Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Cuccinelli subpoena ruling, balance and values . . .

 "This old buzzard, having failed to raise the mob against its 
rulers, now prepares to raise it against its teachers."
H.L. Mencken
Scopes Monkey Trial
July 16, 1925

Sadly, I didn't find the above Mencken quote on my own, but lifted it from Slate, which, on May 24th, pointed out that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli had recently filed a civil subpoena against the University of Virginia.
As Courtney Stuart first reported last week in Charlottesville's The Hook, Cuccinelli's office quietly filed a civil investigative demand (or CID, which is basically a subpoena) with the University of Virginia on April 23, giving the school 30 days to produce more than 10 years' worth of documents related to the state-funded research of a former faculty member, Michael Mann. Operating under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, the CID seeks from the university, among other things, "any correspondence, messages or emails" to or from Mann and 40 named climate scientists; any documents sent to or from Mann that reference any of those 40 scientists; and any "documents, things or data" submitted in support of any of five different grant applications that amounted, in total, to almost $500,000. The university is also expected to turn over "any and all emails or pieces of correspondence from or to Dr. Michael Mann since he left the University of Virginia." 
 The action was dismissed yesterday by retired Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Paul M. Peatross, Jr.
[ From an article in this morning's Cavalier Daily] Peatross held that Cuccinelli does not have “unbridled discretion” to review professors and instead must found civil investigative demands on an “objective basis.”
In turn, the ruling did not directly address issues of academic freedom, Schragger said, “because [Cuccinelli] did not even meet the minimum demand of investigative requirement.”
Virginia's Attorney General's office promptly issued a press release headlined "Attorney General Cuccinelli pleased with aspects of UVA CID ruling," in which Cuccinelli claimed partial victory in the judge's ruling. 
“While this was not an outright ruling in our favor I am pleased that the judge has agreed with my office on several key legal points and has given us a framework for issuing a new civil investigative demand to get the information necessary to continue our investigation into whether or not fraud has been committed against the commonwealth.”

Attorney General Cuccinelli has long been publicly skeptical about global warming, stoutly maintaining that scientists have skewed their data in order to claim the world is heating up. If that's so, Cuccinelli has unearthed a conspiracy of unprecedented size, since the scientific evidence for global warming is broad-based and overwhelming. Does our Attorney General really think it is in the best interests of the Commonwealth of Virginia to spend our scarce dollars attacking a scientific finding that, for some reason, appears to make him personally uneasy?  The Commonwealth has many pressing needs.

Yesterday, I blogged about conservative Victor David Hanson's column in the National Review in which he outlined the 6 basic reasons for the anger that sent 100,000 Americans to Washington on Saturday to "restore honor" with Glenn Beck. One of the reasons Dr. Hanson listed was frustration with the courts striking down (on pesky legal grounds) laws advancing conservative social values. So do these people Mr. Hanson talks about want legal decisions made by majority opinion? Do Mr. Beck and his followers really think we should ignore the parts of the Constitution that establish the courts' responsibilities?

Mr. Beck and Mr. Cuccinelli both appear to demonstrate by their actions that they feel their personal values trump both science and the Constitution.

Monday, August 30, 2010

American anger, civilly expressed . . .

Long, long, ago, when I was young and easy, William F. Buckley ran for mayor of New York City. I got to hear a few of his witty, erudite speeches when they were broadcast by some NYC station big enough to reach my Massachusetts boarding school, and I have been a fan of  the late Mr. Buckley and his National Review ever since.

It's one of the sources I turn to when I need to understand the conservative's point of view.

This Saturday, close to 100,000 folks answered Glenn Beck's call to rally in Washington to hear Sarah Palin, Mr. Beck and others tell them what God wants for America. This, to me, means that Mr. Beck's message, whatever it is, resonates deeply with a lot of people in this country. And so yesterday I turned to the National Review to try to understand why this is so and came across an excellent article by Victor Davis Hanson on "The Sources of American Anger."

Mr. Hanson lists 6 issues he sees as underlying the anger of those who find inspiration in the messages of Mr. Beck, Ms. Palin, and others of similar political and religious persuasion..

Here they are, much abridged. . .
1. Two sets of rules. The public senses there are two standards in America — one for elite overseers, quite another for the supposedly not-to-be-trusted public. The anger over this hypocrisy surfaces over matters from the trivial to the profound. . .
2. The bigot card. In reductionist terms, the public now accepts that when particular groups fail to win a 51 percent majority on a particular issue, they resort to invoking racism and prejudice. . .
3. The law? What law? Americans accept that they cannot pass legislation in violation of the Constitution. But they do not believe that a single judge can nullify the electoral will of millions without good cause. Thus in Arizona and California, there is a sense that judges who favor open borders or gay marriage are willing to use the pretense of constitutional issues to enact such agendas despite their current unpopularity . . .
4. The futility of taxes. We talk of returning to the Clinton income-tax schedules. Yet in the late 1990s, those hikes ended up, along with the Republican cuts in mandates, balancing the budget — without new health-care surcharges, or talk of a VAT, or caps lifted off income subject to Social Security taxes. Not now. The public recognizes that the advocates of higher taxes are not willing to make the sort of across-the-board spending cuts that once succeeded in balancing the budget. In other words, those who will start paying much more of their income to the government in the form of taxes fret that, unlike the 1990s, this time the additional federal revenue won’t balance the budget, and will be all for naught. . .
5. Disingenuousness. There is also a growing belief that the Obama administration is advancing an agenda that it cannot be fully candid about, because that agenda does not command broad support. As a result, we are habitually asked to believe that what administration appointees or supporters say is not what they really mean, or at least was taken out of context. . . . All this dissimulation started with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose mistake was not saying the outrageous things he said — Mr. Obama and the compliant media had contextualized his corpus of hate well enough — but finally insulting the media at the National Press Club. The former was seen as a misdemeanor; the latter proved a felony. . . .Do Obama supporters, then, reveal their true beliefs only in gaffes and unguarded moments, while filling their official statements and communiqu├ęs with pretense?
6. A culpable America? Finally, the public has added up the apology tours, the bowing, and the constant emphasis on race, class, and gender crimes, and concluded that this administration sees America, past and present, as the story of a culpable majority denying noble minorities their rights — period. . . .Surely someone in the past — perhaps even white males — must have been doing something right for America to evolve into a place that our present-day critics apparently enjoy.
Do read Mr. Hanson's entire article if you have time. But, more importantly, think about what he's saying. And, if you're not a believer in all things Glenn Beck-ian, try walking around in a believer's shoes for just a moment or two and viewing this country from that angle.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Civic Soapbox Friday

Marriage Rights for All 
by George Kamide

When I married the girl of my dreams in July, a friend said, "Welcome to the club."

As a new member of the married club, I want to voice my vehement opposition to Proposition 8 and all other measures to prohibit gay marriage. Such measures relegate homosexuals to second-class citizens. These laws are discriminatory and, frankly, un-American, flying in the face of what this country stands for.

