Thursday, April 29, 2010

Is this for real?

As I was looking for news items to post on, the online community magazine I work for, I ran across this and it stopped me cold:

"The United States is giving an additional $7.5 million to help pay for Charles Taylor's war crimes trial. The U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp made the announcement Thursday in Sierra Leone's capital.

Taylor, the former president of neighboring Liberia, is accused of funding Sierra Leonean rebels infamous for hacking off the lips, ears and limbs of their victims. Taylor has denied the allegations.

Rapp, who previously served as Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, said that significant contributions also have come from the UK, Canada, the Netherlands and Norway. The court relies on voluntary contributions from governments, and Rapp has said the process has been complicated by the global economic crisis."

Did you catch the amount that we taxpayers are sending? $7.5 million. For a trial?

And four other countries are adding to the till, so the cost of the trial is even greater, and I am shaking my head in disbelief. Even if those other countries are not as generous as the U.S. and can only kick in $5 million each, that's another $20 million.

First of all, why does a trial cost many millions of dollars? Where does it all go?

I did a bit of research and found out that the Special Court for Sierra Leone is trying Charles Taylor. Although the trial is being held in The Hague because of instability in Liberia, Taylor is still being tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The trial is taking place on the premises of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

That still doesn't say where the money is going and why the tab is so high.

Several hundred men and women work for the ICC, so there are their salaries to consider. I couldn't find out how many work for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, butI doubt it is even close to the number that work for the ICC. So how high are their salaries?

Then we have to factor in the cost of keeping the Hague open for the trial, but I doubt that figure runs into millions per month. If it does, someone needs to revise the budget.

Thinking about this, I envision millions of dollars just flying off and not being accounted for. And I for one, would like more of my tax dollars to be accounted for.

What about you?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Someone to look up to

Young people can look up to Caron Butler for a lot of reasons. He is 6-feet-7, so one would have to look up to see his face. He is a star basketball player for the Dallas Mavericks. He has been on Oprah's show and the cover of Sports Illustrated.

He is a true celebrity.

But what Caron wants young people to know about him isn't related to his celebrity status. He wants young people to know that he once was in prison. He was arrested numerous times before he was 15. His life was spiraling downward until Jameel Ghauri, executive director of the George Bray Neighborhood Center in Racine Wisconsin stepped into Caron's life.

Ghauri stood by the young boy as he served various sentences and then helped him get out of the criminal element altogether. He also introduced the boy to serious basketball, and soon recognized a special talent.

Now Caron is at the peak of success professionally and personally. He is married and is determined to be an active participant in his children's lives, unlike his own father who abandoned the family.

Caron speaks to young people about his past and encourages them to take a different road in their lives. He is also a volunteer with Habitat For Humanity. He conducts Youth Clinics and bicycle, coat, and school supply drives.

In a recent interview in the Dallas Morning News Caron had this to say, "I get paid millions of dollars doing something that I love. Whenever I get the opportunity to share my story and influence others, be a pillar in the community, I embrace it."

I would like to embrace Caron for becoming a man of such character and integrity. That is something that the young people can really look up to him for.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Having fun

This weekend I indulged one of my non-writing interests - my love of horses. I attended a clinic conducted by David Lichman, a Licensed 5-star Parelli Natural Horsemanship Instructor, and spent two days hanging out with other women who love horses and a bunch of beautiful, well-trained horses.

Since this was my first introduction to Parelli, I did not take my horse and do the whole clinic. I paid a fee to observe as David worked with riders and horses, and was able to ask some questions, when I dared. These were some serious horse people who were very advanced in their riding, and even though I have been riding off and on since I was a kid, my horsemanship couldn't begin to compare.

This clinic was recommended to me by a friend who knew that I have some problems with my horse that were limiting my ability to enjoy him. My friend told me that a different approach to how I was relating to Banjo would help. And she was right.

The Parelli method of training is based on respect for and love of horses – and an understanding of horse nature and psychology. The training avoids using force, fear, harsh bits or mechanical training aids and relies on establishing trust and respect between horse and rider. Quite different from the techniques I had seen used on horses all my life.

In addition to what I learned about working with Banjo, I noted how much joy the clinic participants had while riding and going through the lessons.

One of the techniques that David is known for is using music during the clinics and by the end of The Rhythm of the Ride, horses were literally dancing through the arena to the beat of the music.

And the best part? I used some of the things I learned in a couple of sessions with Banjo and had positive results. Not that he is ready to do what I saw the horses doing this weekend, but it is a good first step.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Book Review

Now and then I do a book review here, and a fellow-author asked if I would like to use one of his reviews now and then. Since Carl is an excellent writer, I respect his opinion and am happy to share his reviews. Enjoy....

