Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Nov. 18: Creative Sentencing - How far is too far?

An AP story in yesterday's paper talked about a mother in Oklahoma who was concerned about her 14-year-old daughter's chronic lateness to class and talking-back-to-teachers attitude. So, she decided to take matters into her own hand.

She made the child stand at a busy Oklahoma City intersection with a big sign: "I don't do my homework and I act up in school, so my parents are preparing me for my future. Will work for food."

The mother claims she was desperate and needed to do anything she could to straighten up her daughter.

Her mother never left the child's side. She stood with her and though they were only there a couple of hours, they attracted plenty of attention -- letters were written and calls to talk radio shows either praised her or condemned her for publicly humiliating the child. Protective Child Services also showed up.

But apparently it worked. The child's grades, attitude and attendance improved.

Would I ever do such a thing? Probably not.

Fortunately I don't have to. I've been blessed with some amazing kids. My first daughter was born with Down syndrome. She is developmentally disabled and one of the sweetest and kindest children to ever walk the face of the earth. My middle girl has been a 4.0 kid since 4th grade and is currently first in her class of 204 sophomores and my baby has been a gifted child since preschool. She read second-grade level before entering kindergarten. They are active in band, sports, CSF, Key Club, volunteer at the SPCA and have never given me any trouble. I am blessed.

But back to the Oklahoma child...

How far would you go to protect or encourage a child?
What about adults?

We have a California Superior Court Judge (Howard Broadman) in our town that is known for "creative" sentencing.

Judge Broadman has made defendants quit smoking, attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, see psychiatrists, wear T shirts indicating they are on probation and has told an abusive spouse to leave town but to first donate his car to a shelter for battered women.
He made a big splash when he made it a part of the sentencing order for a woman to use a Norplant – birth control implanted in the arm – after she pleaded guilty to beating her children brutally. (He has been written about in Time, Wall Street Journal and People, and has appeared on reality-television show “Law Firm.”

In his defense, the Norplant was not just a sentence. The gal was pregnant and she had said she did not want any more children. The Judge explained that if he made it part of the sentence, the State would pay for the birth control and she could avoid four years of prison. She and her lawyer agreed but later she changed her mind, saying that her reproductive-rights have been violated; they waived the ‘no jail’ carrot in front of her and “forced” her to take the Norplant. It is no surprise that she is appealing the case.

My thoughts?

Perhaps if we had more judges like Broadman, we’d have less crime.

Nov. 18: Homeland Security

Just when I thought I’d heard it all, something else comes along. Yesterday I read an AP story about an Argentine artist (Judi Werthein) and her invention of Brinco (jump) shoes. She would take the shoes to the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico and give them to people to help them cross into the U.S.

The red-white-and-green Mexican-flag colored shoes were no ordinary shoes, the article said. The shoelaces dangled a small compass and a flashlight. The tongue of the shoe had a small pocket for money or pain killers. The removable insole had a rough map of the border region. Werthein called the shoes a border crosser’s most important garment.

On a recent visit to Tijuana, she gave away 50 pairs at a migrant shelter. She pointed to Interstate 8, the main road between San Diego and Phoenix on the insole and said: “Good luck! You’re all very courageous.”

Why was this allowed?

Let me get one thing straight. Just because I am of Mexican descent, it does not mean that I dance with joy when illegal immigrants cross our border. I do not like it. In fact, I was ready to become a minuteman – um…woman, when I heard of it. I was so fascinated by their work, that I took a couple of days to travel to Arizona to go interview one or two. I got lucky too. My cousin in Tucson ended up knowing someone who was involved.

I am all for Homeland Security. And that means protecting our country at all borders and from all who trespass or aid in the process.

Werthein denies a charge of encouraging illegal immigration and said they will cross with our without her shoes.

Does she think we are stupid? Of course she’s helping them. The story said she interviewed shoe designers, migrants, aid workers and immigrant smugglers to research the best design over a two-year period.

How would we feel if she was helping Al Qaeda like this? How do we know she’s not?

I was so upset when I read this story. No wonder we are such a mess. This woman from Argentine is helping them smuggle to the U.S.

If she’s so worried about them, why doesn’t she guide them south to Argentina?

Yes, it’s sad to see the people of Mexico hungry and hurting and trying to come across. But that does not mean that I want them coming across.

Think of it like this:

You have a family to protect. Would you stand by and do nothing if strangers were coming into your home through your back door. What if they were poor and hungry?

Wouldn’t you stand guard to keep them out and to protect your family?

