Friday, October 12, 2007

Stitching It All Together

I'm on a random rant this morning, the ideas swirling about in different areas, so forgive my mushing various topics into this one piece. It's what happens when you are working on diverse issues....

So on the topic of local politics and political parties. The other night I got to talk to Bob FitzSimmonds who is running for VA Delegate in my neck of the woods. He lives pretty close by, and he was one of the well behaved debaters I got to listen to last week so I figured, what the heck? Why not talk to him. He's a neighbor.

I started the conversation rather abruptly (those great social skills of mine coming through again) by turning around from walking out right past him and saying, "Hey! Do you live in Sheffield Manor?" (my subdivision). He said he lived in the one next door and then kind of asked who I was. So after being reminded that once again, I had not introduced myself, I did so and we talked about the woes of no trails in Bristow and some of the screwed-upedness of my particular subdivision. HIS subdivision has TRAILS and LAKES!

He was really kind of sweet and accessible, and I appreciate that in a politician. I didn't get that "God this guy is a fake" feeling you get with some of them. Whether politicians want to hear it or not, we the people have a good feel for hypocrites.

So we finished out the conversation (he had other people in line to speak with him) and he said I should talk to John Stirrup who could probably have more information on the topic. I don't know why he said this because Mr. Stirrup is not my district rep. Besides, you know how I feel about Mr. Stirrup.

A couple of days later, I got a flyer in the mail. Corey Stewart is endorsing FitzSimmonds. Now in case you don't know who these players are, let me give you a breakdown.

Stirrup and Stewart are members of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. In fact, Stewart is Chair of the BOCS. These are county positions, local government.

FitzSimmonds is running for VA delegate, which is part of the state government. All the districts in VA have delegates, and FitzSimmonds wants to represent most of Prince William County down in Richmond.

These folks are all in the same political party.

Here is my thing: FitzSimmonds seems like a decent guy. I don't know enough about his opponent, Mr. Colgan, who has been in the office for more than 30 years (except for what I wrote previously and that he has a good sense of humor). But I do know enough about Stirrup and Stewart to know I can't stand them. The moral of the story is, you just can't judge a person by the company he keeps, now, can you?

I don't like Stewart for a number of reasons. First, he approved that asinine Immigration Resolution that has gotten us into all kinds of trouble legally, Constitutionally and ethically. Second, he's the one that likes to pretend he's Judge Judy when he's running a county meeting. You know when Judy does that "This is MY courtroom!" thing and bangs the gavel? He tries to do that. Except it's not a courtroom and he's not a cute, older, wise person.

When Corey Stewart walks into a room, I hear this song in my head. Do you remember David Lee Roth from Van Halen? He put out his own version of "Just a Gigolo" in the 80's. Someone did a spin-off version addressing Roth:

"I'm just a big ego
and everywhere I go,
people know the part I'm playing."

That's Corey Stewart in a nutshell.

His platform is anti-development, but so far, I haven't seen any of that in action. All I see is more subdivisions being built and more crowding in the schools. He thinks "proffers" from developers will work, but again, I haven't seen any of that either. Where are the new parks? Where are the schools? Where are the roads being supported by people other than us? Methinks Mr. Stewart has taken too many campaign funds from developers to effectively negotiate with them at this point.

Besides, Stewart is another one who bickers with the School Board. He's not what you call a "neutral third party" either. We really do need a waste/fraud hotline and an Inspector General in this county. It would help clear up a lot of the accusations Stewart and others make about the schools and their financial needs.

Anyway, on to another topic.

Religion.

I recently took part in a discussion group in which the "moderator" was going to ban people for mentioning God. Now some background here. This is a group dedicated to the cause of helping student borrowers who have suffered at the hands of unethical (and often illegal) lenders and their tactics. These are not deadbeats. They are mostly poor people who have little chance of ever getting out of their situations. These are people who have been denied homes, education, jobs. They have had their pensions and their retirement and their disability incomes garnished. To date, they still have no consumer protection. So once in awhile, yes, someone DOES say things about God and faith. Who can blame them? Some people only HAVE their beliefs to keep them afloat.

Well, the moderator didn't like this and said she would ban anyone who alluded to religion. This included possibly banning the co-moderator who has been working on this project diligently for years.

Here's what I posted (with names removed and some spell checking which the forum doesn't provide):

"I have to jump in to the banning of members for saying words related to God, religion, or whatever. Previously, many members were banned not for DISCUSSING Michael Moore but for FIGHTING about it, dividing the group. No one else on this list is FIGHTING about references to God but you.

As the list moderator, it is your job to bring about unity, not stifle opinions unless a fight breaks out (as you did with the Michael Moor topic). As I said before, I don't care who says what about their beliefs so long as

1. They aren't trying to convert me.

2. They aren't putting down MY personal beliefs.

3. They are addressing the topic and not using religion or beliefs to promote their own personal agenda.

I have a blog. I hold strong opinions. I don't tell anyone else what they should believe, but I do hold certain standards (no profanity, for example). But here is the other thing: if you don't like it, then don't read it!

If the word "God" or "Jubilee" offends you, then don't read the posting. It might help if posters here referring to personal beliefs mark their topics with "some faith related verbiage in this post" or some such label. Same with "profanity used here." That way, if you want to skip the posting, you can.

Finally, I can't believe you would suggest banning the co-moderator! She has given us so much crucial information, support and time! She has talked to more than one of us on the phone, myself included, has done research..her work is outstanding! I think we all owe her a big thank you and not a banning.We don't want to divide ourselves here. We need to stick to the issue and not our differences. That's my take and I do hope you publish this."

Credit to the Moderator, she DID publish to the group, which I think is smart of her. It may be she has had some really negative experiences with religion, and that's too bad. Many of us have had them, myself included. We start to associate those bad experiences with the religion itself. It's a tough mistake to avoid, and it's work, but we have to do it. Otherwise, we alienate ourselves and others.

Here is an email I sent to another of the group members who also had issues with the banning. This gal wrote me an interesting email regarding separation of church and state:

"The separation of church and state thing is so hard. The fact is, allusions to religion are all over the place. We are saturated with them in the newspapers, in literature, in common market items. You can't get away from it entirely. Religions of the world have cultural and historical bases, and to deny that is to deny reality.

No one likes "religion in your face." It's obnoxious and often offensive. Many people would be offended by walking into an office and seeing a huge cross with a bleeding Jesus on the wall behind the desk (unless it was a church or religious based office). But a book? I used to know people who carried Bibles with them to work. They kept them in their briefcases. Who the hell cares? (pardon the ironic juxtaposition) Don't read it. It's not like you had Penthouse on your desk!

I have a brother who insists on saying "grace" in all restaurants. He blesses himself and has his kids do it. It's not quiet. It is VERY embarrassing to me. It makes me uncomfortable. But I don't disown him. I say things like, "Oh my god...I am SO embarrassed..." But he doesn't ask ME to do it, so really, what else can I do? I could leave the table, but why bother? He's my brother. He's over the top but I love him anyway. I will try to pick more private seating next time he comes to visit. And I will pay him back dearly by doing the things I know HE finds embarrassing. I probably have more things than he does. " (meaning, I have more "embarrassing" things I do in public that I am sure I can pay him back with!)


