Sunday, June 01, 2008

Why I Don't Like Parties

I mean political parties, that is, not necessarily party-parties, though I'm not always crazy about those either unless they include close, goofy friends and smiling family members. Anything bigger than that, and parties become nerve wracking events that require my stepping outside of my comfort zone which I'm sometimes loathe to do during my down-time. If I am going to make myself uncomfortable, I would rather accomplish something. See? I TOLD you I am a complete bore.

That being admitted, let me give you some good reasons for disliking political parties.

1. A party's goal is to get its candidate elected. Because of this, too many times the focus turns away from the issues and back towards the party itself. This focus includes irritating elements such as gossip, mini-power-plays, in-fighting, money collecting, and other things that I wouldn't elect (no pun intended) as my favorite pastimes.

2. Because the American party system is so strong, virtually no citizen can voice an opinion without being labeled a party member even if he/she (or in this case, me) is not a party member. Parties have become a way of categorizing vocal and even silent people whether or not they endorse a particular party or even know anyone in a party.

3. Parties promote group behavior. Group behavior is scary, especially if a party expects blind loyalty to a candidate.

4. Did I mention parties ask for money?
Now here come the disclaimers.

The descriptions above often apply to groups other than political parties. In fact, most groups have a certain amount of tension because they are, well, groups. But political parties have a different flavor to them, something like sour-dough bread before it has been been baked. Some people like sour-dough-dough, and that's fine, but I don't. In fact, I'm not even sure I like it after it has been cooked, though a bread bowl of it filled with New England clam chowder can be another thing all together.

Disclaimer number two: I know people who actively participate in parties. Prior to moving here, I didn't, but now I do. So this posting doesn't mean I don't like people who belong to parties or that I think candidates endorsed by parties are evil. That would be ridiculous. And it would mean I'd have to dislike more than half the population in this region and never vote for anyone again. Besides, listening to "party talk" can even be interesting, but still, I wouldn't want to "belong" to one.

Second disclaimer, which is actually more of an emphasis of what I just said but I have to say it again because I know people label me incorrectly as a party member.

In case anyone missed it, I'm not a party person. I don't belong to a party, nor do I ever see myself wanting to. I'm independent. I don't mean I belong to the Independent Party. I mean I don't belong to any party at all. I don't vote along party-lines, and I rather resent not being able to participate in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. I realize there is some numeric reasoning for not being able to do so, but it still seems to me that when you go to a primary, you should vote for Democrat, Republican, and Independent candidates all at once. And if Libertarians want to be separate, I suppose we should add them as well. Why can't we choose all our candidates from every party in the primaries? It doesn't seem right that we can't.

Don't worry. Overthrowing the voting and party system falls into my interest-realm about as much as a black-tie party would. So the world is safe from my ranting extensively on yet another topic, but it might be something to consider if others agree, though if they wanted to unite on the issue, I couldn't join the organization at this time because there are, after all, designated hours of daylight that my body happens to pay attention to.

But really, wouldn't it be great if there were no parties, just people resolving issues and running purely on their platforms as opposed to their parties' donations, likes and dislikes?

When I vote, I am choosing a person to fix the problems in our nation, state, county, etc. And no offense to people in parties, but when I vote, I'm not choosing a group of pom-pom waving enthusiasts singing, "Hey! He's with us!" or "She's on our side!" I'm choosing someone I hope will be a caring, intelligent problem solver. I don't care about the confetti and champagne. I want someone who is going to give people what they need to live in a peaceful, productive society.

You'd think it would be that simple.

Nothing is simple, of course, and even when it is, we seem to complicate it out of some compulsion to confuse ourselves and the issues, our nation and the rest of the world.

My hero, Henry David Thoreau said, "Simplify, simplify, simplify."

But political parties just seem to make us "Classify, classify, classify."

I don't like that.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

And They Tell Us We're Crazy....

...when we complain about our schools being over-crowded!

*The national average for elementary schools is 445 students.
*The national average for middle schools is 603 students.
*The national average for high schools is 887 students.

The average teacher to student ratio in Virginia is 13 students to one teacher.

At Victory Elementary School, the ratio is 19 students to one teacher.

At Cedar Point Elementary, the ratio is 20 to one.

Source: School size data provided by the state Department of Education. National data is provided by the National Center for Education Statistics 2006 report, which is the most recent national data available.

Questions Parents Should Ask

If your child attends a small school:

*Does the school offer enough variety in the curriculum and extracurricular activities?
*Does the small size feel limiting?

If your child attends a large school:

*Are students getting enough attention from staff?
*Is discipline a problem?
*Is there a way to create small learning communities within the large school so that students receive more attention?

No matter what size school your child attends:

*Does the school size seem right for your child?
*Are there factors in your community causing an increase or decrease in enrollment?
*Are parents actively involved in the school community and does the staff welcome parent involvement?
*Are the majority of students achieving at high levels?
How Important is Class Size?
Class size is one of many factors to consider when choosing or evaluating a school.
By Lisa Rosenthal, GreatSchools Staff

What Defines a "Small Class"?

Researchers have found that gains in achievement generally occur when class size is reduced to less than 20 students.

What Are the Benefits of Small Classes?

Numerous studies have been done to assess the impact of class size reduction. Although most studies do show a relationship between small class size and increased student achievement, researchers disagree on how to interpret the results. Because there are so many variables in the average classroom — the quality of the teacher, the home environment of the students, the quality of the curriculum, the leadership of the school — it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions about student achievement based on class size alone. In other words, strategies effective in one setting may not be equally effective in another.

Nevertheless, studies over a period of years have pointed to a number of trends as a result of lowering class size:

*Gains associated with small classes generally appear when the class size is reduced to less than 20 students.
*Gains associated with small classes are stronger for the early grades.
*Gains are stronger for students who come from groups that are traditionally disadvantaged in education—minorities and immigrants.

Gains from class size reduction in the early grades continue for students in the upper grades. Students are less likely to be retained, more likely to stay in school and more likely to earn better grades.

Academic gains are not the only benefit of lowering class size. A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that reducing class sizes in elementary schools may be more cost-effective than most public health and medical interventions. This is because students in smaller classes are more likely to graduate from high school, and high school graduates earn more and also enjoy significantly better health than high school dropouts.

Why Does Reducing Class Size in the Early Grades Have a Positive Effect? Education researchers suspect that class size reduction in the early grades helps students to achieve because there is a greater opportunity for individual interaction between student and teacher in a small class. Teachers generally have better morale in a small class, too, and are less likely to feel overwhelmed by having a variety of students with different backgrounds and achievement levels. As a result, they are more likely to provide a supportive environment. One researcher, Frederick Mosteller notes "Reducing [the size of classes in the early grades] reduces the distractions in the room and gives the teacher more time to devote to each child."

In the early grades, students are just beginning to learn about the rules of the classroom, and they are figuring out if they can cope with the expectations of education. If they have more opportunity to interact with their teacher, they are more apt to feel like they can cope.

This theory would also explain why lowering class size in the upper grades may not have the same affect on achievement. Students in the upper grades, who may not have had the benefits of a small class in the early years, have already formed their habits, good and bad, for coping with their classroom environment. Simply reducing the class size at this level may not be enough to change their ways.

