Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Media is All the Freakin' Same

People who read this blog, or people who work with me or people who are friends or even just some people I've met casually in a restaurant or on a bench know how angry I got at the primary elections this year. They know that I essentially bailed on politics. I quit reading the blogs and the newspapers and watching the t.v. shows. My Times and Newsweeks stacked up unread. I paid barely any attention to the presidential campaigns.

Instead, I got involved in NASCAR so that my weekends revolved around the races. Instead of NPR, I listened to the NASCAR channel on my Sirius radio. Instead of MSNBC and CNN, I watched ESPN and SPEED on my television. I went to NASCAR.com on my computer instead of WashingtonWeekly.com.

But now I'm as angry at NASCAR as I am at politics and about the same thing, only with a slightly different twist. One of the reasons I became so bitter about politics was the way the political media put their own special spin on their portrayal of the candidates, as they have been doing for years now. Al Gore, for instance - that brilliant man who'd led a life of public service was sold to us as a foolish and arrogant liar. Meanwhile, there was George Bush, the cool western cowboy, the one you'd like to hang out with at the barbeque, you know, the fun guy to have a beer with. The voters bought into it and so we ended up with George in the White House and how's that working out for the country?

Then there was the next presidential election where the media played the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad that slandered John Kerry about a million times for free before they got around to telling us, "uh, by the way, it isn't true."

This time, the media was in love with the idea of Barack Obama so they personified him as just this side of the Second Coming, meanwhile, branding Bill Clinton as a racist and engaging in the most brutal forms of blatant sexism against Hillary.

So, off to I went to NASCAR and what a thrill when Jimmie Johnson put himself into the record books, matching Cale Yarborough by winning back to back to back championships. Three in a row, what a feat! Something it took three decades to happen. After that accomplishment, you'd assume Jimmie would be a lock for the NASCAR.com Driver of the Year award, wouldn't you?

Well, if you assumed that, you'd be wrong because the NASCAR media decided winning the championship wasn't enough. They liked Carl Edwards better. He was more exciting. He had more personality. You know, he's the one you'd rather hang out with at the barbeque, the fun guy to have a beer with. I guess they think it's better to come in second with pizazz than to overcome the diversity of a difficult first part of the season, then run a flawless Chase and win.

The NASCAR media tried to do to Carl and Jimmie what the political media did to Barack and Hillary - spin it the way they wanted us to see it. Jimmie was "bland" and "vanilla", don't you know (and geez, people, even if you really feel that way, get your thesauruses out and learn some new freakin' words instead of repeating the same two over and over and over again, you're supposed to be creative writers, for God's sake). Carl, on the other hand, was "personable" and "likeable" and whatever, whatever, whatever, and he did that cool little backflip every time he won.

The good thing about NASCAR, unlike politics, is that the reporters can't influence who wins the actual race. NASCAR voters don't determine who is in front when the checkered flag drops. That's speed and skill and strategy and California cool and that's Jimmie. They can call anyone they want Driver of the Year but Jimmie still has the championship trophy....and the one before that and the one before that.

Cold!

Damn! It's cold! It's Sunday and the temperature says minus one but the way the flags and tree branches are whipping around, the wind chill factor must be some humongously low number. I might have just holed up and stayed inside today but I had to go get Mom at the hospital and then I had to go pick up her prescriptions at Walgreen's. When I went out this morning, I let the car run for ten minutes and then I scraped enough to scratch off a small clear spot on the windshield, enough to creep down to Village Pantry. I let the car continue to run while I went inside. Then I went to the hospital and then drove home again - and the ice still wasn't completely gone.

Meanwhile, the kids have called almost every day from their new location in Key Largo, Florida, where it has been a uniform 80 degrees. They just rented a place at the end of a canal which turns into an inlet. The inlet is also a marine refuge where manatees swim and an octopus hangs out on the steps going down into the water. We have a conversation between "almost paradise" as John calls it there and in "Antarctica Junior" as I call it here.

Weatherbug has been hysterically informing me of a weather alert all afternoon. Finally, when I clicked on to see what the big deal was, I was informed that we are under a severe weather warning for tonight - below zero temps combined with strong winds, gusts up to 45 mph, which will play havoc with tree limbs and power lines. Uh, excuse me, but didn't we just get over havoc being played with power lines and tree limbs due to ice and now it is low temps and high winds?

Sounds like we're in for a long winter.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cycles of Time

I popped into the New York Times website this morning but the headlines were all so depressing, I just backed right out again. One good thing about getting older is that you're more philosophical about the cyclical nature of life. You've been through the peaks and valleys before and if you've learned anything at all, you know that the peaks hardly ever last and neither do the valleys.

It is terrible, of course, when you're one of the ones actually affected. The recession in which I personally suffered most occurred under President Reagan's watch. Jim and I were both laid off right before Thanksgiving; neither of us qualified for unemployment because we'd left Texas voluntarily (having no clue just how bad things were back home, although it wouldn't have mattered because the downturn hit Houston shortly after we left). The convenience store next to us had a job available and 50 people turned up to apply - for a minimum wage, part-time position as a cashier in a tiny town in rural Indiana. Thankfully, both sets of parents had resources enough to help us keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. We never had to apply for food stamps or any other type of public assistance. We garaged one of our cars so we didn't have to plate or insure it and hunkered down to wait the recession out.

The first job I took during those times was as a blood-drawer at the lab in the hospital. I learned through that experience that some people simply can't do some things. I couldn't stick people with needles....period.....end of story. After a week, I resigned (after having spent more on uniforms than I would earn). We would have to live without that paycheck no matter how badly we needed the money. I quit, not so much for myself, as for the patients in the hospital. Who would want someone with shaking hands and throbbing head and clenching stomach to be poking them with sharp objects?

Next, I ended up in the print shop of Huntington College. The job started out under a cloud because I lied about being a smoker in order to get hired. I would normally never have been willing to sacrifice my principles (or theirs) but desperate times call for desperate measures. At lunch time, I'd run full-tilt to my car and as soon as I was off the campus, I'd light up, sucking in the precious nicotine like a Hoover.

I loved the students at HC although I thought they lived in a fairy tale world. They'd all attended Christian pre-schools and Christian elementary schools and Christian high schools and now they were at this devoutly Christian college. Their views of life and history were so divergent from reality, they amazed me with some of their ideas. I wonder sometimes if they managed to remain in their protective shell all their lives. I suppose many of them grew up and went to church every Sunday and voted for George W Bush and watched NASCAR races and spouted contradictory statements like "hate the sin and love the sinner" about gays and somehow found a way to believe Jesus would condone torturing terrorists.

Eventually, the recession ended and we were back working at decent jobs again and the memory receded about how tough those times were. We rocked along during the Senior Bush administration (a slight blip on the economic radar screen but nothing really serious) and then came Clinton and the good times rolled when everyone who wanted a job could get one and the stock market went up and up and the rich got richer and so did the poor.

Evidently though the rich didn't get rich enough because under Bush Junior because we had to drastically lower their taxes so that now, while the rich got richer, the poor got poorer. And we spent lots of that money that we didn't have going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq so when a hurricane took one of the crown jewels of American cities, there wasn't enough left to rebuild it. And we created a huge, new, unaccountable government agency called the Department of Homeland Security (which sounds more like what you'd call shadowy part of a communist or fascist regime than an agency of the American government). And not many jobs were created and before it was over, even those few and more were lost. And the Dow is even lower than it was when Bush began. And we're about to lose the American auto industry.

And many of my younger friends, politically liberal types, are beside themselves, believing that the country is just this far from being totally destroyed. But I take it all in stride because I've seen it before and I know that this too shall pass.

BooHoo

Having worked there for so long and loved it so much, I still watch the Sheriff's Department with a somewhat interested eye. Not as much as I used to. There was a time when I had a scanner in my bedroom and one in the dining room near the computer and they chattered day and night. I remained caught up in wanting to know that my guys were okay out there and what was going on in the county, even after I was fired. The scanners are turned off now. These days I hear things through the ex-employee's grapevine or read them in the newspaper, days, or even weeks after they occur. Not being able to let go, of a still-loved previous job or ex-spouse, does your mental health no good whatsoever. Better to put it behind you and get on with your life, which is what I finally did.

So I have followed the great sheriff's pay controversy with only the mild amusement of the formerly involved. Wabash County was one of the last to convert to paying the sheriff a straight salary instead of a salary plus a cut of the meal money allocated by the state to feed inmates. The Department of Corrections pays a certain amount per meal for each prisoner. As I recall, it was $1.83 when I worked at the department. If, for instance, the Sheriff could prepare a meal for $1.00, he made 83 cents on that meal. Multiply that by however many inmates were in the jail for three meals a day times 30 or 31 days per month and it added up to a considerable sum. When Tim was Sheriff, he made a little over $100,000 annually, of which only $27,770 was salary. (And it was always $27,770 because in the eight years he was sheriff, he never asked for a raise for himself).

Like so many other situations, how successful this method of feeding inmates was depended on the administration of it. When I worked at WSD, the meals were pretty good, not like eating at Market Street Grill three times a day, but decent. Employees usually took a tray themselves and they were a bargain for $1 (which is what we paid after our employee's discount). The matron under the current sheriff also prepared more-than-acceptable food. However, I've been to jails where lunch was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a small square of jello. I don't know what the base cost is for feeding someone a p&b sandwich and a square inch of lime jello but it probably isn't anywhere close to $1.83 or whatever the state pays now.

On the other hand, what incentive does the matron have to be frugal about buying supplies when the savings goes back to the county instead of to the sheriff to whom she owes her job?

