Monday, November 10, 2008

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Please Visit My New Blog; I've moved!

Thanks for stopping by. I used to blog at AOL journals but alas, they evicted us all and closed down shop. These are the archives from my AOL journal, On My Mind. I've stopped posting in this journal and I have a new site, The Examined Life. There is some overlap in the postings but for the most current stuff, please check out my new location at The Examined Life. Thank you.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Making Time to Cry

This post began as an e-mail exchange with my friend Marc. I'm publishing it as is, in an attempt to make some sense about the sense of loss and bewilderment that has enveloped me since mama's death on September 15.
I confess that I've never known this kind of emotional loss and I don't feel like me. I go to work and I go through the motions of what I should do; I smile, I talk, I try to be "fine." When people ask how I am, I always say, "I'm doing okay. I'm fine." But I'm not. Everything seems so overwhelming. I come home and watch hours of mindless television. I rarely turn on my home computer; I tell myself that I'll catch up on things tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes. All that I know to do is to keep moving forward one day at a time until I find my rhythm again. I realize that this loss is personal but it is also universal. I am not the first person to lose a mother and people do survive the loss; I just have to get back in sync with living again.
I try to be honest with people whom I consider friends. I don't pretend to my friends that I'm not devastated. I am not functioning as me. I feel helpless, lost, and so alone. I think that my reticence to acknowledge my grief is a fear that I will not be able to contain it. There's a line from an Iris Dement song, No Time to Cry , that sums it up,
"I'm walking, and I'm talking, doing what I'm supposed to do; working overtime to make sure I don't come unglued, cause I'm older now, and I've got no time to cry."
I believe that grieving is necessary and healthy but all I really want to do is take to my bed and wail for days. I'm just not certain that would be in my best interest, so I keep focusing on getting through each day while allowing myself to feel sorrow and hurt, but remaining functional. I have wailed a bit, but I've been able to calm myself and get back to the business of living because I want to be a part of life, not on the sidelines, wrapped in sorrow. It's a balancing act, but the alternative--a complete collapse--doesn't seem healthy or useful.
I do believe that this utter emptiness will ease with time. I know that there will always be a sense of loss but I also know on a purely intellectual level that people can live with loss. My heart just needs to catch up with my head. I also firmly believe that what mama would want is for me to go on and live well. We went through so much to find each other, to reach a place of mutual love, that I feel cheated somehow to lose her in the blink of an eye. I'm grieving, but I'm also angry at the universe. All of my senses are raw and everything hurts. It is an interesting and new set of emotions for me. I've been saddened by other deaths but I've never before felt such a void inside over anyone's death. I've lost other people that I love, other family members, but I don't think that I've ever fully understood sorrow before. I'm trying to see what I can learn from this state that I find myself in, see how I can fashion it into something that will make me a better person. I think that mama would approve of that and be happy for me.
I wanted to include a video performance of Iris Dement performing No Time to Cry , but the only thing that I could find is an abbreviated version that she did in a live performance. I have my mother to thank for my love of country music. When I was growing up, she used to listen to Aretha Franklin and Patsy Cline. She also would sing along. I do that too. For the lyrics, just click on the song title.

Re: the closing of AOL
I began a parallel journal some time ago, same content as AOL at I hope that you will join me there.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Missing Mama

Today at work, I had a fleeting thought that I would call my mother when I got home. Almost as quickly as the thought came, it was shoved away by the echo in my head that screamed, "your mother is dead." I can't quite wrap my conscious mind around this reality, or maybe I just don't want to do so. Her death last week was sudden. I tell myself that if only there had been time to prepare for her death, a lingering illness, a bedside vigil, that it wouldn't hurt so badly, but I know that I am grasping at straws. There is no preparing for the death of your mother, no matter how death comes for her, it will rip you asunder. 
I am adrift, going through the motions of living but disconnected from the process of living. I am surprised at the numbness, the vacuum that hovers inside me where my heart should be. Sometimes, I don't think that my heart is even beating. No matter how much noise is in the room, I feel nothing but silence. Last night I turned the television up really loud; it made my head ache, but it didn't fill the silence.
I thank each of you who stopped by to leave me kind words. They are greatly appreciated. I have heard that time heals all wounds, but no one ever tells you how much time. So I'll wait.
Today, I hid in the bathroom at my office for a while. Everyone is kind, but they look at me as if they fear that I will start shrieking and wailing at any moment. I suppose that I have the look of the wounded about me. As I sat on the porcelain altar in the office john, I heard myself whispering, "How do I go on?" I eventually grew tired of the bathroom, there really isn't much to do in there. I came back to my desk and started to write. Writing always soothes me. Here's what I wrote today. My boss thought that I was really working. Maybe I'll really work tomorrow.
Learning to Breathe Again
This is how people go on...
driving down the highway
singing back up for Aretha,
    chain, chain, chain,
    chain of fools
This is how people go on...
staring out the office window
finding patterns in clouds,
white cotton remnants
floating in the waning summer wind
This is how people go on,
when emptiness becomes a constant companion,
holding you in a tight embrace,
inhaling your breath
until suffocation and silence fill the room.
This is how people go on...
looking for that road to anywhere
dreaming of the crossroads
where she still stands
waiting to embrace you and dry your tears
This is how I go on,
one breath at a time.
--Sheria Reid
copyright 9/21/08


Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Answers Are Blowing in the Wind

