Monday, December 27, 2010

Mysteries of the New Year

I cleaned the back porch yesterday, rearranging all the items on the pantry shelves so like is with like - all the canned fruits and vegetables are now together. So are the soups and salmon and boxes of pasta and extra brown and powdered sugars and cereals. Paper plates and coffee filters and napkins are stacked neatly.

I'm under no illusion that such organization will last. Usually, we come home from the store and stack stuff wherever it will fit so that you're forced to go on a scavenger hunt whenever you need a can of green beans.

Still, even though January 1 is, technically,  just another boring winter day, I get caught up in making an effort to start off this shiny new year on the right foot. I'm prone to cleaning closets and clearing out files.

But what I love most about January 1 is getting out the new calendars. I get caught up in the potential of all those pristine white squares. They could bring anything. Barring something unforeseen, August 10, 2011 will say "retirement". There could be a day that denotes the selling of my novel (finally!), one of them around Thanksgiving might shout "Jimmie Johnson - 6 time NASCAR champion"! They'll mark off vacations and birthdays and doctor's appointments and race results. Of course, life is always a crapshoot so special occasions come in all sizes, shapes and emotions, the bad along with the good.

The months ahead are clouded in mystery. There will undoubtedly be weather events. Here in Indiana, that could droughts or blizzards, floods or tornadoes. Those things are exceptions though. Mostly, the days will follow a natural path of seasonal change - lilacs to sweet corn to autumn leaves to snowdrifts.

I want all my favorite authors to write books in 2011 and all my favorite bands to make albums (cds, that is, in the 21st century) and all my favorite actors to make movies (although, actually, I only have one favorite actor and that is Johnny Depp).

I long to see the thoroughbred version of Jimmie Johnson come along in 2011 and win the Triple Crown, something I'm beginning to doubt I'll see again in my lifetime. I'd like for the Colts to win the Super Bowl, although that is a wish for my kids more than myself.

I'd like to hit the jackpot on the slots and use my winnings to visit Ireland.

I'd like to get a German Shepherd puppy and a long-haired black kitten and a Cockatiel  or at least, one of them.

That's what I like most about the new year - all those blank squares and all the possibilities they signify.....

Friday, December 24, 2010

Perceptions of Equality

My friend posted on his Facebook page applauding the vast improvements in racism and sexism in America compared to the way things used to be. (This on the heels of repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell".) All of us Caucasians "liked" his comments but the African-Americans among us were like - "nope, you're wrong, racism is as virulent as ever." I think the whites were shocked, even stunned, by this attitude.

The debate kind of petered out, like people were afraid it would lead to something ugly if they pursued it.

But I still can't help wondering what that determination of continuing rampant racism was based on.

I'm almost 65 years old and I remember racism and sexism. I remember when blacks rode in the back of the bus and women couldn't sit at the bar and it was the rare gay who was brave enough to come "out". I remember being told flat-out that I wouldn't get a promotion to foreman because "women couldn't be foremen". I remember our personnel manager telling me she didn't even schedule an interview with an applicant because she "sounded black". I remember when all the people in all the commercials were white.

I remember when all Miss America contestants were Caucasian; when the merest hint of being homosexual was enough to be denied a security clearance; when landlords advertised openly "whites only". I remember a time when Congress was a sea of pale, male faces. I remember when any Supreme Court justice or presidential cabinet member who was African-American or God knows, female, truly was a "token", when the very idea of a black or woman president was totally preposterous.

I lived the Civil Rights Movement and the Women's Movement.

To me, old as I am, anyone who says that great strides haven't been made is just clinging to old resentments. Yes, all that happened to Grandpa and Grandma but now Uncle William is a Senator and Aunt Josephine is on the Supreme Court. We think nothing of black Head of the Joint Chiefs and female Secretaries of State. We take it for granted that a black woman can be declared the most beautiful female in the land, that a black man can be named Athlete of the Year (or Decade, for that matter).

Entertainment and sports probably led the way. I grew up in a small, mostly white community. The first black people I "knew" were Ray Charles and Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin and Jimi Hendrix and it was love at first song. Musical genius is color-blind.

Likewise, athletic excellence. Racist you may be, but there is no denying the superiority of a Muhammad Ali or a Michael Jordan or a Tiger Woods.

Of course, progress isn't always as fast as the victims of racism, sexism or homophobia would like it to be. People got hurt and even killed along the way. Pioneers suffered for their willingness to trail-blaze. Forced acceptance is difficult to enforce. You can make it happen, as President Harry Truman forced the military to accept blacks, but it takes time to make forced acceptance truly acceptable.

One of the African-Americans in our FB discussion said, "well, yes, we don't see racism much as middle-class college graduates but it still exists below us." That seems like something of a facile answer to me. I work with the low income, black and white alike. It is a fact of life that the poor always gets screwed, whatever their race, sex or orientation.

Another brought up immigration as an example of on-going racism but I don't really think immigration is necessarily a problem because the illegals flooding our borders are Hispanic. I believe we'd be protesting if millions of poor whoevers were swarming into our country, putting pressure on jobs, schools and medical care. If they were all from the country of Burgoo, we'd be yelling to put a stop to all the Burgooians coming in illegally.

Things have improved, immensely, in my book. Anyone who says it hasn't is focused more on bitterness than betterment.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Authorities versus Anarchists

Well, there seems to be a bit of a war breaking out between the authorities and the rebels as far as the internet is concerned. On one side are the "official" websites of multinational companies that have lined up against WikiLeaks founder, 39-year-old Australian, Julian Assange. (Assange has been accused of rape, molestation and sexual coercion in Sweden and that country is asking for his extradition on those charges.)

For instance, MasterCard and PayPal refused to accept and/or process donations for Assange's defense and Amazon.com revoked the use of its servers.

In retaliation, computer hackers attacked by burying those sites in traffic, causing some of them to become inaccessible for a period of time. The websites of the Swedish prosecutor and the attorney for Assange's two accusers were also affected by the "cyberanarchists" (which is what they call themselves).

I'm on both sides in this. WikiLeaks recently posted over 250,000 U. S. State Department cables that did not always show the U.S. in a good light. At best, it exposed us as hypocrites. At worst, it caused damage to our relations with some foreign countries, forcing Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to apologize to world leaders.

A group called Anonymous has taken credit for coordinating the attacks on company websites.

As a babyboomer, I was young during the period of protest that wracked the sixties and seventies - protests against war, racial discrimination, sexual discrimination, etc. I was generally in favor of most of the protester's issues. Would Vietnam have ended as soon without them? Would schools and lunch counters and buses have been integrated as quickly? Would women have been given their rights as rapidly. I still think the answer is no.

We no longer march. The internet is the great hope of protesters and rebels in this era. We know much about what's gone on behind the scenes in Iraq and and Afghanistan and China and even Korea thanks to courageous bloggers. Now, instead of standing in front of tanks, freedom fighters blog.

Governments, in general, even in a free country like the U.S., prefer that shared freedom of expression not be so readily available. Governments, even including our own, like keeping their secrets. And it is probably in the national interest that they do keep some vital national security secrets. But the problem is, they don't confine themselves to that. In any debate about shining light on our affairs and keeping what they do under wraps, government officials almost always come down on the side of darkness.  They don't like being embarrassed when their private thoughts about a country with which we play kissy-face in public are revealed. They don't like being humiliated when disgusting pictures of the degrading way we treated prisoners in Abu Graib are made public. Their mantra is - "just trust us".

Yeah, sure. If we've paid any attention at all, we know that governments, even our own, can't always be trusted. Governments, even our own, perform any numbers of acts of which we, as citizens, might be ashamed. Extraordinary rendition even on people that haven't been proven to be terrorists. Torture. Lies.

For instance, are we absolutely, positively sure that Julian Assange isn't being set up for reasons having nothing to do with rape, molestion or sexual coercion? I'm not. I find it easy to believe that a word is passed from one country to another. "This guy is a pain in the ass. We need to neutralize him but it can't seem to come from us. Can you do something?" I wish I didn't believe governments would stoop to such behavior but, unfortunately, I do.

Ultimately, the authorities and the multinationals are in league with one another and have the vast bulk of the power. I think there is only a limited amount of damage the cyberanarchists can do and maybe that's for the best. I don't especially want them to topple a legitimate government but on the other hand, I'm glad they're out there. I do want them to be irritants to established authority. I want the officials to have to watch their backs because the possibility of exposure always exists.

The official world will probably always win in the end but the internet makes it possible for the underground to hold their feet to the fire - and that's a good thing.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cutting Off Your Nose.....

I was involved in a contract negotiation at a factory where I worked once. The company's initial offer was something like 10 cents an hour a year (which equals $109 a year) for the three year life of the contract. (One of the years may have only been a nickel an hour. I don't remember the details). We voted it down.

Management then embarked on a strategy of terror. They passed the word that if we didn't submit to their offer, they'd close the plant and move it to another location. As if to prove they were serious, they boarded up the windows of the cafeteria, moved some of the machinery to another facility, brought some of our co-workers from another factory in and made us train them to do our jobs. They played games like letting us see our foremen carrying around the ubiquitous pink slips that signaled lay-offs (they turned out to be old ones from a previous downsizing).

In the middle of December, they called for another vote on the exact same insulting contract, not even bothering to add a little extra an hour as a face-saving gesture. They did include a little pot sweetener though, a $300 "signing bonus". Everyone had Christmas on their mind. They thought of how much nicer it would be with an extra 300 bucks to spend. Workers were already worried about losing their jobs if they refused to sign. That measly $300 turned the tide. We voted for the new contract.

