30 July 2006

Under the Weather

While I love all of you that are kind enough to come read and comment, I've had to take a few days off and just keep to my bed. Unfortunately I'm a bit under the weather this weekend and per doctor's orders I just need to relax and not worry nor really do anything. Fortunately for me, that's about all my body currently wants to do anyway. I'll be back hopefully tomorrow or Tuesday.

27 July 2006

Road Trip This Way A-Comin'

Even less time tonight, as I am severely backlogged at work. However, I had to run some errands this evening and purely by chance (and the luck of God) I tuned into a radio station I normally don't while driving. And there, stuck at a stoplight breathing in too much exhaust from the tow truck in front of me, I heard:

BOB DYLAN IS COMING THIS WAY FOR A CONCERT. AUGUST 18th, MATTER OF FACT.

(And at a baseball park, too, which is always a bonus for a baseball fan such as myself.)

And while this may be sacrilege to all of those who adore Dylan, but I'm actually equally excited at the prospect of seeing Jimmie Vaughan (older brother of the late guitar God Stevie Ray, and Jimmie's quite the God himself) AND Junior Brown. Holy shit...the songwriter in me is salivating, and the ex-guitarist in me is about to start seizing. And it's not like Dylan tours that much anymore...and at a baseball venue??? Who do I need to kiss?

From Bob Dylan's webpage:

Bob Dylan and His Band Summer '06 Baseball Tour

The Bob Dylan Show Featuring:
  • Bob Dylan and His band
  • Jimmie Vaughan with Lou Ann Barton
  • Junior Brown
  • Elana James & The Continental Two

  • And from Bob's 2006 Tour News:
    August 18, Winston-Salem, North Carolina - --(Friday)
    Ernie Shore Field
    Showtime: 6:30 PM
    General admission
    Ticket price: $49.50
    Also scheduled to appear: Jimmie Vaughan, Junior Brown, Elana James & The Continental Two.
    There will be an internet presale through Bobdylan.com on Wednesday, July 12 at 10:00 AM. (A password is required for the presale and can be found on the Bobdylan.com page.)
    Tickets will go on sale to the general public through Ticketmaster on Saturday, July 8 at 10:00 AM. Ticketmaster phone number: 336-722-6400

  • Bob Dylan (I can't even attempt a decent introduction here, except to say aside from maybe Burt Bacharach and Billy Joel, arguably the absolute best living American songwriter.)
  • Jimmie Vaughan (Interesting to me that he includes links to The Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and US Constitution from his main page...proud Texan if there ever lived one.)
  • Junior Brown (The official Junior Brown site is under construction so this will give you the basics of this great man and musician. And, as someone who's been to Claremore, Oklahoma, too, I perfectly understand why leaving to Austin was the best decision for him and the missus.)
  • Elana James & The Continental Two (Aside from several Irish bands or Celtic-themed bands and maybe Alison Krauss and Union Station, I don't listen to a lot to violinists. Given this lineup, it will be very interesting how the 'flow' of this show works.)

    And while I believe they gouge concertgoers left and right, apparently Ticketmaster holds the keys and tickets to the musical kingdom, or this one at least.

    Glad it's in Winston-Salem, though...really nice place to visit and it will be great for a road trip, too. More info on the venue, Ernie Shore Field. (You gotta support any team that voluntarily goes by the Warthogs...conjures up memories of TV's "Sweathogs"
    from "Welcome Back, Kotter" more than three decades ago.)

    SO glad now I've been holding back 10% for 'unexpected needs and/or wants'...can go do this lovely little thing and still stay on budget.

    And, yes, it's the little things that do make me happy. LOL. Life is good.
  • For All My Old Friends Now Likewise Adrift



    Just a quick note tonight as I've spending the last few hours trying to hunt down some old buddies of mine. A chat board and discussion room which has been sliding the way down to Spamville recently apparently has pulled up stakes altogether. While the site itself is still there, the chat and discussion boards (which covered everything from current events to some wonderful short stories and poetry) have been pulled. Admittedly it was a place more now for old friends to just hang out and check in online, and we most certainly knew changes were coming. Problem is while some were getting some money together to go host their own boards elsewhere, the existing one's departure came before adieus could be made, email addresses exchanged, what have you. So old online friends (some a half decade or more, in my case right at 4 years) got cut off from acquaintances without a proper end. And tonight has been a haphazard idea of where to go now and with whom. It's sorta like akin to showing up to school and finding the doors closed due to low student numbers...you knew something like this was going to happen, you just wished you had been there when the principal rang the final bell.

    Somewhere during my scattered convos tonight, several of us fondly reminisced about where we had first met...back in Austin at the landmark Stubb's BBQ. Despite it all tonight and more than a few interpersonal battles along the way in times past, Austin is/was sorta the Mecca of this particular motley crew. Alas, none of us were in that fine town tonight and we hated that acceptance. But it doesn't mean we can't remember it with great love...

    And to all of my old friends now likewise adrift, I raise a glass and salute you and all the wonderful times we've shared. Cheers.

    25 July 2006

    Getting Off the Hamster Wheel of Debt

    Well, as it's pouring down rain here this morning and the absolute last thing I want to do is go work (my bed keeps calling me back, stupid bugger), it took me some extra time to get motivated this morning to actually get out of bed. Those of you that know me in person know that I'm not an 'early riser', not a 'morning person', hell not even 'on time' person...and generally I haven't needed a lot of sleep in years past. I can blame this on a variety of factors, but a lot comes from having either too many jobs at once (I once did 3 while attending college full-time), or having extremely out-of-synch sleeping hours (welcome to the world of emergency medicine, where even a good day can beat you down emotionally and cause insomnia). What used to do me quite well was about four hours on night on average, now I think I'm closer to five. By the time I retire (if I retire), I'm hoping I've worked myself up to about eight hours a night. Right now, admiring the parking lot puddles being created in earnest outside my window, I'm really glad I don't live in a remote jungle village in SE Asia or someplace really prone to rain...the rain does make me want to sleep. But, alas, there is work to be done and theoretically money to be transferred to me next week as a result.

    Actually, the 'money transfer' thing is starting to have some light at the end of the tunnel. One of my '27 things' (see sidebar to the right) is to become debt-free in 5 years. Now, for some of you, that probably doesn't like much of an accomplishment. For others, like myself, it seems like a good goal...and a goal that has been long overdue. After taking on some debt from ill relatives and also having some medical bills myself which put me under for an extended period for a time, I am finally getting some paid off and this year, even. (Gotta keep praying for the US citizens that national health gets implemented sometime soon...I wouldn't wish my experience upon my worst enemy.) And, I have to admit, I fettered away a good number of years in my 20s just in denial about my debt before I got ill to begin with. The payday was always 'later'. Well, 'later' is now, but now at my own choosing and not someone else's, thank Lord.

    So this year is the get off the treadmill year with the bills. If I don't need it (actually need it, not just want it...big difference), I don't buy it. I found out last year (before my most recent trip to Oz) that places like Target® and Wal-Mart® are actually harmful to my goals. Yes, they have my needs in stock, but they've also got like 15 million other wants...and my resistance only goes so far. So what should have been $20 trips to the store became $60 ones and I never could fully grasp what happened, why I couldn't go in and just buy the absolute necessities. Sadly, this 'a ha' realization about my debt didn't it hit me until I was in the returns line one night and a woman was in front of me, returning some new fishing items he husband had bought on impulse. She was crying and obviously upset. She said although she wanted her husband to have 'his' things, he had been spending too much lately and it had come down to keeping the new tackle or keeping the electricity on. Essentially, she was returning things because the family couldn't afford them to begin with. And somewhere...somewhere...in thinking about her situation on the way home that night, I realized I wasn't that far removed. And that actions needed to take place. Immediately.