There are a lot of substantive issues that should be on the minds of the voting age public in the U.S., but if you check out the varied media headlines, you wouldn't know it. A short list of substantive issues includes the recent rise in unemployment, the projected $500 billion federal budget deficit, the war in Iraq, (costly in human lives and dollars), the 47 million Americans without health insurance, the oil price bingo game that we are all forced to play, and the ever growing national debt ($9.5 trillion and increasing by the minute). However, to my dismay, I find myself choosing to ignore all of those substantive topics to address some of the decoy topics that clutter up the media.
First up is Sarah Palin and the Heart song, Barracuda. It seems that one of Gov. Palin's nicknames as a high school basketball player as "Barracuda," and in honor of Palin's nickname, the Heart song was played on Wednesday and Thursday evening at the Republican National Convention (RNC). Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, the front-women for the band Heart, didn't appreciate the appropriation of their song for use as Palin's theme song and have sent a "cease and desist letter" to the McCain and Palin camp.
I admit that I am a fan of the Wilson sister's band, Heart, and I am not a fan of Sarah Palin. However, while the Wilson sister's are within their rights to ask that the Palin campaign cease and desist from use of the song as her theme song, the Palin camp hasn't violated any copyright laws. Copyright is a tricky thing and it's not my area of legal expertise, but the one thing that law school stresses is that when you don't know the answer, do some legal research until you find it. Of course, you may wonder why I would care about this matter at all. I became intrigued because of another article that criticized the Obama camp for appropriating a Brooks and Dunn song, Only in America , to use as Sen. Obama's exit music at the close of his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention (DNC).  As I am a country music fan and a fan of Brooks and Dunn, I thought that it was a brilliant choice based on the song's chorus:
Only in America
Dreaming in red, white and blue
Only in America
Where we dream as big as we want to
We all get a chance
Everybody gets to dance
Only in America
There was one little glitch, Brooks and Dunn played the song at G. W. Bush's inauguration in 2000; Dick Cheney used it as his exit song at the 2004 RNC; and G. W. Bush used it frequently during his last campaign for office. I didn't have a problem with Obama re-purposing the song for his campaign; however, not everyone felt that magnanimous. Both of the performers, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn declare themselves to be Republicans, although one of the song's co-writers, Don Cook, identifies himself as a Democrat.
Given that I find hypocrisy abhorrent, I had to ask myself, how could I side with Heart in their opposition to Palin's use of their song unless I was going to also condemn Obama for siphoning off Brooks and Dunn's song for his campaign purposes? As I was reading other blogs dealing with these song appropriation issues, I kept encountering a basic misunderstanding regarding copyright law and use provisions. I realized that if I did a pure legal analysis, that I had a basis for why both Palin and Obama had a legal right to use the songs as they wished.
The intent of singers and songwriters is to have their works heard. To support that intent, and preserve their rights a artists, their works are licensed to be heard in a variety of markets. We are all familiar with radio, but venues like concert and sporting arenas may also obtain a license to play a song. That music that you hear in the elevator is licensed. The way that this typically works is that the songwriters and performing artists contract with the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) to distribute their music. Any entity that is licensed with ASCAP can play a song distributed by ASCAP without getting the artist's explicit permission. So neither the Palin folks, nor the Obama camp had to ask the Wilson sisters or Brooks and Dunn for permission to use the music as long as they had secured the appropriate licensing from ASCAP.
However, nothing in the law is ever simple; if it were, lawyers would be out of work! The ASCAP license only allows a song to be performed; if you want to use the song in a political ad or a promotional video, you have to obtain a license from a publisher known as a "synchronization license." Singer Jackson Browne's lawsuit against the McCain campaign for using his song Running on Empty in an ad is based on a violation of the sync license law. There is a backdoor to a possible lawsuit even if the user has a license from ASCAP. If for instance, Palin used Heart's song to the extent that it becomes identified with Palin, then the Wilson sister's could sue under a claim of a violation of their "right to publicity," which allows you to protect your identity or image from being used for marketing purposes. However, the "right to publicity" laws vary from state to state and generally apply to commercial uses of an image, not political ads.
So the bottom line of this non-issue is that unless the Obama and Palin camps have totally lost their minds up in here and neglected to secure the appropriate  ASCAP licensing, they can play whatever song that they like and the rest of us need to adopt as our theme song, Blowing in the Wind, a song about issues of substance. Written by Bob Dylan and first released in 1963, the song has been recorded by numerous artists, including Dylan, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Joan Baez, Sam Cooke, and my personal favorite, a cover by Stevie Wonder in 1966. The video is the Stevie Wonder cover.
Blowin' In The Wind
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, n how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, n how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind.

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, n how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, n how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist
Before its washed to the sea?
Yes, n how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, n how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind.
(My next nonsense issue to be addressed in an upcoming entry: the woman who called in to the Michael Baisden Radio Show to announce that she couldn't vote for Barack Obama because he supported killing babies. Please Lord, deliver me from fools.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Birds Do It, Bees Do It, and So Do Teens

I've been reading other blogs and news stories centering on the revelation that vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. As I previously stated, I have nothing but sympathy for Palin's daughter who certainly didn't ask to be shoved into this spotlight.
However, I confess that I don't have much sympathy for Gov. Palin. I find her to be hypocritical, and contradictory in her beliefs. She has chosen to become a public figure; her daughter is off limits, but Palin  is fair game. She chose to be in the spotlight.
Gov. Palin touts herself as pro-life, as if the other position is pro-death. I've never heard anyone speak in support of abortion, but I have heard and I have made the argument that it is a personal decision to choose what to do with one's own body. I don't see this as a simple decision and I worry about the consequences of the choices that women make, but I cannot accept that the larger society has the right to force a woman to take a pregnancy to term. I don't expect that everyone will agree and I respect your right to hold a different point of view. That's your choice, but you don't get to make the choice for others. That's the big difference between the pro-life position and the pro-choice position. The pro-life view makes the decision for everyone; the pro-choice decision says it is a private matter and an individual decision. Advocates for pro-choice have never told anyone that she must have an abortion; but advocates for pro-life want to have the right to tell every woman what she must do with her body, should she become pregnant.
My digression into a discussion about choice, doesn't mean that I would advocate that Palin's daughter have an abortion. I don't believe in abortion; I believe in choice. She gets to choose whether or not to carry the pregnancy to term. (At least, I'd like to believe that she gets to make her own choice.)
However, my rant today isn't really about Palin's hypocrisy. I am more interested in the larger issue of a society that as a whole chooses to behave like the ostrich when it comes to dealing with adolescents and sex.Sticking your head in the sand only results in getting sand up your nose.
From what I've gathered from the available information on Palin, she supports the teaching of abstinence only in the schools. I'm all for discouraging adolescents from engaging in sexual activity, but I don't think that simply telling them "don't do it" is an effective or responsible approach. 
In my home state, for several years schools were only allowed to teach abstinence only in public school sex education classes. After concerns about the increased teenage pregnancy rate and the rise in sexually transmitted diseases, the law was modified to allow school systems to present the question to the parents--to teach a full sex ed course, including birth control and how to prevent STDs, or to continue to teach abstinence only. Regrettably, most parents gave a clear message to their school systems that they wanted to continue with teaching abstinence only. I say regrettably, because the result is that a great many adolescents are sexually active and sexually ignorant. Teaching abstinence doesn't guarantee that they won't engage in sexual activity, but it does guarantee that should they engage in sexual activity, they won't have a clue as to how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and STDs.
Think back to your own teenage years, did you choose to engage in or not engage in sexual activity based on whether or not you were exposed to a comprehensive sex ed curriculum?  There is no statistical support to show that that teaching abstinence only causes teenagers to choose not to have sex, nor any evidence that teaching a fully realized sex ed curriculum causes teens to run out and become sexually active. However, not teaching teens about the consequences of unprotected sex does correlate with high rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
I have intentionally used the term sexual activity, because many adolescents consider that anything short of vaginal intercourse is not really sex. Not really surprising as we have some well-known adults who have expressed similar beliefs.
When I taught high school, after a year with a record number of teen pregnancies, one of my colleagues and I had an informal rap session with some of the teen mothers. I still recall with dismay the misinformation that I heard from those young girls. Beliefs such as standing up after sex could prevent pregnancy, and douching with coca-cola was an effective method of contraception. There was also one young lady who shared that she was on the pill but got pregnant nonetheless. Upon further questionning, she explained that she took her birth control pill every time she had sex. She missed the directions about taking it daily.
However, I was totally unprepared for the widely shared belief that oral sex wasn't really sex, and was regarded as safe, because it couldn't result in pregnancy. A report on teenage sexual activity released a couple of years ago reported that anal sex had risen in popularity with teens because it also didn't result in pregnancy. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) didn't appear to factor into the equation for the teens. Engaging in sexual activity isn't rocket science and adolescents are definitely not scientists.
There is substantive research to support that effective parenting is the factor that has the most relevance in influencing the age at which an adolescent engages in his or her first sexual experience (once the barn door is opened, it is rarely closed tight again). That's where family values play a role. Not the kind of family values that conservative websites spout on about, but family values centered in honest dialogue among parents and children about distinguishing love from sex, about dealing with those desires and feelings that are a natural part of growing up, and about making choices that are in your best interest.
The video is from the 1968 movie of Romeo and Juliet, teenagers who risked all for the passion of young love. The song is What Is a Youth?, similar in melody to the theme song of the film, A Time for Us.
What Is A Youth?
What is a youth? Impetuous fire.
What is a maid? Ice and desire.
The world wags on.