I voted no. I didn't care if they shut down the factory. I didn't care if I didn't have a job. I didn't care if I couldn't buy anything for Christmas. If it would have meant I'd have ended up standing in line at the soup kitchen, I'd still have voted against it. Was I willing to cut off my nose to spite my face to deny the owners of the company their victory? You bet. Because sometimes you have to stand up and fight even if you know you're going to lose. Sometimes, it's worth it to inflict some pain on your tormentors as you go down. Sometimes, you've eaten enough crap that you can't tolerate another mouthful.

This is the same way I feel about the Republicans right now. They had all the power for six years and disregarded every rule, or at least what we previously thought were the rules. The conservative party of "fiscal responsibility" squandered Clinton's surplus and piled up deficits higher than we'd ever had before. They held Senate votes open all night (previously, it was limited to 15 minutes) to twist arms to get their fellow Republicans to vote for the Prescription Drug Plan, the largest social program since Medicare. They shipped pallets of hundred dollar bills to Halliburton in Iraq to spend without any accounting. They rode roughshod over the Bill of Rights and the Rule of Law (remember during impeachment when the sanctity of the Rule of Law was their mantra?) They gave their rich buddies huge tax breaks (although most of the mega-wealthy pay taxes at an effective rate of 17% because they have way more deductions they can take than us working stiffs do), thereby ensuring the deficits would soar even higher. (Remember them telling us that tax cuts help the economy? How'd that work out for us?

During the time they were out of power, did they compromise as they are now insisting the President and the Democrats should do? They did not. They continued to stonewall and filibuster just for the fun of it, refusing to pass even programs they approved of if it meant the D's would get some credit (not that I think the Dems deserve much credit).

Fortunately for them, the average American voter has the attention span of a gnat. Obama's been in office two whole years and things aren't perfect so bring the Republicans back!

Now the Republicans are crying crocodile tears again about the deficit even as they insist on extending the tax cuts for the wealthy at a cost of about $900 billion. Now the Republicans, on the strength of a majority in one house of Congress, have offered Obama what is essentially a $300 signing bonus in return for not closing the plant and he leaps at the chance to vote yes. I have not much doubt the rest of the party will eventually go along.

I wish they wouldn't. I wish they'd reach their line in the sand wherever that may be. I wish they'd say, "shut the son-of-a-bitch down then if that's what you think you gotta' do" and vote no on the Republican contract.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Collection of Conflicts

Most of us are a motley collection of conflicting and contradictory beliefs, beliefs ingrained when we were children and too young to apply any kind of critical thinking. As adults, we cling to them even when they are sometimes clearly against our self-interest.

Chances are if we were raised in a Christian family, we still accept what we learned in Bible school as profound truth. Chances are if Mom and Dad were staunch Republicans, we still pull the R more often than not when we vote.

I am always slightly amused when survivors of tragedy are interviewed and the first thing they say is: "it's my faith that got me through." Really? How, I wonder, do they think people like me, who have no faith, manage? Somehow, we survive just the same. Not that I'd ever try to talk anyone out of believing as they do. Whatever comfort you can find in this life is fine with me.

I've never put much faith in either theology or politics. Over all, I think religion has done more harm than good. I think politics has done more harm than good too although I suppose a political system of some kind is necessary or we'd have anarchy. In anarchy, the strong take advantage of the weak. Under capitalism, the strong take advantage of the weak too although with quite a bit more subtlety.

I have always been confounded by the turnabout in God's personality. In the Old Testament, he was cruel and brutal. Plagues and pestilences and sacrifices of first born sons were nothing to him. He was a warrior God, a God of harsh punishment. But come the New Testament and he'd mellowed out. Maybe it was the influence of becoming a parent, although it turned out he wasn't all that kindly of a father. Under Jesus' leadership, the Bible's moral philosophy turned more toward gentle forgiveness and caring for the downtrodden.

So, in the modern world of American politics, we have the Old Testament party - the Republicans - and the New Testament party - the Democrats. Voters tend to lean toward one more than the other based on their own preconceived predilections.

When Democrats are elected, they are all about turning the other cheek. The programs they support are generally of the being our brother's keeper kind. They would like to provide everyone with "loaves and fishes". They believe in "judging not lest ye also be judged." They would prefer to turn all our "swords into ploughshares".

Meanwhile, when Republicans come to power, they are immediately ready to take up the sword and "smite" their enemies. They want to "subdue" their earth and "dominate" it. No soft-headed "turning the other cheek" nonsense for them. They believe in an "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" and sometimes, visiting a father's sins upon the child if that child doesn't have the means, whether in brains or brawn or intestinal fortitude, to pull himself up by his own bootstraps.

Our two political parties are like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. For me, at least, the Republicans are too hard and hot; the Democrats are too soft and cold.

The Republicans are harsh and  judgmental. Opposing, for instance, every program designed to make life more tolerable for gays, smug in their own moral superiority. They feel supremely confident in denying the rest of us the right to have an abortion or to pull the plug on a long comatose loved one. They will fight to the death for the rich against the poor, as if financial success itself is a sign of God's favor. They'll go to war at the drop of a hat, nodding complacently at torture and extraordinary rendition.

The Democrats are too soft and tentative. Obama is a perfect example. He vowed to bring the parties together when every bit of evidence pointed to the impossibility of that happening. Democrats eschew retaliation even when the circumstances demand it. They don't believe in capital punishment even when perpetrators are a cancer on the body of society. They want to "understand" what caused child molesters to be what they are instead of isolating them so they can't create more victims. They want to give to the poor without expecting them to take any responsibility in return.

There is a balance somewhere between the Old Testament Republicans and the New Testament Democrats but we never seem to find it, instead swinging wildly from one extreme to the other based on beliefs instilled in us when we were too young to give them much thought. And so, our past continues to dominate our present.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Two Thousand, Six Hundred and Ninety Miles

We got home from Florida on Friday - a round trip of 2690 miles. I'm still suffering from jet lag. Takes me a couple of days to recuperate.

I always try to take a different route to go through country we haven't seen before. Mom and I talked about it and although both of us have traveled a lot in our lives, neither of us could ever remember having been in Virginia so we were in a position to tick a new state off our personal list of places we've been.

We left Indiana by way of southern Ohio, into West Virginia and then on into Virginia. When we reached Interstate 77, the entrance was closed and we were forced to go on. We called On-Star (our first On-Star experience) and were given directions to the next I 77 entrance. Turned out that one was closed as well. Another conversation with On-Star, another barricaded entry. We ended up being routed through miles and miles of twisting mountain roads through quaint Virginia villages. If it had been daylight, I would have enjoyed the view but as it was, it was pretty miserable. We finally got to Mt. Airy, North Carolina and collapsed into a motel room. On the internet, I read about the massive chain-reaction accident that had closed the highway for miles and thanked the traveling gods that we'd missed it.

The next day was a breeze through beautiful North Carolina and on into South Carolina, Georgia and then, Florida. (It takes a full day of driving in Florida to get where John and Lisa live in the Keys). The best part of this journey is always just seeing the kids again after several months.

We visited, spent a day at the Hard Rock Casino at Fort Lauderdale (I'd have come home a winner if we'd left after lunch instead of hitting the slots again), shopped and ate. I stuffed myself on fresh seafood - shrimp po-boys and grouper and yellowtail.

I always spend hours on John and Lisa's balcony which looks out over the Gulf. Farther out into the water is a long mangrove island which acts as a protective barrier so that there are always many boats anchored there in the quiet - sailboats and yachts and houseboats. I'd love to spend a couple of days on one of them some time. The moon was full during our visit and shone huge and gleaming above the water, appearing to be so close, you felt you could almost reach out and touch it. At night, the most prevalent sound was the gentle rustling of the palms. During the day, it was the cries of the gulls.

On Saturday, John and I went to the Homestead-Miami Speedway for NASCAR's last race of the season. After 35 races, it had come down to three drivers with the opportunity to be crowned champion - Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin. Denny was 15 points ahead of Jimmie and 46 points ahead of Kevin.

John has always teased me about my becoming a NASCAR fan so late in life. No one who knew me in my political incarnation can imagine where my passion for NASCAR came from. It simply appeared full-blown in my 60's. I really, really wanted John to enjoy the race and maybe learn to understand some of my enthusiasm.

The track instructions advised getting there early, which we did, although coming from the south, we cruised right in and got a great parking spot. As a result, we had hours to kill before the race was due to start. We wandered down the road between the souvenir haulers. (F.Y.I. - Danica had the most customers buying her gear; Jeff Gordon had the most fans wearing his; of the championship contenders, Jimmie's stuff was most evident). We roamed around the grounds, ate lunch, watched people until it was time to find our seats.

I had bought my tickets early and paid a premium for "best available" seating and in terms of seeing the action on the track, they were great seats but.....46 rows up. By the time I arrived, panting, to where we were going, I told John, "I'm here for the duration." I knew I didn't have it in me to make that trip again.

So, I went through the entire, stressful 400 mile race without a cigarette - me, who usually goes through most of a pack during the course of a race. It's surprising that I have a shred of a fingernail left. The championship points "as they ran" were showing on the leaderboard. Jimmie was ahead at the beginning based on their qualifying spots but over the course of the race, those positions kept changing. Denny was ahead at times and other times it was Kevin Harvick, then Jimmie again.My emotions were on a rollercoaster ride of happiness, then despair, then happiness again.

In the end, Jimmie had the cleanest race. Other than a couple of slow pit stops, he nailed it in typical his typical cool, calm and collected fashion. Meanwhile, Denny got impatient and got into a collision with Greg Biffle early in the race. They got his car back on track but it was never as fast as it had been in the beginning. In addition to Denny's crucial error, his crew chief dithered on a pit stop and cost him more spots. As for Kevin, he got penalized for speeding on pit road. He rallied back but with Jimmie coming home second, he was too far behind to win.

So, it was Jimmie Johnson, five time consecutive Sprint Cup champion - and I was there to see it! Chalk that up as one of the highlights of my life. And it was particularly special because John was there with me. He seemed to really enjoy the race. I don't expect him to become the kind of avid fan I am but I hope he'll be interested enough now to pay some attention as it will give us something else to share and discuss.

