Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good Riddance to 2009 and the Whole Blipping Decade

Thank goodness this decade - the Oughts, the Zeros - is over! It was truly awful. Just think about all the catastrophes America has been through.
  • Bush was inaugurated after stealing the election. I wasn't thrilled but I had no idea how bad he would be.
  • Shortly thereafter, September 11 totally destroyed our sense of security and issued in the Islamic fundamentalist war against America.
  • We suffered through two wars: the war of choice against Iraq which just increased the number of Islamic fanatics who hate America - and the war in Afghanistan which was so terribly bungled that it is not only still ongoing but threatens our nation's security.
  • There have been continued terrorist attacks all over the world - they can appear anywhere at any time.
  • We started the decade with the bursting of "tech bubble" and ended it with a near total economic catastrophe. In between we had other economic disasters like Enron, WorldCom, etc. And don't forget all those big name companies that either disappeared or went bankrupt.
  • The American Dream is disappearing. Middle class incomes declined during the decade, and unemployment rose. Housing values plummeted. The price of gas kept growing. The number of Americans without health insurance increased steadily, along with overall health care costs. The percentage living below the poverty line increased significantly, and the gap between the richest and the poorest got wider and wider.
  • Then the disaster that affected us the most - Katrina and the bungling of the federal government.
  • We had more mass murders and school shootings than any other decade - from the DC Sniper to the VA Tech shootings to the Ft Hood massacre.
  • We even had endless scandals involving politicians and sports heroes - too numerous to mention.
It wasn't a good decade for me personally either. I endured cancer, divorce, and major financial setbacks. This New Year's Eve, more than any other, I am really looking forward to a new year - and a new decade. It can't be much worse, and there are many signs it might be a whole lot better. Starting next year (tomorrow), I'll be looking for those positive signs and making the most of them.

PS. I highly recommend this moving photographic essay of the decade which has been put together by the New York Times using photographs submitted by its readers.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Betrayal


I took him in, gave him shelter when he was hurt and in exile from somewhere he'd long forgotten. He immediately gave over his heart and became a steady and loving companion.

I went away for ten days recently and came back to find him gone. I looked for him, called for him. I was certain he'd be back within a matter of hours; he knew I was looking for him; surely he'd not forgotten me.

Days went by with no word from him, no sight of him. I asked around and no one had seen him. Then one day he was back at my doorstep eager to reunite...momentarily. Then he was off again but came back the next day. I put my arms around him, held him close. Ah! I smelled a pleasant but unfamiliar scent...perfume! He must have found a new place, a new person in his life. He'd betrayed me!

My beautiful Boy Kitty found love down the street and I've decided that an occasional visit will suffice and that his new friend must need his loving and sweet companionship.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Rec Complex Will Benefit Citizens

The following letter was published today in the Natchez Democrat.


Like many people in this community, I strongly support the concept of a recreation complex, but I worry whether our elected officials are capable of pulling it off. They haven’t been too impressive lately.

However, I discovered something that causes me to be able to wholeheartedly support the Referendum. That something is the Interlocal Agreement that was signed by the City, the County, and the School Board; and it lays out exactly what will happen if the Referendum passes. Have you read it? If not, you should before you cast your vote. You can get a copy from the City Clerk’s office or at the Library – or you can download a copy from the Library’s website (www.naw.lib.ms.us).

This Agreement establishes a Recreation Commission, composed of three persons appointed by each of the three governing authorities. Although subject to approval by the governing authorities, the Commission will do most of the work.

“The Recreation Commission shall make recommendation for the establishment, operation, and maintenance of recreational facilities and programs in Adams County; and shall make a report and recommendations to the three governing boards for the establishing, financing, construction, and operation of a countywide comprehensive recreation program for Adams County.”

Plus, the Commission is to have other specified duties, including hiring a Director of Recreation and Parks and other employees; entering into contracts, acquiring land, buildings, and facilities; apply for grants or loans; authorizing studies or surveys; establishing and collecting fees; and so on. Furthermore, the Agreement requires the Commission to hold public hearings to determine the opinions of the citizens.

All our elected officials have to do is appoint quality people to this Commission and let them do their job. The public will have to be vigilant to make sure these appointments are representative of our community and possess the appropriate skills for the job. Then we must involve ourselves in the process itself.

This represents an opportunity for the City and County to work together – by removing the politics and establishing instead a credible commission. Maybe this will provide an excellent blueprint for action on other issues that have proven so difficult.

I support the building of a recreation complex, because it can benefit our citizens and improve the economy at the same time. And I support the referendum because I think it lays out a plan for success that may not occur otherwise.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

I Was a Movie Star Today - Sort Of

Over the past four years I've been through four hurricanes and made three insurance claims. Each time, I think they're going to cancel me - or jack up my premiums. Nope. Not only that, but my insurance company (Travelers) was wonderful. So wonderful in fact that I decided to write and thank them after the last storm - around May or June of this year. I'm famous for writing nasty letters, but I write nice ones, too. Unfortunately, nasty letters tend to get more of a reaction than nice ones. Until now, that is.

A couple of days ago, I received a call from Travelers asking if I had written that nice email, and I said yes. He asked if I would be willing to be interviewed about my experience for a video they were putting together for training purposes. I said sure.

Today was an immensely busy day at the Library, since we just reopened after installing our new automation system - and of course, there were tons of little glitches. However, I was sure I could take off a few minutes to talk to Travelers. I told him to call me when he got to Natchez.

When he called, I gave him directions to the Library and went right back to work. Shortly thereafter, there was a knock on my door, and I looked up to see a whole passel of people - I think 5 or 6. I was a little taken aback, because my experience with TV interviews is one person talking and another with a camera.

Then they walked around the Library looking for a good location, while I'm thinking we could just stand in the hall and talk. Finally, they decided on our meeting room - which was the only room without people, since we were very busy after being closed for almost a week. They said it would take them a little while to set up, and I went back to work.

When they came to get me, I was in total shock. Our meeting room had been transformed into a real live television studio. The sound man - yes there was one - was concerned about how noisy our air conditioning was and wanted to know if it could be turned off for a little while. I died laughing, and those of you who have been following the travails of the Library's antique AC will appreciate why. This was the best part - they put make up on me - who never wears makeup. It was just to get rid of the glare and not to make me look good - but still it was pretty funny.

I then proceeded to have a conversation with the interviewer who was off camera - and it went on for a while. Then the person I thought of as the producer asked some extra questions. About this time, the adjuster that I had dealt with showed up. They wanted to walk over to my house, which is fortunately a half a block from the Library.

The adjuster and I then had to reenact our original interaction in my back yard. This was a little difficult, since the first time my back yard was totally taken up with a tree - and now it is gone. But we did out best. Then they filmed him in the car with his computer submitting the necessary information and processing the claim. Then we sat on my front porch while he went over the imaginary report and presented me with a blank check - which unfortunately I couldn't keep.

While all this is happening, my neighbors are wondering what in the world was going on. One even drove around looking for the TV truck so he could go back and watch me on TV. They figured with all those people and equipment, it must be something big. Coincidentally, a helicopter flew over during our filming - which the sound guy really didn't like.

The funniest part of the whole event was when they had me get into the closet under my stairs (which is my safe place during storms). Then I had to walk out and act like I did after the storm and wander over to the door and look out. I was definitely doing my best Sarah Bernhardt imitation.

They gave me a huge red Travelers umbrella and a gift card, which was very nice. The final filming of the day was the adjuster and me standing under the Travelers umbrella talking.

I hope that one beneficial outcome of this event will be that whoever sees the video will have a positive impression of Natchez. One question they asked me was why I stayed somewhere where I suffered through four hurricanes in as many years. So of course, I had to explain how unique Natchez is, and they did some filming of the city itself - including the bluffs over the Mississippi River, which I talked about.

They are going to send me a copy when it's finished - 2 hours of filming will probably be condensed into two minutes. However, I can barely wait to see it - and I will share it.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

An Open Letter to Alderwoman Arceneaux-Mathis

This letter was sent to Alderwoman Arceneaux-Mathis by Tom Scarborough, but he never received a response. It is published here by permission.

