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Books make great gifts. Autographed books are even better, especially an autographed book by someone really famous. But the absolute best gift would be an autographed book by someone really famous with all the proceeds going to a worthy cause.
Well it's here. Just go to ebay and bid on a signed copy of The Seventeen Traditions by activist and perennial presidential candidate Ralph Nader. The entire price you pay for the book will go directly to Phoenix Emplyoment Ministries, a non-profit organization in Wilmington NC which helps the homeless and nearly homeless find work. I'm a volunteer there and I can attest to the huge difference this group has made in the lives of our clients. With the economy in freefall, the list of people needing our services has grown while our donations have dropped. What we do works and we can use your help
Well, it's been two weeks since the election and I'm still amazed about the outcome. Not only have we elected the first African American president, but President-Elect Obama (oooh, I just love saying that, "President-Elect Obama") is conducting his transition just as expertly as he did his grueling two year campaign--calmly, deliberately and with the help of some very highly qualified policy advisers.
One good thing about these arduous campaigns, we really do get to know the candidate we've elected. Whatever flaws they have, we know them all at the start. There's no way of telling how those flaws will hurt their presidency, but looking back at the major presidential disasters over the years, you have to say "Well, it isn't like we didn't know."
When we elected Ronald Reagan, we knew he was an actor. So what did he do for eight years? He "played" the part of the president while other people ran the country. Hence, the Iran-Contra scandal. While he busy answering letters from ten year old boys wanting their bedrooms declared federal disaster areas, (just like fan mail from his old Hollywood days) Ollie North and company were selling arms to moderate Iranians to fund the anti-Sandinistas in Nicaragu, against the rule of Congress.
We all knew that Bill Clinton was a womanizer. Or to be blunt about it, this was a guy who just couldn't keep it in his pants. Remember the flap about Genifer Flowers? He also had a huge ego and we knew that too. I can't say I was exactly surprised by the Monica Lewinsky fiasco, but I was disappointed. I'd hoped he'd have been smart enough not to get blow jobs from a White House intern in the Oval Office.
We also were well aware of George Bush's problems, although they were presented as strengths. He was a charming ne'er-do-well, the rebellious son of a wealthy, respected politician. He'd spent his whole life dependent on his family name, using it to get out of going to Viet Nam, to get into Harvard, to buy a baseball team. But he was never very good at anything besides drinking too much and being charming, until he found Jesus and gave up drinking. Bush came into his presidency determined to show his dad he really could be Somebody, and he did that by refighting the Gulf War with the intention of winning it. Look how that turned out.
So at this point, what do we know about Barack Obama? He's a great speaker, he's intelligent, he's willing to ask for help, he's always worked hard for whatever he wanted. Here's a list of the bad stuff:
To buy his house, he made a deal with shady Chicago developer Tony Rezko, recently convicted for fraud and bribery.
He attended a church where the minister, Rev. Jeramiah Wright said "God damn America," although it's not known if Mr. Obama was sitting in the pews during that particular sermon.
He is loosely acquainted with a former 1960s radical named William Ayers, head of the infamous Weathermen, who believed they could end the war by blowing things up like the Pentagon and the Haymarket Riot Memorial statue in Chicago. (By the way, the only people the Weathermen ever killed were three of their own members who died putting together a nail bomb). Mr. Obama was a guest in Mr. Ayers' home at a "Meet The Candidate" night and they served together on an anti-poverty foundation called the Woods Fund.
That's pretty much it. There have been no stories of exessive partying or DUIs. There have been none of the Bimbo alerts that plagued Bill Clinton. Unlike the Actor-In-Chief Ronald Reagan, he's not snoozing while others do the real work. His problems have been the things said and done by people he's known, not the things that he's said and done. Okay, he did say that poor people are clinging to guns and religion and he did make that remark about the price of arugula, hardly a scandal in the making.
If President Obama can run his administration in the same disciplined, focused manner he ran his campaign, I really believe he can turn the country around.
I can't stand Sarah Palin. I didn't think I could despise a politician as much as I did George Bush, but leave it to the Republicans to replace the outgoing president in my (lack of) affections.
Fortunately, a good portion of the country is coming to its senses, realizing that giving the secret bomb codes to a woman who has to bone up on foreign policy and believes that the world was created 4,000 years ago is not such a good idea. And perhaps, we've all grown a bit weary of her line "And I told Congress, 'Thanks but no thanks' on that Bridge To Nowhere." Especially since it's been made quite clear that she was very much in favor of that bridge before she was against it. Not to mention that she didn't actually say "no thanks" to Congress. Alaska kept the money.
But perhaps what irks me the most about her candidacy is that all those conservatives who talk about family values and like to quote the bible passage "Wives submit to your husbands" are now calling people sexist who dare say anything about who will be taking care of her children while she's running the country.
She presents herself as being just like us--a working mom who takes pride in doing it all. Sure, she'd be able to take care of her family and govern the country without missing a beat. No problem. Lots of women have demanding careers and family and who are we to say they can't?