We headed home the day before Thanksgiving. The traffic through Florida was horrendous. The next day, no one was on the road and the driving was a breeze except that we looked right at the signs and went east instead of west, going 60 miles the wrong direction and having to backtrack. It was getting dark and starting to rain as we got to Birmingham, Alabama. Like an idiot, I assumed....assumed that the highway I was on would intersect at some point with I 65 which crosses Birmingham south to north. My assumption was wrong. (Don't even ask why I didn't check with On-Star). The rain and the lights made the highway a glare of confusion. We finally realized we were heading north and east of Birmingham. I told Mom I was too tired to go on so we got down off the highway. There were no "name" motels at our exit so we went to a small independent. "Wow," said Mom, "only $46, a bargain!" Nope, not a bargain at all.

It appeared that our room was normally rented by the week to, I don't know, people who are traveling on the tiniest of shoe strings. There was a stove top with two burners covered with an inch of brownish-yellow grease. The television didn't work; the toilet didn't flush; the carpet was filthy; the plaster was cracked and crumbled; there were black footprints in the tub. I was exhausted but not exhausted enough to sleep in this room.We decided that if they wouldn't give us our money back, we'd just eat the $46. The proprietor did return our money and didn't even seem surprised.

We got back on the highway and found a Day's Inn at the next exit. I was brain-dead by then.

We found 65 N the next morning, having gone about 30 miles too far north and east. Again, traffic was minimal. We counted off states - out of Alabama and into Tennessee, across the Kentucky line, over the bridge at Louisville and back home again in Indiana! We left Birmingham at 8:00 a.m. and pulled into our driveway in Wabash at 5:00.

Once inside with a cup of coffee, I had to tell Mom that John had called to let me know that our little Pomeranian, Caesar, had died while we were gone.

Trips like this one are a lot like life in microcosm - there will be memories of beauty and recollections of difficulty. There were moments of extreme stress and moments of pure peace. There were times of quiet happiness being with missed loved ones. There was the joy of your driver winning a championship and the grief of losing a beloved pet. There were times when the road tested my endurance and carefree times when we sailed along. We passed through mountains and swamps and past farms and forests. We went from maples to live oaks to palms, from black soil to brick red to golden sandy beaches beside the sea. Eleven days and 2690 miles of good times and some that were not so good. Eleven days and 2690 miles of life.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pick Yourself Up Off the Floor and Fight!

I haven't been up to perusing all the election results yet. Just the ones I've picked up from watching the lines running across the bottom of my t.v. screen are depressing enough.

For instance, here in Indiana we have once again elected Dan Burton. Dan is our state's version of Strom Thurmond. I'm convinced we will still be voting for him when he is drooling in his Archie chair in the nursing home. He could not be demented or hypocritical enough  to forfeit our misplaced veneration.

And now, we have resurrected the dreaded Dan Coats from the grave. Geez.

If you remember, the two Indiana Dans were in the forefront of the howling Republican mob that impeached Bill Clinton. I wonder what they are planning for their second act for a Democratic president? What show could they possibly produce to match that sickening display of partisanship? What Clinton did wasn't high crimes and misdemeanors but rather low crimes and infractions but it made a great excuse for gleefully satisfying the public's prurient interest in Old Bill's sex life. And it gave almost every Republican, and even some sanctimonious Democrats (Joe Lieberman, anyone?) the opportunity to get in front of a microphone and sermonize, ad nauseum.

Of course, later we discovered that Clinton was a piker compared to the transgressions of the very Republicans who were attempting to tar and feather him and run him out of Washington on a rail. There was Newt, telling his cancer-ridden wife in the hospital that he wanted a divorce to marry the aide with whom he'd been having an affair, (after, incidentally, encouraging his pregnant girlfriend to have an abortion). There was Burton himself, forced to admit to an illegitimate child that he neither acknowledged or supported (it's that family values thing, doncha know?) There was Bob Livingston, the then-new Senate Majority Leader who stepped down almost immediately when his dalliances were made public. Later, we discovered old racist Strom himself had a black daughter...... Hypocrisy and the Grand Old party - they go together like, well, like spoiled fish and stink.

Both Republicans and Democrats (i.e., John Edwards) are sinners, it's just that the D's aren't usually as phonily self-righteous about it as the R's).

I also watched John Boehner, likely to be the new Speaker of the House, and his attack dog, Mitch McConnell, giving their little acceptance speeches on television. Boehner, a catch in his voice, came across all humble. If I had a dollar for every time he said "the American people" (as in: "we're going to listen to the American people"), I could retire tomorrow instead of having to wait until I'm 65. Mitch, meanwhile, was the bad cop. He threatened the Dems that if they knew what was good for them, they'd approach the new Republican majority in the House on bended freaking knee. I wish I had the energy to go back and see if he was singing the same tune when the situations were reversed and the Republicans lost big two years ago. My guess is: not.

I used to be a positive Democrat, however, after the last election, I became a negative Democrat, which is to say I'm a Democrat only because I detest the Republicans even more. I turned against the Dems for the very thing we're talking about here: I thought that after eight years of Bush, et al, we needed to go on the offensive in a major way. And in Hillary, we had just the person to do it.

But no, my party in their typical timid fashion decided on Obama. We wanted to change the culture in Washington, forgetting it takes two to dance that tango. We were into peace, love, cooperation and tolerance (for minorities but not women, by the way). Barack was going to usher in a new era of forgiveness. Just one big, happy American family holding hands and working together to solve the problems the Bush era left behind.

I thought they were nuts. I thought they had no evidence whatsoever on which to base the possibility of  such an outcome - just blind faith in their new, young, charismatic president. But charisma only takes you so far and then you need someone who will get down in the trenches and go to work, who doesn't mind getting their hands dirty, as I believe Hillary would have.

We had two years to try to pull off the kumbaya thing and just got our asses kicked as a consequence. So now we'll see if the Democrats have any fight left in them or if it will be all about placating and pacifying their new partners.

I say: screw bipartisanship because you know that's the tactic the Republicans will employ. I don't even mind so much if the Democrats go down but, Good Lord, I'd at least like to see them go down swinging.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I Choose Charlotte, North Carolina

My son asked me today if I would even consider retiring to Florida if they didn't live there. "No," I said, "not in a million years".

"So where would you go instead if you decided to leave Indiana, Mom?"

The reality is that I'll probably never get out of Indiana. Where else could I go and duplicate a 3-bedroom, 3-lot house for $409 a month? Where else could I go out to eat at any restaurant in town and be hailed by at least half the people who are there on any given night? Where else would I get gas at a local oil company that gives me a swipe card and bills me monthly....and that let's me go three months without paying them in full when my company didn't reimburse me for mileage because the state held up my grant, saying "don't worry about it, Vic, we know you'll pay us." Where else would I vote where I actually know the candidates and so, push the button for people rather than Republicans or Democrats? All those homely qualities are comforting when you're in your 60's.

The other side of that is: do you want your life to just wind down without at least one more adventure?

If I could choose a place to move and could get there without all the stress and hassle of 1) selling the house, 2) getting rid of 3 decades of stuff, 3) packing what I want to take 4) hiring a moving company, 5) finding a new place and 6) getting settled in there - if that could all happen by magic - I'd move close to Charlotte, North Carolina.

For me, Charlotte the best of all possible worlds. First, it's the center of NASCAR, which has become my passion. I could visit the race shops. I might even be able to get a part-time job working for one of them or maybe, the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I'd probably volunteer to work for nothing if it was at Hendrick Motorsports. I'd see the transporters hitting the highway taking the cars to the next track. I could get involved in all the race weeks stuff in Charlotte. I might see Jimmie Johnson in the grocery store!

The land around Charlotte is green, like the Midwest. The absence of the kind of greenness that characterizes Indiana is one thing that turns me off about southern Florida. Oh, don't get me wrong. The Keys have green trees and various green plants and if they water, they can even grow grass. But left to its own devices, that part of the country is the beige and gray of sand and gravel.

And the plants around Charlotte are familiar ones. The trees and flowers look pretty much like the ones here at home instead of disturbingly  exotic flora like the ever-expanding mangrove islands in southern Florida. (Does North Carolina have kudzu? I hope not).

And those trees in North Carolina sometimes grow on hills instead of the flatlands of the Keys. In fact, if you go far enough west, the hills become mountains when you reach the wild, scenic country around Asheville and Cherokee and Maggie Valley.

The best thing about southern Florida is the water. I love Big Water but go east from Charlotte and you're plenty close enough for a day trip to where the miles-long beaches of the Outer Banks meet the Atlantic Ocean.

And North Carolina has seasons, not as extreme as the Midwest perhaps, but seasons with definite distinctions. Springs come earlier and winters come later and milder but seasons just the same. I can handle some picturesque but quickly disappearing snow. As compared to the Keys which basically has just two seasons: warm and hot.

These are probably just what-if daydreams. I'll probably remain a Hoosier, the status quo being the path of least resistance, but if I could just wiggle my nose and be there.....it would be Charlotte.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Geez, America!

Well, by God, we showed'em, didn't we? We proved that Americans are tough and when we mean business, we get the job done! It seems The Gap, a collection of innocuous stores selling mostly boring and probably Chinese-produced apparel, had the nerve to change its logo, going from a bland square with GAP in center to an even blander GAP with a small blue box above it, never expecting in a million years that all hell would break loose.  A Facebook site protesting the change sprung up almost immediately. Customers complained vociferously that they'd never buy another GAP item unless they got their beloved logo back. And, sure enough, the Gap cracked in the end and returned to the old format.