Separation of church and state is tricky business. Like everything else in my life and my head, I have trouble making separations. You can see it in this blog posting. You see it in my wish for unity. You see it in the connections I make. Unfortunately, I happen to live in a world that values distinctions and separation much more than I do. Stitching things together makes for an interesting view. And it's sometimes easier to understand the separate parts if you really look at the whole.

Racist people don't know how to do this. They separate. They can't put it all together and when they do, they come up with ridiculous generalizations that often lead to horrific reactions. We have war because of this. We have continuous segregation. We have hatred and discrimination and all those things that make everyone's life and our planet more unlivable.

I think quilting is an excellent exercise in putting the pieces together to make a whole. The lesson in quilting is this: if your pieces aren't right, the whole thing is also off. You have to take it apart and start all over again, fix the broken pieces. This is why I am a big fan of only making simple quilts. I don't have the skill to do otherwise. My wholes never look right if I try to over-complicate the pieces. It's a metaphor. I am sure this is not a new metaphor, but it's still one worth thinking about.

It takes a lot of work to put together a quality whole. I hope our leaders understand that.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Job....well....Done.

Young girl - Political ? _ NOT!
photo courtesy of webshots

I thought it would be fun tonight to report the latest political forum from the perspective of my new persona, Human Resource Goddess of Prince William County, VA. As such, after listening to the candidates, I have decided while we have some extraordinary talent in our local political system (and even some well behaved candidates, I might add), we do not have them serving in the correct capacities.

I will start with Delegate Bob Marshall. Bob Marshall is an extremely well spoken person with an educational background most of the common voters do not have. He knows a good deal about policy and law making. Because of this, he apparently has not voted on several laws including those attempting to stop Dominion Power from running their power lines through the county instead of underground.

Mr. Marshall says Congress does not give the County authority to stop the power company, but it does give the state the power to give the county the authority to set parameters and demand underground lines. Okay. I might actually not be getting this right. Why? Because Mr. Marshall knows far more about jurisdiction, the VA Constitution, and the regulatory language governing corporations. He talks about Supreme Court decisions and whether or not laws will be upheld in court. He will not vote for a law that will not be upheld if it were to be taken to court.

This is not a stupid man. He knows, eventually, someone will bring every law to court, and assuming this will happen, legislators need to know how to write the laws so they are Constitutional at the state and Federal levels. (Mr. Stirrup could take a lesson from Mr. Marshall, but more on that to come.) Personally, I'd love to listen to Mr. Marshall speak more on these topics. He's fascinating. But I'd need a textbook, a notebook, several dozen pens, a dictionary and lots of hours to grasp it all.

While I have listened to many lawyers in these debates, I can honestly say that Mr. Marshall is probably the only one I would ever hire to work for me if I needed legal research conducted. Unfortunately, he is not someone I would vote for to represent me in the Delegate.

I don't say this because I disagree with everything he stands for because I don't: he's against partial-birth abortions. So am I. He doesn't want big trucks driving in the left hand lanes. Neither do I. He talked about innovations like electric cars and he has supported for the elderly. These are good things. He's also got some other ideas I completely disagree with him on, and I would love to tell him. For example, I think he should know why making divorce so difficult doesn't make it better for kids. I think he should know why women and men need to know about birth control even if they decide not to use it. I am not sure I could convince him I'm right, but he should know.

I think Mr. Marshall is in the wrong office. Notwithstanding the issues, I think VA would be in better shape if Mr. Marshall were serving in some kind of legal capacity. He obviously knows his stuff. He obviously can communicate it in legalese. He obviously can communicate with politicos and other types that people like me have a hard time understanding. I bet he was a fabulous college instructor, and a super tough one at that. But that's not what we need in office.

We need someone who can talk to the people and focus on the issues in a more head-on way. Mr. Bruce Roemmelt did that effectively in his debate. Mr. Roemmelt is also a very educated man, but his service took him in a different direction from Mr. Marshall's. He was a fireman and a Veteran. He speaks simply and eloquently. He talked about bringing the real issues forward, focusing on education, solving transportation. Mr. Roemmelt could win on his knowledge and understanding of the issues. He could win on his straight forward communications. But if all else failed, he could always run on the Teddy-Bear platform. Come one. Who wouldn't want a big, cuddly, come-to-the-rescue firefighter fighting for us in public office? Face it. Lawyers just aren't as huggable.

Besides, it would be great fun to have these two working together but in different capacities. We could watch Bruce and the rest of the Richmond crowd write up bills and then listen to Mr. Marshall as official Legal Advisor (or whatever that job might be) pick them to shreds. Mr. Marshall would get a job better suited to his talents and our needs. He would keep our Delegation (and maybe even our BOCS) out of legal hot water. We'd get Bruce, a save-the-world kind of guy representing us. And we would get hours of amusement watching them both analyze this stuff together.

It's actually too bad we didn't get to see more of this tonight. Mr. Roemmelt wanted to know about Mr. Marshall's ties with Dominion Power, insinuating the company had bought a vote. At this point, Mr. Marshall refused to debate any more. He was offended. He really lost his temper in a polite kind of way. I was pretty disappointed.

But I did have the next debate to look forward to. Kind of.

I have to say, it took a bit of energy on my part to steel myself into being ready for this particular debate between Corey R. Riley and John T. Stirrup, Jr. Stirrup is the incumbent. Now, if you have read some of my previous blogs, you already know what I think of Mr. Stirrup. If I had to count how many times I have used the word "bigot" in conjunction with his name, I would jam up my MS Office word counter for quite awhile. So I won't bother. And I won't even bother going into his part of the debate. Because basically, he did exactly what I and countless others expected him to do: blame all the problems in the county on previous Boards of County Supervisors and those illegal immigrants whom he says are responsible for everything from crime to late lunches in school.

Some background: Mr. Stirrup has never used his discretionary monies to help the schools, law enforcement, emergency services, the fire departments, or social services. In fact, he admitted he doesn't even know how much money he has in discretionary funds. He blames too much development on previous boards but couldn't answer how he will fix the here and now.

When asked how he would handle the needs of overly crowded schools he said, "Unfortunately, the School Board approved all day Kindergarten."

Stirrup says all day Kindergarten is the reason why kids have to eat extremely early and extremely late lunches--to accommodate all the classes and crowding created from all day Kindergarten. However, Stirrup was sure to add that it wasn't only the poor decision to create all day Kindergarten that made for extreme lunch times....it was, of course.....illegal children. Those would be children of illegal aliens. I wanted to shout out, "My kids had lunch at 10:30 in the morning long before Kindergarten went full time and long before there was any increase in our immigrant population, you moron!" But being in my Human Resources capacity, I thought better of it.

Still, I think I have enough grounds on which to fire Mr. Stirrup. Not only is he openly a bigot, but because of his immigration law which he claimed would save everyone money, the county and all the BOCS members are now being sued. So in addition to the millions of dollars he wanted to spend to identify and crucify the immigrants, he now has made it so we have to pay legal fees and court costs. Well, tax payers. I think we should all send him a big thank-you note, don't you? I will then send him his pink slip.

Thank God for Corey Riley, the man who says he is going to "raise the bar." There is a man with dignity. He is not going to focus on the lowest common denominator. He wants to focus on issues that affect our neck of the woods: our schools. Our public services. Our parks and land and local needs. He says he hears time and time again that our local politicians are divisive, creating strife where they should be creating community. AMEN, sir. Please get elected. Fix our problems WITH us. As you pointed out again and again, there is no way we should be having so many "crises" in this county. Where was the long-range planning? Where was the prevention? This man sees the real issues from miles away. Mr. Riley, you are hired.