But it's not just a demanding job, she'll be a heartbeat away from being Leader of the Free World. And it's not just a normal happy family, it's a son in Iraq, a pregnant teen aged girl and a little boy with Down Syndrome who needs more than just a caregiver. He needs special intervention to make sure he reaches his full potential. Can she just put all that out of her mind and deal with the problems of the presidency?
I would like to go on record saying that I don't want people who are "just like us" running the country. For the last eight years, we've had the Guy We'd Most Like To Have A Beer With as president and look where we are now--up to our necks in disaster. God help us with the Hockey Mom In Chief.
I'm taking comfort in quotes from Geraldine Ferraro. Remember her? She was Walter Mondale's running mate when he ran against Ronald Reagan in 1984. She said she drew crowds wherever she went. People wanted to see her and they looked like they adored her, but that didn't translate into votes in November. Reagan won with a landslide.
But what's really restored my confidence in Obama is the way he's handled everything. He rises above the jibes and attacks, answering them all calmly and sagely, then saying "Let's get back to the issues here." He looks like he's in charge of his own campaign, as opposed to McCain, who's so obviously being handled, along with his running mate, who's probably not allowed out of the house without a chaperone. (I expect a Sarah Palin "Macaca" moment any day now)
Anyway, I sure hope at the end of all this, Sarah Palin and her brood will disappear from the radar and go back to Alaska. I like to believe that McCain and Palin made a secret deal--she runs for the vice presidency, shoring up the base for him, then after winning in November, she resigns, saying she needs to spend more time with her family, thus giving President McCain the chance to appoint Joe Lieberman vice president.
Pretty cool strategy. And it would be the first time a politician cited "wanting to spend more time with my family" as a reason for quitting and we'd really believe them.
Along with about a billion or so other people, I watched Barack Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention last night, and I can't help feeling amazed. We've finally done it, a major party has nominated a man of color as its candidate for President of the United States.
African Americans have run for the office before, but they were always long shots, with no real expectation of winning the nomination. They were there mostly to express a point of view rather than compete. The country is not ready to elect a black man as president, we were always told.
Well, I think we're ready now.
Polls are showing McCain and Obama in a dead heat. The talking heads say there are too many people out there who believe Obama is too liberal, too young, too inexperienced and a closet Muslim with ties to Arab terrorists. (Not because he's black, no one's going to admit to being a racist even to an anonymous pollster)
Years ago, my high school history teacher talked about the polls taken in 1940 when Franklin Roosevelt ran against Wendell Wilkie. The results showed that Wilkie had a substantial margin over FDR and was expected to win. But here was something the pollsters did not consider. People who couldn't afford telephones supported Roosevelt. And they came out in droves to vote for him, re-electing him to a third term.
The same could be true of Obama. Polls are conducted on landlines. A good many of Obama's supporters communicate soley through cell phones. They will certainly come out in droves to vote for him, even though their views never appear in the polling results we see every night on the news.
Of course, the only poll that counts is the one taken on November 4th. Can't wait to see how that one turns out.
Last month I turned 52 and I bought myself a tiara. I've always wanted to wear a tiara ever since the first time my mother let me stay up to watch the Miss America Pageant. I'm pretty sure that no one's going to give me a tiara, so I figured it was a good time to go buy one.
Which I did, along with a matching rhinestone necklace. And thus a birthday tradition was born. It has now become the Coveted Birthday Tiara and Matching Precious Sklinkles of Joy Necklace.
I was photographed wearing them and then wrote down what little wisdom I've gained in 52 years. Then I boxed it up and sent it to my mother, who will do the same, then box it up and send it to my sister Nancy. And so on. We will start our own little blog so we can all see each other's answers.
Here's what it's taken me 52 years to learn:
1) When a torrential downpour accompanied by a cold North wind during a camping trip to the Outer Banks forced me to spend 36 hours in a wet sleeping bag, I've learned to always appreciate being warm and dry.
2) Old habits die hard and even then, there are some that have amazing recuperative powers.
3) Having found myself at a point where I have nothing to worry about, I spend an awful lot of time worrying about nothing.
4) Money can't buy happiness and poverty doesn't necessarily bring despair, but you sure do sleep better when you are debt free with money in the bank.
5) Like it or not, you will turn into your mother sooner or later. And you won't mind it nearly as much as you thought you would.
6) A lot of things you've always wanted are over-rated. But having a baby isn't.
7) As a lifelong cat person, I have since learned to treasure the love and loyalty of a good dog. Unlike husbands and surly 12 year olds, dogs are always glad to see you no matter how bad their own day has been.
8) Getting a book published does not change your life nearly as much as you expect it to.
9) It's good to feel useful, and there's nothing more useful than helping people who really need your help.
10) Bad things will happen to you or people you love for no reason. But there will always be family, friends and even strangers who will get you through.
