Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Il viaggio a Italia

Real life interfered with blogging life for a while. I had a lot of work to catch up with, and then I was preparing for a fabulous two-week visit to Italy with my mother. She goes to Italy every couple of years, and it's my turn to go with her. We will go to Pompeii, Florence, Bergamo and Como (the last two are in Northern Italy in the mountains). I set up a travel blog, please visit!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Not enough lipstick

So now our fiscally responsible Jefferson County Commission wants to hire 'em some PR. According to an article in the Birmingham Business Journal, they've put out an RFP (Request for Proposal) for someone to do "multimedia public relations including radio, television, newspapers and magazines."

OK, so are these the same "radio, television newspapers and magazines" that the Commission thinks AREN'T telling the great things the county is doing? The "media" who are just focusing on the negatives - you know, like cutting out $26 million dollars from arts programs that are one of those positive things that we could tell people about except well, we won't HAVE them anymore.

And I guess these are the same media outlets that get eleventy-hundred self-serving press releases a day (full disclosure - as a PR person I've sent my share of them, which is how I know this) and the commission actually thinks that their PR guy/gal is going to get a serious reading of them?

No, what will happen is that the firm will come back and tell the Commission that they will have to buy time if they want their message out. And that's more taxpayer money getting spent to tell taxpayers they're not getting ripped off, that everything is fine, just move along now, and whatever you do, don't look behind the curtain.

In 2004, the County Commission had a $250,000 contract with a PR firm, and that didn't even include the cost of the ads. By 2006, the county had spent $202,000 for PR work over 15 months, and $320,000 more to print and mail four newsletters (Birmingham News, April 2, 2006)

There's always a question about how money could be better spent, but considering that the County Commission is thought of just as highly (actually lowly) today as it was in 2004, even though it's a new group, the argument could be made that $570,000 of OUR money was spent on programs that didn't work. Maybe it could have been better spent on crime prevention programs or parks or potholes.

If you're doing your job, a communications or PR pro can help you communicate with the public. If you're doing a lousy job, the only thing PR does is wastes money and makes the public and press even more cynical. And if you keep doing it, then, well, it's the definition of insanity.

Sorry guys, you can call yourselves fiscally responsible conservatives, but you're just trying to put lipstick on a pig.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

On black armbands and hope

I'm wearing a black armband Friday to protest the war in Iraq. It's part of a national movement (see to break your daily routine the 3rd Friday of each month as a public demonstration of how many people want the war to end.

So when I go to the doctor's office, when I wait in the driver's license office for my new 16-year-old to get her license, I'll be wearing something I haven't put on since we protested the Vietnam War in high school. Maybe someone will ask about it. Maybe I'll have a chance to engage someone in a conversation.

One thing I know for sure - it is a pitiful and lame response to the catastrophe that is Iraq, and as glad as I am that there is something I can do it feels almost worse than doing nothing. No soldier will evade an IED because of my armband. No wife will get her husband back earlier because of my piece of cloth. No Iraqi family will get to stay in their home instead of leaving everything behind just to survive, because I have a different wardrobe one day a month.

But it is something, I guess. As we learn from quantum physics, the smallest change in the smallest particle is still a change. Enough small changes, and pretty soon everything is going in a different direction.

Small changes can coalesce when we little people take a stand and then recognize a fellow spirit. When I'm walking through my neighborhood and I see a blue dot sticker, I smile, I recognize a kindred spirit, I don't feel so alone and I feel like maybe I can do something more. I feel hope.

I might only be a quark (a blue quark in a red photon field?) but I can do something. And maybe it will give me the courage to do more.

"Maybe life's meaning is not so much found, as it is made." Opus, by Berke Breathed

It was 16 years ago today...

Well, this picture is from more like 14 year ago. But my baby turns 16 today. Oh, the stories I could tell, but I won't. I'll save those for the 18th birthday!

Now she's getting her driver's license! Some cultures have bat mitzvahs, others have quinceaneras, Southerners have drivers licenses as their rites of passage. And even though I'm not from the South, both my daughters are. So we will make the trek tomorrow to the license office and if we're successful (it's a long line!) she will drive by herself to her birthday party Sunday. I will be right behind her, of course. She can leave the nest but for a while it will be more like a bungee jump so I can reel her back in.

