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Rantings of a Crazed Soccer Mom
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 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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Tuesday, 26 July 2005
Being A College Sophomore--Three of The Best Years of My Life
My husband and I won’t be paying for our daughter’s college education.

I hear all of you gasping in disbelief. What sort of parents are we to refuse to pay for our only child to attend college?

Here’s the deal. I was 39 when my daughter was born, which means I’ll be 61 when she graduates from college. According to CNN, the annual average cost of a four year state university is $11,354, and that includes room and board. Private colleges have an annual average cost of $27,516. That was in 2004. Who knows what it will cost in the fall of 2013 when our daughter graduates from high school?

We just can’t come up with that kind of money so close to retirement. That’s a time when you need to eliminate debt, not take on more. A 22 year old with a whole working future ahead of her will be in a much better position to pay off college debt than a couple living off of IRAs and pensions. We could even become a burden to her if our money runs out because we spent so much on her education.

The high cost of college makes it nearly impossible to save up enough to cover the entire cost, even if you start from the day your child is born, which we have done.

I realize it isn’t fair. I went to Beloit College, in Beloit, Wisconsin then transferred to Kent State University in Ohio. I had the opportunity to go off to a liberal arts college, take courses in Greek Mythology and 20th Century American Literature, and concentrate on finding myself.

Of course, my parents never paid for my education. I was injured in a car accident when I was seven years old and my father made some wise investments with the settlement money.

By the way, I was sitting in the front seat and not wearing a seat belt. (It was 1963 and people just didn’t use seat belts like they do now.) I suppose that’s a possible source of college funding, but I’m obviously not willing to have my daughter sit up front without a seat belt and wait for someone with insurance to cause an accident.

My daughter’s college experience will not be like mine. She won’t go off to a private college, unless she can manage to obtain a full scholarship. Most likely, she will attend a state university and live at home while she does it. She’ll also have to work part-time while she goes to school. She’ll scrounge around for grants and scholarships and she’ll take out student loans.

It is my hope that with the responsibility of paying for her education fully on her shoulders, she will choose a field that will give her the best chance of paying off her loans. I certainly don’t want her to go into debt to major in music or art history. Don’t get me wrong, music and art history are worthy pursuits, but there just aren’t a lot of employers out there with a burning need for musicians and art historians.

We want the best for our daughter, but in addition to learning to appreciate Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, we’d like her to develop the ability to manage money, to use her time wisely and to experience the pride of accomplishing her goals on her own, without a lot of help from Mom and Dad.

Posted by judy5cents at 9:45 AM EDT
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Friday, 22 July 2005
Stil Missing

Over the July 4th holiday, we went back to my home town of Batavia, Ohio, a great place to grow up by the way. Everyone knew your business so everyone stayed out of trouble.

It used to be like Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, but lately it’s become a bit of a ghost town. When the Eastgate Mall opened in 1978, all the local stores that sold groceries and hardware and major appliances closed down. So most of the real estate on Main Street has been taken over by county offices. (Batavia is the county seat).

One thing you notice right away is the bedraggled yellow ribbons hanging everywhere. They’ve been out since April of last year, when Batavia resident Pfc. Keith Matthew Maupin was taken hostage by insurgents in Iraq. He was reported to have been executed June 28, 2004 when the Arab television network Al-Jazeera broadcast a fuzzy video showing a soldier identified as Pfc. Maupin shot in the head. But US officials declared the video inconclusive.

Officially Sgt Maupin (he was promoted in absentia) is missing in action, assumed to be a prisoner of war.

This was a story you heard a lot about. My parents saw the big news trucks parked on Main Street while the people from the news networks interviewed the locals about how awful it was to lose one of their own in this war. President Bush even spoke to Sgt. Maupin’s parents when he came to Cincinnati during the 2004 campaign.

Sometimes I wonder when he’s thinking about the war, which he says he does every day, if he thinks about Matt Maupin and his family and friends.

Now he’s been forgotten. The nation’s attention has been diverted by Michael Jackson’s trial and Natalie Holloway’s disappearance and who wins on American Idol. It’s only one kid from a town no one’s ever heard of. It was sad, sure. But life goes on.

Life is on hold for the Maupins. Their son is gone, but there’s no body to bury and the Red Cross can’t send him CARE packages in prison. No one knows where he is and no one seems to care.

Except for the people in Batavia. The ribbons are still there. The Snappy Tomato at the corner of Main and Riverside Drive still implores us to pray for Matt Maupin and his family. Everyone in town continues to show their support of the Maupin family. Even without the cameras rolling

Posted by judy5cents at 4:49 PM EDT
Updated: Friday, 22 July 2005 8:28 PM EDT
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Thursday, 21 July 2005
But My Friends Think It's Wondefrul

You’ve got a great idea. You’ve come up with a revolutionary new product that will make millions. All your friends tell you they love it and they’ll buy it. You contacted the Help For Inventors group you saw advertised on television and they’re telling you it’s the best thing they’ve ever seen and it will sell like hot cakes, especially when you do the infomercial. You’ve gotten your patent and all you need to do is find someone to manufacture it. Shouldn’t be a problem, this is a gold mine. Anyone would be a fool not to jump on your bandwagon.