Would you let them throw their sleeping bags in your children’s rooms? Let them help themselves to the food in the refrigerator? Sooner than later, that food would be gone and the parents would be broke and their own children would suffer.

Would you let that happen in your home?

Exactly! That’s what I thought.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Nov. 11: Veterans Day in Porterville

I have always been Patriotic and I have always loved Veterans Day. I learned the Pledge of Allegiance before I started kindergarten and I can remember standing in the parking lot of Smith's Market, smiling at the flag. As I grew older, my pride in America increased. I think a lot of it has to do with being in the Porterville Panther Band under Frank Buck Shaffer. My senior year was in 1976 - America's Bicentennial. And what a celebration it was. Going to New York City, Washington D.C. and being able to visit historical sites, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, has affected me forever. I love attending the Veterans Day parade and Bandarama - something I have done faithfully since I was a child. It moves me to see the men and women who have unselfishly given their time -- and sometimes their lives --for our country. I am always so moved when I listen to the Star Spangled Banner, the Marine Corp. Hymn or Anchors Aweigh. I am so proud to be an American. Watching each band march around the track -- especially my old schools - Bartlett Middle School and Porterville High School - was great. It always brings back such wonderful memories of when I marched down there. But watching and listening to 1,163 young band musicians play patriotic music at once is something I wish everyone could hear. I can not imagine a Veterans Day without the Bandarama. I am so proud of Buck Shaffer for starting this wonderful Veterans Day tradition - something like 40 years ago.

Nov. 8: The Problem with California

I am so frustrated with the results from our recent election. I was watching the news and watching some of the propositions I was rooting for, wavering on a teeter-totter -- and eventually falling and failing! I wanted to scream. What's wrong with you people?! How can so many great propositions not pass? How can a 14-year-old not be allowed to take as much as an aspirin or Tylenol at school without a parent's consent and yet they can walk into a clinic and have an abortion without a parent or legal guardian ever being told? How can a teacher have tenure after two years of teaching never be fired? What is wrong with five? If they're good, they'll stay and they have nothing to worry about. But to say that you can never fire them because of tenure is ridiculous. No other job does that! Can you imagine never having to get rid of a lawyer or doctor because of tenure? What ever happened to having the student's best interest in mind? I think the problem with Californians is that they are brain washed. They listen to the commercials and if you hear something long enough it turns into a self-proclaimed prophesy. They have heard the commercials over and over about how horrible the Governor is and how horrible all these things are and eventually they start to believe them. I love California but I'm starting to think that maybe I should move to Texas.

Nov. 7: The Sky is Falling

I have always loved falling stars. They're so awesome to watch. (The poem I won with in fourth grade was about a shooting star.) About the only thing I love even more are the Northern Lights but I live too far away to enjoy the Aurora Borealis. (I have a friend who lives in Canada and he frequently emails me some of the gorgeous pics he takes.) But as to watching the stars, it is no surprise that I often drive out to the country or the lake to watch for the Leonid meteor showers in August or the Taurid meteor showers this week. The debris left by a comet as it orbits the sun sometimes can give us some spectacular shooting stars to wish on. Though I never wish anymore, I just enjoy them. For some reason, as I watch the stars, I always find myself thinking about all the things that have happened in my life. But that's a whole different story and more than 18 inches long, so I'll save it for later.

Nov 1: NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month

This is my first time participating in Nanowriming and I have really enjoyed it. I decided to use some of my mother's own story to kickstart my novel -- September Skies. It is not entirely her story, but I have incorporated the stories she's told me into my novel. It is a love story set against a backdrop of The Great Depression, three young women struggle to survive. This is their story (in the lines of Titanic or Pearl Harbor.) Hey, it could happen. This could be a big love blockbuster movie some day. I can see it. Writing a novel in one month has been challenging. It has been fun and I love NanoWrimo for what they have done to my story. It is so cool to go to their site and see it in a book setting where I can turn the pages. I wish I could keep that. But it has also been hard trying to find the uninterrupted time to work on the story -- that usually means midnight, but that's fine because I'm always writing at that hour anyway.

Excuse me, do I hear ringing?

Too bad Enrique never gave me advice about where not to put my cell phone.

As a reporter, I never carry a purse when I interview people. Not a problem most of the time since my slacks usually have a small pocket.

But one day I was interviewing a minister from a local church. It was a Sunday and there was church service that day. So, I wore a dress.

There was one problem -- no pockets.

My car key I had on an elastic band around my wrist. My writing pad and pen, well...that belongs in my hand. But, what would I do with my phone?