The Movement to Reduce Class Sizes in Public Schools

In recent years there has been a movement across the country to reduce class size in public schools. In the late 1990s when state coffers were full, it was politically popular to cut class sizes across the board in the lower grades as a way of pointing dollars toward education in a way that would please voters. Currently, well over half the states have class-size reduction programs for their public schools.

The federal government jumped on the bandwagon in 1998 with a federal class-size reduction initiative. From 1999-2000, the federal government's $2.6 billion appropriation enabled states and school districts to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes.

Reducing class size is an appealing and visible way for states and public schools to show that they are improving the quality of education. Because smaller classes allow teachers to devote more time to instruction and less to classroom management, smaller classes are popular with teachers unions and administrators. Many studies have shown an increase in student achievement, fewer discipline problems and improvement in teacher morale and retention as a result of class size reduction. But many researchers question whether the costs outweigh the benefits.

Unintended Consequences

In addition to high costs, reducing class size can have unintended consequences. When California reduced class size in 1996, the state found that it did not have enough veteran teachers or classrooms to meet the challenge. Schools were forced to hire new teachers and add portable classrooms to accommodate the state mandate. Schools faced a dilemma: Was it really better to have smaller classes with an inexperienced teacher or larger classes with experienced teachers?

Voters in the state of Florida approved a class-size reduction amendment in 2002 that requires classes to have no more than 18 students in pre-kindergarten through third-grade classes, no more than 22 in fourth- to eighth-grade classes and no more than 25 in high school classes. This required reduction will be phased in and must be in place by 2010. The state Board of Education estimates that Florida will need to spend $2 billion to build enough classrooms to meet the demands of the amendment.

Why Smaller Classes Aren't Enough

In California, where class size reduction began in 1996, the research has shown only a modest effect on achievement. This disappointingly small gain has been attributed to the following:
Per-student funding for class size reduction was not enough to cover the cost for already under-funded districts.

School districts had to hire new teachers, many of them not certificated, to meet the needs to make their classes smaller.

Serious overcrowding issues forced schools to "cannibalize" other needed facilities—special education rooms, child care centers, art and music rooms, gyms—or rent portable classrooms to accommodate the need for more classrooms.

The high cost of implementing class size reduction made it difficult to fund other education needs.

The California experience points to an important lesson. Class size reduction, in and of itself, is not the answer to all the problems in education. In order for a classroom to be effective, it must have a qualified teacher and adequate facilities. When weighing the advantages of class size reduction, schools, districts and states must consider these questions:

*Will there be enough resources to provide for high-quality teachers?
*Will there be adequate facilities to provide for the necessary classrooms?
*Will putting money into class size reduction take away money from other programs, such as art, music and child care?

How Important Is School Size?

School size may be as important as class size in influencing student behavior, especially in the upper grades. A recent national study that followed teens through their high school years found that students felt "connected" in schools with 900 or fewer students and that school size, not class size, was what mattered to them.

Other Important Factors to Consider

Teacher workload In high schools, it is important to consider not only the number of students per class but the nature of the class, and the subject the teacher is teaching. For example, a math teacher might have no problem teaching an advanced math class, or several math classes, with 35-40 students. But an English teacher teaching four classes of 40 students would probably not be able to give the proper attention to written assignments from that many students, and might not give as many assignments because of the large number of students.

Team teaching

Some schools might have classes of 40 taught by a team of two teachers. The class size by itself is not necessarily an indication of the attention students are getting.


Some schools effectively use parents and upper-grade students as volunteers in the classroom. This type of instructional help may not appear in a school's data about class size.

Updated January 2008

Clearly, this county and state need to make education more of a priority by decreasing class sizes, hiring additional qualified teachers, and stopping the use of trailers which provide only a temporary, poor solution.

This One Doesn't Like That One, That One Doesn't Like This One.....

.....Can't we all just get along?

Probably not.

But at the very least, we can ignore each other and do the right thing ourselves.

This works for most little problems and personality conflicts.

Vow to leave each other alone.

So what if your co-worker wears annoying shoes that clap down the hallway? So what if your neighbor plays ethnic music in a language you can't understand? Does the food being cooked in the next office smell too strange to you? Well block your nose. It takes minimal effort.

What happens when people do not leave each other alone?

Well conflict for one. And truthfully, a little conflict isn't so bad. Conflict can bring about dialogue and solutions. But when it's senseless conflict that goes on and on and one or the other side decides that the "solution" should be yet more conflict, then there's a real problem. "Go away" sometimes doesn't work with these people--especially if it's someone like your boss.

So maybe then it's time for mediation, a neutral third party used to draw up some solutions and an agreement.

But then the agreement must be enforced.

This is where policy, law, ordinances and rules grow indispensable, as do consequences. And someone must enforce the consequences or go back and review the rules. Maybe the consequences and rules were unfair to begin with.

But I think the most important rule to live by, the one that should start it all is "live and let live."

For one day, let's not fertilize irritation by allowing every petty action or personality trait of every irritating person spawn unreasonable conflict.

It's really hard.

We humans have sensitive nerve endings. We itch over bug bites literally and metaphorically. We let little things ruin our days and keep us awake at night. What a waste of a good life, eh?

I'm not preaching. I'm not excepted from any of the "we's" I blog about. But I've learned some things are worth tuning out, no matter how difficult it may be to do that. I've learned it from myself and from my kids: "If you can't say something nice to each other, then stop talking and just eat your breakfast."

So just for today, let's smile and move on.

There are more important conflicts to resolve.

And there is more peace we can give one another simply by leaving each other alone.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Thoughts on Beliefs


was thinking this morning about why I'm a Unitarian Universalist.

Well, it's not because I'm particularly radical. It's not because I'm ultra-liberal. Because I'm neither of those things. I don't go to every march in the D.C. Metro area. And I don't do things everyone else does. That's what some people think Unitarian Universalists are: anarchists or something who throw their bodies in front of moving police cars. I assure you, I've never met a Unitarian Universalist ("UU") who has done this. But if there are people who have, I'd like to meet them. I bet they'd be interesting to talk to.

I'm fairly certain I've been a UU for a long time. In the United States, Unitarian Universalism evolved out of the Congregational church. But its history goes back to the sixteenth century in Transylvania. No, we aren't a bunch of vampires. At least I've never met any at my church.

The UU tradition birthed in Concord Massachusetts has appealed to me since I was a sophomore in high school, a Catholic High school where an excellent English teacher introduced us to nineteeth century Transcendalism. From then on, I knew my beliefs were evolving, expanding. My classes in morality only enforced my conviction that we are here to do something other than just take up space and mind our own business. Living is not a spectator sport.

After about 20 years of mistrusting organized anything (believe me, I had my reasons), and having adopted Henry David Thoreau's and Ralph Waldo Emerson's sense of individualism, I decided to see if there were indeed others like me who believe every religion has something to offer as does every person. This was a big step for me. While I admired various churches and people with different belief systems, the idea of "church" scared me. I didn't want to be "converted" or "preached to" or "sucked in" or told I was some kind of evil person because I'd skipped church for so long. I had enough guilt in my own head that I had carried with me since childhood (because, for various reasons, I felt personally responsible for everything in the world), and I didn't need more.

After writing to the minister to ask some questions about the service, I read the information she sent me and finally took the brave step into the pretty little place called Bull Run Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

Well, I didn't get harangued. I didn't get manipulated. I didn't get hit up for money or for time or anything of the sort. But I did cry in the back pews because I felt like I finally found a place where I belonged. And because my Pastor is such an amazing speaker. And because no one tried to get me to think exactly the way they did.

