Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Cool Web Site - Mint.com

I love, love, love finding a new website that makes my life easier. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my latest discovery:

Mint.com

This site does so much for you it's difficult to explain it all. But in a nutshell, it provides a single-site look at all of your financial accounts - credit cards, investments, checking and savings accounts, student loans, etc. All of them, in one place, with one log-in. And it automatically reviews your data and helps you keep track of your spending trends, identifies potential savings, and alerts you on account activity.

Did I mention it does all of this automatically? And you can be set up to go in under five minutes?

So, so cool.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nothing and Everything

I feel this year like I have nothing. I have no cards to send out, no presents to wrap and give away, and no plans for holiday parties or Christmas celebrations. Ric and I are still unemployed, temp work barely pays the bills, and we can't afford to spend money we don't have. What little family I have is scattered across the country. Most of my local friends are traveling elsewhere for Christmas, and my long-distance friends are, unfortunately, still a long distance from me. Yep, it reads like a whole lot of nothing.

And yet, I also feel like I have everything. As I type this post, my husband is in the kitchen working frantically to get a gingerbread house made from scratch. Why? Because I said earlier today that I thought it might be fun on Christmas Eve to invite a friend or two over to the house and make something for the holiday. I asked him, "what do you know about a gingerbread house?" He said he didn't know anything, but he would figure it out. And he did. He has spent hours tonight making the basic shape, so tomorrow evening we can all decorate it with candy and frosting and drink too much wine and eggnog and laugh too much at how silly we all are. My simple request became his quest, to give me the one thing I asked for this Christmas. I have everything because I have such a husband.

I have everything because my friends, be they nearby or far away, would still move time and tide to be by my side if I was in need. They love me and worry about me and make me feel like I can do anything in this world. My friends are my foundation and my strength, my roots and my wings. There just isn't anything to be bought that could ever mean as much as true friendship.

I have everything because the family I do have is in good health and high spirits this holiday season. We have all struggled through so much this year, but we go on. Others are without family, but I am blessed to have my grandfather, mother and step-father, brother and sister-in-law, uncles and aunts, and cousins. It's such a simple statement that means so much: I have my family.

I have everything because my own rough times are still miles away from the true struggles that others endure. Each day, I have a roof over my head, food to eat, warm clothes to wear, and people to worry and pray for me. I have the safety and security of my own place in this world, made better by those who love me.

Yes, this Christmas, I will feel blessed and be grateful for all that I have. I will remind myself that I have everything. And I will laugh and smile and even shed a happy tear or two.

Merry Christmas to everyone, near and far. Please know that you are in my heart now and throughout the year.

Blind Man Sees With Subconscious Eye

Scientists are reporting the remarkable case of a blind man who can see.
This link shows a brief video of the man "seeing" obstacles and walking around them, though he has no conscious awareness of doing so. Absolutely amazing.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98590831

Friday, December 19, 2008

Obama and Warren: Strange Bedfellows, indeed

President Elect Obama has chosen Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. I know this is all part of Obama's "reach out" strategy, but this is one too far for me. Author David Corn sums it up better than I:

But Warren's opposition to gay rights is more than a mere policy dispute. It is an act of bigotry. Sure, Warren does not believe he is being discriminatory. But that's what it is. He is denying rights to certain Americans because he disapproves of how they love. By handing Warren this prime slot at the inauguration, Obama is saying that he recognizes Warren as a spiritual leader and is reaffirming Warren's position as such. This is an insult to gay Americans and those who support equal rights in this nation.

Simple question: would Obama allow a minister who opposed granting equal rights to interracial couples to deliver the invocation at his inauguration?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

For Ric, on his birthday

Happy Birthday to you, Husband. My birthday wish for you:

I wish for you the happiness I feel when I'm with you,
To know I look at you and see a heart and soul so true.

I wish just once you would believe what others think of you,
And how proud your Mom would be to see the man you grew into.

I wish you knew the difference that you make in every day,
For those of us who know you, and those you meet along the way.

I hope you know that it is you I cherish and adore.
And given a hundred years, I'll surely want a hundred more.

Know that I will always be so proud to be with you,
And know that I feel loved by all the kind things that you do.

But most of all, my wish for you, is simple but sincere.
To know you have my heart and soul. Happy Birthday, dear.




Sunday, December 14, 2008

It's that time again...

I wasn't really feeling the season, yet, but today we put up a small tree, added some lights and decorations to the front room, and turned on the Christmas music. It worked. Even without the "too much is still not enough" decorating of years past, I am finally enjoying the Christmas season.

Now, if I can just figure out what to get Ric for Christmas...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Wild Wisdom

Animals As Teachers

Since prehistoric times, animals have acted as companions to humans on their journey toward enlightenment. Animals as disparate in character as house pets, birds, sea creatures, and insects have been our mentors, teachers, and guides. There is much we can learn from animals, as they offer us the unique opportunity to transcend the human perspective. Unlike human teachers, animals can only impart their wisdom by example, and we learn from them by observation. An animal teacher can be a beloved pet or an animal in the wild. You may even find yourself noticing the animals in your backyard. Even robins and bumblebees have lessons to share with you.

Animals teach us in a variety of ways about behavior, habit, and instinct. House pets embody an unconditional love that remains unchanged in the face of our shape, size, age, race, or gender. They care little for the differences between us and them and simply enjoy loving and being loved. Our pets encourage us to let our guards down, have fun, and take advantage of every opportunity to enjoy life. You can also learn lessons from the animals you encounter in the wild if you take the time to observe their habits. Cold-blooded animals show us adaptability and sensitivity to one’s environment. Mammals serve as examples of nurturing and playfulness. Animals that live in oceans, lakes, and rivers demonstrate the value of movement and grace. It is even possible to learn from insects that live in highly structured communities that everyone plays a vital role.

Animals teach us about life, death, survival, sacrifice, and responsibility. If you find yourself drawn to a particular animal, ask yourself which of its traits you find most intriguing and think about how you might mimic those traits. Think of what you might learn from observing the little bird on your windowsill or the mosquito buzzing around a picnic table. Animals express themselves with abandon, freedom, and integrity. It’s natural to be drawn to the wisdom offered by our animal teachers, and in doing so, discover what is natural and true within you.

There is nothing that compares to the love and support that I get from our two dogs, Idgie and Ruth. If I so much as glance at them, they give me their complete attention. They are so excited and happy to be with me, always there to make me feel better. When I am ready to run around with them in the backyard, they are ready to go. When I want to sit down at my desk and putter on the computer, they are perfectly content laying here at my feet and napping.

It's an old expression, I know, and not one I can claim as my own, but here it is, anyway:

Lord, help me to be the person my dog thinks I am.


Tip It!

If you haven't seen Kathy Griffin live, add it to your list o' things to do. I saw her show last night in Los Angeles (thanks for the ticket and the company, AJ!), and she was absolutely fantastic.
  • The show was at the Kodak Theater, home to the Oscars and the American Idol finales. It is a beautiful theater and really feels like a piece of old Hollywood.
  • It was the second night of a four night run and all of the shows sold out.
  • She was onstage for a full two hours, and the jokes and stories and comedy never slowed down.
Go, go, go see Kathy Griffin. The reality show and specials are great, but they don't capture the magic of a live performance. Oh, and "tip it!" is Kathy's Mom's expression when she wants Kathy to get the very last of the wine out of the box. She shared that during a long portion all about her Mom, Maggie, that had tears rolling down my face from laughter.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fully Committed to Now

Why We Are Not Shown the Big Picture

Sometimes, we may find ourselves wishing we knew what our lives are going to look like or what gifts and challenges are going to be presented to us in the coming months or years. We may want to know if the relationship we’re in now will go the distance or if our goals will be realized. Perhaps we feel like we need help making a decision and we want to know which choice will work out best. We may consult psychics, tarot cards, our dreams, and many other sources in the hopes of finding out what the future holds. Usually, at most, we may catch glimpses. And even though we think we would like to know the whole story in all its details, the truth is that we would probably be overwhelmed and exhausted if we knew everything that is going to happen to us.

Just think of your life as you’ve lived it up to this point. If you are like most of us, you have probably done more and faced more than you could have ever imagined. If someone had told you as a child of all the jobs and relationships you would experience, along with each one’s inherent ups and downs, you would have become overwhelmed. With your head full of information about the future, you would have had a very hard time experiencing your life in the present moment, which is where everything actually happens.

In many ways, not knowing what the future has in store brings out in us the qualities we need to grow. For example, it would have been difficult to commit yourself to certain people or projects if you knew they wouldn’t ultimately work out. Yet, it was through your commitment to see them through that you experienced the lessons you needed to grow. Looking back on your life, you would likely be hard pressed to say that anything in your past should not have happened. In fact, your most challenging experiences with their inevitable lessons may have ultimately brought you the greatest rewards. Not knowing the future keeps us just where we need to be—fully committed and in the present moment.


