Friday, October 17, 2014

My Kind of Club

Since my show opens tonight, I was thankful that my friend Slim Randles always has something I can share here on my blog when I am pressed for time. I'm not a huge fan of clubs or committees, so this one made me smile. Enjoy....
The Club didn’t last long.

It wasn’t the dues, which were nothing. It wasn’t being worried about being elected recording secretary or something if you missed a meeting. There were no officers, no directors and no meetings.

It was born of an idea that occurred to Doc one day. He said the members of the Mule Barn truck stop’s philosophy counter and world dilemma think tank should organize. After his third cup, Doc turned to the others and said sitting there having coffee day after day without any real purpose just didn’t seem right. Doc said, “There are so many things a real organization can do.”

“What would those things be, Doc?” Steve asked.
 “Giving shoes to orphans,” Doc said. “Or curing hunger in third world countries. Or we could watch TV and file complaints.”

Then Dud piped up. “Would we have to wear funny hats and have a secret handshake and a password?”

“Absolutely,” Doc said. “Otherwise, how would you know who was one of your brother club members and who wasn’t?”

Mavis said, “What’s your secret password? Regular or decaf?”

“I don’t think we should let women join,” said Bert.

 Nobody nodded until after Mavis had topped off the cups and had gone into the bowels of the kitchen.

“Okay,” Steve said. “Let’s get this straight. No meetings. No name for The Club, right? No officers. No dues to pay. All we have to do is give our shoes to some orphans, right?”

“And feed kids in third world countries.”

“I don’t know any kids in third world countries. Could we feed one or two around here, just to kinda e-e-e-ease into it?”

“I don’t think so,” said Doc. “We gotta come up with a third world country and then find out who’s in charge of feeding kids. Then we can send them something.”

“I move we adjourn this meeting,” said Steve.

“There are no meetings,” said Doc.

Since no one could name a third world country without a map or listening to National Public Radio, The Club died a quiet death.

Brought to you by Saddle Up: A Cowboy Guide to Writing 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Putin's PR People and Me by Paul M. Barrett

Please help me welcome Paul M. Barrett as my Wednesday's Guest today. He wrote the fascinating nonfiction book, Law Of the Jungle that I reviewed on Sunday. If you haven't seen the review hop on over, but do come back and see what happened to Paul just before his book was released. Paul seems like a cherry pie kind of person to me, so let's all have a slice, grab a cup of coffee or tea, and enjoy...

The author's perennial dilemma: respond to critics? What's more pathetic than the published carping of a writer offended by less-than-admiring reviews? Very little.
Photo Credit: Nadine Natour

Despite a general rule of letting detractors have their say, my ears perked up when I began to hear from journalists around the country that representatives of the Ecuadorian government were contacting them about my new book--and not in a supportive vein--weeks before the late-September pub date. The administration of President Rafael Correa, it turned out, wanted to raise questions about my credibility and accuracy. Fellow journalists got in touch wondering what was up. Here's the story.

My book, LAW OF THE JUNGLE (Crown), describes a campaign to save the rain forest that went horribly awry. One narrative thread addresses the Ecuadorian government's persistent failure to protect poor farmers and indigenous tribe members from the harsh side effects of the industrialization of the Amazon. President Correa and his Ambassador in Washington, Nathalie Cely, would prefer to blame all of the collateral damage from oil exploitation on a foreign oil company, Chevron. In fact, there's plenty of blame to go around, and you can read the book to get the sad, infuriating details.

In its zeal to deflect culpability, the Correa government hired a major New York-based public relations firm called Ketchum to try to discredit my book. Ketchum sent a six-page, single-spaced memo to Ambassador Cely outlining the "difficult questions" the book raises "that negatively affect Ecuador." (The memo was marked "reservado y confidencial," but it didn't remain very confidencial. A source who asked for anonymity sent me a copy.) In an ad hominem swipe, Ketchum wrote: “It remains unclear when and how many times Barrett visited Ecuador or if he interviewed anyone from the Government. This can be converted into a point that we can raise, but only in suitable settings and among appropriate journalists.”