So in the morning I will write my report. Two new hires. One transfer. One termination. Recommendations for further meetings.

Not bad for a night's work.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sickness in Higher Education

"The The University of St. Thomas in Minnesota is facing strong criticism on campus for its refusal to allow Archbishop Desmond Tutu to give a speech on campus because past comments he made about Israel were 'hurtful' to some Jews, The Star Tribune reported." Many Jewish people have come to the defense of Tutu, insisting that criticism of Israel might be warranted, that Tutu should be allowed to speak.

Simultaneously, David Horowitz is launching Islamo-Fascism Week. To prepare, some campus radicals have already begun to hang posters reading, “Hate Muslims? So do we!” Fortunately, the administrators took them down.

What kind of world allows David Horowitz to launch a full-fledged racial attack against an entire group of people, but Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize gets turned away from speaking at a college campus?

Horowitz claims he is trying to raise "terrorism" awareness. Apparently, he is doing so by raising his own kind of terrorism: encouraging students to join him in what he considers an assault on conservatism and his ideals.

Horowitz made his name by writing, among other pieces, the "Academic Bill of Rights" in which he claims students are being indoctrinated by "leftists." While this argument has been raging in academia for some time, never has it reached the boiling over point in which hate-speech is so openly endorsed by someone like Horowitz who is also a Fox News analyst.

Horowitz is not considered a serious or credible academic by many campus groups or researchers. His one-sided arguments against what he claims are one-sided arguments display obvious bias based on his own prejudice and discrimination under the guise of "protecting students." In this, Horowitz undermines the intellect of the college student, implying that conservative students in the classroom do not have a forum for free speech or defense for their own ideals.

However, Horowitz's own rallying of support from conservative student groups operating openly on campuses undermines his argument: if conservative students truly feared speaking out for their rights, they would not be increasing in numbers, hanging posters supporting Horowitz or participating in ideological and political groups claiming success on campus. This is not to say conservatism has not been unpopular on college campuses. But like any followers of unpopular ideology, students find a way to support their own beliefs.

Horowitz also claims, as other conservative groups do, that college students are being indoctrinated in the classroom by college professors whom he claims are mostly right wing radicals. Again, this undermines the credibility of the students who report that a professor's opinions do not hold enough weight to override their own. While there certainly have been cases of discrimination against both sides in the "culture" wars, what it comes down to is free speech. One magazine editor goes so far to say in a blog comment, "If professors would simply keep their views to themselves, the problem of campus disaffection from the rest of society would hardly be noticed." However, he doesn't seem to think this rule should apply to himself. Apparently, neither does Horowitz.

Public figures like Horowitz detract from some of the larger issues surrounding higher education under the straw-man argument that Americans don't like higher education because of the kind of indoctrination that takes place in the classroom. He and his ilk claim higher education is a waste of tax payer dollars, that students do not come away with true education, that colleges have no accountability for their students' learning. They turn this argument into party-wars: Democrats versus Republicans, Liberals versus Conservatives.

It is true that a large sector of the American people believe higher education isn't worth the price or the time, that they pay too many taxes to support it, that college is far too expensive. And they are right. Higher ed doesn't appeal to the tax payer: they pay more and more for it and see less and less. Tuition increases every year, parents are strapped for money, and students feel the pressure. But this has little to do with "liberal" education students might or might not receive in college classrooms.

A better reason to be furious with higher education glares through the student loan industry which has been allowed to run amok with little to no government oversight for years. Students and parents pay their loans, they are assessed with triple digit fees, penalties, and interest, adding up to six digit debt. Often, borrowers pay off the original loan two or three times over only to see that loan's interest continues to accrue. When borrowers fall into eventual default because of hard times or high payments, their SSI and pensions have been garnished.

In another scenario, schools misrepresent their services and programs to prospective students. They collect Title IV funds, financial aid supported by tax payers. The students and the parents get do not receive what was promised. The school might be taken to court. The school might try to defend itself by claiming the laws governing accreditation are unconstitutional. The school then drags the case through court instead of taking care of the students, and they are allowed to continue doing business as usual while tax payers continue to pay and pay. Meanwhile, student borrowers and their parents pay three or four times more than most people because they now must pay their taxes, loans, interest, and fees. There are other costs as well: these borrowers pay with their futures. They pay with their dreams. And eventually, if they do not already have medical problems, they pay with their health through long working hours and/or stress.

To date, student borrowers still have no standard consumer protection. They are harassed by creditors. This continues to happen in spite of the recent legislation that cuts down student payments and caps the number of years to pay at twenty-five. Previous borrowers do not qualify for other protections just now put in place.

Who pays for it all, plus the price of education? Tax payers do. What millions of people see are students who, even with a college education, cannot succeed while everyone continues to pay and pay. Of course they are dissatisfied with higher education. But does it really have anything to do with culture wars? Is there any excuse for hate speech and open discrimination?

People like Horowitz can argue political ideology as much as they want, trying to pin the blame for faulty education on some philosophical discussion that has little to do with true education or the real world. The issues he and others blatantly ignore are standing in bread lines and living in shelters: these are students, parents and tax payers who pay and pay but continue to receive nothing for their investment. This takes its toll on everyone, personally and socially.

Mr. Horowitz is out of touch with reality if he believes cultural wars, political parties and his prejudice are more important than the obvious social justice issues that plague college students and their families.

Students are better served by listening to testimony from peace makers who have overcome tremendous obstacles to make the world a better place than they are by listening to people like David Horowitz.

There should be no place in academia or society for unbridled hatred and discrimination, or for the people who endorse it.
----------------------------------------

Here's an update on the flyer incident: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/09/AR2007100902547.html

Doesn't excuse Horowitz, however. He's still evil.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Looking for a Magnet Maker!!

Heads Up!

I am with a grassroots organization working to get consumer rights back for student borrowers. We are students of all ages who have lost enormous amounts of money because until recently, there has been little to no oversight of government sponsored loan programs. I am writing to ask your help.

We need to get the word out that there are other students in this situation who are working to do whatever we can to get this problem fixed. Many of us are low income, have had to pay our loans more than twice over, are retired and/or disabled or have other health problems. Our members are from all over the country. There are 3000 members, and our numbers increase every day.

Here is what I am asking:

Do you know anyone who can donate auto magnets to our group?

All we need is a big, square or rectangle magnet that says www.studentloanjustice.org

It needs to be bigger than a bumper sticker so people will really notice it. The donor can advertise his/her business at the bottom of the magnet (just smaller so the messages don't get confused). Members ordering the magnets could pay for shipping.

Please review some of the stories and information at www.studentloanjustice.org

There, you will also find media coverage about us and our issues, so you will know we are legit.

Pass this blog entry on to a friend, please, especially if you know anyone in the sign-making business!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Campaign Cronies and Bumperstickers

Well it's another day in Prince William Political Paradise, my friends. Tonight I had the pleasure of listening to the following candidates discuss issues...at least, I think that's what they were doing:

Senate 29th -- Charles J. Colgan (D) / Robert FitzSimmonds (R)
House 50th -- Jackson Hunter Miller (R) / Jeanette M. Rishell (D)

The way in which they discussed them begs some questions and is forthcoming, so do keep reading.