Proposition 8 baffles the mind. Legislating minority rights by referendum is, at best, specious reasoning, and at worst, exemplifies what Plato called the "tyranny of the majority."

Opponents of gay marriage see a threat to traditional definitions of marriage. I suppose that depends on how far back in the tradition one wishes to go. Would most women today be willing to take traditional vows that include total subservience to the groom? If not, then we could settle on a more recent definition of marriage by re-enacting Virginia's own Racial Integrity Act. Blood tests for everyone! However, if that were still the definition of marriage, I would represent a felony for my Japanese father and American mother.

While my wife and I were on our honeymoon in Belize, we had the pleasure of meeting another couple on their honeymoon. While talking over drinks and watching a tropical sunset, I could see that these two women were just as starry-eyed and madly in love and ridiculously happy as we were. Despite the rapturous mood and idyllic setting, I was pained by the idea that these two women might be denied the same rights accorded to me and my wife.

"Civil Union," is what some would propose as the answer: full marriage rights without calling it marriage. This term is little more than compromise to the point of condescension. To give, but not fully, smacks of a "separate but equal” ideology. And therein lies the rub: This issue is not the gay and lesbian struggle for legality, as some have framed the debate. It is one of human dignity. This is a familiar struggle in our history; the yearning of a marginalized group for that most American of rights: equality.

Despite Judge Vaughn Walker's well-reasoned ruling on Proposition 8, the opposition is crying foul and denouncing another so-called "activist judge." They have again forgotten their history. The first battles for equal rights are usually won in the courts before the legislatures. The ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education came a full decade before the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. It is unfortunate that legalized discrimination is a recurring theme in this country's history. But I am heartened by the fact that so is the persistent struggle for justice.

Finally, for any who remain on the fence about this issue, I would pose this question: When the world is doing its best to tear itself apart with hate and intolerance, why are we so eager to stop two people from declaring their commitment to love one other forever?

                                --George Kamide and his wife, Lindsay, live in Greene County. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The story of an NPR story . . .

Arnie Kahn
Thought you might be interested in knowing the way an NPR story develops when it originates at a local station. In this case, I'm the reporter and WMRA is the station.

From the beginning. . .

I know JMU psychology professor Arnie Kahn mostly from the campus gym, UREC, where we both go to work out. He and I occasionally chat about politics or NPR or the latest Civic Soapbox. I always value what Arnie has to say, either in person or as comments on the WMRA blog or Facebook page.

A couple of weeks ago, Arnie asked when I was going to start reporting again.

Hmmmmmm. . . to coin an expression. Arnie had just made me realize how long it had been since I'd done an actual on-air story. Maybe it was time to squeeze one in amidst all the writing, blogging, Facebooking, and editing?

 * * * * *

Jessica Francis Kane
A couple of years ago, Jessica Francis Kane did a fine Civic Soapbox called "Raising the Stakes."  She has since moved to New York City, but we kept in touch and she sent me a galley of her first novel, The Report, which tells the story of the 1943 Bethnal Green Tube Tragedy. During which, 173 Londoners were mysteriously crushed to death as they sought shelter from German bombs. The cause of the disaster has never been satisfactorily explained. And that lack of explanation  is what drives The Report.

Jessica's debut novel was recently shortlisted for the 2010 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, and was named a Winter 2010 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers title. 

Hmmmm, again. This was a novel that deserved some national on-air attention. Yet it's terribly difficult to get a first novel on NPR's air. But how about a story on first novels? Why not put together a story focused on two first novels, one historical (Jessica's) and one more traditionally autobiographical (I chose Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel). HarperCollins Publicity Director Jane Beirn, who knows my taste in novels, had sent me a galley months ago. (The ending of this novel, by the way, made me cry.)

* * * * *

I sent a note pitching my story idea to Laura Bertran, the on-air editor with whom I now work at NPR. My suggestion was that I talk to both novelists about why, out of all the stories running around in their writerly heads, they'd chosen the ones they had for their first novels. I'd then talk to someone who's published a boatload of novels about what they remember of their own first one.. And lastly, I'd talk to someone who teaches at a prominent MFA writing program and get their thoughts on first novels in general.

Laura liked the idea.

The next step in getting the story commissioned was hers. Laura shopped the story around to the various shows -- all iterations of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Late last week, I got word that Weekend Edition Sunday wanted it. Which meant -- huzzah! -- the story was a go.

Laura and I talked again, and she suggested also talking to a publicist for one of my chosen first novels, to see what she/he does differently to promote a first novel. And about whether the Kindle release is simultaneous or delayed.

* * * * *

Now onto production logistics. National interviews are mostly done through ISDN lines (Integrated Services Digital Network). This is a "phone" line that allows people thousands of miles apart to sound as though they're chatting in the same room. So, in order to do the interviews for this story, I had to find out where my interviewees are physically located, where the closest ISDN line is (most larger local stations, including, thankfully, WMRA have them), and then find a time when the ISDN line is available and the interviewee can come to the studio. All the while keeping track of different time zones -- which I usually manage to royally muddle.

Much e-mailing, phoning, scheduling and rescheduling later, I'm ready to go to work. 

I always prepare for interviews by reading everything I can find about my interviewee. I go into the studio with a list of questions, but as this is a short, pieced-together feature story, not a talk show, I'm only looking for about 45-seconds of really engaged conversation. With this in mind, I ask any of my questions I absolutely must have answers to, and then listen closely for what my interviewee likes talking about so as to let her/him lead the conversation.

After the interview I transcribe the tape, which is a pain in any body part you care to name, but, I've learned through long experience, saves time in the long run and makes for a better use of tape. When all the interviewing is done, I assemble the story. Piecing together my chosen snippets of  interviews with a script that I will later read as part of the piece.

Laura and I then have an edit, where I read my script over the phone and then play my actualities (those bright pieces of my interviews). She'll make suggestions, I'll rework the story; we'll have another edit. It usually takes about three edits to get things absolutely right. And the story is always better for Laura's editing.

Next, I go into WMRA's studio for an ISDN hook-up with NPR. I read my script over and over until whoever's at the other end likes the read. I then send all those pieces of bright conversation up to NPR through my computer. A very picky NPR technical person mixes all the sound together, and viola!, Weekend Edition Sunday has its story. 

My first interview for this story is this morning. I'll be talking to Jane Beirn, the HarperCollins publicist who sent me Stiltsville, who will be in a studio at NPR New York. So, I'd better stop blogging and get ready to start reporting again.

Hope you're happy, Arnie. I certainly am.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thoughts on aging, change, and the Founding Fathers. . .

Brad Jenkins, General Manager of The Breeze (JMU's fine student newspaper) tagged me this morning in a Facebook photo. There I am, participating in Breeze Camp, talking to the paper's editorial staff about interviewing and story telling.

My reaction to being confronted with an unexpected, early-morning picture of myself was two-fold: 1) Wow! Have I aged; and 2) Wow! Am I having a blast.