When I first read about this, I thought it was a joke. A satire perpetrated by MAD Magazine or, maybe,  The Onion. I've had my doubts about America's collective sanity for a while now. We go blithely through life unconcerned about torture, unprovoked wars, unreconstructed hurricane-stricken cities, and unauthorized electronic surveillance while we obsess instead about the pathetic lives of no-talent celebrities and watch with fascination as sad people humiliate themselves in front of millions on t.v.

But spending our passion on a freakin' logo has to take the prize in the "Americans Have Lost It" sweepstakes.

Is it because life in general just seems so out of control now? The economy is in a pit and, though it shows some signs of life, for many of us jobs are still hard to find and mortgages are still being foreclosed and medical care is still impossible to afford. We gave Barack Obama almost two whole years to fix it and he hasn't. In spite of the change mantra he pushed during his campaign, nothing much has.

And look at the candidates in which we have to put our faith in future improvement. Ex-witches and prevaricators about their Vietnam service and Governor Moonbeam.... Actually, Jerry Brown proves I'm not above being shallow myself. I rather liked him when he was young and handsome and sometimes goofy but now that he's old and bald and sometimes goofy, I don't. So, obviously, the new American disease is contagious although I'm, thankfully, not yet so advanced that I can get exercised about a logo!

I might be willing to jump on a Facebook page that was protesting un-inspected imported food products - products which are sprayed with poisons or infested with rat feces. I could get upset about foreign cloth goods hiding huge populations of bed bugs in their folds so that when you hang them in your closet or put them on your bed (or the hotel where you're staying does), they instantly settle in and make themselves at home. I might sign on to complain about banks foreclosing on mortgages they don't even own. Or our soldiers continuing to die in places where it seems we don't have a clue what the end game is. Or our change president who doesn't have the nerve to come down loud and clear on the need to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Maybe he wouldn't prevail but Clinton had guts enough to try it even though the old bulls in the Senate, even in his own party, beat him to a pulp which is how we ended up with DADT in the first place.

I'm a child of the Sixties. The protests then were about civil rights and women's rights and reproductive choice (both pro and anti) and peace and eventually, gay rights. Whatever side you were on, these were at least big, powerful issues, worth of energy and high emotion.

Is it because we've come close to accomplishing most of those things that it doesn't seem as if there is anything of much importance left to man the battlements about? We have a Black president, multiple female Supreme Court justices, legal gay marriage advancing, legal but restricted abortion (allowing both sides to think they won a partial victory) and if not peace, at least, two wars that may be winding down.  Is that why we can now turn our attention to matters of total insignificance?

Or is it that the problems that are left seem so insoluble that we take our tiny victories where we can, like forcing the Gap to return to its old, familiar logo?

Or have we just become spoiled and weak? Our grandfathers and fathers fought, and even died, to join unions to bargain for better pay and working conditions but this generation gave them up without a struggle. Handed them over happily, in fact. Now, our wages are down, our pensions are disappearing, the health benefits we were promised are shrinking but, hey, just so you leave us our beloved logos, we'll be happy little campers.

A fight over a logo is a small thing but it says something about this country and what it says does not bode well.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Twilight Series and Other Books

Okay, I gave up and read the first in the "Twilight" series of books by Stephenie Meyer.

When the girls at work asked if I was Edward or Jacob and I said, "huh?", they gave me contemptuous looks as if I was so far from being "in", I couldn't even glimpse it from where I was at. (This was, incidentally, the same reaction I got when I admitted I'd never read a Harry Potter book back when Harry was all the craze).  They explained a little about the Twilight phenomenon to me. A series about vampires (Edward) and werewolves (Jacob) written for teens. It didn't sound like my cup of tea and I blew them off.

Then I had lunch with my friend, Donna, during which she asked, "Edward or Jacob?" This time I did at least know what she was talking about but I confessed to not having read the books. She told me that she started the series (there are now seven books) because her granddaughter was a great fan and she wanted to see what the kids were into. Turned out, she loved them on their own merits....and she's an Edward kind of gal.

"Read them, Vic," she encouraged, "I'm dying to know if you go for Edward or Jacob!"

So, I ordered the first book, Twilight, from Amazon.

Before I go into that, let me make clear here that I lean toward graphic everything - graphic violence, graphic sex, graphic language. I like my heroes to be a little twisted and deeply cynical like Ed Loy (Declan Hughes) and Hank Thompson (Charlie Huston) and Burke (Andrew Vaschss). I love the black and white characters of Josh Bazell and Adrian McKinty and Andrew Grant and Ray Banks. Even among the more mainstream authors, I like wounded heroes like Gabriel Allon and Micah Dalton and well, I could go on and on.

Furthermore, I generally avoid books with female narrators.

You can see that I approached Twilight with a certain amount of skepticism.

They are essentially romance novels written for teens. Although the main characters are vampires and werewolves, which might normally put them in the genre of horror, they aren't very horrible. The vampire clan in Twilight have turned away from human prey and live on the blood of animals.  They are characterized both by their beauty and their integrity, integrity not being a quality you normally associate with the children of the night.

I had a little trouble with Bella and Edward falling in love. Bella is the normal teenage girl who comes to town. She's inordinately klutzy and both smarter and braver than seems realistic although this is the way it usually is with the heroines of romances. The author explains that the attraction Bella has for Edward has its roots in her smell, which it seems he can't resist. I didn't find that quite believable. I mean, after all, Edward is really 104 years old. He is perfection in spades - fabulously gorgeous, brilliantly intelligent, sophisticated, courageous, honorable and of course, with physical capabilities miles beyond human. So why would be be drawn to a naive 17-year-old high school girl? Well, because that's what has to happen for the story to proceed, I guess.

And it does proceed and is entertaining enough to keep your interest. Bella and Edward and his clan have to take on the bad guys. After some twists and turns, they win, naturally....or there wouldn't be six sequels.

What Stephenie Meyer does best is draw an appealing picture of her vampires, Edward, in particular. She bathes him in descriptive adjectives. He is sensual and beautiful and muscular with a feline grace about him....well, all the various terms with which any reader of romances is familiar. Because, romances are about the men. Those wonderful, sexy, strong perfect heroes that women....and teenage girls, can safely lust after. Meyer handles the physical part carefully so that only the most priggish of parents could find it unacceptable.

I ordered the second book. Because, of course, I still have to discover whether Edward or Jacob is my guy and Jacob wasn't in Twilight enough to make a judgment.

And, heck, I'm not above wallowing in pure masculine beauty and sexuality every now and then.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Daydream Island

One of my on-going daydreams is about living on an island. It is an island that is difficult to reach so that anything you bring there requires enormous effort. You have to be extremely selective about what you consider a necessity.

I used to truly believe that I would leave my television set behind but that changed when I became a NASCAR fan. Now I'd simply have to go to whatever lengths it took to be able to watch the pre-race, race and post-race shows. Thank God, modern technology has made t.v. watching more user friendly.

I always resented the television because I saw it as a dictator and that's somewhat true, even today. Say, you're interested in learning about World War II but the History Channel decides the subject is to be the Revolutionary War. It's their way or no way - but the abundance of stations available now has given watchers more control, especially if you have a satellite. My friends who are into horse racing and rodeo can access channels dedicated to those two sports. That certainly wasn't true 20 years ago.

The television also used to be able to force you to tolerate inane commercials and determine when you could safely run to the kitchen for a snack. DVR and TIVOs have fixed those problems for those lucky enough to have them. You can fast forward through commercials and pause when you need a potty break.

Having said all that, with books, you are the master and they are your attentive servants so my island would have to have a direct line to Amazon.com.  Periodically, the UPS plane would fly over and drop a skid of books.

I'd have to have high speed internet, of course. That way I'd still have a source of communication and music and knowledge of the world outside my island, even if I chose not to pay much attention to it.

I'd have a cell phone but only nine people would know the number. I'd give the same nine people the GPS coordinates to the island so they could come and visit.

Other than the television, a coffee pot is the only appliance I couldn't live without. I'd leave almost all my clothes behind except for a few loose-fitting caftans and some sandals. No bras. I'd never wear a bra again....ever. No huge bag of make up or myriad nail care products or small, medium and large curling irons and brushes/blow dryers/diffusers/straighteners/kinkers. No permanents or dyes.

And certainly no clocks - a golden sun and a silver moon would be all I'd need to tell time...at least, close enough.

I would leave all my collectibles behind. I don't need candles or angels or teapots - just an occasional perfect shell washed up on the beach or maybe an especially graceful piece of driftwood.

I wouldn't have to take any prescription pills on my island because I would no longer be stressed enough to irritate my ulcers (well, except when watching the races, of course), my blood pressure wouldn't be high and I'd be forced to be on a healthy diet since fresh fish, mangos and coconuts would be the only foods available - so no blood sugar fluctuations.

I haven't decided about cigarettes yet. Commonsense would dictate that a deserted island would be the perfect place to quit with no Village Pantry down the block but, man, I'm giving up so much else to be here. Maybe I could just smoke for a while at first, then taper off.....

I have a dog with me on my island, a black and silver German Shepherd, and a long-haired black Maine Coon Cat. Their names are Shiloh and Santee. There are wild horses there too. I don't want to ride them, just watch them, along with all the other wildlife.

There aren't many laws on Daydream Island because without people you hardly need laws. I'm taking my Glock for self-protection but I'm the only one here who has a Second Amendment right.

I'm not sure exactly where this island is. It is washed all around by an ocean but other than an occasional exciting storm for show, there are no hurricanes or tornadoes or volcanoes. It is as warm as the tropics, a cozy fire in the fire place is all that's needed to stay snug in the hut. Many startlingly colorful birds along with southern birds like pelicans and frigate birds make their home here but it is characterized by topography more like the American midwest - green grass and clear creeks, maple trees and lilacs. There are no poisonous plants or snakes or bugs.