Dear Ms Arceneaux-Mathis:

I am writing to you today to express my deep unhappiness with the decision of the mayor and Board of Aldermen to terminate John "Rusty" Lewis as the City Planner. Mr. Lewis is one of the few individuals in city government I regard as having been highly competent in discharging the responsibilities of his job. You and your fellow aldermen have repeatedly demonstrated your disregard for the city's planning and preservation ordinances, but eliminating the entire Planning department takes your collective irresponsibility to new and breathtaking levels. Your personal animosity towards Mr. Lewis (and towards Ms. Brinegar) is no secret, and it is transparently obvious that this has little to do with city budget concerns. This is purely personal and political, a hallmark of your tenure as the alderman for our ward.

If you and the other aldermen are serious about cutting city expenses, may I suggest that you begin by reducing your own part-time salaries to $12,000 per year--roughly what aldermen in Ocean Springs and Brookhaven are earning. That would be a savings of nearly $60,000 per year, which could be used to pay Mr. Lewis' salary, with money left over. Then I would suggest eliminating Darlene Jones' position as head of Community Development, saving the city $38,000 per year. I see very little in the way of tangible results coming from that position that would justify funding her position, but eliminating Mr. Lewis'. I realize this would demand setting aside your racial biases and petty personal animosities, and putting the needs of the city ahead of personal agendas, but that is what responsible leaders do in times of crisis--and Natchez is indeed in a state of crisis.

I moved to Natchez in 2005 from California. I am a registered Democrat, a progressive-minded liberal and, now, a deeply concerned city tax-payer and constituent of yours. For the four years I have lived in your ward, I have watched with growing dismay as you have wallowed in the politics of race, wasted city money on your "lobbying" excursions to DC, and further polarized the people of Natchez. And now you have used our current budget crisis to go after two highly competent department heads towards whom you have held a personal grudge. Please know that should you decide to run for reelection, I will contribute to the limits of my voluntary time and my wallet to whomever your opponent happens to be.

Sincerely,
Tom Scarborough

UPDATE: He sent a similar letter to the Editor of the Natchez Democrat.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Planning Vice Chair Comments

Ed Godfrey, Vice Chair of the Planning Commission, sent this letter to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen and is reprinted here with permission.

I was first appointed to the Natchez Board of Adjustment in 1992. After fifteen years on the Board of Adjustment it was merged with the Metropolitan Planning Commission to form the Natchez Planning Commission, of which I am Vice-Chairman. I have worked with seven city planners and can state that John R. Lewis is the most qualified planner we have had since James Shelby. Mr. Shelby left for a better position in Jackson before eventually becoming a city planner in Atlanta. Fortunately John Lewis lived in Natchez for a few years in the 1970’s and fell in love with the city. He was willing to work in Natchez for less than he could make elsewhere and eventually retire here.

Your plans to gut the planning department would be a major step backward for the city of Natchez. There is not a more qualified planner available; if fact it’s questionable you could find even an unqualified one willing to take a chance on a city which has had four planners in the last six years. Is that what you feel is the best we can do in Natchez? . I can’t believe the Board of Aldermen would support a system where a person could open a bar next to a church without a hearing.

Mr. Lewis inherited a disjointed planning department and has worked hard to bring it around. The job of city planner is tough in any city as there is always a sizable segment of the population who think that they should be able to do anything with their property, and take it out on the planner when he tries to explain the codes and zoning ordinances of a particular city. In the last seventeen years I’ve received numerous complaints concerning all seven planners I’ve worked with; generally developers complaining about being asked to comply with city codes and ordinances and neighbors opposing projects neat their homes or businesses. And the city planner is always in the middle.

Natchez enacted a new development code in January, 2008, and hired John Lewis to enforce it. He has done just that and written amendments to the new code when it needed to be adjusted. He has worked 50-60 hour weeks to improve the planning department and have it functioning properly. Prior to his arrival public notification of various special exception and zoning requests was limited, members of our various commissions received information for our monthly meeting too late to investigate the requests and our decisions were often tabled for lack of information. Since we meet monthly the volunteer members of the commissions often had to agree to called meetings to keep developers from waiting another month to begin a project

Please do the right thing and retain John Lewis as our city planner.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Journey Stories Exhibit at Historic Foundation

It would seem to me that the Smithsonian Institute would be quite meticulous in choosing sites for it's traveling exhibits, so the fact that we have this extraordinary SI gem spending a little over a month in Natchez, is extraordinary in itself. Mimi Miller has been working elbow to elbow with the SI staff in setting up the information panels that make up the exhibit, as well as with a few locals who volunteered to pitch in during the installation process. The exhibit will be showcased at the Historic Natchez Foundation building from Sept. 5th - Oct. 20th. Journey Stories documents the travels of the pioneer families who braved traveling across our great country under an array of arduous conditions. It answers the questions "Why did our ancestors come to America? Why did our families choose Natchez as home? The Journey Stories exhibition explores four centuries of American history through images, audio clips, music, maps, and artifacts. Visitors will listen to stories of travelers and trace their routes on an interactive map; read harrowing accounts of escaped slaves on the road to freedom; and use an 1859 guidebook to prepare for a westward trip on an overland trail. The exhibit is worthy of academic field trips, and material for school projects, so if you're a teacher, it would be a wonderful educational tool for students to learn about how the U.S. was born and what it took to bring us to where we are today.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Why are Health Care Costs So High - and Growing

The real problem is that our health care delivery system is based on a model that makes no economic sense. The system is broken and needs to be redesigned. The current debate seems to assume this is a fight between the free market and socialism. Although there are people who would like us to go one way or the other, our current system is neither.

Our current health system is not that old. It started during World War II when wages were frozen. Employers, looking for new ways to attract workers, came up with the idea of providing health insurance. Thus began employer based health insurance, which is how most Americans get their insurance.

In most economic transactions in America, there is a consumer and a provider of the product/service. If the consumer doesn't like the product quality or price, they go to another provider. Providers keep their quality and prices competitive to keep their customers.

In health care, patients are the consumers, but they don't pay for the service and rarely even know the price. They don't have sufficient knowledge to evaluate the quality of the service - and even if they did, they have limited choices in providers.

Doctors are the providers of the service, but they don't get to set the price, and the price is not determined by any measure of quality, but rather of quantity.

In our crazy health care system, neither the consumers (patients) or providers (doctors) have anything to do with setting the price.

Instead, the insurance companies serve as the providers, and the employers serve as the consumers. They are the ones operating in the free market, and neither has any interest in what's happening to patients or doctors.

Employers and insurance companies are both motivated by the bottom line - their profits and stock prices. So employers try to spend as little as possible on insurance. Insurance companies make their product as cheap as needed to get the business of the employer.

Employers upset with health care costs shop around until they find a lower cost insurer and/or increase the share paid by their employees. If they're too small to be able to negotiate a good deal with insurers, they may just quit offering insurance. But whatever they pay is totally deductible from their taxes.

Insurance companies keep their prices as low as needed to keep their customers, the employers. Then in order to make a profit, they just reduce their costs. They do this in many different ways. They lower their payments to doctors, they reduce procedures they reimburse, they increase the paperwork needed to get reimbursement to discourage use, etc.

Doctors find their payment for procedures reduced, and their overhead increased through hiring more staff to process the paperwork. Therefore, they must perform more procedures just to keep even, which reduces time spent with patients. Doctors also (consciously or not) perform procedures that pay more.

There are other complicating factors. Drug companies and for profit hospitals that are also operating under the profit motive. Nonprofit hospitals are more like doctors. Then there all those individuals with individual or small group policies that just buy whatever they can afford, regardless of their health needs. All the uninsured, growing daily, also affect the market. Medicare and Medicaid are another different problem.

It is easy to see that our accidental health care delivery system is totally dysfunctional. If we want to ever bring health costs under control, we have to change the system to recognize real incentives that work - and it must be done now!