That was the dilemma and Wabash County preferred to just let things ride along as they had in the past....until the state stepped in and said all counties had to switch to paying sheriffs a salary. And that's when the great battle began. What was that salary to be? That was the question. The Sheriff himself thought $125,000 was what was fair, which would have made him the highest paid county employee (as he was already was under the meal money system, collecting something like $127,000 total in 2007). Some on the Counsel thought his wages should come closer to matching what judges and prosecutors and chief probation officers made. In the end, there was a vote and they set the Sheriff's salary at a measly, piddly, barely-able-to-survive-on $80,000. From what I've read and been told, the sheriff was livid.

The County Counsel president was upset as well, believing an unfairness had been done to the Sheriff, who was counting on that $125,000 to feed his family, make his house payment, send his kids of college, whatever..... This would be the counsel president who probably should have recused himself from the vote since his wife is employed by the sheriff, although in a county the size of Wabash, conflicts of interest abound. If everyone steps aside from decisions involving someone they know, no actual business would ever get done, so let's give him a pass on that. As a still slightly disgruntled former employee, I admit to a bit of a bias myself - in the opposite direction.

What I wonder is how many Wabash County citizens have sympathy for a man who is going to have to try to live on only $80,000 instead of $125,000 (and if she's still employed there, that doesn't include whatever his wife earns from her job as a field agent for the Work Release Program, another Sheriff's Department-related position)? And that's $80,000 paid out of their tax money, maybe on, say, wages of $30,000, not by an impersonal corporate entity with a headquarters in Timbuctoo. In this time of economic panic, when people are losing their jobs and their homes, and in a county where wages don't keep pace with those in larger metropolitan areas anyway, I wonder how many people will read the newspaper account of the sheriff's salary negotiations and think they'd feel damned lucky to bring home an $80,000 a year paycheck? I know I would.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Giving Thanks

I'm thankful that Mom fixed pork chops and fried potatoes and coleslaw for dinner last night because John is home. Even at 89, she thinks that if she doesn't feed him, he'll wither away to nothing. He's 40 year old now, 6 foot tall, weighing in at around 220. He's in no danger of withering, with or without Grandma's cooking, but she likes to believe she is all that stands between him and starvation. I'm thankful that she remains healthy and motivated enough to want to flour pork chops and peel potatoes and shred cabbage and stand over a stove. And she will not hear of anyone else doing dishes. It is HER kitchen - get out! I'll be equally thankful if I've inherited her genes.

I'm thankful Jimmie Johnson won his third straight championship in NASCAR. Jimmie, in particular, and NASCAR, in general, provided me with hours of pleasure over the last half of the season when I turned into and onto auto racing. The first week of December is Champions Week when all the winners will be celebrating, and getting their pay-offs, in New York. Jimmie will receive over $7,000,000. Carl Edwards made even more. Even the drivers who were in the lower ranks of winners earned in the millions. I've listened on the radio about how many lay-offs there have been in NASCAR, which is suffering a serious downturn like other segments of our economy. The public handing over of enormous checks strikes me as a little unseemly in the circumstances . It would sure be a generous gesture if these guys offered to kick some significant dollars back into a fund to assist NASCAR employees who have lost their jobs as part of their own giving of thanks.

I'll be thankful when Obama finally takes over. I wish it was going to be today instead of January 20. You have the feeling that the Bush administration is as clueless about what to do to help America's financial crisis as they were about Katrina. "You're doing a hell of a job, Hank!" (Hank Paulsen, that is, Bush's economic head guy). They gave the banking industry $750 billion and didn't seem to put any restrictions on how that money was to be spent or even any requirements to account for it. Barack may not get everything right but at least you feel his fresh, young administration will put some passion and effort into doing something to try to get us back on track.

I'm thankful that my favorite authors keep writing wonderful books. I've also discovered some terrific new authors this year and they've led me down some new paths. I first read Iain Banks' novels and because I got such pleasure from them, I followed him into science fiction (which he writes as Iain M Banks), a genre I thought I hated, only to change my mind in my 60's. I've always liked Robert B. Parker's Spencer series but now I like his westerns (Appaloosa, being the latest) even better. Augustin Burroughs' bitter, funny, witty memoirs (Dry, Running with Scissors) are now at the top of my reading list - and through Burroughs, I discovered David Sedaris. From Ken Bruen (Jack Taylor, alcoholic ex-cop and accidental detective), I learned to love black Irish mysteries and from Bruen, it was a natural jump to Declan Hughes. These were all in addition to my old faithfuls - David Fulmer, Lawrence Block, Lee Child, Jamie Lee Burke, Richard Montenari, Reginald Hill, Ian Rankin, Martha Grimes, Elizabeth George, Manette Walters, Peter Robinson, Charles Todd - I could go on and on....

I'm thankful I keep being able to write books myself although whether they are wonderful or not, I have no idea, since it is rather difficult for me to be objective and no agent and/or publisher seems interested in finding out. Nevertheless, my own characters have sparked my enthusiasm and given me something creative with which to while away my time rather than, say, playing scrabble on the computer. And other fascinations have flowed from the research I've done. I became enthralled with both Ireland and NASCAR as a direct result of my own writing.

I'm thankful for my job, both for the paycheck, and the insights it brings. If I sometimes think my own life isn't where I wish it was, my clients show me how much worse off I could be. They come to me with an endless list of heartaches, some of their own making and some not. They are where they are because of luck (lack of) or fate or trusting too much or not looking high enough or far enough ahead. Some of their situations are unique and some are everyday common. Some were "handwriting on the wall" foreseeable and some struck with the unexpectedness of a tornado. Some are determined to overcome and others are thoroughly beaten. I try to help and sometimes do but the fact is, there are more needs than there are resources for meeting those needs. I try to see the glass as a third full rather than two/thirds empty.

I'm thankful for my attorneys who do pro bono cases for me with no motivation except the satisfaction of helping people, some who aren't as grateful as they should be. Without their generosity of time and spirit, I'd have no job and my clients would have no hope at all.

I'm thankful for the beauty of the Hoosier countryside as I travel my many miles a month for work. From the pastels of spring to summer's deepest greens, from the gilt and scarlet of autumn to today's beige and mahogany and bronze. I'll try to be thankful when the crystalline white snows of winter take over although I'll have to work a little harder at it.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I Want A Bolt

*Update - Upon re-visiting the Ebay website, I just realized that this is not a bolt as I called it all along. It is a lug nut. As un-motor-familiar as I am, I guess to me when you've seen one bitty little piece of metallic car part, you've seen them all. And incidentally, it is up to $137.50 now.

A few days ago, I got an e-mail from the Jimmie Johnson Foundation informing me that they had some items on E-bay that I might be interested in. I clicked on to their E-bay site and sure enough, I found a thing I wanted. It is a simple bolt, signed by Jimmie, from the race in Texas. There were several items - hats and Christmas ornaments and banners - but I'd like to have the bolt because it is small, perfect for my memorabilia shelf. The shelf is where is keep all my sentimental items - shells from Sanibel and a tiny little Indian pot made by Apaches in New Mexico and a blown glass marble from Las Olmas Blvd in Ft Lauderdale and wee sheriff's star.... I could go on and on with what is there but let's just say, it is a compilation of my collective memories of people and places and things I've known and loved.

So, you know, I thought the bolt would be the perfect addition to my shelf, the perfect symbol of the hours of enjoyment I've found in my new enthusiasm.

I made a bid. I didn't shoot the moon but it seemed like a more-than-reasonable amount for a simple bolt, even if it was signed by Jimmie Johnson. By the next morning, Ebay informed me that I'd been out-bid and encouraged me to come back and up my offer. Which I did.

Another day later and another message that a competitor for what I was now beginning to think of as my bolt had once again out-bid me. E-bay made me feel that I was a gutless wuss if I dropped out now so I charged back in and upped the ante by what I thought was a rather significant amount.

Twenty-four hours brought yet another message. The price was getting up to what you'd now expect a solid-gold bolt to bring, something that might appear on velvet in the front window of Tiffany's. Unhappily and reluctantly, I dropped out with 8 days, 6 hours and 18 minutes left to go in the auction.

But, I'd really, really love to have that bolt. I keep going back to see what the current price is ($76). In my heart I know, it would be ridiculous to pay that kind of money for a small hunk of metal. I've never been into hero-worship, never the type to ask anyone for an autograph although I've met a few people who might have been considered autograph worthy but I can just imagine the bolt sitting in all its signed glory on my shelf. And it's for charity so it would be rather like killing two birds with one stone, helping some unfortunate person while also making myself happy.

That the pro argument. The con argument is paying $100 or more for a bolt!

I have that Ebay page bookmarked, just so I can check out what's going on. I just want to see what it finally brings. I swear I'm not going to bid again. I'm not....

Cellphones or Hellphones?

I hope there are no cell phones in heaven! (That's assuming, of course, that I'll be in a position to care). I truly, truly hate my cellphone. Partly that's because it's way more than a cell phone. I had no choice in the type of phone I ended up with because my alter ego in Indiana Legal Services, the Plan Administrator for District 4, was hired before I was so he got to pick the phone he wanted and they purchased its twin for me.

Tim is one of those electronics geeks. He loves, and is skilled in using, all the high-tech stuff so he selected one of those devices that do everything but pour your coffee for you. I believe that it keeps your calendar (beeping to remind you of upcoming appointments) and connects wirelessly to the internet and synchronizes with your p.c. and keeps you up to date on news and plays music and informs you about the weather and functions as a GPS so should you ever get lost on U.S. 24 between Peru and Logansport, the search party can locate you before you starve and/or freeze, as well as taking pictures and downloading files and organizing your address book.