11) Marriage is not like dating. It's like going into business with a drinking buddy. You still get to have a beer together once in a while, but you have to work together to make sure the bills are paid, the kids are fed, the laundry done and the house cleaned at least once in a while. The purpose of dating is to have fun and impress the other person. Once you're married, you find having fun becomes a low priority and nobody's impressed any more.
12) On a cold winter night, it's nice to have a familiar warm body to snuggle up to. Even if he snores. Even if you snore.
I'm still on a runner's high. Instead of sleeping in on Saturday, I ran the Tri-Span 5K/10K along with a few hundred other folks. Seeing as how I'm pretty sure my 52 year old knees can't handle 6.4 miles off running, I opted for the 5K.
I finished the race with a time of 37:53. My goal was 1) to run the entire race without stopping to walk, which I did, and 2) not to come in last, which I also managed to pull off, finishing 72nd out of 92 females, not to mention second in the 50-54 age group Only 16 seconds separated me from the first place finisher, so if I'd pushed a little harder, I could have won. How about that?
What's so cool, is that I was one of those non-athletic lumps who was always chosen last for team sports and avoided exercise like the plague. Funny how age has a way of leveling things out. Now I'm the fit one, and all those 1970s gym class heroes are all probably sitting on the couch, eating chips and watching cable.
So a shout-out to all you fifty-somethings, get off the couch and move. It doesn't take that long to get up to running a 5K (3.2 miles) and you're a winner just by showing up and finishing.
Sometimes I think authors (myself included) can be pretty dense when it comes to marketing, at least in our efforts on social networking websites. It seems like whenever I get a friend request it's from another writer. When I get a comment, it's from a writer talking up his or her latest release. On Goodreads, when I get a book recommendation, more often than not, it was sent by the book's author.
I've never bought any of their books. I've never even gone to the library and borrowed their books. There are so many requests for my attention, it's like the junk mail I barely glance at before throwing in the recycling bin.
Why do authors seek out other authors when trying to promote themselves? We're all far more interested in selling our own books than buying someone else's. Granted, there is a benefit in networking with other authors, but sending out announcements of book signings and favorable reviews is not networking. It's little more than an annoyance.
Even though I'm doing it sporadically and ineptly, my goal is to seek out and interest readers. I'm looking for the people who were smart enough never to start that book that everyone has lurking within them, the ones who are content to read other people's stories rather than write their own.
If you're a writer who's discovered a new way to get in touch with readers, please let me know. If you're just letting me know that the latest book in your paranormal romance vampire detective series has just been released, go ahead and delete me.
At this moment my 12 year old daughter is sweating through the EOG tests, otherwise known as the dreaded End Of Grade tests. She's been taking them since she was in the third grade and it seems like every year the pressure increases.
I've never put much faith in standardized testing. In another lifetime, I trained to be a teacher and one of the things I learned is that tests are only as good as the people who put them together. Coming up with test questions that measure the required skills and knowledge of any given grade level is a difficult task.
For example, back when she was in third grade, my daughter brought home an EOG practice test to work on. She was stumped by this question:
Where would you go to find Treasure Island in the library?
The answer was the card catalog.
Now, my daughter was born in 1995. She's never seen a card catalog as they were all replaced by computers before she was born. I pointed this out to her teacher, who thanked me and said that I shouldn't worry, this question wouldn't be on the real test. Since the test is kept secret, I have no way of knowing that there aren't more questions to which the children of the 21st century can't possibly answer.
The whole idea of holding schools "accountable" by measuring students' progress with a one-size-fits-all test is ludicrous. Treating schools like corporations where the best organizations survive and the low performers fall by the wayside is also ludicrous.
When I saw presidential candidate Barack Obama last month, he said that holding schools accountable was a good idea, but instead of punishing the low performing schools, we needed to give them whatever they needed to improve.
My daughter will be glad when the tests are over, as will I. Someday I hope we'll come up with a system for measuring progress that doesn't involve number 2 pencils and filling in grids.
The yellow ribbons will be taken down in Batavia, Ohio. After four years, missing Batavia soldier Matt Maupin will be coming home. Sadly, it will be in a flag draped coffin, but he’s coming home. Yesterday an Army general told Keith and Carolyn Maupin that troops had recovered a body in Iraq and that DNA tests confirmed the body was their son’s.
You probably have forgotten, it has been four years since Matt Maupin was all over the news. He was the soldier captured by insurgents in Baghdad. Al-Jazeera broadcast video of him sitting on the floor held at gunpoint by five masked men. Later a grainy video of an American soldier executed by firing squad was also released, but officials said it was impossible to identify the soldier who was shot.
The news media went on to other stories since 2004, but the Maupins and the entire town of Batavia waited for Matt to come home. There were yellow ribbons on every parking meter on Main Street and most of the houses. Week after week the Maupin family was on every church’s prayer list. Through the years, the ribbons became bedraggled and shabby looking, and have been replaced a few times since then. But the prayers never stopped.
This is not the way anyone wanted this to end. But at least the Maupins have some certainty now. They can stop the vigil they’ve been holding for the last four years and begin the greiving . And maybe they’ll find a little peace at last.