Both are true. And both are equally acceptable. To me, anyway. But, perhaps, not to society at large. At least, the aging part.

Sixty, I am constantly told, is the new thirty.

That statement—meant, I suppose, to cheer me and the vast herd of my fellow 50-60-ish hipsters—frankly bamboozles me: What is it supposed to mean? Which part of thirty is going to return? The smoking-like-a-chimney, dance-all-night part? The idiot part? The unstable-personal-life part?

Here’s the deal: I've been 30, and I prefer adventure to repetition.

I do still dance uncontrollably sometimes in grocery store aisles, but for the most part I've moved way beyond the person I was at 30. And I have no desire for anyone to take me as anything other than what I am: A 63-year-old woman who enjoys being a 63-year-old woman.

The inescapable, unavoidable truth is life passes and things change; I've changed, the world has changed. The only thing that seems unchanged is the relentless nature of change, itself.  We humans either periodically update our take on reality, or we are left cowering in the corner, pointlessly trying to recreate a world, a life, a philosophy that has passed into the past along with Mick Jagger's and my youth. A long-gone reality that had its own anxiety-producing problems that we avoided by dreaming of another past, further back.

It seems to me that failing to accept change as a fundamental aspect of reality is one of the things that is behind all this Founding Fathers talk in politics. It's all so angry and so vague. And, for the life of me, I can't find much point to it other than fueling people's natural fears during uncertain times.

For example, if you go to the Tea Party Patriot website, you'll find an invitation to sign the following petition:
We the undersigned have understood the true meaning of the below document. Again we find ourselves suffering at the hands of TYRANTS. This petition is to recommit ourselves to the founding values, primary of all that LIBERTIES come from our CREATOR and not men. That being so, they only govern with the consent of THE PEOPLE. We are declaring independence from tyrants, the elite and those that wish harm to our REPUBLIC. Even coming out of silence the tyrants continue to plot our demise. WE THE PEOPLE declare to be free men and women and we will be lied no more. 

What, I ask you, does this mean? What plot? What founding values? How will signing this document help confront today's confusing, complex, anxiety-producing reality?

I rooted around in the site for something akin to a political platform and instead found such offerings as Who Am I, which compares President Obama's background to Adolf Hitler's.

Oh dearie me. . .

Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally is set for this Saturday at the Lincoln Memorial. I went to his website to try to find some kind of statement relevant to today's problems and instead read:
Throughout history America has seen many great leaders and noteworthy citizens change her course. It is through their personal virtues and by their example that we can live as a free country. On August 28th, come celebrate America by honoring our heroes, our heritage and our future.

Join the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and many more for this non-political event that pays tribute to America’s service personnel and other upstanding citizens who embody our nation’s founding principles of integrity, truth and honor.

Our freedom is possible only if we remain virtuous. Help us restore the values that founded this great nation. 
Again, to which particular values is Mr. Beck referring? Whose definition of virtuous is he using? Is virtue something Glenn Beck wants to legislate?

The Founding Fathers certainly were not a particularly virtuous bunch. But then I suspect there will be some terrific pruning of history going on next Saturday on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Sarah Palin and the Tea Party flexed their clout in yesterday's Republican primary in Florida and Alaska. Mostly, it seems, through helping people focus their vague fears at two specific targets: our first black President and our first woman Speaker of the House.

It all just makes me want to challenge Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck to a reality smack-down. The truth is I am irrevocably 63, and this is irrevocably 2010. None of us can go back. Go back to what, exactly? Whose idea of "back" are we talking about?

It's natural to long for times to be simpler. But our times are what they are now. And the solutions to our problems will only be found by facing them in the here and now.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A First-Hand Look at South African Education by Teresa Harris

Martha note: JMU's Public Affairs Coordinator, Eric Gorton, sent this out, and I found it so fascinating, I thought I'd just pass it along to you. This article appears also in Madison Scholar.

Dr. Teresa Harris, professor of early childhood education at JMU, was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for spring semester 2010 to build collaboration between the university's early childhood/elementary education programs and the University of Pretoria Early Childhood Development Department. 

Ntataise preschool training
Dr. Ina Joubert, a lecturer at the University of Pretoria in early childhood education, prepares for a session with early childhood trainers.
Students in art workshop
First-year early childhood education students at the University of Pretoria participate in an art workshop as part of their module on learning materials and resources in early childhood.
Teacher leading a preschool class
A teacher leads children in a song at a rural child care center that participates in the Ntataise child care training program.

Related Links

More photos from Dr. Harris' stay in South Africa.
Dr. Harris wrote a blog while in South Africa.

 What comes to mind when you think of 2010? Well, for South Africans, 2010 is synonymous with World Cup soccer. Preparations that were under way in 2006, the year I first visited the country, culminated with great fanfare as countries from around the world came to celebrate the world of soccer. The airport was updated with more parking and more services, highways were extended and expanded and security was enhanced. And best of all, Fulbright awarded me a six-month fellowship to teach at the University of Pretoria in the early childhood education department.

Education in post-apartheid South Africa continues to undergo major changes at every level. Issues related to infrastructure of schools, teacher education and professional development, and learner performance are regularly in the news and on the minds of all the stakeholders. From my position within early childhood, I was privileged to visit preschools and elementary schools, work with pre-service and in-service teachers and conduct research with colleagues at the university.

Preschool Education
From a grandmother's home to BMW-sponsored child care, preschool education and child care is available to many children. Like the United States, there are more informal than formal settings and the quality of care varies greatly. What seems to be consistent across rural and township settings, however, is the perception that because all women take care of the children, no one needs training or additional education to do it well. In fact, if you're going to study something at university, the belief is you should study something that will actually allow you to earn money and prestige. One exciting project that brings together early childhood teacher educators and child care providers in a rural setting is the Ntataise Project (pronounced n-tata-ee-se).

Meaning "to lead a child by the hand," this nonprofit organization provides training to trainers who then go into rural areas to deliver workshops, materials and on-site supervision and modeling so that child care providers can gain skill in caring for and educating young children. While I was in South Africa, I traveled to visit the Ntataise headquarters and two local centers where teachers were adapting their training to their local contexts. On my second visit, UP lecturers Ina Joubert and Annalie Botha and I provided literacy training to the trainers in a full-day interactive workshop. On the second day of the training, the trainers incorporated our training ideas into their own training activities to show what they had learned and how they would adapt our session for their teachers.

Elementary Education
The foundation phase of South African education includes the reception year (kindergarten) through grade 3 as part of primary schools that extend through grade 7. Since 1994, when the country moved to a democratic form of government, education has received increased government funding at all levels (primary through post-secondary); however, schools and their school governing boards can elect to charge school fees to increase their budgets. Former "Model C" schools typically charged the highest fees and continue today as multiracial schools that offer higher quality educational settings and opportunities than schools located in rural or township areas that can't afford to charge high fees to families. Sadly, it is clear in too many instances that you get what you pay for. In private schools and model C, or multiracial schools, teachers earn higher salaries, textbooks and teaching materials are up-to-date, buildings and facilities are well maintained and test scores are higher. In schools that receive basic government funding, the opposite is generally true. The major determinant, however, is not the funding, but the quality of school leadership, particularly in the person of the school principal.