So here's to a great kid - writer, poet, animal lover, kind to people, lots of friends. She's already making a difference in the world and we are expecting greater things in the future!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Breaking: Water is Wet!

An article in the Los Angeles Times today tells about a study that demonstrates
liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.

We are also open to new experiences, and those mindsets apply to our everyday decisions as well as politics. (Of course, for some of us, politics IS an everyday decision!)

People who identified as conservative tended to respond in a "knee-jerk fashion" during the test.
Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives

A researcher who was not connected with the study said

the results could explain why President Bush demonstrated a single-minded commitment to the Iraq war and why some people perceived Sen. John F. Kerry... as a "flip-flopper" for changing his mind...
He added that liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas.

Even with the danger of uncritically accepting every new bit of information that passes my way, I still see the liberal mindset as a better way to live in a constantly changing world. It certainly makes life a lot more interesting and fun when you're always learning and enjoying new experiences.

(This isn't a partisan thing. I know plenty of Republicans who are educated, informed and able to look at all facets of a situation. And there are an awful lot of Democrats, at least here in Alabama, who want to do things the way they've always been done and are interested only in perpetuating the existing power structure.)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Politics, Parenting and the Democratic Cowards in Congress

As I watch our Fearless Leader in action - his sociopathic disregard for other human beings, his obsession with his own image and legacy - it occurs to me that my lifelong commitment to not telling other people how to raise their children might have been misplaced.

How different might our country be today if someone, anyone, had told GWB "No" just once in his life? What if his Dad didn't get him out of National Guard duty? What if his mom hadn't enabled his drinking problem? What if he had had to pay the consequences, just once, for his actions? (And no, "crying" is not a consequence, but merely more self-indulgence.)

Now, I'm not the world's best mother. Much of my disinclination to give advice to other parents comes from my understanding that they might not approve of me, either. When my children were young, and they didn't like something I made them do or kept them from doing, I would tell them I was trying for my place in the Bad Mom Hall of Fame. Later, my older daughter told me I wasn't really a Bad Mom, so I changed it to the Mean Mom Hall of Fame.

My point to them was that I was not their friend but their parent. It was my job to love them unconditionally but to insure that they knew how to behave in civilized society. That meant that we never considered ourselves better, or worse, than anyone else. We encouraged and appreciated their achievements, but emphasized that those were just part of the whole person. I made sure to ask what their friends were good at, what things other people did better than they did, what they learned from others and vice versa.

It also meant that we took what seemed like small infractions very seriously. We really didn't have very many rules, but the ones we had we were serious about. You don't lie, you don't cheat, you don't steal. You are kind to people and creatures and the world around you. If you cut off the cat's whiskers ("Mom, do you think that Tigger's whiskers are too long?") you get a stern discussion of how cats use their whiskers for feeling around and if it's dark and she starts to bump into things it is your fault. If you take a quarter out of the cash box at the nature center and try to tell me you found it on the floor, you not only don't get a candy bar, you find out about how we use the money to buy food for the animals and when you steal you are taking food out of a cute little flying squirrel's mouth and now you can do some community service by cleaning out cages.

And if you are caught at 2 a.m. in a church parking lot playing the Flaming Tennis Ball of Death game, you get grounded for a month even though the reason you snuck out of the house in the first place is that it is so UNFAIR that you're 16 and you have to be home at 10 p.m. in the SUMMER!

What does this have to do with politics? The Democrats in Congress are acting like parents who just want their children to like them. Well, let me tell you - your children will not like you. They will scream at you and call you names and pout behind closed doors and write nasty things about you on livejournal that they will not let you read. It doesn't matter because you know that you're doing the right thing.

Democrats are cowering before Republicans, the 30 percenters, when the vast majority of Americans want us out of Iraq. Democrats are afraid of being called names if they don't give in. Well, you're going to get called names no matter what you do - it's part of being the responsible party. Grow a thicker skin and do the right thing.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Best Birthday Ever

Actually it was last week, but I have to share what my amazingly talented children gave me for my 51st birthday. Genny created a painting, in green which reflects my nature nuttiness, and Anna wrote a poem that nearly moved me to tears.*

We ate out at Fish Market (I enjoyed an oyster poorboy which was definitely NOT on my diet!) and then went by Publix for a cake - I had two, count 'em, two slices of this chocolate and whipped cream concoction. Phil's best gift was to not tease me about how far I seemed to backslide.