Don't get me wrong. I didn't jump on any bandwagon or reveal my darkest secrets to the members or sign up for every activity they offered so I could cloister myself up in a church. In youth, I actually had considered becoming a cloistered nun but eventually decided I talk too much to do that. So I wasn't willing to make any such commitment now, especially because I'm married and have children.

I became what the church calls a "friend." Friends are people who attend the church now and then, maybe more, but aren't voting members. It's a free kind of free-wheeling association for those who like the church and what it represents but who don't want to "belong" to it. Some people stay "friends" for years. As someone who is always skeptical about group behavior, I was a "friend" for some months. Later, I joined. I've been a member now for a little over two years.

But it was the "Seven Principles" that really convinced me to join. These are the "tenets" of the UU tradition, and they were something I could live with as I continued to explore as many other traditions as I wanted to including my native Catholicism, belief in Hindu and Buddist reincarnation, the multi-faces of God and prophets, the meaning of the Jewish experience, the beauty of Islam, Native American beliefs, and more. The Seven Principles hold it all together.
The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Having studied world religions (though not as much as I would like), I appreciated that Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:
Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

I guess I felt like writing about this because it's important for me to organize my thoughts on how my own beliefs have evolved, where the roots lie, and how I've integrated my passion for "liberty and justice for all" into my daily routine. I love my country and my world and I will do whatever I can to preserve it and hopefully improve it for everyone's sake. No, this is not always a fun, easy or nice task, but it's what I want to do. And it takes some time and some strong words to get it done.

This entry needs to be longer because an evolution like this is so much more complex. But it's a reflective start. Introspection is fun.

Yeah, I know. MAJOR GEEK!

Disclaimer: My experience doesn't represent anyone else's, nor do my personal beliefs. I don't represent the church or any group within the church. And like any other member of any other church, I am certainly not the prototype of my congregation. Thank GOD!

Monday, May 26, 2008


Nods at your tombstones

Barbecues, beach days, beer cans

Simply not enough


That last march we had

Screeching over our freedoms

Rights. Pamphlets. Thank you.


Sixteen, fine hair falls

Parachutes, songs, forms, consent

You never came home

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Guest Blogger's Lesson

by Dexter L. Fox
The two-hour drive over twisting state roads through the Indiana farm country seemed nearly endless, an almost weekly ritual. My Dad had the car loaded so we could leave as soon as I got home from school. When the timing was right, we would arrive for supper in my grandmother’s high-ceilinged kitchen. My mother and father would linger over coffee and pie while I rummaged around for anything to occupy my attention. Later my grandfather would gather up the day’s trash and take it out to burn in the rusted fifty-gallon drum that served as incinerator on the alley behind the house. There wasn’t much to engage my interest.
We stayed in my grandmother’s second floor guest room, but the real object of our visits was ‘the farm,’ half a mile down a gravel road a couple of miles out of town and whatever chore obligated us for the weekend. Dad roused himself and me, early in the morning just as the sun came up, or even before. He liked to arrive just as the tenant finished the milking. Then dad would have a cup of coffee over breakfast and catch up on local news next to the woodstove in the kitchen where he had grown up as a boy.
The milking was often in progress when we got to the farm. I remember standing in the open space of the barn listening to our tenant shift the milkers from one cow to the next. At the end of the morning he would take an old bucket and milk one of the cows by hand. That was when the cats would creep out from the stalls, the hay, or in through the stable door at the back. When he had finished milking he would pour out a basin of fresh milk, and the cats would gather around like barflies at some local tavern.
Maybe it was a holdover from earlier childhood, the threat of an all too familiar boredom, or my last chance to assert myself before a day of farm work that caused me to devil the cats. I learned that I needed to wait for them to finish before attempting to capture one for my personal enjoyment or sport. As time went on I probably coaxed most of them into a game or two, but they were after all barn cats. By nature they were skittish and sometimes difficult to entice. It was a challenge to distract them and then to keep them entertained and vulnerable. Kittens of course were easily beguiled; mature females could be lured away with a piece of twine or some subtle repetitive movement, but the patriarch of the feline tribe, Old Tom, was a force and a challenge.
Tom was a yellow tiger with disdain to spare when it came to my feeble attempts at his seduction. His yellow coat had grayed many years before, and it was difficult to speculate how many of the kittens I nuzzled he had sired. Generations and generations of them I suspect. Still, the canny feline held sway. Younger males were somehow culled from the clan over which he reigned. I suspect he knew every slat in our barn, where the tiniest passageways were, the loose boards, and which openings to navigate at any given moment to scuttle noiselessly from place to place. I don’t doubt that he earned his keep. He certainly kept the place in kittens, and I never recall any particular rodent problem. If he was aggressive to our hens I never heard of it. He had, it seems, a nearly perfect symbiotic relationship. We got a rodent free barn; he got a daily basin of warm milk and all the females he could service. It was a worthy bargain but I wanted more.
I wanted to humble Old Tom. I wanted to cradle him in my arms and tickle the thinning fur of his lithe belly. I wanted to hear him succumb to the sensual extravagance of purring under my touch. I wanted to debase his ownership of the feral realm over which he prevailed. I wanted to prove that far from brazen and powerful, he was only skittish and shy. A cat, like any other, that could be seduced by warm milk, a soft hand, and gentle stroking. I knew I would need to restrain him. I knew that if I ever succeeded in laying a hand on his taut frame he would turn with a ferocity that would clearly demonstrate who was master of that situation; and yet I persisted.
It became something of an obsession with me, and Old Tom knew it. As the cats received their basin of milk he would sit eyeing me, awaiting my first move, assessing strategies, contemplating his response with chess-like deliberation. Often he simply turned tail and disappeared through a crack, around a corner, or into a cranny that afforded some impromptu refuge. More than once I dismantled his improvised cover only to discover that once diverted by his ruse, he was content to loiter at the milk basin behind my back. If I switched strategies and watched for his escape, he had the cunning to out wait me. If I attempted to run him down he, with minimal effort, simply seemed to vanish into the dusty air of the barn. His bearing uncompromised by the likes of me.
Early one fall morning a cold mist hung over the grass. We arrived as the sun began its first assault on the morning chill. The milking was done, but I walked to the barn to see if some greedy tabby still lingered trying to tease the last dregs of milk from the basin. The barn was empty, the basin dry. I left to walk back to breakfast at the house. Then for no particular reason I altered my course to walk through the feed shed and corn crib. From the angle of my path I saw, almost at once, Old Tom stretched out in the bin with the soybeans, the victim of morning lethargy and the relative warmth of his soybean retreat. I caught my breath. At last my old adversary had let down his guard. I paused. Tense and still I drew in a deep breath so that not even my breathing would alert my sleeping prey. With deliberate stealth I bowed my step so as not to risk the brush of fabric as I stalked my adversary. Step after careful step I approached the bin, certain that at any moment Old Tom would spring up and scramble for cover. Half way to the bin I eased my arm to full extension, cautious of any sound as my moment of triumph neared. And I succeeded. I reached the bin and paused for just a second; aware that I was about to unleash a frenzy of startled fur and flailing claws. Then, with deliberate force, I grabbed him where his muscled neck met his broad shoulder.
The response was instant, like the horrible moment when there is no retreat and yet the deed initiated cannot be altered. An electrifying moment when the nervous system responds before the brain processes what has occurred. My hand, stretched out to pluck him from sleep, restrained not the supple body I expected, but a rigid body of stone. Old Tom was unyielding, cold, and dead. The horror of the moment propelled me back several steps. I gasped in unexpected panic. Did a cry escape my lips? Was I even too stunned to shriek?