    If I needed any further backup on this, the trip to Oz cemented the deal. While I am sure they are slowly infiltrating the suburbs and even the much-hated Wal-Mart® has made it to their shores in the form of a "Big W®", the mammoth superstores we have here every 20 miles or so are not there...yet. [Edited 8/4/06: Actually Wal-Mart®'s whole advertising design, marketing plan, and store layout has just been copied ruthlessly by Big W®, which I have since found out is owned by Woolworth's®. Sorry for the error in fact checking, folks.] With any luck (and this is not meant to disparage our good Aussie friends), they won't be, either. Instead you go to the Woolies® or Coles® and you buy what you need from what they have available. Even in Sydney (arguably the commercial variety jewel of Oz), they do not offer entire aisles of nothing but cookies (biscuits) or crackers, but just a few shelves on one aisle instead. They have maybe 5 brands total of ranch salad dressing, not 20 and certainly not further divided into 10 more sub-categories. A lot of people go and 'do the European thing' in Sydney and go to several shops when buying their necessities, and there are still countless Mum and Pop stores everywhere there. (You can actually go to bustling areas of Sydney and not see a chain restaurant or store for several blocks...you occasionally have to search them out even. I can't even get that here in my hometown and we're less 1% of Sydney's population.) And, amazing as it may seem to us Yanks, they live quite blissfully in their shopping ways. Even when one checks out you can tell the difference: the Aussies are relatively clutter-free at their entrances and exits to aid in snappy shopping on the way to the beach or neighbourhood barbies; Yanks are instead bludgeoned upon entry with greeters and oversize everything doo-dads, all in the hopes of keeping us trapped inside...and spending money...longer.

    So, quoting Steve Earle from his song "Copperhead Road" here..."I came back with a brand new plan." But while Earle's hero John Lee Pettimore came back from his second tour in 'Nam to grow illegal leaves, I just came back with a renewed desire to make it to Oz again and live there full-time by 2009. And, not being the criminal type, I've had to save my pennies and pounds the old-fashioned way: I've had to sacrifice. It was something I should have done (or kept doing, really) after college, but slipped and kept slipping. God bless any others who have to weekly schedule 'budget' time to do another assessment of bills vs goals, goals vs wants, wants vs needs, needs of sanity with calculator vs the slowdown of insanity with a computer budgeting 'tool'. I am finally seeing some progress, and not just in my 50+ ways to cook Spam® for meals.

    To date, the advancements and the plan:
  • reminders in the wallet for what I need to save for (in my case, temporary housing in my beloved Oz and Sydney), helping me remind a need vs a want
  • weekly budget and goals planning sessions to stay on course
  • all monthly bills, including rent and misc, budgeted for and paid on time since this past January (and since I lived in my truck 6 years ago, to even have a good place to rent, I am more than blessed for, believe me)
  • two discount store credit cards paid in full, no new charges
  • one auto repair maintenance card paid on full, no new charges
  • clothing store credit card paid in full every month, no new charges
  • gasoline cards paid in full each month (and damn thankful I no longer commute 35+ miles each way to work anymore in light of the gas prices now)
  • one college loan paid, no new balance, paid in full last week (leaving only one loan to contend with now)
  • only two hospital/medical bills remain (not bad for having serious illness for more than a year and no medical insurance simultaneously, owing a six-figure sum)
  • one major credit card (I only have 2, I can resist temptation occasionally), the one with the higher interest gets paid off next week
  • furniture/electronics card that I pay on behalf of relatives paid in full by 18 August, and account closed thereafter
  • the other major credit card will be paid in full by 1 December (and then I'm looking for a better deal for the future, if I don't find one better before then)
  • a personal loan which I have been paying on devoutly since end of Feb this year will be paid in its entirely by this New Year's Eve (Word to the wise: don't travel with friends if you can't afford to go without their help...it can, does, and has gotten ugly. It puts everybody in a bad spot, and causes problems. I know this from my travels firsthand. Don't do as I did: if you don't have the money to fund your own way completely beforehand, don't go until you can.)
  • increased 401k investing and new increased savings plan begins 1 January 2007
  • pay off other student loan (electronically from somewhere in Oz LOL) by 31 December 2010 (6 years early with additional monthly payments over time)
  • never allow myself to get into debtor's hell again

    And, PLEASE...anyone get ideas how to do this better???...TELL ME HOW.

    If anyone else is having the same problems or just wants to learn more about being honest with your money, I strongly suggest the following books/sites/media:

  • Clark Howard (author, radio talk show host, and arguably one of the smartest men in America about consumer affairs, credit, and managing money), really great guy. The radio show is broadcast on the web in many markets and you really do learn something from him everyday.
  • Straight-shooter Larry Winget (God bless my fellow cowboy boot fans), and especially his great book: "Shut Up, Stop Whining, and Get a Life". He is also host of A&E's network's "Big Spender" TV show. Complete with a wardrobe that only strong men and certain Kiwi guitarists can truly appreciate.
  • And finally, Jean Chatsky and her book, "From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day: Pay it Down!!" Don't let the title confuse you, she has some really great tips on saving that $10 by just cutting back or eliminating it from something unnecessary you already spend it on. She's the personal finance correspondent on NBC's "Today" show, and also shows up a lot on "Oprah", too, but don't hold that against her, please.

    Gotta go now, got pennies to count...got dreams to dream.
  • 21 July 2006

    "I'd Like to Thank You All for this Phony..."

    My dear friend Amanda, high school friend from far too many years for either of us to fully appreciate, and I have a rather interesting history. In many ways, we are the 'opposites attract' friends who met one fateful day in 1986(?), and although separated by many miles' distance now, we have never left each others' minds. She and I were the only ones in high school who liked the same music; could talk current events, hated both Reagan economics and Bush, Sr., and could voice a litany of reasons why; knew that 'real life' was not in high school; and had actually read a few books of merit all on our own. While I was a bit of the outspoken yet bored 'writer at large' (being editor of both the yearbook and newspaper will do that) and a year younger, my dear Amanda was known to be more an 'alternative music-loving' wallflower who had a bit of a crush on a bloke we called the Droid. (In my own defense, I had a crush on the debate team captain that year who is now in insurance I guess and a modelesque school jock who has since died from his unchecked drug use, among other things.)

    While I made Amanda suffer through my plans for world denomination as soon 'as I got out', Amanda thankfully introduced me to countless new bands and sounds with bootleg tapes and the like. A veritable encyclopedia of what was really cool and smart, she was the one always walking silently by those damn grey lockers and overpolished wooden doors. (If you grew up in the rural Midwest in the 1980s, you realize how undercover her bootleg exchanges had to be, as the 'in' choices with the populace were heavy metal acts like Motley Crue and Ratt, or country acts like Reba McIntyre or Bocephus.) Amanda was the first person I ever met that actually owned and knew the lyrics to an Elvis Costello album, aside from me. She's one of those types who is always two or three steps ahead of the rest of us musically, ya know?

    Insanely patient with me despite my editor duties, my debate duties, my endless art classes, my Mama's condemnation as she never 'understood that girl', and my lack of a car to drive (not there was any place to go, really, but still), she has been by my side then and ever since. It's with great pleasure that I know this dear friend also reads this blog.

    Not long into my junior year in high school, I got involved in the local community theatre. I wasn't any good at the acting, but I didn't know that then. I could deliver my lines well, but I could never hit my marks without either a set piece or another actor being hurt in the process. Amanda and I performed together in "Dial M for Murder" (I think), and I convientently broke the set phone for her before she got a chance to deliver her lines. When I got to portray Chief Weasel in "The Wind in the Willows" and broke the lead actor's wrist in our mock swordfight, I was certain that I would be asked to leave the group. Amanda stood by me when no one else did, and I never forgot that. At some point I realized I had no hopes of becoming a great thespian, but instead I should focus on other things and I dropped out. Amanda, (I admit a bit to my surprise), has continued on and has thrived as an actress in recent years.

    So much so, in fact, that she sent me an email the other day to tell me she had been nominated for a Hammy, her local community theatre's version of an Oscar®. They generally do about 3-5 productions a year, everybody's a volunteer, probably underfunded, and knowing the town I'm sure the performances are not fully appreciated by an (should be) adoring public. So my 'Rosie the Riveter' version of Meryl Streep (dear Amanda works in a foundry by day, gifted poet and writer by night) was heavily involved in this year's productions, even being the lead actress in one, in fact. (So much for the wallflower, eh?) That said, I'm bursting with pride at the following news: she's been nominated twice for her efforts. I not only wish I could have seen each and every performance, but I wish I could give her a congratulatory hug tonight before the festivities. Unlike me, I'd glad to see one of us followed through on those old high school goals (and she doesn't break things, too, which is always a plus).