On the day that I was moving into my flat, UP Lecturer Nkidi Phatudi, the colleague with whom I first established a relationship at UP, had taken me grocery shopping. We ran into one of the early childhood students who was doing her internship at a rural school. The young woman excitedly told Nkidi about the amazing principal who had all the teachers and learners motivated to be at school even though they didn't have all the fancy materials and equipment that other schools had. She went on to say that this was the school she hoped to work in when she graduated. Given the challenges of staffing schools in rural areas, this became an example of hope and began to spark some of the research that several of us are conducting.

Early Childhood Teacher Education
Early Childhood (birth to age 5) and foundation phase (grades K-3) teacher education are built on a British model and reflect the best international practices in the field. My colleagues in the department are active scholars who are involved in the local schools and child care centers. They also work at the national level on early childhood policies and internationally in studies in STEM education and children's rights. For me, this experience was a wonderful opportunity to become immersed in scholarly activity that transcends geographic and cultural borders with people who are eager to work with members from the JMU College of Education.
Dr. Ina Joubert is currently examining questions related to children's understandings of citizenship. Extending the work of her dissertation, "South Africa is My Best Country," she is returning to local schools to longitudinally examine the development of children's concepts of citizenship. When I shared with her a research study, "Art Around the World," that is sponsored by the International Beliefs and Values Institute, we decided that there might be ways to work together to extend her primary grade study into the upper elementary grades using visual methodologies with the learners.

On a very different front, I was able to bring much of what I have learned through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning workshops sponsored by the Center for Faculty Innovation at JMU to my work with Annalie Botha. Annalie uses role playing with her students and serves as faculty advisor to the TUKS Creative organization, so we began to explore the impact of fantasy play with children through her fairy project at the local malls and with her fourth-year and PGCE modules on curriculum integration.

Teacher identity has been the focus of work by Judy Van Heerden and Marie Botha as they instituted a teacher research project into the student teaching internship. We're doing a similar inquiry project with our department's fifth-year students, so we have decided to look at ways to collaborate on a series of developmental studies that examine our students' constructions of their own identities as teachers and their understandings of children as learners.

For a country that is primarily black South African, the students and faculty of my department were primarily white South African. I couldn't help but wonder why why this was the case, given the national and institutional supports for recruiting and retaining black students into teacher education. Dr. Miemsie Steyn, a lecturer in my department, had begun a study involving black students in the intermediate, secondary and further education phases (grades 8-12) to examine the barriers and assets to pursuing education as a career. Together we joined forces to take a look at why there were so few black students in the early childhood and foundation phase programs. Dr. Steyn will visit JMU in October to share our research.

Although my relationship with the early childhood education faculty began in 2006 with an e-mail to an unknown department head about the possibility of working together while my students and I were visiting South Africa, the Fulbright program provided an extended time period for a relationship to develop solid roots in this country. The JMU/UP collaboration has officially begun with many opportunities for shared scholarship and teaching. The 2011 visit to South Africa with students has entered the planning stages and we are exploring additional possibilities for faculty and student exchanges. And while 2010 World Cup fans are looking forward to Brazil, the UP and JMU folks are looking forward to an exciting time of working together.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Worried Americans and possibly pandering politicans?

I was just listening to Ted Robbins' story on Morning Edition detailing how big an issue illegal immigration has become in John McCain's fight for a fifth term in the U.S. Senate.

Senator McCain once favored a path to citizenship for those in this country illegally. Running for re-election against an opponent well to his right, he has completely abandoned that idea in favor of supporting  Arizona's tough new immigration law. Appearing recently on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Senator McCain claimed that illegal immigrants are intentionally causing car accidents.
The subject came up when he defended the tough new Arizona immigration bill against the possibility of racial profiling.
McCain told Bill O’Reilly that while he’d be “very sorry” if a Hispanic person suffered the indignity of racial profiling, the law would punish illegal wrongdoers.
“It's the people whose homes and property are being violated,” he said. “It's the drive-by that -- the drivers of cars with illegals in it that are intentionally causing accidents on the freeway."
Reading this, I couldn't help wondering if McCain really believes what he is saying, or if that's just what his people are telling him will get him re-elected?

Here in Virginia, Governor McDonnell sees illegal immigrants as such a threat to our safety in the Commonwealth that he wants to divert an unspecified number of State Troopers from their duties of "protecting and serving" Virginia citizens to, according to his website, "perform certain functions of a federal immigration officer within the borders of the Commonwealth." 

Thinking all this over made me decide to ask you a question: Has your life, or the life of someone you know, been disturbed, disrupted, diminished by an illegal immigrant?

Mine has not. Nor has the life of anyone I know. At least no one's told me it has.

Now an entirely different question. . .

Has your life or the life of someone you know been disrupted by the troubled economy -- that enormous, amorphous entity that all the best and the brightest cannot seem to restore to health?

Mine has. And, when I think about it, so have the lives of almost everyone I know.

Historically in economically and socially troubled times, a sizable chunk of Americans have, to our later shame, turned on our immigrants.

Another question.: Might we possibly be doing that again?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Kate Kessler's thoughts about not battling cancer

I'm a survivor of cancer. And I've had six kinds. The reproductive trifecta -- cervical, fallopian and ovarian. I'm also the winner of the skin cancer trifecta -- basal, squamous, melanoma.

The first time I was told that I had cancer it was cervical, and it didn't cause a great deal of anxiety. The second diagnosis was a double diagnosis. That was a whole different thing, because the ovarian was inoperable.

Shortly after I’d been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I was reading an interview that had been printed about Michael Landon, Little Joe on  the Bonanza series, and the title of the interview was "The Battle of His Life." And it struck me that the words were so wrong. That the philosophy was wrong. How can you fight something that’s part of yourself and win?

I don’t know if it’s because I’m female, feminist, an avid gardener -- maybe a dog in a past life, because there’s nothing I love better than digging holes in the yard. But for me a garden metaphor works so much better than a "battle" or a "war."

I’m not really a New Age person. I’m the most cynical, skeptical, pessimistic person you could ever imagine. And I would have gone for Western medicine’s big guns if they had been able to help me. But surgery and chemo and radiation weren’t getting all of the things that were growing, and so I had to turn alternative. And I started thinking of my body as a garden. And you need to keep it clean but healthy. And fertile for good things to grow. I literally started a garden at about the same time, and it was so cathartic for me to dig in the dirt and pull out rocks and weed runners and things that didn’t belong in my garden. I put little seedlings in and nurturing those became part of my healing from this cancer.

I think I’ll probably always have cancer cells running around in me. I got the short end of a genome stick. I think my job is to keep my garden as healthy a  place as possible so that my immune system will keep them at bay.