Later that morning, when we lifted Old Tom from the bin with a long-handled spade, his side was compressed, flat, molded and firm in the frozen rigor of his death. We buried him unceremoniously in the dirt behind the corncrib, his passing unattended by the heirs of his dominion, his grave unmarked and void of any sign. Yet I carry him with me indelibly imprinted. Now there could be no further opportunity, no last attempt, no reprieve for failed cunning. The game was ended. The triumph his, even in death.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

"Patient Voices: A.D.H.D."

My good friend sent me a link to a New York Times piece, "Patient Voices: A.D.H.D.", an excellent, brief video collection that reminds me of my foot-tapping-hair-twirling-word-blurting self. And the filmed children patients helped clue my older daughter in that she is not the only one in the world (besides her mother, that is) who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

We come by it honestly: ADHD runs in our family. My two cousins have it and so does my nephew. I am quite sure there are other members of my family who could be diagnosed with it as well, but it doesn't seem to interfere with their lives enough for them to bother. They've learned to compensate, as I did until after I had babies. They just wiggle a lot and annoy people.

For most of my life, I compensated through structure. School helped. Adulthood seemed to make it more difficult, however. The ADHD was harder to manage because life threw so many changes at me that it was harder to live by a schedule. College classes and homework might have provided solid structure, but babies don't care about our structure, as any parent will tell you. It was quite a challenge.

ADHD, as the Times piece points out, can be both a blessing and a curse. ADHD allows my mind to wander into places that some people's minds never get to. Multitasking and a wide variety of interests help keep my life (and my loved ones') interesting to say the least. Depending on the day, they would tell you if "interesting" is good, bad, or just plain irritating. People sometimes have difficulty following my rambling, ambling walks through winding, diverse paths. And that's okay. Those who know and love me best just let me do it while they follow at a safe distance.

Here's the curse, especially for my daughter at the moment. We blurt. We tend to be impulsive. We do things that some people just don't understand. We get messy and distracted and well, hyper. But you wouldn't be able to pick us out in a crowd and say, "Hey! There's someone with ADHD!" That's also a curse because when people don't know what your condition is, they think you're weird. It's an invisible disability. It's not an excuse, but it IS a disability.

Both my daughter and I have had tremendous difficulty with medication. Medication has had serious, negative side effects for us in the past, so much so that I've decided not to take medication. Since I've compensated for most of my life, I decided I can continue to do so now that my "babies" are growing up. I use lists and email and clip my keys to my purse. I'm learning to hold my tongue and practice tact. My daughter, however, isn't old enough to manage yet, and while she's had some seriously bad bouts with medication, her current meds help keep her focused at school and have virtually no side effects.

My daughter is a very bright child, and like any other child, needs direction and focus. But unlike other children, she needs much more. I truly believe that she will eventually not have to take medication to be successful in school. Probably this time won't come until college, but the way she is growing, that doesn't seem so far away.

Too many people think ADHD is a myth, probably because when the medical community first became aware of it, the condition was over-diagnosed, confused with other conditions. This gave people with ADHD a bad rap. "That kid just needs more discipline." "That woman just needs to shut up and clean her desk." "That guy is totally weird." "Why is he always bouncing his leg?" But ADHD is a proven medical condition that is treatable. The source of ADHD is neurological. Sometimes people with ADHD have more than one neurological disorder because our nervous system is, well, kind of different.

Like the little girl in the Times video, I suppose you could call ADHD a disease. I like and dislike this word. A disease to me sounds somehow so fatal. And if ADHD is left untreated or poorly managed, it certainly could be. I prefer to think of it as a condition. For me, it's a permanant condition, something I have to work around. ADHD is a disability. It makes things harder, just like any disability does. But a disease? Hmmm.

On the other hand, whether I like the term "disease" or not, the little girl is correct. By definition, a disease is, "a disordered or incorrectly functioning organ." Neurons and the brain are not separate from the body. The brain is an organ, so why shouldn't ADHD be called a disease? It is. That girl has given me something to think about. She's given all of us something to think about.

It's important for parents of children with ADHD to talk to other parents whose children or family members have it as well. Children who don't get diagnosed right away often have a "disciplinary" history that labels them as "bad kids." Once these kids get the right treatment, however, they have the chance to lose the label. But sometimes, the damage is already done, and this affects both the child's and the parent's self esteem. Kids don't WANT to be "bad." Parents don't want them to be "bad" either. It's stressful for everyone and we need support.

The more the media and other communication sources highlight and explain ADHD, the better all of us will be, especially those of us who have ADHD and families who want to understand it. It's important for people to know what the symptoms could be, that ADHD for one person might not manifest itself in the same way as another person.

Recognizing the symptoms and getting good treatment could mean the difference between a life less than productive and a life that proves successfully living with a disability is more than just possible. It's probable.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Commission on Immigration: Public Comments

Sent to:

Dear Commission:

Since I cannot attend today's meeting, I would like to add my comments to the public record.

While immigration is a complex issue that must be addressed at the federal level, we must consider reasonable actions at the local level. By the local level, I mean the neighborhood level. We can do this in the following ways:

1. Education for assimilation: education can be in the form of live meetings to communicate what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Since many minorities (and others) are reticent to attend meetings, simple of understand written materials should also be available in several languages. This is one way to head off potential problems like over-crowding and petty crime. English classes should also be openly available for anyone who needs them. For this to happen, fear must be reduced.

2. Enforcement of fire and safety codes: this is essential to the health and well being of our communities. Fire and safety codes are objective measurements that prevent over-crowding. If families are living in crowded conditions, they need to be referred to housing assistance agencies that will help them relocate. This means we need to invest in personnel to check fire and safety hazards and in affordable housing and rental programs.

3. Community clean up days: we need as many people as possible to participate. In every community, there is trash. In every community, there are people who care. Further trash prevention measures can be implemented via #1 (general trash) and #2 (biohazards).

4. Friendly door-to-door visits from local public officials (not police, not HOA's or private group members): these should be designed to welcome all residents and provide information on services and contacts. Alleged "flop houses" should not be omitted from these visits.

5. Fair and humane treatment of all prisoners, illegal immigrants and otherwise: we can assume that all criminals should be incarcerated in some way but that every criminal has the right to humane treatment. Keep in mind that just violating current immigration law is a civil offense; it is not a criminal offense and should never be treated as one.

At the federal level, we need the following.

1. More than just enforcement: enforcement only breeds an atmosphere of fear and injustice. Without policy reform and implementation, including securing the borders and helping current residents work towards citizenship, we are wasting time and money.

2. Increased diplomacy with Mexico and other countries represented by large immigrant populations in the United States: without such diplomatic efforts, any policy reform is bound to lack support at the international levels which puts our country at risk.

3. Congress people demanding policy reform and truly working together to fix this problem which clearly has been neglected for too long.

If there is one thing the resolution in Prince William County has taught us it's that local policy "snuck" in with disregard for public opinion from every sector is disastrous to the economy, the harmony of the community, the reputation and perception of the area, and the safety of all.

Allowing any one group to dominate the discussion on immigration, bypassing democratic process, and preventing open government destroys a community faster than any recession can.

