorized. You spell out the numbers from one to nine, but anything after 10 you use numerals. (The witness reported seeing three men herding 7,000 chickens out the door). The word “over” does not mean “more than.” It still grates on my nerves when I hear someone on television say “The jury deliberated for over six hours today.” When referring to a person in a news story, use his or her full name on the first mention and by the last name afterwards.

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you may have noticed that when I talk about someone in the news, I usually refer to that person by his or her last name, with a prefix, like Mr., or Ms. I prefer “Mr. Jones told police he was in Montreal at the time,” as opposed to “Jones told police he was in Montreal at the time.” I was taught to just use the last name, but I think using Mr. or Ms. sounds more respectful.

It’s against the rules to refer to anybody by their first name, unless you’re quoting someone. But I make an exception to this rule for the rich and famous, people who make a living by being the center of attention. I'm talking about those fortunate few who are so adored that they can consider themselves on a first name basis with the world. Like Liza, or Oprah or Madonna or Michael (Jackson). Everyone else should have the dignity of their last name.

One of the most irritating aspects of the Terri Schiavo debacle was that everyone from Tom Delay to Mel Gibson to the nutjobs gathered outside her Florida hospice called her Terri. Like they knew here. At that point, she’d been severely brain damaged for 15 years and she didn’t know anybody. Suddenly everyone with a stake on either side of the issue was on a first name basis with her.

That’s just wrong. By calling a brain dead woman by her first name, you are claiming an intimacy that you have no right to claim. Her parents could call her Terri. Her husband could call her Terri. Possibly the nurses could call her Terri, since caring for her brought about a special kind of intimacy. But everyone else, and that includes Tom Delay and Mel Gibson and the previously mentioned nutjobs, needed to ask her permission if they wanted to call her by her first name. Ms. Schiavo was no longer able to grant anyone that privilege, so it's officially denied to all of you.

Show the woman, and everyone else for that matter, a little respect.

Posted by judy5cents at 12:21 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 29 June 2005 2:59 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 28 June 2005
We Only Care About The Pretty Ones

Guess what? There’s another young pretty white woman missing. This time it’s Natalie Holloway, an 18 year old girl from Alabama who disappeared during a graduation trip to Aruba. She’s been missing since May 30 and so far, it looks like half the male population of Aruba has been arrested or held for questioning.

Across the country, hundreds of thousands of people are reported missing every year. Like Ana Luisa Aceveda Galeano or Tia Anderson. They are both young. But Ms. Galeano is Hispanic and Ms. Anderson is African American.

By the way, Ms. Galeano is a local girl, from just up the road in Castle Hayne, NC. I remember some segments about her on Channel 6, when she disappeared in January, but not a word in months. The networks didn’t even bother with this story. Ms. Galeano is not pretty, she doesn’t play the harp and her parents are not wealthy enough to keep her name in the news.

Sometimes I wish the news anchors would be honest and say “Out of the thousands of missing girls out there, we’re going to focus on this one. The pretty white one.”

Now Ms. Holloway did happen to disappear in exotic Aruba. I’m sure that has something to do with the amount of airplay she’s getting.

Which brings me to what is really bothering me about her disappearance. I want to know what possessed the parents of 136 graduating high school seniors to allow these kids to go to Aruba. Alabama is part of the Bible belt, for God’s sake! I can see a trip to Six Flags Over Georgia or Disney World, but Aruba? If it were my daughter, the answer would be “Not in this lifetime, sweetie.”

And it’s not because I’m paranoid about her being abducted and murdered by person or persons unknown. I’m concerned about more mundane tragedies, like alcohol poisoning, or date rape, or finding out three months later that she’s cavorting half naked in the newest “Girls Gone Wild” video.

Okay, there were chaperones. Seven of them. Do the math and that’s 19.4 kids per chaperone. Ever try to keep track of 19.4 teen-agers? In Aruba? They’d be off clubbing as soon as your back was turned. Now, Ms. Holloway’s mother says she does not blame the chaperones for her daughter’s disappearance. In fact, all the kids on the trip signed waivers saying they would behave responsibly and if anything bad happened it was their own damn fault. Most of them were 18, legally adults.

I’m sure there are hundreds of trips like this, considered a reward for high school seniors who’ve worked hard and deserve to let off a little steam. But maybe Ms. Holloway’s disappearance will cause a few changes, like more chaperones and less bar hopping.