A rose will bloom
It then will fade
So does a youth.
So do-o-o-oes the fairest maid.

Comes a time when one sweet smile
Has its season for a while...Then love's in love with me.
Some they think only to marry, Others will tease and tarry,
Mine is the very best parry. Cupid he rules us all.
Caper the cape, but sing me the song,
Death will come soon to hush us along.
Sweeter than honey and bitter as gall.
Love is a task and it never will pall.
Sweeter than honey...and bitter as gall
Cupid he rules us all

Monday, September 1, 2008

An American Family

I just read today's headline about Palin's 17 year old daughter being 5 months pregnant. I feel for the daughter; it must be awful to be in this kind of spotlight. However, I do wonder how concerned Palin is with protecting her family. She had to have know that in accepting the nomination, a big spotlight was going to be shone on her family. There was no way that her daughter's pregnancy was going to remain private. Already, the conservative right is blaming the media, the Obama campaign, and anyone who dares express an opinion for exposing this young woman to such public scrutiny. Funny, but no one is blaming Big Mama Palin who put her political ambitions before the needs of her daughter.

I can't help but see a certain irony in today's headlines about Palin's pregnant daughter. Her party has appropriated the term "family values" as being exclusively theirs. Her party affirms that it is pro-life, but rarely supports any increases in public benefits, even though most of the recipients of those benefits are single mothers and the benefits help them feed, clothe, house, and provide access to medical care for their children. I have problems with policy that is more concerned with the unborn than it is with the children already among us.
I read that Palin's daughter will be marrying the father of her child. I can only hope that this is what she really desires. After all, her mother is going after her heart's desire. She accepted the vice presidential nomination, thrusting not only herself but her entire family into the national and international spotlight. From my vague recollections of what it was like to be 17, I wonder if her daughter really wanted to have her moment in the spotlight. I wonder if Palin's devotion to family values made her pause for a moment and think about her daughter's feelings about having her life become open to inspection and criticism. I wonder if it ever crossed her mind, when John McCain asked, to say no.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Senator McCain and the Politics of Misdirection

Sen. John McCain has run his entire campaign against Sen. Barack Obama based on the oft stated belief that Obama lacks the experience to lead this country. The McCain campaign has repeatedly discounted Obama's demonstrated knowledge of domestic and foreign policy and characterized the Harvard Law School graduate as a political neophyte.

Just three weeks ago on Face The Nation, Republican strategist Karl Rove opined that he expected the then presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama to choose a running mate based on political expediency, not the person's readiness for the job.

"I think he's going to make an intensely political choice, not a governing choice," Rove said. "He's going to view this through the prism of a candidate, not through the prism of president; that is to say, he's going to pick somebody that he thinks will on the margin help him in a state like Indiana or Missouri or Virginia. He's not going to be thinking big and broad about the responsibilities of president."

Rove then proceeded to single out Virginia governor Tim Kaine, who was also a guest on Face The Nation as an example of such a disastrous and ill-thought out selection for a vice presidential running mate, saying of and to Gov. Kaine (the man was sitting right there), "With all due respect again to Governor

Kaine, he's been a governor for three years, he's been able but undistinguished. I don't think people could really name a big, important thing that he's done. He was mayor of the 105th largest city in America."

Funny, but I do believe that I could substitute Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin for Kaine and not have to change another word in Rove's statement. Oops! I'm wrong, Palin was the mayor of Wasilla, population in 2007, according to the U.S. census--9,780. (The 105th largest city of which Kaine was once mayor is Richmond,VA., population of 200,123 in 2007, according to the U.S. census.) I'm not certain as to where Wasilla ranks in population among U.S. cities but somehow I think that it is substantially less than 105th.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that having experience as mayor of a tiny town and only 20 months as governor of a state not known for being densely populated means that one is not qualified for the office of vice president. Nor am I flat out stating that Palin's anti-choice, pro-NRA, positions don't exactly make her the poster woman for the women's movement. Nor am I questioning the wisdom of selecting a running mate with whom McCain's own camp confirms he had only met once before selecting her to be on his ticket; a running mate who could feasibly find herself in the position of having to actually step into the oval office, given the age and prior health issues that have beset Sen. McCain. I'm just fascinated with the difference in attitude that the Republican party has towards its own choices and the choices of the Democratic party.

That's what led me to ponder why McCain selected Gov. Palin as his running mate. While I was busy pondering, headlines in newspapers and talking heads on my television explained it to me in terms that even a four year old could understand. The basic message appears to be that in selecting Gov. Palin, the McCain campaign has strengthened its position with women voters. All of the Hillary Clinton supporters, who were only voting for Hillary because she was a woman, will tumble for John McCain, and give up the vote.

With apologies to village idiots everywhere, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain, is a class-A idiot if he really thinks that people supported Hillary Clinton because she is a woman. They supported Senator Clinton because she is intelligent, capable, and has leadership qualities; the same reasons that Obama's supporters support him. What an insult to every person who supported Hillary to assume that they will fall over themselves to jump on the McCain bandwagon just because he has a female running mate.

I have no more patience with those who continue to assert that Obama supporters do so because he has a black father or that Hillary's followers supported her because she was a woman. Get over yourselves and stop clinging to the belief that the only possible explanation for Obama's or Hillary Clinton's successes in this presidential campaign is because all black people support Obama and white women (feminists to boot!) support Hillary Clinton. Guess what, old white men are not the only, nor the best choice for leading everything. It's a new world in the United States of America, and it's about damn time.

Other countries have been able to broaden their horizons to encompass leadership that isn't dependent on having a penis--India, Pakistan, Great Britain, and Israel are just a few modern governments that come to mind. As for race, it should be the shame of this country, founded on the proposition that, "all men are created equal," that it has only seen fit to allow white males to ascend to the leadership of the allegedly most powerful nation in the free world.