    Without further adieu, my modified awards announcement (with respect to the other categories those nominees, "the producers" have deleted them from this blog post, because this entry is running long enough already). (Please feel free to hum some irritating over-the-top 'nominations music' when reading over the categories that I haveomittedd for space.):

    The Phony Awards for outstanding live theatre performances with the Montgomery County Theatre in 2006 will be presented...um...in person only tonight, Friday, July 21, at the Coffeyville Country Club. The CCC is located off Route 4, near the Hillcrest Golf Course that nobody uses and even fewer people know how to, aside from the high school golf team. The Awards, called "The Hammys", specifically designates the tremendous performances of the MCT this year: "Splendour in the Grass", "Sylvia", "The Mousetrap", and "Chicago".

    omission of BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A NEWCOMER ROLE (MALE)...

    omission of BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A NEWCOMER ROLE (FEMALE)...
    although props and a hearty hello go to the French teacher nominated

    omission of BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN BIT PART (MALE)...

    BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN BIT PART (FEMALE):
  • Amanda Siegel as Miss Metcalf in "Splendor in the Grass"
  • Brooke Carroll as Mrs. Stampler in "Splendor in the Grass"
  • Crystal Proman as Mrs. Boyle in "The Mousetrap"
  • Rene Hines as Go to Hell Kitty, etc. in "Chicago" (I love the 'etc.' part, I was an 'etc.' myself many times back in the day.)

    omission of BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE (MALE)...

    omission of BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE (FEMALE)...

    omission of BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE (MALE)...

    BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE (FEMALE):
  • Julie Dumler as Deanie Loomis in "Splendor in the Grass"
  • Krista Thompson as Sylvia in "Sylvia"
  • Amanda Siegel as Mollie Ralston in "The Mousetrap"
  • Michelle Bringle as Velma in "Chicago"

    omission of BEST SET DESIGN...

    omission of BEST PRODUCTION...
    although my money is on "Splendour in the Grass" as I've liked that play more than the others here generally

    And from the "official" press release:
    A humble tribute to American Theatre Wing's "Tony Awards" the Phony Awards (called a "Hammy") are selected by the secret "Phony Panel" of patrons. The awards, pig shaped themselves, are being made especially for MCT by Dana and Doug Froebe of Xtreme Bike and Sport of Independence. The Lifetime Achievement Award for faithful service to MCT and the arts along with Special Achievement Awards for Technical Theatre, Lights, and Sound will also be a part of the festivities. The Phony entertainment will include local singers, musicians and comedic sketches hosted by Magician/Pharmacist Pete Walterscheid.

    In addition to the Hammys there will be two inductees into the Montgomery County Theatre's Hall of Fame: Joan Veron and Kenny Addudell, two longtime patrons of the arts. Joan Veron has been featured performer in various productions in both Coffeyville and Independence. Kenny, a talented pianist and knowledgeable patron of the arts, has played piano for rehearsals and performances of many productions in both Coffeyville and Independence, most recently MCT's successful run of "Chicago" and last year's Neewollah.
    (Ed note: "Neewollah" is Halloween spelled backwards and was featured in the classic film "Picnic" starring William Holden and Kim Novak. "Picnic" was originally written by legendary playwright William Inge, who lived in Independence, Kansas, for a number of years and mentions the area frequently in his works. And, yes, the Festival most certainly does exist, as so do the Queens...although perhaps not always to Ms. Novak's beauty.) Special Achievement Awards also for our hard working and little recognitioized technical crew members.

    Montgomery County Theatre of Coffeyville Inc. (formerly known as Coffeyville Community Theatre Inc.) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the production and performance of live theatre in southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma. Active for more than 50 years, MCT is the oldest community theatre group in Montgomery County and perhaps the oldest community group in Kansas. MCT is governed by a seven-member board of directors with membership open to anyone who supports the arts and funded through an annual patron-donor drive and season ticket sales. MCT meets on the first Monday of each month with executive board meetings convened as necessary. MCT is an active member of the American Association of Community Theatre . The mission of MCT is to produce quality community theatre in an audience friendly environment.

    (Clip art from Download-Free-Pictures.)

    So, if Amanda's lucky, she should be bringing home two pigs as a reward for all of her talent and hard work. Only in Kansas, kids, but no matter:



    GOOD LUCK, AMANDA!!


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  • 20 July 2006

    Small Victories and Fewer Concessions

    Okay, compared to yesterday (oi vey), today's post will be rather brief in comparison.

    First things first: regarding yesterday's 'diatribe' (as a good friend/reader of mine so pleasantly called it)...

  • no, I have not lost my mind (although that's probably not for me to effectively judge), and
  • no, I have not become an atheist (although I'm still somewhat non-denominational until I can be effectively convinced otherwise), and
  • no, I have not become a pessimist (although obviously some days are better than others), and
  • no, I cannot remember the last time I got really high, but I'm sure that a Pink Floyd album was playing in the background, and
  • yes, I can remember the last time I got drunk and that is not the problem (nor was the cause nor the effect of yesterday's contribution), and
  • yes, I can remember the last time I got laid and that is not the problem, either, but admittedly 'practice does make perfect' LOL, and
  • no, so far, I do not have some sort of snarky comeback to you or to the other 5 or so people who took the time to email (or to dear Twitches who actually posts comments here, what a concept!), and
  • finally, yes, I will consider taking myself down off my self-built cross long enough for many of you to come and retrieve the wood. (Or, if you are with the Wise Ricky, long enough to retrieve the whip that needs to go back to the monk from whence it came.)

    It's an Old West standoff, kids. Not sure which of us is packing the bigger pistol of logic, or is it just my pride refusing to cave in? Either way, we're all pretty good shots so maybe we should put away the Colts and go have a beer instead. I'm shouting the first round, even.

    Seriously, though, the comments were all taken to heart and reflected upon. In a bizarre way, it's nice to be thought of enough to have people write me...to so strongly encourage me to reassess my reasoning. Even though I'm not saying I'm wrong or even that I agree with most of what's been tossed my way in the last 24 hours, I still got that warm and fuzzy feeling.

    And hey, on the plus side: I paid off one of my college loans today. I'm pretty poor until the next payday, but that's one more down to having all the bills (except the other college loan) paid in full by the end of this year. Give a girl a break.
  • 19 July 2006

    The Fallacies of the Mask: You Believe What You Want to Believe

    It seems to be that time of season these days when we're all sort of taking stock of where we're at...the midway point of observation to determine if the New Year resolutions actually took hold. And it's just not me, which I admit is a bit reassuring. Several friends, facing problems in career, lifestyle, finances, even marriages and with children, all seem to be up against the same confusing wall as I am, but each in our separate way. For me, summertime is one of continued reflection to see what, if anything, can still be 'pulled out' from the ashes of a wayward January 1st dreamfest. It's like as the heat rains down from above, so do the guilt and anxiety of my failures (perceived or otherwise) on my psyche. To sort it all out, I try and find a quiet and safe spot where I can contemplate just how sane some of my goals even were to make, but more accurately it's a time of reflection to figure out how I chickened out again, then rationalize my cowardice. Today's not been a good one for that, mind you, but it's decidedly better than in years past.

    The last time I really did this contemplation was on January 1, 2006, as I sat sweltering for a good hour or so on a wooden bench overlooking Lavender Bay, near Milson's Point, on the north side of Sydney's famous Harbour. It was excruciatingily hot, and ended up being a record-setting high at day's end. The New Year's Day was new then, I still had the Sydney Bridge to walk across, a wonderful claims adjuster from Melbourne to meet on the shaded edges of Circular Quay (pronounced 'Key'), a long steamy bus ride to Bondi Junction and another meet and greet with an internet friend who took us to watch the two sets of fireworks that night with the locals in the street. Little did I know then that my traveling companion for that glorious day (and many others to follow) and I would soon permanently part ways ourselves shortly after our return home. Little did I know then some resolutions I made that day...to forge a better friendship with my companion as friends, to do some scouting for my future move to Australia, to once and for all decide if some past actions of mine had, indeed, been worth all of it...that those resolutions not only fell away, but have fallen away so distant and so fast that I can't even see my hands grasping for them any more. All I can remember now about that day is sweating under the limbs of a heaving and lovers' carved eucalpyt thinking about how the 'answers' I was seeking would soon show and develop themselves, and, if I was just patient, those answers would come to me from others. I was, I see now, terribly deluded in my naivete. Unfortunately, I was the one perpetrating the deception.

    Forgive me, dear Father, for I have sinned against what is true.

