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Rantings of a Crazed Soccer Mom
Thursday, 7 July 2005
War On Whatever
How do we choose names for wars? Who gets to decide?

Because we’ve had so many of them, it’s imperative for us to name all our wars so we know which carnage we’re talking about when we study them in American History.

It’s been said that history is written by the winners. But the losing side still has its say.

Take the war that occurred in the 1860s between the Union Army of the northern states of America and the Confederate Army of the southern states of America. I was taught that it was called The Civil War (although there was nothing civil about it). Or The War Between The States. That’s in Ohio. Here in North Carolina it’s referred to as The War of Northern Aggression.

Not surprisingly, the war which we call The Viet Nam war is known as The American War to the people in Viet Nam. And the Iraqui people have taken to calling the war going on in their country The American War, even though the Americans refer to it as The War in Iraq. Or just Iraq.

Which brings us to The War On Terror. That’s what we call it. The folks on the other side call it something else. The War Against The Great Satan. Or The Holy War Against The Evil Crusaders.

I don’t believe you can really call what happened in the London subways this morning part of a war. In a war, there are two sides and they face each other in battle. We take your guys out then you take our guys out and we go back and forth like that until one of us gives up. That can go on for years, Having the president dress up in a flight suit and announce “Mission Accomplished” doesn’t do much toward ending it either.

But terrorists fight a different war. They don’t face anyone in battle. They hide in plain sight, taking advantage of the lack of restrictions in free societies like the US and Great Britain. Then they kill people who have no idea that they are fighting a war. People who are basically minding their own business, on their way to work.

Terrorists don’t call themselves terrorists. They probably like to call themselves Freedom Fighters or Soldiers In The War Against The Great Satan or just Martyrs For The Cause.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been hearing about terrorist attacks. Back in the 1970s, it was the Irish Republican Army (IRA) setting off bombs all over Britain. Palestinian terrorists killed the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The Symbionese Liberation Army robbed banks and kidnapped Patti Hearst in 1974. Militant students bombed buildings on college campuses. Terror is nothing new.

And in all that time, no one has come up with a way to stop it. We can’t nuke them. We can’t invade their home bases. We can’t attack them with tanks and rocket launchers and nuclear warheads. We can’t negotiate with them because that will only encourage them. We do our best to catch them and sometimes we take down a few. But unlike the National Guard, the Terrorist Army is having no trouble meeting their recruiting goals.

And so it goes. The only way it will end is for somebody to give up. And that’s not going to happen any time soon, no matter what this war is called.

Posted by judy5cents at 11:28 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 7 July 2005 11:35 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 6 July 2005
Oh, Evolve!
Who’d have thunk it? A would-be contender for the Darwin Awards right here in Wilmington NC.

If you’ve squandered enough of your life in meaningless pursuits on the Internet, you are no doubt aware of this dubious honor given to people who have improved the gene pool by removing themselves from it in incredibly stupid ways.

This past weekend, Floyd Masters jumped into Greenfield Lake and was attacked by a ten foot alligator. Fortunately for Mr. Masters, he was disqualified from the competition for the Darwin Award due to the fact that a couple of bystanders decided to rescue him.

Generally, if you see someone swimming in Greenfield Lake, you figure they’re too stupid to live anyway.

First of all, posted all around the lake are signs with big letters that say “No Swimming, Alligators in Lake” You can’t miss them. It was seeing those signs warning of alligators that made us realize that we really weren’t in Indiana any more.

The alligators aren’t always in the lake, but the snapping turtles are. They are not at all like your backyard box turtles. These guys mean business. Once we found one in the middle of the road by the lake and my husband tried to pick it up so it wouldn’t get run over. It flailed around and chomped at the air, prompting my husband to leave the turtle to whatever fate had in store for it, as he’d grown fond of all ten of his fingers.

And then there’s the water. It’s covered with a nasty looking green goo. Local environmentalists are working on clearing out the algae blooms, but it’s slow going. In the meantime you don’t want to go swimming in that crud.

Now, Greenfield Lake is a beautiful spot. It’s a great place to have picnics and people have weddings in the exquisitely landscaped gardens. You can go fishing and boating and watch the herons and the cormorants flying across the water. You can walk the five mile trail around the lake.

So if any of you out there decide to visit Greenfield Lake while you're in Wilmington, keep in mind that when the signs tell you to watch out for the alligators, you need to watch out for the alligators.