If we don't change it now while we have the opportunity, our country will shortly be bankrupted by totally unnecessary health care costs. We could have a fair, cost effective system, but that would require the Republicans to enter into a discussion and debate of real issues. Unfortunately, most Republicans in Congress are more interested in defeating Obama than they are in the economic well being of their country or the health of its citizens. Very sad.

In my next post, I'll discuss elements of reform that could be agreed upon.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Health Care Reform or Bankruptcy - Take Your Pick

Have you heard all the scary things that will happen if health care reform passes? Most of them are untrue or misleading, but that doesn't matter. Unfortunately, big issues like this are never won with facts, reason, or logic. Emotional appeals always win the day - and there is no stronger emotion than fear to motivate people.

Those in favor of reform are busy spouting off facts - and they're getting their butts kicked by the opponents who just bring up every bogeyman they can think of - eg death panels, rationing, increased taxes - without worrying a bit about the truth. The truth is irrelevant in this fight. Of course, the scare mongers have the advantage of having gazillions of dollars to spend on their horror show. After all, those who truly stand to benefit from doing nothing are all wealthy - and they're willing to spend plenty to be sure they stay wealthy. Whereas those people without insurance or who have huge medical bills don't have any money to spend at all. Not a very fair fight, is it?

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU FINANCIALLY IF HEALTH REFORM FAILS?

First of all, health care reform is not just about the uninsured - it's for everybody - even you.

Individual health insurance or insurance for small groups is not worth the paper it's written on. If you have that kind of insurance, you may as well consider yourself uninsured right now - and it's only going to get worse. A far better investment is to take the same money and buy lottery tickets - your odds of pay off are much better.

The only dependable health insurance nowadays is with large employers. However, the costs for that health insurance more than doubled in the last ten years and will double again in far less than the next ten. What does that mean to you as an employee?

You will be asked to pay a larger and larger share in premiums, deductibles, and copays. It will be twice as much as it is now in less than ten years.

More and more employers will stop providing health insurance at all to their employees - and you'll be unexpectedly uninsured.

If you lose your job, you're suddenly uninsured. Forget about COBRA - no unemployed person can afford it.

Your taxes will go way up to pay for Medicare and Medicaid, which will be half of all health care spending in just three years, and other government programs.

If you like your health insurance now, it's likely because you haven't been seriously ill. Think you won't need it? Think about this.

Your chance of having cancer in your lifetime is 1/2 for males and 1/3 for females.

Cancer patients can face severe challenges in paying for life-saving care – running up large debts, filing for personal bankruptcy, and even delaying or forgoing potentially life-saving treatment – even when they have private health insurance, according to a new report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the American Cancer Society.

You or someone in your immediately family is going to be seriously ill sooner than you think. And when it happens, unless you're very wealthy, your family can be financially destroyed. 62 percent of all bankruptcies filed in 2007 were linked to medical expenses. Of those who filed for bankruptcy, nearly 80 percent had health insurance.

OUR HEALTH CARE SYSTEM IS A FINANCIAL DISASTER RIGHT NOW. If we don't do something drastic about it immediately, we can forget about the financial survival of our country. Opponents carry on about the horrors of having a European health care system. How about the health care system of a third world banana republic? Because that's where we're headed right now.

And I haven't even touched quality of care yet.

Be scared - be very scared - not of made up bogeymen but of the truth.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Insurance Companies - Evil Incarnate

Let me be up front - I hate health insurance companies. They are the reason I quit practicing psychology. They are also the reason I work at the Library. I was self employed my whole life and always had health insurance. I was diagnosed with cancer in 2001, and my insurance did pay for my initial treatment. But when it came time to renew my policy, they increased the premium by so much that it was more than my income. My only hope was to find an employer that provided insurance. When you're recovering from cancer is not the best time to look for a job, and it took several months - during which I am paying the insurance premium using my savings. Finally, I found the job with the Library. The salary was significantly less than I was earning, but I had no choice. I love my job, but I think it was horrible that I was forced to make such a decision so late in my career.

I'm one of thousands, maybe millions, of Americans whose lives were damaged or destroyed by the practices of insurance companies. There are many that I know of right here in Natchez. You may be thinking there's probably another side to these stories. The only other side is greed. Let me give you just one example.

A few months ago, the U S Congress held a hearing on the practice of rescissions in the health insurance industry. I had never even heard of this before, and it is absolutely unbelievable.

This is practiced by all insurance companies in the individual market, which covers all those people who are not covered by their employers - including the economic engine of our country - the entrepreneurs who go into business for themselves. These individuals fill out an application, have it approved, pay their premiums, and assume they have health insurance. NOT!

Apparently, the companies do not even look at those applications - it would cost too much money to evaluate them. They wait until the policy holder makes a significant claim - and then they evaluate them - pouring over them looking for a reason to "rescind" the coverage. In other words, they take back the policy - as if you never had it. They even pay bonuses to employees who save the company the most money through rescissions.

Here's a little video clip of the Chairman of the Committee questioning the insurance executives of the largest companies in the country. Although it's all appalling, the most outrageous was when the Chairman asked them if they would agreed to discontinue with rescissions except in the case of fraud - and they all said no.



And here is another video clip from the same hearing - this one of a victim testifying before the Committee. If you're not crying and outraged after watching this, you are one cold hearted SOB.


By the way, this was not a partisan hearing. Both Democrats and Republicans were outraged after this hearing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Town Hall Meeting Boring and Depressing

As I left the Town Hall meeting, I asked myself why in the world I went - and encouraged others to do the same. No good answer.

The first downer was discovering I had no Internet access, since I had planned on live blogging the event. No Internet in a Convention Center? What are those people thinking? No wonder Natchez has trouble competing. Memo to Walter Tipton: This is the 21st Century.

The good news was there was a good crowd there. Extra chairs had to be brought in - and there were still people standing. It's nice to know people are interested in health care reform and in their government. The bad news is these people were appallingly ignorant.

When a Democratic member of Congress has a town hall meeting, the opposition screams, interrupts, threatens, and even brings guns. We've all seen these mobs on TV. But when a Republican has a town hall, everyone is very polite. Does this tell you anything?

Senator Wicker's introductory remarks were predictable - straight out of the Republican play book. Unfortunately, most of it is not true. Is he just dumb - or does he know he's lying?

He starts by saying that "the greatest issue of our time" is the "government takeover of healthcare". He got a big round of applause. This was the big issue of the meeting. How horrible it would be for the federal government to run our health care. On the other hand, Medicare is wonderful and don't mess with it. Do none of these people see the contradiction in these two ideas?

Medicare is run by the federal government - it is even a single payor system. If you don't want a "government takeover of healthcare", then the first step is to abolish Medicare. Of course, they would never do that, because Medicare is hugely popular.

If you are truly concerned about Medicare and senior citizens, then check with the AARP, which supports health care reform and is trying to fight the lies meant to scare senior citizens. It very clearly states that health care reform:

  1. Is not socialized medicine.
  2. Does not mean rationed care.
  3. Will help - not hurt - Medicare.
  4. Is not too costly.
  5. Doesn't mean goverment makes life or death decisions
However, the health care reform legislation is NOT a "government takeover of healthcare". Quite the opposite. It is an effort to maintain our system of health care, which is currently in serious trouble.

Senator Wicker acknowledges our health care system needs improvement. So did he and the Republicans try to work with the Democrats to come up with those improvements? Of course not. They don't care about the health care of the American people. All they care about is Republicans winning elections next year, and they realize their best chance is to defeat Obama on this big issue. As widely reported in the news, Republican Senator DeMint said:

"If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him."

Wicker does not want to make the current legislation better. No, he said several times that he wants to kill the current legislation and start over. If he and the Republicans are successful, then American is indeed in deep trouble.