And that is only the computer side as it is actually divided into two completely different machines. The second one is the phone part. Of course, as you'd expect, you can make and receive phone calls when the phone side is switched on. You can also get and send text messages and call up and speed dial anyone in your list of Contacts. You can also collect your voice mail messages.

Sitting on my shelf at work, still in the package from a year ago when I got the phone, is something called Blue Tooth. I think that is the speaker device that fits over your head and in your ear so that you can just freakin' spend every moment of your life talking on the phone if you so desire, even when you're in the bathroom or driving the car. Seeing as how the last thing in the world I want is more phone time, I have never broken out the Blue Tooth (if, in fact, that's what it is.)

I say that I believe the phone will do all these things I mentioned because Tim and my instruction manual say it will and not because I've ever done them myself. What I have actually done is 1) receive phone calls, 2) make phone calls and 3) collect voice mail. That's it. Period.

I've never put an appointment on my phone because I have a handy-dandy paper calendar in my purse that I check religiously every morning to see what I have scheduled for that day. If I forget, I can pull it out instantaneously, much more quickly than I can call up the calendar on my phone. I have never gotten a weather report via my phone and I have never GPSed myself to discover if I've absentmindedly wandered out of Indiana and up into Michigan. I have yet to take a picture or listen to a song or download a file on my phone. And, honestly, I don't expect I ever will do any of these things.

I've also never read or sent a text message. If anyone reading this has ever texted me and never got an answer, I'll warn you right now that you never will. It's bad enough to have to keep up with the phone ringing and and the voice mails stacking up without adding texts to the mix. I keep my phone off when I'm at courthouses doing intake interviews (some courthouses, like Wabash, require this while others don't but, it simply seems like the courteous thing to do). In the course of a morning and afternoon of having been turned off, I will go to the voice mail function to be met with the familiar and dreaded words that send cold chills down my spine - "Your voice mailbox is full. Please delete all unneeded messages so that you may receive more messages," although the last thing I want is more messages. I actually love the people who leave great long communications because they leave less room for everyone else to queue up in the line.

I had to have Tim show me how to delete text messages. I'm heartless about it, simply "deleting all" without ever paying attention to who they are from or what they might be about. For all I know, it might be the Indiana Lottery telling me I'm a $10,000,000 winner but if so, they'll simply have to roll the jackpot over to next week. I answer the calls on my voice mail at the office in Lafayette and the voice mails on the cellphone and that's all the time I have for phone calls if I want to accomplish anything else at all....like actually doing my job.

I have begged my office administration to let me switch to another kind of phone when my annual contract is up. I just want a phone - one that will let me make and receive phone calls and oh, all right, save voice mail messages. That's all. I like to keep an emotional distance from the machines in my life, having learned the hard way that they will break your heart if you give them the opportunity. I don't want to bond with my cellphone. We don't have to call each other pet names or kiss good night.

And I'd prefer a flip phone or at least a slender one that doesn't feel like you're holding a brick up to your ear, a more feminine phone, if you prefer.

I already have a best friend. All I want this time is a phone.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Envious......

John and Lisa will be moving to Key Largo, Florida in a couple of weeks. The hospital she'll be working for brought them down there for a few days to see if she'd be interested in a permanent job and they fell in love with the area. And I fell in love vicariously. They called once from a restaurant where they were eating fresh seafood while sitting out on a deck watching the water. They called once after they'd been to the casino. They called once as they were disembarking from a boat ride. In every case, I wished I could just chuck everything here and go join them.

If I could, I'd retire, sell this house and bail. No facing another Indiana winter. No nerve-wracking drives on snowy and/or icy roads. No more sad stories about abusive marriages and bitter custody battles and heartless creditors. No more keeping the numbers of plumbers and furnace repair people posted on the side of the refrigerator. No more "your voice mail box is full" messages from my cellphone.

Instead, I'd rent an apartment. Let someone younger worry about this three-bedroom, three-lot house and yard. I'd simply call the maintenance man when the air conditioner quit running. I'd let the landscaper mow the grass and prune the bushes. I'd sit in front of the computer all day as my "work". Maybe I'd actually sell something if I put enough effort into the marketing end of it. And when I wasn't doing that, I'd be on a pier or at the beach just leisurely watching the ocean, maybe picking up the occasional shell. Or I'd be at that waterfront restaurant chowing down on a grouper sandwich while the waves washed into shore. Maybe now and then I could even afford to hit the casino to throw a few dollars into the slots. And, don't forget, Key Largo isn't far from the Homestead NASCAR track.

If I sound burned out with working, I am. I'll be 63 next year. I've worked my entire adult life. I've been a secretary and a bartender, an insurance underwriter and a realtor, a punch press operator and a solderer. I've worked in industry and government and business. I've toted eggs and totaled up figures. I've worked for mayors and sheriffs and plant managers and tavern owners. I've had jobs I loved and jobs I hated (chicken house mother) and jobs that terrified me (blood-drawer). I'd like to call it a day. Not that I don't give my current job my all because I do but if I had my druthers, I'd definitely say, "enough". And, you know what? I could do it too if it wasn't for healthcare. Because I could afford to retire but I couldn't afford to buy health insurance. So I'll probably have to hang until I'm 65 when I can qualify for Medicare.

During the presidential election, I heard many people who had a practically worshipful attitude about Barack Obama. I never shared that attitude myself, not about Barack or anyone else. But if Obama somehow managed to get me universal healthcare so I could slip off to Key Largo, I'd help shine his pedestal myself.

Three-peat - yes!

For those of you who are bored silly with NASCAR, this will be my last post about it for a while and that's probably a good thing. It will give my nervous system a chance to convalesce. The race at Homestead was rather anti-climactic. The most suspenseful part was watching Jimmie work his way through traffic from his 30th place start. There was no doubt that he could do it, only a concern that one of the crazy back-rows drivers would do something to catch him up in a wreck.

Meanwhile, Carl Edwards was leading the most laps, finally winning the race on fuel mileage strategy. So Jimmie goes into the record books as only the second driver ever to win back-to-back-to-back championships. And Chad Knauss is the first and only crew chief to do the same. Congratulations to the 48!

Some last minute thoughts about my part of the NASCAR season which didn't even start until the Brickyard, the first race I ever watched. That will make the start of 2009 fun for me because I will have a bunch of new tracks to watch until I catch up to where I came in.

- I've heard some people say that if it wasn't for the Chase, Carl Edwards would have won the championship on points (15 points, I believe) but that's not necessarily true. Lets say, for the sake of argument, that Jimmie and Carl would have come into Homestead with Carl ahead of Jimmie. Isn't it likely that their strategies would have been exactly the opposite of what they actually were? Wouldn't Carl have been playing it cautious to try to preserve his lead and wouldn't Jimmie have gone for the win (with, which the car he had, he very likely could have done). We can't know what would have happened if circumstances had been different because both sides would have played the cards they were dealt in a different way.

- I've learned in my virgin season that I don't like restrictor plate racing which I've written about before. I'm just not turned on by team sports. I also learned that I do not enjoy races that end with fuel mileage strategy. I understand that it is sometimes useful for getting a team a win but watching someone preserve their lead by ambling around the track just sort of seems to go against the grain of what racing should be about to me. Better to see them finish by going for broke and racing hard.

- I've also decided that I don't think Sprint Cup drivers should not be allowed to compete in either the Truck Series or the Nationwide Series. That's like allowing NFL players to go back to college to play football, then giving them credit when they win, like it's a big surprise. Naturally, the superior drivers are going to dominate and they do. Clint Bowyer won the Nationwide championship and also came in fifth in the Sprint Cup. Both Nationwide and Truck are considered the farm teams for the Sprint Cup, mostly up and coming drivers who hope to race their way into the top ranks of the elite series. It takes away most of their motivation to know the big kids are gonna' come into their playground and take any hope of a championship away. Seems like it would also make sponsorship more difficult to come by when your young driver probably doesn't have a prayer against the likes of Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch. The stated reason for allowing the Sprint drivers to compete is that it increases fan interest when the top drivers are racing. But, is this true? The truck series had the fewest Sprint drivers but also a far higher audience rating than Nationwide in which the big league drivers overshadowed everyone else.

Similarly, I don't put much value on drivers winning in all three series, be it Kyle, Carl or Clint. To laud them for their total number of wins across the three series like it some huge achievement, is wrong as far as I'm concerned. For a Sprint driver to win in Nationwide or Truck doesn't count the same - like that pro player racking up points against the college players. It's what you expect them to do. Big deal. Nationwide isn't a mini-Sprint Cup. It is a league of its own and its competitors should start on a level playing field, racing one another, and not the powerhouses of the sport.

- Was Red Bull's decision to switch cars between Brian Vickers and Scott Speed really such a smart one in hindsight? The concern was that Scott wouldn't be able to keep his car in the top 35 in owner's points. But Scott qualified 2nd, was the 2nd fastest in practice and finished 16th. Meanwhile, Brian Vickers came in 31st. Wouldn't Red Bull have been better off to leave things as they were? Speed's quirky personality and giggling demeanor appeals to me and I hope he does well next year. I didn't hear the announcers give him much credit but I thought he did himself proud last night in only his, I think, third or fourth cup race.

- It was an emotional night for Tony Stewart, his last with Joe Gibbs Racing and Home Depot. I'll be rooting for Stewart Haas Racing next year (behind Jimmie, of course). Both Tony and his second driver, Ryan Newman, are Indiana natives so Hoosier loyalty has to kick in here.

- I haven't seen all of the "60 Most Beautiful People in NASCAR" but I know Jimmy was 11th (only 11th???), his wife Chandra was third and Kasey Kahne was first. Kasey certainly wouldn't have got my vote. My own preference is for a more masculine man but we not everyone agrees on a male standard of beauty. I have a feeling Jimmie doesn't much care where he wound up on the "most beautiful" list, preferring his first place rankings on the track.