I imagine myself sitting on the verandah of the hut, watching blue waves sliding into shore, hearing trees rustling in the breeze and the squawk of seagulls, with my faithful dog at my feet and the cat in my lap....because everyone needs a place of perfect peace even if it's only in day dreams.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stupid Human Tricks

- I don't want to eat genetically altered salmon, the first living creature to be played with in such a way or at least the first one for which geneticists are trying to get approval from the F.D.A.

Humans are so breathtakingly arrogant about screwing with other species. We used to create our desired changes via breeding. We produced cows with udders the size of hot air balloons for more milk, hogs with less fat because we prefer lean bacon, chickens with the brains and maternal instincts taken out of them to turn them into egg-laying machines, roosters for lethal fighting instincts.

We bred pets for traits that pleased us - dogs with noses so flat they could barely breathe, or skin so wrinkled they develop mold if not properly cared for,  so vicious they have to be caged and muzzled. We bred them for speed so we could gamble on their prowess on the track. (Of course, if we couldn't breed for the desired changes, we simply butchered for them, cutting off dogs' ears and tails).

We bred horses to run fast as well or trot fast or pace fast, based on our preference. And sometimes we simply bred them so we could harvest their urine to make hormones for menopausal women.

Because we think extremes are cute, we bred miniature dogs and cats and horses and goats. We bred them to have excessively long fur or to have no fur at all.

We bred wild animals so we could fence them in and allow Bwana Big Hero to "hunt" them so they could hang heads or pelts on their walls and brag to their friends.

We removed the taste from of fruits and vegetables so they'd stay looking good during shipping.  We bred for showier blossoms without fragrance.

We bred other plants to have more seeds or larger ears although in the transition, they lost their resistance to blight or other enemies.

When we didn't breed mutations, we did it in other ways - by cloning them. (Remember, dear Dolly, the sheep?)

And now we're fucking with genetically altered salmon to make them bigger, twice as big in fact as natural salmon.

And why do we need to do that? Why because there are too many of us, of course. We need giant fish and abnormally productive apple trees and humongous ears of corn and enormously uddered cows to feed ourselves. Because while we're good at altering other creatures for our purposes, we seem to have no tolerance at all for altering our own self-destructive natures, one which is very definitely self-indulgent breeding of our own.

It's been a long, long time since God told us to go forth and multiply. Maybe it's time to stop worrying about dogs and cows and corn and salmon and starting breeding some commonsense qualities into ourselves.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Emotional Firewalls

It's too bad people don't come with natural virus protection to detect infected files trying to invade our system, because a lot of us seem to muddle through our lives as vulnerable as a computer without a firewall.

Our tendency is to believe the innocent-looking message that comes through Facebook or via e-mail until, by clicking onto it, we discover ourselves in a world of hurt. Like our computer's hard drive, our lives can be twisted by a betraying lover or insincere friend, or a deceptive salesperson,  if we don't learn until after we've allowed them entry that they mean to do us harm.

Often, in my job, that's what I feel like - the computer repair person trying to set things right again after the system has been corrupted by a virus.

The hacker may be a hit and run girlfriend who gains your love and has your baby, then leaves you high and dry owing at least 18 years of support on a child with whom you are denied a relationship.

Or a smiling buy-here-pay-here salesman who swears the POS car he just sold you at twice the going rate is in perfect condition. When it falls to pieces 30 days later, too bad so sad, you still owe the balance and don't think you can get out of it. Their specialty is writing contracts in such a way that you don't stand a chance.

Or the friend that says, "oh, these are temporary guardianship papers, just 'til you get back on your feet."  You're so grateful until you discover temporary isn't all that temporary unless your hire a lawyer and go back to court and even then, proving you should get your kids back once you've signed them over to someone else may not be that easy to do.

Maybe your nice new landlord assures you that he'll repair the furnace and fix the leaky toilet and replace the dirty carpet, just go ahead and write him the rent check and move in. Don't think you can withhold payment when he doesn't follow through. Rent is due no matter what, just like support is due whether your ever get visitation with your kids or not.

I see so many clients who would have been saved if only they'd had an inner "ALERT!" to protect themselves. So many problems in life are due to blind trust given and betrayed.

Um, doesn't she have other kids on whom she collects a weekly check while withholding visitation from the fathers? What makes you think she won't do the same to you? Conversely, doesn't he have other kids that he's never paid a nickel to support? Why do you think yours will be any different? Oh, s/he loves you. Uh huh, I see.

Did you even read your rental agreement/sales contract/guardianship documents? Did it state in black and white that the landlord would make certain repairs? Did it lay out in writing what happens if the car blows up after a month? Was there an end date written into the guardianship agreement?

No? Well, then, you're probably screwed.

Do you think I'm too cynical? You don't want to believe the world is that predatory? Computers are a lot like life. The majority of messages you receive and websites you visit are just what they seem to be, but let your virus protection expire and see what happens.

It is a matter of balance. You don't want to set your firewall so high that you deny even loyal lovers and faithful friends and responsible salespeople in. On the other hand, you don't want it so low that you make it simple for the hackers to invade your life either.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dismal, Depressing, Denying Democrats

Well, Democrats, you had a chance to elect two wily old political veterans who'd already fought the Republicans to a standstill once before (and incidentally, put us on the road to surplus as well). I thought that was exactly what we needed, a warrior, a pair of warriors, really - the Clintons.

But, nope, you were all about youth and hope and change and togetherness. "Nah", you said," those cynical old party stalwarts are behind the times, their day is done. Ignore the seniors and the blue collars in the working class neighborhoods in West Virginia and Texas and Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. It's the 21st century now - we've become the party of minorities and college students and affluent young professionals. We'll move to Washington with Barack Obama and start the Kumbaya Revolution."

So, how's that working out for you so far, Democrats?

From the looks of things right now, Obama is down in the polls and barring an unexpected improvement in the economy, you Dems are going to take a bath in November. Maybe lose both houses of Congress. Short-lived revolution, wasn't it?

I knew it was going to happen and I don't see how anyone who watched the Republicans leading up to and during Bill Clinton's impeachment could have not known it was going to happen. Where did you ever see the slightest, remotest hint that the R's would bow and smile and let Obama have his way with the people? Now Barack says they've talked about him like a dog. Well, of course, because that's what the Republicans do! Have you not got that through your heads yet?

Do you really think they crucified Clinton just because he was Bill Clinton and that they wouldn't have found some hook to try to hang whoever had been the Democrat president at the time? Don't tell me that Bill gave them ammunition. It wouldn't have mattered. If they'd had to, they'd have made something up....like maybe they would have accused him of not being a U.S. citizen.

So, as far as I'm concerned, what you did, Democrats, was throw a Cocker Spaniel into the ring when you should have known the Republicans were going to send pit bulls after him. You remind me of the flower children of the Sixties, sticking your little daisies in Republican gun barrels. Now you've discovered to your dismay that daisies only work unless your opponent decides to shoot, then they'll be blown to smithereens.

And Republicans have no hesitation whatsoever about pulling the trigger.

I've mostly sworn off politics since the presidential election. I felt like my age and my sex and my class were disrespected by my party and the media. I turned to NASCAR instead. Now I watch cars go around circles, knowing that skill and courage will prevail, not fuzzy feelings.

I thought I'd got over all this a little bit. I'm surprised to discover how angry I still am.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Almost Autumn

The other morning when I let Caesar, the Pomeranian, out at 4:00 a.m., there was a crisp portent of on-coming fall in the air. After all the heat-drenched, humidity-heavy mornings that preceded it, I stepped out the door to delight in letting the cool surround me.

My friend, Brenda, has always hated autumn. She calls it the dying season, when all the plants begin to turn brown and shed their leaves or wither away.  Being a more positive person, I don't consider it dying as much as resting. They've worked overtime producing fruits and vegetables and flowers and seeds and now its vacation time. See ya' next April.

And the trees at least wave us good bye with a celebratory burst of color - champagnes and bronzes and golds and coppers and crimsons. And the garden invites us to stock up on last harvest tomatoes and squash and potatoes until the laid-off workers are recalled and the assembly line starts up again next spring.

For a while, the house will be unnaturally quiet after the air conditioner signs off for the year but before the furnace clocks in. The silence is the sound of....savings. Sometimes it seems as if, instead of electricity or gas, the a.c. and furnace are fueled by stacks of dollar bills.

It used to be at this time of year, you had to think a lot about your car. Had you better get a new battery so it will start when the temperatures drop? Is it time to take it down to have antifreeze added? What about buying snow tires? Cars are more reliable and user friendly now.  I'm old enough to remember that dreaded "rrrh...rrrh....rrrh" sound of a low battery but I haven't heard it in years. And whatever they put in the car now must be year-around stuff. And I use the same radial tires even in snow season. Can't remember the last time I had a flat tire either.

I love sitting on my front porch to read but I abandoned it during deep summer when the air was breathless and the heat sat on you like it contained actual weight.  I'll begin to venture back out now that's it's more comfortable.

My energy level rises in direct proportion to the falling temperatures. When it's 90+ and sultry, I have the metabolism of a slug, dragging myself along heavily, like every inch is a milestone. By contrast, when the heat-index drops, I feel as light as a butterfly. I start to think of long-delayed projects needing to be done. Straighten my books so all the volumes by the same authors are together. Sort my clothes and take the things I never wear to The Lighthouse Mission. Clean the cupboards and the closets.

I'm a Leo so I'm supposed to be a sun person but I'm not. I'm beaten down by an overbearing sun. Maybe I have some other sign rising or something. My birth month, August, is actually my least favorite month (with February a close second). August has almost nothing to recommend itself, not one single holiday. (Even February has Valentine's Day, which if it isn't a day off work is at least a lovable day).

So I say, "bring it on, Mother Nature, I'm ready to rock on into fall!"

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mosques and Memorials

Maybe I'm just not as sentimental as some people but, generally, I don't invest much reverence in places where people died. Where they lived, yes. Where they accomplished success, yes. Where they made history, yes. But where they died, not so much.