Something worked for me. When I went back a year later, I was told that the places where the tumors had been embedded along my abdominal lining were now scar tissue. I'm going to cry. Because it's been twelve years, and it still stalks me. My lymph fluids were now clear and I had scar tissue where I had had cancer. That's pretty miraculous stuff.

Kate and pack, ready to head out on the Appalachian Trail.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

President Obama is a Muslim . . .

image from website Thump and Whip: Whack Liberalism

Okay, I've said it. Does that make it so? Absolutely not. 

But evidently some person, somewhere, has the power to turn lies into credible facts, for according to a new poll done by the Pew Research Center, 1 in 5 Americans now believe our President is a Muslim.

Not, of course (as Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer would say), that there's anything wrong with that. Being a Muslim, I mean. But in difficult times, we Americans do love our clearly-defined enemies, and  we seem to be increasingly willing to lump immigrants and Muslims into the enemy category, willy-nilly.

Chuck Norris is one of the pundits some of those eighteen percent might be listening to. The website Bible Paths has a long quotation from Mr. Norris in which he presents his reasons for believing that President Obama is actually a Muslim missionary. He begins. . .
"More than they have been at any other time in U.S. history, our First Amendment freedoms of speech and religion are in jeopardy. As if recently passed “hate crime” laws and a politically correct culture weren’t bad enough. Now our president is using international pressure and possibly law to establish a prohibition against insulting Islam or Muslims. . . ."
There's chatter on the internet that President Obama is not only a Muslim, but is the Twelfth Imam, whom Twelvers (the largest branch of Shi'a Islam) believe will one day return with Christ to reestablish the rightful governance of Islam and replete the earth with justice and peace. Rush Limbaugh recently referred to our President as Imam Obama.

Who, I wonder, thinks this stuff up? And who is the first to believe it and pass it on as the truth? What's wrong with the real truth: that this is a complicated, scary, confusing time, that requires all of us to calm down and focus on real solutions for real problems?

All this Muslim branding puts me in mind of the Boston Police Strike of 1919, when the rank and file policemen went out on strike and management's most effective weapon against the strike was innuendo and name-calling.

1919 was a time of wide-spread labor unrest in this country. There were not enough jobs, inflation was out of control, immigrants and blacks were flooding the cities, taking jobs away from Real Americans who grew increasingly angry and fearful.  The designated enemies of the day were Communists, a term which was applied more and more to anyone who thought workers deserved better treatment than they were getting.

The fledgling union movement was gaining strength; one-fifth of American workers went out on strike that year. After all attempts at negotiations for better pay and working conditions failed, the Boston Police, through their organization, the Boston Social Club, decided to do the same.

There is no doubt that Boston's police had grievances, which they expressed as early as 1917. New officer pay had not risen in sixty years, since 1857 when new recruits received two dollars daily. Officers worked seven days per week, with a day off every other week during which they couldn't leave town without special permission. Depending on duty, officers worked between 73 and 98 hours weekly, and were required to sleep in infested station houses kept in deplorable condition.
The Boston powerful back in 1919 had prepared for the possibility of a strike by painting anyone in the police department who advocated better working conditions for the police as un-American, traitorous, and  "Bolshevistic." The press willingly carried this message to the public, and masses of underemployed, underpaid, worried Americans were convinced that the Boston police strike was a communist plot. It is one of the most skillful propaganda campaigns I've ever heard of.

The Boston  police struck on September 9, 1919. The next morning the LA Times wrote:
"...no man's house, no man's wife, no man's children will be safe if the police force is unionized and made subject to the orders of Red Unionite bosses."
The Massachusetts state guard was called in. The strike lasted almost a week. The thousand or so officers who struck lost their jobs. The men hired in their place got higher salaries, pension plans, and free uniforms. So the strike was, and wasn't, a success.

But what seems relevant to me in terms of America today is how, back in 1919, the moneyed and empowered interests manipulated American citizens into believing something that wasn't true simply by stating that it was. 

For heaven's sake. When are we going to grow up?

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

That tattooed girl . . .

Have you read any or all of Stieg Larsson's trilogy of thrillers: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest? If so, what did you think of them?

I  just finished reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, courtesy of a loan from gym buddy, Peter Kohn, of J.M.U.'s math department. Peter, like me, is a sucker for a good mystery/thriller. Thank-you, Peter. In my opinion . . . Hornet's Nest was the best of the bunch.

So, I've been asking myself what I thought of these books.

 Stieg Larsson died in 2004 shortly after handing over the manuscripts of this trilogy to his publisher. Knopf snapped up the American rights for a lot of money (they won't say how much) as soon as they became available.

NPR lists five pages of stories about Larsson's trilogy on its website, but I think I did the first--a look at how Knopf planned to market a trio of books by a dead author whom few people outside Sweden had ever heard of. Going back and reading the transcript of my piece, I see I used a snippet of  an interview I did with crime fiction columnist Sarah Weinman.
What makes any crime novel work, regardless of where it's set and what it's about, is how much empathy does the writer have for his or her chosen subjects and for his characters? And if there's one thing that comes through besides passion, it's also empathy.
There are two protagonists in this series: Mikael Blomkvist, a forty-ish, crusading, liberal journalist; and Lisbeth Salander, a mid-twenties, tattooed, genius hacker who seems vaguely autistic.

Stieg Larsson's empathy for his character Mikael Blomkvist seems organic, one crusading journalist for another. Author and character share a desire to expose what they see as Swedish society's tacit acceptance of violence against women and increasing attraction to far right extremism. Both character and author seem serious, hard-working, fixated, a tad self-righteous, socially quirky. In other words, the character of Mikael Blomkvist, without his tattooed sidekick, Lisbeth Salendar, would probably not have made a literary ripple, let alone caused what's most likely the decade's literary tsunami.

Lisbeth Salander, on the other hand, is simply fabulous -- small, weird, anti-social, brilliant, morally unconventional, and quite shockingly decorated with piercings and tattoos.  Legendary New York Times book reviewer, Michiko Kakutani, writes:
“Lisbeth Salander, Stieg Larsson’s fierce pixie of a heroine, is one of the most original characters in a thriller to come along in a while – a gamin, Audrey Hepburn look-alike but with tattoos and piercings, the take-no-prisoners attitude of Lara Croft and the cool, unsentimental intellect of Mr. Spock. She is the vulnerable victim turned vigilante; a willfully antisocial girl . . . who has proved herself to be as incandescently proficient as any video game warrior.”
As for the author's empathy with his female protagonist, it's certainly there. But who cares about the author's empathy. Lisbeth has our empathy. She is so deliberately what women are not supposed to be, and in following her around for a couple of years (the span of the trilogy) we get to experience both the cost and the glory of living life with no regard at all for convention. Not quite for me; but still, you go, girl!

The problem with these books, for me, is not with the two main characters, but with the editing. Or lack of it. These novels are wordy, confusing, and full of details that slow the pace. A good editor would have whipped these three 500-or-so page thrillers into a trio of 300-pagers.