Let me remind you, I've never heard any of these candidates speak before. I've never heard ANY candidates speak live until the past month or so. I know I still go in and kind of gawk at people. You know, look around like..."Are we all from the same planet? I am just wondering because you all are wearing little name tags and passing out bumper stickers and I'm just here to observe and be amused."

Speaking of which, I told one bumper-sticker-offering-guy, "No thanks. I don't do bumper stickers." And it's true. The only stickers you see on my car are the inspection sticker and the county tax sticker. Oh, and there is the magnet of my kids' school on the back of the van. But that's it.

Anyway, because this is all new, it's still pretty exciting and not yet boring. I'm not some jaded veteran, nor am I one to take it all TOO seriously. I'm not a party person in any sense of the word. This must be obvious since I spend most of my time on the computer and because I attend these things for fun. Kinda says something, doesn't it? I'm boring at parties.

This is why serious politicos would easily dismiss me as naive or ignorant or...I don't know. Don't really care either, to be honest, because I don't go to these things to impress politicos or anyone else. I do it because it's free education. And it's interesting. It's fun in that stimulating and challenging kind of way that a class is fun. And it's a good way to get to know who stands for what and who we want OUT of office.

And right now, I can tell you who we need to get out of office. It's Jackson Hunter Miller and his campaign clowns. Yup. That's right folks. You heard it here first. You want to know why? Because that was the most immature demonstration of campaigning I have yet to see this year and in my lifetime--even on television.

Miller took more than a quarter of his time to cut down his opponent, Jeanette M. Rishell. He started in his introductions. He called her a liar. He said she didn't know how to read a budget. He misquoted her several times and went so far as to call her someone who wanted to wage a war on babies because of her stance on abortion. BUT...he was offended that she had called him an extremist in some little townie newspaper. Hmmmmmmm. I wonder why she called him that. Can you guess?

I want to note that even if I didn't agree with everything Ms. Rishell had to say, she took the high road. She was not once insulting. She focused on the issues. She was professional and held her ground. Good for her.

Mr. Miller's name calling wasn't even the worst of it, though, folks. Before their session even began, when the audience was in the bathroom for a break, Miller's cronies were dropping copies of a negative (and really petty) editorial from a local paper on each person's chair. No, they weren't putting them out on the tables for everyone to take if desired. They put one copy on each of the audience chairs. As we walked out after the show was over, the boys handed out more. Someone told one of the young men that it was inappropriate. His response was extremely rude.

So I would say to Mr. Miller, thank you for serving our county as a police officer. And I would say to anyone else, if this guy ever pulls you over, you better get yourself a witness and a good lawyer. And hope his little buddies aren't around.

Think twice before you put this man in office again.

Now that I have that out of my system, I can turn my attention to the more important things. Colgan and FitzSimmonds were great. I came out of there respecting them both even though I disagreed with them on several issues. They weren't out there to be rude. Yeah, they had their share of cut-downs and "I don't like what you wrote in your campaign literature," but they were overall reasonable, intelligent human beings. In fact, with the exception of Miller, all the candidates were reasonable, intelligent human beings. Oh sorry. There I go again.

The only thing I really didn't like about FitzSimmonds was his take on immigration. He used the example that when a cop pulls up to a 7-11 in a police car, all the people waiting for work leave. He attributes this to illegal immigration. Well, I hate to say it, Mr. FitzSimmonds, but MOST people loitering in front of a store WILL leave when the cops show up. And if you think you are going to be frisked for immigration papers? Well, even more of a reason to leave, legal or otherwise. So there's a hole in the logic there.

But don't feel bad. I don't like anyone's stance on immigration 100% because I think mine is right. So long as you aren't racist and mean, so long as you aren't tyring to deny people human rights, so long as you are respectful to people and really ARE trying to be fair, I don't have a problem with disagreeing with you. I didn't get the feeling Mr. FitzSimmonds was a bigot. Which is good. We have enough of those.

On the other side of the party line, there was Mr. Colgan. I had no idea how amusing Mr. Colgan could be. He was a riot--a little guy in his seventies (?) who has served as delegate for more than 30 years. He talks like an auctioneer. I have to admit sometimes I couldn't understand a word he said, but the man's got character. He's got some great things going with higher education, too, which is a plus in my book. But he also has this incredibly rotten plan for taxing gas, and for that I want to say, Mr. Colgan....if you do that, I won't even be able to fill up my minivan to go hear you speak. Give us a break here, will ya?

I would have liked to hear Mr. FitzSimmons and Mr. Colgan address the question of increased resources for K-12 education a little better than they did. Yeah, yeah. I know. They only had two minutes. Some excuse. The question was, though, how do you plan to accommodate the need for more schools etc. with the increased enrollment? Colgan says "fund it all." FitzSimmonds says, "Look for waste and control growth." Colgan also says, "Birth control." Hmmmmmm...... I'm not feeling too reassured here, guys. I see lots of trailers in our futures.

So I come to the end of this blog (which I will edit in the morning when I have more of a brain) a tad bit disturbed about campaign ethics and the people that promote behaviors like this. Mr. Miller and people like you, don't you know you are role models? You have kids handing out flyers and wearing your buttons. You are teaching them that being nasty and calling names is the way to get into office. I am very disappointed in you. In fact, I am sad. You better have a meeting with your cronies. And stop focusing on your opponent long enough to focus on the issues.

There it is. My two cents and some furious typing. Had I waited until morning to post, I might have had some better writing happening here, but I don't think I could have slept without getting this off my chest. Now...off to bed where hubby patiently awaits. He's a good man.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Get Cranky

Very interesting website I was referred to. For some time, I have been complaining about politicians and developers in this area, why they have not met the real needs of the communities here, why it is so difficult to get what we want from our County...well, you know my rants if you read this blog. Then I look at this website, www.vpap.org and it all becomes completely clear.

Outside of political parties, the largest donors to political campaigns are....guess. Come on. It's not hard to figure out....

Developers!

Surprise surprise.

Not.

But it does help explain some things. Like why, when we want to use community land for a dog run instead of a pit with a chain link fence around it we get answers from the HOA like, "Sorry. County owns the land. Can't do anything about it."

Or, "Can we revive the trees in the back of our townhouse?"

"Are they old trees?"

"Yes, and it's all we've got. It's the last bit of woods in our section."

"Sorry. That's a bond issue."

"You can water them yourself," some guy tells me.

What? The whole woods? I'd like to see him drag HIS hose over here and do it.

So now, we hear school enrollment is up by about 2000 students this year. Only a couple of schools are being built, though. The "extra" students get put out in trailers. The high schools are enormous. The halls are crowded. The school budget won't be considered again by the County for another five years. By that time, we will have exploded with about 10,000 more students who will not have school buildings to learn in. But the developers keep building. Not building schools, mind you. Building houses and selling them at enormous profits. Their profits have slowed a little with the housing market. Boo hoo. Our kids still need schools.

Take a look at the stats here, the contributors sorted by industry. If you are really curious, you can go in and look up stats for your own reps, see who is paying them off.

Here are the numbers for State Level candidates. These are the guys that represent us in Richmond.