Please consider my thoughts and ideas carefully. I am always happy to answer questions.


Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Journey Through Hallowed Ground: Please Plan a Better PWC!

Dear BOCS:

PWC should more actively support the Journey Through Hallowed Ground and implement "Context Sensitive Solutions" throughout the entire county.

According to the folks at Journey Through Hallowed Ground, the BOCS has endorsed the program, a strategy with an emphasis on Context Sensitive Solutions that preserve landscapes and historical sites. Context Sensitive Solutions include wise development that is carefully planned and contributes to the economy through increased tourism.

Please avoid further, ugly, thoughtless over-development. Maintain our history, and preserve the natural beauty we have as we continue to grow.

These goals need not be in opposition.


Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt

Stop Kevin Green's Execution Scheduled May 27

The Honorable Timothy M. Kaine
Governor of Virginia
1111 East Broad St. 3rd Fl.
Richmond, VA 23219

Dear Governor Kaine:

Please stop the execution of Kevin Green, a person with severe intellectual disabilities!

With the availability in Virginia of a life-without-parole sentence, executions are never needed to ensure that those convicted of murder do not repeat their offenses. Executions are unjustified and must be halted by any legitimate means available whenever there are ways to protect society that do not require more loss of life.

You have already made your personal opposition to the death penalty well known. You now have an opportunity to put your belief into practice by sparing Kevin Green's life. I urge you to choose life over death with the commutation power entrusted to you for the common good.

Mr. Green has the IQ of a mentally retarded individual, repeated three years of elementary school, and has never even learned to tie his shoes! We must err on the side of life instead of moving forward with an execution when a court could easily have concluded that such a punishment is unconstitutional in this case.

I thank you for considering my perspective as you contemplate this life-or-death matter.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt
Further note: In this case, life in prison or a mental hospital might be more appropriate and be a reminder of what happens when we do not intervene early enough (I am thinking of VA Tech again).
Apparently, Mr. Greene has had multiple arrests and charges. If VA knew his intellectual capacity before and didn't do something to prevent further incident after his first arrest, what does that mean about our system? What good will it do to murder again?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Keep Our Beauty, Save our History

Please forward this message to 5 people or more!
Rescue Prince William County's Rt. 15 for The Journey Through Hallowed Ground

Development & History can coexist with "Context Sensitive Solutions"

Despite the Prince William County Board of Supervisors voted one year ago to be involved in The Journey Through Hallowed Ground, Rt. 15, also known as James Madison Highway in Prince William County which is being rapidly suburbanized with new,thoughtless growth.

The Journey is a National Heritage Area running the 175 miles along Rt. 15 from Gettysburg, PA to Thomas Jefferson's home "Monticello"near Charlottesville, VA. This area contains more American history than any other. This means money for PWC from Heritage Tourism. The Journey will also give us federal funds to beautify and protect the rural, historic viewshed, roadbed and roadside along Rt. 15.

At this time, those that organized The Journey are saying that without improvements, the Journey will bypass most of Prince William County. If this happens, Rt. 15 will continue with its ugly growth.

Most of us using Rt. 15 daily are appalled at the ugliness that is created. Prince William has much history to be proud of in its Rural Crescent and it is getting lost. There are ways of hiding the new development, such as with berms (earthen hills), set backs, landscaping, putting wires underground, having planted road mediums, etc. (all called Context Sensitive Solutions). If a road needs to be four lanes it can look like a parkway. People will be paid to leave their woods uncut.

Now the Board of Supervisors must put some bite into their declaration made one year ago that they want to be a part of The Journey, a decision that beautifies our county, increases the value of our homes and improves the quality of our lives.

My note: PWC should implement context sensitive solutions throughout the county. Help us avoid ugly, over-development, maintain our history, and preserve the natural beauty we have. These are gifts and we need to treat them as such.

Tell our County Supervisors and Departments YOU support the Journey Through Hallowed Ground!

Chairman, Corey Stewart, 703-792-464o

Gainesville, John Stirrup, 703-792-6195

Brentsville, Wally Covington, 703-792-6190

Planning Commission 1 County Complex Court, Woodbridge, Virginia 22192-9201 (703) 792-6830 Metro 631-1703, Ext. 6830 FAX (703) 792-4758

Zoning Commission Public Works, Internet Comment Page

PWC Parks and Recreation Prince William County Park Authority Headquarters Contact: 703-792-7060 George Hellwig Memorial Park Authority 14420 Bristow Road Manassas, VA 20112 TTY 703-791-4068 FAX: 703-792-4278

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Standing Up to Hate"

from Washington Post Online
Letters To the Editor
Sunday, May 18, 2008; Page PW02

I want to thank everyone in our community who helped to stand against the hate being perpetrated by Greg Letiecq's Black Velvet Bruce Li blog.

I consider Mr. Letiecq a dangerous man and his blog and extremist nativist organization (according to the Southern Poverty Law Center) a serious threat to our community. First, he creates his hate-filled blog. Then he goes on to assassinate the character of some members of our community. Then he helps create an extremist nativist organization and becomes its president. Then he links up with the Immigration Reform Law Institute and asks Michael Hethmon (who worked for many years as a staff lawyer for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a hate group, according to the SPLC) to write the first draft of Prince William County's anti-illegal immigration resolution. Then he asks Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville) to sponsor the resolution, which he gladly does.

Mr. Letiecq has been the catalyst and perpetrator of this hateful and costly behavior from the beginning, and he enjoys bragging about much of this in his recent Front Line newsletter.

A few years ago, Prince William passed a resolution declaring it to be a hate-free zone. I endorse our supervisors for having the courage to stand against the hate being perpetrated in the Black Velvet Bruce Li blog.

Two weeks ago, supervisors voted to change the anti-illegal immigrant resolution. It was an important vote that opened the door for healing to begin in our community. Since then, at least one supervisor has received serious threats as a result of the changes to the resolution. Intimidation and hate are powerful forces that can be used to shape public policy if we stand by and let it happen.

I applaud our supervisors and county government officials for their courage to stand against this ugly behavior. I challenge other members of our community to do the same, especially our houses of worship and business community.

Gregg Reynolds

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Islam 101



Starting Sunday May 4, 2008
Instructor: Br. Altaf Taufique

Where: Dar Alnoor
5404 Hoadly Road
Manassas, VA 20112

When: Every Sunday 4:00 PM
Classes are designed for new Muslims and non-Muslims

Feel free to ask any question.
No question will be considered offensive.
Books and other material provided at no cost.

Please register by E-mail
Call numbers listed below

Br. Mohammad Mehboob 571-220-2147

Br. Rafi Ahmed 571-334-3011

Community invited to speak on immigration issues

Community invited to speak on immigration issues
Virginia Commission on Immigration to hold public hearing at GMU

Fairfax, Va. – The Virginia Commission on Immigration will hold its first of five statewide public hearings on Thursday, May 22 in the Johnson Center Cinema on the campus of George Mason University. The Commission is seeking public input on how immigration issues are affecting Virginia.