I am really understanding this today. I feel like I am at a professional crossroads, and the decisions I make now will influence the rest of my life. I think I am making the right choice - grad school for my Masters in Accounting and then sitting for the CPA exam - but I can't be sure. What I am taking from this passage is that my time and energy are best spent focused on school and the journey, rather than just looking at the end results. Yes, I will have my Masters, but I am sacrificing eighteen months to get it. Better that I focus on the small steps - each class, each group of students, each lesson learned - to really get the most out of this entire process.

Finally, a plan for the blog.

I have been trying to sort out this blog and what I intend to do with it. More importantly, I have decided against creating new blogs to track my fitness and school activity. The solution is simple. One blog with separate labels to keep things sorted out.

And the labels?
  • Fitness (to track my workouts, boast about my results, and keep myself encouraged)
  • Grad School (to track my progress through the next eighteen months)
  • Reviews (music, movies, television shows... whatever catches my attention)
  • Politics (because it still matters)
  • Life Happens (friends, family, vacations, nights out, etc)
  • Daily OM (a great starting point when I am feeling introspective)
  • My Own Creations (writing, video projects, etc.)
  • Web Gems (posts, pictures, jokes, etc, that I find on the Web)
  • Military (because it never really leaves the blood)
  • Grab Bag (for everything else)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Heaven's Hands (the video)

This is my first attempt at making a video with Movie Maker, and I'm happy with the way it turned out. This has long been a favorite song of mine, and it was inspiring and uplifting compiling these amazing photos.

I hope you enjoy viewing it as much as I enjoyed making it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Heaven's Hands

Heaven's Hands, by Nancy Wilson

I see the broken souls walking the streets.
I hear the babies cry while Mom begs to eat.
Empty hearts needing so much,
Can be filled with just the right touch.
Though it’s good to wish and pray,
That won’t take their needs away.
We must give if love is to be real.

We’re heaven’s hands,
When we give to one another, we’re heaven’s hands.
With the selfless love we reach out with our hands,
Our human hands.
And the love that we begin will create love again.

Sometimes when tragedy appears on TV,
We all feel sympathy for those in need.
That’s the love we need everyday,
If change is to come, if change is to stay.
We must not let a day go by.
We can’t look our brother in the eye,
And know that we’ve done all that we can.

We’re heaven’s hands,
When we give to one another, we’re heaven’s hands.
With the selfless love we reach out with our hands,
Our human hands.
And the love that we begin will create love again.

Whatever you do for love, will come back to you.
Know that the day will come, when you need a hand, too.
The greatest miracle our hearts will ever know
Is the love we let unfold through our hands.

We’re heaven’s hands,
When we give to one another, we’re heaven’s hands.
With the selfless love we reach out with our hands,
Our human hands.
And the love that we begin will create love again.

We’re heaven’s hands.
We are heaven’s hands.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Mess of the '08 Election

The Mess of the '08 Election
To the tune of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.


I’ll tell you a tale of political hell,
In the land of the Red, White and Purple
(It’s worth it to note, I learned as I wrote,
That nothing rhymes with the word purple.)

I’m here to regale you all with this tale,
Of a political process gone insane.
A two year ordeal, completely surreal,
Ignoring substance, choosing instead the inane.

It’s hard to believe that there was no reprieve,
After the mid-term election.
The very next day, the pundits did say,
It’s time to make your early selection.

The GOP field instantly appealed,
To family, to God and to country.
The money was spent, who knows where it went?
The voters did not seem that happy.

And then like a light, a glow in the night,
Could it be that we’re all saved by Fred?
Turns out it was talk, but not really the walk,
Another campaign sadly dead.

And what of the Dems? What’s happening with them?
No one’s really paying attention.
Until the word came, a change in the game,
This time there’ll be real boobs to mention.

Back to the Right, quite a surprising sight,
Maverick is the only one standing.
They all thought him gone but he staggered along,
His “it’s my turn” blows finally landing.

On the Left, not so clean, the fighting obscene,
History watched and it waited.
A woman’s right! Not another white!
It became a battle of the sex and race baited.

Hillary was close, but as we all now know,
Her campaign just couldn’t seal it.
To this day her fans, say behind their hands,
“Figures a black man would steal it.”

The Dems end up with, part man and part myth,
The party savior known as Obama.
A shock to us all. Let’s face it, y’all,
Even Dan Rather called him Osama.

Before he could clinch, more blows (mustn’t flinch),
The issue of race hits him dead-on.
A speech in the night, to both black and white,
A brash choice to face it head-on.

A breath of fresh air, such a radical, dare
He lead us all like a guidon?
Perhaps we once thought, but then we got,
The safe and expected Joe Biden.

To be a game changer, McCain picked a stranger.
A beauty who draws crowds and money.
She revved up the base because she gives good face,
And made SNL once again funny.

The spotlight shined hot and the media got
The sex scandal they had been seeking.
An unwed pregnant teen, a new face on the scene.
Behind the Family Values veil we went peeking.

Turns out she and Joe, are common, you know,
With families and problems and issues.
In their VP debate, neither was great,
And I think Joe was reaching for tissues.

And now towards the end, distracted again,
By plumbers and terrorists and vandals.
We follow like sheep, as the media keep
Us tuned in for today’s latest scandals.

Palin buys clothes. Obama lies, you know.
And we watch and we wait and we wonder.
If all of our eyes, are on this or that guy,
Who’s minding the coffers they plunder?

No matter, just do it. Vote and get through it.
It’s part of the process, it’s vital.
We’ve done it before, with passion and more,
When we last voted for American Idol.

So my tale ends here, though the end is unclear.
Will it be The Old Man or the Token?
If these are our choices, the best of our voices,
It’s clear that Democracy’s broken.


(Yep, for better or worse, the words are my originals, set to the Gordon Lightfoot tune.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What I like about the Marine Corps


The Marine Corps

*What I like about the Marine Corps:


I like the fact that if you are a self-declared enemy of America, that running into a Marine outfit in combat is your worst nightmare… and that your health record is about to get a lot thicker or be closed out entirely!


I like the fact that Marines are steadfast and consistent in everything they do…regardless if you agree with them or not.


I like the fact that Marines hold the term “politically correct” with nothing but pure disdain.


I like the fact that Marines stand tall and rigid in their actions, thoughts, and deeds when others bend with the direction of the wind and are as confused as a dog looking at a ceiling fan!


I like the fact that each and every Marine considers the honor and legacy of the Corps as his personal and sacred trust to protect and defend.


I like the fact that most civilians don’t have a clue what makes us tick! And that’s not a bad thing. Because if they did, it would probably scare the hell out of them!


I like the fact that others say they want to be like us, but don’t have what it takes in the “PAIN-GAIN-PRIDE” department to make it happen.


I like the fact that the Marines came into being in a bar, Tun Tavern, and that Marines still gather in pubs, bars and slop chutes to share sea stories and hot scoop!


I like the fact that Marines do not consider it a coincidence that there are 24 hours in a day and 24 beers in a case. Because Marines know there is a reason for everything that happens!


I like our motto…SEMPER FIDELIS…and the fact that we don’t shed it when the going gets tough, the battlefield gets deadly, or when we hang up our uniform for the last time.


I like the fact that Marines take care of each other…in combat and time of peace.


I like the fact that Marines know the difference between “Chicken Salad” and “Chicken Shit” and aren’t afraid to call either for what it is!


I like the fact that the people of America hold Marines in the highest esteem and that they know that they can count on us to locate, close with, and destroy those who would harm them!


I like the fact that people think we are cocky….yet we know that we have confidence in everything we do and the fact that they don’t know the taste of that makes them look at us as if we are arrogant!


I like that fact that we know the taste of freedom and would give our very lives for it! And that it is a taste that the protected will never know!


I like the fact that Ronald Regan said…”Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference…Marines don’t have that problem!”


I like the fact that we are brothers to the end…and that no matter what happens in life we know we have one another’s “six”!


I like the fact that a couple of years ago an elected member of congress felt compelled to publicly accuse the Marine Corps of being “radical and extreme”. And, I also like the fact that our Commandant informed
that member of Congress that she was absolutely correct and that he
passed on his thanks for the compliment!


I like the fact that Marine leaders — of every rank — know that issuing every man and woman a black beret — or polka-dotted boxer shorts for that matter does absolutely nothing to promote morale, fighting spirit or combat effectiveness.


I like the fact that Marines are Marines first…regardless of age, race, creed, color, sex, and national origin or how long they served or what goals they achieve in life!


I like Marines…and I love the fact that I am able to be humbled to walk along the ranks of other Marines!