Palin is a woman, and I certainly don't disparage her for her gender, but neither am I going to do cartwheels over her selection. (Btw, I proudly identify myself as a feminist.)  I'm choosing to have faith in the ability of the majority of women to think rationally and I am refusing to succumb to any concern that the rest of my gender is going to fall down and worship at the altar of McCain simply because he has Palin at his side. 
If you must vote for McCain, let it be because you don't believe that addressing the needs of the 47 million uninsured Americans is a priority, let it be because you believe that the wealthiest one percent of the population are entitled to even more tax breaks, let it be because you support an energy strategy that involves off shore drilling as a solution to the energy crisis, or because you agree with his position of staying in Iraq indefinitely, but for heaven's sake, don't fall for his Houdini-style misdirection act of selecting a woman as a running mate.

One of my favorite actresses is Bette Davis. I love Kim Carnes 1980s hit, Bette Davis Eyes. I know that Bette would never fall for some obvious manipulative ploy.

Her hair is Harlow gold
Her lips sweet surprise
Her hands are never cold
She's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll turn the music on you
You won't have to think twice
She's pure as New York snow
She's got Bette Davis eyes

And she'll tease you
She'll unease you
All the better just to please you
She's precocious and she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush
She's got Greta Garbo stand-off sighs
She's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll let you take her home (it whets her appetite)
She'll lay you on the throne
She's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll take a tumble on you
Roll you like you were dice until you come up blue
She's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll expose you when she snows you off your feet with the crumbs she throws you
She's ferocious and she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush
All the boys think she's a spy
She's got Bette Davis eyes

And she'll tease you
She'll unease you
All the better just to please you
She's precocious and she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush
All the boys think she's a spy
She's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll tease you
She'll unease you
Just to please you
She's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll expose you
When she snows you
She knows you
She's got Bette Davis eyes


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Obama Is the Nominee, and I Like It!

 "No way, no how, no McCain."--Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton
I've been on that "working my ass off" hamster wheel again, but at 6:50 pm, I was given reason to pause. The phone rang and my long time friend, BT, aka boy toy, was on the line. Having just walked into the house, I was a little less than focused, and had to ask him to repeat his enthused statement.
"The black guy is officially the nominee!"
BT has known me for a long time, so he knew that he had to give me a few seconds for his words to sink in fully. There is a wonderful harmony in BT being the first person to inform me that Barack Obama was the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party by acclamation. I first met BT when he was a senior in my high school English class. He returned to work at the same high school upon his graduation from college, and we became good friends. He played a substantial role in encouraging me to have the guts to quit my teaching job and go to law school. He also happens to be white. I think that our friendship is the perfect reflection of the potential that this country has to move beyond the barriers of separatism based on race.
I didn't talk with him very long. My call waiting beeped and knowing that it was my sister, I bid BT goodbye and switched to my sister's call. I think that I screamed in her ear but I don't know exactly what I said. We both admitted to crying tears of joy tinged with a hint of sorrow. Sorrow for all of the black men and women who are no longer with us, who never dreamed that this day would come. Sorrow for all of our ancestors who resolutely held on to their dignity in a society that intentionally and systematically sought to strip it from them. Sorrow for a childhood of "no coloreds allowed" and "white only."
But it is a sweet sorrow, a gentle sorrow, soothed by time and comforted by hope. I have an audacious hope that America is standing on the edge of a new era, an era in which no child's dreams will ever be deferred because of the color of his or her skin. 
I know that there are those of you who continue to say that you are afraid of Barack Obama; perhaps you should be. You should also be afraid of me.  I believe that all people are created equal. I believe that peace can only be achieved if we're willing to sit down with our enemies and find mutual ground. I believe that it is our collective responsibility to ensure that all of us have the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, and health care. I believe that our public education system must be overhauled and shaped into a haven that brings out the best in every child. I believe that the purpose of government is to secure certain unalienable rights, and that among these rights are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." All of these things are among the reasons that I support Barack Obama. Clearly, me and Barack are very dangerous people.
Who knows what will happen when he becomes president? We might actually develop a doable strategy for bringing home our young men and women from Iraq. The wealthiest one percent of Americans may have to pay their fair share of taxes. Even the poorest among us may have full access to quality health care. Pretty scary stuff, but if this doesn't leave you quaking in your shoes, let me share something really scary. Perhaps under the Obama administration, John McCain may actually have to live in one house like the rest of us!
I'm 53 years old, black, female, and southern. I grew up under Jim Crow laws. I witnessed the steady growth and eventual blossoming of the civil rights movement that killed and buried Jim Crow. At times I've been high on hope, and at other times, drunk on despair as to the status of race relations in these United States. I know too much about hate to believe that Senator's Obama's nomination will instantaneously heal all the wounds of racism that have ripped apart this country for generations, but my joy overflows that today, at 6:48 pm eastern standard time, a giant step was made in the right direction towards becoming the America to which we aspire.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,...The Declaration of Independence, 1776
Love Train by the O'Jays was played at the DNC following Senator Barack Obama's nomination for president by acclamation. I found this video on reliable YouTube.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Me and Paris Are Tight

When I was much younger, I used to swear that I would never lament the wicked and sorry ways of the younger generation the way everyone over 40 bemoaned that my generation was heading straight for hell in a row boat. I lied. I find myself constantly lamenting the state of today's youth. However, I've decided to repent and take to higher ground, and it's all because of Paris Hilton. I confess that I have never been a fan of Paris Hilton; however, I now realize that Paris was not looking for a 53-year-old woman to hang with her at the club. She probably never knew and didn't care that I wasn't a fan. Nonetheless, I'm sorry Paris for my harsh words. I did stupid stuff when I was young too, and I'm only grateful that there wasn't a crowd of people following me around with a camera while I did it. Regardless of your misbegotten past, you have redeemed yourself in my eyes.
Just in case you've been in a remote part of the Sahara without access to any media, let me provide you with a little background. Senator McCain and his campaign made a lot of noise about Senator Obama's alleged lack of foreign policy experience, suggesting that he lacked the knowledge and skills to be viewed credibly as a leader by the leadership of foreign governments around the world. They challenged Obama to go abroad and suggested that if he did so, he would be revealed to be unprepared to face a world stage. Well, Senator Obama took the challenge, went overseas, and...well let's just say, he went, he saw, and he conquered. Crowds in the hundreds of thousands cheered him, heads of state welcomed him, the foreign press reported him to be knowledgeable and personable, and favorably compared him to other great statesmen in history who preceded him.
Senator McCain's camp was displeased. That displeasure was expressed with a little video that chides Obama for being nothing more than an international celebrity, incapable of doing more than smile and wave. To hammer home the point, the video pictures Brittney Spears, followed by Paris Hilton, and then that fluffy celebrity, Barack Obama. Unlike some of the bizarre attacks on Obama, this one is not from some fringe group; the closing voice-over and tag-line say it all, "I'm John McCain and I approve this message."
I'm going to reveal something that may shock some of you; I laughed so hard when I saw this video that I gave myself the hiccups. Can you spell d-e-s-p-e-r-a-t-e, boys and girls? First, the McCain campaign said that Obama didn't have what it takes to be the representative of the free world, now their take is that he's too popular! Somebody in McCain's campaign not only smoked but inhaled--a lot! I can only assume that the ad is meant to be an attack on Senator Obama. Sorry, Senator McCain, but if I were you, I'd pimp slap whoever dreamed up the idea for this commercial. (BTW, check out an entertaining post about the video and other campaign matters on a journal, Skelligrants , that I recently started reading.)
Just when I thought that I was all laughed out, I came across a response to the McCain campaign ad, not from Senator Obama, but from Paris Hilton. I laughed, I hiccuped, snorted and cried. I would have rolled on the floor but I didn't want to have to call Bob and announce, "I've fallen and I can't get up." I don't want to hear anyone say a single bad word about my new BFF ( best friend forever). Paris, you rock. 
The following short (3 minutes) news video includes Paris' response video.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The National Debt or How Many Zeroes in a Trillion?