I get so sick of reading how boring the NASCAR season was this year from people who call themselves devoted fans. I hear how they ironed or played solitaire rather than watching the races. I think if this is how they feel, they should probably just get out of the sport altogether and let more enthusiastic people take over instead of trying to bring everyone else down. It is not the old days, folks, and never will be again and your sour attitude about how "it used to be" and how wonderful the "real racers" were compared to today's drivers makes me tired. Just go back and watch past decades' replays if you can't get beyond it.

I thought the racing was exciting and expect it to be more so next year when everyone has a fresh start and their own agenda. Carl Edwards was a terrific competitor this time and I expect he'll be out for blood and a championship starting in February. Kyle Busch was dominant in the early part of the season and I have a feeling, he'll have put the bad taste of this year's Chase behind him and head great guns into 2009. Tony Stewart will be determined to see Stewart Haas do well in its maiden year. Jeff Gordon will be eager to make up for 2008's no-win season. I believe Dale Earnhardt, Jr will hit his stride with Hendrick's. Jamie McMurray had a great end-of-2008 and he'll be wanting to build on it in 2009. Ditto David Ragan. Add in all the others, and, of course, watching Jimmie try for four in a row, and it all adds up to can't-wait anticipation to me.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Should We Help GM?

Back a few posts ago, I wrote about why I thought we had to bail out the banking system even though the industry ended up where it is today by being arrogant, greedy, short-sighted and in fact, just plain stupid in many cases. Even though they didn't deserve it, the reason I advocated fronting them all that money was because a functioning banking system is critical for the rest of us to be able to live in a healthy economic environment.

What happens to Wall Street is like a snowball rolling down the hill, threatening to engulf everyone at the bottom. If they don't loan us money, we can't buy home or cars or go Christmas shopping or take vacations. That is bad news for the car dealers, realtors, stores and hotels. And that means the car dealers, realtors, stores and hotels will hire fewer people or even lay off the staff they already have, which means the economy gets worse and the banks retrench even more. It is like those little nesting dolls, getting smaller and smaller as the outside doll is shed. So we have to save the financial institutions in order to save ourselves.

And now we're faced with the economic meltdown of the American auto industry and yes, in part it happened because the Big Three automakers have been arrogant, greedy, short-sighted and sometimes, just plain stupid. You might add the unions in there too.

Nevertheless, a functioning auto industry is equally as important to America as a functioning banking industry. Not just an auto industry actually but an entire manufacturing base of which the automakers have been the gold standard in so far as the American worker is concerned. So it is my belief that we simply must shore up Chrysler, G.M. and Ford and help them weather this recessionary storm, for the sake of the country as a whole.

It amazes me though how the movers and shakers on t.v. and in newspapers have a completely different view of these two sectors of the U.S. economy. The banks? Oh, yes, it is critical to assist them to the tune of gazillions of dollars, whatever it takes! This is the prestige industry. These are the V.I.P.'s of American business. So they used a lot of the money entrusted to them to buy yachts and mansions and to have extravagant parties and to pay themselves commissions that rival the income of Saudi sheiks. Okay, maybe they went a little overboard but come on, it is no more than they deserve. They are, after all, the Power People.

But the automakers, not so much. Who do they employ? Not the courageous captains of finance, not the daring boys in the suits, poring over stock portfolios. Nah, GM and Chrysler and Ford give over most of their payroll to men and women who punch time clocks and operate punch presses, folks who wear jeans and carry lunch buckets. How freakin' important could they be in the scheme of things?

For decades now, this country has sniffed its collective nose at its factories and the people who work in them. We watched our manufacturing base go off-shore where they could hire employees for slave wages. We watched countries who were our enemies once, and could very well be again, producing military parts critical to our defense. We turned our food industry over to China so that now we have to worry about God knows what poisonous substances showing up in our tuna. We buy our toys from Taiwan or Ceylon or Saigon with low to no quality control so our children are subjected to non-flame-retardant materials and loose springs and exploding triggers.

And as we watched it happen, the powers-that-be in Congress nodded their heads in approval content that we should no longer be a country that produces anything but one that does what? Hell, I don't know what we're known for now that the dot.commers and the bankers have gone bust. How fast we can get a burger out the drive-through window, I guess.

No one cared because our production workers simply weren't considered worth saving and they still aren't. The very Congress they stayed up all night working on a bail-out package to save Lehman Brothers and Wachovia and A.I.G., are aghast at the thought of putting tax money into GM because, the thing is, they relate to the A.I.G. executives as peers but the punch press operators on the Impala assembly line are disposable.

And this is the shame. People like me can acknowledge the importance of the bankers even though we have absolutely nothing in common. I don't like it but I understand that for the sake of the country as a whole, we have to save them. It's too bad, the opposite isn't true.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Now What?

What am I going to do with myself after next week? Granted, my interest in politics has been tepid this time around but I still kept up on the election year antics, dipping into a blog here, casting my eye on a t.v. program there. (As computer people say they "surf the net", my Mom calls what she does "cruising the channels"). NASCAR will go into its off-season after the race next week in Homestead, turning the immediate future into a sea of unrelieved apathy.

I'm a reader but geez, you can only read so many books. Already my favorite authors can't keep up with my demand so if I kick up my reading level anymore, I'll get to the point where the only thing left is Harlequin Romances. I have nothing against romances but I am not a romance kind of person. Love has its place in books but I like funny, can't-quite-get-to-the-finish line kind of love (Janet Evanovich) or sad, you-can-see-its-not-going-to-work-out love (Declan Hughes). I like my heroes to remain footloose and fancy free a la Jack Reacher (Lee Child) or immune to love altogether (Trevanian's Jonathan Hemlock of Eiger Sanction fame or Myron Bolitar's friend, Win, in the Harlen Coben series). If true love has to be part of a book, then I want it to be a secondary part (Susan and Spencer in the Spencer series or Stephen and Teddy Carella of the 87th Precinct).

I wouldn't exactly say I don't believe in happily ever after love. I have known a few couples who seem to have captured it but generally, I think that kind of fairy tale romance is found in about the same ratio as you would find a gold nugget versus a stone if you went panning for gold in the average creekbed.

Perhaps I'm cynical because of my own experiences. The great love of my life was more like surfing than a sweet ride in a horse and carriage - from the exaltation of riding the biggest wave to falling into the trough of near-drowning. In the end, I rode it out until it played itself out onto the beach. It had its moments but enduring bliss definitely wasn't the end result.

Or I might have become hard-boiled because of my work life. First, I worked in law enforcement and then the prosecutor's office, where you frequently dealt with love turned vicious, and now trying to find free legal representation for people who have their lives in a mess, often because of what they thought at one time was love, true love.

So, if not reading, then what?

I could plunge into really deep-cleaning my house, I guess. It could use a thorough top to bottom scrubbing. That idea certainly doesn't spark much enthusiasm although I may yet drag myself into it one reluctant room at a time. The biggest downer I have about cleaning is clutter. It seems hopeless when you have to put all the stuff Mom and I have accumulated in our 17 years in this house right back where it started. But I know she'd fight me tooth and nail about getting rid of anything. She's been known to remove an almost completely burned candle from the trash where I put it on the grounds that there is still a little bit of wax down there in the bottom of one corner. On her piano bench, she has "saved" about four years worth of her favorite magazines - Archeology Today and Biblical Archeology. So far as I know, she has never looked at them after she read them the first time. I have suggested throwing them away but she says they are "too good" to be garbage. So, they continue to mount into towering piles, threatening to actually become the source of an archeological dig some day.

Of course, I am as bad about my own things as I careen from one passion to another. When I worked at the Sheriff's Department I became a collector of all things law enforcement (especially sheriff items, which are fortunately rather difficult to find or God knows how much stuff I would have). As it is, the top of my desk/hutch is filled with painted replicas of jails and sheriff's departments and sheriff figures made out of gourds and cups and candle-holders. My memorabilia shelf contains various and sundry items of huge sentimental value - like Dallas' gold badge tie tack and Randy's undercover-at-the-high-school i.d. badge (I was his Mom and got to call the school when he was going to be absent) and the antique #14 Wabash City Police Department badge. I also have clocks and one of the old 85 Sheriff's Department license plates and a Sheriff's Department die-cast car from back when Indiana's uniform colors were still dictated by the Sheriff's Association.

Now, sharing space beside the brown and tan sheriff's car is a miniature Lowe's 48 Chevrolet and nestled against a wood-carved sheriff's department (that is really a flower arrangement) is a pink 48 baseball hat. The gourd sheriff now stares at a Jimmie Johnson Team Chevy beanie baby. I can't say they've really bonded yet but perhaps in time.

So, you see, I'm not being fair to Mom to complain about her hoarding tendencies when my own are equally as bad.

I would love to spend one of NASCAR's down weekends going to one of the casino's to play the slot machines but it takes money to try to win money and right now, for me, it would have to be the other way around.

I remember I used to play a few computer games but I lost them and even though I followed Real Arcade's instructions to the letter, I was never able to get them back. Somewhere upstairs in the closet is a video game player. I forget which one, whatever Nintendo's latest version, or maybe next to the last version, was. I bought it and a Mario game because I loved Mario back when Nintendo first came out. Unfortunately, while video games progressed in graphics and levels of difficulty, my skills did not progress along with them. In the game in the closet, I was never able to get beyond the first world and then I was just stuck. So I left it out until John finally made it to the very end and then, sadly, put it away. Maybe if I could find the oldest game and the oldest Mario......