Giving by Industry

Industry:Real Estate/Construction

Real Estate Developers
$1,111,667
Realtors
$759,695
Rental/Property Management
$572,660
General Contractors
$402,845
Homebuilders
$343,282
Commercial Real Estate
$207,565
Engineers/Engineering Firms
$116,272
Excavation Contractors
$107,248
Building Trades/Subcontractors
$89,260
Highway Contractors
$88,535
Mortgage Lenders
$71,353
Architectural Services/Surveyors
$71,087
Title Companies/Settlement Agencies
$46,131
Building Materials/Supplies
$44,848
Miscellaneous Construction
$35,075
Cement/Concrete/Asphalt
$31,300
Land-Use Attorney/Consultants
$27,804
Heavy Equipment Sales/Leasing
$17,100
Appraisers/Auctioneers
$11,680
Manufactured Housing/Sales
$8,099

Here are the numbers for the Chairman of the Board of County Supervisors. This is the guy who heads up our immediate local government for Prince William County:

Contributions
Overviewof All Industries:

SectorAmountReal Estate/Construction
$30,340
Business - Retail, Services
$11,200
Law
$8,600
Transportation
$7,875
Miscellaneous
$7,305
Health Care
$4,900
Energy, Natural Resources
$4,500
Undetermined
$4,150
Public Employees
$1,900
Political
$1,000
Technology, Communication
$630
Finance, Insurance
$600
Defense
$500
Agriculture
$500

Even more interesting, here are the numbers for my rep on the Board of County Supervisors, the guy directly responsible for our community in subdivision land:

Contributions
Overviewof All Industries:

Real Estate/Construction
$30,400
Political
$8,950
Agriculture
$8,749
Law
$7,724
Business - Retail, Services
$5,727
Miscellaneous
$3,000
Candidate Self-Financing
$2,500
Energy, Natural Resources
$2,000
Undetermined
$1,750
Transportation
$1,500
Technology, Communication
$1,200
Public Employees
$650
Finance, Insurance
$300
Defense
$100

By the way, the developers also have lobbyists. That's an extra expense not included in the campaign contributions listed above.

So let's understand this now, get it right.

These guys can afford to support political campaigns.

They can afford to lobby.

But they can't afford to water the freaking trees? Build roads? Schools? A damn dog run?

And you wonder why I'm so cranky.

But you know what?

I don't think ENOUGH of us have gotten cranky ENOUGH.

Elections are coming, people. It's time to get cranky.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Brain Break

I'm taking a day off today. No heavy thinking. No contemplating the meaning of life. No trying to save the world before bedtime (like the Power Puff Girls which we actually have rarely watched). I'm on a temporary brain vacation. Hiatus. Break. The only thing you will read right now is stuff and nonsense. Blah blah blah blah.

Maybe you have noticed references to cartoons in these blogs. That's because most of the television I watch is via my children. Most of what they watch is in the form of movies. And those movies include lots of animation, dogs and other creatures that talk, strange monsters, and fantasy. Sometimes I enjoy engaging in this mindlessness with them.

Last night, after the kids went to bed, I tried to continue to enjoy the mindlessness. I didn't want to watch the rest of Cars without them, not only because I didn't want to lose their place on the DVD, but because it's just not the same. When they watch a movie, it's interactive. They tell me which parts to pay attention to: "Mom! Mom! Look! This is the good part!" They sometimes snuggle with me on the couch or they play games with each other, pretending they are characters in the movie. "Okay...you be Scooby Doo, I will be Shaggy." As the characters do silly things, the one who gets the role of Shaggy might say to the other, "Scooby! What did you do that for??" The other one answers in the Scooby voice. This is all going on as the movie plays. So you see, I get more than just a movie when I watch it with the kids.

Sometimes, we have family movie night. We all go upstairs to my husband's and my bedroom. We crawl in with bowls of popcorn and listen to the girls giggle over Gilligan's Island. The Queen size bed is starting to get too small for all of us, so when the girls start to wiggle all over the place, pull the covers off, elbow each other, whine "Stop it!" more than three times, we relegate them to the floor at the foot of the bed with lots of big pillows and usually the comforter, which has by that time been pulled off anyway.

If the girls are not around, my husband an I like to watch DVD's of the old MASH seasons. Sometimes, he will put on the Sci Fi channel or the History channel, but not usually. By the time we get to t.v. we want something brainless. Television for me has become a communal activity that has more to do with company than what's playing. And it's certainly not something I want to have to think about. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. One of the negative sides of my television habits is I don't watch the educational, grown-up stuff. My husband and I actually watched Arthur on our honeymoon. Before the kids graduated to Gilligan, the only thing I watched was public broadcasting's WETA Kids.

Last night reminded me that I definitely do not watch television solo. Needing something brainless to wind down with before bedtime, and because I have been sick the past week, after the kids went to bed I decided I would watch television by myself as my husband played on the computer. I had to ask him how to turn on the television. Yup. No lie. He had to show me how to switch the DVD off, the television on, and where to find the menu. After my lesson, I snuggled into the couch with my special pink blanket he had bought me. It was $30.00--which at the time I complained was too much money for blanket. But now, I don't want to nap or snuggle without my pink blankie. See how I am?

I lay there on the couch for several minutes, hitting the television "cruise" button. I read the names of the programs at the bottom of the screen. I flicked through. I did it again. My God, what a pathetic selection. Nothing even remotely entertaining but brainless at the same time. A whole three minutes must have passed before I clicked off the television, tossed the remote on the couch, and announced I was going upstairs to read my vampire novel, Violets are Blue, by James Patterson. James usually can give me some relatively interesting and not too taxing stuff when he isn't being overly realistic and psychotic. Television obviously isn't my drug of choice.

I've tried to read a few other vampire novels, but they were pretty lame. When it comes to frivolous reading, I can really get into mysteries. Because by the time I get around to reading these things my attention span is somewhat short(er), so I like brief chapters, not too much detail, simply constructed sentences (not the kind I tend to write). I don't like slop, however. Meaning....I don't like novels that have action but no real characters. I hate novels that are all fighting, blood, and bombs. I can't get into the international terrorism stuff unless it has things like the Vatican, catacombs, or mummies.

Pure fantasy rarely holds my attention (unless it's in movies) because much of it is just one battle scene after another, too many names I can't remember or pronounce, and repetitive characters stolen from the old masters like Tolkien. In fact, I haven't even been able to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy because of the elf language and detail. Remember: I'm reading for brainless fun.

During the day, I like to read news, discussions, policy and reports. I write. I go to meetings. I have appointments. I make sure the house is running as best it can. So by night, I am pretty numb. If I go to a meeting at night, I come home wired. It takes time to wind down. The next morning, it's harder to get things done. I do not miss working at night and having to get up again the next morning and return to work. My brain and body just do not recoup fast enough.

So today, I am relaxing. You might think blogging is not relaxing. But it is, especially when I am just rambling about meme's and what I like to read. In a little while, maybe I will go back up and finish the vamp book and then try to find some other drivel for later. Maybe I will do some light reading or throw out some semi-thoughtless comments on other blogs, things that don't require a lot of brain strain. Come to think of it, I am sleepy. Maybe a nap is in order instead.

It occurred to me maybe I am napping now and just don't know it. Hmmmmmm..... Blogging in my sleep. I don't know whether that is impressive or just downright scary.

Carry on, world, and be sure to do some heavy thinking for me. I'm on a short vacation.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Fighting the Nothing

Outside of nature and beauty and art, the most positive thing we can be thankful for are the people who can make us laugh. These are the people who give us joy in life, who can remind us that even in the darkest and most painful hours, the ironies of life hold some kind of humor, no matter how wry.