Death without Tenure
by Joanne Dobson
Pub. By Poisoned Pen Press,
2010, Hard Cover, 230 pgs.

Review by Carl Brookins

For me, a mildly awkward title, but the story is anything but. Author Joanne Dobson has written another fascinating insider tale about the machinations of the very private and often arcane world of higher academia. The novel, sixth in the series, is set in the rarified world of Enfield College, a private high priced and high minded institution of higher learning.

While college and collegial are from the same root, and college administrations and faculties try to project an aura of patience, calm and reasoned discourse, we all know, when we stop to think about it, it ain’t always so.

Karen Pelletier is six years into her faculty position in the English Department at Enfield.. She is beset by an incompetent department chair and a colleague who gives her the willies. It is tenure decision time. In the academic faculty world, one’s position is essentially temporary until the faculty, deans and ultimately the college administration, makes a proffer of tenure. Tenure usually means one has a life-time appointment, so it’s a pretty big deal. What’s more, if you aren’t awarded tenure, you have to leave the institution. Pelletier is in the midst of collecting and refining her tenure materials for timely presentation. There are two professors up for tenure and only one position available. Then her competition is murdered. With law enforcement looking intently her way, the intrepid professor has to deal with a raft of odd characters, out-of-the-norm students, political incorrectness and most of the other ills that occasionally beset college campuses.

Author Dobson is peerless in her depiction of the nuanced atmosphere and language of the college. Readers will be quickly drawn into campus life. Readers might want to have a modern dictionary at hand, but the quick pace and logical development ameliorates the dense language. There was, for my taste, a bit too much detail at times about a particular decor, or the details of dress where there was little need.

A fine novel, well-plotted, thoughtful, and filled with many amusing bits about the academic life.

Carl Brookins
Case of the Greedy Lawyers, Bloody Halls, Devils Island

Friday, April 23, 2010

More Things I Didn't Make up

Homeowners associations can be of great benefit. You get to know your neighbors and you can all look out for each other in cases of emergencies or when you are traveling and need someone to water the plants. There is also some security in having an association as often there is a Neighborhood Watch program in effect that helps deter the criminal element.

On the downside, however, a homeowners association can get carried away with power and people can get cited for the most ridiculous infractions. A couple in Hoston wre fined for having gray tape on exterieor water lines. The association said the tape had to be black. The couple went to court and lost, so they ended up paying $20,000 for that lack of good taste.

Anyone knows black goes with everything.

One neighborhood association tried to dictate how many of a specific plant could be planted in a flowerbed. Sorry people, only five pansies to a plot.

Another association fined a couple in Texas for planting too many blue bonnets in their yard. Apparently this couple let the bluebonnets propagate at will, and neighbors found them unsightly.

Come on, folks. The Texas state flower is unsightly?

We almost moved into a gated community with a homeowners association when we came back to Texas 8 years ago, and I am so glad now that we didn't. I couldn't keep up with the fines we would receive because I mow around the early spring flowers that pop up in my front pasture area. I don't mow around all of them, mind you -- just a few here and there because they are so lovely and I can't bear to cut them down. The end result is that my pasture looks like some alien did crop circles there.


Do you think homeowners associations have gone too far? Do you belong to one? What has been your experience.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I am Not Making This Up

Absurdities abound.

Yesterday I read a news story about a woman in Dallas who was clearing old, dead vines from a thicket along a park. Apparently there is a city ordinance that one cannot "cut, break, deface or in any way injure the trees shrubs, plants, grass, turf (just in case you don't know what grass is) , fountains, seats, fences, structures, improvements, ornaments or monuments or property within or upon any of the public parks."

Whew. Glad they covered all those bases.

The woman who did this dastardly deed, which led to an arrest and felony charge, is a 67 year old attorney. She was able to maintain a sense of humor and said she met lots of interesting people when she spent the night in jail. "I've never been in a perp walk before," she said. "It was cool."

The story in the Dallas Morning News reported that the woman had been cutting and removing briars, vines, and dead tree limbs from the wooded area of the park for several years. She never considered it "felonious gardening." She was just trying to be helpful.

This is another case where the strict adherance to the letter of the law is absurd. This woman was not hurting or defacing the shrubs. What she was doing was what many gardeners do to improve an area and encourage new growth. It was CLEAN UP. And, yes, I'm shouting.

Could we please use a little common sense when it comes to enforcing the law?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Getting paid for doing...Nothing?

There was an interesting letter to the editor in the Dallas Morning News the other day. The writer, Rob Lofland from Lindale, Texas, addressed the issue of jobs and the way business is managed today. He said, "There has been a colossal shift in the way management, especially management of large, publicly -traded companies, view their responsibilities."

He goes on to say that in the past 20 0r 30 years management has shifted the focus of that responsibility away from the product, from consumers, from workers, to "asset management and creation of wealth for stockholders and management."