PS If you look at who contributes to Senator Wicker's campaigns, the top industries are Finance & Insurance. Why am I not surprised?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Uncovering the truth

I was reading a detective novel today by James Lee Burke. His detective lives in New Iberia, Louisiana. The writer seems to have a little trouble with female characters though -- the ones in his book are two-dimensional figures who always want sex. I think life does not imitate art in this case. Anyway, I'm deep into this mystery when I get a mysterious e-mail of my own.

My father was a pathologist in Natchez, Mississippi, during the Civil Rights movement in the '60s. He was routinely called out to do autopsies after gruesome racially motivated killings. He used to talk about the cases to us kids, show us the murder slides, play the tapes of the trials where the white guys always got off, and so on.

Now the FBI is re-opening the cases. This is from the Natchez Democrat:

NATCHEZ — An FBI agent was in town Wednesday to do a little stone turning.

The agent, from the Hattiesburg office, is one of several federal agents working the recently re-opened Civil Rights case involving the 1967 death of Wharlest Jackson Sr.

And though FBI policy prevents agents from talking about their work, a press release from the agency said the goal in Jackson’s case and 42 others is to leave no stone unturned.

“We will explore every lead and every tip provided to us in our effort to bring closure to these cases,” said Frederick T. Brink, special agent in charge of the FBI in Mississippi.

“The FBI, together with our federal, state and local partners, will work diligently in these cases to uncover the truth, should it be hidden, and to bring to justice anyone who so heinously violates the rights of our citizens.”

Jackson, a black man, died when his truck exploded from a planted bomb. He had recently received a job promotion at Armstrong Tire. The new job was widely considered a “white man’s job.”

No arrests were ever made.


An investigator e-mailed me to see if I could give him any information about the unsolved murder of Clifton Walker. He wrote:

"Walker was driving home from the 3-11 shift at International Paper on Friday night, February 28, 1964, and was ambushed when he turned onto Poor House Road, which he always took as a shortcut off of 61 to Old 61. There was probably a mob of white men firing at the car to bring it to a halt and then several stood around the car and fired in at close range and blew his face apart."

If only I could reach back into time and bring back some of that information for the families of the victims who still have no details about what really happened. My father kept everything about his cases but now he's dead and all of his stuff -- well, who knows what happened to it?

It's frustrating to me to think that at one point in my life I had access to all the information the family would need, but now it's gone, and I can't help them.

Friday, August 21, 2009

There You Go Again, Sarah Palin


Sarah Palin, the health care expert, is continuing to share her wisdom. She writes on her Facebook page that the plan making its way through Congress will "inevitably" lead to health care rationing. Palin claims the president wants to enact a rationing system that would

"refuse to allocate medical resources to the elderly, the infirm, and the disabled who have less economic potential."

Lordy, lordy - what is this rationing business that Palin and others are using to scare people? Basically, it means fairly allocating portions of a scarce resource - usually according to some formula or rule. For example, rationing was used for many food items during World War II. Although no one liked it, few complained. It was recognized as necessary and for the most part was fair - and run by the government. Did they refuse rations to "the elderly, the infirm, and the disabled"? Of course not. Before rationing was instituted, only the wealthy could get the scarce commodities. Free market mentality!

We have rationing in health care right now! You think you can get whatever health care your doctor thinks you need? No chance in hell - unless you're extremely wealthy and pay out of your pocket. Right now, some insurance clerk without a medical degree decides if they'll pay or not - and they will nitpick you to death - literally. As a patient and former health care provider, I can tell you it is extremely difficult to convince one of these clerks (who frequently cannot even spell or pronounce the disorder) that a treatment is necessary.

Insurance companies are in business to make money - period. During the hard times, they just keep racking in the dough. If they're losing money, do they have to tighten their belts like the rest of us? Hell no, they just deny more claims. There is not a single health insurance company in the country losing money right now.

You hear opponents of health care reform talking about "tort reform" - which refers to lawsuits against doctors - and it does need to be addressed. However, there's one area you never hear mentioned - and it's far more important. Do you know if your child dies because a health insurance company denies coverage, you can't sue them? That's right. No matter how good your case, you have no recourse to the courts. You can complain to your State Insurance Commissioner - but let's face it - a cash strapped insurance commission can't begin to compete with a multibillion dollar insurance company. When's the last time you heard a state get anything from an insurance company? Probably never.

There are thousands of horror stories of health insurance companies denying care right now. And there's nothing you can do about it - except support reform that requires fairness.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Thanks, Sarah Palin

Thanks to the blatant lies told by Sarah Palin (as outlined in my previous post) America's senior citizens are now going to have one less benefit. Palin's "death panels" lie has been spread around the country and has been picked up by some other Republicans who really should know better.

Thank heavens some Republicans are still acting honorably. For example, Alaska's senior Senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, said this week that Palin and other critics were not helping the GOP by throwing out false claims.
"Quite honestly, I'm so offended at that terminology, because it absolutely isn't" (in the bill). "There is no reason to gin up fear in the American public by saying things that are not included in the bill."

No matter how many news organizations or members of Congress say it isn't true, those rabble rousers at the town hall meetings keep saying it. Finally, Senator Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said his Committee would drop the provision from consideration. Sarah Palin - you are so powerful!

Now, let's look at what that provision would have provided for seniors - that they've now lost thanks to Palin and her unthinking, nonreading followers.

In 1990 the Supreme Court handed down a decision (Cruzan v MO DoH) requiring clear and convincing evidence for end of life decisions. Congress wanted to be sure people knew how to state their wishes in a way that would stand up in court. So they introduced legislation requiring health care providers paid by Medicare and Medicaid to inform patients about their rights.

There was hollering then about "pulling the plug on grandma" by some right wing fanatics, but the legislation had broad bipartison support, and it easily passed.

Right after that, you may have noted that hospitals and other providers started handing out paperwork outlining your rights. Although that was nice, Congress really wanted doctors to be able to talk to their patients about their rights - if the patients requested it.

The so called "death panel" language in this year's bill was simply to authorize payments to doctors for those sessions - since doctors don't generally provide services for free.

Now here's the best part. The 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug Bill that became law contained the exact same provision. Did the Republicans scream "death panel" then? Uh, no - they voted for it - 204 Republican House members and 42 Republican Senators. Talk about hypocrisy!

As a column in Time magazine says:

"So either Republicans were for death panels in 2003 before turning against them now--or they're lying about end-of-life counseling in order to frighten the bejeezus out of their fellow citizens and defeat health reform by any means necessary."

It is truly disgusting that Republicans would knowingly lie and distort and try to scare people - for purely political reasons. In the meantime, 47 million Americans have no health insurance and 22,000 Americans die every year because of that. Thanks, Sarah Palin.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Government is Taking Over Health Care!

How many times have you heard that (or some variation) recently? But ask them what they mean and you get some really crazy answers.

For example, Sarah Palin recently said

". . . my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

I thinks it's truly amazing that someone who ran for Vice President of the United States would tell such a blatant lie. The only purpose is to scare people who may not know any better. For verification, read the bill (page 425) or read this Fact Check - or know that AARP is taking out ads to counteract these lies.

This is just one of many, many examples of our supposed leaders telling lies or misrepresenting the facts - just to scare people. Unfortunately, it's working - and it may kill health reform again. For over a hundred years, brave Presidents (Republican and Democratic) have been trying - without success - to achieve universal health coverage - ie, health care for all Americans.

Why do these efforts at universal coverage fail? Is it because Americans don't want everyone to have health insurance? Of course not. Everytime a President has proposed health care reform, the public has been overwhelmingly supportive - until the opponents bring out their big guns.

There are businesses who are making a lot of money on the current system, and they are willing to spend a lot of money to make sure it doesn't change. They say they want reform but then do everything they can to prevent it from happening. Who are these businesses? Insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and for profit hospitals and nursing homes - and the lobbyists and members of Congress that they support with millions and millions of dollars.

Just about every other American would benefit from health care reform - but many of the people who would benefit are screaming the loudest. Health care is a very complicated business, and the vast majority of Americans don't understand how it works. So when they hear some frightening sound bite from some immoral politician, they get scared.