How about a nice little trip to Cypress Gardens?

Posted by judy5cents at 12:41 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 28 June 2005 12:47 AM EDT
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Monday, 27 June 2005

A Web search on Google is a lot like looking for your high school yearbook in your parents' attic. Chances are you probably will come downstairs without it, but as you go through the boxes, you discover all kinds of things you'd either forgotten about or didn't know you had.

For the book I'm writing, I'll have to describe a 9 millimeter gunshot wound to the head. I figured people post all kinds of things on the web, why not photos of gunshot victims?

So I went to the images section of Google and typed in "dead body" I didn't find the photo I was looking for but I found a page on Homicide in Chicago, 1870 - 1930 which I figure should come in handy if I ever want to write a mystery based in the 1920s. I also found the autopsy photo for the infamous 1947 "Black Dahlia" murder in Los Angeles, where a woman's mutilated nude body was found in a parking lot. (These photos will bring new meaning to the word "mutilated.") Then there was a site of really really creepy photographs taken by a Dutch photographer named Frank Ossen.

Oddly enough, mixed among the gruesome sites was an image of Tom Baker from the old "Dr. Who" television show, along with one of the female sidekicks. No one was dead, but it was nice to see, as Tom Baker was my favorite Dr. Who.

I probably could have saved myself some time if I'd could called up the local morgue and asked. I prefer not to take that route. You never know how that person will react to your question. That's an occupational hazard of mystery writers. When we're doing research for our books, people wonder if we're really planning to commit a crime instead of just writing about it.

You don't want to call up poison control and ask "Hey, if there's cyanide in someone's almond amaretto coffee, will they taste it?"

I finally did find what I was looking for. But I still wanted to share all that peripheral stuff that had nothing to do with what I what I was looking for, but was fascinating nonetheless.

Posted by judy5cents at 1:12 AM EDT
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Thursday, 23 June 2005
But It Didn't Need Any Honing

Well my mornings are shot to hell now.

Nearly every morning for the last year, I’ve put my daughter on the school bus, took my brisk two mile walk, then had my breakfast while watching CNN’s American Morning with Bill Hemmer, Soledad O'Brien and Jack Cafferty.

My husband and I always enjoyed the rapport between Soledad O’Brien and David Bloom when they were on NBC’s Weekend Today Show. After Bloom’s death in Iraq in 2003, Ms. O’Brien moved over to the CNN morning show so I started watching it. The other network morning shows have grown stale over the years with the same old shtick. (Katie, Matt & Al clowning around and doing pseudo serious interviews; Charlie and Diana clowning around and doing pseudo serious interviews, whoever they are on CBS clowning around and doing pseudo serious interviews). I was looking for something different.

And American Morning was it. Something about the combination of O’Brien, Hemmer and Cafferty clicked for me. Unlike the been-doing-this-for-years quality of the Today Show and Good Morning America, the banter of this group came across as natural and unscripted.

But it was Cafferty that made it all work for me. In a business where a handsome face and a pleasant demeanor are mandatory for anyone on the air, here was a rumpled, cranky middle-aged man, who was not afraid to speak his mind. I tuned in to see the Cafferty file, Things People Say and of course The Question of the Day, in which viewers e-mailed answers to whatever issue was bugging Jack that day. I was so proud the day Cafferty read my answer to “What is your favorite memory of Johnny Carson?” (If you’re interested in my answer, leave a comment and I’ll post it)

As part of CNN president Jonathan Klein’s attempt to “shake up” the network’s morning show ensemble, Hemmer and Jack Cafferty were out. Hemmer was offered a position in Washington but turned it down and is said to be looking for “other opportunities” elsewhere. Cafferty is now with Wolf Blitzer’s show The Situation Room in the afternoon. Hemmer has been replaced by Miles O’Brien. Soledad O’Brien gets to stay.

Guess someone in programming thought it would be cute to have co-anchors with the same last name. Maybe people will think they’re a married couple or something.

And the reasoning behind all this?

"We're honing the cast of 'American Morning' in order to focus on what the audience wants most and what CNN does best: the latest news delivered with the greatest intelligence," Klein announced on the CNN website.

Hey, I'm the audience and this is what I think of your show now: It’s bland, it’s clunky and it’s lost everything it had going for it. Nice going Jon, you made it ordinary.