Of course, I could continue to write and probably will but once you have four complete, unpublished novel manuscripts in the computer, you're not quite so excited about hopping back into another new idea. I've told the kids these manuscripts are the only inheritance they are going to get. Maybe they can sell them posthumously.

So, there you have it. I'm about to be cast into the off-season doldrums, wondering what to do with myself for the next couple of months. If you have any ideas, feel free to let me know.

Exercise in Self-Indulgence

I've probably created a blog here lately that no one wants to read because it centers around politics and NASCAR and I have a feeling that twain isn't a particularly good meeting place. Not that political junkies can't be NASCAR fans and vice versa but it's probably more likely that most people obsess about one or the other but not both. But blogs tend to be exercises in self-indulgence. Of course, everyone would like to think they get a gazillion hits a day but unless you are one of the biggies, you are probably writing to a limited audience anyway so.....why not please yourself.

Anyway, we're in a limbo state in politics. The election is over and now we're just waiting for Obama to become president, waiting to see what dress Michelle will wear at his swearing in, waiting to see what kind of puppy the Obama family choose, waiting to see who will be in his cabinet (oh, please, don't let it be John Kerry or worse yet, Sam freakin' Nunn!) I could start to warm to Obama if he would be smart enough to give General Wesley Clark an important place in his administration.

But, NASCAR, ah, NASCAR is heading for its championship-crowning week in Homestead, Florida. For my friends who aren't into stock car racing but tolerantly allow me my Jimmie Johnson-mania, he won last week at Phoenix, won in a commanding fashion, dominating the race almost from the start, flying out ahead of his competition. Mom came into the living room with me to watch. She has a bit of a hard time following the action and sometimes gets confused between real time and re-play.
"Are they re-showing an accident that already happened?" she'll ask.
Or...."I'm lost, Jimmie is still ahead, isn't he?"
"Yes," I could answer through most of this race, "he's still ahead."

It was a race with lots of red and yellow flags especially toward the end. A red flag for weather (a downpour in the desert!) and another for an accident that set one burning car on top of another. Cautions for various accidents and debris. Dragging out a race I just wanted to be over, with the checkered flag safely in Jimmie's hand. There was a serious crash on the last lap when Matt Kenseth (deliberately?) turned into A.J. Allmendinger who had caused him to wreck earlier in the race. Lots of ruined cars. It seems like this would infuriate owners who have to pay to rebuild them but they seem to take it in stride as all part of racing.

By winning, Jimmie increased his points lead to 141. There are various scenarios for how he wins the championship but essentially, he has to finish 36th or better in Florida. It is unimaginable that this won't happen. If some catastrophic stroke of bad luck keeps him from it, it means that it just somehow wasn't in the stars for him to win that third title, matching Cale Yarborough, the only other driver ever to three-peat. For me, I can't wait to see that Sprint Cup championship trophy placed in his hands.

The main controversy of the Phoenix race was ABC's decision to cut out on their coverage with about 30 laps left to go to America's Funniest Home Videos. NASCAR fans were livid as well they should be. This was the final race toward their championship, comparable to the Super Bowl or the World Series but ABC decides to go to another program? The fact that it was an inane piece of crap like America's Funniest Home Videos make it even worse. Would ABC have done this if it had been even a mid-season football game....or a baseball game....or a basketball game or even a golf tournament? No way. Ask me, it displayed ABC's contempt for NASCAR fans.

Granted, they transferred the coverage to ESPN II, but not everyone has ESPN. I received a hysterical call from one friend who doesn't have cable. The next day, I heard from another who had tivoed the race to watch later and ended up clueless about the final result. I listen to the NASCAR channel on Sirius a lot and heard all the excuses for ABC. Difficult business decisions...owed those who sponsor AFHV, gave NASCAR fans an option.....blah, blah, blah. I don't buy it. No excuse is good enough. If they want the revenue from the NASCAR contract, they make a commitment to their viewers. Every race must be showed in its entirety, nothing less will do. Shove the fans of America's Funniest Home Videos off onto another channel. Or let them wait. It is sure what CBS does to watchers of Sixty Minutes. How many times has that show been delayed due to a football game running over? The answer is: lots. That's the breaks when you bid to televise live sports. You have your back up plan in place and re-adjust down-schedule. Period.

Meanwhile, back at the Nationwide and Truck Series championship finals. Carl Edwards has pulled within striking distance of Clint Bowyer in Nationwide so it will be a more suspenseful race than on the Cup side. I hope, and predict, that Carl won't make it. Bowyer doesn't have as much flash and hasn't won as many races, over all, as Carl but he's steady and enduring. Clint's run back to fourth place at Phoenix with a mashed and crashed car was as game as anything I've ever seen. That performance alone deserves the championship. Carl is a great racer and has a lot of pizazz but I hope he has to wait until next year to make it pay off for him.

In the truck series, Ron Hornaday, Jr and Johnny Benson will go into the final race only three points apart. Now, that is a drive to the finish. Whichever one of those two gets to the start/finish line first will be champion, regardless of who actually wins the race. I have never got into the truck series much so I'm not especially rooting for either one - may the best man win there.

I think I must not be a "real" NASCAR fan because, judging by what I read on the blogs and hear on the radio, to be so, you must be able to hate as well as love. Supporting your driver often seems to mean despising the competition (one way in which NASCAR isn't so different from politics!). I'm just the opposite. The more I hear and see these guys interviewed and read about them, the more I admire them all. I once thought I didn't like Kurt Busch (although I couldn't have told you why) but in the last few races, he's proven to be a competitor deserving of respect. I once thought I didn't like Kyle Busch (and I still think he has some maturing to do to reach his full potential) but he made a gesture when he matched Sam Ard's record of donating $100,000 toward his Alzeheimer's-ridden predecessor and earned kudos. I think Carl Edwards is a terrific driver and likeable person. Besides being hilarious, Michael Waltrip gives his all to his sport. I've fallen in love with Kyle Busch's off-beat, go-against-the-grain straight talk. I could go on but you get the picture. I just can't get that hate level up there where it should be to be a dues-paying member of NASCAR nation.

A note* Justin Allgeier is my guy of the future. He's from Riverton, Illinois, which happens to be where many of my family are from so that gives us a kind of link. He seems like a really good driver and a great kid so I'll be keeping my eye on his progress and rooting for him. That's how NASCAR fans are born, I guess.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Top 100 Books of All Time

There is a list making the rounds of blogs that cater to book lovers and readers - the Top 100 Books of all time. It is estimated that the average person has read no more than six of the top books. I counted and I've read exactly 50. That sounds like quite a feat, especially since the list tends more toward the literary than the popular including authors like William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Salman Rushdie, F Scott Fitzgerald, the Bronte sisters, etc.

I don't think my accomplishment is quite as monumental as it might seem because, out of the 100, the 50 I've read are mostly old, many of them read when I was in high school, either as homework assignments or because the shelves in the school library were heavy on the classics. I was a voracious reader even then so I read whatever was easily available. If that was Bleak House, The Tale of Two Cities, Tess of the D'Urbervilles or whatever, then so be it. Once I was out of school and free to choose my own reading material, I moved away from the higher-brow stuff and into the mainstream, much of it never to make any kind of "Important" list. "Valley of the Dolls" anyone?

So, I've read fewer of the later literary works, having lapsed into lighter and, I suppose, trashier fare in my older years (Janet Evanovich, for instance).

I wonder though, who composed this list and what the criteria is for getting on it? Two of the recent books on the list that I have read are: The Lovely Bones by Alice Seibold and The Five People You Meet in Heaven (by I forget who). I enjoyed both books but I would hardly consider either of them great works of literature in the vein of, say, David Copperfield and Pride and Prejudice. By their very nature, lists tend to be snobbish. The compilers always seem to want to convince the world of their superior taste and sensibilities. Lists are created as much to be exclusive as to be inclusive, to shut people out as to bring people in. I would think this list would be intimidating to the average reader who simply isn't going to spend chunks of their precious relaxation time plowing through a ponderous novel like War and Peace just because some pretentious list says they should do so if they want to be considered one of the intellectual people.

If anyone is curious about the "100 Books" and how many they might have read, let me know and I'll reproduce it here.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Book of Days

* American military deaths in Iraq - 25 in September 2008, 14 in October 2008, 2 so far in November 2008 - total of 4192

* Number of American jobs lost in October 2008 - 240,000 - our unemployment rate is now at a 14 year high

I believe the Democrats won in 2006 due to Fact # 1 above but they won in 2008 due to Fact # 2.


- Please! I do not care about Michelle Obama's dress. I do not not care about Sarah Palin's wardrobe. Just like I did not care about the number of times First Lady Hillary Clinton changed her hair do. The obsession the media has with women's clothes, hair, color of lipstick, fingernails, thighs, cleavage, etc., etc. makes me sick. No male politician, be he fashion plate or slob, ever has to deal with this crap whereas woman catch it from both ends. If she is too high style, she is castigated for being a snob, a clothes horse, an elitist. If she is too low end, she is crucified for being dowdy, plain, low-class. Appearance is a weapon used against women in politics, a weapon from which men are immune.

Michelle Obama will not win this argument. She will be put under a microscope of analysis by the fashion mavens of the New York Times and the various magazines and news/entertainment shows. Her every clothing move will be dissected and criticized (starting with the dress she wore at Obama's acceptance appearance on election night). Meanwhile, Barack will just go swimmingly along, despite what he wears. He can choose Ralph Lauren or Sears and it won't be worth a mention. It is such an unfair double standard.