Later in his letter he writes, "Much of the effort of those who run the large companies and all the effort of those on Wall Street and related business actually create nothing. They are getting paid exorbitantly to move money around."

Loftland acknowledges that there is nothing inherently wrong or evil in that, but he does wonder about the impact on jobs and consumers.

I wonder, too.

If the focus is always on the bottom line and profits to shareholders, the worker and the consumer get short-changed. And those are the people who are more important to the long-term success of a company than the shareholder. Without the worker to produce the product and the consumer to buy the product, the company would cease to exist. And that would be bad news for the shareholders.

As I mulled this all over deciding whether to blog about it, I couldn't help but see the parallel in the business side of writing. For the past 20 or 30 years the focus has shifted from the books and the writers to profits and marketing. The days when authors were appreciated and rewarded for writing a good book are gone. Now they are appreciated and rewarded for having a platform, for being a good salesperson, and for having a hot new concept.

Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon, but I liked the old days better.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

More Fun From Tracy Farr

Just had to share this latest bit of nonsense from my friend, Tracy.....

The Human Brain Can't Handle Extreme Multi-Tasking

Researchers have recently discovered that the brain can only keep track of two tasks at a time, which is totally absurd because at this exact moment, not only am I thinking about what I'm about to type, and then typing it, but I'm also wondering where I put my tall glass of sweet iced tea, because I know I just had it and...

No...wait...I was just THINKING about making a tall glass of sweet iced tea, with lemon, if we have any, but I'm not sure. I'll check the fridge......

See, that's three things, isn't it? Now, where was I?

Oh yes. These brain researchers say our medial frontal cortex (whatever that is) divides so that each side can focus on a single task at the same time. Which again is totally ridiculous because I would think if our brains are up in our heads dividing all by themselves, we'd be able to feel something, or at least hear it. Not only that, but if they can divide once, shouldn't they be able to subdivide, and keep subdividing until we have our own little brainiac subdivisions, complete with condos, a golf course and free broadband internet?

Read the rest HERE

Friday, April 16, 2010

Gardening is so good for the soul

I have been spending a lot of time outdoors planting new flowers and tending to my garden. Since I am still dealing with grief issues, it has been very therapeutic for me. Yesterday I spent an entire day planting things.

That made me think of the year I couldn't garden, so I found an excerpt about that from my memoir....

Pretty little flowers all in a row.

Not that year.

That year a few scraggly weeds lived in the spots usually reserved for the pansies that thrived early in the Texas growing season. Normally, when the sun burned too hot, the pansies would be replaced with petunias, then later with periwinkles. Those hardy little flowers can thumb their noses at the worst heat thrown at them.

Attending to this ritual of planting has always been an important part of my existence. Some days I’d rather be out digging in the dirt than doing almost anything else. The process feeds me deep inside in a way that defies articulation. But those who share this passion understand.

When it was time to plant the pansies that year, I was in the hospital after a complicated kidney surgery. The weeks recuperating at home ate up the rest of early spring when cool nights and mild days nurtured the ‘people’ flowers and let them smile to greet a new day.

My heart ached when I was strong enough to walk out to the front porch and sit on the swing. The empty flower beds looked so lost and forgotten, and I yearned to dig my hands into the dirt. I thought of asking my husband to plant something, just a geranium or two for a splash of color, but resisted the urge on two counts. He had enough to do with taking care of the kids, the house, and his job. Plus, it wasn’t the flowers I missed so much as the process. I could wait a few more weeks and still have plenty of growing season left. It lasts forever in Texas.

Petunia season came and went, and still the flowerbeds stood empty.

I’d had a bit of a set-back in my recovery. Some nerves had been damaged during the hours-long surgery and the pain was still incredibly severe. That forced another trip to the hospital to see if anything could be done.

By the time I got home again, we were well into periwinkle season and my flowerbeds had grown lush with weeds. My instinct was to lean forward in the swing and pluck out a clump of clover, but the look from my husband, rich with unsaid words, stilled the impulse.

I’m sure he meant well. Like so many spouses standing on the outside he felt so helpless in the face of my pain and limitations. He only wanted to protect me. But my heart yearned to be digging in the dirt. It was a deep and powerful ache that wouldn’t go away.

During my next visit to the doctor, I asked if he thought it would be okay to do a bit of gardening. “I’ll be careful,” I said. “And I just feel this great need.”

The man could have posed for a Norman Rockwell painting as he sat on his little black stool with one finger tapping his cheek. Then he spoke. “Personally, I think there’s something very healing about dirt. Although I don’t recommend eating it.”

He paused to acknowledge the smile with timing so perfect he could’ve been on the comedy circuit. “But I do recommend filling your hands with it. Smell it. Work it. Let it fall through your fingers. It won’t cure you, but it won’t hurt, either. And maybe it will make you feel better where it matters.”