Sure enough, Ketchum got the green light from the Ecuadorian Embassy to start raising questions with "appropriate journalists"--presumably those the PR people thought might be sympathetic to Ecuador's efforts to evade responsibility for the rain forest contamination. This preemptive smear attempt failed. The journalists who were approached by Ketchum had the temerity to check with me--imagine, they did some reporting!--and learned that I'd been to Ecuador on two field-reporting trips and that I had interviewed government officials, including Ambassador Cely

More out of amusement than pique, I decided to write a short web post for Bloomberg Businessweek (where I hold down a day job) giving readers a peek behind the scenes. I noted that Ketchum had impressive credentials when it comes to carrying water for dubious foreign governments:
  A division of the advertising and marketing giant Omnicom, Ketchum counts among its clients President Vladimir Putin of Russia—no doubt a challenging engagement, what with Russia fomenting mayhem in Ukraine. Kathy Jeavons, a Ketchum partner in Washington, heads both the Russia and Ecuador accounts for the firm. I asked Ketchum—and Jeavons individually—for comment. Through an internal spokeswoman, the firm declined to say anything of substance, referring me to the Ecuadorian embassy. Ketchum didn’t dispute the memo’s authenticity.
What's the moral of this little account? For those in the disinformation business, it's a good idea to keep close track of your internal memos. For authors who rightly hesitate to whine about reviewers, stay on your toes about well-funded hit campaigns; sometimes it's worth responding. And for the government of Ecuador, I'd humbly suggest that the money spent on confidencial smears might be put to better use cleaning up oil pollution and building medical clinics.

Paul M. Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek.  He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Glock: The Rise of America’s GunAmerican Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion, and The Good Black:  A True Story of Race in America.  He lives and works in New York City.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Monday Morning Musings

Short and sweet today. At least I hope you find it sweet. I always get a bit frantic the week before we open a show, and our original production of "Bonnie and Clyde in Winnsboro" opens this Friday. Even though I plan ahead and work for 6 to 8 weeks on rehearsals, there are always things that crop up at the last minute. I had a huge snafu when my tech guy had to back out last week. It is not easy to get someone to step in to that job, but thank goodness I found somebody.

The building that houses the Winnsboro Center for the Arts was once a saloon, one of many along Market Street that became known as The Bowery. Our troupe of players like the idea of being The Bowery Players.

Before I move on, I do have to brag on my son Mike Miller who is the archivist for the City of Austin and the Manager of the  Austin History Center He was interviewed by Michael Barnes for a story in the Austin Statesman.
This is the beautiful building, built in1933, that houses the Austin History Center.
 Now for a few jokes to start the week off on a light note.
A Sunday school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her five and six year olds.
After explaining the commandment to "Honor thy father and thy mother," she asked, "Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?"

Without missing a beat, one little boy answered, "Thou shall not kill."
At Sunday School they were teaching how God created everything, including human beings. Little Johnny seemed especially intent when they told him how Eve was created out of one of Adam's ribs.
Later in the week his mother noticed him lying down as though he were ill, and she said, "Johnny, what is the matter?"

Little Johnny responded, "I have pain in my side. I think I'm going to have a wife."
An elderly woman died last month. Having never married, she requested no male pallbearers. In her handwritten instructions for her memorialservice, she wrote, "They wouldn't take me out while I was alive, I don't want them to take me out when I'm dead." 
A little girl, dressed in her Sunday best, was running as fast as she could, trying not to be late for Bible class. As she ran she prayed, "Dear Lord, please don't let me be late! Dear Lord,please don't let me be late!"

While she was running and praying, she tripped on a curb and fell, getting her clothes dirty and tearing her dress. She got up, brushed herself off, and started running again. As she ran, she once again began to pray, "Dear Lord, please don't let me be late...But please don't shove me either!"

How was your weekend? Mine was busy. An art fair on Saturday then four hours of rehearsal yesterday.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Book Review - Law of the Jungle by Paul M. Barrett

Law of the Jungle: The $19 Billion Legal Battle Over Oil in the Rain Forest and the Lawyer Who'd Stop at Nothing to Win

Paul M. Barrett
File Size: 2311 KB
Print Length: 306 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 077043634X
Publisher: Crown (September 23, 2014)
Sold by: Random House LLC
Language: English