- I know the practical side of politics. I know that every vote can count when the numbers are as close as they are in the Senate. I know that in politics, "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" is one of the Ten Political Commandments. I know I am probably an idealist rather than a realist but my vote (if I had one) would go with throwing Joseph Lieberman out of the party. Any man who actively campaigns with the presidential candidate of the other side, any man who says the nominee of his own party doesn't "love America" is no longer a member of that party. Let him go be a Republican. I don't care about his vote. At the very least, he should be stripped of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee. In politics, the line in the sand between principle and playing ball is pretty thin but there are times when it simply must be acknowledged and this is one of those times. Joe has to go.

- If this keeps up, the media may force me to feel sympathy for Barack. Most new presidents get at least a short honeymoon but Obama's seems to have lasted for less than 24 hours. And what is the big criticism? Choosing Rahm Emmanuel as his Chief of Staff - Rahm, formerly of the Clinton administration, Rahm with a well-deserved reputation as a hard-ass. The outraged Republicans declare that this selection goes against the spirit of change and bipartisanship Obama claimed he stood for (never mind that not even giving the man his first decision without jumping him indicates their concern about bipartisanship is not exactly sincere). The equally outraged liberal Democrats declare that this selection goes against the spirit of change and bipartisanship Obama claimed he stood for. They, of course, did everything they could to rid the party of all things Clintonion and to them, Rahm represents a betrayal. I say, "ha!ha!" (or, "lol", if you prefer internet parlance). Clinton knew, as does Barack - along with every other elected official - that if you hope to succeed, you need, above all, someone to have your back against the many parties who would like to see you fail. And that person must be tough. Rahm Emmanuel has been called many things but a wuss is not one of them. It did my heart good to see both Joe Scarborough and Rachel Maddow whine about this choice. If you are making both of those two unhappy, I say you must be doing something right!

- The cops in my police discussion group have worked themselves into a snit talking about the unlikely possibility that a President Barack might somehow pull off a coup that bans all weapons in America prior to a door-to-door campaign to confiscate all our guns. To me, this seems like black helicopter stuff. No president could ever get away with this in America and wouldn't even try even if, in their fondest dreams they would look favorably on such a vision. But, I don't even think that's the case. I also belong to a Democrat discussion group (started out supporting General Wesley Clark, then getting behind Hillary this time, and finally mostly supporting Barack when he became the nominee) - in other words, liberal Democrats all, with some more liberal than others. I've never heard one of them ever mention the remotest desire to confiscate America's weapons.

- Jimmie Johnson won the pole at Phoenix International Raceway yesterday by posting the fastest lap. That means he'll start first and have the first pit box which should be a big advantage. His closest competitor, Carl Edwards, will start tenth. For me, the presidential election was about a six on the Stress-o-Meter. The race on Sunday will be a ten, possibly exploding the blood pressure bulb at the top.

John thinks he came home from New Jersey to discover that an alien had taken over his mother's brain. "When I left, you were a politics fanatic and passionate about war and the economy and the environment. I come home three months later and you've become a Jimmie Johnson groupie. Aren't you doing things the wrong way around? Shouldn't you be maturing from auto racing to concerns about the country?"

- It is 35 degrees out this morning with predictions of highs in the mid-40's for the early part of next week. Eventually, winter will come, maybe with a vengeance, but what a ride we've been having so far. One glorious, golden day after another.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Crossed Fingers

Much of NASCAR nation has been pissing and moaning about the Chase, the means by which the Sprint Cup Champion is chosen. Unhappy with a final ten race format in which only the top twelve drivers in the regular season get to participate, griper after griper, on the blogs and the radio, have presented their ideas for how to improve the method of selecting a champion.

Their main complaint is watching Jimmie Johnson, champion of the last two seasons, only driver but one to make it into every Chase since the process started, threatening history to be only one of two drivers ever to win three championships in a row, get a lead in the points race early on and hold it through track after track. Boring, they said. Jimmie was boring, our plain vanilla, ever courteous, un-cocky champion. The racing was boring - disregarding the spectacular crash at Talladega and Carl Edwards' kamikaze charge into the wall at Kansas in a video game style attempt to beat Jimmie and Jimmie's wild race through the field, passing car after car, from being a lap down to salvage a second at Atlanta and Carl's gamble that he could make it to the end of Texas when he should have been out of gas. Exciting? Nope, all that was boring.

As a new NASCAR fan, I've been struck about how much contempt NASCAR nation has for its champions. I thought sport was all about excellence....the thrill of seeing someone at the very top of his or her game, taking on and defeating all comers through skill and luck and heart. Prior to NASCAR, the only sport I've ever been seriously interested in was horseracing. To Thoroughbred aficionados, Secretariat is our version of Dale Earnhardt - an icon. But that doesn't mean we didn't celebrate Affirmed when he came along to be the new superhorse. We rooted for him when his achievements began to rival those of our hero. And it certainly doesn't mean that we aren't yearning to see another Triple Crown winner in our lifetime. We ache for another champion of champions. Not NASCAR. They belittle Jimmie's accomplishments which, of course, he achieved either because he and his team cheats or NASCAR cheats in his favor.

Poor Jimmie, he'd have been beloved if he'd been a horse instead of a NASCAR driver. Because for many in NASCAR, superb performance isn't welcome, especially if the superb performer is a freaking nice guy! They have their pantheon of great drivers and they want them to stay right there on that pedestal without competition (except perhaps for Dale, Jr...that would be acceptable).

The old days were the best and NASCAR has been going to hell in a handbasket ever since. Some of them threaten to turn completely away from their sport but seems like they don't stick to it because there they always are again commenting on how boring the next race was.

Now Carl Edwards has cut into Jimmie's points lead. I hate it. I admit I don't want suspense and I don't want exciting races. I just want my guy to win. I'd would have been happy if he'd clinched at Talladega or Charlotte or Martinsville. I'd like to see him go straight to the front and stay there in every race. That would be exciting for me! But Carl beat him by a bit at Atlanta and by quite a bit at Texas. Jimmie is now ahead by 106 points, not nearly enough to tamp down my stress (and probably not Jimmie and Chad's either). Seriously bad luck in one more race and Carl is within striking distance.

So, what I'd like to know is what the bitchers are thinking now? They've been notable by their silence so far. Are they feeling happier that the outcome is less sure than it was a week ago?

For me, I don't care how boring they think it is, I just want Jimmie to win.

Election Morning Thoughts

Okay, I'm trying to be positive here. I have to admit that it will be fun to have two young children in the White House. And Barack told them, they would be taking a new puppy with them to Washington. I had wondered about that. Families with young children just have to have a pet. It will be interesting to see what kind of dog they choose.

I knew for sure that Obama had it in the bag when Indiana wasn't the first state to be projected as the winner for the Republican. Even though we aren't a solidly red as the media sometimes tries to portray us (we are, after all, notorious for ticket-splitting, and giving the Senate one Senator from each party), we hadn't voted for a Democratic candidate for president since Lyndon Johnson. Most of Obama's voters probably weren't even alive then!

The Democrats will need to be careful. America handed everything to the Republicans - White House, House of Representatives, Senate but the party took that to mean they could get away with anything. Their arrogance and greed was their un-doing. The same thing could happen to the Democrats if they don't accept the gift they've been given with humility. I do think this election was about the yearning for change. I don't think the change yearned for is a swing from crazily conservative to wildly liberal. I don't think Barack Obama thinks this either but many in his party may try to push him in that direction.

I'm willing to sit back and let Barack and his cabinet decide what to do about Iraq but some things need to change quickly. The brother of our receptionist at work has been to Iraq three times. He joined the military right after high school. He's spent most of his adult life so far in a war zone. He knew what being in the military meant and he went to all three tours without complaint but he doesn't want to go again and he shouldn't have to. We are simply asking too much of these soldiers. The sacrifices are too uneven. Nothing from us; everything from them.

The Senate is disgusting. Becoming a Senator if practically a promise of a lifetime job. The game is rigged so that it is almost impossible to lose if you're an incumbent. Race after race showed old bull senators who are just one judge's signature short of being certified cruising to victory. You can be a child molestor, a convicted felon, a drunk....and your Senate seat is probably still safe.

Having said that, Elizabeth Dole went down to defeat in North Carolina. Having stooped to the bottom of the campaign barrel by running an ad calling her opponent "godless", she deserved to lose.

This election is bittersweet for me because, having been a lifetime political junkie, this time I stepped aside (with a nudge from my party) and let the kids take over. It hardly seems fair. Seemed like the World War II generation ran things for decades while us babyboomers basically had Bill Clinton. I don't even consider George W a babyboomer (and he repudidated that label as well). I saw him as a throwback - so we wasted 8 years we could have claimed by electing him twice. As huge and powerful as we've always been considered, we didn't manage to stay in charge very long.

Here is something to file under "ironic things". In the states that had gay marriage initiatives on the ballot, guess what group was most opposed to giving gays full constitutional rights to enjoy the privileges of marriage? Why, that would be African-Americans. They opposed offering gay people those opportunities by a margin of something like 69 percent against to 31 percent in favor. How strange is it that black people are tasting the fruits of victory today and expounding the joys of the ultimate acceptance of an African-American president and yet the very same people are happily willing to discriminate against another minority? Human beings - they make it so easy to despair of them.

By virtue of these election results, America's favorability ratings in the rest of the world are bound to take a huge jump. From what I can tell by reading around the internet, most of the planet thinks we have finally come to our senses and started down a path toward being America again.

President-Elect Obama

Onward and upward to the White House for Barack Obama and his supporters. I voted when I got back from Lafayette, close to the end of the time the polls were open. I stopped and picked up Mom first. It is sort of a ritual with us to go together to vote. As I'd said I would, I voted for Obama, although without any great enthusiasm.