I have hung the painting and the poem on the wall in my home office, where I can see it and be inspired.

subtract nothing, multiply the marble

If I could count the things
you've done for me,
the number would stretch beyond
the atmosphere-
explaining to me the
secrets of Pi,
and why I always get
a B in math.

But no numerical equation
could fit all the wonders
of you, mother.
X equals carrying me out
of the bathroom when I
had finished a shower.
Y is rock-a-bye baby.
Z is long conversations,
telling me it'll be alright.
There aren't enough letters,
not even numbers
to figure us out.

But I am no mathematician.
Thoroughly an artist, always.

So I think of myself carved from
marble, beginning as a clean cube
at birth, slowly being chipped
and molded. I'll never forget who it
was that made my hand so smooth,
that sanded down my fingertips and
engraved in the creases.

I'm a statue not yet finished,
parts of me so mysterious,
who knows how perfect they could be.

But I'll never forget my sculptor,
and never be finished until the final touch,
that final scratch or scar,
is etched on by you.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A Series of Fortunate Events

It could have been angels or Jungian synchronicity. I'll take plain dumb luck as an explanation for why my friend and I walked away from what could have been a horrific auto accident Friday.

We were on our way to New Orleans, toodling along about 70 in the fast lane. We'd been on the road 20 minutes or so after a stop for lunch and fuel. Then wham! - a big cardboard box flies off the flatbed truck in front of us, whop! onto the road not five feet in front of the car. Verna steers to the left to get around it, but there's not enough time and whap! we hit the box and start spinning. One spin, two spins, backward across two lanes of traffic (you could see the skid marks) onto the embankment, then the rear tire catches in the soft ground, but we're going down hill and the car tips over onto my side. I see grass slide by and then whup!- we're upright again in a small pile of dry brush. The whole thing took maybe 10 seconds, and we walked away.

We did go to the UAB emergency room (my darling husband drove the 70 miles from Birmingham to pick us up) to get checked out but there are just a couple of bruises and some back strain.

This is the series of fortunate events:

  • When we stopped for gas, Verna asked me if I wanted to drive her car, and I said no, let's switch the next time we stop. If I had been driving, I don't think I'd have been familiar enough with the car to handle an emergency. She did a superb job.
  • The box that fell was packed with acoustic foam ceiling tiles, as opposed to a box of pipe joints or other shrapnel. We basically crushed it when we ran over it, so it flipped into the median and although the road was covered with pieces of foam, it didn't cause any other damage.
  • The biggie - nobody hit us when we were spinning. That's what I was terrified of and I still get a shiver when I think of it. Everyone was driving the speed limit and the people behind us saw what happened and slowed down.
  • The embankment had been mowed recently so there weren't any hidden things to run over. And there weren't any of those ridiculous real estate signs either - I would have hated for one of them to go through my window when the car rolled. And that "clear zone" that ALDOT gets harassed about by tree-huggers like me? I am sure glad it was there.
  • The only pile of dry branches and limbs in a mile was right where we landed. I did have to yell at Verna to turn off the car (don't want any fires) but it made for a much softer landing than the brush and trees.
  • A state trooper was on his way to another wreck and happened by 30 seconds after we came to rest. He was terrific and very helpful.
  • I had my camera with me and the first thing I did after I got out of the car was to reach back in and get it and start taking pictures. It always helps to be able to document.
  • And of course we were wearing our seatbelts. If we had not (and I never put a car into gear without fastening my seatbelt) then we would have been tossed around and probably broken our necks.
Some wreck investigators came to the scene, and they said accidents like this usually end up with someone in the ICU or dead. It makes us angrier as we think about it, that someone didn't take five extra minutes to thoroughly secure their load and my kids nearly ended up orphans. C'mon people, pay attention - imagine your mom is driving behind you (and that you like her) and tie down your payload accordingly.