If you know what's good for you, you won't believe anything politicians say or any ads about health care. We used to depend on the media for unbiased coverage - but not any more. And the Internet, where many people get their news, is much worse. Check it out for yourself using unbiased sources. I recommend FactCheck.org, which is a totally nonpartisan, unbiased organization that regularly checks out political bull.

Your life, or that of a loved one, will depend on the outcome of this legislation - so you'd better pay attention.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Do Americans Have a Right to Health Care?

We are the only country in the industrialized world that doesn't have universal health care - and many developing countries that are far worse off than we are provide it.

First, let's make clear what universal health care is. It simply means all citizens have health care., and the only way to accomplish it is through government action - passing a law if you're a democracy. What is covered and how it is delivered varies immensely from country to country.

We should be able to agree that every American deserves a right to health care - that America should have universal health care - and then argue over what and how. Unfortunately, that is a right that Americans do not have - but practically everybody else in the civilized world does. We have a right to a gun, but not a doctor to fix us after we're shot. That needs to be changed. It absolutely amazes me that there are people who do not agree American's should have that right.

During the Presidential Debates, someone asked the question: "Do you believe Americans have a right to health care?" McCain danced all over the place and never answered the question, whereas Obama simply said "Yes". I think that was a defining moment of the campaign. The next time you hear someone ranting about socialized medicine or government controlled health care, just ask them this simple question. If they say "yes", then you can go on to have a productive discussion on the what and how. If they don't answer the question directly, just walk away - they're not worth your time. By the way, very few people are courageous or honest enough to directly say "no" - but that's what they mean.

Now, what will be covered, how it will be delivered, how it will be paid for, and other crucial issues are legitimate areas of discussion and argument. I'll be making some of those arguments in the days to come.

Monday, August 03, 2009

A chance for a second childhood

I wrote this post for my blog but thought I'd put it here too because I am so excited about coming to visit Natchez again after 30 years away. Elizabeth

I grew up in Natchez, Mississippi, and loved it. We moved away when I was 12, and my mother and I were devastated. During the last visit I had with my mother before she died, she told me that the years she spent in Natchez were the happiest of her life.

Here we are at the pageant, a show that the natives put on during the spring pilgimage when tourists could go through the antebellum homes. That's me, my mother and my brother Mike near the picnic. I love the fact that everyone has '60s hair even though we are wearing Civil War clothes.


Thanks to the wonder of Facebook and blogging, I have finally found some of my old pals in Natchez. I've decided to go visit next spring during the pilgrimage and wallow in memories for a solid week.

I've rediscovered some of my friends from Montebello School who are pictured below.


People gripe about Facebook and computers so much -- but they have given me a part of my life back that had seemed closed to me. It's opened up a road and led me back to friends that I thought I'd forever left behind.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pickering "Affair" Is Getting Really Creepy

The Pickering lawsuit was first broken by Ipse Blogit, who has done an outstanding job of following through on what was an initial piece of good luck. As I read more about the case, I became intrigued with "C Street" - the place where Pickering lived while in Congress.

Initially, it seemed C Street was a place where like minded Congressmen shared a residence - no big deal. Then it came out they were all Christians. Aside from the hypocrisy of family values Christians committing adultery, still no big deal.

Then it was revealed that C Street was in fact legally a church and tax exempt. Hmmm - the tax payers are paying for these politicians to have a place to stay? Didn't seem right to me.

But it gets worse - much worse. C Street is owned by a group called The Family - a secret religious organization whose goal is to control the world. Now they've got my attention! Who are these guys?

It turns out that we know a lot more about The Family than they would like us to - thanks to a religious scholar and writer named Jeff Sharlet. Because of his interest in religion, he was invited in 2002 by a friend to join The Family - and out of intellectual curiosity, he decided to give it a try. He moved into one of their houses where they train new members. It's fair to say he was shocked by what he learned while he was there. When he left after several weeks, he wrote an exceptionally well researched book entitled The Family, which was published in 2008 and is now out in paperback. I haven't read it yet, but I've ordered it.

However, he wrote an article for Harper's that gives an idea of this group - and sends shivers up your spine. Or if you want a quick summary, look up The Family in Wikipedia - which also give you a long list of references. Because of the association of the adulterous members of Congress (Ensign, Sanford, Pickering, Vitter) with C Street, the media is beginning to pay attention.

Here are just a few glimpses of the horror: Members refer to Manhattan's Ground Zero as "the ruins of secularism". A leader tells a dozen men living there, "You guys are here to learn how to rule the world". This same leader repeatedly urges a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that he compares to the blind devotion that Adolph Hitler demanded from his followers. Some of the other heroes are Genghis Khan, Stalin, Osama bin Laden, and others who know how to control people. The Family urges the US government to establish close ties to cruel dictators around the world, who are also members of the group. It goes on and on. It's just horrible beyond words.

But here's the worst part - at least to me. They do not think they can do anything wrong - because they are the "Chosen". Morality is for the rest of us - not for them. One of their leaders, David Coe, in one of the training sessions said: "King David liked to do really, really bad things. Here's this guy who slept with another man's wife — Bathsheba, right? — and then basically murdered her husband. And this guy is one of our heroes. I mean, Jiminy Christmas, God likes this guy! What is that all about?" The answer: "Because he was chosen." He even gives the example of someone who has raped three little girls. Is this unbelievable? At least we can understand why all these so called Christian members of Congress associated with this group think they can commit adultery without any problem.

The Family is a super secret group that's been around since the 1930s. The members are all rich or powerful or both, and they meet in secret cells all over the world. They're all men - women's only role in their world is to serve them. Remember that their goal is "to rule the world" - and they've been doing a pretty good job of it. Now that a spotlight has been cast on this group, the question is whether the rest of us will do anything about it. I'm not optimistic.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why Congressman Pickering Didn't Become a Senator

WOW! We have a little soap opera going on.

Our former Congressman Chip Pickering chose not to run for reelection and was not appointed to Trent Lott's US Senate seat when he resigned - even though it was always assumed that Chip was being groomed for that seat. There was a lot of discussion in these parts about why. Well, now we have a possible explanation.

On Tuesday, Chip's wife Leisha filed a complaint against one Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd (of the Cellular South family) for "alienation of affections". Don't you just love these legal terms? What she really meant was that Elizabeth stole her husband Chip. Leisha claims she has suffered emotional distress, and she is suing for damages.

As you read through the complaint (which I encourage you to do since it is quite entertaining) you are definitely left with the feeling that Chip is some poor nincompoop with no brains who is totally led around by the evil Elizabeth. These suits are always phrased like this. Does Leisha really think Chip had nothing to do with this adulterous behavior? Why is it always "the other woman's" fault? Why didn't Leisha just sue the nincompoop directly? I'm sure there is some legal reason for filing this, but it sure does illustrate the idiocy of some legal actions.

The most interesting part of this complaint is that (according to Leisha) Governor Haley Barbour did offer the US Senate seat to Chip - which was certainly never made public. (Anyone want to bet that Barbour will deny it?) Leisha says that Elizabeth told Chip he would have to give up his "public life" in order to continue his relationship with her. That's a no brainer. A family values Republican might have a little trouble getting elected while he's carrying on with a woman who's not his wife - even in Mississippi.

This Elizabeth must be one bodacious woman - since Chip gave up his family (five kids!) and his career for her. Usually these relationships do not live up to their expectations. I hope this one runs true to form, because this a**hole certainly deserves to suffer. Eventually, Leisha will learn she - and her children - are much better off without him. I'm proud to say that I always saw his true colors and never voted for him.

I found out about this complaint from two legal/political blogs that I follow: Ipse Blogit and North Mississippi Commentor. But it's all over the regular media now.

UPDATE from Ipse Blogit:

Cellular South parent company (where Elizabeth is on the Board) and Capitol Resources (a lobbying firm representing Cellular South and Chip's employer) have been added to the complaint.

