About Me

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Recent retiree--35 year's experience teaching reading, English, adult basic education and volunteer leadership skills. Started this blog to exchange ideas and commentary with friends and others having an interest in joining the discussions. Greatest life accomplishments include: 1.organized my 3rd grade class to check out library books for me to get around librarian's weekly limit--Amazon.com, the Mullins Elementary 3rd Grade Class of 1956 is still waiting for "thank you" notes; 2. volunteered in the Peace Corps, island of St. Kitts, West Indies; 3.taught adults to read, earn their GEDs., and speak English as a second language; 4. bought a border collie puppy for $6, got evicted rather than give him up, and began a life-long love affair with all things "Dog"; 5. joined a physical fitness boot camp in my mid-50s--don't mess with someone who's been doing regulation pushups in wet grass at 5:30 a.m.; 6. walked across Northern England with best friend Sally--over 80 miles from the Irish to North Seas; and 7. travelled to many foreign countries for pleasure and work.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Mighty Heart

This week-end I saw the movie, A Mighty Heart, the story of Daniel Pearl, a young journalist for the Wall Street Journal. Daniel and his wife Mariane, who is a French reporter, arrived in Pakistan soon after the 9/11 attack on the U.S. to cover the rise and spread of Islamic terrorism from out of the Middle East. On January 23, 2002, Pearl was kidnapped by Islamic extremists and murdered in a gruesome live video that was shown around the world. For two hours I was caught up in the attempts to find and rescue him, led by his brave wife and a coldly efficient Pakistani intelligence officer. The movie is a thriller, but is more a love story based on Mariane Pearl's determination to honor her husband by trying to make some sense out of the religious and political madness that is now the Middle East.

After seeing the movie I had to stop off at a bookstore and get Mariane's memoir--A Mighty Heart. And so, for the past couple of days I have been in the Middle East. . .Strangely, as I learned more about the Pearl story, I began to remember what had happened in my own life in the three months after 9/11 and was intrigued to see some personal connections to this event. Which goes to show, our lives are intertwined with those of strangers around the world in ways we will never understand.

In October 2001 I was scheduled to spend almost a month in western Ukraine volunteering with the Citizen's Network for Foreign Affairs, a U.S. agency which provides aid and technical assistance for under-developed countries. My assignment was to train groups of farm women to set up councils and agricultural cooperatives to manage their farms and earn better livings for their families. These women had little experience with private land ownership and farming, having spent most of their lives working on Soviet run collective farms. And then, we were attacked on 9/11 and after a lot of twisting in the wind I decided to postpone the trip--the only thing separating Ukraine and the Middle East was the Black Sea and it's not that much water! However, in December 2001, I did go ahead with the assignment spending the coldest month ever just south of Siberia in western Ukraine!

Now, here's where the coincidences start to happen. On December 21 I'm anxiously waiting at the Kiev, Ukraine airport for my flight to Amsterdam and then on to the U.S.--home just in time for Christmas. The flight was delayed for several hours, not good news for making the Amsterdam connection as it turns out. After reading A Mighty Heart, I now learn that also on December 21 in Paris Richard Reid, the infamous "shoe bomber" and Al Qaeda terrorist, was trying to get on a Paris to Miami flight wearing shoes rigged with explosives and with directions from his Pakistani trainer to blow up the flight. Airport questioning made him miss that flight, but on December 22 he did make it on another flight to the U.S. As you remember, Reid was prevented from lighting the explosives in his shoes by some observant passengers who spotted his cigarette lighter and overpowered him, thus saving the flight. Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered just one month later while trying to meet and interview the Al Qaeda leader who ordered Reid's mission.

Meanwhile, as I feared, on arriving in Amsterdam from Kiev several hours late, I was told that my flight to Detroit had just left. So here I am in a foreign airport two days before Christmas with no idea how to get booked on another flight and not able to speak a word of anything except English(thankfully other countries don't have our arrogant attitude that English should be the universal language--but that's for another blog). So, my tactic was to walk a few paces, ask directions, and then move on until I ended up at the ticket counter where I was able to get on a jammed flight to the U.S. after a long delay. I'm not even sure what day it was. But back to the connections. There was no breaking news about Richard Reid as we waited in the airport, but I was separated out of the passenger group with others appearing to be Middle Easterners for questioning. My formal name," Fadia", given to me by my grandmother from a fairy tale book at a home birth in the mountains of eastern Kentucky-- is, I now know, Middle Eastern. Thankfully, I was able to convince security that my blue eyes and freckles were Scots-Irish and that I had legitimate business in the Ukraine.

One comic addition to this tale: my Ukrainian interpreter had given me a huge bottle of champagne as a parting gift and in my mad dash through the airport I just wanted to get rid of any excess hand luggage. So, I tucked the bottle behind a toilet in an airport restroom. I thought about how foolish that was later and wondered if I caused an airport shut down when cleanup crews discovered that suspicious package. . .