I've never thought of myself as a math person; my focus has always been on literature, philosophy, history, even geography but not math, which is probably why I've never devoted any effort to fully understanding all the ins and outs of the national debt and the federal budget deficit. However, the headlines proclaiming in large type, followed by an exclamation point, that the federal budget deficit is projected to be a record $499 billion for fiscal year 2009 caught my attention. Before I went into a chicken-little-the-sky-is-falling conniption fit, I decided to do a little research. (I love the Internet!) After checking out the US Treasury site, Bloomberg News, NPR, the National Debt Clock, and MSNBC, I no longer worry about the sky falling; I'm worried that the earth is going to fall out of its orbit and crash into the sun. (Okay, maybe I've watched one too many episodes of Dr. Who.)
In addition to being frightened, I'm even more befuddled by the folks who spend their time worrying about Senator Obama's middle name and whether or not he wears a flag pin. People, the sky is falling. Depending on which financial reports you read, the amount of the projected federal budget deficit for 2009 varies from a low of $410 billion to a high of $500 billion. The Bloomberg folks polled 28 economic experts and the average number from that group is $447 billion. Like me, you may wonder exactly what is the federal budget deficit and how does it differ from the National Debt?
The federal budget deficit is the yearly amount by which government spending exceeds revenue. The National Debt is the total amount of money that the federal government owes, currently a whopping $9.589 trillion dollars. I gave this some thought and here's what I think this means in plain English. Let's say that you earn $50,000 per year, you spend $60,000 per year, and you owe $250,000 for mortgage, credit cards, car note, and insurance.
National Debt
Revenue (Income)
Now let's suppose that in 2009, you are more fiscally responsible.
National Debt
Revenue (Income)
$275,000 (interest adds to the debt)

You are able to apply $8,000 that youdidn't spend to your $10,000 deficit and reduce it by 80%. (This assumes that you didn't add to your deficit in 2009.) Of course, your debt has increased to $275,000 because it's an interest accruing loan. What to do? You borrow additional money to pay off your creditors and lower your current debt; however, in doing so you create new debt. Try to imagine this on a grander scale, a scale measuring billions and trillions of dollars. When you read news stories telling you that the deficit is less, that's nice, but it really doesn't address our serious national debt. However, when you read the current headlines that the deficit is increasing, it's time to get out the hard hats and look out below.

All those other scary terms like recession, unemployment, and housing foreclosures are close friends with an increasing federal budget deficit and a growing national debt. However, here's what has made me take to my bed. In 2001 when President G.W. Bush took office, the National Debt was alive and well, but--and here's the scary part, please don't allow children to read this--there was no deficit. Instead, there was a budget surplus of $128 billion.
I don't pretend to be an expert in economics or market analysis or any of that other math related stuff, but I can balance a check book. Evidently President Bush has fewer math skills than I do. He managed to take a surplus and in the course of his two terms of office, deplete the surplus and generate one of the largest deficits on record. How did the Bush administration accomplish this feat?  Economic analysts say that it is at least partly due to the additional $10 to $12 billion that is added to the government's National Debt every month to cover the expenses of maintaining the war in Iraq. Economic experts also cite the stimulus checks sent out to rev up the economy as substantially increasing the National Debt, and point out that the economy is more sluggish than revved up, leading me to think that perhaps the stimulus checks fell short of their goal.
All of this reading about debt and deficits made me wonder who owns the National Debt, who are we borrowing this money from, and do we have to pay it back?
From what I was able to gather from the experts, the U.S. Treasury auctions off Treasury securities every three months. Individuals, corporations, foreign and domestic, states, and foreign countries purchase these treasury securities and then the government uses the money to pay off some of the National Debt. The Treasury securities are like IOU's backed up by the U.S. Treasury. So you could say that the government is borrowing money from these investors. Oh, and the investors earn interest on the money that they lend to the government.
No, I don't understand it fully either. Some of the Treasury debt, around 52% ,is held by the U.S. government. Some of that money/debt is held in savings accounts for programs like Social Security and Medicare. I don't know about you but I don't understand the connection between debt and a savings account. Some of this debt is owed to foreign governments who purchased Treasury securities. I couldn't find a clear answer as to whether or not the U.S. government has to repay this debt.  Although, it does appear that every three months when the securities are auctioned off, the proceeds are used to pay some of the national debt that has come due. Unfortunately, as we continue to over spend, the deficit increases which makes it difficult to make any real progress in lowering the debt. If you would like to read more about this fascinating process or want to invest in Treasury securities yourself, check out this article on MSNBC. By the way, the MSNBC article was written in 2007 when the National Debt was only $8.5 trillion. The earlier number that I mention, $9.589 trillion is the current figure, which is changing by the minute.
As if all of this wasn't enough to make any southern woman take to her bed with the vapors, another headline this week brought alarming news. Exxon Mobil had predicted profits of $2.53 a share for the second quarter of this year but only achieved a profit of $2.22 a share for a net of $11.68 billion. I don't know how those Exxon Mobil executives are going to make it with such disappointing profits.  Somebody bring me my smelling salts!
The video is For the Love of Money by the O'Jays. I love the bass in this song. I dare you to sit still and listen to this song. Come on, you know you wanna get up and dance!
For the Love of Money
Money money money money, money (x6)
Some people got to have it
Some people really need it
Listen to me y'all, do things, do things, do bad things with it
You wanna do things, do things, do things, good things with it
Talk about cash money, money
Talk about cash money- dollar bills, yall

For the love of money
People will steal from their mother
For the love of money
People will rob their own brother
For the love of money
People can't even walk the street
Because they never know who in the world they're gonna beat
For that lean, mean, mean green
Almighty dollar, money

For the love of money
People will lie, Lord, they will cheat
For the love of money
People don't care who they hurt or beat
For the love of money
A woman will sell her precious body
For a small piece of paper it carries a lot of weight
Call it lean, mean, mean green

Almighty dollar

I know money is the root of all evil
Do funny things to some people
Give me a nickel, brother can you spare a dime
Money can drive some people out of their minds

Got to have it, I really need it
How many things have I heard you say
Some people really need it
How many things have I heard you say
Got to have it, I really need it
How many things have I heard you say
Lay down, lay down, a woman will lay down
For the love of money
All for the love of money
Don't let, don't let, don't let money rule you
For the love of money
Money can change people sometimes
Don't let, don't let, don't let money fool you
Money can fool people sometimes
People! Don't let money, don't let money change you,
it will keep on changing, changing up your mind.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Tale Continues

Beth over at Nutwood Junction has continued the tale of the Contesse and the mysterious Emma Marston (click the link to follow the tale). This is so much fun, sort of like the serialized novels of Dickens' day. Thank you Marc for such creative inspiration.