C Street Complex where Chip lived in Washington was apparently the DC residence of Senators John Ensign and David Vitter and Governor Mark Sanford. Must be something in the water!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Crickets chirping under my bedroom window


I moved away from Mississippi about 20 years ago, and one of the things I'd always missed were crickets chirping underneath my bedroom window at night. The sound sort of soothed me when I was a kid.

I came to England to find there were no crickets. The evening was too quiet -- no life out there at night. But I got used to it. (I also missed fireflies -- a lot. But that's another story.)

Today I read in the paper that due to global warming crickets are migrating north and have discovered England. I guess I won't have to wait too long to hear the comforting sounds of crickets chirping outside my bedroom window again.

"The sound of English summer is changing as the skylark is drowned out by chirruping crickets. Global warming has let two species, the long-winged conehead and Roesel's bush cricket spread north."

Another transplanted Southerner in England worries that poisonous snakes might hear of the crickets' discovery of England and migrate north also. Now that's one thing I haven't missed from Mississippi.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Life is a bowl (or two) of cherries


We've talked about tomatoes on the blog, but not about cherries. This must be rectified.

Every summer I look forward to the cherry season. I think I could live on these things. They are only in the British supermarkets for a brief time so I go wild buying and eating them for those few weeks.

Last year, I discovered the rainier cherry - it's got a yellow skin and is incredibly delicious (and expensive).


These cherries are very sensitive to temperature, wind, and rain. About 1/3 of a Rainier cherry orchard's crop is eaten by birds.

Rainiers are considered the "cream of the crop", selling for $5 dollars a pound or more in the USA and as much as a dollar each in Japan.

Here are five things to do with cherries:

Tipsy cherries
Marinate cherries in kirsch and serve with ice cream or chocolate desserts.

Cherry and plum crumble
Mix 250g each of stoned cherries and plums, 3tbsp sugar and 4tbsp water in an ovenproof dish. Rub 75g butter into 150g plain flour, stir in 4tbsp each of oats and crushed almonds and 2tbsp sugar. Spoon over the fruit and bake at 180/gas 4 for 25 minutes until golden.

A sauce for roast duck
Bring 150ml each of chicken stock and red wine to the boil, then turn down the heat. Add 250g stoned cherries and simmer for about 15 minutes until thickened.

Cherry pie
Mix 500g stoned cherries with 1tbsp cornflour and 25g sugar. Line a pie dish with sweet shortcrust pastry, add the cherry mixture, top with pastry and seal the edges. Make a hole in the centre, brush with milk and sugar and bake at 180/gas 4 for 40 minutes until golden.

Instant trifle
Marinate stoned cherries in kirsch. Spoon some crushed amaretti biscuits into glasses. Top with marinated cherries, ready made custard, whipped cream and finish with toasted almonds.

What is your favorite summer fruit or vegetable?

Monday, July 06, 2009

My husband the oil mogul

When my grandmother died a few years ago, I inherited about 1/500th of an oil well in Mississippi. My husband, a poor English boy who grew up watching Dallas on television, almost died himself of happiness.

"Relax," I said. "I didn't really inherit a complete oil well. We aren't moguls now." The checks I get from the oil company might be up to $100 a month but then I have to pay a share of the operating expenses too so that takes a lot out of it. So basically we might get 20 bucks a month out of it.

But my husband is so happy being an oil mogul -- he pores over any statement we get, just like he is JR Ewing.

Today we got papers about investing in some new deep-drilling operation. Mel is in heaven right now, looking over seismic surveys of the area, aerial maps of the proposed site and mineral leases.

I thought it was cute how excited he gets over nothing so took a pic.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Public enemies


The release of the new movie about John Dillinger reminded me of secret family history that I wanted to make sure I told my daughter so the information wasn't lost.

I had a great-aunt who fell in love with one of the Dillingers -- Frank -- got pregnant and wanted to marry him. My great grandfather was so mortified that she would think she could marry into the mobster family (when John Dillinger was Public Enemy Number 1) that he refused and made her give the baby up for adoption. This destroyed her; she was never the same again.

Isn't that sad that she would have to give up the love of her life and her baby because of public opinion against the family? I wonder what happened to her child. She must have worried about the baby for the rest of her life.

What happened with her and the Dillinger boy was considered so terrible, however, that no one spoke of it in the family, and it wasn't until the funeral of one of the elder members of my family that someone told me so I would keep the information alive for another generation.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gone with the Wind published on this day in 1936


Gone with the Wind was published on this day in 1936. Every Southern girl of my generation knows the story well. And as we know today, and here I am quoting a source on the Internet: "Many historians regard the book as having a strong ideological commitment to the cause of the Confederacy and a romanticized view of the culture of the antebellum South."

Whatever you think about the book, Southerners know it well so I thought some background trivia would be appropriate today.

"As several elements of Gone with the Wind have parallels with Margaret Mitchell's own life, her experiences may have provided some inspiration for the story. Mitchell's understanding of life and hardship during the American Civil War, for example, came from elderly relatives and neighbors passing war stories to her generation.

While Margaret Mitchell used to say that her Gone with the Wind characters were not based on real people, modern researchers have found similarities to some of the people in Mitchell's own life as well as to individuals she knew or she heard of.

Mitchell's maternal grandmother, Annie Fitzgerald Stephens, was born in 1845; she was the daughter of an Irish immigrant, who owned a large plantation on Tara Road in Clayton County, south of Atlanta, and who married an American woman named Ellen, and had several children, all daughters.

Researchers believed Rhett Butler to be based on Mitchell's first husband, Red Upshaw. She divorced him after she learned he was a bootlegger. Other historical evidence suggests the Butler character to be based on George Trenholm, a famous blockade-runner.

Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, the mother of US president Theodore Roosevelt may have been an inspiration for Scarlett O'Hara. Roosevelt biographer David McCullough discovered that Mitchell, as a reporter for The Atlanta Journal, conducted an interview with one of Martha's closest friends and bridesmaid, Evelyn King Williams, then 87. In that interview, she described Martha's physical appearance, beauty, grace, and intelligence in great detail. The similarities between Martha and the Scarlett character are striking."

Tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Evolution of a Tomato




(This was an email sent to my kids and a few others and one of those "others" asked me to share on the blog.) 


Okay.  You may find this trivial ...but, I'm so proud of this tomato because I grew it and it was a solitary, independent enterprise. And, this is the prettiest tomato I've ever seen: perfect in size, shape, color. 

 

Not the first time I've been involved in tomato growing but this time it was just me doing the planting and growing, watering and watching.  You recall I'm a BFFG (bona fide farm girl) and my childhood summers were a glorious mix of tractor-driving, sand-dune excursions (looking for and finding arrowheads) and vegetable-growing and picking.  Mom kept tiny salt shakers and we'd pull tomatoes off the vine and eat them right there in the garden.  I also remember that at least one time we drove to town and sold produce on the street corner in tiny Hugoton, Kansas.  Mom canned those tomatoes so Dad would have them for his fried potatoes in the winter months.  She also made ketchup in addition to the canning, and jelly and jam processing.  What an industrious, talented and smart woman!  

 

Well, I must give you the facts on this particular tomato.  It weighed in at 10oz, 3 3/4" in diameter and retained the prettiest little crown of green stem, with not a blemish on its shiny red surface.  And, get this:  Its texture upon eating is firm and has that "just right" tomato taste.  

 

I'd been dreading the thought of taking the knife to this tomato.  I just didn't want to cut it; I wanted to find a county fair and put it on exhibit and win the 1st place Purple Ribbon.  But, this was the day to experience it's culinary glory ... just right for eating...so I had to do it.   

 

Sorry you can't be here to have a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich.

 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What we would be wearing in 2000 as predicted in 1930s

Check this video out. It was made in the 1930s to predict what we would be wearing in the year 2000. I would love to wear a glass dress, and wearing a flashlight on your head to search for an honest man seems like a good idea too.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Gotta Love the Natchez Life

Today I was reminded why I love the life in Natchez.