I thought I was being clever when I placed it snugly between my breasts. I mean, my phone was pretty small. No one could see it or even tell it was there. It was well hidden.

The church service ended. I waited for the right moment to approach the minister and I was writing down a quote from him when the unexpected happened. My phone started to ring. I forgot to put in on mute.

Oh boy. I quickly excused myself by putting up my index finger, “Excuse me a minute, please" and I turned away.

I walked a few feet from him, pulled out my phone, shut it off, quickly hid it again and walked back. It was so fast, I’m not even sure he knew where the ringing came from.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Where were we?”

And without explaining a thing, I continued the interview. I think I handled it rather well. It was a lesson I never forgot. Enrique would have been proud of me!

The Problem with New Writers:

The problem with new writers is that we usually feel we have to say it all – in one story. So, we don’t know when to stop.

As a student at COS a couple of years ago, I found several of my classmates with the same problem. Our first assignment (a news story) was so long – we’re talking four to five pages long – that our instructor didn’t read it. She placed a big red mark on it, returned it and asked us to turn it in no longer than two pages long. I learned a lesson. Or did I?

When I was hired by my hometown paper, the problem resurfaced and my first stories were often so long, my mentor would either shake his head or laugh. Oh sure, make fun of my writing. That was about the equivalent of laughing at one of your children – or laughing at a person as they undress prior to sex.

But that is not how he meant it. And thank goodness he taught me about the 18-inch rule.

The 18-inch rule, the clown, the cow and the moon:
Enrique gave me some of the best advice I ever had. OK, so he was the only one giving me advice, though Bill Furth tried but he didn’t teach me anything that I didn’t already know.
This is what Enrique said:
“When you get to nine inches……STOP. Just stop. Don’t go any further. Then, read your work. And you should be about half way done. Then all I had to do was go back in and finish it up. Um…yea...right. That was easier said than done.

It worked. I finally learned to stop writing when I was supposed to. If I was asked for a 10-inch story, I’d stop at five inches and take it from there.

I learned other tidbits of advice from Enrique... Such as “Start with the clown.”

In other words, find the most colorful, interesting thing in your story and start with that. Simple! No further explanation needed.

As to the nursery rhyme of the cow jumping over the moon – the explanation there is simple too.

“Esther, the cow jumped over the moon.”

Mental note to self: Do not write “over 100 people” – it is “more than 100 people”
The same holds true for less than, do not use “under 50 people” unless I have dug a trench and am crawling under them.

First Assignment - deer in the headlights look

I will always remember my first newspaper assignment. I was so excited with my new job. It was my birthday and getting the job was the best gift I had ever received. I was going to be the next Lois Lane – in my very own hometown. I was so ready.
What I was not ready for being asked to write about anything political. Heck, I was so proud of the fact that I always voted…every four years, that is.
What did I know about propositions and initiatives? I rarely bothered with all that. (That has changed and I am now totally aware of everything on the ballot)
Anyway, Enrique (my immediate supervisor and mentor) sent me to cover a speech about Proposition-54 at the local community college. I went – not really knowing what I was doing. Our paper photographer met me there. “Isn’t this cool?” he asked. Um…yea…cool. NOT!
I took notes -- lots and lots of them. I didn’t really know what to do. It was my first day on the job. I had been told it was going to be a day of in-service. Doesn’t that mean watching movies and filling out forms? I had absolutely ZERO idea what to do out there alone.
After the event, I sat in my car for half an hour (my lunch break) and talked to my best friend. I was scared to go back to work. I had no idea what to do with the information I had gathered, or worse, how to write it. He assured me that I would be fine. I wasn’t sure.
Enrique must have sensed it. “What’s the matter?” he asked me as I walked in. “You have that deer-in-the-headlights look.”
I just handed him my notebook -- page after page of scribbled notes. I stood there, quiet, waiting for him to call me an idiot. But he didn’t. He looked it over and being the professional that he was, found something in my notes, circled it -- and handed it back.
“This looks like a good place to start,” he said.
I took it from there. Of course, the story took me about three hours to write and rewrite. But when I left, I left with a smile. It did not matter to me that no one knew it was my birthday or that anyone even wished me a happy birthday.
All that mattered was that I had done it. I wrote a story.
The next day, I literally screamed when I saw it on the front page. Wow. I had really done it. I had written a story for an official newspaper – and if I had t say so myself, it looked damn good. I went out and bought like 15 newspapers. (No idea why). I decided that if I could make it through that first day – that first story, then I could do anything at the paper.