I like the fact that you always know where you stand with a Marine! With Marines, there is no middle ground or gray area. There are only missions, objectives, and facts.


*****************************************************************


If you aren’t a Marine the next best thing is to have a Marine for a friend.

Kermit the Frog and Christian Bale - Separated at Birth?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Four Essential Traits Of Good Friends

Posted By Hunter Nuttall

There's no denying that our friends have a tremendous impact
on our lives. Good friends make the good times even better, and the bad
times more bearable. We learn and grow by sharing our thoughts and
experiences with them. You could say that a life without friends is no
life at all.


And yet, our need for friendship also creates a big risk. By
befriending the wrong people, we invite chaos and confusion into our
lives, possibly derailing our personal growth. Remember that you need
to choose your friends carefully, allowing the good people into your
inner circle while keeping your distance from those who would be
harmful. Here are some important traits to look for in a good friend.



They’re generally positive.


While everyone has their ups and downs, a good friend will be
positive most of the time. You really don’t want a
“project,” someone who’s going to suck all the life
force out of you with their constant negativity. Friends should benefit
from being with each other, and let their positivity rub off on each
other.


Life is short, and you don’t have time to save everyone from
negativity while dragging yourself down in the process. And this goes
both ways. In order to be a good friend, you need to be positive as
well. Both of you should make the other feel better about themselves
and life in general.


They don’t try too hard to change you.


You can’t change people who don’t want to change. People
are different, and we have to just accept that. While we naturally want
to share our views and hobbies with other people, it doesn’t make
sense to force people to change. So don’t adamantly tell someone
that they have to be a vegetarian, or they have to eat meat, or they
have to read more books, or they have to stop reading books, or
anything else like that.


You can always invite people to try something new, but you
don’t want to try to control them. Be friends with someone
because of who they are now, not because of who you want them to be.


They give more than they take.


Do you ever get the feeling that someone only seems to be interested
in you when you’re throwing a party, or when they need someone to
help them move? That might be a sign that they take more than they
give. It’s just not healthy to become friends with someone
because you want to cash in on what they have to offer you, or vice
versa.


A friendship should be mutually beneficial, with each of you
offering help, support, and encouragement because you want to, without
having ulterior motives. Any fringe benefits like getting invited to
the best parties should be secondary to that.


They’re tolerant of your beliefs.


No one we meet is ever going to be exactly like us, and so
disagreements are bound to happen. This is perfectly normal, and it
makes life interesting. But if you happen to disagree on your deeply
held beliefs, for example religion and politics, that can potentially
be a problem.


Religious differences have caused many bitter arguments (not to
mention wars). Political differences have caused great rifts between
people who otherwise got along perfectly. But this doesn’t need
to happen. Good friends can accept that one is Catholic and the other
is an atheist, or that one is voting for McCain and the other is voting
for Obama. There may be some debates, sometimes even heated ones, but
at the end of the day, a good friend isn’t going to turn their
back on you because of your beliefs. (Well, at least non-fanatical
beliefs!)


Final thoughts


It’s great to be friendly, and to openly welcome new people
into your life. But don’t set the bar so low as to befriend
people who will do more harm than good. It’s OK to turn away from
people who want to be more like a parasite than a human being. Resolve
to be a good friend to others, and to expect the same in return.

Avoiding Negative Vibrations




Taking on the Energy of Others



There are times when you may find that being around certain individuals
or groups of people leaves you with feelings of discomfort. It may be
that spending time with a particular friend feels draining or that
dealing with a specific coworker exhausts you. Being around toxic or
angry people is also draining. And you may even find that being
surrounded by a crowd of people lowers your energy levels rather than
perks you up. This is not that unusual. Each of us radiates energy and
is capable of being influenced by the energy of other people. It is
important to learn how to shield yourself, so you don’t
unknowingly take on someone else’s energy. While some people know
how to instinctively protect themselves from being adversely affected
by energy, most of us need to discover and practice the technique that
works best.




There are a number of ways to avoid being affected by
people’s energy. Shielding is one preventative technique you can
use. Center yourself and envision being enveloped in a cocoon of loving
and protective light. This protective layer should allow you to
consciously regulate the energy around you. The intent to shield
oneself is all you need for this technique to work. You can even create
a trigger word to assist you in quickly creating a shield. Say this
word each time you create a new shield, until the word and the shield
become automatically associated in your mind. If you run into a person
whose energy you find draining, you may want to cleanse your own energy
field after your encounter. Sage, cold showers, singing, mineral water
baths, spending time in nature, and a simple break to recharge are all
ways to accomplish this.




While it is important to know how to shield yourself from energy, there
are those energies that you may not want to shut out. The energy of
laughter from a newborn baby, the feeling of joy radiating from someone
in love, and the frequency of calm emanating from an enlightened
teacher are just some of the energies coming from others that you may
want to have around you.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Who Caused the Economic Crisis?


MoveOn.org blames McCain advisers. He blames Obama and Democrats in Congress. Both are wrong.


A
MoveOn.org Political Action ad plays the partisan blame game with the
economic crisis, charging that John McCain’s friend and former
economic adviser Phil Gramm “stripped safeguards that would have
protected us.” The claim is bogus. Gramm’s legislation had
broad bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Clinton.
Moreover, the bill had nothing to do with causing the crisis, and
economists – not to mention President Clinton – praise it
for having softened the crisis.



A McCain-Palin ad, in turn, blames Democrats for the mess. The ad says
that the crisis “didn’t have to happen,” because
legislation McCain cosponsored would have tightened regulations on
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But, the ad says, Obama "was notably
silent" while Democrats killed the bill. That’s oversimplified.
Republicans, who controlled the Senate at the time, did not bring the
bill forward for a vote. And it’s unclear how much the
legislation would have helped, as McCain signed on just two months
before the housing bubble popped.



In fact, there’s ample blame to go around. Experts have cited
everyone from home buyers to Wall Street, mortgage brokers to Alan
Greenspan.

Analysis
As
Congress wrestled with a $700 billion rescue for Wall Street's
financial crisis, partisans on both sides got busy – pointing
fingers. MoveOn.org Political Action on
Sept. 25 released
a 60-second TV ad called "My Friends’ Mess," blaming Sen. John
McCain and Republican allies who supported banking deregulation. The
McCain-Palin campaign released its own 30-second TV spot Sept. 30,
saying "Obama was notably silent" while Democrats blocked reforms
leaving taxpayers "on the hook for billions." Both ads were to run
nationally.



And both ads are far wide of the mark.






Blame the Republicans!




The MoveOn.org Political Action ad blames a banking deregulation bill
sponsored by former Sen. Phil Gramm, a friend and one-time adviser to
McCain's campaign. It claims the bill "stripped safeguards that would
have protected us."



That claim is bunk. When we contacted MoveOn.org spokesman Trevor
Fitzgibbons to ask just what "safeguards" the ad was talking about, he
came up with not one single example. The only support offered for the
ad's claim is one line in one newspaper article that reported the bill
"is now being blamed" for the crisis, without saying who is doing the
blaming or on what grounds.

 

The bill in question is the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act,
which was passed in 1999 and repealed portions of the Glass-Steagall
Act, a piece of legislation from the era of the Great Depression that
imposed a number of regulations on financial institutions. It's true
that Gramm authored the act, but what became law was a widely accepted
bipartisan compromise. The measure passed the House 362
- 57, with 155 Democrats voting for the bill. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 90 - 8.
Among the Democrats voting for the bill: Obama's running mate, Joe
Biden. The bill was signed into law by President Clinton, a Democrat.
If this bill really had "stripped the safeguards that would have
protected us," then both parties share the blame, not just "John
McCain's friend."



The truth is, however, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act had little if
anything to do with the current crisis. In fact, economists on both
sides of the political spectrum have suggested that the act has
probably made the crisis less severe than it might otherwise have been.



Last year the liberal writer Robert Kuttner, in a piece in The American Prospect, argued
that "this old-fashioned panic is a child of deregulation." But even he
didn't lay the blame primarily on Gramm-Leach-Bliley. Instead, he
described "serial bouts of financial deregulation" going back to the
1970s. And he laid blame on policies of the Federal Reserve Board under
Alan Greenspan, saying "the Fed has become the chief enabler of a
dangerously speculative economy."



What Gramm-Leach-Bliley did was to allow commercial banks to get into investment banking. Commercial
banks are the type that accept deposits and make loans such as
mortgages; investment banks accept money for investment into stocks and
commodities.
In 1998, regulators had allowed
Citicorp, a commercial bank, to acquire Traveler's Group, an insurance
company that was partly involved in investment banking, to form
Citigroup. That was seen as a signal that Glass-Steagall was a dead
letter as a practical matter, and Gramm-Leach-Bliley made its repeal
formal. But it had little to do with mortgages.