It is too easy to get caught up in negativity, to drown in the despair of an often evil world, to forget the positive energy that surrounds us as human, spiritual beings. We forget how to get in touch with that energy. We forget that there is this energy. We forget to look up at the stars, know there are things bigger and brighter than ourselves, and that the universe holds us in her arms.

People who can believe without much question that there is a loving God who cares of us, people who can continue to fight the good fight without losing faith, people who are good and caring and productive are those, I think, to be envied. While I am not Christian per se and my concept of God is different from many others', this is what often gets me through as I search for answers and solutions. I am in touch with the squirrels in my soul, the Canadian Geese, the creatures and trees that remind us all we are alive, that we are one, that we are part of a larger life. The squirrels direct me : )

If you want to see God and you don't think you can, look at the changing autumn leaves. Take comfort in their seasonal patterns of life. Perhaps they look dead in winter, but they never really are. They are waiting to come back full force in spring. This is what gets them through. And this is what gets me through as well.

My mother-in-law says to surround myself with positive people. She is so right, of course (she is often right in that mother-in-law kind of way); she is full of art and humor and a wonderful man she has loved for almost 50 years. What tremendous role models they both are! The role models we choose...and yes, I say choose because we often don't have a choice of whom we come in contact with...are who we aspire to be.

I am a firm believer in role models at any age. In the career world, role models are called mentors. There is no good replacement for positive, professional, supportive mentors. And they are in short supply. In my search for mentors, for role models, for the positive people in life, I have run across many who ended up being the antithesis. It is difficult to get over this, the disappointment, the disillusionment, the hero's or heroine's fall from grace. It happens between individuals and it happens in institutions. We believe in someone or something, and it turns out otherwise. So we must move on to others and select carefully with wider open eyes.

I find I have become more critical because institutions I believed were essentially good turned out not to be so. It's not that I ever expected perfection from anyone or any thing (goodness knows we do not live in a perfect world) but I often believe in an institutional mission. I expect people in that institution to try to live up to that mission, and when they do not, if they do not examine why they are not, then I wonder. I'm disappointed. It's one reason I have had a hard time belonging to groups. Too often, they lose their focus, their mission, their direction. They stop questioning how this happens. They even refuse to admit it is indeed happening. And the results can be catastrophic, as we see in our nation.

There are so many beautiful things life has to offer. We need to get in touch with those, to grow them, to "fight the nothing. If you have ever seen Never Ending Story, this term will make more sense to you. The "nothing" ruins everything. It takes away meaning and love and beauty. You can interpret the "nothing" any way you want: a lack of faith, a lack of hope, a lack of belief in something, a lack of purpose.... The "nothing" is deadly. It's hard to fight, but fighting it at least brings back purpose.

Family, friends, the people that love and can make us laugh, and even our laughter at ourselves (sometimes the best laughter of all)....these are whom and what we need. We need them everywhere. We need them in public places and at home. We need them in office. We need them in business.

If we really want a productive and better world, we need to connect with the positive energy in our world, our universe. It's out there. We just have to believe it. And like everyone else, I need to be reminded it is there. Thank you to those who do that for me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sheriff's Got a Golf Club, the Lawyer's Got a Gun

This is Katherine Gotthardt reporting live from the family room where I've just returned from witnessing a shocking debate between two gentlemen in law enforcement and two....lawyers.

Yes, you heard it here first, folks. There are indeed two absolute gentlemen running for Sheriff of Prince William County, the county in which is it sometimes impossible for police cars to make it through the traffic. More on that later, however, from the point of view of the contending lawyers...I mean, candidates....for the Virginia Delegate.

Louis Dominguez, Independent running for sheriff, took to the microphone with incumbent Glendell Hill, Republican. Dominguez says he doesn't believe the Sheriff's department should be partisan. His announcement and Independent status got two (internal) thumbs up from me. I was surprised, however, that Hill didn't sound very partisan himself, in spite of his party affiliation. Two more internal thumbs up. That made four at the start. My insides were crowding already.

Bracing myself for the inevitable bickering and bashing, I grasped my pen, poised to take illegible notes at the drop of a controversial word.

No word.

Huh?

Both have extraordinary backgrounds in law enforcement and policy. Both hold strong opinions on what it means to serve the community. Both talked more than just a good game. They sounded...sincere.

Both Hill and Dominguez stressed working together with the County police department. Dominguez talked about becoming a cop at the age of 62. Hill talked about bringing dignity and respect to the office. Neither of them were bs'ing.

About the only thing that bummed me out about Dominguez was his adamant support of the Board of County Supervisor's immigration resolution. I didn't want to be the one to break the news about the Bigot Party in Prince William County. But maybe he already knows.

The candidates were allowed to ask each other questions. You know. Put the opponent on the spot, make the enemy squirm.

Dominguez asked Hill about his golf game.

Hill asked Dominguez about his experiences working for Prince William Hospital.

They were perfect gentlemen. And unless golf is a Republican sport, I didn't sense any petty-party-poop in the questions or the answers.

Dominguez was at the door as I walked out. I should have shaken his hand as I left, but I didn't think of it. I''m still pretty stupid at these things. My manners are lacking. It doesn't really matter, though. Next to the lawyers, I was a perfect lady in waiting.

I got more entertainment from listening to 51st House candidate Faisal Gill square off with Paul Nichols than I could ever get at an "R" rated movie. No sex here. No blood. But definitely not for children.

And to think, all this for free. I just had to pay for the gas to get to Woodbridge.

You know from my previous post that I have a certain fascination with lawyers. So lawyers running for office was bound to be a blast. These are lawyers, both with their own practice, who were ready to rumble in public.

Important to know up front: Lawyers are their own species. They are grown in petrie dishes in law schools. Don't ever let a lawyer tell you s/he has parents. It's not true.

Lawyers are confident and haughty. They are often adversarial. They are bred to be this way. In the hatcheries, caretakers add haughty-drops to the petrie dishes, give the growing lawyers extra doses of arrogance. As adults, some lawyers bring quick-acting-arrogance-supplements with them to campaign events. I think Gill must have overdosed tonight. Someone better keep an eye on him.

Nichols is a Democrat who wants to work with the other delegates. Both his focus and Gill's were transportation and delegate relationships with the Mother Ship, Richmond. Though the two men are of the same species, they obviously didn't come from the same DNA strand. Nichols wants to increase educational and medicaid spending. He wants to use the transportation fund to fund....gasp.....transportation.

Gill thinks increasing social security, ending homelessness, and helping the poor can't be done: "Don't kid yourselves," he says. It won't happen this year. He won't even try, apparently. But he does think it's okay to fund transportation through the general fund and not an increased transportation fund. And he will defend everyone's rights to carry a concealed weapon, even into schools.

Yes, folks, that's right. Faisal Gill says it's better to carry a gun into a school auditorium than it is to leave it in the trunk of a car. And this should be legal. Why? Because he's never known any gun owner to do such a reckless thing.

He obviously hasn't known the same people I have. And he obviously has never worked in a school.

I would have loved to have heard the Sheriff candidates' response to this. Better yet, let's hear from some teachers.

Both candidates talked about their families, their local law firms, their parents. Very sweet. Ya, ya, ya. Pull out the wallet photos. Listen, I don't care if Faisal Gill says his father was a cab driver. You and I know he didn't have a father. Gill and Nichols were both hatched with the rest of the colony at the law school. And it's a good thing. If Faisal's father were a cab driver, he might be shot by a concealed weapon, courtesy of a Gill-pro-gun-bill.