    And so again today I 'took stock' of where I stand, not only for my resolutions, but also as a gauge as to where I am as a person. While I don't necessarily like the conclusions as they stand now, I highly encourage the process for others. It's tough to have that heart-to-mind conversation with yourself, when it's not in the small hours of the night or under the influence of something patented to cloud your senses. It's like looking hard at yourself when you know you look bad. All you have to do is stare at yourself and look in your eyes...and you know, just know, the gig is up. Some of us are so good in pulling on a mask as we head out the door that sometimes, when the day is new and the dawn is harsh, we don't recognize our 'real' selves until we blindly trip into a mirror and get frightened. Frightened, especially, when we realize we're suppressing the 'real' person inside in favour of a mask and a persona we really don't like on the outside.

    The mask I don't show is in frequent contact with my gut and, on especially difficult days, my whole gastrointestinal system. And recently my true self has been telling me to trust its instincts more...and it's wise advice I should have heeded months ago. I have lost a friend, true, and I am truly sorry of the loss of another person I once cared about from my life. But in actuality that friendship was lost before the end of our magical trip and we didn't have to wait until we came back home, but did...and arguably perhaps it was even lost well before we departed. I can attribute the dissolution to so many things, some more logical than others, but a good chunk lands squarely at my feet for not standing up for myself and my needs. (Amazing what illness will do to you...I'm nothing like the person I was in my late 20's; I've become if not The Enabler, at least The Diplomat...never upsetting or being upset by anyone any more.) A big portion of my outside mask is to be ever-adaptable and easy-going...and 99% of the time that works well until I decide to assert my 1% authentic emotion. They say the worst liars are those that lie to themselves and I agree. Not only agree because I didn't stick up for myself until the damage had been irreparably done, but also because I almost convinced myself I could become something I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I simply could not. Word to the wise: either be a doormat or don't, but don't be one and then later decide to stop being so when you've had too much mud...by that time, it's already too late. And don't ever kid yourself that you can control the 'inner you' at any time when you're angry...because you can't.

    Furthermore, I didn't do a thorough (or even a mediocre) search while in Oz in preparation for the move, creating excuses from everything from public holidays to the need to be a 'good travel companion' to help me rationalize my avoidance. Truth be told, again I didn't stand up for my needs, but I also succumbed to fear. Fear is a terrible poison of the mind, and I would argue one of the most deadliest around. Fear keeps us from love, travel, success, heartbreak, power, and...most importantly...from proving ourselves wrong. For years now, (actually since childhood), I have been preached about 'knowing my limits' and 'accepting what's been handed to you with gratitude'. Those are wonderful sentiments and I'm sure it works for many, many people; in time, they may even work for me, but not yet. Our bodies will be paralyzed all too soon with the advance of age, illness, and death...but to have fear paralyze our minds, too? Yet, I am the worst of a burgeoning clan. As much as I want Oz to happen, I also know I am gripped with cold-sweat kind of fear of moving to country so far away with only myself to depend on, in a culture and way of life (even 9 trips later) I am still unfamiliar with. When I was on the train from Newcastle to Sydney one day, I thought about how this would all work if I wasn't a tourist, wasn't a stranger in a strange land, but just there and experiencing the trip as just a way from Point A to Point B. But here's the catch, the one and still blinding fact that causes me to pause and yes, feel fear: Oz is appealing to me when my 'real' person is there, but when I realize I haven't truly been that person in public for decades...I don't know if I can really make the jump.

    And finally, angels and heathens alike, I must admit that I have given great thought recently to whether the balance paid so far is disproportionate to the actual balance due. No need for worries for my mental health (beyond the usual, anyway LOL), but more along the lines of "is this it?" The logic is this: we work and learn and save, to do more work, achieve more learning, contribute more saving because we are taught to preserve the status quo...that this may be as good as it gets. I shudder when I think of that last thought at any length. This is as good as it gets??? No wonder we're someone else in public, who wants to meet that letdown unprotected? Combining that with the many virtues my dear departed Father handed down to me...honesty, sacrifice, courtesy, humanity, hard work, kind selfless acts...I wonder sometimes if I didn't get voted off the planet somehow and am chasing idle dreams in the Milky Way. Because the masks I see, the mask I wear for survival out there, doesn't allow a co-existence between those two extremes.

    When unconditional loyalty is taught but found not to be a good skill to succeed with these days, who wins and who loses the most?

    When sacrifices are made and not acknowledged, what's to instill any chance of a devotion being offered again?

    When the town crier calls out the time and state of the town and no one cares to listen, what's the point in crying out in humility?

    I have college degrees that line a wall somewhere, but yet the knowledge I seek is no longer taught. I have many creature comforts and delights, but the emphasis is that I need...indeed must have...'more' to be truly happy (whatever today's standard of 'more' is, anyway). The alternative is an admission of failure somehow. I stand and review my lot from the shores of Truth, yet the Sailor of those seas does not venture out, does not even answer the beacon. To paraphrase a great Tom Petty song ("Refugee"), you're gonna believe what you want to believe. And that's generally true, I think. Problem is that we're believing in a mask that's not who we really are, but instead who we should be somehow. The belief system itself is fucked up. And when the fickle friends disappear and the strong winds hail, that leaves us all where??

    I have two images of me: one an outer public core that is misleading and sterile yet accomodating and fulfilled, the other a inner truthful relief that is disillusioned and raging yet bittersweet and utopian. Since neither are working anymore and have no tenets to support them, it's more than time to make a new mask.

    17 July 2006

    Thundering Mood: Where My Spirit Is Today



    Perhaps it's the hellish temps here today (we're scheduled to hit the 100°F mark tomorrow), or the hellish events globally recently that is making me hark back to my days of endless exploring of the great city, Sydney. I'm notorious as a traveler for just getting a few maps or guides together, closing my eyes, choosing someplace at random while 'blind' and then heading off to explore. In fact, I actually ended up in Oz the first time from choosing it rather random-like by a spin of a globe. (Well, actually, the Tasman Sea, but Sydney was closer than Ackland...so Sydney it was.) The above picture is the result of such reckless, yet spontaneous, traveling: I spotted the Anzac Bridge from afar and, well, kept walking toward the horizon until I came upon it. (The Anzac, a distant runner-up in popularity to the world-famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, is still a beaut in its own right...connecting the Central Business District of Sydney to communities such as Rozelle, Glebe, and beyond.) The bounty for such adventure was well worth the effort...not only did I get the above shot before the late afternoon deluge, but also I enjoyed a small inexpensive feast with my winged friends also featured. Taken at the Sydney Fish Market, Sydney, May 2003.

    14 July 2006

    The Hell in A Handbasket Theatre Company

    I'm not sure exactly of all the astrological significance of moon changes and eclipses and the like, but somewhere, someplace, somebody should be sued for failing to do their proper 'community service'. Seriously. If you're going to be a 'psychic advisor', advise. If you're going to give helpful hints to guide one in everyday life, give some damn helpful hints in time to make and/or adjust plans. Not that I ever believed in astrology, but after the events of the last, say 72 hours, I think we can seriously kick it aside as some sort of well-intended but totally unfounded time waster. Because, if it was a legitimate profession, there would have been countless red alerts for this week: telling us, essentially, to buy all the necessary disaster items, cancel the non-essential meetings, use up some vacation time, and then plop ourselves in front of the telly and lament just how fucked up the world is today.

    I'm not sure where to begin honesty. As a news junkie, I have been watching and/or listening to events of the global sphere the last 10 days like an unwilling attendee at Death's Perennial Ping Pong Match. Over a thousand killed in sectarian violence in Iraq in less than a week, natch. North Korea publicly testing more than 10 missiles and wanting to send more in its ever-shrill cry of 'me, me, me'...gotcha. China and Russia not liking us at all anymore, and wanting to take their large-ass dolls and go home...check. Mexico's election looking suspiciously like a US 2000 Presidental standoff minus the eloquence of Tim Russert...yeppers. Afghanistan's limited progress as a democracy after 2001 falling in around its ears...ditto. And, (as a special bonus feature!), now the Hell in a Handbasket Theatre Company gives you...wait for it...War in the Middle East!!! You just can't get this kind of multi-continent drama during sweeps months, and I'm pretty sure this is better than anything Aaron Spelling ever created, but I freely admit I missed his shows before "Charlie's Angels".

    And, if the above didn't give us all a huge reason to go on a weekend boozer, the capper: we have Cheney, Rummy, and Chimpy 'leading' (a word I use very loosely when applied to these three and all they command) us through this mess. To quote a poster from a discussion board I visit: "Ho, the humanity." Since its readily apparent that humanity is missing out, maybe the 'hos' will succeed. Opps...they were, but I forgot that their contracts have been cancelled by the Army. Oh well, Chimpy is still in charge. Try to rest tonight on that knowledge.

    Fred Kaplan does a wonderful piece over at Slate just discussing how much of a drawback this is to us, explaining why I believe that liquor and prayer are simultaneously looking equally appealing. In "Reality Bites: Is the Bush administration capable of facing the world's problems, much less solving them?", he suggests what so many of us here have long feared: we, as an international power, are waaaaaaaay in over our heads. And, unfortunately, the domestic situation is pretty damn bleak, too, as we have virtually no troops to call up (save a draft), warring political parties in our Congress, and a vast deficit (still) in our financial coffers. Oh, and yeah: many citizens of this fine country doesn't trust this administration one damn iota for the reasons above or countless others.

    Read it and weep (the last two paragraphs here):
    "...But this sort of neglect is but a side effect of the larger deficiencies at the top. Whatever else might be said of them, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld are not worldly men. They're neither well-traveled nor curious about the world. They came into office believing that America had emerged from the Cold War as the only real power and, as such, they didn't have to care about what other countries said. They didn't understand that powerful countries—at least powerful democracies—have always acted through alliances, even if only by manipulating them. A powerful country doesn't always need allies to get a job done—but it does need them to get a job done with legitimacy, to get it done and keep it done.

    One senior Bush adviser famously told Ron Suskind, back in those halcyon days shortly after Saddam fell: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality." What's happening now is that reality is roaring back."

    Dear Lord...with any luck, we'll all be like Bobby Ewing in "Dallas" and just wake up in five years' time and see that it's all been some horrible, TV-disguised-as-reality-TV kind of dream. (Although I also fully acknowledge that's would be a clear 'jump the shark' political moment, too.) And I would joke about that, except that thousands of people...from all sides, all countries, all religions...are dying each day because this 'superpower' doesn't understand the meaning, let alone the responsibilities, of the word. My heart breaks for the countless military personnel who are serving now and have to risk their lives daily to serve the whims of this clueless administration. Actually, my heart breaks for a whole hell of a lot of us right now.

    Cue up the band, and dropping the curtain on today's morning show:

    "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)"

    R.E.M.




    Lyrics can be found from Leo's Lyrics here.

    12 July 2006

    For the Love of All Things Mama

    Mama on her first trip to the Atlantic Ocean, North Carolina shore, 2004.


    Happy Birthday, Mama!!


    They say you can learn anything about the present if you just study the history thoroughly enough. Well, if that's true, all I ever needed anyone to know about my Mama will come from other, very important events of this glorious day, July 12.

    On this day in history, in the year 100 B.C., Roman Emperor Julius Caesar was born. (That should be telling about Mama's leadership style, if anything is.)

    In 1389, Geoffrey Chaucer was named Chief Clerk by King Richard II. (Chaucer later wrote "The Canterbury Tales", the only book of 'literature' dear Mama really likes...except Mark Twain novels and biographies about infamous bank robber Jesse James.)

    In 1861, Wild Bill Hickok fought his first gunfight. (Explains both her grace under fire and frequently in 'life or death' situations...also explains her willingness to not back down from any fight, too.)

    In 1862, the United States Medal of Honor was created. (If they made medals for Mamas and their patience and great powers of strength, my Mama's medals would beat your Mama's medals any day.)

    In 1941, in the hills of Arkansas, a little farm girl who would eventually become my mother...and friend and inspiration to many, many others...was born. She would also become a successful business and nursing professional, local community official and fundraiser, and dutiful wife and caregiver to a terminally ill husband.

    In 1962, The Rolling Stones first appeared. (Actually, this doesn't hold true to Mama so much as to me...she was an Elvis girl first and foremost, and then a Ringo fan...yes, there were and are Ringo fans...of The Beatles a distant second. Truth be told, she really, really likes Elvis, Marty Robbins, and Conway Twitty.) However, tying her in with The Stones: she never does anything shyly, frequently gets accused of causing a commotion...and enjoys herself immensely...and she's still rockin' and a' rollin' after all of these years. Plus, she looks much better in lipstick than Mick does now.
    And on this day, July 12, 2006: my dear beloved Mama turns 65. And I, like so many others who have had the great honour and pleasure of knowing her, wish her all the best and send her all of our deepest, and most heartfelt love.

    Happy 65th, Mama!!


    With love and blessings always, although we are apart...

    11 July 2006

    Where My Heart is Today: Coldplay's "What If?"



    "...every step that you take,
    can be your biggest mistake.
    it can bend, it can break,
    but that's just the risk that you take..."

    (Video clip from YouTube, as usual.)

    Full lyrics from Leo's Lyrics to be posted later.

    I simultaneously love and hate this song...namely because it encapsulates so many of my past...and now current...relationships. Yet you'd never know it on the outside, never. Somedays recently I wonder if I've simply forgot how to bend and have just chose to be broken instead. Path of least resistance and all...this good Doctor apparently needs one of her own.

    08 July 2006

    I Still Love My Leo the Lobster...With Garlic Butter

    I'm just a 'live and let others live' kinda gal, really. I know that sounds naive in this day in age, but I really try and follow that if at all possible. Life's too short to go about making mountains out of mole hills. It's also too short to start worrying about everyone, and everything, else. Sometime, you just gotta live.

    As part of that guiding principle, I am happy to report that I converse with a wide assortment of people who walk from many different paths...people who are new to my life, people who are old friends, people I thought I'd 'lost' along the way but have been 'found' again, people who find me intriguing yet crazy enough to stick around and watch the car crash of my personality in person. Some people I know from here, and while I don't 'know' them in real life per se, I value their input and feedback and welcome them as I do my friends at the local cafe. Many different characters in their own right make up this motley and beautiful crew. Two of whom openly describe themselves as 'animal rights protectors' and the same two whom I had the following debate recently when I mentioned what this column would be about.

    About a month ago, I was contacted by email from a group I will endearingily call an animal rights extremist group. Being where I am in NC, within a relatively short drive there exists several research facilities where a whole host of new drugs and products are developed for a consumerist public. In these labs presumably are some lab research animals. Now I have friends who work/have worked in these labs and I have friends who have 'protested' (through peaceful means, as far as I know) these labs. I don't want animals hurt or tortured in the name of science or the next great lipstick, like I think the vast majority of people don't. Their email actively recruited me to come join them (and bring friends!) as they were going to 3 of the above labs in the region and 'free God's creatures who are being held and assaulted against their will'. Again, while I support the non-harm of animals at all times, going and breaking laws to set them free is not my bag. I sent back a response not only saying that, but also asking them to remove me from their mailing list.

    One week later, I got another email from them, but this one far more specific and more 'law-abiding' in its nature. It was essentially a press release hailing the new 'life-friendly' policies of Whole Foods®' (upscale grocery chain) refusal to no longer offer live lobsters for sale. Apparently I had missed the boat: lobsters had rights, too, even when caught and being prepped for meals for humans, which they have been for eons now. I really had no idea this was an issue for some people. From the Whole Foods® release detailing their decision:
    The Company partnered with an innovative seafood company, Clearwater Seafoods of Nova Scotia, Canada, to experiment with different handling techniques that support natural conditions to help lobsters thrive. Since lobsters are typically solitary creatures, the team developed alternatives including single-layer holding crates on the boats, individual holding compartments during storage, and unique "condos" for in-store tanks. Whole Foods Market further looked into the biology and sentience in lobsters, including studying the final report of the November 2005 European Food Safety Authority Animal Health and Welfare panel which concluded all decapod crustaceans, including lobsters and crabs, are complex in behavior and appear to have some degree of awareness, feeling pain and having the ability to learn.

    Whole Foods Market will sell select raw and cooked frozen lobster products solely from companies that meet the strict handling and processing standards developed during the Company's evaluation period, which includes measuring to ensure the quality and health of the animal. Currently only Clearwater Seafoods meets the criteria.

    Now, call me selfish and a bit on the dumb side, but if they are wanting to provide better and higher human treatment standards for the lobsters of the world, wouldn't it have been best to maybe just stop selling lobsters months ago instead of making 'condos' for them? And here's my logic: if people say they 'want a live lobster from the store', most likely they're not adopting one for a pet. And, if they are, they aren't going to a grocery store to find one. Grocery stores, like fish markets, sell groceries...aka, food...in all sorts of shapes, sizes and quantities. Seafood buyers want fresh fish, fresh lobsters and live lobsters generally...and will go to great lengths to choose just the 'right' one from the lobster tank. But after that choice is made, exactly what did Whole Foods® think was going to happen to Leo the Lob? I'm gonna guess with the exception of maybe a few that made a getaway through a kitchen window, 99.9% of those that got brought home ended up as dinner somehow...I seriously doubt the Joneses had some sort of 'last rites' ceremony for them prior to the lobsters' demise in boiling water. And, unless somebody's invented some sort of lobster-killing gas bag one puts over Leo to lull him into the Hereafter Sea, they'll instead get clubbed on the head or scalded in a pot in the prep for that said dinner. So while I appreciate Whole Foods®' efforts to want to mimic the lobster's native surroundings, to me this sounds akin to providing air conditioning and extra-soft straw to nesting hens: the final result still ends up being the same, doesn't it?

    Word to the 'well-meaning' groceries and food markets: if you want to sell items that are only handled 'humanely' from start to finish (especially in the US), you might want to look at selling only foods that at some point were never considered 'living'. Seafood, catfish farm-breds, chicken, beef, lamb...you name it. Just a thought. And depending on how 'die hard' you want to go on this, I can tell you from firsthand experience that millions of wheat stalks have been complaining about combines harvesting them for years and years. It's food, people, get over it. Let's not abuse, sure, but let's also not forget common sense.

    Meanwhile, pass the dipping sauce, please...

    my favourites courtesy of De Costi's Seafood at the Sydney Fish Market

    07 July 2006

    Brits as 'The Deciders': They Don't Trust Nor Admire the USA Leadership Anymore

    In what can only be called an example of overdue irony as it comes on the heels of the 4th of July celebrations from them 230 years ago, a new study has been released of Britons and their opinions of their US cousins...and specifically those in charge of this country. The responses provided are so familiar in some ways to what our Founding Fathers levelled against King George III (and, no, the joke of 'King George' has not escaped me, either), it almost gives one pause. In fact, I read this study's conclusions alongside the Declaration of Independence that I included here just 3 short days ago. The final results shouldn't be earth-shattering, given the open shock the Brits expressed after Bush et al got re-elected in 2004, but it's more than a defeating affirmation that even when the citizens of the country most likely to support us feel this way about us...that we're doing something terribly wrong.

    From a poll published in The Daily Telegraph (and then picked up by Yahoo! News):
    "...The YouGov poll found that 77 percent of respondents disagreed with the statement that the US is "a beacon of hope for the world".

    As Americans prepared to celebrate the 230th anniversary of their independence on Tuesday, the poll found that only 12 percent of Britons trust them to act wisely on the global stage. This is half the number who had faith in the Vietnam-scarred White House of 1975.

    A massive 83 percent of those questioned said that the United States doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks.

    With much of the worst criticism aimed at the US adminstration, the poll showed that 70 percent of Britons like Americans a lot or a little.

    US President George W. Bush fared significantly worse, with just one percent rating him a "great leader" against 77 percent who deemed him a "pretty poor" or "terrible" leader.

    More than two-thirds who offered an opinion said America is essentially an imperial power seeking world domination. And 81 per cent of those who took a view said President George W Bush hypocritically championed democracy as a cover for the pursuit of American self-interests.

    US policy in Iraq was similarly derided, with only 24 percent saying they felt that the US military action there was helping to bring democracy to the country..."

    So we're mostly liked as a people, but not as a country nor as a foreign power in a leadership role. What a dropoff...I was in London immediately after 9/11 and almost to a man, everyone who approached me there just knew we would 'do the right thing' as a country, would act as the standard for what other countries should do after such a horrible, yet temporarily unifying, tragedy. I'm sure these results are news to someone out there, but I sure as hell hope it's not to anyone in Washington.

    And, by popular request and also to underscore how I don't even have faith and respect to the POTUS, Mr. Bush, I give you: Slate's frequently updated 'Complete Bushisms: The President's Accidental Wit and Wisdom'. Further proof that Cheney, Rumsfield and Rice are really the true Wizards of DCoz. Read, laugh, and then weep...especially when you realize this is the kind of oft-quoted material he's known the world over for...for ourselves and our friends (British and otherwise) overseas.

    05 July 2006

    Meeting the Neighbours, Supporting Their Causes

    I'll make it a quick post today, as God help you all that read this, know that I've done went overboard the last few days with commentaries. Besides, it's raining cats and dogs over here right now and we're expecting flash flooding tonight and into early tomorrow morning. But I still prefer the summertime over the winter...

    In my ever-expanding search to reach out and 'meet the neighbours' here in the Virtual Realityland, I've come across two good sites that have not only caught, but maintained, my attention. (Which is, by many accounts, a tough thing to do.)

    Global Voices Online is the virtual online equivalent of Amnesty International, the latter which works "to protect human rights worldwide". With reports from all over the world about free speech, freedom of the press (of special interest is the "Reporters Without Borders" section), and the freedom to blog, among many others. In an internet world filled with "me, me, me" entries (of which I will fully admit I contribute to here as well), it's nice to see that an actual site of an internet 'community' exists and prospers.

    The second link I found is for Free Press, the nice folks who are spearheading a massive "Save the Internet" campaign. Free Press has several lofty goals, encompassing everything from passing net neutrality laws to preventing the resurgence of Payola among corporate radio stations. Specifically, their goals are:
    "... to reform the media and involve the public in media policymaking. Through education, organizing and advocacy, we promote diverse and independent media ownership, strong public media, and universal, affordable access to communications."
    Additional goals (and subjects of particular interest to me, former college hack journalist and radio person that I was) include: stopping the growth of big media, saving community internet actions, and overhauling the massively out-of-touch Telecommunications Act now being considered in Congress.

    Finally, a couple of internet groups with a mission, plan, and actions to believe in. Too damn bad nothing like that can be said about either of the major US political parties.

    04 July 2006

    In Observance of Today...Independence Day

    Happy Independence Day holiday to everyone here in these great United States. (And a happy July 4th to everyone else in the world).

    To my fellow Americans: I wish all of you well and hope you have a safe and wonderful time today. While we are a country still divided by so many fractious elements and causes, it's important to give pause and remember how great it is that we have the voice to even debate these issues, how fantastic it is to even live here. Despite everything, we are still one (if not the) of the greatest nations on Earth. Remember our promises, our history, our accomplishments, our honour. And also please remember the sacrifices and personal braveries that have been bestowed by so many so we can enjoy those liberties and freedoms...not only just in the present today, but also in the past.

    Two parts to this post: what we're celebrating for (and formally adopted on this day, 230 years ago in 1776)...the Declaration of Independence, and also our national anthem as performed than none other than Jimi Hendrix (at the Atlanta Pop Festival, also on this same day, 36 years ago in 1970).

    The Declaration of Independence (text from the American Revolution website):


    "In Congress, July 4, 1776. The unanimous declaration of the thirteen
    United States of America.
    IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776.
    THE UNANIMOUS
    DECLARATION OF THE THIRTEEN UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

    WHEN, in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's GOD entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the Causes which impel them to the Separation.

    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, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate, that Governments long established, should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security. Such has been the patient Sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the Necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The History of the present King of Great-Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World.

    HE has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.

    HE has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing Importance, unless suspended in their Operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

    HE has refused to pass other Laws for the Accommodation of large Districts of People, unless those People would relinquish the Right of Representation in the Legislature, a Right inestimable to them, and formidable to Tyranny only.

    HE has called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures.

    HE has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly Firmness his Invasions on the Rights of the People.

    HE has refused for a long Time, after such Dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining, in the mean Time, exposed to all the Dangers of Invasion from without, and Convulsions within.

    HE has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither, and raising the Conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

    HE has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

    HE has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the Tenure of their Offices, and the Amount and Payment of their Salaries.

    HE has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harrass our People, and eat out their Substance.

    HE has kept among us, in Times of Peace, Standing Armies, without the Consent of our Legislatures.