Looks like I’m going to have to drink my coffee while reading the newspaper.

Posted by judy5cents at 8:20 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 22 June 2005
Memoirs of the Briefly Famous
Now here’s something that doesn’t happen too often. After a massive search, Brennan Hawkins, the cub scout who went missing in the Utah wilderness, was found alive and uninjured. There was much rejoicing throughout the nation.

Could the book deal be far behind?

Imagine the type of memoir an 11 year old would write:

“Day One. It was cold. There wasn’t anything to eat. I was really thirsty. I was scared."

“Day Two. It was cold. There wasn’t anything to eat. I was really thirsty. I was scared...”

Of course it can’t be that much different from the book that Runaway Bride Jennifer Wilbanks will be receiving half a million dollars to write.

“Day One. I got on the bus. I read a book. I tried not to think about the lost deposit on the reception venue. Or how really really pissed those 28 attendants were going to be once they find out this whole disappearance thing was completely bogus...”

Ms. Wilbanks has a movie deal in the works as well. I’m assuming it will be for television, of the “Amber Frey, Witness For The Prosecution” genre. I can’t imagine people paying good money to see a film about a bug-eyed woman who cuts out on her extravagant wedding by secretly boarding a bus to Albuquerque, NM.

Another book deal went to Ashley Smith, the single mother who managed to talk the Atlanta Courtroom Killer Brian Nichols into giving himself up (along with not killing her). She did it by reading to him from Rick Warren's Christian self-help book “The Purpose Driven Life.” An admirable feat to be sure, but it still doesn’t make for interesting reading.

“Hour One: I Read pages 127 to 133 on Discovering God’s Purpose In Our Lives.”

“Hour Two: Brian helped me hang up the curtains, which really brighten up the room....”

But I guess it doesn’t really matter whether the book is interesting. Ms. Smith has had a difficult life and deserves the windfall.

Makes you wonder about the book business though. They’re printing more and more books (including mine) but fewer and fewer people are buying them. Who wants to read a book, when you can watch DVDs or surf the internet or play video games?

Especially one about a bus ride to Albuquerque.

Posted by judy5cents at 8:33 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 22 June 2005 8:40 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 21 June 2005
Down & Out In Columbus, OH

Sunday night documentary director Morgan Spurlock took me on a very depressing stroll down Memory Lane. On the premier of his FX television show 30 Days, he and his fiancee went to Columbus, Ohio to find out what it was like to live for 30 days on the income from minimum wage jobs.

It just so happens that I spent three years in Columbus, struggling to support myself as a substitute teacher and a temporary office worker. I even lived in an apartment building that looked exactly like the one Spurlock rented–a two-story brick box with a metal stairway and catwalk to get to the second floor. It always reminded me of a No-Tell Motel. I was stuck in it the whole time I lived in Columbus, because to move out I would have needed three times my rent payment (rent for the old place, rent for the new place plus one months' deposit) and I never had that much money at one time.

The show brought back all those horrible memories of the months when my paycheck didn’t cover the bills, along with the collection calls and the constant worry about what I would do if my car broke down or God forbid, I got sick with something treatable but not curable. Substitute teachers don't get health insurance. I used to say I was on the “Die Or Get Better Plan.”

Eventually, I took a part-time job at the Columbus Disaptch to make ends meet. Ends met, but I never got ahead. I was so tired, stressed out and burned out that I had no energy to look for a permanent teaching job either in Columbus or in the nicer suburbs of Upper Arlington and Dublin. When I wasn’t working, I was crashing.

On one of the lowest days I came home to find a message on my answering machine from a private welfare agency. If I qualified for ADFC, the man said, I could get their free healthcare, which included taxi rides to the doctor. Here I was working so hard to support myself and if I'd just get pregnant and go on welfare, I could have health care coverage. What a country!

I gave up on Columbus and teaching, moved back in with my parents, got a real job in customer service with GE Capital, found a nice apartment I really liked and finally got to enjoy life because of a steady income and health care benefits.

I was lucky. I was able to escape subsistence wage hell because I had family willing to provide me with a place to stay until I got back on my feet financially. And I was even luckier to have avoided serious illness during the time I had no health insurance.

But there are millions of people out there doing honest work for not a whole lot of money. Minimum wage has stayed at $5.15. Here in Wilmington, most of the jobs I would qualify for pay around $8.00 an hour. After taxes, daycare and gas, half of it’s gone. You can’t support a child on that kind of money. But people are doing it. Or trying to.