Who knows why this didn't happen. I suspect it had something to do with the fact that Larsson's estate is tied up in family wrangling. But it could just as easily have had to do with various publishers' desires to get them into readers' hands quickly. I liked The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest best, I think, because Larsson had gotten better at the rhythm and pace of writing a thriller by the time he wrote it.

Stieg Larsson's books have sold over 27 million copies in 40 countries, and just recently hit the 1 million mark in e-book sales. He is the second author to do so. The extremely prolific James Patterson (60 or so novels)  was the first author to sell a million e-books. Patterson published his first novel in 1976. The first Larsson book came out in this country in 2008. The Kindle came out in 2007.

Real book sales of Larsson's trilogy remain phenomenal, as well. When I checked this morning,  Hornet's Nest occupies number 1 on The New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list and  Played with Fire occupies that same spot on paperback fiction.

Okay, back to the question of whether I really liked these books. The answer is that I did. But I wanted to love them. And I didn't do that.

So, how about you?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Carl Kassell vs. Howard Stern . . .

We members of the WMRA community have a special place in our hearts for NPR's Carl Kasell. After all, he delivered our morning news for decades,  he still keeps score on Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me, and he came to visit us last January!

In this blogger's opinion, Carl Kasell's appearance at Blackfriars Playhouse for WMRA was the brightest bright spot of a long, cold, snowy winter!

So it was with great delight that I heard of his recent election to the National Radio Hall of Fame and Museum. If ever a broadcaster deserves affectionate veneration, it is  -- don't you agree? -- Carl Kasell.

The NRHFM website -- again, in this blogger's opinion -- gave Carl a shockingly bland biographical paragraph . . .
NPR broadcaster Carl Kasell has spent over 50 years in radio holding positions such as news director, morning anchor, and newscaster. Currently he is the official judge and scorekeeper for NPR's weekly news quiz show, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! Kasell also provides newscasts at the top of each hour throughout NPR's daily newsmagazine Morning Edition. Over the course of his career, he has won several awards for his contributions and commitment to public radio.
I mean, does that give you any sense of who the man is or what he did for NPR or for Saturday mornings on Wait, Wait?  Let alone what he did for you and me last January?

Another well-known broadcaster, nominated for the fourth time, was not elected. And this broadcaster, Howard Stern, chose to be an ungracious loser. He directed particular ungraciousness at Carl Kasell.

Robert Feder reports on his blog that
[Howard] Stern blasted the outcome anyway on his Sirius XM show Monday. Saying “everybody else sucks,” he called it “almost ludicrous” that he lost in the national/active category to retired NPR news anchor (and Chicago Public Media luminary) Carl Kasell.
Inside Radio, which also noted that despite nearly 20 years in syndicated radio and a peak of more than 60 affiliates, Stern has never won a Marconi Award from the National Association of Broadcasters, quoted him as saying:
“Even if you hate what I do, you couldn’t discount what I’ve accomplished. It’s laughable. The idea of having a Radio Hall of Fame is ridiculous because there aren’t enough guys in radio that are good enough to even have one. The radio dial is just an abomination. There’s such a lack of talent, it’s sickening.”
In response, Carl Kasell, seemingly the mildest of men, did what amounts to stepping into the verbal ring with Howard Stern.  To watch what transpired, just click on the link below.

Who won? If you've got a minute (literally) to watch, you can be the judge. And please leave your vote in the comment section. I've already left mine. . .

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hank's Road

Martha note: The following is another vacation story.This particular essay appeared yesterday on the "Lives" page of The New York Times Magazine.

Sharing Demons with Hank Williams
A month or so ago my husband, Charlie, and I left our home in the Shenandoah Valley and headed West on a summer driving trip. Our first stop was just a couple of hours away: a gas-station parking lot in Oak Hill, W.Va., where Hank Williams was found dead in his Cadillac convertible on New Year’s Day in 1953.
As we wound into Oak Hill, it occurred to me that every small town in West Virginia sits wedged between mountains, which makes driving through them something you choose to do, rather than something that just happens. Once you do take the trouble to visit, however, it’s my experience that small-town West Virginians are generally glad to see you. If you need something, all you have to do is ask. So Charlie and I pulled into a convenience store to buy sodas and fried pies and do just that. Could you tell us, please, at which gas station Hank Williams was found dead?
The counter clerk didn’t know, which surprised me. After all, if you Google “Oak Hill Hank Williams,” you get a lot of hits. She asked a man who’d come in to buy cigarettes, but he wasn’t sure, either. A conversation developed. Finally, a woman came in who did know. Down the street, she said. Just across from the church.
She walked outside with us to point out the right direction. “Used to be Burdette’s Pure Oil,” she said. “You can’t miss it. There’s nothing there now. Nothing at all.”
Musically speaking, I was raised on classical and educated on rock ’n’ roll. Then in my 30s, someone gave me an Emmylou Harris album, and I began listening to more country music. At the time, I was doing a lot of driving on America’s highways in a pickup with a camper, so songs about heartache, not enough money and rolling down the road seemed, somehow, more real. Bourbon, small-town fried chicken and Emmylou’s music kept me more cheerful than I had any right to be during those creative, chaotic, self-destructive years.
Back then I was still a bit of a snob, toting around a snob’s attendant limitations. Hank Williams’s music was too raw, too hayseed to have meaning. He sang completely in his head and through his nose. His songs were too simplistic, too plonka-plonka in their production. The same person could not possibly embrace Wallace Stevens and Hank Williams. It was only after I’d had a lot of the pretentiousness knocked out of me by my own addiction struggles that I came to understand all this was beside the point. Hank Williams didn’t write songs for hillbillies; he wrote songs for anybody interested in facing life with a modicum of openness and honesty.
Holly Wales
Charlie and I drove down the street. There was indeed nothing left of Burdette’s Pure Oil except a concrete slab with a couple of grease spots, a few sprouting wires and some building scraps. I had seen pictures of Burdette’s on the Internet, and it looked to have been built in the ’30s: two gas pumps, peaked blue roof, small double-bay garage, outside restrooms, a soda machine.
That’s what it must have been like 57 years ago when a college student named Charles Carr pulled in driving Hank Williams’s Cadillac, the 29-year-old singer slumped in the back seat, dead of too much alcohol, too many drugs, not enough peace. He probably died sometime earlier, somewhere on the road; no one is quite sure where. Not that it matters.
To me, there is no romance in such a death; and not much in the life that leads to it. I get to say this because I, too, once flirted seriously with self-destruction and know that when you’re an addict, the rest of your life is a shadow no matter how many songs you write or places­ you go or people you please. Or how many good times you have, for that matter. There’s no bargaining with alcohol and drugs once you have to have them. You either stop drinking and using or you die. 
guitar pick from Burdette's Pure Oil roof tile. Courtesy of the Charles A. Slott Collection.
Charlie and I stayed around for about an hour, long enough to pick up some chips of Pure Oil’s signature blue roof tile. I plan to keep mine on my desk at work, along with fortune-cookie slips that tell me “curiosity is life” and I am “almost there”; six smooth pebbles from some river somewhere; and my 24-hour 12 Step chip.
After close to two decades of sobriety, I do pray in a kind of haphazard fashion, and I am open to all things being possible, even after death. So, at Burdette’s Pure Oil, I said a quick howdy to old Hank. And a quick thanks for the songs. And then I offered him a cross-dimensional high-five. For me, as for him, life is a road trip. We’d both been on the road through Oak Hill, W.Va., yet for some reason, I got to keep going.