So you find a plastic molding injection firm and you talk to the person in charge. If you happen to call Continental Plastics of Florida, it would be my sister Amy. And it’s her job to stomp all over your dream. She even posted an inventors' FAQ on her website, but it doesn’t keep the inventors from calling to pitch their great ideas.

The truth is that it’s damn near impossible to persuade people to part with their money for something they don’t buy on a regular basis.

Think about all the Kay-Tel commercials you’ve seen (It slices! It dices! It julliennes!) Did you buy any of that stuff? No, of course you didn’t. You didn’t need it. Or want it. You went right on chopping your vegies with a knife, like always. And when was the last time you bought anything you saw on an informecial?

Amy tells me of the inventors she deals with all day long. Like the sippy cup lady. She had come up with a plastic shelf for storing sippy cups. Apparently that’s a huge problem. Sippy cups all over the place. Her little shelf provided a handy place to store ten cups.

There was a time when we had sippy cups at our house, although I think it was just one or two. Looking at photographs of my daughter, there was always one sitting on the kitchen table. Sippy cup storage was obviously not a priority for me. The kitchen table worked just fine.

When Amy explained that Continental Plastics was not interested in producing the shelf because there was no market for it, the woman was incredulous. Up until that phone call, she’d only received praise and encouragement for her idea. No one had ever told her that people wouldn’t want to buy it.

Bringing an invention to the masses takes a huge amount of time and money. Watch Oprah and you’ll see stay-at-home moms who are millionaires now because of one great little invention. But they’re the exception. That’s why they’re on Oprah. I’d like to see Oprah inteview one of the thousands, if not millions, of people who lost $100,000 or more on some great little invention that nobody wanted to buy.

It’s been said during the California Gold Rush that the only people who got rich were the merchants who sold supplies to the miners. And it’s the same for inventors The real money in inventions comes in providing services to the inventor, like the patent lawyers, the inventor’s assistance groups, the infomercial production companies. Just as the shop keeper in California didn’t care whether the miner struck gold with the pick axe he'd sold him, none of these service providers has any stake in your product taking off. They make just as much money if you fail miserably.

So if you think you've got a great idea, by all means follow your dream. But don't bet the farm on it.

Posted by judy5cents at 8:31 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 20 July 2005
The Middle Aged Woman Who Read A Book

I have finished Harry Potter And the Half Blood Prince. I now know who dies and who the Half-Blood Prince is and who snogs who. It takes a lot of time to get through a 652 page book, so I skipped yesterday’s entry. Hope you all don’t mind.

Anyway, I feel as if I’ve eaten an entire box of Chocolate Frogs. An immensely enjoyable experience to be sure, but you feel a bit bloated when you’re done and more than a bit sad that the candy’s all gone now. It’s even worse knowing that there’s only one more book left in the series. After that one, there will be no more Harry Potter books. That truly is a sad prospect.

J.K. Rowling is an amazingly gifted story teller. She has what Stephen King calls “the gotta.” As in you just gotta keep reading to find out what happens next. When describing “the gotta” in the book Misery, King even goes so far as to compare it to a particular sexual technique practiced by cheap hookers. It’s that guilty pleasure of staying up late with a book that you can’t put down.

I’d say Rowling has more of the gotta than any writer in history, but her writing style is not the greatest. Since I’ve read the books so many times, I find her overuse of the word “muttered” instead of the word “said” irritating. And she has an annoying habit of describing how every character says each sentence– Hagrid said gruffly. Harry said loudly. Ron said brusquely. Hermione said uncertainly. Dumbledore said calmly (Those were all found at random in Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, by the way.)

There’s a cardinal rule among writing groups–if you find an adverb, kill it. The idea is that the reader should be able to tell how the character said the sentence by the words themselves. “I know what you’ve been up to, Malfoy, you sleazy dark wizard!” he said. See? You already know he said it menacingly or icily, or forcefully or whatever.

Now of course, you’re all reminding me that Rowling has sold something like 200 million books. And you’re right. With that kind of success, she can use all the adverbs she wants. You can bet that hundreds of millions of people, including me, will still read the next book, adverbs and all.

Posted by judy5cents at 11:39 AM EDT
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Monday, 18 July 2005
Hangin's Too Good For Him
I believe the death penalty should be abolished.

For a long time, I waffled over the issue. On one hand, I honestly felt that killing was wrong, but then I would hear horrific descriptions of what a soon to be executed killer had done and my reaction was “Yeah, fry the bastard.”

It was Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing that changed my mind. Now here was a bastard who definitely deserved to be fried. He drove a truck full of explosives up to the Murrah Federal Building, fully aware of the daycare center on the first floor, where there were at least a couple dozen babies and toddlers.