The public is encouraged to focus their input to immigration issues affecting Northern Virginia, as the Commission will conduct additional hearings in other parts of the Commonwealth. Public comment will be limited to three minutes per person. Sign up for public comment will be onsite at 1:00 p.m. Written comments can also be submitted in advance for Commission review prior to the meeting via email at, or by mail to:

Virginia Commission on Immigration
c/o Matt Gross
7 North Eight Street, 6th Floor
Richmond, VA 23219

The Virginia Commission on Immigration is charged with studying, reporting and making recommendations to address the costs and benefits of immigration on the Commonwealth related to education, health care, law enforcement, local demands for services, the economy and the effects of federal immigration and funding policies. The Commission is chaired by Senator John Watkins (R-Powhatan) and co-chaired by Delegate Jackson Miller (R-Manassas).

For more information, contact Matt Gross at (804) 726-7087, or or visit

Friday, May 16, 2008

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Corey Stewart: The chicken was an illegal. This shows our Rule of Law is working. We save millions of dollars every time a chicken crosses the road.

John Stirrup: The chicken is joining the invasion of our county. This is the kind of behavior representative of all chickens.

Wally Covington: There's obviously something across the road that is worth crossing for. This could translate into millions of dollars in tax revenue. We need to explore the other side as soon as possible and maximize this opportunity as Prince William County, known for wisely using economic resources, has done for decades.

Mike May: I'm a conservative.

Marty Nohe: We need to look more closely at what the chicken needs in order to cross the road.

Frank Principi: Rescind the chicken.

Maureen Caddigan: If you promised that chicken something across the road, you better deliver it.

John Jenkins: The chicken voted for me last year.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sallie Mae Discriminatory Practices

"The James-Hoyer Law Firm recently filed a Class Action Suit against Sallie Mae alleging its lending practices discriminate against minorities.

If you are African American or Hispanic and have a private student loan with Sallie Mae, we'd like to talk with you. If you are a former Sallie Mae employee please contact us below. We are continuing our investigation as we move forward.

Please contact us using the form below if you believe you have been charged unreasonably high interest rates or fees, have been given unfavorable loan terms, or that Sallie Mae has otherwise acted unfairly towards you on the basis of your race. One focus of our investigation concerns allegations that Sallie Mae's private student loan underwriting process discriminates against minorities attending schools with a high percentage of minority students.

In addition to the case we have already filed, we are also investigating the following issues on behalf of all Sallie Mae student loan borrowers:

--Unfair collection practices
--Failure to timely disclose terms of loans
--No choice in selecting your student loan lender
--High or excessive interest rates
--Unexplained increase in the balance of your student loans
--Improper fees assessed on your student loans

If you have experienced any of these problems with your Sallie Mae student loan, or if you are a former Sallie Mae employee and have information regarding these issues, please contact us using the form below. One of our attorneys or investigators will respond to your e-mail promptly. Our law firm, headquartered in Tampa, Florida, fights fraud on behalf of consumers across the country. Click here:"

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt is not a lawyer, nor does she work for The James-Hoyer Law Firm. The information above was obtained via their website.

See for more information on students who have been hurt in the predatory market of student loans. Tell your story! Get help!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Help Us, Senator Webb!

Dear Senator Webb:

Thank you for your automated response. : ) However, I am a prior-borrower who was ripped off by an unethical institution. Last week, your office sent me the same message I keep getting over and over again from other agencies: a copy of a 2004 statement from the Department of Education telling me there is nothing they can do about my loans even though they investigated the school (Union Institute), as did the accreditors, and were mandated to make changes in the program and in their financial aid distribution.

While the legislation you refer to below might be good news for some current students, it does nothing for people like me who have no consumer protection and no access to attorneys.

One reason the default rate is so high is that students who have had personal tragedies, have fallen victim to educational malpractice or made bad loans have no way of rectifying the problem; the government doesn't provide options at any level through any agency other than default, which is not really an option.

While your intentions are good, I'm still stuck, as are tens of thousands of other prior borrowers.

I can give you dozens of good reasons why my loan should be discharged and even more reasons why Union Institute should be sued for every penny they have. But that doesn't do me any good, since I'm not a lawyer, nor do I have help from the Department of Education or North Central (the accreditors).

Please consider this when continuing to work on student issues.

Thank you very much!

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt
Bristow VA 20135

P. S. I voted for you.

----- Original Message -----
From: mhtml:%7BFB7EFB9B-64DD-4A51-9E22-DD94EC019A4C%7Dmid://00000745/!
Sent: Tuesday, May 13, 2008 3:29 PM
Subject: Senator Jim Webb's response to your message

May 13, 2008
Mrs. Katherine Gotthardt
Bristow, Virginia 20136

Dear Mrs. Gotthardt:

Thank you for contacting my office regarding federal student loans. I appreciate your taking the time to share your views.

I share your concerns that students and their families are facing difficulties repaying student loans. You will be pleased to know Congress has been active in addressing the cost of higher education and federal student loans. On September 27, 2007, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (P.L. 110-84), with my support, was signed into law. This law made significant changes to the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program, the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (DL) program, the Pell Grant program, and the federal need analysis formula. Over the next five years, funding for Federal Pell Grants will increase by $11.4 billion, increasing the maximum Pell Grant from $4,310 in 2007 to $5,400 by 2012.

Furthermore, both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives have passed the Higher Education Authorization bill (S. 1642). This legislation is currently pending in a Conference Committee where members from both the House and Senate are working on the final language. Both this bill, and the College Cost Reduction and Access Act will increase need-based aid for students, simplify the financial aid process, and, among other things, provide loan forgiveness for students who work in public service.

You will be pleased to know that the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act (H.R. 5715) passed the Senate, with my support, on April 30, 2008, and was signed into law on May 7, 2008. This bill will increase loan amounts for unsubsidized Stafford Loans, increase the length of deferment for repayment for parent borrowers of PLUS loans, update procedures for lender of last resort loans, and authorize the Secretary of Education to purchase loans previously made under the Federal Family Education Loan Program until July 2009, to ensure the availability of loan capital to meet the demand of student loans.

Lastly, I cosigned a bipartisan letter on March 12, 2008 to the U.S. Secretaries of Treasury and Education requesting that they ensure continued access to student loans and liquidity in the market.

As the 110th Congress continues to address the rising costs of higher education and other important issues facing the United States, your views are very helpful to me. Please be assured my staff and I will closely monitor this issue and any pending legislation, with your specific views in mind. I hope that you will continue to share your thoughts with us in the years ahead.

I would also invite you to visit my website at for regular updates about my activities and positions on matters that are important to Virginia and our nation.

Thank you once again for contacting my office.


Jim Webb
United States Senator

Please do not reply. This is not a working email address.
See for more stories of students who have been hurt in this predatory system. Take action! Tell your story! It's time.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bristow Commons: Just Say NO

Bristow Commons - Great Idea Wrong Location!

According to their website, “Bristow Commons is an upscale mixed-use lifestyle center that infuses up to 90k square feet of much needed retail and office in the vast expanse of residential developments in the Linton Hall corridor of Prince William County, Northern Virginia. Approximately 55-70ksf of retail & retail services and 15-20ksf of office space is envisioned”, ~

Do we really need another shopping center off Linton Hall and Devlin Road? Does traffic ring a bell to local commuters? Let’s face it one unique aspect of living in this side of Prince William County is the feeling of vastness and the open space. Regardless of what they say, Bristow Commons is another strip mall and potentially can be an eye sore to local residents, devalue homes because of the proximity to the future stores, and may adversely impact the surrounding neighborhood of Sheffield Manor, Bridle Wood Manor, Linton Hall Crest, and the Victory Lakes communities.