Marc has modified his Hy-Art illlustration for the story to better represent Mrs. Emma Marston.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Creative Writing 101

Perhaps you have heard of floating dinner parties where a group of friends each prepare a part of the meal, and the group moves from home to home for each course. It's a lot of fun and works particularly well during the winter holidays when everyone has decorated their homes and wants to show off those decorations. (Oh come on, none of us goes to all that trouble just so we can look at our own decorations!)
Anyway, Marc has created a floating story. He began it in his journal, I'm picking it up here, and I hope that one of you creative spirits out there will pick it up and contribute yet another chapter.
I know that there are quite a few creative writers out there. Just leave your first paragraph in a comment and a link to your site. Copy my entry which includes Marc's part one (The Introduction) as well as my part two (The First Skirmish), paste it in your journal and add your part. Please don't neglect to give your chapter a title. I intentionally used two different fonts to distinguish between Marc's part and my own. Have fun and should you accept this little challenge, please don't forget to leave your link in the comments!
The inspiration for this mini-story comes from Hy-Art created by Marc, combining the works of Allston and Boldini.
This mini-story brought to you by the art of Washington Allston and Giovanni Boldini.

The Introduction--by Marc

All eyes were on the Contesse de Vermeil when her former lover, le Baron de Genolhac, arrived at the ball with Mrs. Owen Marston, the widow from the United States known simply as"l'Americaine" ever since she'd taken rooms at the Georges V less than a month ago and rapidly insinuated her way into every lesser salon and drawing room in the 16th arrondissement.  Emma Marston's late husband's fortune had been made supplying the Union Army with uniforms during the American Civil War 20 years earlier, which he made with Southern cotton smuggled through the blockade and repurchased from the warehouses of the Baron.  It was an exquisite arrangement that meant the Baron had been hosted numerous times over the years in Marston's townhouse on lower Fifth Avenue.  When a taste for rich food and a surfeit of cigars eventually felled Owen Marston with an attack of apoplexy as he walked up the stairs of his favorite Chambers Street bordello, what could the Baron do but introduce his dear and now considerably wealthy widowed friend to the lights of Paris?


Mrs. Marston continued to technically acknowledge the convention of mourning by wearing black, even as its positively festive style indicated the true spirit of its wearer. She had married at 19, when her husband was 47, having been governess to his children after the death of his first wife.  She was now past 30--how far was a matter of some  debate--but they had rather less of an idea in Paris than in New York.  Only the Baron knew that her origins were rather more humble than the vaguely Bostonian Brahmin biography floated when necessary at dinner parties.  In America, money could buy anything, including a past.


Emma timed her entrance into French society well, as the advent of the Second Empire was creating all sorts of opportunity for reinvention. Money talked rather fluently in France as well as it did transatlantically, but while it could get you in the door, it would not necessarily grant you a second invitation. Unlike their British counterparts, the doyennes of French society considered less the social class to which you were born than the breeding which you exhibited.  Style, wit, the ability to make interesting observations about the events of the day--this is what mattered most.  At least to the Contesse.


She had no idea that she was about to meet her match in Emma Marston.

The First Skirmish --by Sheria
Two months of preparations had preceded the Contesse's ball, "la danse des étoiles printanières." For nearly ten years, it had provided the start of the spring season of endless balls, intended to introduce the young women of society to young men, if they were lucky, and to gentlemen old enough to be their grandfathers, if they were not. No one used the cumbersome long title any more, and simply referred to it as "les étoiles," or the stars. It was the Contesse's jewel, her shining achievement that secured her place in the bosom of French Society, and as she stared at the woman swathed in black silk whose hand so delicately rested on the Baron's arm, she was not at all pleased.
As the pair crossed the room, moving towards her, the Contesse raised her delicate lace fan, a gift from an admirer, and languidly waved it across her slightly flushed cheeks.
"Good evening, Contesse. You look lovely, as always."
"Thank you, Baron. It's a pleasure to see you here."
The Contesse's words hung in the air, polite but yet somehow suggesting that the pleasure did not extend to the Baron's companion.
"May I present Mrs. Emma Marston, from America. Mrs. Marston, this is our hostess for the evening, the Contesse de Vermeil."
As the Baron made the introductions, both women acknowledged the other with a slight nod of their well coiffed heads.
The Contesse spoke first, "Welcome, Mrs. Emma Marston, I hope that you will enjoy our little party."
"I'm already having a delightful time, Contesse. The Baron is proving to be a most thoughtful host."
"Ah yes, I had planned to return home after my month at the Georges, but the Baron graciously invited me to continue to recuperate from my sorrow as his house guest for the summer. Do you know his summer place? It's just outside of the city and it is, how do you say it, magnifique? Your language is so beautiful."
Adjusting his ascot, the Baron coughed delicately and took Mrs. Marston by her arm. She lifted her heart shaped face to meet his gaze and for a moment he was lost in the dark pools of her eyes. She dropped her lashes and turned back to the Contesse.
"I feel a bit warm. You must tell me where you purchased such a lovely fan, Contesse. While in Paris, I must do as the Parisians do. Baron, could we go out on the veranda and walk in the cool night air? It was a pleasure , Contesse."
To all the watching eyes, the Contesse appeared unperturbed and her guests' disappointment was almost palpable. There had been no fireworks between the Contesse and the American widow, leaving the pursuit of sixteen-year-old Mademoiselle Adele St. Coeur by the Marquis de Tuilleries, 40 years her senior, the only entertainment of the evening.
Bidding her guests a momentary adieu, the Contesse retired to her private salon, closing the door behind her. From a darkened corner, a young man moved into her line of sight. He was tall and handsome, in a coltish sort of way, as if he might break into a canter at a moment's notice. The Contesse spoke quietly.
"How was your journey?"
"It was an excellent passage, Contesse, calm seas all the way from America."
"Good, now tell me all about your stepmother, the widow Marston."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda???