He knew he was killing children.

McVeigh’s justification for the bombing was that it was in response to the siege by federal agents of David Karesh’s Waco, Texas compound. The standoff between Karesh and the Feds ended when the compound burst into flames. Depending on who you listen to, the fire was set either by Karesh going out in a blaze of glory, or agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms hoping to take him out for good. It was this second version of events which McVeigh believed.

He was also angry about a similar incident at Ruby Ridge and the execution of a leader of the militia movement.

The bombing was an act of revenge.

When I read about McVeigh’s reasons for this atrocity, I could see the possibility of more revenge bombings happening if McVeigh were executed. And then I realized that capital punishment is in reality state sponsored revenge. It has to stop.

Death penalty proponents ask me how I’d feel about capital punishment if it were my daughter who was raped and killed.

I know exactly how I’d feel. I’d want to go after the monster who killed her with a machete and hack him to pieces. Then I’d most likely want him to come back to life so I could kill him again. I would want to inflict as much pain and agony on him as I possibly could.

I do not want the state acting on behalf of my worst instincts. And I don’t believe the execution is humane or any less cruel just because it’s been made painless.

The National Coalition for the Abolishment of the Death Penalty (NCADP) gives these reasons for opposing state sponsored killing:

"First and foremost, the death penalty devalues all human life - eliminating the possibility for transformation of spirit that is intrinsic to humanity. Secondly, the death penalty is fallible and irrevocable - over one hundred people have been released from death row on grounds of innocence in this "modern era" of capital punishment. Thirdly, the death penalty continues to be tainted with race and class bias. It is overwhelmingly a punishment reserved for the poor (95% of the over 3700 people under death sentence could not afford a private attorney) and for racial minorities (55% are people of color). Finally, the death penalty is a violation of our most fundamental human rights - indeed, the United States is the only western democracy that still uses the death penalty as a form of punishment."

Timothy McVeigh died believing he was a martyr to his own cause. If he’d been given a life sentence without parole, maybe one day he’d have gotten out of bed and finally realized he had killed children. That what he had done in the name of freedom was wrong.

Abolishing the death penalty does not mean the inmates on death row will get away with murder. Life in prison is a miserable life, and if the killer lives a long time, that’s a lot of misery. And if it turns out he was wrongly convicted, we have the opportunity to make it right.

Except of course, in Texas, where they’ve never executed an innocent man.

Posted by judy5cents at 1:47 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 18 July 2005 1:50 PM EDT
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Friday, 15 July 2005
I Know, I'll Just Write A Bestselling Book And Become Stinking Rich
At the stroke of midnight tonight, J.K. Rawling’s book Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince will go on sale.

We’re buying it. We’ll be waiting until Saturday morning, ready to pay $17.95 so we can find out what happens to Harry this time around.

And that is why J.K. Rawling is so outrageously wealthy. Because people like us, that is people who never buy books in hardback, will always buy the newest Harry Potter book as soon as it comes out.

That’s an astounding feat, considering how many books were published this year. And I’m just talking about the ones from the major houses. You know, your Random House, your Harper Collins, your Simon and Schuster, your St. Martins, your Scholastic Books and so on. These are the books with the reviews in The New York Times and the feature articles in Newsweek and the author appearances on the Today Show.

We don’t buy those books. We wait for them to come out in paperback. Or we buy them used from Amazon Marketplace. Or borrow them from the library. Or maybe we’re just not interested in reading them at all, no matter how much advance publicity or how many rave reviews the book has received. We just don’t care.

And therein lies the paradox for authors. Because, even though we know we don’t spend that much money on books ourselves, especially the brand new hardcover editions on display at Barnes & Noble’s, we believe that Other People will buy our book. All yet-to-be published authors are absolutely sure that once their books get into print, they will fly off the shelves. All published authors (except for J.K. Rawling, of course) can attest to the fact that this particular scenario isn’t going to happen without a lot of work.

There’s a huge difference between somebody showing interest in your book and actually shelling out the money to buy it.

Now I happen to be a published author of an obscure mystery called Caviar Dreams. (Aside from a place to vent, this blog is also a feeble attempt at self-promotion.) As you probably have noticed, I’m nowhere near the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. If you look me up on Amazon, my official Sales Rank is #1,523,225. (It would help if Amazon didn't take three months to send it out and charge extra because it's a "hard to get" book) My royalty check this year wasn’t enough to cover dinner for one at Longhorn Steakhouse.

If you judge me by my book sales, I’m a dismal failure. But it’s not about making money. I decided a long time ago that success as an author would be when people I don't even know read my book, and they write to tell me they enjoyed it. That’s happened. More than once. I have a real book out there, it was published by a real publisher and anyone who wants to pay $15.00 (a bit much, but I don’t get to set the prices) can buy it.

And even though it’s not flying off the shelves anywhere, it’s still pretty damn cool to have a book out.

Posted by judy5cents at 11:51 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 15 July 2005 1:17 PM EDT
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