Did the developer(s) research the long termed impact or potential harm to the environment? Or better yet, do they even live in Bristow or Gainesville, Virginia? There is nothing wrong with any future business development expansion for communities in Bristow or Gainesville. The developers really need to sit down and think this through. The Linton Hall Road and the Devlin Road is not designed to take additional overflow traffic from Gainesville or Manassas, Virginia.
Bristow Common anticipates ground breaking in the spring of 2009. Local residents are encouraged to contact Wally Covington with regards to additional land use and commercial development off Linton Hall Road/Devlin Road. His address is:

Wally Covington
Brentsville District

8506 Wellington Rd. Manassas, VA 20109Office Phone: (703) 792-6190Office Fax: (703) 257-9792

Date Published: 2008-04-30 06:38:20


K.M.G. says: IMO, it's not too late to turn this around. We can ask the BOCS to have another hearing, especially given that full disclosure was not made to residents at the time the developer marketed this to the public, many of whom had not prior knowledge of this proposal.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Because It's Not a Cause

For the past ten or twelve hours, I've been juxtaposing the definition of "compassion" one of my students used as an essay topic and the words, "You're not helping your cause" addressed to me by a blogger.

First, let me say, if you want to generate thoughts you can really gnaw on, try merging two ideas from completely different perspectives and contexts and have at it. It's the kind of creative synthesis poets and artists love. It's like scrap booking but with thoughts.

So a little about the original context of the ideas: my student elaborated on the word "compassion" for an essay using the "definition" rhetorical pattern. She explained that truly compassionate people don't look for rewards. They "do" because they understand and love people.

The blogger was commenting how my references to hate groups (which are, incidentally, grounded in research and labels from other groups and organizations and are not my own) didn't help "my cause." I suppose he/she meant I was detracting from the argument of the "side" he/she presumes I am on. This is interesting in itself, because I don't think of myself as being on a "side." My refusal to take "sides" is mixed in with what I gleaned from merging all this "stuff" last night. I suspect this is why I often wake up tired. My brain doesn't seem to respect the need for sleep.

So here's my own thesis: Causes are often superficial reasons for not-so-compassionate people to have something to do. Furthermore, truly compassionate people do expect to get something in return for their efforts: they expect to get the kind of world in which they wish to live. I don't work for causes, and I'm selfish. I want what I want, and that's to live in a peaceful world filled with beauty: a variety of people, nurtured nature, and art.

Don't get me wrong. Supporting a "cause" can work. Remember those little rice boxes you or your kids came home with for the purpose of collecting change to alleviate hunger? That's a cause. It's a good one. It helps kids learn the value of giving....sometimes. But too often, these "causes" just become competitions. Who can fill up the box the most and the fastest? Adults are no different. Who can give the most money and have the most pictures taken at ribbon cuttings?
You see these people all the time--politicians grinning over their latest good work that happens to enhance their public image as "the good guy." Too many of them care more about the image than anything else. The "cause" is just a vehicle for political motives. "Vote for me! I kiss babies!" You know, that kind of thing.

I've seen younger people take on causes as well not because they are particularly compassionate but because they are missing something. Causes become substitutes for having to make real-life decisions like, "What do I want to do when I grow up?" Jump on the "cause" bandwagon, and you have instant meaning to life. Or you might get the kind of family feeling you never had before. It could be saving the world or following the remains of The Grateful Dead, for all they care. They just need an identity and a group.

Please don't get me wrong. Causes can yield positive results and not everyone who "works for a cause" has such shallow motives. And young people who join causes out of need aren't bad people--they are just, well, needy. But I don't identify with such "causes" because.....I'm weird? I don't like the kind of unthinking "group behavior" that often erupts in cause-driven groups? I don't relate to people who are purely cause-driven? I already have an identity and a family and values? I guess it's all of these things.

People who join causes are presumed to be selfless, compassionate people. Well, I'm not that either. As I said before, I want what I want. When I get what I want, I'm happier. Fortunately, so are other people because my happiness entails their happiness and peace for all. I feel terrible when hatred and unbridled, counter-productive anger run amok. It's scary and uncomfortable.

People, animals and the world suffering under destructive forces makes me sad. I don't want to live in a world like this, and I don't want my children having to. If I don't help alleviate these problems, I feel like a lazy hypocrite who is not being true to self and family. So I do what I can do when I can do it. I can't over-do it, or I lose the very things I am fighting for. I have to pace myself.

I don't mind annoying people to get what I want if I think it will lead to positive change. I also don't mind telling people if I think they are wrong or they are doing something counter-productive. But I don't do it because I'm on a "cause" bandwagon. And I don't do it from selflessness. Yes, I am compassionate, but I do expect something in return---not political or social popularity or riches or fame but at least the knowledge I've tried to get what I want and what others want: the ability to work and live in an environment harassment and suffering-free.

It's never going to happen, of course. Life isn't like that. But most of us, I think, can feel better when at least 80% of the time we are left alone to live our lives the way we want to. I believe in this country we call that "freedom."

So, God Bless America.

"He" better because I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing, which is bound to irritate many along the way.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Career Change?

I think I'm in the wrong field.

I think I need to work in Government Accountability or some kind of public bitching center. Except I don't think people get paid for that. And I suspect they get spanked quite a bit. I don't feel like getting spanked in order to make a living. Somehow, that seems wrong.

However, right now I seem to be doing it for free. That's kind of a spanking in and of itself, isn't it? It's a double spanking--you get people mad and you don't get paid. But I can't help it. I'm sick of democracy and justice being undermined in this country and in out county. Besides that, it's down right nerve wracking. How can we continue to function if we keep screwing our own residents over?

You can see I'm reverting to potty-mouth this afternoon. I'm giving myself permission. Potty mouth is sometimes good for the soul. When you read as much crap as I do, potty mouth becomes a kind of garbage-in-garbage out. Unfortunately, most of the "garbage in" comes from official statements by selected politicians and local leaders--liars.

I don't like liars. You can say a lot of things to me without my getting seriously offended, but don't lie. Lying demeans both of us. And don't make up stupid excuses that your mother wouldn't even believe.

I'll listen to a lot of things. I'll listen to things I don't agree with and I can usually even find some common ground. I'll let people ramble when I have time to hear it, and I'll read things that don't interest me when asked to do so. But please don't ask me to read lies and accept them. I don't think that's an unreasonable request. When you lie, you demean both of us.

I could give several examples of the dishonesty I'm describing, but I really don't want to get into it right now. That's no lie. Talking about liars all the time gives me "hueva." If you don't know what "hueva" means, it's probably a good thing. It's Spanish potty mouth.

It was different growing up where I did. The "bad kids" were really easy to spot. They usually smelled like pot or were sitting in detention. You could avoid them without too much effort, especially if you were like me, a quiet female who didn't rock the boat. It's not like that now. It's harder to spot the "bad guys." Pot and detentions don't signify much in this new grown-up world I live in. And I'm no longer a quiet female who doesn't rock the boat.

I've discovered it's easy to rock the boat. All you have to do is start asking questions out of pure curiosity or concern, and before you know it, you've caused a title wave. What's up with that? I don't mind if people ask ME questions. I guess that's because I have nothing to hide or to lie about. The world isn't that simple, though, is it? Not everyone is forthcoming or honest. Granted, some people are just more private and that doesn't make them liars, but that makes it even harder to spot a liar sometimes.