The North Carolina 2008 Legislative Session officially ended on Friday, July 18 at 4:40 pm. I cleaned off my desk, tied up a few loose ends and left work at 6:30 pm. I had a meeting this morning that began at 10:00 and was over by 11:30. I'm off until Thursday. If you hear a sound, it's me sighing contentedly. The other sound is me loudly singing along with Jennifer Hudson's new single. It takes me back to the R&B songs of my youth, where there was a melody that you could sing along with and lyrics that you could understand. I've posted a YouTube video that some enterprising soul put together of images of young Ms. Hudson with her new single, Spotlight playing in the background.
I've been working on catching up on the journals that I haven't read for the past two weeks. If I've missed you, I'll be by tomorrow.
I stopped by Marc's place and he has posted a meme that I found interesting. The entry is the Roads Not Travelled, echoing Robert Frost's poem (at least to these former English teacher ears). By the way, if you don't know the poem, please check it out. It's one of my favorites.
Back to the meme, Marc writes about alternative paths, the untraveled roads that we might have taken. He provides some of his "might have been scenarios" and ask of the reader, "what are your top five alternate untraveled roads?" This is a really difficult question for me. Perhaps its because I've travelled at least part way down a variety of paths, at least career wise. I've worked as a cook in a Jamaican restaurant where I learned to make Jamaican beef patties and Bouillabaisse. I worked in a factory that made motors for hair dryers. My job involved shoving a little round thingamajig into a hole and then pressing a foot pedal that shot out enough heat to solder the wires to the tip of the little round thingamajig. It was highly technical work. I also worked at a book store in Chapel Hill known as the Intimate Book Shop (no, it wasn't that kind of a book store, just a family owned business that tried to create a cozy alternative to the big chain stores, although we did sell all of the Anne Rice, writing under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure, Sleeping Beauty trilogy).
I took a rather roundabout route to becoming a teacher, and finally a lawyer.
I've rambled enough, so here are my five might have been scenarios.
1. I left home at 18, moved to New York and became a back up singer for James Brown. While performing at the Apollo, I was discovered and became a solo act as a blues singing diva.
2. I opened a soul food restaurant in Atlanta that became a hangout for the best blues artists around.
3. I fell madly in love with a biker, married him and started wearing leather and a cute diamond stud in my nose. He dies in a motorcycle crash and I sing Leader of the Pack at the funeral.
4. While performing in a musical version of Cinderella in a summer drama program in my home town (I really did play the wicked stepmother and performed a version of an Anthony Newley song from Stop the World, I want to Get Off entitled "I Want to be Rich"), I'm discovered by a Broadway producer who invites me to New York where I become the sensation of Broadway.
5. I skip teaching altogether and go straight to law school after undergraduate graduation. I become an accomplished litigator in tort law, and successfully represent client in lawsuits against companies with deep pockets. I make lots of money, retire at age 42, move to Jamaica and engage in a string of affairs with the boy toy of the moment.
There is a bit of true desire in each of these scenarios, but I'm not telling you which bits. Ultimately, I suspect that I've taken the right road and it has made all the difference. 

Are you a man who loves
And cherishes
And cares for me?
Is that you? Is that you?
Is that you? yeah...
Are you a guard in a prison
Maximum security?
Is that you? Is that you?
Is that you? yea eh...
Do we stay home all the time
Cuz you want me to yourself?
Is that you? Is that you?
Is that you? yeah...
Or am I locked away
Out of fear that i'd find
Someone else
Is that you? Is that you?
yea eh...

Well, I don't like
Living under your spotlight
Just because you think
I might find somebody worthy
Oh, I don't like
Living under your spotlight
Baby, if you treat me right
You won't have to worry

is this a relationship
Fulfilling your needs
As well as mine
Is that you? Is that you?
Is that you? yeah...
Or is this just my sentence
Am I doing time?
Is that you? Is that you?
Is that you? yeah...
If this is love
Real, real love
Then I'm staying no doubt
Is that you? Is that you?
Is that you? yeah...
But if I'm just love prisoner
Then I'm busting out
Is that you? Is that you?


Oh, you oughta be
Ashamed of yourself
What the hell
Do you think you're doing?
Loving me, loving me
So wrong
Baby, all I do is try
To show you
That you're my
One and only guy
No matter
Who may come along
Open your eyes
Cuz baby, I don't lie

(Chorus 2x)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Satire, the Obamas, and the New Yorker

I've been reading comments again. I mention them because what I've read in comments on blogs, AOL journals, and news stories on the Internet, influences my take on the cover of the upcoming issue of New Yorker magazine, due to be released on July 21, 2008.

People whom I like, with whom I exchange comments and e-mails, continue to write things like, "I'm frightened by Barack Obama," "Isn't he a Muslim?," "Michelle Obama is a racist," "She hates white people," "His middle name is Hussein," (true, but I think that the comment is meant to suggest something more sinister), etc.

I try to understand what motivates these comments. Don't worry, I haven't labeled anyone a racist; I don't toss that label about lightly. I've personally experienced enough racism in my lifetime to recognize it clearly, and I don't believe in crying wolf. Besides, a true racist doesn't need anyone to tell him or her that he/ she is a racist.

I really mean it when I say that these comments or variations thereof are written by people with whom I enjoy exchanging ideas and who I think come from a place of sincerity in expressing their concerns. Please don't misunderstand. I don't share their concerns and I don't understand them. They don't have any basis in fact, but nonetheless, I do get that they weigh heavily on people's minds. I've even sent private emails to a few, asking them to explain to me, in detail, the basis of their fears and beliefs. So far, no one has done so.

By the way, I don't question anyone's right to select the candidate of their choice, I'm just dismayed by the persistence in clinging to beliefs that are grounded in misinformation and blatant lies. Dislike any candidate because you don't support his/her politics or beliefs but for heaven's sakes, don't base your decision on some emotional belief that a candidate represents some dark, evil force. Hell, I'm not even afraid of GWB, and he's done some pretty scary stuff in the last eight years.

Just for the record: Barack Obama is not now, nor has he ever been a Muslim; you may not like his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, but he was the pastor of the Christian Church to which the Obama family belonged for 20 years. Michelle Obama did not make a racist comment about hating white people or white America, what she said was "...for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback." I've said the same thing and I meant it from the bottom of my 53-year-old heart. I'm proud of how far this country has come in my lifetime. Having grown up with legal restrictions on where I could sit, eat, go to the bathroom and get a drink of water in a public place, I am awed that a man with African heritage may possibly become president of these United States, and that he has gotten where he is by appealing to a diverse cross section of the American people. I don't even know what to say about Barack Hussein Obama's given name. I confess that I find it hard to believe that anyone could seriously fear anyone based on the person's name. My first name, Sheria, is an alternative spelling for the Sharia, which is the name of the body of Islamic religious law. Anyone trembling in their shoes yet?

Which brings me to the New Yorker cover, (bet you thought that I would never get there). The magazine has released a statement about the controversial cover,

'In a statement Monday, the magazine said the cover "combines a number of fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are....The burning flag, the nationalist-radical and Islamic outfits, the fist-bump, the portrait on the wall? All of them echo one attack or another. Satire is part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to prejudice, the hateful, and the absurd. And that's the spirit of this cover," the New Yorker statement said.'

I believe the statement; the New Yorker is known for its use of satire and for its liberal leanings, two of the things that I like about the magazine (surely, by now you know that I am a flaming liberal and proud of it). However, I wish that they had thought about it a bit more. As a former English teacher, I'm pretty certain that satire is not a form of literary expression that most people get.

When Jonathan Swift's satirical essay, "A Modest Proposal," was first published in 1729, it was met with great outrage by many who didn't perceive the satirical tone of the piece in which Swift proposes that the Irish poor ease their economic woes by selling their young children to the wealthy to be eaten as a great delicacy. Swift writes: "A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout."