This afternoon I went to a magnificent duo piano concert at First Presbyterian Church, which is impressive in its own right. These two world class pianists were brought to Natchez through connections with a church member. It was truly awe inspiring.

I could have gone to a poetry reading at an art gallery or a opera presentation at an antebellum home. But instead I went to a neighbor's, who serves scrumptious homemade ice cream on her porch every Sunday evening in the summer. This was the opening night, and it was standing room only - all the porch rockers were full.

It's summertime - and the living is easy.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Demise of an Oak

I was walking my dog along the Natchez bluff this morning when I noticed an oak tree had recently been cut down. I know the city lost many trees during the recent storm, but I don't think this tree was a victim of that, other than possibly losing a few small rotten limbs. The tree trunk and limbs, that lay on the ground, appeared healthy, so was chopping it down absolutely necessary? Wouldn't a simple pruning of the rotten limbs be a more efficient solution to preserving this tree?








I noticed a few weeks ago someone parked under this particular tree, on a Saturday night (I guess while at Bowie's Tavern) and a limb fell through the sun roof, into the car, cracking the front windshield--oops! What bad timing. I hope this wasn't the reason for cutting down this large old oak tree; isn't parking on the bluff illegal?




I also noticed two Mockingbirds sitting on the branches, now laying on the ground, refusing to abandon the oak. If you look closely, you can see the Mockingbird sitting on the tip of the limb:


I know it's sometimes necessary to cut down trees, if severely damaged or rotten, so I hope the city had an appropriate reason. We need to preserve these beautiful oaks on the bluff whenever possible. Trees not only enhance our landscape and provide shade on these blistering summer days, but they help the environment as well. Trees absorb CO2 while emitting oxygen. Trees subdue noise pollution and reduce erosion by storing water and breaking the force of rain that falls. So I hope the city exhausted all options before chopping down this lovely oak.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Happy Equal Pay Day!

Today is Equal Pay Day, and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) has just released a new state by state earnings comparison by gender. And guess what? Mississippi is not last! In fact, we're ranked 40th in earnings ratio between male and female full time workers, age 16 and older, all educational levels . Since they consider DC in their results, that means we didn't even make the bottom 10. YEAH!

However, looking at the earnings ratio between male and female full time, college educated workers, age 25 and older, Mississippi moves into more familiar territory - a ranking of 49th. Hmmm. What does this mean? Should women in Mississippi not bother going to college since it won't benefit us much financially? On the other hand, it might motivate some of those sexist good ole boys to go to college, since they're virtually assured of earning more than those uppity women.

Along these same lines, did you know that the United Nations has had a Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women since 1979? Over 90% of the nations belonging to the UN have signed on. Guess who hasn't? The United States! Guess those guys in Washington are just too intimidated.

"Must Do" Events for the Weekend & More

Greetings All... Just taking an opportunity to do a little community broadcast for those of you who aren't traveling to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival this weekend and are wringing your hands over what to do instead. Well, the Symphony of Gardens Tour is this weekend, rain or shine, and the highlight of the event takes place on Friday evening at 6 p.m. in the Natchez City Auditorium. HGTV's gardening guru, P. Allen Smith, will be giving a talk on How to get more from your garden than a backache. I don't know about you but I don't profess to have a green thumb, just maybe two left ones, so I plan to go find out what I can do with the flower bed I built in front of my house last year to make it work and not die. I love those brilliant colored snap dragons, but good grief, they're everywhere; give me variety or give me...oh you know the speech! Tickets are just $10 for P. Allen and are available at the Natchz Visitor Center (but you can also buy them at the door). Information about the rest of the weekend's garden extravaganza can be found on the tour's website at http://www.symphonyofgardenstour.com/. So that takes care of Friday night for you.
On Saturday, Shannon Brennan-Mayeaux will be sharing a compelling story over Grits & Grillades at Natchez Coffee Company on Franklin St. She is indeed a member of the infamous Brennan's that seem to own every dining establishment in the Crescent City, but she's coming to Natchez to share her life changing experience gained when she visited Medjugorje in 1987. To purchase tickets, learn more about Shannon or the event itself, please contact Hedy Boelte at 601-446-7700 or drop her an e-mail at hedykboelte@aol.com The event is being held to benefit the Natchez Festival of Music.
Jumping a tad ahead, on May 7th, bridge fans (the kind you play, not the kind you cross), are in for an all day treat as Monmouth Plantation hosts A Hand of Bridge and a Delightful Lunch. As you dine and play, you'll be treated to an array of Broadway hits as performed by some of this year's festival talent. Tickets are $60 for Lunch & Bridge, $50 for Senior Citizens, or $35.00 for just lunch and music. The proceeds for this event will also go to The Natchez Festival of Music. Please give Frances Trosclair a call for tickets and more information. If you'd like to learn more about what this year's Festival of Music has to offer throughout the month of May, logon to their newly refurbished website at http://www.natchezopera.com/ for showtimes, locations, and more. If you poker fans feel a little left out, don't fret because the NFoM is putting together a fund-raiser for you guys & gals too.
You can also call the Natchez Convention & Visitors Bureau for information on these events as well. Call 601-446-6345.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

English pubs are dying

I read this article on a US website. It certainly romanticizes English pubs. The ones in London can be really nice but, lemme tell you, the ones near where I live are gross things, full of unhealthy people where fights break out and property is damaged.

In the old days, English men used pubs to avoid family life. You can still see them doing this today. On Saturday mornings when 'the wife' is shopping for the family, the husband will be in the pub, drinking pints and reading the paper or playing darts.

Here's the article, and you can see what you think:

LONDON -- Nothing can stay the same forever although Britain is one country where they try like the Dickens to fight that basic truth. The lyric of an old World War I song said it best:

There'll always be an England
While there's a country lane,
Wherever there's a cottage small
Beside a field of grain.

And down the lane from that cottage beside the field of grain there will always be a pub serving imperial pints (20 ounces) of beer. Well, that is changing rapidly.(Although you can still find some authentic pubs.)

Rural life is unrecognizable from 20 years ago and British drinking habits have undergone a sea change, as well. Both of these factors have led to a crisis for British pubs. Thirty-nine a week are going out of business forever.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jogging our memories

You know you totally forget about something then someone else brings it up as a meaningful memory then you can suddenly recall a slice of your past life vividly?

That happened to me when I read about Kevin Sessum's memoir, Mississippi Sissy.

Here's a summary of the book from some literary website:

"...the stunning memoir from Kevin Sessums, a celebrity journalist who grew up scaring other children, hiding terrible secrets, pretending to be Arlene Frances and running wild in the South. As he grew up in Forest, Mississippi, befriended by the family maid, Mattie May, he became a young man who turned the word "sissy" on its head, just as his mother taught him. In Jackson, he is befriended by Eudora Welty and journalist Frank Hains, but when Hains is brutally murdered in his antebellum mansion, Kevin's long road north towards celebrity begins."


Here's an excerpt from the first chapter:

“Fuck,” said Frank Hains. “I knew I shouldn’t have given that last bourbon to Eudora.”

It had taken me almost a decade after that day of my mother’s funeral, but I had finally found the only equivalent that Mississippi offered to a What’s My Line? life. Frank — a John Daly–like presence in Jackson — was the arts editor of the state’s afternoon newspaper, for which he also wrote a column called “On Stage.” Eudora was writer Eudora Welty. We were at a cast party for New Stage Theatre’s latest production, Long Day’s Journey into Night, starring Geraldine Fitzgerald as Mary Tyrone. Frank and Miss Welty were active members of New Stage, and he was playing host that night at Bleak House, the name given facetiously to his antebellum home by the local literati of Jackson. The Dickensian nickname derived from the house’s outward appearance of haunted dilapidation where it sat, rather spookily, on a hill opposite Jackson’s lone Jewish cemetery....

Frank would often allude to his “dusky endeavors,” as they had come to refer politely to his interest in young African Americans, some of whom had touched him deeply with their aspirations and narratives of maternal love. Miss Welty welcomed these stories of nuanced carnality, as Frank was careful not to tell her the details.