It's easier to spot a political liar, though. They do themselves in all the time. All you have to do is compare two different articles or reports and all of a sudden, poof. The veil is lifted. It's harder in other sectors where people don't leave as many footprints or paper trails.

Well, enough boat rocking today. I've got some household messes to clean. I have to go scrub my bathroom. I'm sure the toilet especially needs it.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Please Help Our Student Borrowers & Families

Like home loans, student loans have become predatory because borrowers have no consumer protection from unethical lenders and/or schools that do not live up to their promises.

Furthermore, students who have endured tragedies in their lives have no options except default, which does more than just ruin credit: it ruins career choices and income potential because wages are attached.

I would appreciate if you would forward this to any consumer protection groups you might know of. We are looking for reform that will give students a chance to better themselves without risking their financial and personal futures.

We are also looking for attorneys who can help students (like yours truly) who have struggled through this system, one of the many broken ones in our nation.

Thank you!

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt

----- Original Message -----
From: Student Loan Justice
To: Student Loan Justice
Sent: Saturday, May 03, 2008 1:49 PM
Subject: Checking in: May 1st, 2008
Hey Everyone,

Hope all is well out there. Welcome to the new members. We have noticed an uptick in submissions over the past several weeks(particularly from people planing on leaving the country for some reason), and I expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future. The downturn in the economy guarantees that student loan defaults will be increasing...possibly at an alarming rate depending on how bad it gets. Those of you who follow these updates will know that despite the rhetoric from the student loan industry that default rates for student loans are at historic lows, the opposite is true. Recent data suggests that about 20% of all student loans will end up in default, and this is probably closer to 25%.

Moreover, the amount of student loan debt out there is massive...about $500 billion. Compare this with the total amount of credit card debt ($900 billion), and you should agree that this problem is very large.

Now is the time for you all to take personal leadership for getting the word out about the uniquely predatory nature of student loan debt. The pressure that the industry is under due to recent legislation and the credit crunch have all but swept this under the rug, and Congress is cow-towing to the banks, predictably. The suffering that the astonishing absence of consumer protections for student loans is causing has been drown out by the cries (and lobbying) by the banks. This should concern you, and concern you greatly.

I do know of a few media pieces in the works that address this issue, but I have to say that with the exception of a few folks in California, I am not seeing much tangible evidence of action out there in the country to bring attention to this issue. Its not hard to pick up the phone and call a reporter. It's not hard print up some flyers and post them around the colleges. There are a million things that you could do. Just pick one.

Also, I want to make it clear that this site is not for the purpose of giving out personal advice to borrowers. This site is for galvanizing grassroots action to convince Congress to return the standard consumer protections to student loans. I would like, at some point, to be able to offer counseling services to individual borrowers, but we are not there yet.

Thanks, and please take some action.


Keep us posted-

Alan Collinge, StudentLoanJustice.Org
Please support the StudentLoanJustice.Org PAC


email to Lou Dobbs


Dear Mr. Dobbs:

I am writing because I am one of too many who have been injured in the student loan system. An "A" student who put herself through college, I wanted to pursue a Ph.D.

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.

Mr. Dobbs, I have disabilities and so do my two children. I work contract and have no way to afford an attorney to help. Mine is only one story.

Mr. Dobbs, the student loan industry has become as predatory as the mortgage industry. We have no consumer protection from unethical schools or lenders.

Please help. Do a story, contact the right people, whatever it is you can do.

We would appreciate your assistance as a highly recognized member of the media.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt

Do Not Support Bristow Commons OR Housing on Devlin

For anyone reading my message in the bottle, please send this to your friends.

We can prevent businesses or homes being built on Devlin Road!

Since we are the home owners, we can go to the planning board and zoning. It doesn't have to be "homes or buildings." Developers like you to think there is no choice. We DO have a choice, especially in this economy when we already have so many empty buildings and struggling businesses.

The developers told me the land is still zoned "agricultural." We can prevent the re-zoning.

I told the developers if they lobby for a new park, then I will support them. Otherwise, I don't think we need new buildings or construction around here.

Do not support Bristow Commons or new housing in any of the areas on Devlin Road. Urge the Boards to get us a park instead.

Please contact the following people to get this turned around:

Wally Covington
8506 Wellington Road
Suite 101Manassas, VA 20109
Phone: 703-792-6190
Fax: 703-257-9792
Aide: 703-792-6191

Planning Commission
1 County Complex Court, Woodbridge, Virginia 22192-9201
(703) 792-6830
Metro 631-1703, Ext. 6830
FAX (703) 792-4758

Zoning Commission
Public Works, Internet Comment Page

PWC Parks and Recreation
Prince William County Park Authority Headquarters
George Hellwig Memorial Park Authority
14420 Bristow Road Manassas, VA 20112
TTY 703-791-4068
FAX: 703-792-4278


Friday, May 02, 2008

All Hail the Chief

I live in a surreal neck of the woods.

We have community leaders and county supervisors who support hate groups but castigate the Police Chief.

We have people who demand the law be upheld but criticize our officers for following policy.

And we have people who care more about long grass in their neighborhoods than they do about the safety, reputations, and careers of our service men and women.

One of the newest complaints about Chief Deane is that he has not "not done anything about the illegal problem" when he could have prior to the passing of the "Immigration Resolution". He could have had people suspected of being illegal aliens picked up off the streets. But apparently, he didn't do enough of that to satisfy this crowd.

Why wouldn't he do it?

Well, now, I'm not a cop. Neither am I a lawyer. But it seems to me Chief Deane had some obvious reasons for doing what some people are calling "failing to uphold the law." Let's look at some of these, shall we?

1. Until recently, the police had little to no immigration training. Without training, interrogating people about citizen status could easily be construed as racial profiling unless everyone was being interrogated, which no one had time or personnel for.

2. The police force has never had cameras to document arrests and ensure proper procedures have been followed. This has been a long-standing problem that continues to jeopardize the force and our county.

3. All along, the police have been arresting criminals and if those criminals have been found to be undocumented, they reported them to ICE. However, until recently, ICE has never been so directly involved with the county police department.

Let's remember that Chief Deane has been the Chief since 1988. Prior to now, there has never been such an outcry to have him removed. Who are these people who are suddenly so interested in the Chief?

Well, we know the leaders of the pack are relatively new to Prince William County. We know there are socioeconomic differences between the new comers and the residents who have lived here longer, between these people and immigrants. We know there are factions and hate groups that have influenced our BOCS when there have not been before.

What could possibly justify this rebellion against authority (because that's what it is) when the Chief

1. has decades of experience that most of these people don't have and/or don't understand(myself included)?
2. was the only one in the county with the foresight to spot weaknesses in the resolution that would put our county and residents at risk?
3. was concerned with residents no longer reporting crimes because of fear?
4. ran dozens of community workshops and meetings to explain the policy (which is more than the BOCS ever did after dropping this mess on our collective laps)?
5. listened to (and took a bashing from) people who thought the police were doing too little and people who thought the police were doing too much when they are really just following orders?
6. has helped reduce the crime rate over the past five years?

If anyone should be removed, it is the people who have not supported the Chief or his department for upholding policy and law as it was written pre- and post-resolution.

But I guess I live in an odd region where the real outlaws take the stage.

In any event, I thank the Chief for being reasonable, for being intelligent, and for analyzing the situation before he shot his mouth off like some other people we can name.

In appreciation of Chief Deane......

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt