Thursday, July 28, 2005

Creative Ink is on vacation

I've done a lot of traveling in the past two years, but it has always been work-related. I'm thrilled to say Creative Ink is finally going on vacation.

My creative battery needs a recharge and so I'll not be posting, checking e-mail or voicemail. I'm bringing only pleasure reading, absolutely nothing that smacks of work. I'll have my notebook because I always do and I'm sure throughout the next eight days I'll have collected a number of observations. Perhaps I'll share some of them here when I return.

Mostly, I'm looking forward to playing with my family — laughing, riding the waves, eating fresh seafood, cooking together and just generally relaxing. See you back here on August 8th.

Travel not only stirs the blood … It also gives strength to the spirit. — Florence Prag Kahn, U.S. Congresswoman from California ( 1925-1937)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Some great chops

Anne Applebaum proves once again why she is on the op-ed pages of the Washington Post in this searing look at the little-covered, little-attended Senate confirmation hearing of Karen Hughes to undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

And thus with no discussion and no debate, Hughes takes over the least noticed, least respected and possibly most important job in the State Department … In plain English, her job is to fight anti-Americanism, promote American culture and above all to do intellectual battle with the ideology of radical Islam, a set of beliefs so powerful that they can persuade middle-class, second-generation British Muslims to blow themselves up on buses and trains.

The traditional tools of public diplomacy -- American libraries, Fourth of July parties, “citizen ambassadors” -- are uniquely unsuited to the task of encouraging debate within Islam as well. But Hughes has nothing to lose by dropping the four "E's," going back to the rest of the alphabet, and thinking way, way outside the box. Judging by Bali, Madrid, London and Sharm el-Sheikh, not to mention New York and Washington, whatever we're doing right now, it isn't working.

A warm welcome home

When Riley and I wandered out to get the newspaper this morning we were surprised to see some girls hanging around the driveway of my neighbor's house. After all, it was 6:30 in the morning.

But then I remembered... Sarah and Lauren, my neighbor's daughters, were due to arrive home after having spent the past six weeks in Taiwan. The girls (Sarah is 13, Lauren is 11) left a few days after school let out to spend time getting to know their parents' native country.

Frank and Ellen were excited about the girls practicing their Chinese with their many cousins, grandparents and assorted relatives. And the chance for them to immerse themselves in the culture. Frank flew over with them and spent two weeks. Ellen left two weeks ago to fly back with them. In between, the girls spent two weeks living with their relatives.

So I watched out my living room window, feeling a bit like a voyeur, as the gaggle of girls (and one boy) gathered in their drive. Two were sword-fighting with what looked like chopsticks. And then they excitedly grabbed their large welcome home sign and began jumping up and down just like young, gangly teenage girls are apt to do — all arms and legs and ponytails flinging about.

Sarah hopped out of the car and ran to hug her friends. I've known her since she was four and I was struck by how much older she appeared. Her hair had been long and now it was cut shorter. And then little Lauren, still with a ponytail down to her waist got out of the car, clearly excited to be home.

Their grandmother, whom they call Poh Poh, came back with them. She's spent every summer that I can remember with the girls. She always enjoyed seeing my Michael. One year she pointed to him, said something in Chinese and smiled.

"My Grandma says the baby has gotten big," Sarah translated. I nodded to her and said thank you for noticing.

Perhaps tomorrow I'll head over and get the full story. For now, we'll let the girls revel in being back home.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Summer reading

“Just as there are songs that forever remind you of a certain summer in your life, there are books that claim a particular summer: the summer when everyone read "The Mists of Avalon"; the Harry Potter summers; the summer you tackled Dickens.”

Or so writes author Alice Hoffman on the op-ed pages of today’s New York Times. My summers were spent devouring books, sometimes series, sometimes a mishmosh of stuff. Today, I spend summer reading lighter fare and save more challenging works for winter.

When I was 9, it was the summer of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I had the entire set of “Little House” books and though they were paperback, I had a nifty cardboard case for storing them on my bookshelf.

Once, when my family was camping, I nearly risked life and limb to safe my precious book. We were out on a family hike and I was (of course) carrying my book with me. As we negotiated a somewhat treacherous part of the path along Cowan Lake in southwestern Ohio, I dropped my beloved book facedown into the lake.

Panicked and near tears, I stepped out on a limb precariously hanging over the shore to fetch my book. “Wendy!” my mom screamed, not realizing I was after my book.

Another summer, though I can’t recall if it was before or after that, I read the “Anne of Avonlea” series. Even as a child I can always remember wanting to know more about the characters than some authors gave. So I invented many of the missing details myself.

Girls of a certain age will probably remember their summer of the disturbing V.C. Andrews series (“Flowers in the Attic, etc.). If my mom had any notion of what those were about she never would have allowed my sister and I to read them.

But the one I remember as “the one perched between childhood and adolescence; the dividing line between then and now,” was the summer I read Judy Blume’s “Are You There God It’s Me, Margaret?”

My mom remembers me lying on top of our picnic table on the patio reading nonstop, ALL day.

Oh jeez, how could I forget the Nancy Drew series! My all-time favorite was “The Spider Sapphire Mystery.” But “The Hidden Staircase” was a close second. The young sleuth was in Kenya and I remember fantasizing about going to Kenya. I pored through my dad’s old National Geographics to find stories and photos of Kenya.

This summer I’ve read an eclectic selection of books: “The Mermaid Chair” and “The Kite Runner,” “The Moviegoer” and “The Fourth Hand.” I’m in the midst of reading “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” series loaned to me by my pal, Lisa Best. My niece, Mary, was telling me she loved the books. She’s 12 going on 13 and I’m sure this summer will be her summer of the Traveling Pants books.

I’ll probably finish the second book before we leave for vacation, which means I’ll be bringing with me the following:

• “Hudson River Bracketed” by Edith Wharton (I can’t believe there’s one I’ve not yet read.)
• “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene
• “The DaVinci Code” by Dan Brown (What the hell, everyone else has read it. I suppose I might as well.)

What I won’t have with me are any of the review books that seem to be blurring together these days.

Happy reading!

Monday, July 25, 2005

The week ahead

Why do we have to work like dogs in order to leave for stinking week's vacation?

The family is pulling out at 6 a.m. on Friday for the Outer Banks (yeah!), but before Friday I've got to write two book reviews, a column, a feature story, attend two meetings, one last baseball game, buy two birthday presents (for two birthday parties this week), deposit Riley at the kennel, take Ryan to his physical, get an oil change in the van and somehow in there find time to pack. (Boo!)

And I wonder why I'm such a psychotic freak before every vacation. It's over-freaking-whelming!

Postings this week will either be short, erratic or (possibly, though I'll try to resist) ranting. And then Creative Ink is going on vacation for a week. I'll not be bringing the laptop, nor will I be bringing any book I HAVE to read. I am looking forward to unplugging and recharging the old battery.

Jill's a blogger
My good pal Jill Zimon has finally launched her blog, Writes Like She Talks, which if you know Jill personally is a perfect choice of titles. Welcome, Jill.

Almost there
Aahhhh…

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Federal shield law gets a hearing

So the latest federal shield law got its first hearing yesterday. I am both surprised and not surprised. I am surprised that there exists some pretty nice bipartisan support for something so seemingly abhorrent to politicians as journalistic privilege.

But I’m not surprised at the Department of Justice’s problem with the nature of the legislation. As the New York Times reported this morning, the two-and-a-half-hour hearing was standing-room-only. While the DOJ expressed problems with the bill, its representative did not bother to attend or testify before the committee. Here's the Times:

James B. Comey, deputy attorney general, said in a statement, "The bill is bad public policy primarily because it would bar the government from obtaining information about media sources - even in the most urgent of circumstances affecting the public's health or safety or national security."

"The bill would seriously jeopardize traditional notions of grand jury secrecy and unnecessarily delay the completion of criminal investigations," Mr. Comey added.

To address concerns in Congress and the Justice Department, both the Senate and the identical House bill were recently revised to carve out an exception for national security issues.


Basically, Comey and the DOJ were working off an outdated version that didn’t specify exceptions in the case of imminent national security threat.

What frequently gets lost in the discussion about a federal shield law or any reporter’s privilege is that the goal is NOT to protect any criminals or blatant criminal activity, nor is it to raise journalists above the law, it is simply to protect the public’s right to know what its government, business and others are doing.

Case in point is this piece in this week’s Scene magazine that points to possible corruption at Cleveland City Hall throughout the 1990s. Here’s the Plain Dealer story that many feel was one being held for fear for legal repercussions.

An editorial in today’s Times even mentions the Plain Dealer’s dilemma as evidence of the need for a federal shield law since the stories above involve a federal grand jury.

Norman Pearlstine, editor in chief of Time Inc., testified yesterday that since his decision to turn over notes in the Valerie Wilson case to the federal prosecutor, Time reporters had shown him mail "from valuable sources who insisted that they no longer trusted the magazine." The Cleveland Plain Dealer has announced it will not publish two investigative reports because they are based on leaked documents and the paper fears the possibility of subpoenas. Its editor said, "Jail is too high a price to pay." We regret that decision, but it should at least ring alarm bells for Congress.

The Society of Professional Journalists has been involved with the issue and National President Irwin Gratz issued this statement yesterday.

Irwin writes of recent court interpretations and how those are driving discussion of the need for shield law.

Then, two years ago next month (August 2003), Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a ruling involving Michael McKevitt took issues with those court rulings:

“Some of the cases that recognize the privilege, such as Madden, essentially ignore Branzburg, ... some treat the "majority" opinion in Branzburg as actually just a plurality opinion, such as Smith, ... some audaciously declare that Branzburg actually created a reporter's privilege.”

Posner's findings have been echoed by several other judges in the past two years, leading to the increased likelihood that prosecutors would subpoena reporters. And they have. In the most notorious case to date, New York Times reporter Judy Miller has been jailed for refusing to comply with a subpoena. So, we, and other journalism groups are turning to a practical solution that has worked in 31 other states: a shield law. Some don’t like a shield law because it will lead to Congress to classify who is a journalist. But SPJ is pushing for language, currently in the draft statute, that would create a “function test.” In other words, whoever you are, if you are doing journalism, you’ll be covered. Others have argued a law passed by Congress can be repealed by a future Congress piqued by our work. So what? That won’t leave us any worse off than we are now. And some still prefer to believe the First Amendment is all the protection we need. But recent court rulings make it clear that’s not true.


I’ll be writing about this in my next Quill column.

And finally today
I am deeply humbled to have read this post by my pal and fellow writer, John Ettorre. He and a handful of others have steadily encouraged me to push my skills ever further in the past two years. But he was the first to grant me permission to let my voice be heard and it was through that gentle prodding that I found my courage to write.

Thank you, John.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The daily challenge

This advice was directed toward newspaper, but I think it applies to all writers.

"Each day we must publish a newspaper that makes us proud, but not so proud that we forget that it is not our newspaper, but our readers'. To accomplish that, we must:

Be fresh.
Be informative.
Be inviting.
Be accurate and fair.
Be appetizing.
Be clear.
Be imaginative.
Be unselfish.
Care. Care. Care. Take it and show it."

— John "Chips" Quinn, editor, Poughkeepsie (NY) Journal, 1990, in a memo to his staff. Quinn died at age 34, but there's a scholarship program in his name.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Time stands still at Linwood Park

For as long as I’ve known my husband (18 years), we have always indulged in a Hoke tradition — a summer visit to Linwood Park in Vermilion. Just a mere 40 minutes from his childhood home in Bay Village, Linwood was where his mom, dad and his seven brothers and sisters and assorted friends and family would set up camp for a few weeks every summer.

Danny’s dad, an insurance agent, would commute from Linwood to his Lorain office during the summer. There was a time, Joanne told us a few years ago, when she and my father-in-law could have purchased a cottage out there for a mere $20,000. Of course at the time it might as well have been $200,000.

When we were there on Sunday, a small cottage in need of some major TLC, sitting just two back from Lake Erie was listed at $285,000.

Times have changed and yet at Linwood they never really do. I suppose that is the park’s charm.

People from all over, including a family from London, England, make the trip every summer to this small strip of beach along Lake Erie, filled with towering trees, the chiming of church bells in the Tabernacle and rows of white cottages.

My first trip there was in September 1990. Danny and I were dating and we had both taken our first paid vacation. We didn’t have enough money to go away anywhere, so we decided to take little day trips in and around Cleveland.

He was so excited to show me Linwood. We packed a picnic and made the short drive west. Once you drive through the gates of Linwood you realize that time has virtually stopped here. The playground equipment is the old metal stuff you never see. Kids roam freely on their bikes and parents placidly stroll hand-in-hand along its sandstone walkways. Generations of families convene for a little rest and relaxation.

From The Stand comes the familiar sound of a screen door slamming as kids run in and out with their stash of penny candy, slushies and change for the game room.

Most of the cottages look just as they did at the turn of the 20th century. White Victorians with green shutters and plenty of white wicker furniture on overstuffed screened porches. No air conditioning here. Only the Lake Erie breezes and the whirring of oscillating fans to keep cool. Clever names on placards adorn their fronts — Snug Harbor, Sea Breeze, Friendly Inn, Seventh Heaven.

Most of the cottages are without insulation, phones or cable. There’s a tiny wooden booth with a single pay phone in case you feel compelled to make a call. But the point out there is to completely unplug.

Our first day there, Danny and I sat on the beach and he told me stories about the old guy who walked the beach day in and day out and would smother his body in vinegar. Or how his dad would give a whistle and a wave when they had all gone too far out into the water. Or how he had to share a bedroom with his little niece, Kelly, who is now 25 and getting married next year. He found a heart-shaped rock on the beach that he gave me that day and I still have it in my jewelry box.

The only drawback of the place is the rocks. You can’t get into the water without having to walk over a two-foot-wide patch of rocks on the shoreline. Most experienced Linwood visitors have a pair or two of water shoes to protect their feet from cuts.

We spent our first family vacation there. Danny, Ryan and I had moved into our first house a month earlier. It was over Labor Day and we found that many of the planes heading for the Cleveland Air Show would buzz the beach on their way in to Burke.

To this day, we both agree that was the most relaxing vacation we’ve ever had for many reasons. Life with one very easy-going baby was pretty simple.

We’ve not spent a week out there since. It’s pretty pricey these days and now the thought of spending our precious week’s vacation so close to home sounds depressing. But a summer doesn’t go by that the Hokes don’t pile into the car and spend the day at Linwood.

My sister-in-law and her family are out there this week. We spent the day and on into the evening with them on Sunday. It was heavenly. My niece, Mary is an aspiring artist and she spent the day collecting flat rocks she could paint. When we were leaving she gave me one as a present. As we drove home the boys talked about how "awesome" Linwood is. "Can we get a cottage there next summer?" they asked.

Mary Beth and Jack have invited us to come back and stay on Thursday night. We’ll see. We’re getting ready to go on our own vacation on the 29th to our family’s other favorite spot — the Outer Banks of North Carolina. But really, one can never get too much of the beach in summer.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Bad news, good news

Was bound to happen soon. Picked up the mail to find one of my SASE among the stack of bills from the many pitches I've been sending out lately.

This one was from Continental magazine. When I opened the letter I was pleased to see that it contained a handwritten note from the editor that said he liked my idea, but that he couldn't bend the format to fit. "Free free to send more ideas. MB"

Sweet! I will.

The meaning of sacrifice

Today’s PD features a letter to the editor by a woman in North Royalton who expresses concern about today’s mothers trying to “protect” their children from military recruiters.

She compares today’s moms in particular (parents in general) with the moms of World War II, no doubt a dismal comparison. She writes:

”The children these moms of today are trying to protect are products of privilege who have never been asked to give up a thing to preserve and protect our country.

“Sacrifice is not in their vocabulary. But I am willing to bet it is these same moms (and dads) who make their presence known at sporting events such as the recent one where a concession worker was killed and an umpire badly beaten.

“I truly fear for the future of this country with parents and children like these in charge.”
— Dorothy M. Olson, North Royalton

Well, Mrs. Olson, your letter gave me pause and even made me ashamed of my generation. We arespoiled and privileged. Though our parents didn’t fight in World War II, our grandparents did. We were too young to remember Vietnam and the Gulf War was, for many, a television experience. So maybe as a generation we’re slow to learn the meaning of the word “sacrifice” because we’ve never been asked to. Our parents and grandparents fought bravely so that we could have the privileges we do.

Unfortunately, some of us have forgotten the value of that sacrifice. It’s become a distant memory and our generation never felt the discomfort and pain it brought. We only felt the freedoms and prosperity that ensued.

But we live in a different time from the turn of the millennium. And it would behoove us to listen to the wisdom of our elders.

I come from a long line of military-serving family. My father recently learned that his natural father’s family traces its roots back to the American Revolution. His biological dad was a Navy SEABEE in World War II.

My paternal grandfather was an Army infantryman in Guam in World War II. Somewhere in his attic are Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals, though he’s never told us how and why he came to receive those honors. We suspect he never will because he saw things in that war that people just don’t discuss.

My maternal grandfather was in the Coast Guard serving in the Pacific Theater. My dad spent time on Navy subs, my uncle served in the Navy in the Philippines during Vietnam. On the Fourth of July in 1972, we had a great party and a family photo that I still have. My uncle was there only briefly, I recall. My Gram told me recently that he was shipping out to Vietnam that day and she had him for only a few hours. And in those few hours she had to share him with dozens of relatives, despite wanting to hold onto him for herself.

I didn’t see my older brother, Chris for four years. He served in the Air Force in Germany and even missed my wedding 14 years ago. After all, this was in the months after the Gulf War.

But I keep coming back to this word “sacrifice.” What exactly does it mean today?

I’ve had many kitchen table conversations with my Gram about World War II. I was a history and political science minor in college and focused much of my education on contemporary history. I’m interested in learning lessons from the past and how we can apply those to the future. I get antsy when I think we’re not seeing history repeat itself and so that shapes my world view.

I’m also the family archivist of sorts and would regularly page through albums, asking Gram how she managed on her own in New York City with a baby (my mom). My mom was born on July 4, 1942 in Staten Island. My Grandpa saw my mom when she was born, but then was gone for 2-1/2 years. My mom didn’t know who he was when he came home from the war. I can’t imagine how hard that was for both my grandparents.

My Gram’s response always is: “We just did what we had to. Everyone had to make sacrifices and it didn’t do you any good to complain.”

So how do we teach such noble notions, sacrifice without complaint, to our children in this culture of instant gratification and continuous whining?

It comes down to widening your view — realizing that it isn’t all about you or me or us. It means making sure your children read and consume news. Encourage them to ask questions about what’s happening in the world. Explore together ways to find answers and to learn about things you don’t currently understand. A front-page photo of a grieving mother from Kosovo years ago opened the door for a discussion with Ryan about hatred and the confusion and mayhem and destruction that can result from one group not understanding or accepting another group.

The night of September 11, 2001, as I tucked my children in to bed, Patrick asked me: “Do I have to forgive the terrorists?” That opened a discussion on the real nature of forgiveness and why it is so bloody difficult.

I have three sons and there’s a good chance that in five years, when Ryan turns 18, the War in Iraq will still be going on. My Patrick is almost 11 and keenly interested in all things military. It would not surprise me in the least if he finds himself called to serve.

It will break my heart because in my selfishness I will want him to engage in something “safe.” But I will keep that to myself because it will also make me very proud to think that he is so dedicated to his country that he will volunteer to defend it.

I ran into an old friend over the weekend and she was wearing one of those Livestrong-like bands that was Army green and said in celebration of Uncle Dan, U.S.M.C. When I asked her about it, she said her 10-year-old son ordered them online for her brother-in-law who works for CENTCOM.

This is a guy who was born into a wealthy family that owns a Fortune 500 company. He skipped the family business and instead earned a law degree and master’s degree in public policy from Harvard. He has political aspirations but felt it important to have military service before considering politics. So after college he entered officer candidate school. Today he is serving as a lieutenant in the Marines for CENTCOM. He regularly shuttles back and forth from Afghanistan to Iraq. He could have gotten a pass on the War on Terror since at the time his unit was called up he was working in the White House. But he said if his unit was going to the Middle East, he preferred to be with them.

As I told my friend, that kind of person is unfortunately rare.

So, Mrs. Olson, I hope you find hope in such stories and I hope your generation will be willing to speak to ours of the meaning of sacrifice. Because we’re not all so selfish, we’ve just never really been asked to sacrifice before.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Of little time and many topics

Quick correction
Larry Savage, editor of the Star-Banner weeklies in Ocala, Fla., e-mailed to tell me that it was not Jodie Foster who starred in the original "Bad News Bears," but Tatum O'Neal. But, of course. So thank you, Larry for sending that along. And thanks for reading.

So many things to write about and so little time.

Judy Miller is still in jail. Karl Rove is still employed. Scott McClellan is (finally) getting battered by White House Press Corps. For great giggles, check out The Daily Show spin. God, I love that Jon Stewart. Too bad I can't hack stayin up that late. Instead I catch him a day later at the dinner hour just before (or maybe it's after) MAD-TV.

Such a quandary. Instead, I'll settle for an abbreviated version of what I was going to write about, which is as follows:

Journalism and patriotism
Charles Madigan wrote a brilliant column in the Chicago Tribune earlier this week. Here's the gist:

The problem conservative critics have with modern news media is the same problem conservative critics have always had with news media.

It's not just that they despise liberals. They do. But I think the whole liberal thing is a ruse.

What they really dislike is journalism.


Truth, unlike spin, is unpatriotic. Or at least that's what many in the current administration would have us believe. Here's Madigan again.

In a democracy based on the thought that an informed electorate will make wise decisions, someone has to point out all of these unpleasant things, just so you know what your government is up to.

I know, it's not happy to hear it. It's not patriotic either.

It is just truth building up over time and playing out in context. If you really long for flag-waving news, go to a parade. But that is not what journalism is about.


Or, if you prefer the Hollywood version:

I'm tired of being labeled anti-American because I ask questions. — Actress Susan Sarandon

Actors as journalists
Speaking of actors, my neighbor gave me a couple issues of a magazine called Interview. The basic premise is that celebrities interview other celebrities in Q and A style.

Some of it is pure dreck. But some of it is quite good. For example, the May cover story on Russell Crowe (Yum!) is "written" by actor Paul Giamatti. Perhaps the better title for this pub is "Conversations," because that's what these really are. Here's an excerpt:

PG: But didn't you like working in secret before? Did you prefer working that way?

RC:
A whole part of my creative life has been ruined by becoming famous. I was the prime observer. I was the person who could just slip into any situation, see what I needed to see, and take the information away. But that way of working has been taken from me."

PG: So how do you compensate for that?

RC:
You can't. But there are still ways of walking down the street without being recognized—and without getting a false nose or moustache. If you just change your energy, you can sort of get away with it. But you do go from being an observer to being the one who is observed. That's when the whole theory falls apart. But, on the positive side, you get access to better minds. That's one advantage, I think, in the way things have come down for me."

I'm sure the same could be said for writers who have been propelled into fame. One moment they quietly make their living as the observer, the next they are in the spotlight, the monkey in the zoo. I wonder how that affects their creative process and how they compensate.

Bad News Bears
When was the last time you saw the original Walter Matthau / Jodie Foster version of "Bad News Bears?" My husband and I rented it last summer for the boys, thinking fondly on how much we enjoyed the movie.

But what we saw was jarring to say the least. I'm convinced we only saw the scrubbed-up TV version of this movie because the original is pretty bad. There's ample sexual, racial and social stereotyping and overtones, not to mention the whole drunk coach thing.

Now there's a remake starring Billy Bob Thornton. A friend of mine saw the trailer in the theater recently and said there's no way her kids are going to see this movie. "The trailer should have been rated PG-13," she said.

I'm no prude, and neither is she, when it comes to our kids seeing movies, but I have to say the original seemed a dinosaur from another age. Danny and I may have to screen the new version first.

One last thing
My labor of love story on Thomas Merton ran in last week's Catholic Herald in Arlington, Va. Special thanks to my SPJ gal pal and fellow Korean traveler, Ann Augherton for helping me place the story.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A little experiment

So Ryan and I were chatting the other day in the car about teen stuff and writing about teen stuff and I mentioned it would be great to start a Web site geared toward the more "normal" end of parenting teens, whatever the heck that is.

And then I thought, it would be oodles of fun to have him (and eventually other teens) write a bit from time to time about being a kid and dealing with parents, yada, yada, yada.

Here's Ryan's most pressing issue of the moment:

Okay, so you've been talking on the phone with your friends and there's a big party and everyone in the entire seventh grade will be there. Then your parents tell you that you're babysitting that night. What do you do, especially when they don't pay you a DIME!?

Eek! Okay, maybe this isn't what I bargained for. So I very diplomatically explain how important it is for mom and dad to get a little time away from home together. And how it's your duty as oldest child to care (cash-free) for your younger siblings. We've all done it before.

Screw younger siblings, it's all about me!

Ah, yes, and so it is. But isn't there a happy middle ground, somewhere maybe?

Heck no! Not unless you're going to cough up the cash!

So it's really all about you and cash, right?

Correctamundo. I need the green to support my social life.

So let's talk specifics, Ry-Guy. What is fair pay for say three hours of babysitting your brothers who essentially care for themselves on a Saturday night?

Three hours of babysitting, let's say $25 clams and call it a night.

Okay, I'm mathematically challenged, but trying to figure this out. $25 divided by hours = $8.33 per hour divided by two children in your charge equals $4.17 per kid per hour. Hmmm. Let me think about this.

Tick, tock, tick, tock.

Alright, already! It's a deal. Jeez, Dad and I thought we were done paying for sitters. Didn't know we'd have to pony up the dough for our kid to watch our other kids.

Looks like we have a winner, Hank! Mom, treaty accepted. This is what I call a win-win. But if you and dad can be home by 9, can I still go to the party?

Oy!

In need of some techy help
There's no question that in the next six months I'm going to have to lay out some cash for some technology — new computer, software, Web site. I don't need help with the computer stuff — I'm a diehard Mac fan. That's a no-brainer.

Thing is, I'd like to create a Web site that allows me to post samples of my work, bio info, photos, contact, etc. The realization that I don't have access to my PD stories in electronic format led me to panic when trying to send samples to a national magazine editor recently. Given the flurry of pitching I've been engaged in, I'd like to be able to point editors to a site.

I'd also like to keep the blog, but a search of Creative Ink as a domain reveals the URL is taken. Huge bummer.

Any suggestions on expanding my Web presence, my friends? I'd be willing to barter writing services for Web design services. Or I'd take suggestions on software that would allow me to do it myself.

Thanks!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

ROVE-ing for answers

Karl Rove is allegedly involved in the Valerie Plame outing. But, of course. Here’s how I imagine his conversation with Time magazine reporter, Matthew Cooper, going down.

KR: Did you see that dreck Wilson wrote in yesterday’s Times? Give me a break. Wilson’s just cranked cause his old lady has a better gig than he at the CIA.

Cooper: Are you saying his wife is a CIA operative?

KR: Yeah, she’s some kind of “secret” (using his fingers to make quotation marks) agent. But she — and Wilson — don’t know dick about WMD.


The cocky Rove seems to have no problem picturing himself as untouchable. After all, he’s the mastermind of the 2004 presidential election. No steenkin’ reporter can touch him, let alone a federal grand jury. But heck, that doesn’t even seem to be an issue for him so all this talk about firing the culprit is really just a load of hooey.

Normally, loose lips can sink ships, but in the Bush White House when the enemy (namely the press) strikes clean, it’s simply time to change the rules of the engagement. Today’s Times reports that even if Rove did leak Plame’s name, he’s not a target of the investigation.

Under some circumstances, it can be against the law to disclose the identity of a covert C.I.A. operative. Mr. (Robert D.) Luskin (Rove’s attorney) has said he has been told by the prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, that Mr. Rove is not a target of the investigation.

Who is a target of the investigation, Mr. Fitzgerald? A reporter who didn’t even write a story about the incident? You know, the one who is currently sitting in a federal prison?

It seems Fitzgerald isn’t the only one who thinks Rove didn’t commit a crime. First Amendment attorney Bruce S. Sanford who filed a brief on behalf of the reporters in the contempt case, said:

"It is clear that Karl Rove's conversation with Matt Cooper does not fall into that category" of criminal conduct, Mr. Sanford said. "That's not 'knowing.' It doesn't even come close."

And yet both Bush and Press Secretary Scott McClellan made clear a year ago that leaking Plame's identity would be considered a firing offense by the White House. But then again that was over a year ago and, well, when you don’t like the game and the kids are playing at your house, you defiantly proclaim that since it's YOUR house, you'll play any way you decide and you decided that game just changed.

The kicker in all this is that there appears to be some dispute over just how "secret" a secret agent Valerie Plame was.

"She had a desk job in Langley," said Ms. (Victoria) Toensing (chief counsel to the Senate intelligence committee when the law making it a crime to disclose the identities of covert agents was enacted) … "When you want someone in deep cover, they don't go back and forth to Langley."