    BOOK DESCRIPTION: Steven Donziger, a self-styled social activist and Harvard educated lawyer, signed on to a budding class action lawsuit against multinational Texaco (which later merged with Chevron to become the third-largest corporation in America). The suit sought reparations for the Ecuadorian peasants and tribes people whose lives were affected by decades of oil production near their villages and fields.  During twenty years of legal hostilities in federal courts in Manhattan and remote provincial tribunals in the Ecuadorian jungle, Donziger and Chevron’s lawyers followed fierce no-holds-barred rules. Donziger, a larger-than-life, loud-mouthed showman, proved himself a master orchestrator of the media, Hollywood, and public opinion. He cajoled and coerced Ecuadorian judges on the theory that his noble ends justified any means of persuasion. And in the end, he won an unlikely victory, a $19 billion judgment against Chevon--the biggest environmental damages award in history. But the company refused to surrender or compromise. Instead, Chevron targeted Donziger personally, and its counter-attack revealed damning evidence of his politicking and manipulation of evidence. Suddenly the verdict, and decades of Donziger’s single-minded pursuit of the case, began to unravel.

    Readers of my blog know that I am not fond of the big oil companies and their lack of interest in protecting the environment, so it will be no surprise why I accepted this book to read and review. It chronicles an interesting  and convoluted legal course of action to try to get reparations for the Ecuadorian people adversely affected by drilling.

    In one chapter Barrett describes Donziger as "a rumpled Don Quixote, recommitted to his quest, flailing his longs arms,"  and that is a very apt description. Donziger went after the oil company with idealism on his side much like Quixote went after the windmills, and like Quixote he was sometimes laughed at.

    For me, this was an interesting look at the whole saga of the battle between Donziger and Texaco. At times I found the cast of characters overwhelming, and my interest would lag, but then it would pick back up, especially the more I got a sense of Donziger's personality. 

    The story is well-documented, and I learned a number of things about the oil industry from this behind-the-scenes look. For instance, I did not know about the Chevron/Texaco merger. I wondered what happened to Texaco, but just thought it had quietly folded it's tent. The insights into legal matters was a learning experience, too. I am not a legal expert by any stretch of the imagination, but the book seemed to have a balanced approach to both sides of the issue. Donziger may have been on the side of right as he flailed at his windmills, but in the end the legal system can't be circumvented. Sometimes I think us idealists forget that basic fact.

    I'm sure this book will be of special interest to lawyers, but I also recommend it to environmentalists and other folks who care about the negative effects of oil production. It is well-written and one can't help but get caught up in the saga and wonder what is going to happen next. There are a multitude of  complications and surprises that made me forget for a moment I wasn't reading a piece of fiction.

    PAUL will be my Wednesday's Guest this week, so I do hope you will come back and see what he has to offer.

    Paul M. Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek.  He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun, American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion, and The Good Black:  A True Story of Race in America.  He lives and works in New York City.

    Friday, October 10, 2014

    At What Cost Do We Treat Dying Patients?

    Obviously this is not my usual Friday fare, and before we go any further with this, I want to invite you to hop over to Merrie's Inspired Writers blog and see the terrific interview she did with me. You can find out about my latest work in progress and who I have a crush on.

    If you have been stranded for the last few weeks on a desert island somewhere with no access to news, social media, or your mom, you may not know about the Ebola scare. Well, it is more than a scare. It is a horrible disease that is killing hundreds of people, primarily in West Africa. There is no vaccine for Ebola and up to 70% of the people who contract the disease die from it. Of course the media is doing it's part to keep us fully stressed about Ebola, but that is the subject of another rant another time.

    This is such a dismal subject, I thought flowers might brighten things up a bit.
    Today I want to write about Thomas Eric Duncan, a man from Liberia who was exposed to the bacteria while visiting his home country and returned to the United States incubating the disease. He died this past Wednesday in a Dallas hospital, and I am so sorry for the loss his family and friends are experiencing.

    After hearing of the heroic measures being taken since October 4th to keep him alive, dialysis, a ventilator, experimental drugs, I flashed back to heated discussions my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) class had in a series of medical ethics seminars we attended. We were given cases to evaluate and determine when someone should just say, "Stop" for the sake of the patient's dignity, as well as the financial burden to the medical facility, insurance companies, and family. For most of us, these were issues we had never considered before. Who does?

    The care given to Mr. Duncan may have cost as much as half a million dollars, a bill Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas is unlikely to ever collect. Wow!

    Duncan's could very well be a case to discuss in a medical ethics seminar. Heading the list of factors we were to consider in discussion was the potential outcome of heroic treatment. What are the odds of the patient making a full recovery? With Ebola, those odds are not good, especially once the patient starts on a sharp decline.
    Nobody, least of all family, likes to push the "stop" button. It makes us feel like we are somehow abandoning the person we love. But too often we are only prolonging the inevitable, with no quality of life for that person who is actively dying.