Actually, deregulated banks were not the major
culprits in the current debacle. Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells
Fargo and J.P. Morgan Chase have weathered the financial crisis in
reasonably good shape, while Bear Stearns collapsed and Lehman Brothers
has entered bankruptcy, to name but two of the investment banks which
had remained independent despite the repeal of
Glass-Steagall.



Observers as diverse as former Clinton Treasury official and current Berkeley economist Brad DeLong and George Mason University's Tyler Cowen, a libertarian, have praised Gramm-Leach-Bliley has having softened the crisis. The deregulation allowed Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase to acquire Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns. And Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have now converted themselves into unified banks to better ride out the storm. That idea is also endorsed by
former President Clinton himself, who, in an interview with Maria Bartiromo published in the Sept. 24 issue of Business Week, said he had no regrets about signing the repeal of Glass-Steagall:

Bill Clinton (Sept. 24):
Indeed, one of the things that has helped stabilize the current
situation as much as it has is the purchase of Merrill Lynch by Bank of
America
, which was much smoother than it would have been if I hadn't
signed that bill. .
..You
know, Phil Gramm and I disagreed on a lot of things, but he can't
possibly be wrong about everything. On the Glass-Steagall thing, like I
said, if you could demonstrate to me that it was a mistake, I'd be glad
to look at the evidence. But I can't blame [the Republicans]. This
wasn't something they forced me into.



No, Blame the Democrats!






The McCain-Palin campaign
fired back with an ad laying blame on Democrats and Obama. Titled
"Rein," it highlights McCain's 2006 attempt to "rein in Fannie and
Freddie." The ad accurately quotes the Washington Post as
saying "Washington failed to rein in" the two government-sponsored
entities, the Federal National Mortgage Association ("Fannie Mae") and
the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation ("Freddie Mac"), both of
which ran into trouble by underwriting too many risky home mortgages to
buyers who have been unable to repay them. The ad then blames Democrats
for blocking McCain's reforms. As evidence, it even offers a snippet of
an interview in which former President Clinton agrees that "the
responsibility that the Democrats have" might lie in resisting his own
efforts to "tighten up a little on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac." We're
then told that the crisis "didn't have to happen."



It's true that key Democrats opposed
the Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act of 2005,
which would have established a single, independent regulatory body with
jurisdiction over Fannie and Freddie – a move that the
Government Accountability Office had recommended in a 2004 report. Current House Banking Committee chairman Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts opposed legislation to reorganize oversight
in 2000 (when Clinton was still president), 2003 and 2004, saying of
the 2000 legislation that concern about Fannie and Freddie was
"overblown." Just last summer, Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris
Dodd called a Bush proposal for an independent agency to regulate the two entities "ill-advised."




But
saying that Democrats killed the 2005 bill "while Mr. Obama was notably
silent"  oversimplifies things considerably. The bill made it out
of committee in the Senate but was never brought up for consideration.
At that time, Republicans had a majority in the Senate and controlled
the agenda. Democrats never got the chance to vote against it or to
mount a filibuster to block it.



By the time McCain
signed
on to the legislation, it was too late to prevent the crisis anyway.
McCain added his name on May 25, 2006, when the housing bubble had
already nearly peaked.
Standard & Poor's Case-Schiller Home Price Index,
which measures residential housing prices in 20 metropolitan regions
and then constructs a composite index for the entire United States,
shows that housing prices began falling in July 2006, barely two months
later.





The Real Deal




So who is
to blame? There's plenty of blame to go around, and it doesn't fasten
only on one party or even mainly on what Washington did or didn't do.
As The Economist magazine noted recently,
the problem is one of "layered irresponsibility ...
with hard-working homeowners and billionaire villains each
playing a role." Here's a partial list of those alleged to be at fault:



  • The Federal Reserve, which slashed interest rates after the dot-com bubble burst, making credit cheap.




  • Home buyers, who took advantage of easy credit to bid up the prices of homes excessively.




  • Congress, which continues to support a mortgage tax deduction that gives consumers a tax incentive to buy more expensive houses.




  • Real estate agents, most of whom work for the sellers rather than the buyers and who earned higher commissions from selling more expensive homes.




  • The Clinton administration, which pushed for less stringent credit and downpayment requirements for working- and middle-class families.




  • Mortgage brokers,
    who offered less-credit-worthy home buyers subprime, adjustable rate
    loans with low initial payments, but exploding interest rates.




  • Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who in 2004, near the peak of the housing bubble, encouraged Americans to take out adjustable rate mortgages.




  • Wall Street firms,
    who paid too little attention to the quality of the risky loans that
    they bundled into Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS), and issued bonds
    using those securities as collateral.




  • The Bush administration, which failed to provide needed government oversight of the increasingly dicey mortgage-backed securities market.




  • An obscu
    re accounting rule

    called mark-to-market, which can have the paradoxical result of making
    assets be worth less on paper than they are in reality during times of
    panic.




  • Collective delusion,
    or a belief on the part of all parties that home prices would keep
    rising forever, no matter how high or how fast they had already gone
    up.



The
U.S. economy is enormously complicated. Screwing it up takes a great
deal of cooperation. Claiming that a single piece of legislation was
responsible for (or could have averted) is just political
grandstanding. We have no advice to offer on how best to solve the
financial crisis. But these sorts of partisan caricatures can only make
the task more difficult.




–by Joe Miller and Brooks Jackson

Sources
Benston, George J. The Separation of Commercial and Investment Banking: The Glass-Steagall Act Revisited and Reconsidered. Oxford University Press, 1990.



Tabarrok, Alexander. "The Separation of Commercial and Investment Banking: The Morgans vs. The Rockefellers." The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 1:1 (1998), pp. 1 - 18.



Kuttner, Robert. "The Bubble Economy." The American Prospect, 24 September 2007.



"The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999." U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. Accessed 29 September 2008.



Bartiromo, Maria. "Bill Clinton on the Banking Crisis, McCain and Hillary." Business Week, 24 September 2008.




Standard and Poor's. "Case-Schiller Home Price History." Accessed 30 September 2008.



"Understanding the Tax Reform Debate: Background, Criteria and Questions." Government Accountability Office. September 2005.



Bianco, Katalina M. "The Subprime Lending Crisis: Causes and Effects of the Mortgage Meltdown." CCH. Accessed 29 September 2008.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Enjoying a Snail’s Pace



Doing Things Slowly



Life can often feel like it’s zipping by in fast forward. We feel
obliged to accelerate our own speed along with it, until our
productivity turns into frenzied accomplishment. We find ourselves
cramming as much activity as possible into the shortest periods of
time. We disregard our natural rhythms because it seems we have to just
to keep up. In truth, rushing never gets you anywhere but on to the
next activity or goal.




Slowing down allows you to not only savor your experiences, but also it
allows you to fully focus your attention and energy on the task at
hand. Moving at a slower place lets you get things done more
efficiently, while rushing diminishes the quality of your work and your
relationships. Slowing down also lets you be more mindful, deliberate,
and fully present. When we slow down, we are giving ourselves the
opportunity to reacquaint ourselves to our natural rhythms. We let go
of the “fast forward” stress, and allow our bodies to
remain centered and grounded. Slowing down is inherent to fully
savoring anything in life. Rushing to take a bath can feel like an
uncomfortable dunk in hot water, while taking a slow hot bath can be
luxuriant and relaxing. A student cramming for a test will often feel
tired and unsure, whereas someone who really absorbs the information
will be more confident and relaxed. Cooking, eating, reading, and
writing can become pleasurable when done slowly. ! Slowing down lets
you become more absorbed in whatever it is you are doing. The food you
eat tastes better, and the stories you read become more alive.




Slowing down allows you to disconnect from the frenzied pace buzzing
around you so you can begin moving at your own pace. The moments we
choose to live in fast forward motion then become a conscious choice
rather than an involuntary action. Learning to slow down in our
fast-moving world can take practice, but if you slow down long enough
to try it, you may surprise yourself with how natural and organic
living at this pace can be.

Monday, September 22, 2008

About this economic crisis and bailout

I wrote this today and emailed it to my Senators and my Congresswoman.

I do not support this bail out and I am looking to you to be my voice in Congress.

One, this transfers far too much power to the Sec of the Treasury. How on earth is the answer to the financial crisis to vest more power and authority in the hands of the same people who allowed this mess to happen?

Two, this is not a bailout for the taxpayers. This is a huge burden for us to bear while those who caused this mess continue to reap the massive profits.

Vote against this bailout. There must not be a blank check for failed policies, bad business decisions, and an absence of proper oversight and regulation.