    HE has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

    HE has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our Laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

    FOR quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among us:

    FOR protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

    FOR cutting off our Trade with all Parts of the World:

    FOR imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

    FOR depriving us, in many Cases, of the Benefits of Trial by Jury:

    FOR transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended Offences:

    FOR abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an arbitrary Government, and enlarging its Boundaries, so as to render it at once an Example and fit Instrument for introducing the same absolute Rule into these Colonies:

    FOR taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

    FOR suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all Cases whatsoever.

    HE has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection, and waging War against us.

    HE has plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People.

    HE is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny, already begun with Circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation.

    HE has constrained our Fellow-Citizens, taken Captive on the high Seas, to bear Arms against their Country, to become the Executioners of their Friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

    HE has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes, and Conditions.

    IN every Stage of these Oppressions we have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble Terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated Injury. A Prince, whose Character is thus marked by every Act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the Ruler of a free People.

    NOR have we been wanting in Attentions to our British Brethren. We have warned them, from Time to Time, of Attempts by their Legislature to extend an unwarrantable Jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the Circumstances of our Emigration and Settlement here. We have appealed to their native Justice and Magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the Ties of our common Kindred to disavow these Usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our Connexions and Correspondence. They too have been deaf to the Voice of Justice and of Consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the Necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the Rest of Mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

    WE, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in GENERAL CONGRESS Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connexion between them and the State of Great-Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that as FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of Right do. And for the Support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of DIVINE PROVIDENCE, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honour.

    John Hancock.
    GEORGIA, Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, Geo. Walton.
    NORTH-CAROLINA, Wm. Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn.
    SOUTH-CAROLINA, Edward Rutledge, Thos Heyward, junr. Thomas Lynch, junr. Arthur Middleton.
    MARYLAND, Samuel Chase, Wm. Paca, Thos. Stone, Charles Carroll, of Carrollton.
    VIRGINIA, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Ths. Jefferson, Benja. Harrison, Thos. Nelson, jr. Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton.
    PENNSYLVANIA, Robt. Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benja. Franklin, John Morton, Geo. Clymer, Jas. Smith, Geo. Taylor, James Wilson, Geo. Ross.
    DELAWARE, Caesar Rodney, Geo. Read.
    NEW-YORK, Wm. Floyd, Phil. Livingston, Frank Lewis, Lewis Morris.
    NEW-JERSEY, Richd. Stockton, Jno. Witherspoon, Fras. Hopkinson, John Hart, Abra. Clark.
    NEW-HAMPSHIRE, Josiah Bartlett, Wm. Whipple, Matthew Thornton.
    MASSACHUSETTS-BAY, Saml. Adams, John Adams, Robt. Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry.
    RHODE-ISLAND AND PROVIDENCE, &c. Step. Hopkins, William Ellery.
    CONNECTICUT, Roger Sherman, Saml. Huntington, Wm. Williams, Oliver Wolcott.

    IN CONGRESS, JANUARY 18, 1777.

    ORDERED,
    THAT an authenticated Copy of the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCY, with the Names of the MEMBERS of CONGRESS, subscribing the same, be sent to each of the UNITED STATES, and that they be desired to have the same put on RECORD.
    By Order of CONGRESS,

    JOHN HANCOCK, President."


    As a far-removed descendant of one of the editors and signers of this great document, President John Adams, and as an even further removed descendent of one of the signers of The Mayflower Compact in 1620, I am especially proud of what this country has contributed to the world at large. And while I am not supportive of several of many of the policies this fine nation has embarked on in years past, that does not make me any less of an American. Nor does it make me any less proud. I love my country and gladly celebrate its continued existence.

    ____________________________________________________

    And I leave you with the soundtrack of our national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner". While the version I have chosen to include here is either loved or hated, I think of this version as exactly what the modern life in America is (or at least was 36 years ago, and could have the potential of being again), exactly as how I want my anthem to represent me. Performed by a black man whose history would have included the horrors of slavery, playing a guitar and sound which ignited a worldwide phenomenon, at a time and place in the midst of great social and political upheaval. Change the places, times, locales (and unfortunately Jimi's talent)...it makes no difference to the meaning at large: it is America, in all of its tumultuous glory.

    "THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER"

    Jimi Hendrix




    (Clip linked from YouTube.)

    Yep, this is what it's all about. The pain and the pride, the sacrifice and the success, the losses of few so that the many can gain. Welcome to the Republic.

    03 July 2006

    Calls May Be Monitored and Recorded for Quality Training Purposes

    Somewhere at a table looking over want ads (elctronically or by the garden variety newspaper) or standing in an unemployment line waiting to fill out paperwork, is a man named John. Or a man formerly known as 'John'. And John worked in a call center, handling customers who wished to cancel their memberships to a big name internet service provider (ISP), namely AOL (endearingily referred to AOHell). But John doesn't work in the call center for AOL since last month, and that's a good thing, folks. Let's hope dear John has to change professions, in fact, because 'listening' is not one of his better job skills. 'Not taking no for an answer' is, though, so perhaps used car sales is his future nirvana.

    For those of you not familiar, this is a story involving AOL, former AOL customer Vincent Ferrari, and the aforementioned ex-AOL employee John. Mr Ferrari's story started initially with a simple request...to cancel his membership with AOL. It seemed a simple enough task to him, as it does me on reflection and would to most I suppose. Most but apparently not AOL, or rather, not John at AOL. Nearly half an hour and several pleas later from Mr Ferrari to just end the relationship already, John was still doing the hard sell. To his credit, Mr Ferrari documented the whole conversation on his phone and then to his blog. In a call that should have been done in a matter of minutes (if that) even with a sales pitch to try and retain the customer, our good friend Mr Ferrari repeatedly told dear John he wanted to leave AOL over 20 times (and close to 30 if you count the other ways of saying 'cancel'), and still was put through the ringer. Customer service is their motto, apparently

    As one who worked in a reservations call center for years fighting the good battle for my customers (and in 5 years of 50+/hrs week average, I only received 2 complaint calls total in all that time balanced with dozens of complimentary ones), I had heard about the Vincent Ferrari affair with AOL and, sadly, just wrote it off as some sort of exaggerated myth. I had been a 'John', too, although I had a perkier phone name. But I regarded this rumour as just that because I also know we call center folk can get blamed for a lot of crap that we didn't cause. (If I had a dime I couldn't move people on flights in and out of Chicago on a whim...I'd own the internet. Additionally, to be perfectly forward before going further, I am an AOL subscriber for many years now and have been faced with very few problems with them at all.) I frankly could not initially fathom anyone just flat refusing to cancel a membership...I mean, this whole story had to be fabricated, right? Wrong. (Although, when I think about some of the calls I overheard and/or had to fix when working for a Major Airline, I guess I should not have been terribly surprised. Somehow, though, I just thought all of the bad seeds were in reservations.) Now that I see that Mr Ferrari's story is actually true, I can't help but shudder and cringe about how little customer service we actually have now.

    I read this now and wonder how I stayed in the profession as long as I did. Dear WR and I met doing that job, and I think we were both good to excellent at what we did (he was the excellent one, I just handled all the 'weird' or 'Australian' calls that came through as best as I could, and sometimes that was bumpy). One of the things that did me in there was the numbers game...and that's what it is at a call center, a numbers game. After 9/11 and the transportation industry went to hell in a hand basket, essentially all of the training about good customer service went right out the window. After a couple of years, if you couldn't 'handle and complete' a call witin 5 minutes say...regardless if the flight was to Borneo or to Boise...you were encouraged to 'get the caller off the line'. No worries, you were assured, just make the sale and the customers will call back if need be to complete the transaction. Oh, yeah, they called back all right: to try and cancel their booking as they were so rudely rushed and/or hung up on the call previously. By the time I left my personal Call Center of Hell, I still had my customers happy (because I just stayed on the line and took care of them, what a concept), but not the bosses...unable to cut my time down more but still wanting to give good customer service, I chose to help the people flying more (and the ones ultimately paying my wage). It was an easy decision for me to make (and many others who have also left for the same reason), but for others not so much: some veteran reps can make very good wages, so good enough that even though they hate their job and their customers, they feel they can't survive financially elsewhere.