Faisal Gill says he wants to go to Richmond and "fight." He criticized his opponent for wanting to "work" with the other delegates in Richmond. He thinks fighting is the only way to get things done. Hmmmm. Fighting. Guns. See a scary pattern here? I'm not getting warm fuzzies, are you?

Ironically, Gill began his argument saying he wasn't running a negative campaign.....unlike his opponent. I thought this was interesting. You see, the minute you say, "I won't be like HIM!" you are running a negative campaign. So there was a logic error there from the start.

The fallacies, ironies and contradictions continued throughout the debate: Faisal accused his opponent of being vague about where to get additional medicaid and transportation funds. Paul answered the question. Faisal called Paul a "politician." But Faisal is the incumbent. Faisal claims to have served on the Housing Advisory Program. But he thinks increasing funding to help the needy is unrealistic. Faisal is staunchly against any kind of abortion ever. But he encourages carrying concealed weapons. Huh? I wonder how many cases this guy actually wins in court.

You gotta say this for Faisal Gill--he IS convinced he's Mohammad Ali. And that's fine if fighting has worked in the past. But daily gridlock, school crowding, and social program cuts don't exactly provide evidence Gill's technique has been working.

What do I know, though? I'm just some lady sitting here in my basement musing about Sheriffs who play golf. Pondering the upcoming elections. Wondering about people who have nothing but can't do anything about it.

Well, maybe they can do something.

They can always carry their handguns through traffic and overpriced subdivisions if need be. Faisal Gill will see to that.

Yippee! Yippee!!!!

69684_gifts_ideas_custom_pets_animals_lovers_figurine
And the good news is.....I have a writing gig! "And there was much rejoicing."

How fun is this? I get to write sample essays for a student manual/textbook.
I've worked on this project before, but I never had the time to write the actual essays, and now I get to. It's for the same school and people I've been working with for almost six years now, which is great! They've been very cool and can deal with my neurotic writing habits. I guess in the book publishing world, that's what a good agent will do---put up with the writer's neurosis. These are few and far between, so I am grateful. Actors tend to get more license to be neurotic than writers.

Okay. So this isn't much fun for people who don't like to write. My husband, for example, is very happy for me (and for the income that will help us greatly). But inside, he thinks I am sick. The last thing he could ever think of doing first thing in the morning is writing. Me? I wake up like this.
So there might not be much blogging over the next month, unless it's to generate ideas (which blogging really helps with). And I think NaNoWriMo is most likely out of the question unless I am really hyper. Which, you never know. It's getting to be fall and hopefully this damn 80 degree day will be the LAST for the season. Cooler weather yields more energy for me. So epic-of-the-gay-black-man-in-the-Victorian-age might have to wait. Besides, that would take some research on my part, and I will have other things to research. Being paid to write is just an amazing thing. Blogger's dream come true.

So I plotted it all out on paper, how many essays, how many pages it will take, how much research. Not sure what I can "reveal" or not "reveal" about the process (you won't get to read the essays, of course) but it's an interesting sequence of labor, writing things like this. You have to go into the book and see where the "holes" are. This was easier for me to determine because I helped write the first edition. I got to see the various drafts. So I could plug in the needed topics and styles pretty easily this morning. That's as far as I have gotten, but I plan to work more on it after the kids get ready for school. Clock is ticking for me AND for them.

Speaking of which, the younger gal has been great about getting up and into the shower without much supervision. The older one, who will soon be a "tween" is starting that thing of needing a kick in the butt. She likes to go to sleep later, messing around in her bedroom for a couple of hours before she settles in. We send her up earlier to account for this, but still.... Fortunately, the bus doesn't come until later. Next year, in middle school (YIKES!) she won't be so lucky. We better practice this coming summer.

Anyway, off to life!

Happy, happy happy. Joy, joy, joy.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Celebrating 152 Posts!

Ladies and gentlemen, it's time for the morning blog...."in which the author has nothing particular to say because her head feels like lead, the seasonal allergies having sucked their way through her membranes and into her body."

Wow. That's pretty graphic, isn't it?

I love those old novels, you know, the ones from the 17 and 1800's. They put these little captions atop the beginning of each chapter. But they weren't captions like we sometimes see from crime writers or such who include poetry or quotes. When I get time, I will link you up to an example. It's quite a hoot. (My geek is coming out.)

Second cup of coffee and my 152rd post. I can't believe I've rambled on for 153 posts. I know others do it all the time, but numbers are always significant somehow. Sometimes they are too significant. Sometimes they are lies (like some stats). I think 152 is a pretty good number, though, considering all the other things I have to do in life.

The Artist's Way tells you to write three pages every day, "morning pages." These are pretty much my morning pages with other emails and letters and so on. Morning pages aren't necessarily supposed to be essays or blog entries, but they work for me. They are supposed to help writers get "unstuck," and it's true if you do it every day, that will work. Free-writing. Good practice. Just let the mind take a dump on the page. Now I've transgressed into toilet talk again, haven't I? Next, I will have to go to Wal-fart.

Lots of blogs I want to visit this morning as well. Reading keeps me interested in writing. Of course, just looking around keeps me interested in writing. The world is such a busy place, I have to slow it down some and get it on paper. Or screen as it may be. That's what writing is, really. Slowing things down so we can look at them closely. That's what makes the communication. When things pass by too quickly, we can't analyze as much as we need to. Those of us who need more time to process things get caught in a whirlwind. Who can analyze when the cow and the kitchen table are being sucked into a twister and spit out in Oz? Not I.

My kids have been watching those ancient Sinbad movies. You know, the ones "in which the statues come alive through the demonic control of an evil doer." The stone cracks and cement eyes light up, and the 1970's animation amuses us as the creatures creak towards our busty, overly-made-up heroines who always have to be saved by oiled muscle men. I don't think the sexual revolution did much for women in film.

I find I write a lot more fragments in these posts than I would ever allow myself in real life. Actually, in real life, I wouldn't write in fragments at all. It took me a long time to be able to do it here.....kind of like those restaurants where it's okay to throw peanut shells on the floor. I just couldn't do it. It felt wrong. Like swearing. I had to practice swearing as a teen. It felt weird. I got over that real soon. Here I don't swear really. But here, I write fragments. I'm such a rebel.

I also have a habit of writing long sentences. My structure isn't parallel. I like to use the "and" with the comma, somewhat in that Victorian style "in which the author composes lengthy sentences connected with complicated punctuation and conjunctions, often managing to lose the readers." I don't think Henry or William James used parallel structure all the time. I will have to look that up to. All this talk about Victorian literature makes me want to dive back into Henry James anyway.

Part of my current Victorian obsession is the upcoming NaNoWriMo "in which the authors write an entire novel (or at least a draft) in thirty days." I'm starting early this year, which means I am starting on time with the rest of these crazy people. Last year, I gave myself a little more than two weeks because I hadn't heard of the event before and just happened to stumble on it. So I've been thinking about what I want to write this year, and like last year's topic suggested by my husband, I might take up his idea again: a chronicle of my life as a gay black man in the Victorian age.

It's going to require a little research, so I will need the extra time. I'm thinking a journal format, first person. Need to get the language down, however. This isn't your Tom Sawyer type of minor character. Maybe I'll start cross dressing in walking suits and tails, top hats, carry a mahogany walking stick, to really get a feel for my character. Since I already like men, the sexual attraction part shouldn't be too difficult.