Recognizing Our Own Abundance



Planting The Seeds Of Generosity



The most difficult time to be generous is when we ourselves are feeling
poor. While some of us have experienced actually being in the red
financially, there are those of us who would feel broke even if we had
a million dollars in the bank. Either way, as the old adage goes, it is
always in giving that we receive. Meaning that when we are living in a
state of lack, the very gesture we may least want to give is the very
act that could help us create the abundance that we seek. One way to
practice generosity is to give energy where it is needed. Giving money
to a cause or person in need is one way to give energy. Giving
attention, love, or a smile to another person are other acts of giving
that we can offer. After all, there are people all over the world that
are hungry for love.




Sometimes when we practice generosity, we practice it conditionally. We
might be expecting to “receive back” from the person to
whom we gave. We might even become angry or resentful if that person
doesn’t reciprocate. However, trust in the natural flow of
energy, and you will find yourself practicing generosity with no
strings attached. This is the purest form of giving. Remember that what
you send out will always come back you. Selflessly help a friend in
need without expecting them to return the same favor in the same way,
and know that you, too, will receive that support from the universe
when you need it. Besides, while giving conditionally creates stress
(because we are waiting with an invisible balance sheet to receive our
due), giving unconditionally creates and generates abundance. We give
freely, because we trust that there is always an unlimited supply.




Being aware of how much we are always supported by the universe is one
of the keys to abundance and generosity. Consciously remember the times
you’ve received support from expected and unexpected sources.
Remember anyone who has helped you when you’ve needed it most,
and bless all situations that come into your life for the lessons and
gifts they bring you. Remember that all things given and received
emanate from generosity. Giving is an act of gratitude. Plant the seeds
of generosity through your acts of giving, and you will grow the fruits
of abundance for yourself and those around you.

Hidden Treasure



Finding Another Vantage Point



The ocean can look very different, depending on whether you are
standing at the shore, soaring above in a plane, or swimming beneath
its waves. Likewise, a mountain can look very different relative to
where you are standing. Each living thing sees the world from its
unique vantage point. While from your window you may be seeing what
looks like a huge shrub, a bird in its nest is getting an intimate view
of that tree’s leafy interior. Meanwhile, a beetle sees only a
massive and never-ending tree trunk. Yet all three of you are looking
at the same tree.




Just as a shadow that is concealed from one point of view is easily
seen from another, it is possible to miss a fantastic view. That is,
unless you are willing to see what’s in front of you through
different eyes. Seeing the world from another perspective, whether
spatially or mentally, can introduce you to all sorts of hidden
treasures. The root of the discovery process often lies in finding
another way of looking at the world. The common human reaction to
insects is one example. Spinning its web in a dark corner, a spider may
seem drab, frightening, and mysterious. But seen up close weaving
silver snowflakes between the branches of a tree, they can look like
colored jewels.




Sometimes, there are experiences in life that from your vantage point
may seem confusing, alarming, or worrisome. Or there may be events that
look insignificant from where you are standing right now. Try seeing
them from another point of view. Bury your face in the grass and look
at the world from a bug’s vantage point. Explore your home as if
you were a small child. Take a ride in a small aircraft and experience
the world from a bird’s eye view. Just as kneeling down sometimes
helps you see more closely when you are looking for lost treasure, so
can standing back help you appreciate the broader picture of what you
are looking at. In doing so, you’ll experience very different
worlds.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Get Over It





"Get Over It"


I turn on the tube and what do I see

A whole lotta people cryin' "Don't blame me"

They point their crooked little fingers at everybody else

Spend all their time feelin' sorry for themselves

Victim of this, victim of that

Your momma's too thin; your daddy's too fat



Get over it

Get over it

All this whinin' and cryin' and pitchin' a fit

Get over it, get over it



You say you haven't been the same since you had your little crash

But you might feel better if I gave you some cash

The more I think about it, Old Billy was right

Let's kill all the lawyers, kill 'em tonight

You don't want to work, you want to live like a king

But the big, bad world doesn't owe you a thing



Get over it

Get over it

If you don't want to play, then you might as well split

Get over it, Get over it



It's like going to confession every time I hear you speak

You're makin' the most of your losin' streak

Some call it sick, but I call it weak



You drag it around like a ball and chain

You wallow in the guilt; you wallow in the pain

You wave it like a flag, you wear it like a crown

Got your mind in the gutter, bringin' everybody down

Complain about the present and blame it on the past

I'd like to find your inner child and kick its little ass



Get over it

Get over it

All this bitchin' and moanin' and pitchin' a fit

Get over it, get over it



Get over it

Get over it

It's gotta stop sometime, so why don't you quit

Get over it, get over it


(Courtesy of the Eagles)

Ten Ways to Make Someone Smile

There’s nothing better than knowing you’ve made someone happy – especially if you can do so in some simple, thoughtful way. Here’s ten easy ways to make someone smile today: I guarantee you’ll be smiling too!

I’ll start with the most straightforward and work up to ideas which need a little bit more planning.

1. Write a note to say “thank you”

This is such a simple thing to do, but can mean so much. Write a note today to say “thank you” to someone who has helped you or done something for you. It could be to a parent, a child, a colleague, a friend, or even the helpful assistant in your local store.

Bonus points: Post or hand-deliver your note – don’t just send it by email.

2. Set a fun screensaver or desktop on their computer

If you’re in an office, why not switch a colleague’s screensaver for something fun while they’re away from their desk?

Or at home, sneak into your partner or parent’s office to set up a new desktop background for them. Make it something that you know will raise a laugh.

Bonus points: Find a screensaver or desktop picture from their favorite [1] TV show or movie.


3. Buy them their favorite candy

Even once we’re adults, candy can still make us smile. If someone’s a bit down, buy them their favorite candy – you could give it to them with your “thank you” note. It needn’t be anything expensive: a well chosen chocolate bar might be just the thing.

Bonus points: Find out their favorite candy from their childhood, and buy that. (I’m very fond of [2] Kinder Surprise…)

4. Send them an unexpected card

One step up from sending a thank you note is sending a card. A “congratulations” on a job well done or on a big life change (such as graduation) will always raise a smile. You might have to be a bit creative, but there’s always some special occasion to offer an excuse to send a card.

Bonus points: Hand-make the card. Don’t worry if you’re not great at craft; just keep the design simple – if possible, making it personal to the recipient.

5. Do their chores

There’s nothing nicer than coming home to find that someone else has cleaned the kitchen and vacuumed! Roll up your sleeves and get stuck in with the chores: this goes down especially well with partners and parents.

Bonus points: Do a chore which you know they hate – cleaning the oven, perhaps, or ironing.

6. Make their favorite breakfast

Breakfast is an often-neglected meal – yet there are so many tasty options. One morning, get up early and prepare breakfast for one of your family or housemates. This could be as simple as nipping out to the bakery for some really nice pastries.

Bonus points: Set the table and get everyone to eat together, or lay out a special tray for the breakfast person!

7. Wrap up a surprise present

Receiving birthday gifts is always fun – but it’s more of a surprise to get a present on an ordinary day. Buy a book, DVD, card game or other small gift that you know the recipient will love, and wrap it up for them.

Bonus points: Try making this into a game that you play on a regular basis, perhaps each surprising the other with a small gift once a month.

8. Make a mini photo album

Collect some photographs of friends and family, and put them into a mini photo album. You could either try making your own from card and ribbon, or use an online service such as [3] PhotoBox to upload photographs and get a mini album printed.

Bonus points: Dig out some old childhood photos (you might have to use a scanner if you’re making the album online).

9. Give them a day off

If you know someone with children, offer to take the kids off their hands for a day. It can be really hard for busy parents to get a break to rest and recharge – and if you pick some fun things to do, you’ll have a great day too! (Theme parks, kid-friendly museums, ice-cream shops and leisure centers are all good options.)

Bonus points: Combine this with theater tickets or another “activity” gift that the recipient can enjoy without the children around.

10. Put together a book of their achievements

This requires quite a bit of planning and preparing, but it could become a treasured gift. Get a nice scrapbook and fill it with photos, newspaper clippings, graduation programs and anything else you can find that relates to special moments and days in the recipient’s life.

Bonus points: This makes a great 21st birthday gift, with a page for each year from 1 to 21 (my mum made one for me which included things like my first postcard home from camp).


Hat tip and thank you: Written by Ali, a writer and website creator (www.aliventures.com).

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Canes for Disabled Veterans & Active Duty Personnel

Something as amazing as this deserves to be shouted from the rooftops.

Brad Gramberg is a close personal friend of mine, and he is crafting handmade wooden canes for Vets and Active Duty types who need them. They are made and shipped free of charge.

If you or anyone you know is need of a cane, please feel free to contact Brad at bradbearg@sbcglobal.net. Note: the subject line should read "Canes", or he may not read the message.