So, here on Sunday night I am still thinking about Daniel and Mariane Pearl and how all of us, when given the opportunity need to look for ways to share our beliefs and customs with others as one way to stop the madness in the world.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

And One More Thing

Not seeing the topic or issue you're interested in discussing in any of the June postings? Well, this is your spot to throw it out for public consumption. All topics are fair game. Someone get the ball rolling and we'll all weigh in!

Pit Wille vs Big Red

Recently Willie the Pit Bull and I were just getting home from a long hot walk when I spotted this big reddish brown dog rolling around in the front yard. "Uh oh," I thought, "this is trouble." Willie is not going to appreciate a strange dog in his front yard and, from the looks of this dog, he was more than capable of claiming squatter's rights! I've been taught by Cesar Millan, the famous Dog Whisperer, to "make it happen," but frankly I just didn't want to apply that lesson today. It was too hot and sometimes--as President W could learn--not every potential confrontation is worth the sacrifice to the general peace and loss of blood.

So, my tactical maneuver was to boost Willie over the back fence, thereby keeping him safe and freeing myself to get past Big Red without a confrontation. That would be akin to the U.S. and alliance troops providing enough stability in Iraq for the warring factions of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis to have time to engage in a different, more peaceful resolution of conflict without the lightening rod Americans in the middle. Thank goodness, on Summit Court it worked. Willie didn't see Big Red and it took him a few minutes to get over his surprise at being unceremoniously dumped over the fence! I puffed myself up, again as taught by Cesar, marched up the sidewalk--not looking at Big Red, not demanding to know why he was there or what his intentions were. I didn't challenge and he didn't approach. Walk on, walk on. Out of the corner of my eye I could see him moving out of the yard. I got to the back gate and Willie, thankfully, didn't bark. Stability in the region!

From the safety of my living room window I could see that Big Red was hot--and probably lost. I was tempted to set out water for him, but that's not fair since I didn't want to encourage him to hang around. Nothing but trouble would have come from this. What happens if he's there in the morning when Willie and I make our trip to the newspaper box? Besides, if he's hungry and thirsty maybe that will encourage him to find his way home instead of depending on the false security and comfort that I would be offering.

How does the incident on Summit Court compare with the U.S. in Iraq? U.S. forces went into Afghanistan to ferret out Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, President W decided that Saddam(the big red dog) must go and the Iraqi people must adopt a western-style democracy which contradicts thousands of year of governing based on tribal alliances and negotiations and ancient religious practices--it's not our way, but who says it can't be a viable other way? So, here's the difference: on a hot summer afternoon the situation--on the surface--demanded that Big Dog Willie drive off the uprooted and confused Interloper Dog. Reason-- in the form of quick thinking and a properly scared and respectful leader who was able to grasp the potential bad outcomes of the situation--intervened. The potentially warring factions were separated and the peace was secured. I still think about Big Red and hope sincerely that he made it home. But, I have to be realistic--I can't solve all the canine problems in my neighborhood and neither can we Americans be the boss and problem solver of the world.

Reality TV--Lessons Learned

Amazing Race, Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, Survivor, and The Bachelor--I'll admit, for the entire month of May I spent entirely too much time watching the current crop of reality competitions on TV, going so far as to negotiate with friends--some of whom may be reading this now, so I apologize--to limit social activities so they wouldn't interfere with these nightly viewing fixes. I'm addicted and plan to check into rehab--"Oh, Hi Lindsay and Britt!"--soon. But in the meantime, here's why I think we love these shows so much. On Idol we can't wait to see what bizarre "talent" will come out for the auditions and then as the competition heats up we're looking for genuine star power--and if we can mess with Simon Cowell at the same time, that's all right too. Dancing just makes us happy and wistful that we can't look that gorgeous and move as passionately on the dance floor. Plus, it doesn't take long to see which stars have the discipline and drive to deliver each week, taking the judges' critiques to heart and practicing that much harder for the next dance. Amazing Race is all about teamwork while globe trotting to the most obscure places in the world and completing challenges that test teams' abilities to conquer language, cultural, and physical barriers to make it to each checkpoint first. Survivor demands strategizing and alliance building--and sometimes betrayal--in order to be the one who ultimately lands on top with the million. And finally there's The Bachelor, searching for love and commitment from out of a bevy of beauties--I'm still questioning why I succumbed to this particular "reality." It's wrong on so many levels and borderline weird, but by the season finale I was warning Bachelor Andy to forget about his "chemistry" with cry baby Bevin and aggressively woo the more substantial Tessa--which he did according to the engagement news in the entertainment rags.