Then can someone please explain to me why a reporter sits in jail as a result of all this hullabaloo?

Click hereto sign a statement in support of Judith Miller.

More updates

Here's the transcript from yesterday's White House briefing.

I'd like to spare you the time and say it's all a lot of nothing, but I think it's important that the public, not simply the press, see the level of stonewalling that occurs on the part of its elected leader.

And Timothy Noah at Slate rather eloquently makes the case that regardless of what crime he did or did not commit, Turd Blossom, er, Rove must go.

Monday, July 11, 2005

From babies to braces

Not so long ago my husband and I congratulated ourselves on making our last child care payment after 12 long years. Seemed like a milestone in our life and my husband was near-giddy at the prospect of having that extra cash in our monthly budget.

I tempered his enthusiasm with a comment to the effect of "I'm sure that cash will be consumed by something else, say athletic shoes."

Alas we enjoyed two months of no payments and then we had our fateful meeting with the orthodontist last week and our long-term financial trajectory has become crystal clear. It is thus:

• Child care
• Braces/orthodontics
• College tuition

We knew we were in for braces with Ryan, (early indications are that we'll go three-for-three on braces) but I for one had to scoop my jaw off the floor when I saw the price tag. Clearly the cost has quadrupled since I had braces. But like all other necessary expenses, we'll grin (with our million-dollar smiles) and bear it.

Besides maybe we'll one day experience the flip side of a financial whammy, otherwise known as a windfall. One can hope for the unexpected. After all, and with a nod to author Ursula K. LeGuin, the only thing that makes life tolerable is not knowing what comes next.

Oy!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Journalistic solidarity

I feel spoiled. I sit in my office week in and week out researching, reporting, pitching, writing and editing stories about which I’m passionate. My beat is not foreign affairs, courts or cops, government or war.

No, I write about the softer subjects – books, authors, religion, arts, people and health. But I do so in relative security that what I’m doing isn’t rocking anybody’s boat, that it’s the sugar found in your morning newspaper.

And that’s why this morning I stand in awe of the courage and conviction of Judith Miller, the latest in a line of journalists jailed for protecting a source. Miller sits in a detention center outside of Washington, D.C., because she won’t reveal a confidential source who leaked the identity of a CIA operative to her to a federal grand jury in a story she never wrote.

"Your Honor," she said, "in this case I cannot break my word just to stay out of jail. The right of civil disobedience based on personal conscience is fundamental to our system and honored throughout our history."

She noted that she had covered the war in Iraq, and had lived and worked all over the world.

"The freest and fairest societies are not only those with independent judiciaries," she said, "but those with an independent press that works every day to keep government accountable by publishing what the government might not want the public to know."


I’m a First Amendment absolutist, meaning I believe it to be for everyone, not just journalists. I’d like to think the prospect of being jailed would never happen to me. And I’d like to think that given the same set of circumstances as Miller that I would be just as strong in my convictions, bravely facing prison to stand up for what I believe.

But then I looked in on my sleeping babes this morning and wondered if I would have the strength to survive not seeing them for up to six months. I don’t know and I sincerely hope I’m never tested as such.

What is frightening is how little concern the larger public has for such violations of our free society. Outside of the handful of journalist friends with whom I’ve corresponded in the past few days, no one is proclaiming the great injustice that has befallen Miller.

I’m afraid they know not what is at stake. Despite the public’s disregard for the fate of what they may see as an obstinate reporter and large media organization, the fight is really about our country's basic freedoms and the public's right to know.

In a statement, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of The Times, said Ms. Miller had followed her conscience, with the paper's support. "There are times when the greater good of our democracy demands an act of conscience," Mr. Sulzberger said. "I sincerely hope that now Congress will move forward on federal shield legislation so that other journalists will not have to face imprisonment for doing their jobs."

How many others face prison for doing their jobs? For working for the greater good of society? For exposing corruption? The answer is not many. But it’s something that with increasing frequency is befalling journalistic colleagues.

Jim Taricani, of WJAR-TV, Providence spent six months in house arrest in 2004 for refusing to reveal who gave him an FBI videotape that was evidence in an investigation of government corruption.

Six others since 1990 have shared similar fates. This string began in 1978 with Myron Farber, the New York Times reporter who refused to submit news files to a judge presiding over a surgeon’s murder trial. He spent 40 days in jail.

But of all the incidents, the case of Vanessa Leggett of Houston is most chilling. In 2001, this freelance writer spent 168 days in jail for refusing to surrender research for a book about a federal murder-for-hire case. And now another woman, Judith Miller, stands to spend more than 100 days in jail until the grand jury expires on Oct. 28.

So when I become complacent about what I do, I pause to remember that it isn't just reporters at large media organizations whose work is subject to such charges. It is also the independents among us. Leggett, whom I saw speak in Fort Worth, Texas after she was released, did what many before her had not been forced to do. She spent half a year of her young life behind bars without the benefit of a larger media organization working on her behalf.