For instance, if I'm killed in an automobile accident, please, please, don't put up any roadside crosses to memorialize the event. Send a bouquet of flowers to some lonely old lady in a nursing home from me, don't stick them into a traffic median somewhere.

Lots of people are killed in vehicle crashes at lots of different locations. If we all keep this up, every trip will soon just be one sad reminder after another. I know it sounds selfish, but I don't really care where your Aunt Sue was t-boned. And I don't expect you to care about my Uncle Bill getting rear-ended either.

I don't go to the cemetery to visit my family members because I don't think anything important that was part of them is there. Their everlasting souls (if there is such a thing) have long departed and I believe they really could care less whether you decorate their grave with plastic blossoms and balloons. If it makes you feel better, there's not anything harmful about it either but I expect if they were watching, they'd just as soon you spent that money to plant a tree or spay a cat.

All of this is, of course, by way of leading to whether it is acceptable to build a Muslim Mosque/Social Center/Whatever at Ground Zero.  To be clear, it isn't at Ground Zero. It is near Ground Zero. As I understand, it is a couple of blocks away. So, I suppose the first thing we have to decide is how near is too near? Two blocks? Obviously? Ten blocks? In another city? Another state? Anywhere in America?

We've diddled around for almost a decade trying to decide what kind of memorial we want to honor our loved ones at the World Trade Center and we still haven't come up with anything we can agree on. Every idea is too big or too small or too low or too high or too dark or too bright.

So, instead of something uplifting and inspirational, what their memorial is going to be is a public airing of our prejudice, a bitter march of narrow-mindedness, an exhibit of our inability to get along. How proud they must be (if, in fact, you believe they are monitoring the situation from above).

Back in America's pioneer days, there was a saying that "the only good Indian is a dead Indian." We said it that way because there were some truly bad Indians but we didn't want to bother to distinguish between the bad and the not bad so it was easier to "kill them all and let God sort them out".

That's rather the way we are with Muslims today. Twenty-three per cent of the population of the world is Muslim. There are Muslims in almost every country. Indonesia has the largest percentage with 13 percent of the Muslim population. Fifteen percent live in Africa. Only 20 percent are from the Middle east. China, Russia, England, America all have significant numbers of Muslim citizens.

Like Native American tribes, there are different sects of Muslims. The two main ones are the Sunni and the Shi'a but there are also Sufis and Ahmadiyya and others. Makes your head ache trying to figure out the difference, sort of like our ancestors felt about the Indians, I guess.

So, what let's do is judge them all by the same standard. We will let the however many Muslims who were complicit in the World Trade Center tragedy stand for all the 1.57 billion Muslims in the world. That way we can feel righteous about our decision to deny the Mosque.

We'll worry about what we can to that's positive in memory of our fallen heroes later.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Time for Another Shower

Approximately 25 years ago, I worked in a factory and for a while, it seemed as if my co-workers were getting married and having babies at a record pace. Besides that, they were moving into new homes and their kids were graduating. Not a week went by that someone wasn't coming around to take up a collection to buy a gift for Susie's wedding shower or Tammy's son's reception.

After a while, I started complaining because I'd never been the guest of honor at a gift-giving party, not ever. Both times I got married, I just went off and did it. I didn't expect my friends to furnish my house. No one gave a shower for me when I got pregnant. My son quit high school and graduated via a GED so there was no reception. I never settled down in one place long enough to rate a Housewarming party.

It just didn't seem fair to me that I'd given for gifts for everyone and their brother but I'd cost them absolutely nothing in return.

My whining must have hit home because all my friends got together and had a surprise All-Occasion shower for me. They all dressed in costumes that represented the various milestone events in my life. They came in a bridal gown, a nurse's uniform, a builder's overalls and tool belt, a graduate's cap and gown. There was a cake decorated with a wedding bell, a baby rattle, a door key, a diploma. I got flowers and towels and lingerie and a new toaster.

"There," they said when it was over, "you've had your shower. Now quit your bitching."

Well, it is two and a half decades later and circumstances are much the same, only now it's my younger co-workers who are getting married, having babies, buying homes. With my own friends, it is their children and grandchildren for whom I'm being invited to give gifts for one reason or another.  And it is just as lopsided as before. My son went to Florida to get married. I have no grandchildren or great-grandchildren. I've never gotten married again myself and I haven't earned any late-in-life degrees.

But I was in the drug store the other day (buying diapers for a baby shower at work) when I happened to notice a gift bag featuring NASCAR drivers, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt. I bought it (for myself because there's no one to give it to) and it gave me an idea.

I think it's time for everyone else to pony up in return for all the gifts I've bought them since I had my last shower in 1987 or so.

But I don't need the usual things, like linens and waffle irons and candles. I have plenty of all those things already. No, I think they should give me a NASCAR shower.

Decorate the cake with race cars. Set the table with checkered flag napkins.  The centerpiece could be multi-colored flowers tied with a big NASCAR bow.  Put my gifts in the bag like the one I bought. (I'll even give that one to someone to use since I'd be getting it back anyway).

The gifts should center around Jimmie Johnson, since he's my driver. A JJ key ring and playing cards, teeshirts and hats, cold drink coolers and maybe a gift card to a tattoo shop (okay, no, that's too extreme!). How about a number 48 flag for outside, Jimmie Christmas ornaments and Lowe's Chevrolet diecast cars in various paint schemes?

Oh, man, wouldn't that be cool? I can see it all now.

If any of my friends are reading this, I'm just throwing the idea out there......

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ode to Chickens

A friend on Facebook recently posted that she had an excess of chickens and wanted to know if we wanted any. Immediately, I thought of happy days gone by and wished I lived where I could have taken her up on her offer. Because I flat love chickens. Chickens are the Rodney Dangerfield of birds - they don't get no respect although they absolutely don't deserve their feckless reputation.

Not long after my husband's return from Vietnam, we moved to our little five-acre farm. We had one of the premiere subscriptions to Mother Earth News. We planted a huge garden.  We were city kids who knew nothing about country life. For instance, we planted 40 tomato plants, enough to sub-contract our harvest to Heinz. I blew up my first pressure cooker of green beans and had to re-paint the entire kitchen.

Our first livestock purchase consisted of 12 pullets "just ready to lay", or so our hatchery salesman told us. We brought them home and put them in the chicken house. We took turns checking the coop each morning, both of us longing for the honor of finding our first egg. Within a couple of weeks, we arguing over who had to go. It was depressing to  face all those empty nests. We got so we checked only every other day or so.

We often got a lot of helpful information from our friendly neighborhood farmers but they liked pulling tricks on us too. One of them told us seriously, when we complained about our non-productive hens, that it was because they were virgins and what we needed was a rooster, of which he had several young studs coming up.

We drove over to his farm and came back with Goliath. To this day, Goliath is my most admired bird. For one thing, he was beautiful with a honey-colored head and feathers that shaded from copper to dark auburn on his back, to a tail that fountained into black. And he was a ultra responsible leader, taking charge of his wives' welfare from the first. He scratched up bugs and called them over, giving up his own dinner so they could eat. He was courageous. If a hawk flew over, he warned them to head for the coop while he stood outside, with ruffled feathers, daring the other bird to attack his home.  Every morning, he flew to the top of the gate and gave his clarion call to the sun. I loved waking up to him in the morning.

I know now that it was only a coincidence but the day after Goliath's arrival, I heard my husband screaming across the barnlot. I went running, figuring he'd sawed off a finger or pounded a nail into his foot, but it turned out, he was carrying....an egg! We celebrated that egg. It seemed to us like a small miracle and I never got over that feeling with all the ones that followed.

At first Goliath was harassed because our 12 Highland White airheads were the blonde jokes of the chicken world. They truly didn't have sense to come in out of the rain. Convincing them to seek shelter when he gave the word, teaching them to scratch out food that wasn't poured into a pan - it was all beyond their mental capacity. I was hoping they would sit so we'd have baby chicks but they never seemed to have the slightest urge to do so. They didn't even use the nests very often but just dropped their eggs wherever they happened to be if we didn't keep them penned up.

I asked the hatchery man about it - "those hens you sold me sure seem dumb".

"Yep," he said, "that's deliberate. Bred the intelligence and maternal instinct right out of'em so they won't try to sit. They're meant to be egg-laying machines, that's all. Do you have a rooster?"

I told him about Goliath.

"Well, then their eggs are fertilized so if you would happen to hatch any of them, that next generation would be smarter and the one after that, smarter yet. After awhile, you'd have normal chickens again. You might want to get some Banty hens. Those little gals will sit on anything."

So, I did. And sure enough, the Banty mamas sat on their own eggs, as well as those of the hybred hens, so their broods came out looking like affirmative action was alive and well on the farm. Their own little ones were tiny and black or brown while their step-brothers and sisters were large and yellow. The Bantys didn't care and neither did the siblings.

I'm sure Goliath heaved a rooster sigh of relief to have some assistance in the barnlot. The little hens were clever and resourceful. They could hide a nest under your nose so you couldn't find it. They taught the kiddies how to be independent, to find their own food just in case the humans fell down on the job. And sure enough, when the yellow chicks grew up, they were twice as smart as their mothers, having had the benefit of both Goliath's genes and tutoring from him and the Bantys.

We used to sit out on the picnic table and watch Goliath fly to the fence to stretch his wings and throw his head back to announce that all was well at the farm. And we'd see the Banty hens coming out of hiding with their Joseph's Coat of babies pittering along behind them.  And running counterpoint to other farm sounds was the "bluck, bluck, bluck" of chickens scratching and clucking and pointing out food to the little ones. They are part of my fondest memories of the farm.

Isn't it just typical of humans to take an animal and deliberately manipulate its genetics to make stupid and useless except for the one thing that suits our needs, laying eggs, and then make fun of it for being unintelligent?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Little Older, Not Much Wiser...