Posted by judy5cents at 10:18 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 6 July 2005 10:25 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 5 July 2005
You Know Rhenquist & Thomas & Ginsberg & Souter
Ginsberg, Thomas, O’Connnor, Breyer, Scalia, Kennedy, Rhenquist, Stevens, and Souter.

I just named all nine Supreme Court Justices from memory. Of course with the web being the ultimate reference librarian, I could have done a quick search to get the last two (I have a tendency to forget Stevens and Breyer). And there’s no way to prove that I didn’t sneak off to just now. You’ll have to trust me on this one.

I would bet that if you stopped the Average Joe on the street and asked him to name all nine members of the Supreme Court, he couldn’t come up with more than two or three. And he’d tell you he thinks there a group of stuffy old men (even though two of them are women now) who pass judgment on the rest of us. If he’s a conservative, he’ll probably have something to say about activist judges legislating from the bench.

I have the utmost respect for the Supreme Court, as opposed to the utter contempt I feel for the other two branches–the Legislative Branch (Congress) and the Executive Branch (Bush and Company). The Supreme Court Justices are the arbiters of the Constitution. They are the ultimate Check and Balance in our system of checks and balances. They are the last word and we all have to live with their decision.

Unless of course someone can come up with a better case on the issue. Otherwise the “separate but equal” decision of Plessy V. Feguson would still be in force.

Sandra Day O’Connor just announced her resignation last Friday, giving Team Bush the chance to select her replacement. This is something the Religious Right has been waiting for since Bush took office in January, 2001– the chance to get a real conservative judge on the Supreme Court.

Right now, Bush’s favorite is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Actually, I don’t have a problem with that. I realize Gonzales was the member of the Bush administration who wrote the memos that torture was pretty much all right for prisoners of war. But if Gonzales becomes a Supreme Court Justice, I’m sure he won’t be performing any torture in the Supreme Court or its offices. Or at least not very much.

James Dobson’s ultra-conservative “Focus on The Family” group has come out soundly against Gonzales, so that’s good enough for me.

Supreme Court Justices have a tendency to “evolve,” to go in as a conservative and become more liberal in their rulings as the years progress. Although according to Newsweek, Clarence Thomas insists that he “ain’t evolving,” and his judgments are just as conservative as ever.

I hope Bush decides to be a uniter instead of a divider and go for a judge that reflects the views of the majority of Americans, not just the arch-conservatives with the narrow minds and deep pockets. Someone in the center.

Like Sandra Day O’Connor.

Posted by judy5cents at 11:58 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 6 July 2005 10:22 PM EDT
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Thursday, 30 June 2005
It's OK With Me If You Serve Fish

I like animals. I believe animals deserve decent treatment and good homes. I believe it’s cruel to make animals suffer for something as frivolous as testing eye shadow and mascara. And I believe endangered species should be protected and animal habitat should be preserved.

The group calling itself People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) believes all these things as well. But once again they’ve taken it a step too far and made themselves to look fools.

PETA is demanding that the Pacific Aquarium in Long Beach CA stop serving fish in its cafeteria. Karin Robertson, speaking for PETA, likened the practice to serving “poodle burgers at a dog show” and pointed out that if the aquarium’s purpose is to promote an understanding and appreciation of marine creatures, serving them up for lunch undermines that mission.

Jerry Schubel, president of the Aquarium, said that the fish served in the cafeteria are either caught through humane fishing practices or harvested through fish friendly farming techniques. They do not suffer.

I’m not all that keen on fish, although I do enjoy grilled tuna now and again. I also like to eat meat, pork and chicken as well. I realize these were once living beings and they have been killed for my benefit. But as I also believe it’s perfectly natural to eat meat. It’s part of a balanced ecosystem. It’s no coincidence that the deer population exploded as the wolf population dwindled.

Killing animals has its place. Ironically, one of the most successful environmental organizations is Ducks, Unlimited which was started by duck hunters. Yes, these guys have figured out that if they want to keep on shooting ducks, the ducks’ habitat of wetlands has to be preserved and maintained. The people who enjoy killing them are the ones who are doing the most to save them.

PETA’s mission is worthwhile. I just wish they would learn to choose their battles more wisely.

Posted by judy5cents at 12:00 PM EDT
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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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