He said that orders have dropped off recently, and he couldn't believe
it was because of a lack of need, but more a lack of information
getting out. He has fliers at Walter Reed, and several other hospitals,
but most of his contacts are with the Army. He asked me to publish this
to the Navy and Marine Corps, if I could.


*Hat tip to my Marine Corps brother, Jon Crask, for sharing this with me.

This is real. These canes are free. And Brad Gramberg is proof that one person can truly make a difference in this world.


Comments or questions? Send them to me at sandiegojohn@gmail.com.

You can also forward this link: http://sites.google.com/site/canesforvets/

What I'm Listening To Now...

Falling By The Wayside

by People in Planes


It's OK
To be safe
Cos I'm on top
Of my game

But I'm losing control
Falling by the wayside

Dive right in
Take a drink
Enter it
Try and win
Make sure you call
Before you leave

Keep on top
Of the game

I'm losing control
Falling by the wayside

It's OK
To be safe




People In Planes - "Falling By The Wayside" Official Video

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ok... I laughed.

I just read Governor Sarah Palin described as Caribou Barbie.

Yep. I laughed.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Regeneration Tour 2008

Regeneration Tour 2008

Human League, Belinda Carlisle, ABC and Naked Eyes



Naked Eyes' set list
Always Something There To Remind Me
Voices In My Head
When The Lights Go Out
What (In the Name of Love)
Fortune and Fame
Promises, Promises


ABC's set list
The Very First Time
Poison Arrow
How to Be a Millionaire
Tears Are Not Enough
Ride
Be Near Me
When Smokey Sings
The Look of Love


Belinda Carlisle's set list
Leave a Light On
Vacation
I Get Weak
Circle in the Sand
Mad About You
Our Lips Are Sealed
Heaven Is a Place on Earth


The Human League's set list
Mirror Man
Tell Me When
Heart Like a Wheel
Seconds
The Lebanon
Human
Don’t You Want Me
Together in Electric Dreams

Friday, August 1, 2008

Gay & Lesbian Times - Letter To The Editor

Last week, the Gay and Lesbian Times ran this editorial:
Silent march creates a roar by Dykes on Bikes

So I wrote a Letter to the Editor... and they printed it.
Dear Editor:

I disagree with the decision to move the Dykes on Bikes. My friends felt the same, and we are not shallow people. We appreciate the message of remembering those who are not with us and we agree it is important. But ask yourself this. Why doesn’t Shelby die in the beginning of Steel Magnolias and let the rest play out in flashbacks? Because we need to be drawn in as viewers, to laugh and cheer and enjoy and commit to the movie and the characters.

That is how I feel about the parade. The Dykes on Bikes grab my attention and get me cheering and shouting. Later, when I am hooked, I stand and cry with happiness as PFLAG and the Veterans march by. I am along for the ride, the ups and the downs.In my opinion, Pride screwed up by starting with such a somber message.

John Hulsey
Cool, huh?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What to Send to Troops in Iraq or Afghanistan

It's not that hard. Or that expensive. The USPS will give you boxes and packing material. And the items most needed are common things you pass by in the supermarket....pick up a couple one week, then a couple the next week....and fill a box.

FOOD:

Snacks of any kind (individual packs soldiers can take along with them go over well)
Beef jerky
Cookies
Candy bars
Tootsie Rolls
Tootsie Pops
M & Ms
Suckers
Hard candy
Cough drops/throat lozenges
Gum**
Chocolate**
Energy bars
Snack cakes
Granola bars
Pop tarts
Hot chocolate
Powdered drink mixes - cans or individual packs
Powdered Gatorade
Coffee - small cans or individuals (filters, too)
Flavored coffees
Tea (honey, too?.)
Coffee creamer (flavored or plain)
Sugar/Sweetener (individual packs)
Ramen noodles
Tuna fish
Beef summer sausage logs (Hillshire, etc. - crackers, too)
Hearty soups
Easy Mac
Cup O'Noodles
Cup O'Soup
Instant Oatmeal
Condiments (those small pks. are great, especially hot sauce for some reason)
GU - single serve energy food/gel (sporting goods stores)
Emergen-C - energy supplement, water soluble (health food store, Costco, major grocery stores)
Pumpkin/squash baby food in jar - high energy on the go (from a soldier on his way back to Iraq)

Most of our troops have refrigerators and microwaves available, but no other cooking capabilities. If you send food that needs a fork or spoon to eat, include some disposables, food in a can - include a handheld can opener, coffee - send filters, drink mixes - something to make them in. *You get the idea.

(**NOTE: *Chocolate should only be sent between mid-November and mid-March because of the heat. Stick gums can have the same heat problems, but Chiclets travel well all year long)

HYGIENE/TOILETRIES:
Soap
Bodywash
Shampoo & conditioner
Anti-frizz products
Lotion
Hand cream
Chapstick
Cotton swabs
Deodorant
Tooth paste
Toothbrush (in sealed packaging)
Dental floss
Mouthwash
Breath strips** (see note about chocolate above)
Petroleum jelly
Shaving cream (men & women's - no aerosol cans)
Shaving razors (men and women's, refills if needed)
Tampons, napkins
Panty liners
Baby powder
Heat rash products
Foot powder
Athlete's foot products
Artificial tears
Tissues (boxes & individual packs)
Flip-flops/shower shoes
Wash cloth
Towel
Baby wipes (big time request)
Hand sanitizer
Nail clippers
Toenail clippers
Nail files
Emery boards
Clear nail polish
Brown/black hair ties
Eyeglass repair kits & cleaning cloths

DRY GOODS:
Socks --- (From a returning female soldier: *Black tube socks (mid-calf) 100% cotton. *Packages with mixed sizes are great because soldiers love to hand off what doesn't fit them. *White athletic socks for PT and sometimes under boot socks. )
T-shirts --- (brown/tan for Army & Navy - like the digital camo colors, green for Marines, black/brown for Air Force)
Mechanic's gloves (per Iraq vets these are what soldiers want regardless of their job - Mechanix brand if possible but all welcome)
Beanie caps for under helmets - must be dark
Bandanas - same color restrictions (really appreciated when you're braving sand-storms)
Shoe insole replacements (in foot care section of store - highly prized)
Batteries - AA, AAA, C & D
Blank CDs
Febreeze
Scented candles (you cannot send matches per USPS regs)
Anti-bacterial wipes
Zip-locs - all sizes
Microwavable bowls
Digital cameras (recyle your old one)
MP3 players (ditto)
Thumb drives
Holiday decorations
Decorating items (Any comfort items to make living spaces better and remind soldiers of home.)

WRITING SUPPLIES:
Pens
Envelopes - safety, letter sized
Writing pad
Pocket-sized notebook
Cards for next holiday (need to arrive 3 weeks beforehand)
Generic assortment of cards (birthday, anniversary, blank, etc.can get boxes of them at Walgreens or other discount stores)
Blank journals

ENTERTAINMENT / OTHER:

Phone Cards (Military Exchanges are DoD authorized and give you the best deal for the money)
Drawing pads / notebooks
Colored pencils w/sharpener
Colored markers
Regular pencils w/sharpener
Erasers
Cards
Puzzles (500 piece at least)
Books (no romance novels per anysoldier.com)
CDs
DVDs (comedy, action, drama, documentary, cartoons, old TV series)
Magazines
Local newspapers
Crossword books
Jumble books
Backgammon
Chess
Yahtze
Dominoes
Footballs
Soccer balls
Baseballs w/gloves (Gloves don't have to be new - recycled is fine.)
Small toys or games they can give to Iraqi/Afghani children

Monday, June 9, 2008

Underneath

Look at us break our bonds in this kitchen
Look at us rallying all our defenses
Look at us waging war in our bedroom
Look at us jumping ship in our dialogues

There is no difference in what we're doing in here
That doesn't show up as bigger symptoms out there
So why spend all our time in dressing our bandages
When we've the ultimate key to the cause right here, our underneath

Look at us our form our cliques in our sandbox
Look at us micro kids with both our hearts blocked
Look at us turn away from all the rough spots
Look at dictatorship on my own block

There is no difference in what we're doing in here
That doesn't show up as bigger symptoms out there
So why spend all our time in dressing our bandages
When we've the ultimate key to the cause right here, our underneath

How I've spun my wheels with carts before my horse
When shine on the outside springs from the root
Spotlight on these seeds of simpler reasons
This core, born into form, starts in our living room

There is no difference in what we're doing in here
That doesn't show up as bigger symptoms out there
So why spend all our time in dressing our bandages
When we've the ultimate key to the cause right here, our underneath

Alanis Morissette - Underneath
_____________________________________________________________

Not sure why this song is running through my head today. I watched her perform it on TV last night, but it's more than that. The line about the ultimate cause being underneath... that's connecting with me right now. Might have to sort that out a bit.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Commencement Speech, Univ of Phoenix, June 2005

ome people would be nervous, speaking to a group this large. But I am a University of Phoenix graduate. I know a thing or two about getting up and presenting before a group.