Hope I'm not offending anyone here. Not my intent. Once upon a time, oh more than ten years ago and just for kicks, my gay friend and I cross dressed and visited another gay friend in the little town video store where he was working. Then we went and visited our gay landlord. He told me I made a really ugly man, but my friend was kind of cute as a woman. I guess I'll stick to being a woman. Sometimes, it's not such a bad gig.

Well, for now I'm off to read some more and nurse my poor head. And my ears. And my eyes. Yech. Sinus problems are annoying. This is the part of the story "in which the author whines to herself but still manages to throw in a few loads of laundry between rests."

Have a great day!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Latino Festival, Old Town Manassas

My daughters and I enjoyed a couple of hours at the Latino Festival yesterday. The Mariachi band misted through the Pavilion with their beautiful harmonies and exceptional instrumental coordination. I just love how soulful their voices sounded! And the music is joyous. It always seems to be joyous.

I wish I had gotten a better picture of them, but the stage was too far away. Some day, I will be able to afford a real zoom lens.








The most breathtaking and detailed costumes from the dancers! You can't see it, but the women's dressed are all in lace. The men's costumes are made of masks, and their clothing is covered in detailed embroidery and sequins.










Prior to their performance, the "devil" and the "wild cat" entertained my younger daughter and many other children by chasing them. Alexandra couldn't help but try to tease the poor devil into running after her. And Erika stood defiantly looking at the devil, telling him, "You don't scare me!" He tickled her under the chin. "Does that mean he thinks I'm cute?" she asked me.


"It means he thinks you are a little devil," I replied.











The moon bounce and slide were a favorite for the kids who had to enter past the blow-up guard that towered over us all.


Vendors sold their jewelry and toys. The collection of mini-bobble heads interested us greatly, all wagging their necks in the breeze.











The other big attraction for kids was palm-tree climbing. Kids could race to the top while secured by a bungee. The first one to ring the bell won. My girls tried their best to make it as high as they could!

Alas, we are not known for our arm strength.











We bought the most delicious "snow cones." They were filled with real fruit and syrup and tasted like no other snow cone I have had.


And as I sipped mine under a tree, Erika got her face painted...one side with a cat, the other an apple.

I cannot imagine anyone missing such a lovely time because they are blinded to the beauty of other cultures.










Sunday, September 23, 2007

Letter to Dick Durbin; Fax to J.C. Flowers

Dear Senator Durbin:

The current law makes it nearly impossible for former student borrowers to get out from under the weight of debt that student loans have created. While it is true that some students enter professions that help them earn enough money to pay back their loans, there are too many students who, because of extreme life circumstances, career choices encouraged by unethical schools, or circumstances related to the loans themselves, do not even have bankruptcy as a last resort. We borrowers have fewer rights than credit card holders.

Here is a brief description of my circumstance: In the year 2000, I entered Union Institute and University’s Doctoral program, based in Cincinnati. UIU was running without licensure in Washington, D.C. UIU had unlicensed, Federally funded sites throughout the country. The school knew this for some time but never addressed it.

When I brought up the licensure issue, I was involuntarily removed from my program. The Department of Education, the accreditation agency, and other agencies investigated the school and temporarily froze the school's funding. The school was made to make significant changes in their program, their administration, and in their delivery, including changing the way they structured their “semesters.” The school no longer claims to have a D.C. "site." They got their money. But I was left with no credits to transfer, no degree, and now, after interest, more than $50,000.00 in debt.

One attorney attempted to negotiate with the school so I could at least complete my program. The school responded that I would have to begin all over again and pay all over again. It was a clear case of retaliation.

I tried everything to resolve this issue at the school, agency, lender, and national levels. As a final attempt, I visited a bankruptcy lawyer who of course, wanted to be paid to bring the case to court. But really, he didn't think I would "win" and discouraged me from pursuing the case. I am thankful he was honest. Rather than put myself further in debt by trying to fight a case I could not win, I did not pursue bankruptcy. I am currently in forbearance, and the debt continues to grow.

I work as a part-time, contract teacher for our public school system and for a private college. I will never obtain a full-time, teaching position in higher education (which was my original, intended goal) because I do not have a Ph.D., nor can I afford to begin a new program. Additionally, I have two elementary school aged children with special (cognitive) needs, and I have some health problems of my own.

You cannot fully understand what this has done to my career, my self esteem, and my family. Prior to this misfortune, I was an "A" student. As an undergrad, I won academic awards. A first generation college student, I worked hard to earn my degrees. And I always maintained employment, often full-time, as I studied.

I believed in the student loan program. I do not dispute the loans I took out for my Masters program where I received the services and education promised by the school. I paid off my Perkins loan for my undergrad degree, also a viable program. But I am crushed to find out that our government protects businesses like Sallie Mae and protects unethical colleges who knowingly break the law but does not protect its students.

As I have written numerous times before, no number of government officials saying "sorry" will help. This needs to be resolved. And to think--I am only one student. If you would like to read others, I suggest you see http://www.studentloanjustice.org/. My story and the stories of others are there.

I am asking that you:

1. Support legislation that returns standard consumer protections to student loans including former borrowers.

2. Suspend Social Security, Pension and Disability garnishment activities.

3. Pass legislation that bans programs where the universities steer students to certain lenders due to financial incentives.

4. Pass legislation which allows borrowers who have been in default for 5 years or more to repay only what they originally borrowed, plus a reasonable amount of interest OR repay the amount that the federal government paid for the guarantee on the loan(s).

5. Increase federal grants for education, and expand tax benefits for repayment. Encourage states to do the same.

6. Protect former borrowers who continue to be harassed by collections agencies and others.

7. Enforce your current regulations that should prevent unethical schools and lenders from taking advantage of the system through loopholes and their assumption that “the Feds won’t do anything about it.”

Please do not allow this kind of debacle to happen again in our country where we believe so strongly in the value of an education.

Sincerely,


Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt
Bristow VA 20136
Fax 2 pages to (202) 228-0400

_____________________________________

Fax: 646-349-4890

To:

J. Christopher Flowers
Founder, Chairman, and President, JC Flowers & Co., LLC

John J. Oros
Executive Chairman, President, and Chief Operating Officer, Enstar Group Limited

David I. Schamis
Principal, JC Flowers & Co., LLC

From: Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt, Bristow, VA

Re: Purchase of Sallie Mae

Date: September 23, 2007

___________________________________________________________________

Please reconsider your purchase of Salllie Mae, the division that has acted as a quasi-government agency providing student loans.

While Sallie Mae has offered some useful financial services, millions of students now suffer the results of its corporate misuse of power including

*Disbursement of loans that violate federal and state statutes and regulations;
*Illegal debt collection tactics including harassment;
*Fee assessment and interest inflation that violate consumer rights and/or take advantage of laws that deny students consumer rights;
*Marketing to and targeting the most needy including minorities and the disabled;
*Collecting through garnishing of pensions, social security, and disability benefits.

If you would like personal stories of students who have suffered through Sallie Mae and its collection agencies, I urge you to visit www.studentloanjustice.org. These students can provide ample proof of the injustices and hardships they have suffered as a result of lenders like Sallie Mae who have had little government oversight in the past decade.

Please consider the legal, financial, and ethical ramifications of your potential purchase.