The kids are here. They'll be leaving for their next posting in Key Largo, Florida next week, tough duty! We all watched the results come in together. I kept reassuring nervous Obama fans that they had nothing to worry about. I knew, starting sometime last week, that he was going to win in a landslide. With some elections, I get that feeling that you have when you are speeding down the highway and the light ahead of you is green and you wonder, "am I going to make it?". Then, you hit a certain point where you know for sure you've got it. When I feel that way about an election, I'm never wrong and I started feeling that way about Obama early last week. I never believed the polls about the race tightening toward the end.

We watched different stations, off and on, but mostly MSNBC, and as always, they made me furious. They practically had collective religious experiences emoting over the wonder of America and Obama, going on and on about what a perfect campaign he ran and what a truly incredible, marvelous human being he is, etc, etc. I have a feeling if I watch Mika Brezenzki (spelling - too tired to look it up) on Morning Joe this a.m., it will be similar to watching that actress in Sleepless in Seattle where she pretends to fake an orgasm in the restaurant....except she won't be pretending. The only little detail Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, et al, forgot was to tell us how much a part all of them played in this night's results. They were not neutral reporters standing by to inform us about the campaigns, as they implied, but active participants in there scratching every minute to bring about their desired result.

So, I have very mixed emotions this morning. I'm moved by the older African-Americans who told us, with tears in their eyes, how inspired they are, having never thought they'd see a Black man become president in their lifetime. At the same time, I wonder if I will ever see a woman president in my lifetime.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dictator of the World

I always jokingly tell people what changes I will make when I am the Dictator of the World. Over all, I think I would be a very benevolent dictator. Lots of people would probably like life under my reign although others would be jealous of my power.

Here are some of the changes I would make if I were dictator of the world.

1) There would be mandated ratios between how much more the C.E.O. of the company could earn than the press operator on the factory floor. Henry Ford said it should be seven times as much but I'll up it for the 21st century to 20 times (unlike the current 438 times). If the production worker makes $10 an hour, then the C.E.O. would get $200 an hour. That's $416,000 a year. If everyone else was bound by the same rules, I think you'd still be rich at $416,000 a year. These orders would apply only to employees. There would be no limits on the owner of the company or the inventor of the product so they could get as rich as they pleased. They also wouldn't apply to athletes or actors or authors. Let them make whatever the market for their exceptional skill and creativity will bear. I do imagine though that their prices would be forced down to more closely reflect those of society as a whole.

2) We would go back to trying to teach our children that it simply isn't cool to bring children into the world without a clue about how we're going to take care of them. That's not to say that I want to once again shun or humiliate illegitimate children or their parents but I would get rid of that blase attitude we've had for so long that having babies is no big deal because it is a big deal to become a parent. It requires responsibility and willingness to sacrifice and if you are young, unmarried and uneducated, it probably represents lost opportunity as well.

3) In the same vein, I would dictate that we teach our children that fathers are important and ideally, every child will have one in their life. Of course, that doesn't mean that single mothers can't be excellent parents or that children raised in single parents homes can't thrive but over all, every child benefits from having a mother and a father. Both young mothers and fathers seem to have the attitude that fathers really don't have much importance in the scheme of things but they do and it is up to us to teach our kids, both the fathers and the mothers, that this is so.

4) I used the word "cool" in #4 above. Maybe cool isn't the operative word any more with the kids like it was in my day when we all strived to have it directed toward us but the concept of cool, or whatever term has taken its place with modern youth, can do amazing things. Most members of a society will respond to what is or is not considered cool. First, in my era long hair on guys was considered cool and everyone grew their hair. Then it became not cool and the majority got a haircut. Recently, the culture has labeled smoking not cool (a good thing, in my opinion, even though I'm a smoker) and low and behold about half of us have quit (and the rest of us would probably like to if only we weren't so mightily addicted because heck, yes, I don't like looking uncool either).

In light of this, I think we should do the same with drinking. Drunkenness has been cool for as long as I can remember. We glamorize drinking, find drunkenness humorous. Celebrities have built careers around their supposed alcoholism (Dean Martin, for one). Rock stars brag about how trashed, smashed, bombed, snockered, shit-faced, wasted...this list could go on forever.... they got. We read about how our college kids engage in binge drinking. Some of them die from it. NASCAR is one example. The championship series used to be called the Winston Cup but then political correctness took over and, good Lord, we couldn't have races sponsored by tobacco companies. Now it is the Sprint Cup but cars are still sponsored by Budweiser, Miller Lite, Jack Daniels. And it is the same with commercials on t.v. and ads in magazines. Can anyone argue with a straight face that cigarettes are evil but alcohol is fine and dandy and causes no problems in our society. But as long as kids think drinking to excess is cool, they'll continue to over-indulge.

5) We need to completely revamp our system of dissuading people from becoming drug abusers. I haven't figured out all the details on this one yet but our current War on Drugs has not worked and is not working. In fact, it is getting worse and catching more and more kids that typically would have been immune to its appeal. It's not just ghetto kids sitting on a street corner like we used to think but, increasingly, our honor roll students. It is stupid to have millions of our citizens jammed into over-crowded jails and prisons for minor drug use and/or sales. They cost us a fortune to maintain and they take up beds that should be available for murderers, rapists, child molesters, burglars, etc.

6) When I'm Dictator, ad agencies will not be allowed to market every imaginable product with sex. And parents will be ordered to stop letting their daughters dress like miniature Madonnas or Brittanys. Sexy little seven-year-olds are not cool (there's that word again). Pre-teens should not be seen in skin-tight shorts and midriff-revealing tank tops. They should not be decked out in eye-shadow and mascara and blush. On the other hand, boys could be just a little bit sexier by wearing pants that prove they have a butt rather than having to constantly hitch them up to keep them from falling to the groung. Honestly, I have never thought of myself as a crotchety old woman. I've never cared about tongue rings or tattoos or or pink hair. It is only when all these things I've mentioned are marketed toward kids as a way to make sexiness desirable that they disturb me and why I think parents who fall into that trap are being foolish.

7) Furthermore, ad people will be forced to use models with shapes that a normal human being can actually compare to. It's not that I personally care whether the average runway model is 5'10 and weight 72 pounds....I just don't want this to be the role model our daughters envy and strive to emulate, often leading to anorexia or bulimia.

8) In the elementary grades, our number one priority should be to ensure that every single child is a competent reader. I think there is no single educational element that is so important to future achievement as reading. Even an unmotivated student can change their outlook later in life and overcome a poor academic past if they can read. As Dictator, I will mandate that every student must read one book per semester in each of their classes to get a passing grade. The book must have some bearing on that particular class. The books don't have to be heavy, boring textbook type tomes. They can be biographies about groundbreaking mathematicians or pioneering scientists; they can be humorous books about winning political campaigns or books about how a particular organization marketed itself successfully, such as NASCAR. They can be interesting books about history like Anne Frank or books about people who coped with discrimination and what that felt like (African-Americans or gays). A book can be a passageway to enthusiasm and just may lead a child through that doorway to accomplishment.

And, no television can't serve the same purpose because with television, it is the boss and the watcher is simply the passive follower. Reading puts the reader in control with the books being his or her servants.

9) Universal health care - of course, it should be a given that every single human on this earth deserves decent health care.

Oh, well, I could go on forever but the world can't be fixed overnight, even by a Dictator.

Election

Well, here we go - just a few more days until election day. Of course, now we have early voting so the ritual of going to our polling places on one particular day isn't quite the same. I am in Kokomo every Friday and the Courthouse there was packed with early voters. I heard security telling people the wait would be over an hour. The kids went and voted here in Wabash yesterday and they said they waited about 45 minutes. I could have voted when I was working in Wabash on Tuesday but I know Mom will want me to go with her so I put it off. With all the people voting early, maybe the lines won't be too long at the polling places on election day.....but not. All of this seems to indicate a high turnout for a high-interest election.

I'm actually less interested than I usually am for reasons I've already explained here more than once. I've not watched any of the debates and rarely watching any of the political shows. For a while I thought I might actually skip voting in the presidential election but in the end, I will drag myself into the voting booth and somewhat reluctantly, press the button next to Barack Obama's name.

My reason for voting for Obama doesn't have so much to do with him as an individual but with the general philosophies of the two parties. Angry as I am at the Democratic leadership, the Dems still at least make an attempt to help people in my economic class (i.e., hanging on to the bottom rung of the middle class by my fingernails). Year after year, it is the Democrats that try to extend and increase unemployment compensation while Republicans fight those increases and would most likely do away with it altogether if they could get away with it. Year after year, it is Democrats who put forth legislation to increase the minimum wage to keep it within shouting distance of the cost of living while Republicans fight them tooth and nail. Year after year, it is the Democrats who have tried to give us improved health care, be it single payer or some expanded form of the present system. Meanwhile, Republicans would just like to tell us we're on our own, trying to make it sound as if they are doing us a favor, like choosing a health care program isn't absolutely mind-boggling to the most intelligent of us, never mind if we could actually afford it or not.

So, it is the general philosophies of the parties that will lead me to pushing the Obama button even though I'm not an Obama fan. If God let me personally pick a winner, I'd give Jimmie Johnson the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship before I'd give Obama the presidency. John says I have the attitude I have because I'm old and bitter and didn't get my way in the primaries. "Yep," I say, "you've got it and that's the way it is. So if God gives YOU the choice, YOU can pick Obama!"

I feel pretty comfortable that Obama is going to win although I think he'll have to win by a lot to pull it off. In every presidential election, the Republicans seem to be able to game the system in the single most crucial state (Florida in 2000, Ohio in 2008). Florida and Ohio will again be critical in this election, as will Pennsylvania so we'll see what happens. It would be ironic if Barack lost because of Republican dirty tricks because I think he won the nomination because of Democratic dirty tricks. Ah, there's that bitterness showing again.