    Another factor we considered in our debates in class was Stewardship. How is the medical facility using its resources? As cold as it may seem, there are times when money is simply being spent on a case with no hope. I don't know if Presby in Dallas has a medical ethics board. I know we did in Omaha at the hospital where I worked, and I served on that board. When medical staff recognized that a case had crossed over into hopeless, but family was still pushing for extreme measures, we were called in.

    Cases like this would be so much easier on all concerned if the patient had an Advanced Directive and a Medical Power of Attorney, and we should all get those. If we don't want to spend the last weeks of our lives in an ICU, hooked to machines, we need to make that known to our families, doctors, and medical facilities near us. That way the burden of those tough decisions are on us, not them.

    Now we need some jokes for sure to lighten this blog up. Since we're getting close to Halloween, I thought these from would be fun:

    For Halloween I'm going to write "Life" on a plain white T-shirt and hand out lemons to strangers.

    Q. Which ghost is the best dancer? A. The Boogie Man!
    Thank goodness for Halloween, all of a sudden, cobwebs in my house are decorations!

    Q. When do ghouls and goblins cook their victims? A. On Fry Day.

    Q. What's a monsters favorite desert? A. I-Scream!

    Q. What do you call a dancing ghost?  A. Polka-haunt-us

    Q: How do you write a book about Halloween? A: With a ghostwriter.

    Have you ever thought about medical ethics? Do you think we should go to heroic extremes to save people? Have a favorite Halloween joke?

    Wednesday, October 08, 2014

    Camp Awesome

    Please help me welcome Meghan Hill as today's Wednesday's Guest. When I reviewed her book, Making Room for You, on Sunday, I thought she was going to give us more tips about how to clear up the clutter in our homes, but this story is much more entertaining. And maybe the book has all the tips we need. When you finish reading about her adventure on the river, hop over to The Blood Red Pencil if you have a moment. I'm doing my monthly humor post over there, and a good chuckle might get you over the hump. If you need more laughs, you might want to check out the Hump Day Funnies that LD Masterson does every Wednesday. In the meantime, grab your beverage of choice to go along with the scones, sit back, and enjoy Meghan's story.

    Don’t ever set out to “float” the Yakima River in Washington State with 14 people and weighed-down canoes rented from a local university. Don’t start several miles upriver where signs caution that the waters are too wild for watercrafts and human beings. I did and the group and its friendships barely survived. 

    Years ago, shortly before the 4th of July, my ex-husband and 12 of our friends set out for a three-day river trip. We loaded the canoes with sleeping bags, tents, backpacks, bins of food, coolers, and enough beer to keep a small city drunk for weeks. It was immediately clear we hadn’t thought out what the weight of our bodies and excessive stuff would do to the canoes, which sunk into the river, barely clearing the surface by an inch.

    Late in the day, we set sail. We didn’t need the warning signs, as experience taught us we were in trouble. Five minutes on the water and oars flew out of people’s hands. Two of the four canoes tipped, tossing people and flotsam downriver. One man in a lone kayak whirled out of control in the strong eddies. A couple of women almost drowned. We tried to right ourselves and the same scene played out once again before some of the guys said we ought to pull out of the river to shore and think.

    We set up camp along the river that night and spent the evening discussing our predicament over cans of Coors Light and Gardetto’s. It was clear that the women in the group were not amused, full of fear and angry at their boyfriends and spouses for putting them in harm‘s way. I found myself identifying more with the men in the group, sensing adventure and an opportunity to conquer fear.

    The next morning, as we prepared to set out, I was chosen to ride solo in the kayak as all the other men needed to physically and emotionally protect their women. Day two proved just as disastrous as the evening before. We lost sunglasses, car keys, wallets, sleeping bags, clothing, and cases of beer to the river as boats tipped over and swirled us every which way downriver.

    I almost drowned that day until my friend Jake swam to the edge of the river and held out an oar for me to grab onto. After hours of canoes tipping, losing more belongings, and several more near-drownings we pulled off the river again to set up camp for the night. You never saw a more solemn bunch. Sunburned, mosquito-bitten folks. We had scrapes all over our faces and shoulders from getting caught along the sides of the river where the current pulled us and our canoes toward sharp, dry tree branches lining the bank. We couldn’t have a fire because we selected a spot in tall, dry grass. We glumly realized most of us would be sleeping out in the open as we’d lost our sleeping bags in the constant boat tippings.