The working poor deserve health care. We live in one of the richest countries in the world. Why can’t we take care of the people who are doing their level best to take care of themselves?

By the way, if you’re interested in helping out the people who help the Columbus people in need, send a check to:

3030 Sullivant Avenue 43204

Give someone a hand-up.

Posted by judy5cents at 12:46 AM EDT
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Monday, 20 June 2005

This weekend, my husband and I shared a nice bottle of Pinot Noir and finally got to see “Sideways” on pay-per-view. Nigel doesn’t care much for seeing films in theaters so if there’s anything I want to see, I have to wait until it’s released on DVD and available on satellite. The last film we saw in a theater was “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

 I was a bit skeptical about “Sideways.” I’ve been disappointed by these highly acclaimed artsy films before. “Fargo” didn’t seem to go anywhere. Maybe I just couldn’t get past how fake Frances MacDermod’s Minnesota accent sounded. “Lost in Translation?” Bill Murray goes to Japan, drinks a lot, hangs out with Scarlet Johannsen and goes out for a night of bad karaoke. That was worth a movie? "Finding Neverland" was disappointing as well. Now I adore Johnny Depp. I'd watch him read the phone book. The way this film dragged on, that might have been an improvement.

I can safely say “Sideways” lives up to its hype. As you’ve probably heard, it’s about the friendship between Miles (Paul Giamatti), a middle school teacher/struggling novelist and Jack (Thomas Haden Church), an out of work actor. They take off on a week’s vacation in the California wine country as a final fling for Jack before he settles down and gets married. They drink a lot of wine, they talk, they chase women and Jack manages to catch one.

Admittedly, there’s not a whole lot of action in this film. But the characters are so compelling that you really care about them and want to know what they do next. Miles is a really nice guy but he just can’t seem to get a break. He’s spent most of his adult life playing second fiddle to the handsome, charming Jack who craves attention and has to get the girl, no matter what the cost.

I believe the only character in the film who’s one dimensional is Jack’s fiancee and that’s intentional. All we know about her is that she’s a beautiful young woman from a wealthy Armenian family. That may be all Jack knows about her as well. Most likely, that’s all he needs to know.

As a writer, I found the scene where Miles calls his agent particularly gut-wrenching. He finds out that his book has been rejected by the last-chance low end publisher he'd pinned all his hopes on, and the agent tells him she’s running out of options as to where to submit it. “It’s a wonderful book but there’s just no market for it,” she says. We’ve all heard that before.

Church has played a lot of jerks. (Remember Ursala’s fiance in “George of the Jungle?” and Ned in the Fox comedy “Ned and Stacy?”) But Jack is not one of them. Although this character behaves despicably, he still evokes a feeling of sympathy. Like Miles, we find ourselves willing to clean up his messes and get him to the church on time.

I was still thinking about this film the next day, wondering what went on with these guys afterwards. Not many films have done that for me. So if you’re looking for a nice DVD to rent, get this one. Along with a nice bottle of Pinot Noir, of course.

Posted by judy5cents at 1:29 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 27 May 2009 6:53 AM EDT
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Friday, 17 June 2005
My North Carolina license plate says "First in Flight" and has a picture of the Wright Brothers' plane emblazoned across the numbers. And there's a plane on my driver's license as well. The Wright Brothers first flight in 1903 is a pretty big deal here. It's even on our official state quarter.

Of course every time I see "First In Flight" I feel the need to point out that the plane was designed and built in Ohio by Ohio residents who just put it on a train, found a place in North Carolina with good winds, flew it for a minute and a half, then put it back on the train and went back home to build more planes. In Ohio.

North Carolina objected strenuously when Ohio decided to put "Birthplace of Aviation" on their license plates. Personally, I think it was an improvement over the previous slogan "Ohio, The Heart of It All" (If Ohio's the Heart, is Kentucky the Spleen?). And I don't believe North Carolina has the right to object. The plane really was "born" in Ohio. It just reached its potential in North Carolina. A lot like me, I suppose.

Film maker Jim Sutherland has suggested an alternate slogan "North Carolina, First In Flying Ohio-Built Planes" and that sounds fair to me.

Basically, the Wright Brothers came here for the same reason most every person from Ohio comes here, including me. The weather is nice. The people are friendly and helpful. It's warmer here than in Ohio. And they've got a beach.