             -- Martha Woodroof is the author of a novel, “Small Blessings.” She reports for WMRA public radio in Virginia.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Civic Soapbox Friday: When Enough is Enough by Denise Zito

This, I think, is an emphatic essay about rage.

A couple days ago, while sitting at LaGuardia Airport in New York City when I read about the JetBlue flight attendant who in a moment of anger, opened the evacuation slides, grabbed a beer and exited his plane. This was done, in response to a belligerent passenger who’d gotten up before he should have, retrieved his overhead bag before he should have, which fell on the flight attendant’s head. This while the flight attendant was asking him to remain seated until it was safe to get up.
Steven Slater

The New York Times told this story in excruciating detail: the flight attendant headed home, his house was surrounded by a SWAT team and he was promptly arrested. Turns out he had previously been a exemplary employee, had cared for his dying father and was now doing the same for his dying mother. He worked hard at job and friends report that he enjoyed it and was good at it.

But if you’ve flown commercial airlines since September 11, you know why the flight attendant did what he did. Airports are crowded, nasty places. Lines are long. Screeners throw away your shampoo if it is in a four ounce bottle instead of a three ounce. Planes are delayed or cancelled regularly, and for the most part passengers have no recourse. It’s an ordeal to fly these days. No wonder passengers get tetchy. The real wonder is that it took so long for a flight attendant to lose it!

And what about rage in other workplaces? Have you visited a hospital emergency room lately? Nurses and doctors are faced with angry patients and their families. Worked in a high school? Teachers face impertinent students and parents who feel that Johnny is always right. Worked retail? Goofy people return items they’ve obviously used and want their money back. I’ll bet you’ve got similar rage-inducing stories no matter where you work.

It is everyone’s fantasy to have the guts to chuck it when you’ve finally had enough---and that’s what my hero the flight attendant did. He did so in grand style and for this, he will lose his job. Not to mention face charges of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief that could result in up to seven years in prison

Of course, we have all tacitly agreed to a social contract that maintains order and civility. So yes, he needs to lose that job. Flight attendants are taught not to show emotion and to take nearly any abuse in stride. We’re all taught that on the job—the customer is always right and we need to show respect and deference to them always. And in truth, kindness nearly always disarms the angry.

But wait----what happened to the belligerent passenger? Those of us who obey the rules want justice done, right?

In my fantasy world, this customer is arrested and he also loses his job.

I’m up on this soapbox to proclaim that when an employee is disciplined for disorderly conduct, the ignoramus who incited it, with behavior that was completely out of line, should also be disciplined to the same extent.

So if you were on that flight, would you please get in touch with me so that we can finger that passenger to the authorities.

                                     -- Denise Zito lives in Free Union

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sister Kathleen and the Unwasted Life by Cordelia Regan

Martha note: Cordelia originally posted some quick thoughts about the aid workers slain in Afghanistan on the WMRA Facebook page. I asked her to write at greater length for the blog.  And am so happy that she did.
When I was in sixth grade, our math teacher, Sister Kathleen, told us that she hadn't gone through all the trouble of becoming a nun just so that she could teach middle-class, unappreciative American kids. The hot-tempered Irish woman had been ordered by some bishop or other to the catholic school in our affluent Washington, DC suburb. But she confided in us; she had hoped God would send her to Africa, where there was a need for her, where she could do some good. 

Sister Kathleen, stubborn by nature, quit the convent and married an ex-priest.

No matter what God tells us to do, the great majority of us will die in our beds, having accomplished very little good in this great world. Maybe we gave tithes, educated our children, donated to charity. Those are good things, but it takes all of a minute out of our week to write the check, peel the stamp, and lick the envelope.

By contrast, doctors and nurses of the International Assistance Mission have been helping people on the social fringe of Afghanistan since 1966. Of course it took the mass murder of ten of them (two with ties to Harrisonburg), for most of us to discover that these best and brightest, who could have had anything they wanted here, had been giving away all of themselves for decades.

"What a waste," was my reaction when I heard the news. Why would the murderers waste medical knowledge and skill that might one day save their own lives? Why would educated American and European professionals throw away their lives to help the terminally impoverished, the forever unfortunate? I send money to Doctors Without Borders, which I picture as a similar organization, but I never imagined those doctors trekking for days through dangerous territory to help unreachable people. I pictured them at a refugee camp, protected by UN soldiers. I guess I hadn’t read the materials they’d sent.

And then I realized how wrong I was. Those ten people were doing what they knew God put them here for, donating the gifts he gave them in abundance to people who desperately need them. If everybody gave like they did, nobody would need.

No, wasting life is what I do, watching movies and surfing the internet, sometimes for hours after I get back from my job that, although I enjoy it, has little relevance or meaning to me. The real waste is working to pay off the house in 30 years, just about the time Social Security kicks in.

If God is a woman, she doesn’t want to see any leftovers after the meal. It seems to me, these aid workers, and Brian Carderelli, who was filming their work, would make God proud. They used their lives up to the very last morsel--there was no waste.

I would bet my next paycheck that Mrs. Kathleen Ex-Nun, wherever she is, thinks so, too.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Diving Into The New World Of Electronic Self-Publishing: A True Story

Martha note: The following essay was published yesterday on MonkeySee, NPR's pop culture blog at npr.org. I'm posting it here to encourage all my fellow writers in the WMRA community to get their stuff out there. And, remember, if you don't have boxes of novels sitting around, you can always enter the WMRA short, short fiction contest, which was announced in yesterday's post

Happy writing!

This is a post for everyone else who's written an unpublished novel or novels. I believe we are legion. Why live, after all, if you're not going to have fun writing about it?

My own five unpublished novels sat in boxes on the floor of my home office for years. Maybe four of them should stay there, but I recently pulled one out — a gentle, optimistic story called Small Blessings — and when I re-read it, I thought, "Damn! this is good." It was the last novel I'd written, finished a half-decade ago, and it seemed to me that the practice I'd had in writing the first four showed.

But when I finished writing Small Blessings, my agent said it wasn't "edgy enough" to find a publisher in the new century's nervous market. Back then, I took my professional self way too seriously to think about putting out a novel unsanctified by an agent. Besides, there was no viable distribution system for self-published novels, and just getting something between two covers required a substantial investment.