I was 64 yesterday. One year from retirement. One year from never having my hair colored again. (Is it white beneath all these years of strawberry blonde?) One year from having to plan vacations (if I can ever afford another vacation after retirement) and doctor's appointments and family visits around a work schedule. One year from waking up every morning knowing the day is mine to do with as I please.

When I look back on the person I was when I was in my 20's and 30's and 40's and 50's, I look different, of course, but I don't think I've changed that much inwardly. I still love all the same things I loved back then but I've added a few. Maybe I don't hate as many things.

My heart still thrills to the screaming guitars and pounding drums of rough and rowdy rock and roll. I still love the throaty roar of a Harley starting. But now I think the most exciting sound in the world is 43 NASCAR Cup cars firing their engines.

I'm still attracted to men who have a touch of outlaw in them. Oddly enough, working for the Sheriff's Department, I discovered that the cops are closer to the outlaws than they are to every day citizens. Maybe it's because they both tolerate living on the edge although they may be on opposite sides of the cultural divide.

So, to the sex appeal of men in uniforms and holding guitars, add drivers dressed in logo-covered firesuits.

I still love hot fudge sundaes and daffodils and ocean waves. I still have a soft spot for teenage boys and Vietnam veterans. I still prefer German Shepherds and Camaros and Glocks. I am fascinated watching buzzards soar in the sky and pelicans dive-bombing the sea. I love wolves and wild horses. I hope we never succeed in driving them to extinction but considering the greed of humans, it's probably only a matter of time.

Politically, I still lean toward the liberal. I think homosexuality is fine and people should be accepted for whatever they are. Some of my best friends are gay; some of our best soldiers are gay. I still believe what a woman does with her body is her business and no one else's. Oh, you're morally opposed to abortion and shouldn't have to help pay for it? Well, big whoop, I'm morally opposed to lots of things I have to help pay for, including unjustified wars and torture.

Spiritually, I'm as much of a doubter as ever. I don't know what the truth is and I don't think you do either. If you've found a faith that gives you comfort, I'd never try to talk you out of it. But I'd appreciate the same consideration. Don't try to talk me into it either.

I still love to investigate new places. Never understood those vacationers who made a beeline for the exact same place every year when the U.S. (and the world, for that matter) is so diverse and has such magnificence to offer. I prefer to do it in a car because the road trip with the sights, the sounds, the smells, the motels, the regional food are part of the fun. I've never overcome my fear of flying (though a Xanax before boarding helps a lot).

Ireland is still my favorite foreign country. Chocolate is still my favorite ice cream. Reading is still my favorite extracurricular activity. I still wish I could live on a farm although, practically, I know it's too late for that. I hire help to weed my flower beds, for heaven's sake, so how would I take care of a farm? Nevertheless, I will continue to adore chickens and wish I had a few hens and a macho rooster in my back yard.

I'm still pretty laid back about sex but I think if people are going to have children they should get married. If you don't like someone enough to form a family with at least the anticipation of staying together (even if it doesn't work out later), then you don't like them well enough to make them the parent of your child.

I think if we want to improve our schools all we have to do is look back to the way we educated students for 200 years. My mother got a great education in a railroad car in Arizona where her parents homesteaded a ranch. All aged kids together, white and Hispanic helping each other learn their languages. I got a great education at various schools across the country. I have a Indiana fourth grade textbook. Difficult spelling words, history, memorization assignments, math, a government section. Today's students would be aghast at how hard it was. I returned to my old high school as the principal's secretary 20 years later to find the inmates had taken over the asylum. I discovered that the Moms who lied about their kids being sick in bed when they'd just been seen at McDonald instead of at school were the same ones who alibied their children years later when I worked at the Sheriff's Department.

So, I'm 64 now and still muddling through life as best I can.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Where Are The Heroes?

Strangely, I'm having the same kind of debate with both my political friends and my NASCAR friends, as it pertains to those two subjects. Each discussion revolves around the past versus the present and how, basically, both Washington and NASCAR have gone to hell in a handbasket.

For instance, one of the political types sent around a question entitled, "How is Obama like Lincoln?" Here are just a few of the answers:

1) Lincoln was hit in the head from behind; Obama has his head up his behind.

2) Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater; Obama shot up in the back of a Lincoln made by Ford.

3) Lincoln was born in KENtucky; Obama was born in KENya with both of them eventually moving to Illinois.

There were more but those three give you the flavor. I don't know about you but the comic genius who came up with these had me rolling on the floor laughing my ass off, as we say in Cyberville. (Sarcasm alert here for those who may be tone deaf to written nuance).

It's not just Barack Obama so many Americans find beneath contempt these days; it's all of our elected representatives. Compared to the statesmen of yesteryear, they are a motley crew of corrupt buffoons.

NASCAR feels the same way about its current crop of drivers. They can't hold a candle to those tough old rednecks that were there at the start of stock car racing. Compared to those wheelmen of yesteryear, they are a collection of simps and wimps.

I wonder if it simply human nature to revere the past and diminish the present? I also wonder if the modern media doesn't have a lot to do with it. And if we, ourselves, don't play right into those attitudes.

Here's a for instance. My family had a friend who was one of John F Kennedy's secret service detail. Until the day he died, he denied the allegations about Kennedy's womanizing despite all evidence to the contrary. I don't know how he personally felt about JFK but I do know he considered it his duty and his honor to uphold is oath to protect the president in all ways, his reputation as well as his physical body, and he believed that oath extended even past the president's lifetime.

That was the pre-Baby Boomer definition of loyalty. Were we better off then, when we were still allowed to respect our presidents?

By contrast, Bill Clinton's various security personnel, both state troopers and Secret Service, couldn't wait to testify against him. Some of his cabinet penned their poison memoirs before the ink was dry on their letters of resignation.

Were the reporters of his era aware of Kennedy's sexual proclivities? Without a doubt. Did they feel the need to root around in his personal life and print all the gory details? Evidently not. But the Clinton media, ah, they positively salivated at the thought of informing us about all the titillating specifics and we salivated ourselves about blow jobs and cigars.

If you took a cross-section of Washington from how ever far back you want to go and could somehow know everything about them and not just the authorized biography stuff, would they truly stack up as stronger and wiser and more virtuous than a similar group from today?

My answer is no. People are people. Most of us are a mixed bag of positives and negatives. Even George Washington had his weaknesses. Even Abraham Lincoln made mistakes. If you could dig deeply enough into their personalities, you'd find some cruelties and kindnesses, some great visions mixed with a few blind spots. You'd find addictions and heartaches caused, selfishness mixed with generosity. You'd find some moral certainties and some agonizing doubts.

I think you'd mostly find men who believed they knew what was best for the country (and that very quality says something about a towering ego right there) who tried their very best to put their ideas into practice. I think you'd mostly find men who deserved the benefit of the doubt rather than crappy little jokes like the ones quoted above, whether you agree with their political philosophies or not.

And it's not much different in NASCAR. To old school NASCAR fans, the Richard Pettys and Cale Yarboroughs and Junior Johnsons and Dale Earnhardts, et al, were little short of being gods. Larger than life characters, secure on their pedestals into perpetuity.

No driver today can possibly measure up no matter how much they accomplish. Jimmie Johnson with 4 straight championships, something no other driver has ever achieved? Put asterisks beside his his years. Those championships didn't come as hard as those of the old timers. He didn't have to be as good or as brave or as smart as they did.

I think all this says more about us than it does either politicians or stock car racers. Why is it that we get more joy from bashing than believing? Why is it that we prefer to withhold respect and refuse honor? If we can't find any heroes in our world, it's because we hold them to an impossible standard, not because they aren't available to us.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Consumer Warning

Poor Kumar - I doubt if Microsoft pays him well enough to take the abuse I heaped on him yesterday  but somebody had to hear it and he was the only one available.

Here's what happened. I bought a new computer a month ago. Bob, at Radio Shack, asked if I wanted the latest Windows 7 operating system  or to stick with XP. I asked what the difference was and he said, not much, but he'd advise going with Windows 7 simply because it was the most recent version and eventually various downloads would become incompatible with XP. So, that's what I did. I also paid about $150 extra to have Microsoft Office 2010 installed.

Twenty or so days later, I got a screen that said my "30 day free trial" was ready to expire and if I already bought what I thought was the Office program, I needed to plug in my product code to activate it. I called Bob who said he thought sure he'd already activated it but he told me where to find the product code. I retrieved it and entered it into the space provided on the screen. My code was validated and I thought I was good to go.

But the same screen kept popping up and I kept putting in my product code. Finally on the 30th day, Microsoft informed me that my trial offer had expired and my e-mail program shut down. Huh?

My first problem was that Microsoft told me that I could activate online via the Activation Wizard or by making a phone call. Unfortunately, I also had to get the required phone number from the Wizard (because, you know, posting it right there on the Help screen would be too easy). Since I couldn't access the Activation Wizard, I was stuck in Microsoft hell.

I'm not a computer expert so I plinked around on various MS websites trying to find a number to call Tech Support. After a couple of hours, I discovered it tucked away in a place few people without the patience of a saint would ever find it. It turned out to be 1-800-Microsoft...duh! If my brain hadn't have been on total overload by then, I might have thought of that myself.

I called and eventually (after hundreds of prompts), I was put in touch with Kumar. I told him my problem. He explained that it wasn't Microsoft Office that had expired, it was Microsoft Outlook, the e-mail program - however, I could purchase it for $139 (plus tax).

First, I was stunned and then I was livid.

"Let me get this straight," I asked him, "I've had Windows-based computers for the last 25 years and every single one of them came with a free e-mail program installed but now, with Windows 7, Microsoft in all its greed has decided its loyal (albeit, usually, involuntarily) customers have to freakin' pay to have an e-mail program?"