When presented with the opportunity to speak today, I started and discarded half a dozen different speeches. What can I say to all of you - my fellow graduates - that you don’t already know?

At traditional college commencements, speakers tell the graduating class to go out into the world and make their mark. As non-traditional students, though, we have already been out in the world. We have also been at the end of our rope, pushed to the limit, over the hill, on the edge and around the bend. No, we don’t need to be told about the real world. We are the real world.

So I can’t give the usual “the world is yours for the taking” speech. What I can do is take a moment to recognize what we have already accomplished. All of us, one and the same, taking this opportunity today to celebrate a major milestone in each of our lives. Finally, we can take a deep breath, raise our heads high, and enjoy the well-earned feeling of success.

I can also share with you a bit of my personal experience. When I left the Marine Corps, I was worried about going back to school. I remember telling my Grandmother that, if I did go to college, “I would be 30 years old before I got my degree.” She smiled and said, “Boy, you’re going to be 30, anyway.” Those words stuck with me through obstacles and challenges, ups and downs. And here I am at 38, a college graduate. And if all goes as planned, I will have a Masters Degree when I am 40.

So what exactly has the University of Phoenix done for me? My experience at UOP has helped me make improvements in three areas of my life: academically (of course), professionally, and even personally.

Academically, I am more than prepared to start Graduate School in September. The instructors I had believe in what they do. Teaching is more than just passing the time in front of the class, and I was fortunate to have instructors who inspired me to do more than just pass. They made me want to do my best. And here I am today, graduating with honors.

The University of Phoenix has a well-earned reputation for rigorous coursework, high standards, and a quick pace. To keep up, I developed great study habits, actively participated in learning teams, and made and kept my commitment to my education. These same traits will be my strengths as I pursue my Masters Degree in Adult Education.

Professionally, I have benefited already from my time at University of Phoenix. This school prides itself on providing “education that goes to work,” and I can attest to the truth of that. Be it Human Resources, Accounting, Project Management, Communication, or any of the other courses, nearly everything was immediately useful in the workplace. This school combines theory with real-world applications, drawing as much from each of our lives and experiences as from our textbooks. We were connected to the material, and it mattered to us. We listened because we understood that what we were discussing in class often mirrored what we were dealing with at work. I have learned – and retained – so much of the material at UOP, because I had an opportunity to use it in the real world.

And what impact did the school have on me personally? I learned what a fantastic support system I have in my life. Anyone graduating today knows the time and effort required to get to this moment. We spend hours at the computer creating and rehearsing PowerPoint presentations. We edit and finesse page after page of individual and team papers. We study textbooks and course material until our eyes cross. And of course, we meet in study groups to talk about current events, collectively daydream about a life after college, and occasionally discuss things about class.

All of these activities take time. Because we are busy with school, we miss a lot of what happens around us. Houses get cleaned, meals get cooked, dishes get washed, and lawns get mowed. For others, there are children to pick up from school, drive to and from sports and other activities, and watch over and care for. Life goes on at the same hectic pace it always has, but we are often sidelined by school work. If you are like me, though, you discover that no one goes to school alone.

For me, I had someone at home telling me over and over, “you go study and I’ll make dinner.” While I wrote papers, someone else vacuumed the house and folded the laundry. While I cursed and swore at my laptop over yet another project, I had someone willing to do whatever was necessary to help me. My support system was the difference between success and failure. Without all the help and assistance from my better half, I could never have made it to this day.

And I know we all had the same help. Hopefully, in all the excitement of this day, each of you will take a moment to share a bit of your success with those who helped you achieve it. In fact, on behalf of the entire graduating class, I say thank you to all of you who helped us make it to this day.

My fellow graduates, we have proven to ourselves and everyone else that we have what it takes to graduate from college. That’s a pretty cool thing. Everyday, we prove ourselves as valued and valuable members of our workplace teams. We contribute and we excel and we make a difference. Be proud of all that you do, because it is in your actions that you will discover who you really are.

For as long as we have worked for our degrees, we have been described as non-traditional. Well, I say we embrace that label. Be non-traditional in all that you do. Chase your next dream. Build a better mousetrap. Be a role model. Do things now that will make for great stories later. Be wild. Be brave. Heck, you are all invited to come skydiving tomorrow with me and my Mom.

The motto of the University of Phoenix is simple – “You Can Do This.” As we all move forward, I remind everyone of the power in that simple phrase.

Thank you for your time this morning, and again, congratulations.

An Evening with Janis Ian

(My interview with Janis Ian was the cover story of the Gay & Lesbian Times in Sep 1996.)

Singer, songwriter, Grammy Award winner, and now national columnist Janis Ian brought her “Revenge” Tour to 4th & “B” Thursday, September 29. In this exclusive interview held after her roof-raising performance, Ian talks with staff writer John L. Hulsey about her renewed career, her life in Nashville, and the woman affectionately known as “Mr. Lesbian.”

Janis Ian - So, how are you?

John Hulsey - I’m great. And you. . . that was some show.

ji - Thanks.

jh - Let me start by saying how much I enjoy your articles in The Advocate.

ji - Yeah, I’m really pleased, because my editor, Judy Weider, who really brought me onboard there, and talked me into, because I didn’t want to do it, has just been named Editor-In-Chief, and a lot of it is because the articles have been so successful. And in the articles, there is heavy and then there is light, and there’s room for both.

jh - My favorite, though, has to be the story of the camping trip.

ji - (laughing) Oh, yeah, everybody loves that. It’s really funny, because I faxed that to Pat (Mr. Lesbian) at school, and she said “I sound really stupid in this article!” And, you know, she never says that, she never comments, so I called her and I said “what do you mean, you sound stupid?” She said “but I sound like an idiot,” and I said, “but, so what? I mean, better you than me!” I thought it was quite funny.

jh - Reading the columns, and now tonight listening to the music, the thought that kept running through my head was, “she’s really enjoying this.”

ji - Oh, yeah. Damn straight. I’m forty-five, and I don’t need to be out there doing something I don’t enjoy.

jh - For many people, though, in our community, they seem to have lost that sense of fun. It’s almost as if everything has become so serious, we have lost our ability to simply enjoy.

ji - I think that’s not just the gay movement, though, I think that’s people in general. As a performer, a lot of what I see is people who are my friends, trying to reproduce what they do in videos on stage, and it’s not fun. It’s no fun to just do the same thing night after night after night. It’s very hard to breathe life into it, and audiences are so used to having things flung at them, that going out to a concert is becoming an unenjoyable experience. It should be fun, if you’re going to pay fifteen bucks, or thirty bucks, plus a baby-sitter and parking, go through the hassle of going to see somebody, you should be able to leave moved, and you should be able to leave happy, and you should feel like the person up there is not making this big sacrifice or doing you this big favor. I mean, to me, I make more money staying home and writing songs. My business people would be very happy if I did that, but I really like doing this. I like meeting people and signing stuff. Beyond the ego, Pat says I have a terminal interest in human beings. And I do.

jh - But, back to that ego. That’s not such a bad thing. When I write and I touch someone, my ego soars. And I have learned to stop apologizing for that. When did you learn to stop?

ji - (laughing) Probably about five years ago, when I realized I could never be a Picasso, but I could be a Cezanne. And I thought, well then, it’s okay to be that. And you know, growing up in the folk world, and in the jazz world, it’s very uncool to be interested in anything that satisfies the ego.

jh - In any sort of acclaim?

ji - Yeah, so I carried all that baggage with me for a long time. But, I think the South has taught me a lot, country music has taught me a lot about that, because it’s a gift to be able to do what I do. It’s something I was born with, but I work my butt off doing it, so I deserve what I get from doing it. And I’m real clear on that now.

jh - Now?

ji - Yeah, I was pretty clear on that in my twenties, because I went through “Society’s Child.” I never felt like I didn’t deserve to be well-paid, because I knew how much work went into it. And I never felt I didn’t deserve the accolades, but it was a little strange to me when people use a word like ‘genius,’ because for any artist, you are always measuring yourself against someone who is way beyond you.

jh - Like?

ji - Well, if I write songs, I think of Leonard Cohen or George Gershwin. If I write music, I think of Beethoven. If I write articles, I think of Faulkner.

jh - Very Southern.

ji - Yeah... Pat Conroy, too. I measure myself against the people I admire, and I find myself lacking. But, I’m not sure that that’s not just what it is to be an artist. To find yourself always lacking just enough that you struggle to get to the next step.