Before you get all excited, he didn't mean it; he was using his writing to comment on the hypocrisy of the government in blaming the poor for their own plight. He wanted to point out the inhumanity of  allowing families to starve while the wealthy had an excess of food, goods, and luxuries. Swift wanted the reader to find his position appalling enough to act, to call for reform, to do something about the problem. This tradition of satire dates back to the great tradition of Roman satire, and echoes the writings of Horace and Juvenal.

However, I digress. The problem that I have with the New Yorker cover is quite simple, far too many people will miss the magazine's stated intent entirely. They won't read the accompanying stories. The cover will merely reinforce the misinformation that they already believe. Most people's familiarity with satire is limited; the unit that I did on satire was always the most confusing for my students. In particular, visual satire often leaves many people totally confused.

I also find the cover insulting to Michelle Obama. I really can't recall any presidential candidate's wife being subjected to this type of depiction in the past. Maybe I'm just a touchy black woman, but in every hierarchical ranking in this country, whether it is regarding wages earned or marriage potential, black women always come in dead last. If you're a black woman who speaks your mind, you are labeled difficult or the really big one--intimidating. Early in my teaching career, I had the following exchange with a colleague.

"Sheria, I just find you intimidating."

Me: "Have I ever threatened to slap you?"

"No, I didn't say that, just that I find you intimidating."

Me: "Tell you what, when I threatened to slap you, that's when I'm trying to intimidate you, otherwise, you have nothing to worry about."

Sometimes a woman gets tired of being called intimidating.

Alas, the cat is already out of the bag and and the cover cannot be undone. I have to decide if I want to read the comments that are already being generated by the news coverage about the cover. I should know better but I can't resist. Intimidating? No. Inquisitive? Yes.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Do Unto Others...

I am behind on reading and commenting on journals; I've tried to catch up a bit today. Just because I didn't leave a comment, doesn't mean that I didn't stop by for a visit. I owe you a comment on the next trip.

I didn't plan to write an entry of my own today; I've been reading a really good book that my sister recommended, and my plan was to read a few journals, and get back to my book, 19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult. However, as I read journal entries and the comments that some engendered, I was struck by a recurrent theme, a willingness to give in to our pettier impulses, a rush to judgment of others, to assume that laziness, dishonesty, and lack of a willingness to work are what leave people impoverished or homeless or just without the basic necessities of life.

Don't get me wrong, I read much goodness and kindness in these journals too, but it's the judgmental observations that chill me. Far too many of us toss them off so casually, without even thinking about what our views do to others or what they do to and say about us.

Several comments that I read eagerly affirmed that people on public assistance spend their food stamps on cigarettes,T-bone steaks, and nonessential food items. I'm not certain what the nonessentials are. There is also the Greek chorus chanting how people drive SUVs while collecting public assistance and live in public housing while driving Escalades. Then there are those who attest to witnessing the food stamp users who leave the grocery store with their beer and wearing Adidas and sagging pants, and then climb into their SUV. Clearly, the rest of us are missing out on a good thing. We should quit our jobs, sign up for public assistance, and live the high life.

When I first began my legal career, I worked for Legal Aid, which provides free legal assistance in certain areas of law to low-income persons. Some of my clients were facing things like eviction from housing or repossession of a vehicle. Others had been denied Medicaid, SSI, or some other federal or state assistance. Some had been fired and then the former employer tried to block them from receiving unemployment insurance benefits. Some owed money to hospitals for medical treatment and the hospitals creditors were threatening them with collection agencies. Legal Aid doesn't handle criminal cases, but I did represent women seeking 50B (civil protective orders in NC's courts) in domestic violence cases and I also did child custody cases. Most of my clients received public assistance of some sort and I learned a lot about the welfare system while I worked at Legal Aid.

I have no doubt that somewhere there is someone, maybe a few someones, who have figured out how to milk the welfare system for all that it's worth. Much like the top executives at Enron and other corporate businesses figured out how to rob people of their life savings. Criminal behavior doesn't always wear baggy pants, sometimes it wears business suits and white collars. However, the majority of people receiving public assistance of some sort are not living the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

You cannot use your food stamps to buy alcohol, tobacco products, pet food, or laundry, household and paper supplies. By the way, they are no longer food stamp coupons, it's an Electronic Benefit Card (EBT), which may be used to purchase food meant for human consumption, and plants and seeds for food production that are sold in a grocery store. The SUV dealership does not accept food stamps. If you are interested in how much your monthly food stamp allotment would be click here.

If you detect anger in my post, then you are not imagining it. I'm not angry because some people think that those who are receiving public assistance are a bunch of miscreants who abuse the system, I'm angry because those misbegotten points of view actually impact the lives of the very real people whose survival depends on that publicwelfare system. Every person who believes the half truths of the Chicken Little clones who are constantly espousing myths and lies about the welfare benefits system makes very real decisions in voting for public officials at the federal, state, and local level. Those elected officials are the ones who decide what monies are allocated to what some call social benefits program; I prefer the term "survival programs."

During his administration, Ronald Reagan liked to tell of the Chicago Welfare Queen. According to Reagan, she had ripped off $150,000 from the government, using 80 aliases, 30 addresses, a dozen social security cards, and four fictional dead husbands. The country was outraged and the "Welfare Queen" driving her "Welfare Cadillac"  became permanently lodged in American political folklore. What didn't get nearly as much attention was that the press attempted to track this "Welfare Queen" down only to discover that she didn't exist. The closest that they could come to a real, live welfare queen was a woman who had used two aliases and managed to collect $8,000 in benefits to which she wasn't entitled. (Interestingly, there was a wealthy couple living in Pasadena, California in the 1980s who engaged in welfare fraud to the tune of $377,000, filing claims for public assistance for 38 nonexistent children but they were not poor and clearly should have never qualified for welfare assistance.) 

In addition to the EBT (formerly, food stamp) program, the major other funding for public assistance goes to TANF or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, formerly known as AFDC. TANF payment amounts vary somewhat from state to state. Under TANF, states receive a fixed amount from the federal government based on what they spent on welfare programs in 1994 without regard to subsequent changes in need. TANF frees the states from many federal constraints on how they manage the funds. The program reduced the federal welfare Based on a cursory check of the Internet, it appears that TANF monthly payments average less than $300. Sort of hard to imagine making payments on an Escalade on that income.

The bottom line is simple. Those of us who know better have got to start making as much noise as the town criers who shout half-truths, misrepresentations, and down right lies about the individuals and families that find themselves in need of a helping hand in order to have life's basic necessities. A society that doesn't take care of its least fortunate is devoid of values. Shouting about the greatness of America means nothing if we take no steps to ensure that everyone partakes of that greatness. For every person who is convinced that people who depend on public assistance are living the good life, eating steak daily and drinking imported beers, tell you what, quit your job, apply for TANF and get your piece of the pie. Don't forget to pick out your SUV.

The music is an orginal composition by Jeff Majors (on the harp) setting the 23rd Psalm to music. The vocalist is James Murphy. Majors has an album, Sacred, with equally beautiful songs on it.

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name' sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou annointest my head with oil;
My cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.