I was having dinner at Market Street Grille last night and when I told Bill Gerding, I was voting for Obama, he said, "so you're voting for Obama to take my money and give it to you," meaning to take from the affluent and give to the near-poor. I don't see it that way. To me, voting for McCain is choosing to take from both of us to give it to Bill Gates and Donald Trump.

As I recall, the Republicans were so exultant when Bush won (both times). We were leaving our long national nightmare of budget surpluses, jobs for everyone who wanted one, record-breaking stock market gains and peace (God, remember how awful that was!) and moving toward the land of milk and honey. I'm not sure exactly what vision Republicans have in their heads when they imagine that promised land but surely it isn't two wars, stock market crashes, millions of foreclosures, failing banks, $750 billion dollar bail-outs, massive lay-offs.......

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Matter of Balance

My kids are home so I gave over the living room television to them for the Colts game while I watched the Martinsville race in the kitchen. Poor Mom just had to bear with me. She's getting to be familiar with the NASCAR tracks and drivers just by osmosis. Over time, I've turned her into a Jimmie Johnson fan although she doesn't feel the same sense or urgency about the races that I do.

Jimmie won in convincing fashion, leading 339 laps. Others passed him or came at him from behind at various times but he fought them all off. This win gives him a 149 point lead over Greg Biffle for the championship, 152 points over Jeff Burton and 198 points over Carl Edwards with everyone else far behind.

Mom asked me, "does that mean he'll win the championship for sure?" "No!", I tell her, "don't say that!" In my own life, I've snatched defeat from the jaws of victory so many times that I never take anything for granted. Jimmie seems to feel the same. In his post-race interviews, he was cautiously optimistic but adamant that his team needs to stay focused and not get cocky. And it's true. Look what has happened to Kyle Busch - eight wins coming into the Chase and nothing but bad luck ever since. Until the math proves that no one can overtake him, I won't tempt fate by declaring it a done deal - and I don't think he will either.

I believe attitude plays a huge part in how people perform but there is a fine line between confidence and being over-confident.

Some drivers, 150 plus points behind, declare with conviction that they still think they'll claim the championship - all they have to do is win the last four races while Jimmie has some seriously bad luck. "You're full of crap," I mutter to them. I understand trying to keep yourself pumped up for the tests ahead but it is also necessary to admit the reality of the obstacles you face.

Other drivers who still have a statistical chance to win, although it would take an almost-miracle, are resigned to their fate. "You've given up and beaten yourself," I mutter to them. Because sometimes full-blown miracles do happen.

And this seems like one of the keys to Jimmie Johnson's success to me. No matter how far ahead, he doesn't assume he's safe. No matter how far behind, he doesn't assume he's done for. He doesn't make pie-in-the-sky promises that he may not be able to keep but he doesn't throw in the towel before the game is over.

It's all a matter of balance.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Life Goes On

One nice thing about being on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder is that you are relatively unaffected by the financial turmoil taking place all around you. Ask me how much I care about the stock market being squashed like a beetle on the windshield of greed. I just started paying into my 401K at Indiana Legal Services and recently received my first statement. I have a $68 balance so my lifestyle won't change much if it plunges to half its previous value.

If I have to start listening to formerly comfortable people whining to me about the difficulty of paying their bills on time each month or the pain of filling their gas tank or how they had to cut back on their vacations so they went to Hilton Head instead of Hawaii, I'll be properly sympathetic although inwardly I'll be thinking, "welcome to my world."

My mom always told me that one thing that made the Great Recession not quite so bad was that everyone was in it together. For a while, at least among all the people they knew, society wasn't divided into the haves and the have nots because everyone was a have not. Pain and humiliation shared is not so intolerable as when you're on the bottom looking up at those on the top.

Realistically, I know that the hardships will ultimately impact the poor more than the rich. The affluent usually have safety nets in place that less fortunate don't have. The majority of the stockbrokers and investment bankers and CEOs will bounce back while we'll be sitting holding our foreclosure notices and pink slips. It's only for this short while that I'll get any satisfaction listening to the elites piss and moan about how they're suffering then it will be back to business as usual.

You have to wonder sometimes what would happen if we fired every single one of our politicians and had a lottery to choose their replacements. A big rig driver here and a secretary there, a fireman and a police officer, a mechanic and nurse. Maybe some of the former senators would get their jobs back just by the luck of the draw but over all, it would be a totally random selection. Could the new people possibly do any worse than our current representatives have done? Would the nurse and the fireman take their responsibilities more seriously than the attorney and the, well, probably, attorney had done? Would the cop and the secretary possibly think of solutions from a different point of view than whoever they'd replaced? Would the trucker and the mechanic maybe give a little more consideration to their economic equals than smoothing the way for their buds in the boardroom.

I really don't know but what the hell, would we be any worse off?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Webshots Pictures

I have belonged to Webshots for years and you could practically monitor my passions through the photos I've downloaded over that time. In the beginning, the pictures that scrolled through my screensaver were weighted heavily toward scenery and animals. Even within those two categories, there were divisions of interest. The coastlines of any large body of water appear more frequently than mountains but of the mountains, the rolling wooded hills of Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas take center stage more often than the pointed spires of the Rockies or the red table tops of Arizona or Texas.

You can tell from Webshots that, far and away, my favorite season is fall. I have lots and lots of woods decorated in gilt and copper and scarlet, lots of multi-colored Chrysanthemums and orange pumpkins. Second best are the pastels of spring - dogwood and redbud and lilacs, daffodils and tulips blooming in spring gardens. There are a few crystal-glazed winter scenes but summer gets short shrift. I am attracted to roads and rivers. I like lonely rural roads that wind through woods and past farms and over hills. I've never been able to figure why waterfalls don't appeal to me more. I think they are beautiful but except for one photo of Niagara Falls, I never download pictures of them. Trees predominate in my collection. I'm turned on by trees, any kind of trees - huge sycamores lining creekbeds, Spanish moss-draped liveoaks in Alabama pastures, neighborly maples on Main Street, cypress in southern swamps, golden Aspens gilding western hills, soaring lodgepole pines.

Dogs and horses take precedence among the animals. I would guess that horses of all kinds and colors make up my very top category. There are Arabs and Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds in bay and brown and chestnut. Heavy draft horses and tiny Shetland ponies, horses grazing and horses racing. But my favorite breed is Arab and my favorite color is black so you'll find more black Arabs than anything else - and more running than standing still. I like flying manes and tails. My horses almost never have people on their backs unless they are jockeys or cowboys. I prefer them free.

Ditto with dogs. I like lots of domesticated breeds but I admire wolves and coyotes and foxes even more, especially wolves. I have lots of wolf pictures. Because I wrote a book in which a Canadian Lynx played a large part, I lean toward this species of wild cat more than any other. Pelicans are my chosen birds but I also like cranes and herons and Cardinals, especially if they are perched on pine trees in the snow, are my top small bird.

You could definitely tell my political leanings through my shifting screen scenery. Taking their places in my political pantheon are Bill and Hillary Clinton and General Wesley Clark. Although I tend to support Democrats over Republicans with my vote, these are the only three I have ever liked well enough to actually download. You'll find no Al Gore, John Kerry or Barack Obama. A vote is one thing, wallpaper on my computer is something else altogether.

Whenever I've traveled to a place I fell in love with, I've come home and tracked down pictures of those places. I have photos of Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, Panama Beach, Padre Island, Myrtle Beach, Cedar Key, New Orleans, Cape Cod, Charleston SC, Biltmore in NC, Lake Michigan, Ruidoso, the Garden of the Gods, Nogales, Eureka Springs and of course, Las Vegas! The most recent are Atlantic City and New York City from Mom's and my vacation to see John and Lisa. Whenever my travel pictures scroll past, I pause a moment and savor the memories. Actually, most of my traveling was done to pick up prisoners and bring them back to Wabash to face justice. Even the various personalities in the backseat in handcuffs and shackles added to the color of the trip although mostly, I just imagine me and Bryan flying along the highway in a squad car.

Like the Lynx who played a part in a book, some of my photos come from being featured in my writing. Ireland, for instance. One of my heroes held dual American/Irish citizenship. I knew almost nothing about Ireland so I did a huge amount of research, becoming captivated by that gorgeous country along the way. Now there are many pictures of Ireland in my Webshots collection. In the same way, I found illustrations of Native Americans to remind me of another book. And I got interested in NASCAR because I made one of my characters a driver. That's initially why I downloaded NASCAR pictures but the thrill of the sport took on a life of its own. I eventually adopted Jimmie Johnson as my driver and of people, Jimmie holds the place of honor for the number of photos.

Some interests don't lend themselves to Webshots. Reading, for instance. You hardly want to download a picture of a bookcover. I think I do have one photo of the Firth of Forth Bridge (or maybe that's Forth of Firth) in Scotland which was almost a main character in one of Iain Banks' books but other than that, it's difficult to express love for an author's work by way of Webshots.

The pictures serve as a constantly evolving scrapbook of your life. They can serve as reminders of places you've been or places you'd like to go or even goals you hope to accomplish (all the ones of Cape Cod remind me that I'd like to move there someday although I'd have to have a - big - lottery win to do it). The photos that call to mind the book manuscripts in my computer make me determined to keep trying to get them published. Sometimes, they're just about things you enjoy, like Jimmie Johnson and the Number 48 car, or the slot machines in Vegas or waves sliding into shore on the ocean. Or they simply wash your heart with the beauty of the world whether that's in the form of an autumn road or a diving pelican or a red fox poised on a log.