North Carolina--Welcoming Ohio Pilots For Over A Century

Posted by judy5cents at 8:23 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 18 June 2005 3:22 PM EDT
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Thursday, 16 June 2005

Mainstream Media was disappointed again. The cash cow they’ve been milking for at least a year now has finally gone dry. Whatever will E! Entertainment do without him?

Yes, Wacko Jacko was found not guilty on all charges-- the conspiracy charge, the molestation charge, even the giving alcohol to a minor charge. The networks carried the obligatory climactic scene where the verdict was announced and after that, nothing. The disappointment felt by every network “legal expert” was obvious. Even after they figured out whether it was Janet or LaToya going through the metal detector.

I’m sure they’d prepared lots of pithy remarks and well-informed speculations for a guilty verdict. There’s not much to say for innocent. “Well, Charlie, I guess Michael will go back to the Neverland Ranch and consider his options.”

One of those options, according to his lawyer, is to discontinue his practice of sleeping with young boys.

Excellent idea, Michael.

Although I did not follow it closely, I listened to the coverage of the trial on occasion. There wasn’t any irrefutable evidence against him, despite all those highly publicized police searches. It all boiled down to a he-said/he-said situation. The victim’s mother torpedoed the case for the prosecution. They didn’t stand a chance.

I am a bit disappointed that we won’t be getting those fascinating tidbits on how Michael’s getting along in jail, like we did with Martha Stewart. Maybe he would have directed an inmates’ talent show or taught them all how to moonwalk in the exercise yard.

I will also miss the jokes on the late night talk shows. I loved Conan O’Brian’s Triumph The Insult Comic puppet’s “coverage” of the fans outside. “You saw him come in his pajamas?” “Yes, he came in his pajamas.” For a while, a judge’s gag order prevented anyone involved in the case from discussing it in public, so Jay Leno, a witness for the prosecution, brought in substitutes to deliver the Michael Jackson jokes in his monologue.

Maybe now that it’s over, we can let Michael have the privacy he craves so much.

But where else are we going to find a washed-up, eccentric, ghoulish “King of Pop” who’s just so wonderfully weird?

He’ll be back.

Posted by judy5cents at 9:06 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 16 June 2005 9:09 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 14 June 2005

If you are really pissed off at your husband, here's a way to get back at him. Have him take the kids to see "The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3D." It's 92 minutes of misery.

My daughter, who's a really good kid and deserves to be taken to a movie now and then, has been dying to see "Shark Boy, etc.". She said it was like "Spy Kids." Well it's not. "Spy Kids" was fun. It was a ridiculous premise, but at least the premise worked. And there was Antonio Banderas, who I can watch in just about anything.

What's this film about you ask? A wimpy nine year old named Max escapes his depressing life through dreams. As things get worse (his parents fight, he's bullied at school, he doesn't like his fourth grade teacher), his dreams take on substance and become real.

Suddenly Shark Boy and Lava Girl appear in his classroom so they can take him off to the Planet Drool because it's about to be destroyed. And since it's his dream creation, he's the only one who can save it.

When it's in 3D, the film looks murky. Maybe it was trying to watch it with the 3D glasses over my own bifocals. Yes, you do get that nifty effect of sharks swimming over your head, but there's no vivid color. Everything was dark and kind of fuzzy.

"Shark Boy, etc." was written, directed, and produced by Robert Rodriguez. He also wrote the music and supervised the special effects. One of the warning signs of a major turkey is seeing the same name in various key positions. (Not everyone is Orson Welles). I've got a sneaking suspicion that Robert Rodriguez is a pseudonym for George Lopez, who's all over this film. He's the kid's teacher, and the dream villain, and the Ice King and the Robot. I didn't keep track, but Lopez probably has about as much screen time as little Max and the adorable kids in the title roles.

It's not a bad movie for kids. Despite a number of fart jokes, it's not scary or gory, and there's a happy ending Max and the bully Linus become friends and Max's parents decide to stay together. And everyone decides it's a good idea not to be selfish.

However, I'd seriously recommend sneaking out and seeing "Cinderella Man" or "Batman Begins" once "Shark Boy, Etc." starts rolling.

Or wait until it comes out on DVD (very soon, I'm sure).

Posted by judy5cents at 4:30 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 15 June 2005 7:42 AM EDT
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