Kumar allowed as to how that's the way it was. He then, very politely, listened to me rant and rave and curse. I told him that Bill Gates' vaunted generosity in giving to charity was a farce because he was donating with one hand what he was stealing with the other. I told him I thought it was a freaking (only I didn't say freaking) outrage. I said lots of other things too but I don't remember them all.

Kumar kept apologizing and saying he had nothing to do with it.

"I know you don't but you're the only person from Microsoft I have access too so you have to listen. And I was told that this recording could be monitored and I hope it is monitored because I want Microsoft to know that I think I've been totally screwed by them, not only by what they did but how they did it."

I know Bob at Radio Shack wasn't aware of this new development or he'd have told me. He couldn't figure out why I was getting a "trial program" screen. I'll call him on Monday so he can warn other customers that if they order a computer with Windows 7, it doesn't come standard with an Outlook program. That's sort of like discovering you have to pay extra if you want to keep the tires on your new car after 30 days. I expect there will be millions of other Microsoft 7 users whose e-mail program will suddenly go gray after 30 days. Then it will be, "pay up or else". So, Kumar will probably have to endure lots of curses directed Microsoft's way.

And it's not that I can't use another e-mail program. I can access the one that comes with Comcast. I guess I could use Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail. But that's not the point. The point is that I'm used to Outlook and all its features. It's right there on my desktop. Everyone knows my e-mail address and I don't want to change it.  I had already transferred all my information over from my previous Outlook program. My address book and stored files were there.

Bottom line - I feel like I've been sucker-punched by Microsoft.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Top Ten Reasons I'm a Jimmie Johnson Fan

Top ten reasons I'm a Jimmie Johnson fan.....

10) Nobody looks as good in a red firesuit as Jimmie.

9 ) Kobalt Tools commercials - "what are you doing, Jimmie?" "Pipefitting, Chad."

8 ) Close as I'll ever come to having a golden horseshoe of my own.

7 ) Getting to watch new baby Genevieve Marie grow up without ever being asked to babysit.

6 ) "New leader, the 48".

5 ) Extreme cardio workout whenever JJ is contending for the win.

4 ) Only have to remember one sponsor name - all Lowe's, all the time.

3 ) Thrill of seeing Jimmie slice and dice his way from the back of the pack.

2 ) Chad Knaus - Cup's coolest crew chief.

1 ) More bang for your buck - "five straight for the 48!"

*Re-posted from my NASCAR.com blog

Friday, July 16, 2010

When Did You Learn About Sex?

Being in my middle 60's now, I grew up in a relatively innocent era. I remember whispering with my two cousins, when we were around 7 or 8, trying to figure what sex was all about. We knew vaguely that men had penises and that they put them in the Mom when they wanted to make a baby. The actual visuals were sort of blurry though. Then came that day when we found a tiny booklet belonging to their older brother hidden in an encyclopedia. It was a book of cartoons about sex, more or less correct, except that the men were endowed with grossly enlarged members. (In this particular one, the "hero" was Popeye). The expression on the faces of the female partners may have been supposed to represent ecstasy but to us, it looked more like terror. Scared the hell out of us and we vowed then and there to swear off what the pamphlet so delicately referred to as "'fucking" and "blow jobs".

Would it have been healthier for us to have gotten our sex education somewhat more gently in school? Well, yeah, probably although I don't think the 7-page bible (I do believe that's what these little books were called) did us any lasting harm either.

Helena, Montana is proposing to do just that. Their new curriculum introduces different aspects of sex at different ages. For instance, students learn the proper terminology for body parts in kindergarten (penis, vagina, breast, nipples, testicles, scrotum, uterus), first-graders are taught about homosexuality, fifth-graders about the different types of intercourse (vaginal, oral, anal) and high schoolers discover erotic art (hopefully of the more anatomically correct variety than our friend, Popeye).

Well, of course, as you might expect, a substantial number of parents are incensed, horrified, offended, etc, etc. and, as always, the enraged ones make the most noise.  These are the parents who believe that it is possible to keep their children bound in a mummy wrap of ignorance. Much like my cousins' and my own parents, as a matter of fact, until they were confounded by a pre-teen boy's penchant for pornographic comics. (And actually, he probably wasn't seeking titillation so much as enlightenment himself.)

What always amazes me is what hypocrites we are as a society. Parents are worried about their kids being introduced to erotic art when they idolize and imitate the flamboyantly sexual Lady GaGa? Seriously? They are concerned about their children hearing the scientific terms for body parts instead of the lyrics in much of popular music (ho's and bitches and cunts)? Are you kidding? They are opposed to fifth-graders being informed about types of intercourse when they've probably seen them illustrated in any number of websites and YouTube videos and movies? Get real! And learning about homosexuality? Do you honestly think Bubbie and Sissie haven't heard about the Rosie's and Ellen's who came proudly out of the closet or the senators and governors who were outed involuntarily?

And don't tell me you shield your offspring from all that - not unless you have them caged on a desert island somewhere. If my parents couldn't do it in the 50's, you sure can't in the new century. Children these days live in a world of satellite dishes and cell phones and computers where they can see and hear it all. If not on their own cell phone and satellite dish and computer, then on those of their friends and neighbors.

Denial doesn't work, People. Teenage pregnancy, abortion, divorce and suicide - the rates are higher for all in red states that try to ban education, contraception, abortion and homosexuality.  Fact is, honest information always trumps misguided ignorance.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The War on Drugs - A New Twist

Well, guess what? We have a nice new mood-altering substance available right here in our area for those looking to get high. Perfectly legal even for juveniles, it is sold over the counter at some tobacco shops and convenience stores (as well as on-line, of course). It is called K2 Incense. I was told about K2 by a friend.

According to the underground, K2 mimics the effects of smoking marijuana. A former pot smoker who tried it to see if, in fact, this legally obtained stuff could duplicate the high she used to get from weed said it totally "messed her up". She was still experiencing the after-effects the following day.  As I understand it, K2 looks rather like confetti. You put it in a bowl, fire it up and inhale or you can roll it into a cigarette.

At a message board I found where people who tried it gave their reviews, these statements were made:

"caused me to have manic-like symptoms."

"realistic compared to weed but effects last longer."

"had hallucinations and speedy, racing thoughts."

"bad-ass stuff".

"experienced anxiety and labored breathing."

K2's manufacturer, K2 Botanicals, calls it an "herbal blend" that includes but is not necessarily limited to: Canavalia rosea, clematis vitalba, nelumbo nucifera, pedicularis grandfolia, helma salicibila, leonura sibiricus and ledum palustre, There, do you know anymore than you did before about the safety of K2?

There are six K2 fragrances: Standard, Citron, Blonde Incense, (targeted specifically toward women), Pink, Summit and K2 Ultra  and of course, let us not forget K2 Sex, also known as "Sex on the Mountain" which contains Horny Goat Weed to guarantee sexual ecstasy.

Prices of the fragrances vary. K2 Blonde, for instance, costs $79 for 9 grams. K2 Sex sells for $59.95 for 3 grams. Geez, that makes smoking cigarettes look cheap!

K2, on its website, cleverly makes no particular claims for its product (except for the sexual ecstasy, of course!) and no particular guarantee of safety either.

I have long believed that, not only are we not winning the War on Drugs, we are not even holding our own. We devote millions of dollars, millions of law enforcement and judicial resources and millions of of years of collective incarceration into rolling back the tide but it continues to overwhelm us.

When I was a kid, lots of people I knew smoked pot. Possession was a misdemeanor then, I believe, but it was the rare cop who bothered to enforce it. Most of those former smokers emerged none the worse for wear to become your butcher, your baker, your candlestick maker although it is true that some fell off the edge into addiction, probably about the same percentage as drinkers who become alcoholics.

I expect the weed we smoked back then was puny stuff compared to what is out there today, sort of like 3/2 beer compared to 151 rum. But newer and deadlier drugs were making their appearance. For a while there, we were losing rock stars to overdoses left and right. The Swinging Sixties were followed by the Psychedelic Seventies (which implied getting high right there - we were inhaling, huffing, injecting, freebasing, swallowing).

Society responded by taking a turn toward the authoritarian. We would, by God, get tough on drugs. We appointed Drug "Czars" and created Drug Task Forces. Nancy Reagan made "Just Say No" the theme of her First Ladyhood. We raided marijuana plots and sprayed Columbia's coca farms. Arrests went up and so did the numbers of prison cells filled with drug users, abusers and dealers. Drug rehabilitation programs popped up, mostly for the more affluent of us (and mostly, with approximately the same sad rate of recidivism as incarceration).

Meanwhile, new and ever-more addicting and lethal drugs continued to rise in popularity - cocaine to LSD to PCP to Crack to Meth to Heroin (an old drug that has recently gotten a seemingly new lease on life). And when those are unattainable, we turn to abusing prescription pain pills, most notably, Oxycontin. Or we pretend that replacing "real" drugs with Methadone is an honest solution, although the only thing I can see that's different about it is that it is approved by the State so that the authorities get their cut.

I know all the guys on our local Drug Task Force and they work their butts off but for every dealer they take down, two pop up to replace them. I know how our judges agonize to come up with creative solutions, such as Drug Court. Most of our citizens have no clue just how tragic the situation is in our rural county. They'd be astounded to know how many over-doses happen here. Unfortunately, the drug producers become more creative even as the enforcers do.

So, over all, I'm pretty pessimistic about our ability to have much impact on drug use generally. (I have long believed that marijuana should be legalized, regulated and taxed).

But, this K2 is a completely different situation. It is nuts to allow mood-altering substances to be sold to our kids right over the counter in the freakin' neighborhood convenience store.

If you agree, you can do two things:

1) Contact your legislators and tell them you believe they need to get on the ball and make K2 illegal in Indiana.

2) Ask the stores you patronize if they sell it and if they do, tell them you won't be back until they remove it from their shelves.