Now for the lessons learned--and my justification for a month glued to the TV. Our current crop of political wanna-bes--especially the '08 presidential candidates--could learn a lot from watching a little reality TV. In May, my other drug of choice was studying these contenders--and the Campfire Wolves Gore and Thompson--in three-hour debates, in-depth interviews, dueling announcements on various issues, stumping and cautiously circling each other. Frankly it's been a huge bore. Will the real winner please stand up, or at least be willing to separate from the herd? Campaign managers, here's what I recommend: in the next few months as you fly from Iowa to New Hampshire to California to South Carolina, instead of cramming your guy/gal's head with talking points, have them watch re-runs of the reality competitions that so many Americans find irresistible. Oh, and don't forget to make them take notes. There are lessons a plenty for candidates interested in running a campaign that voters would get excited about. Republican candidates--aka, The Middle-aged Boring White Guys 10--watch Big Butt Joey Fatone to learn how to entertain a crowd--you're killing us!! Hillary, you need to catch up with Jordin Sparks on the American Idol tour and get her to help with your campaign theme song--it is going to be "My Boyfriend's Back", right? Both sides, learn how to think and act strategically as Yauman did on Survivor, instead of going around with your fingers in the air constantly testing the PR winds. All of you, learn from the Amazing Race teams that the winners in every place on the globe were the ones who remembered that they are Americans and that winning depended upon their willingness to work respectfully and cooperatively with diverse peoples. And finally, don't be Dreamz on Survivor, going back on your word when the stakes get too high. If the American people give you the Big Prize Truck--the U.S. Presidency-based on what you promised during the campaign, don't betray our trust.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

W's Turd Blossoms

MLW proposed a discussion of Alberto Gonzales in an earlier post. Here's my take on the AG. But first, a little presidential trivia. Bush is known to have a nickname for everyone and one of his terms of endearment for Karl Rove is "Turd Blossom", which--according to the Texas Standard English Dictionary (W has the only existing copy. . .)--is a flower that grows from a pile of cow manure. Now if you think about it, every elected leader or private CEO has, or needs, a turd blossom. There's always that loyalist who is eager to be the political heavyweight, willing to get down and dirty to further the interests of the "ruling party" and its leaders. I'll bet as you read this, you're thinking about the managers and bosses you've had and can immediately put a face and name to this turd blossom job title! I'm getting heartburn just remembering all the TBs I've had to work with or around both in state government and the private sector! My question is: exactly how many TBs does W need? Let's give him Karl Rove, but declare the Attorney General off limits.

The problem with Gonzales, in my view, is that he's supposed to be the U.S. Attorney General, responsible for protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans. But, so long as his priorities are to be Bush's--and the current administration's--"yes" man(i.e., turd blossom), then the rest of us are out of luck. If you're Jack/Jill Citizen, your rights to protection under the law may come in second with the current Justice Department. And, then there's the other major issue: the hiring and firing of career employees, such as with the eight U.S. attorneys, who have to pass a political party litmus test. That's wrong in Washington and in Kentucky where the employee merit system is supposed to provide a threat-free environment where people can do their government service jobs without fear of tangling with a turd blossom!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

American Pie

Looking for a good recipe for "I Hate My Husband Pie" or "I Don't Want Earl's Baby Pie"? Then you won't want to miss "Waitress", a southern slice of sweet tartness showing in theaters now. Over the Memorial Day week-end my movie buddy and I trotted off to see what I thought was going to be a classic diner movie. You know the plot line--good food, hard to live with owner, customers who keep coming for the good food and attention from a couple of hard-working waitresses who show up for work every day with their troubles and dreams cinched around their waists with that ruffled apron. Trouble is, family problems and hopes of a better life have to take a back seat to tending customers and keeping the boss happy with their hustle and tableside manner. "Waitress" delivers all that and some delicious surprises. We saw this movie at the Baxter, which is the theater to catch the less hyped and financed movies and the place was jammed--we sat in the front third row and for awhile I thought I'd have to surrender the buffer seat between me and my movie buddy(that's fodder for another posting!). It was a group experience in the best sense--no doubt who the audience was rooting for as sweet-faced Jenna(played by Keri Russell of "Felicity" fame) treads water every day, dealing with a loutish, manipulative husband and unwanted pregnancy just when she thought there was an escape route--winning a regional pie baking contest. The only time Jenna was truly happy--at first--was baking and naming pies. Then she starts the required visits with her obstetrician and ends up teaching him to make pies in the same kitchen where she endures such mental and physical abuse from Earl the Lout. I tell you, there probably wasn't a man in the house that didn't envy Dr. Pomatter! To say any more would ruin it for you, so do yourself--and someone you like/love--a favor and go see this film. I predict that it'll be the summer surprise

I love movies, don't you all? And for me, they have to be on the big screen--no DVDs. Although, I suppose others really enjoy the at home experience. Anyway, in January I start trying to see all the Academy Award contenders so I can help decide the Oscar winners. So far this year I've seen about a dozen first runs. Like a good book, the story and characters stay with you, expanding or changing your point of view--or, just as importantly, making you laugh or see beauty. The most memorable ones so far have been: "The Painted Veil", "Last King of Scotland", "Amazing Grace", "Lives of Others", "Sweet Land", and "Waitress". My summer list includes: "Knocked Up", "Oceans 13(haven't seen "11" or "12", but can't resist George Clooney playing the role of "ironic"), "A Mighty Heart"(the Daniel and Mariane Pearl story), and "Talk to Me".

What are we missing? And, tell me what you think of "Waitress."