I was in high school when Frank Hains was murdered, and he'd just directed a play in Vicksburg, Mississippi, that my brother and a friend were in. We used to sit there as he'd explain his inspired plans for the set, and we thought he was so sophisticated.

Then he was murdered. Everyone was shocked. My father, a forensic pathologist, told me that the crime scene indicated that it was a homosexual murder. I was additionally shocked by that news.

My brother then started a gag where some of us would go around confessing that we were the murderer of Frank Hains. (The crime was unsolved.)

A friend from high school recalls how my brother would "creep around muttering, 'I murdered Frank Hains.' It was SO funny because we'd be watching TV or making cookies, or whatever, and he would suddenly appear and say that, in a sepulchral voice, then just walk off."

Also a friend from Jackson recalls actually attending the party that Sessums writes about. She wrote: "Do you remember the very first page of the book, when he describes that party where Eudora Welty got drunk, and Frank Hains was oozing around hosting so urbanely? I wuz thar (as Tom Joad would say.) That very exact party, for the cast of Long Day's Journey into Night. I felt mighty sassy and grown-up, there among the big folks, rubbing shoulders with Geraldine Fitzgerald and all. It made me feel better to read that Miss Welty was so drunk that Kevin had to drive her home because she was horribly rude to me that night. It never occurred to me that she was full of bourbon---I was so naive I didn't think old ladies drank anything but coffee."

I enjoyed the whole experience of thinking about something again that I'd forgotten, and the memories of others from that time rounding out the story for me. Hope someone else is out there writing a memoir that will jog my memory again soon.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The sky's the soft blue of a work shirt

Isn't this a beautiful poem that my friend just sent me:

Today, the sky's the soft blue of a work shirt washed
a thousand times. The journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step. On the interstate listening
to NPR, I heard a Hubble scientist
say, "The universe is not only stranger than we
think, it's stranger than we can think." I think
I've driven into spring, as the woods revive
with a loud shout, redbud trees, their gaudy
scarves flung over bark's bare limbs. Barely doing
sixty, I pass a tractor trailer called Glory Bound,
and aren't we just? Just yesterday,
I read Li Po: "There is no end of things
in the heart," but it seems like things
are always ending—vacation or childhood,
relationships, stores going out of business,
like the one that sold jeans that really fit—
And where do we fit in? How can we get up
in the morning, knowing what we do? But we do,
put one foot after the other, open the window,
make coffee, watch the steam curl up
and disappear. At night, the scent of phlox curls
in the open window, while the sky turns red violet,
lavender, thistle, a box of spilled crayons.
The moon spills its milk on the black tabletop
for the thousandth time.


"Poem on a Line by Anne Sexton, 'We are All Writing God's Poem'" by Barbara Crooker

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Have you ever put a lampshade on your head when tipsy?

In a speech to Irish leaders on St. Patrick's Day, Barack Obama jokingly urged the audience to go easy on the spirits. "Stay as long as you want, try to avoid putting any lampshades on your head, because there are a lot of photographers here," he said. When did putting a lampshade on your head become a universal symbol of drunkenness?

Probably in the 1910s or 1920s. While it's impossible to pinpoint the first instance of a man donning a lampshade at a party, the image most likely came out of vaudeville and was popularized in early silent films. In The Adventurer (1917), Charlie Chaplin plays a rich yachtsman who, pursued by the police, puts a lampshade over his head and stands still as the cops pass by. While that example is more about disguise than inebriation, the lampshade on the head had become a drunk gag by 1928, when the Baltimore Evening Sun ran a satirical piece called "The Life of the Party": "It is usually customary for the life of the party about the middle of the evening to put a lampshade on his head and give an impersonation of [Scottish soprano] Mary Garden, after which he tells a joke that is not meant for mixed company."

Me again: I think I have put a lampshade on my head once after too much champagne. Sort of embarrassing to recall, but I think I am guilty of this one. Are you?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Scanwiches

Check this site out, and be sure and scan your next sandwich for the site.

Scanwiches



My sandwiches are too boring to scan. I get a turkey, cheese and lettuce sandwich every day at the office. The deli staff at Nokia (I work for the cellphone maker in their European headquarters outside London) start making my sandwich when they see me come down the stairs (11:45, so I can get the sandwich before the line forms, then I wrap it up and leave it until I come back from the gym). I don't even have to speak to them, they just make it and hand it to me.

It's the same with my skinny lattes too. They see me come downstairs first thing in the morning, they start making my latte.

If only the rest of my life could be so simple.

They do say to me, "Don't you get bored having the same sandwich year in and year out?" But I say it's too much to ask me to choose a different sandwich every day. I can only handle so much excitement in my life.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stuck at Rowan Oak


I made one of my mother's staple recipes recently, Salmon Cakes. They are easy, delicious and nutritious. My family fights over them -- they are that tasty. Here's how to make them:

Can of salmon, drained, and thrown into a mixing bowl. Add bread crumbs or crackers in a zip lock bag that you've whacked with a rolling pin so they are crumbly. Add an egg to bind it together, worcestershire sauce, salt & pepper and any other spices -- I put paprika or anything with a zippy flavor. Mix them up with your hands and shallow fry in a pan. Delish.

Now I know that my friend Brenda would say to add some mashed-up potato to this mix because William Faulkner's nephew told her to do that. But I say keep it pure.

My friend and I went to Faulkner's home Rowan Oak in Oxford one November day a few years ago for a nostalgia tour. It was there in 1979 that we first visited as students, and her car got stuck in the mud. I mean hopelessly stuck. We went asking people at Rowan Oak for help -- among them Shelby Foote and other Faulkner scholars who were there for a reception. Did they help? No. They left us to die out there while they drank mint juleps and talked about books.

So we went back to Rowan Oak in 2000 to remember those days. We went into the house, and surprisingly there was William Faulkner's nephew, Jim, and he was telling visitors interesting little-known facts about his uncle. (Jimmy Faulkner wrote a book about his uncle called Across the Creek .)

Anyway, I don't know how the subject got on to salmon cakes but Jimmy said William F loved them with potato in them, but I'm sure my mother's way is superior. Faulkner might have been a Nobel-Prize winning author but I'm sure my mother knew best about salmon.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Who's Buying Natchez Regional?

Around September, we learned that Natchez Regional was up for sale and towards the end of the year, we learned there was a secret buyer. In early January, we were supposed to hear who that was. Well, we're still waiting. In the meantime, NRMC has filed for bankruptcy - which was somehow a good thing. We recently learned that our secret buyer is also interested in buying Community Hospital, although they deny knowing anything about it. This whole thing is beyond bizarre.

Today I ran across a blog article that claimed Essent Healthcare in Nashville was planning to buy NRMC. This blog is written by some current or former employee of one of their hospitals, who is not fond of Essent, who has filed a lawsuit against the blog, which doesn't seem to be worried. I have no idea how reliable this information is, but it's worth looking into. Kevin Cooper, are you listening?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Beauty and terror


Natchez was a wonderful place to grow up -- full of interesting people and places. We loved participating in the spring pilgrimage every year -- photo above is of me and my brother Kevin, all dressed up for the pageant.

But there was a dark side to Natchez in the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement. My father was the town's pathologist and coroner and every Saturday night, it seemed, he was called out to attend to some brutal murder scene. Because I was a small child, I thought these murders were a normal part of life. I had no idea that the era I was growing up in was an especially violent one.

My father would come home with pictures and tales of each slaying -- a bomb planted in a car, a man set on fire or shot. It was horrifying.

When we would drive past rural gas stations, my father would say, "That's one of their meeting places."

"Meeting place? Of who?" we would ask.

"The KKK," he'd reply.

I recently came across some additional photos of Natchez during my youth. I debated about putting these up, but if these guys decided it was OK to march in public in Natchez in the '60s, then they can march again in this blog. I'll make a concession and not put their names here, even though they are printed on the back of the photos.