Several hours later I knelt on the grass. I ignored the pain that ran down my side and into my leg and leaned close to the dirt. The trowel felt good in my hand as I loosened a small section of the flowerbed. Then I picked up clumps of earth and crumbled them, letting the rich black dirt stream through my fingers. I reveled in the cool dampness; the pungent aroma. Then I dug a hole big enough to hold the single Marigold.

“Ah,” my heart said. “Just what you needed."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Talk about absurd....

I just read two news stories about people killing, or attempting to kill children, and I just had to shake my head.

In Ohio, a man put an 8-month-old boy and 2-year-old girl in the trash after a dispute with their mother. Luckily, two men found the children after about 13 hours and they were rescued. Now the man faces charges of kidnapping, assault, and attempted murder.

Maybe someone should stuff him in a can for 12 hours or more.

In Dallas, a man and a woman were just found guilty of the murder of the woman's 9-month old baby. Initially, the couple had reported that the child had been kidnapped, but later changed their story when the man said the baby was dead. He said he lied to police to protect the woman, who had killed the child. She told police that he threw the baby's body into a lake, but the body was never found.

Maybe they both should have been thrown in the lake.

I wish I could say these stories struck me because they are so rare, but unfortunately, they are not. How many times a week do we read about some adult killing or horribly abusing a child?

Too often.

I can't even get my mind around actually doing something so horrific. People have momentary flares of anger that sometimes leads to abuse, but to methodically and continuously beat a child is beyond me. And I can't fathom how some people can lock children in closets for years and starve them.

This is Child-Abuse Awareness Month. What are some of the things we can do to help stop this cycle of abuse?

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Little Bit of Levity

Here is some fun from my friend, Tracy Farr....

Oh baby, let me tell ya these last few weeks I've cooked more things out on the grill than I think I've ever done in my whole entire life. I've got smoke in my hair, steak in my belly, and I think I like it.

In fact, I like grilling so much now, I wrote a little song parody about it called "I'm A Grill Man"

To sing along visit Tracy's blog . It's fun, trust me.

Friday, April 09, 2010


Yesterday the family decided we had had enough with the tears and sadness, so some of us drove from Houston to Galveston to play on the beach for a while. The island has been cleaned up a lot since Ike wreaked his havoc there, so much so we almost forgot the storm happened.

After chasing the surf for a while and looking for sand dollars -- no luck -- we decided we would get a bite to eat. We were in the mood for pizza, so we asked our friendly GPS voice to find us a pizza place to go to. When "Mama Theresa's Flying Pizza" was mentioned the kids got excited. "Will the pizza's really fly?"

I figured, probably not, but it might be a place that throws pizzas, and that would be fun for the kids to see. So we had the GPS guy give us directions to find the restaurant.

What we didn't realiize was that we would have to get on a ferry to go to Port Bolivar. But, hey, that was just another adventure. So we went with the flow -- pun intended - and took the ferry.

Then we had to drive about 15 miles to the restaurant. As we went along, we saw more and more devastation from Ike still apparent, and just before the GPS said to turn into the restaurant, my daughter said, "What if it isn't there any more?"

Sure enough, there was nothing left of Mama Theresa's Flying Pizza but a cement slab and a sign. We all piled out of the two cars we had been caravaning in, had a good laugh, then headed back.

So, what was supposed to be an hour stop for dinner before heading back to Houston, turned into a four hour adventure that was a lot more fun for the first hour or so. By the time we got dinner and returned to our hotel, we were all exhausted.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Rest In Peace

I am getting ready to go to Houston to bury my father. He has had Alzheimer's for some time, so in some ways he has already been gone, but this physical leaving is different. And it is harder than I thought it would be. I thought I had already been saying goodbye.

This picture was taken two years ago at his 90th Birthday party. He was already in the early stages of his disease then and wasn't sure who all the people were who gathered to celebrate, but he thought they were "nice folks."

I will have the honor of doing the Eulogy, and the following is an excerpt from what I will say:

It was my father who told me so many years ago that it is not so foolish to pursue a dream.

It was my father who told me that I should make choices in my life according to what would make me happy, even if the world doesn't approve of my choices.

It was my father who told me to give an honest day's work for an honest day's wage.

It was my father who told me to consider any stranger a potential new friend.

It was my father who told me that it's not what you are that's important, but who you are.

And above all, it was my father who told me that while he doesn't have much to show for his life; no big house, no fancy car, no grand retirement spot where he can spend his social security in luxury, he's got us, his children, to stand as monuments of accomplishment. He considers it time well spent.

It’s no surprise then, that family is my greatest treasure.

Rest in Peace, Popso.