Time, however, makes you bolder. Or at least the last five years have made me bolder.
Time has also seen the release of the Kindle e-reader — and a companion publishing platform that put the mighty reach of Amazon at the disposal of authors like me. Suddenly, viable self-publishing became possible for the $125.00 price of an ISBN.

(An aside: I would never, ever think of loosing a novel, in any format, that's not been edited. Happily for me, Loretta Williams — she was NPR's books and publishing editor at the time — read Small Blessings early on and suggested revisions. If I hadn't known Loretta, I'd have asked writer friends or university writing teachers to recommend a freelance professional editor. Or maybe asked a book-loving friend to take a critical look. And a bit of advice: It's pointless to be fragile during the editing process. I've never written anything that a good edit didn't make better. Any editor is better than no editor, and a good editor is, well, priceless.)

Now, I had known about Kindle publishing for quite a while, however vaguely, before it occurred to me that the "self" in self-publishing could be myself. It was only when I re-read Small Blessings, and liked it, that I made that leap and finally Googled "publishing on Kindle."

Surprise, surprise: The whole process was so not rocket science. First, I entered product details — the book's title, my name, a book blurb, and that ISBN (International Standard Book Number, which you can get through ISBN.org). I designed my novel's cover, a process which I found oddly thrilling. (I kept it simple, using a photograph by my husband, overprinted with the title and my name.)

After this, I confirmed that I had the rights to publish the material; this consisted of checking two boxes. Next, I uploaded the pages and tweaked the book's appearance though the site's preview mode. Then I entered a price. (I chose $2.99. Amazon keeps 30%, authors get the rest.)

And that was it, as far as the mechanics of Kindle publishing goes. All I had left to do was take a double dose of What-the-Hell vitamins and hit the publish button.

Getting up the nerve to do this came down, I think, to the fact that I'd spent two happy years with the characters in Small Blessings, and felt that I owed them for their companionship. If you've never written a novel, you'll think I'm nuts. If you have, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Twenty-four hours or so after pushing that button, Small Blessings was available for download on Kindle, iPhone, PC, Blackberry, iPad and Android.

What about other channels? So far, Barnes & Noble doesn't allow authors to e-publish their work, but they're working on a system — called "pubit!" — that should be available by late summer or early fall. But there are myriad other possibilities for self-publishing, as well as publishing on demand; I went with Kindle mostly because it takes so little investment — and because, well, it puts your book on a website with a staggering amount of traffic. With all those people itching to buy books, I figure maybe someone — someone, that is, who is not a member of my family — will buy mine.

The one thing Kindle doesn't do is erase author typos. A friend has already let me know about mine.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Being the nudge . . .

Last May, NPR declared a winner in round #4 of its Three-Minute Fiction contest. Novelist Ann Patchett sat in final judgment of the thousands of entries, and she selected Ben Yoseph's story, "Not Calling Attention to Ourselves."

"As always," it says at NPR.org, "the stories had to be 600 words or fewer — fiction that can be read in roughly three minutes. This round, however, the stories had to include four words: 'plant,' 'button,' 'trick' and 'fly.' "

Hmmmm. . . (Which I do recognize is getting to be one of my favorite blog expressions. But I've decided that when one produces a daily blog, one is allowed some of those.)

I consider short fiction to be one of life's greatest creative challenges. You have to create a world and move characters around in it, while simultaneously telling a story that carries a larger meaning. Writers try to write short fiction all the time. Few writers do it well.

When you think about it short, short fiction just might be the  fiction writer's ultimate thrown gauntlet.  You have to create that world and move those characters around in it, while simultaneously telling a story that carries a larger meaning -- all in 600 words. What a fun and festive challenge!

My take on the WMRA Community is that we're a hotbed of writers and wanna-be writers -- and by wanna-be writers, I mean those of you who are just waiting for the right nudge to start putting all those stories in your head down on the page.So, we at WMRA have decided to Be the Nudge.

This is the official call for short, short stories. Selected winners will be published on this blog and if, in the opinion of our judges (myself and others yet to be named) it is deemed workable, on the air. And I will take the big winner out to lunch at the restaurant of her/his choice (unless, of course, you'd rather not). There is no final deadline for submissions as of yet, just a plea to submit with all deliberate speed. 

Here are the rules:
  1. 600 words or less
  2. entirely original work by the author/submittor
  3. there are no other rules. We're not shameless copiers of NPR, after all. . .
Feel free to e-mail me or call  800-677-9672 and ask for me if you need encouragement or have questions. And please e-mail your submission, as well.

The photographs of writers are meant to inspire you. After all, two of them live in the WMRA listening area. . .

Monday, August 9, 2010

No news today, just some Monday morning musings on the difference between patience and tolerance . . .

This is a post about a mysterious absence of impatience. Which is a condition I am often mildly (mostly mildly) afflicted with. Stick me behind a car or a minivan driving 38 miles-an-hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone when I am trying to get to work on a weekday morning, and I have to Work Hard at Being Patient. And, in truth, I don't always succeed.

I'm writing this on Monday morning. The weekend was lovely, slow-moving, restful, just sociable enough. Plus, it included a road trip to West Virginia, which is always something I look forward to and enjoy.

around home/Charles Woodroof

We left around nine yesterday morning. To get where we were going, we had to drive through Dayton, which meant we had to drive through Old Order Mennonite country. Where, on any given Sunday morning, you are likely to get stuck behind a gaggle of buggies, clip-clopping along at about 18 mph downhill and maybe 3 mph uphill. And this, on curvy, hilly roads where it is often difficult to pass.

Wikipedia image
Yesterday, we indeed fetched up behind a half-dozen or so buggies heading to church, nicely spaced out in recognition that motorists want to pass them; and that, if motorists pass buggies one at a time, it is safer for all concerned.

I queued with the rest of the trapped cars, but instead of chafing at the slowness, I simply looked out the window and enjoyed the view. I did not feel the first whisper of impatience.

Now this is not just because it was the weekend. Put me behind a pack of recreational bicyclists riding four abreast on a Sunday morning so that I have to trundle along behind them, and I am blowing steam out my ears. Which, I know, is heresy to many, but this is confession time and I feel what I feel. Why cannot those bicyclists ride single file so I can get around them?!!!!!!  Is this what "share the road" means?!!!!!!! AAARGH!

Whatever the reason is for my tolerance of the speed of Mennonite buggies, what I would really like to remember is how peaceful tolerance feels. This morning as I write, I remain acutely mindful of that experience yesterday; of how good it felt not simply being patient with those who were slowing me down, but not having it occur to me to be otherwise. I am going to try to hang on to this awareness when I head into work and get stuck behind a mini-van going 38-miles-an-hour for all those no-pass miles.

I think it's a matter of being patient vs. feeling tolerant. The first takes an act of will; the second feels like a gift. And boy-howdy am I open to receiving it. Life is too short to waste chunks of it feeling annoyed at things that just are the way they are.

buggies parked outside Sunday church/http://billhooker.blogspot.com/