jh - It seems that there are a lot of other female vocalists who are writing their own music - Julia Fordham, Maria McKee. These are women whose lyrics, like yours, just hang with you, and I knew to expect that here tonight. What I didn’t expect, and what I was impressed by, is that you are such a musician.

ji - Yeah, and it’s fun, because I get asked, too. I just did a thing yesterday in L.A. for a friend’s record, and I was the guitarist, and it was great.

jh - So you are a writer, a songwriter, you play guitar and other instruments. Is there a particular media with which you are most comfortable?

ji - No, I don’t think I feel safe in any medium, just because I measure myself against others. If I’m playing piano, I’m measuring myself against Chick Corea. As a guitarist, I’m a really good guitarist for what I do. In fact, I was playing a show with Chet Atkins and Michael Hedges a few months ago, and Chet was telling Michael what a great guitarist I was.

jh - What does a compliment like that do to you?

ji - Are you kidding? It scares the shit out of me. But then, Michael sat through my set on the side of the stage to see what he could steal. But then I realized that neither Chet, nor Michael, nor I could play the normal stuff that session musicians play. And that’s why we have become good guitarists, because we play the other stuff, our stuff. I can’t think of three more different guitarists, and we all play that because we can’t play the other stuff. So, it scares me to take a solo, because I have no idea where I am going. But, that’s a good scare, you know?

jh - Like tonight, when you said you had no idea how to get out of the solo?

ji - Oh yeah, I had no idea how to get out of it, so I just fumbled out of it. But, I figure, it is live music, and that’s the point. When I started doing solo stuff late last year, I said to my drummer at one point, because I was starting to step out and take the guitar solos, I said what do you do when you take a solo and you don’t know where you are going, and he said you just go. You just play. And I think that’s changed my whole attitude towards the stage, because I go up there now with a list of 30-35 songs, and I sort of know where my beginning and where my ending is, and the rest of it is just whatever happens. And there is a real cool thing about that, and it takes out the fear factor, because you’re not afraid of your talent, and that is really an important thing. And conversely, I don’t think any artist every feels safe anywhere, ultimately, because the only safety for any artists is in the act of creation, and in the art of creation you’re dying and being born again, so how can you be safe?

jh - Your show is the first show I had been to in a long time where I thought if someone yells out the right song, you would say “yeah, all right,” and do that number.

ji - Oh, yeah. The two things people yelled out tonight were both piano songs, though. I actually did a piano song, “Lover’s Lullaby,” which I hadn’t done since ‘78, and I just said “look, I don’t have any harmonies here and I don’t have a piano, so y’all better sing. And it was great. It was the Seattle Zoo, and there were about 4,00 people, and they all sang the harmonies, and it was great.

jh - It is interactive with you, isn’t it? You made a joke earlier about that, but it really is the truth.

ji - It is, it’s fun for me. You know, I worry about audiences. I worry that their attention span is lower every year. The amount of time I had, when I started, you could go 25-25 minutes without talking. Now, you have to talk every 15 minutes, because that’s their attention span. That’s when the commercials come in, every 14-15 minutes. You have to stop and give them something different, and that worries me. I see it not so much tonight where it was a real live crowd, but at Seattle or Albany where you get 3,000 people or so, they are hungry for reality. They’re hungry for an artist who is an artist, and there is precious little of that in their lives. You know, in the late 1800’s and the early part of this century, when you had the railroad trains going across (the country), and you had people like Lily Ponds, Gertrude Stein, and Marlene Dietrich, the most bizarre groups of people touring the lands, places like Pocoima, and people came out to see art. And then they went to Vaudeville to have a good time, and it was two distinctly different things, and people don’t get either, anymore. They don’t get to have a good time and they don’t get to be moved. So what is the point in going out?

jh - So you do know your audience?

ji - Oh, yeah. I think about it a lot. And I like them, and I think that makes a big difference, too. I think there are a lot of people out there who don’t necessarily like their audience. A lot of people are scared of their audience, a lot of people are worried. I don’t know what they’re worried about. But, I know that Chapin (Mary Chapin-Carpenter), for instance, is not scared of her audience, and it shows. Tina Turner is not scared of her audience. It shows. There is a difference in walking onstage and asking them if it’s okay, and walking onstage because you own it. I’m real clear that that’s my stage. I own that room. If you want to shout out shit, shout it out. But, if you irritate me, I’ll shut you up. Because it’s my show, you know, and people are paying for that. There’s something that happens to you when you get away from L.A. and New York, and you get into the middle, and you suddenly start realizing what $15 or $20 bucks means, and how hard people work for that. For example, tonight when we looked at the contract, and the contract called for me to go on at 10:30, and I just said you know, “I’ll get complaints for months from people.” I mean, if there is a couple - gay or straight - very often they’ll have kids, and they go out, and a lot of times they have to hire a baby-sitter, and even on a $15 ticket, that’s $30 bucks, and it’s another $30 for the baby-sitter, and it’s another $10 for the parking. That’s $70.00. And then you’re going to make them wait two and a half hours, so the baby-sitter goes into overtime.

jh - So you are very aware of that?

ji - Oh, sure. I think there is a lot to be said for living within other people’s means. It’s funny, but I think that going broke and not having that cushion. . . in a way there are a lot of my contemporaries that I would wish that on, because it really did wonderful things for me just in terms of smacking me in the face and saying “you want reality, here’s reality. You like going out to eat? Try Wendy’s.”

jh - And as a big deal, right? As an outing?

ji - Oh, yeah, as a major deal. Because Pat’s in law school right now, so it’s a thin stretch for us. And I work, but you know a second year law student, one salary, and I help my mom out as well, and I’ve got three nephews, and it’s a lot when there’s very little cushion. We’ve got a little bit of a cushion now, but we can’t afford a new car this year. We’re a one car family, and I just bought a bike. We all struggle, but I’m a lot better off than a lot of people I know, because I can go out to eat. We have a house rule now that Friday nights, because Pat drives up from Knoxville, where she’s in school, and it’s three hours, and she drives up and on Friday nights we go out to dinner. And that’s our thing, we go out to dinner. And maybe we go to the movies. That’s our big treat, you know? Yet, I think that most performers who are in better - well, different - positions than I am in have no clue.

jh - You hear a lot standing in the lines to the movies that you don’t hear if you just have a copy of the movie shipped to you for viewing in your home theater.

ji - Especially in Nashville. People have no hesitation to come right up to me and go “I saw you at the Ryman, and you know you’re not very country, are you?” And it’s great, and I just say “no ma’am, I’m not.” And it’s great. But you know, Nashville is a songwriter’s mecca.

jh - And I heard you saying “ma’am” earlier when you were signing autographs.

ji - Oh, it’s so automatic now. And I find it nice, you know? I was raised to call my aunts “Aunt So-and-so,” and I was never allowed to address an adult by their first name. I was taught that what an adult said, I did. . . which is good and bad. But, I think there is a lot to be said for it, and I like it, and when I come north I always shocked at how abrupt they are. You know, fifty thousand people moved to Nashville last year from the L.A. area, and the businesses have gone to shit.

jh - Because?

ji - Well, why bother giving service? Last week, Pat said “Honey, you have to get a grip.” I mean, we went to our favorite restaurant, Sperry’s, which is an upscale restaurant, for an anniversary dinner, and we had a bad steak. And the hostess, not the maitre ‘d, tried to take Pat’s food away, and I said “we’re waiting on my steak, we had a bad steak,” and she said, “ oh yeah. . . I heard,” and just kept going. (Laughing out loud now.) And I went home and I wrote this letter saying that apparently Nashville had changed in the three months that I had been away, so as to become completely unrecognizable.

jh - I am finding here in San Diego that it shocks people when you use “ma’am” and “sir.” I say it at the drive-through, and you get up to the window, and the people have a confused look like a deer in the headlights.

ji - Yeah, they don’t know what to do with you. Or they think you’re making fun of them. They’ll say something like “what, am I too old to address normally?” It’s real funny.

jh - Moving on, there was one thing I wanted to pass on to you. When I’ve mentioned to friends that I was going to see you in concert, invariably the response is a half-beat of silence, followed by a softly whispered “Oh.”

ji - Well, people can get strangely reverential, and I find that odd. It took me a while to get used to that, but it’s very nice.

jh - I think, though, that on hearing your name, there is a flash to a time and a connection to you and your music.

ji - It’s a weird thing, because I had stopped for so long, and it took me three or four years to figure out that I had been living with them for a long time, and they know me, and I don’t know anything about them, but to them I know everything about them.

jh - Because you’ve written it all down, and they feel that they have lived your words.

ji - And what a great thing, to be able to give voice to what other people can’t say. I mean, what a great gift. But then, that’s what makes you a writer, isn’t it?

jh - I write because I have to, because it’s who I am.

ji - And that’s what makes an artist.