    Which makes what John did inexcusable. From a customer standpoint, at some point 'no' does mean 'no'. That doesn't mean keep rewording it, that doesn't mean try insulting the customer, that doesn't mean trying intimidation methods, either. It just means accept you're not getting/keeping this person and do your job already. From a call rep standpoint, one has to wonder where the hell this guy's supervisor is/was and why he/she is not being kicked to the curb, too. If one listens to that phone call, three things come out from it: (1) John is not a novice, (2) John has been rewarded somehow for these tactics in the past, so that's why they are as developed as they are, and (3) that he's been given orders somewhere from within AOL to not let customers 'get away'. That latter one is golden to me: like my former employer, they're all for cutting corners customer service-wise in any attempt to boost or maintain sales, but they're also apparently willing to accept all tactics in getting that result...as repellant and as harmful as they may be to their customers. No wonder people hate modern day big business.

    As bothersome as this whole thing is to all of who have experienced this or fear the trial, take away this little warning: Customers beware! John is not uncommon, and he's maybe coming back to a call center near you. If not him, they'll have someone else like him, trust me. Agents such as myself and WR (no matter the industry) are a dying breed to customer service. Be your own rep, folks. And learn how to 'do a Ferrari'...learn how to do your own 'customer service quality training' calls, too.

    02 July 2006

    The Elvis God as Prognasticator...30 Years On

    Those of you who know me personally or have read enough here, know that I have little tolerance for people unwilling to learn about new ideas and things, unwilling to question what they see or are being told, unwilling to think outside a box they had absolutely no hand in making whatsoever. I will fully admit I'm one of the dumbest fools ever to grace this planet, but I'd like to think I try really hard each and every day to test myself, to challenge myself, to maybe learn from my mistakes...even if takes some time for those changes to form roots and grow. I am one of the people who found the internet (and blogging, for that matter) not as a need to see the 'next big thing' (although that's appealing in its own right, I admit), but rather as a way to fill a void in my development as a human. Sounds like doubletalk, I know, but here's the logic: I wanted to see if I could still learn and be inspired, and maybe meet others with the same wants. At some point not very long in this life I realized that the human connection of thoughts and ideas is what makes us better than other animals, it's what makes everyday life worth living...it's what we can pin our hopes and dreams on, ultimately. Otherwise, life as we know it becomes a dreary version of Fritz Lang's classic silent film, "Metropolis".

    This is not a new goal for me and certainly not for others. For hundreds of generations before me and hundreds more to come, our very survival as a species depends on our ability to think and to question in order to solve problems and enhance our lives. But somewhere after high school graduation and the beginning of 'adult life' (I always like how no one sees that on-ramp road sign), it seems to me that we're encouraged to become Borg-like. (To those of you not familiar with the "Star Trek" reference, it means to think as a group and not as individuals, to become an autonomized collective..."resistance is futile" is the catch phrase and they mean it.) Well, call me naive or a dreamer, but I don't subscribe to the theory that I can only think until 'responsibilties' hit me up side the head like a nail-studded 2 by 4 wooden plank. I don't believe I should stop questioning things because it's 'too much work', or 'too big a problem', or (a particular fave I think so encompasses an American way of thinking) 'it doesn't directly effect me, so it's not my problem'. Note to the Borg reading this blog entry: you've landed at the wrong destination and yes, I will proudly resist.

    Which leads me to my lifelong love affair with the musician widely known as Elvis Costello. Elvis, to me (and this Elvis in particular, although the other one is up there, too, in sentimental favourites) is God, or at least what God wants me/us to be. Truly, completely, but not in some stalkerish cult like fashion as the word 'God' frequently induces. We all have our 'God' (regardless of your religious slant, for that's not up for discussion here)...and mine is the man born as Declan Patrick MacManus. If 'God' is something we want to be a part with more, understand more, emulate more, forgive more, and challenge more...I can do far, far worse than Elvis Costello. He is not a saint, by any means, and knows more than a few things about self-serving propaganda to be certain. But Elvis represents a never-ending struggle not only within himself and his own emotions, but also that of those he observes around him. He's not afraid to take risks, he's not afraid to get angry and act out, he's not afraid to act the fool. Instead of dimming his light and taking the easy way out (on so many different levels), he keeps on looking in unopened closets, he keeps answering calls that the rest of us find too easy to ignore. I can only imagine what a day in his brain would be: I see phrases floating in and around everywhere, I hear an odd riff down by the audio canals, I float my way around delicately amongst a jumbled sea of ideas I can't even begin to comprehend. The eyes are tired, as they have been behind those glasses for years now. But the Elvis madness calms me, weakens and inspires me simultaneously to be something more than for what I've settled. And although the hum of activity never turns off, I sleep well at night knowing, despite it all, I am asking the right questions. Yep, it would be good to be God, if only for a day.

    Elvis has been doing this for as long as I've ever known of him and well before. For me, it was a defiant act of independence on "Saturday Night Live" in 1977 (which, amazingily, I cannot find a video clip for on the net...only mentions of it). At the risk of dating so many of us, I was watching the show in the utter darkness of my living room, aged 7 years, waiting for a much-loved skit of "The Killer Bees" to hopefully grace the screen. I wasn't supposed to be there that night...my parents considered some of the material 'too adult' and far 'too counter-culture' for even a mature child growing up in Kansas. (And they loved using the TV as my babysitter.) But on that night, wrapped up in blankets and staring mindlessly at our gigantic Montgomery Ward telly and disappointed no "Bees" were to be on, I saw God. And, no he hadn't impressed me with his earlier song, but when he did his finale and stopped it mid-song to change from "Less than Zero" to "Radio Radio", I guess I understood on some level what chance he took, although I didn't understand the meaning then. I just remember being stunned about how someone had stopped my beloved "SNL" and how mortified he must have been for making a mistake. Little did I know then (or for many years later, really) how it had not been a mistake...instead, it was just God's little way of reminding us all that none of us were supposed to be there like mindless zombies, either.

    Elvis Costello and The Attractions

    "RADIO RADIO"





    I was tuning in the shine on the light night dial
    Doing anything my radio advised
    With every one of those late night stations
    Playing songs bringing tears to my eyes
    I was seriously thinking about hiding the receiver
    When the switch broke 'cause it's old
    They're saying things that I can hardly believe
    They really think we're getting out of control

    (CHORUS) Radio is a sound salvation
    Radio is cleaning up the nation
    They say you better listen to the voice of reason
    But they don't give you any choice 'cause they think that it's treason
    So you had better do as you are told
    You better listen to the radio

    I wanna bite the hand that feeds me
    I wanna bite that hand so badly
    I want to make them wish they'd never seen me

    Some of my friends sit around every evening
    And they worry about the times ahead
    But everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference
    And the promise of an early bed
    You either shut up or get cut up, they don't wanna hear about it
    It's only inches on the reel-to-reel
    And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
    Tryin' to anaesthetise the way that you feel

    (REPEAT CHORUS)

    Wonderful radio
    Marvelous radio
    Wonderful radio
    Radio, radio
    (FADE)



    Official website of Elvis Costello


    Lyrics from Leo's Lyrics, as always.


    It's nothing short of amazing to me how something as simple and catchy as "Radio Radio" seared the music and radio industries in 1977 as much as it did, as it seems obvious to us non-jaded folks who are subjected to widescale corporate radio daily. Not only does the message still hold true now, but it has also morphed into the whole mainstream media bandwagon. (References to 'biting the hand that feeds me' and 'think that it's treason' seem especially poignant this week...wonder if anyone's sent a copy of this to The New York Times after their brouhaha this week?) The lyrics today are as relevant as they ever were, and perhaps even more so for times to come. If blogs and the internet had been around on a wide scale in the mid to late 1970s, I'd like to think we would have adopted this genius song as our rallying cry. After all, the "radio radio" of the mainstream media and press is why so many of us have turned to the internet for our news, discussion, and connection to the outside world.

    I heard "Radio Radio" the other day driving home and I listened, really listened...probably as intensely as I did that cold night almost 3 decades ago. And it occurred to me just how 'on point' the song was then, is now, will be still tomorrow. And I pulled the truck over and scribbled some of the lyrics...words I've heard hundreds of times but never really looked at and reflected upon before. Then it hit me all over again: that Elvis Costello is my God, and this time because he saw what was going on in mainstream music then and was brave enough to make a stand. Not only write it, but record it. Not only record it, but promote it. And not only promote it, but stop live television and perform it so some hick kid in Holly Hobbie® pajamas would someday decipher his message about thinking for oneself and not being afraid of challenging the norm. It's been awhile, yes, I admit, but I think I finally got it. Good onya, God.