    My friend Tom asked a couple of us to go for a walk with him. He said, “I know people are angry and scared. But I think this is awesome. This is Camp Awesome. This is a great adventure.”

    I agreed wholeheartedly and felt I’d be a jerk if I said that aloud to the rest of the group, who were obviously miserable. We finished our river trip the next day and made it back to our cars alive. Everyone was more than ready to go home, cursing the poor planning and communication that defined the trip. I personally relished the experience. It tested us and revealed our qualities and responses to danger and disaster. Despite the fear, the fights, the tears, I felt strong and stoic and marveled at how rarely we take risks or welcome them. People couldn’t leave fast enough and I was eager to know how soon we could plan to set out on the river again.
    Meghan Hill’s expertise as a professional organizer, lifetime of writing, and years of studying self-development culminated in Making Room for You, her first book. Organizing for over 100 clients in Los Angeles, often overhauling entire homes and commercial offices and acting as a personal coach, has given her invaluable insight into the process of organizing and allowed her to gain a deeper understanding of what people need to sustain an orderly and serene environment. Her countless day jobs and exploration of what it means to be human is endless fodder for her imagination and writing. Born in Seattle, Meghan now lives in Walla Walla, Washington. She is currently mining her 87 journals for a series of books to publish.

    Monday, October 06, 2014

    Monday Morning Musings

    If I don't hurry up and get this posted, it will soon become Monday Afternoon Musings. I got a slow start to my morning due to some thunderstorms that blew in about four o'clock. It was a loud, violent storm with lightening that slashed the darkness. For some reason, as I lay awake for about an hour listening to the thunder and watching the sudden burst of light, I thought of the Garth Brooks song, "The Thunder Rolls." I checked out the video for the song on YouTube, and sure enough, it opens with an brief instant replay of what I heard this morning.

    "Negotiating Successful Threesomes" is the title of a free seminar that was held at the University of New Mexico during their "Sex Week" activities. The seminar was billed as a way to curb sexual assault on campus and the main focus was teaching students how to have safer and better sex.

    Huh? Am I the only one who finds this more than bizarre? Please don't tell me I am. While I don't want to go back to Puritan ideology that had "sins of the flesh" at the top of the list of human atrocities, I cringe when I think of how one of the most wonderful and sacred act of intimacy between two people has been misused and abused and reduced to recreational entertainment.

    How about a free seminar on the college campuses that focuses on better and safer parties, debunking the myth that to have a good time one should get roaring drunk and screw everything in sight? That might curb the growing problem of sexual assault.

    Shirley McGlothlin of Plano, Texas wrote a thought-provoking letter to the editor that was published in The Dallas Morning News yesterday. "At age 77, I can still recall y father's reaction when someone bragged about what a 'good, religious' person they were. Dad would tell us, 'If someone feels the need to tell you what a good religious person they are... be real happy they told you...otherwise you may never have guessed it.'"

    She was commenting on how politicians wear their religion on their sleeves, and I thought she made a very good point. Religion is too important to be used as a political ploy.

    Okay, enough of the rants. Now it's time for some fun.

    First we have this from Crankshaft. He and his fellow school bus drivers are in the bus garage at the end of the morning run. Rocky says, "I had a kid's phone go off on my bus this morning. And the ringtone was so loud, I almost ran up on the curb."

    Lena, the bus garage manager and driver says, "So many of thre kids on my bus are either listening to music or texting someone that I can never get their attention."

    Another driver, Andy, says, "And not only are the ringtones loud and obnoxious, but some give off flashing lights for a phone call."

    Crankshaft comments, "I've said it before...cellphones are weapons of mass disruption."

    Since some of you have enjoyed the "Then the Fight Started" jokes, here are a few more:

    My wife sat down on the couch next to me as I was flipping channels. She asked, "What's on TV?"
    "I said, 'Dust."
    And then the fight started...
    My wife said her mother was coming to stay for a week or so, I said I'll be at Motel 6 if you need me....
    ...And then the fight started.
    My wife asked me if meatloaf would be OK for dinner, I said fine, should we go to Denny's or IHOP.
    ...And then the fight started.

    I hope you enjoyed the jokes, and please do let me know what you think of the topics of my rants.