She stood her ground on behalf of freelancers and journalists everywhere. The government maintained that she was not a professional journalist, but larger media organizations across the country knew better, and knew the consequences of allowing the federal government to define who is and who is not a journalist.

A New York Times editorial proclaimed: "Integral to our freedom of the press is the notion that the First Amendment protects those who are engaged in journalism, not those certified as journalists by the government. If the government refuses to recognize a fledgling freelancer as a real journalist, it may next decree that someone who works for a small newspaper also fails to make the grade."

Society of Professional Journalists past president Ray Marcano said in a 2001 statement that freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution should apply to all individuals, not simply to a full-time staff member of a print or broadcast media entity. Individuals should be free to gather and report without fear of becoming an arm of the government.

"Leggett's arrest and jailing smacks of gestapo tactics in a society in which journalists and other writers perform their duties without fear of government interference," said Marcano, an assistant managing editor at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News. "She has been unjustly jailed because she doesn't want to hand over her unpublished materials. She also was jailed by an unnamed judge during a closed proceeding, ensuring no one knows how the judge concluded she should be jailed. She should be released immediately."


Of course she was not released immediately. Freelancers are worried. They don’t have the Newspaper Guild behind them. They don’t have the high-priced media lawyers retained by their employers to file motions on their behalf. But, as Leggett’s case proved, they are just as susceptible to such contempt charges as Judith Miller.

By now, Judith Miller has spent her first night in jail, and from all accounts the gravity of the situation has sunk in. Speaking from the jail last night she said:

"They put shackles on my hands and my feet," she said. "They put you in the back of this car. I passed the Capitol and all the office buildings I used to cover. And I thought, 'My God, how did it come to this?' "


"She doesn't want to be a martyr,"
(Miller’s husband) Mr. (Jason) Epstein said. "She just doesn't want to reveal her sources."

Back on Aug. 31, 2001, Austin Chronicle reporter Michael Ventura penned this passionate open letter to Vanessa Leggett. Clearly the members of the press, both independent and employed, must stand together on this issue. We’ve had our battles in the past, but we’re all working toward the same end — a free press, which is vital to a free society. Since I feel the same as Ventura about both Leggett and Miller, I’ll let him have the last word.

I've professed journalism -- the keeping of the record of my day, in my own way -- for 27 years. I've had death threats, swastikas painted on my car, that sort of thing ... but I've never been tested as you're being tested. With every all-too-human mistake and contradiction I could manage, I've tried to walk my talk ... but I've never been called to do what you're doing.

So I don't consider you a novice -- as even the sympathetic reports call you. In making your stand, you're way ahead of where most of us have been. I'm writing this letter to offer my gratitude and my solidarity. The reason all those high-flyin' news organizations are getting behind you is that you've reminded them of who they are and what they're for. And reminded me.

Don't let any bastards ever let you feel you're not the real deal.

Your colleague in the profession.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Need your feedback

Love the feedback I received in the parenting teens post. What do you say to a Web site devoted to the lighter side of raising teens? I'm open to input and suggestions but think it a fun prospect.

Send me an email or post your comments here.

Smokey the Bear says...

...this is why you don't play with fireworks.

So it's Sunday and my family is all gathered at my parents home in Brunswick. Come dusk my brother-in-law, Marty and my brother, Chris decide to haul out the less-than-legal stash of fireworks Marty picked up in Georgia earlier this year.

They take all necessary precautions, bucket of water, safe distance from the kids, long lighting mechanism, etc. Things are going smoothly as all the grandkids and some of the neighborhood kids oohh and aahh at the Roman Candles and assorted tricks in Marty's fireworks bag.

But then something goes haywire. He lights two Roman Candles at once and instead of shooting upward, they zoom on a trajectory that is headed smack for the grassy embankment on the other side of the creek that runs along the back of my parent's property.

In a flash, the work explodes and instantly ignites about five little fires in the dry brush. With lightning speed, Marty, Chris, Danny and the older boys sprint down the backyard with Marty and Chris sludging through the muck of the creek.

Danny grabs two buckets of water and races back to the scene while Marty and Chris try to stomp it out. In an unusual twist, it seems none of the guys hear nature's call and can't summon on their personal fire extinguisher to tame the blaze. Fear-induced stage fright, no doubt.

In a matter of about three minutes, the fire is out, Marty and Chris pour the buckets of water over the hot spots and all is well. Had those guys waited only a few seconds more, we would have witnessed a full-fledged brush fire, and most likely a very large fine.

Marty was clearly shook up by the incident and went up to my dad, apologizing profusely for the misfire. He packed up the rest of his stash and then we resorted less spectacular fireworks — sparklers.

It was a good lesson for the kids, all of whom are getting older and more adventuresome, about the dangers of fireworks. As I heard Ryan retelling it to his buddies on Monday I realized that THIS is a Fourth of July they'll remember for a long time.